When I pulled into the farm this week I found my brother on the tractor mowing down the areas where we planted cover crop. Originally this was buckwheat and field peas, but recently I notice a good many weeds starting to take over. As he cuts down areas of brush that stand over six feet tall there are all sorts of winged insects and leaping grasshoppers scurrying out of the way for dear life. A clever group of barn swallows have figured out the connection between the tractor and their food source and swoop enthusiastically like a conductor’s baton.
As the weather cooled down this past week, so slowed down our production. This gave us the breath we needed to do some mowing and start planning ahead as well as looking back over the summer. This has been overall a great season and even though there is still plenty of produce to pick we are shifting gears toward cleaning up and preparing beds for next year. We are beginning to take an inventory on what went well and where we need improvement.
First, the good. This has been our best tomato growing season ever. As my field manager explained that we don’t have any canning tomatoes this week because they are all premium quality was music to my ears. Last year they were nearly all canning tomatoes. Heirlooms and cherry tomatoes have been abundant as well and I will testify to their quality and flavor first hand via the tomato and mozzarella salad at our Saturday night dinner. Peppers, eggplants, onions were all successful. We planted our cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, and broccoli earlier this season and they look great. The last couple seasons they came in too late. This year’s timing should be perfect. Baby greens and lettuces are just a couple weeks away as well. We conditioned the soil and planted an acre of strawberries weeks ahead of last year.
Our biggest area for improvement is figuring out how to control the weeds. Our organic approach toward feeding the soil to feed the plants seems to have backfired a bit in that it’s not just the intended plants that benefit. A tractor mows down the watermelon patch which is mostly tall grasses that have overtaken the melons. In front of the tractor is a jungle, but behind is fresh mowed grass and melon casualties. The crops that are directly seeded are the ones with the most competing weeds. Especially the ones that require the most days to maturity. Even though we plowed and tilled the soil before sowing and managed to weed the rows twice there are just so many seeds in the soil laying in wait for their opportunity to germinate. In the pumpkin patch which is now a jungle of weeds you can find pumpkins of all shades and hues, however it is more like a treasure hunt than an efficient row of pumpkins. We also noticed some challenges in other areas to do with poor drainage, weed pressure, and the weeds becoming a conduit for disease. This is the case with the cucumbers and zucchinis which started out strong this season but now are facing downy mildew which was introduced by the weed purslane.
These are deductions we have made through observation but it’s hard to know for certain. My manager points out that this is only our fourth growing season on the farm and we are still pretty new at this. The successes we have achieved deserve a pat on the back even though they will always be peppered with room for improvement. I walk the tractor aisles contemplating a duality in managing a farm that stems from the idea that in order to grow healthy plants and good quality vegetables one needs to have more than just a green thumb. One must also be effective at eliminating unwanted plants, insects, and other pressures that jeopardize the health of your crops. It’s a strange dichotomy of nurturer and executioner that is unique to the farmer. I’ll leave everyone to mull on that while while hopefully enjoying your Labor Day Weekend. Cheers!