As winter weather finally forces the farmers out of the fields and away from outdoor tasks (before the probable, repetitive lifting of snow), there is time to settle inside with a plethora of tasks from the outgoing season and planning for the future season of growing. At a desk or in a chair, the farmer needs to reflect on the growing season that has almost completely come to a close, though there is still hardy arugula to harvest and sell to the Corner Stop Eatery, as well as kale and chard that won’t stop responding to a slightly increasing amount of sunlight and staying clear, for the meanwhile, of a hard frost. The harvest records can be perused so as to take stock of the yield from certain crops. Should we grow more potatoes? And if so, where? Very few crops do as well the following year if planted in the same space, the same row and depleting the same soil. It is too easy for bugs and diseases to settle in, expecting tomatoes in the same spot, further depleting the same nutrients. Rotate those crops, if possible.
The results from the soil tests sent out to UMass in Amherst will also make for some important, late December reading, as we tackle the issue of where to plant in the anticipated 5-7 growing fields for 2016. Is there a vegetable that needs more room? Are there going to be more high school students completing more community service hours, and thus lend a greater hand in the transplanting of onions, leeks, peas, spinach and scallions? How many volunteers will emerge from the winter months to come lend a hand in the greenhouse, the fields and at the washstand? Where will go the flowers grown specifically for the purpose of harvesting and drying for a winter wreath next year?
There is much to consider and the sooner we place our seed order, the greater the availability will be for that variety of basil that is less likely to succumb to powdery mildew or for the right non-GMO, organic, if not bio-dynamic, seed that is most likely to germinate well, especially when sowing in conjunction with the new moon. Oh, where is the “rest in winter” motto for a New England farmer?
The rest occurs, perhaps, with slightly less physical labor whilst indoors with pen, paper, keyboard and for most, a small rectangular phone camera with a large memory bank and communication possibilities with the larger world. When speaking into the phone, one can ask and give a voice command about “common squash beetles” or “beneficial insects” or “viability for 2013 beet seeds”. Siri, or whomever is available at the other end of the string and tin cup can respond with some helpful facts. The phone may also hold a picture of that powdery mildew, taken in the fields on a hot July day. One could also text to a seed company up in Maine, as they are also quite busy this time of year counting their beans, organizing their kale varieties, threshing, separating the wheat from the chaff and arranging their calendula seeds, to inquire about order dates and bulk order of large items such as seed potatoes, amendments and maybe some fruit bushes too.
But the pen is still mightier than the light saber. For with a pen and a ruler, terrific maps can be drawn and plans hatched. Great big wall maps with graph paper carefully scotchtaped together can work as a visual picture of what crops could grow in which fields. More farmers and teachers can look together at such a large representation and all see the same plan, rather than gathering around that small, rectangular phone to see what the fingers can scroll and call up. And in a newly configured office, with room to sit on a couch, many farmers and directors can each look at a different seed catalog, read about one grower’s summary of a plant and share with others in a conversation. The conversation can occur face-to-face in-person, rather than through FaceTime or Facebook.
More chances occur for such interaction in the New Year. Steve Ivas, a guide and naturalist will stroll with folks, two-legged and four, on the annual January 1st walk at the Farm, along the field edges and into the woods along the trails. This informative, delightful opportunity to go outside and mingle with nature, animals and human beings is a nice way to see the Farm and all its related environments. I suppose one could bring a phone for a photograph to be stored in the electronic memory bank, as no “mama will take [anyone’s] kodachrome phone away”. And a walk, geared towards observation and reflection, lends itself nicely to the motto of resting in winter.
© 2016, Jon Belber. All rights reserved. Friends of Holly Hill Farm