Sam here, coming to you this week with a dispatch on some of the latest happenings at Second Wind CSA. As the days have continued, generally, to warm up, we have been able to spend more and more time out in the fields preparing them for planting. That process will continue gradually for the foreseeable future, since for most beds we’ll need to lay down a 2 inch layer of Four Winds compost, either by wheelbarrow and shovel (takes a while, hard on the body, but on the other hand is cheap and a good workout) or by tractor (faster and easier, but we pay an hourly fee to Four Winds to rent it, roughly representing the actual costs of running a tractor, including fuel and maintenance).
We will end up doing a combination because beyond those considerations there are other constraints, like whether the ground is too wet for the tractor, or for some beds that are quite far away from the compost pile in the barnyard the tractor becomes much more appealing. But in the end we’ll get that compost down and it will help suppress weeds and add organic matter to the soil.
It’s a new technique for us, a very exciting one that is essential to the no-till philosophy of the farm, and one that is only possible thanks to the abundant on-farm composting operation. For anyone considering no-till methods, a mulch of some kind is usually a central component, and compost is an especially attractive option because it rolls your fertility and weed suppression into one. This is as opposed to plastic mulch, or even other natural mulches like straw or wood chips which will also add organic matter as they break down, but because they are so carbon heavy this process will take a lot longer and lack the nitrogen and other minerals required for healthy soil provided by the “greens” (nitrogen-heavy ingredients) in the compost, like animal manure and food scraps.
We love the compost, but it has also given us some challenges, namely in the process of direct seeding, when we plant seeds directly into the beds rather than transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse. Seeds require certain temperature and moisture conditions to faithfully germinate, and because the compost is much “looser” than soil, its top layer tends to dry out much faster than soil usually would, and we have yet to fully calibrate to this new reality. We put in our first cilantro of the season two weeks ago and we have just started to see the seedlings poking their first leaves above the compost layer. Cilantro and its relatives tend to be fairly slow germinators, but these babies have been taking quite a lot longer than we were expecting. Besides moisture, temperature could be a contributor as well. This early spring has been fairly mild, but cilantro seed likes the soil to be almost room temperature. We have faith in our cilantro, but can’t help but worry about it anyway, and the whole thing has been a good reinforcement of the lesson that farming requires matching concrete knowledge and experience to a wild and complex mashup of conditions offered by the natural world.
On another front, maybe the biggest setback we’ve faced yet this season also involves germination, but indoors rather than out. We heat-treat our tomato seeds to insure against seed-borne diseases, which really just means that we put them in hot water at a specific temperature for a specific length of time to kill any dormant pathogens that may be hiding out. This year we used a hotplate and thermometer and adopted Four Winds’ method (in previous years we have used a home sous-vide machine, which is great for this), but something went funky and some combination of heat and duration damaged our delicate tomato seeds to the point where they mostly failed to germinate. This is a big blow since tomatoes are one of the highest value crops, and one with a high value on producing early. Frankly they are also beautiful and delicious, and the thought of going without even one of the many varieties we’re planting is painful to imagine. Luckily, Jenna has a stash of seed from past years from which we were able to put together a comparable planting and what we couldn’t find we ordered ASAP, so with luck our tomato crop won’t be set back too far.
In other news, we have been continuing to sort through old equipment, seeding and potting up in the greenhouse, and putting our first transplants into the field. This week our first basil went out! We have also been working to fill in some gaps in our irrigation supplies so we have everything we need to keep our seedlings happy and hydrated.
This week we’re looking forward to more warm days and more planting. Potatoes will be going into the ground! Things are starting to speed up and though we’ll miss our relaxing winter days I think we’re all looking forward to getting into the swing of things. (I guess putting that in writing means I can’t take it back come June…)
Signing off for now, but tune in soon for more updates and in the meantime enjoy the warm days and sunshine!
— Sam, Anthony, and Leslie