Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fall "Crunch Time" is Here!

by Farmer Richard

Do you remember the three foot deep snowfall on October 29, 1993?  I do!  I remember harvesting carrots by hand in the melting slush of that snow, not fun!  We love the cool, sunny days of fall, harvesting roots to take us through late fall and early winter boxes and wholesale sales.  Planting garlic, horseradish and sunchokes for next year after first selecting our seed pieces.  Preparing fields for winter by chopping crop residue, composting and planting cover crops—have to get ready for a new year! We have a long “to do” list and time is quickly slipping away.  The reality we face is we need 2 to 3 weeks of dry weather to get everything finished! 

Austraian Peas already doing their job,
growing nitrogen fixing nodules!

Four weeks ago we were caught up, every available acre was composted and cover cropped, some 60 acres of very nice cover crops with the Austrian peas already producing impressive nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots.  They were planted into very dry soil, but came up nicely with the first rain.  But then it rained again, and again…  We’ve had 6.42 inches of rain in October alone.  We still have about 30 acres of fields that need to have cover crops planted and we have fields to clean up including removing plastic and tomato stakes from the tomato, eggplant, pepper and basil fields.  Last Saturday afternoon we started planting our garlic fields, but only got 2 beds planted before the end of the day…and then it rained another inch that evening!

Do you sense some urgency here?  Some nervous apprehension?  We do!  We can harvest greens and herbs in the rain or wet soil, but those crops are almost done.  The warm weather of September and October (still no frost) has sped up the maturity rate of all crops.  We did some late plantings of beets, red radishes, cilantro, baby bok choi, etc knowing they might be a gamble if it got cold earlier.  We’re harvesting those crops this week and many will be finished for the season by the end of the week.  We’re thankful to be able to continue these harvests this late in the month and we’ve saved huge amounts of time and the expense by not having to put covers over crops to protect them from frost!  We expect our first frost to be more of a freeze (lower than 25°F), but by the time we see that, all of the vulnerable crops will be out of the field.  Now that it’s getting colder, the soil isn’t drying out as fast as it does when it’s warmer.  With more rain in the forecast, we’re concerned we won’t see the two weeks of dry weather we need to wrap this season up. 

The harsh reality is winter is coming.  As I sit on the back porch writing, I can hear the coyotes howling on the hillsides.  I love it!  They too sense the coming winter!  But we still have that garlic field to finish planting, plus most of the burdock field, parsnips, carrots, radishes, turnips and rutabagas to harvest and almost 2 acres of sunchokes to both harvest and replant!  This fall is much different than last fall.  Despite the challenges we face this fall, we’re thankful to have such a plentiful harvest in contrast to the crop losses we had last fall.  When we had extra crew time last year, we gambled and planted extra sunchokes and horseradish, with hopes of having a really good harvest this fall to make up for some of last year’s losses!  Well, our strategy worked and these crops have done well and sales are good.  But we still have to harvest and replant so we can do it all over again next year! 

Rufino, Luis, Jose Antonio and Alejandro coming
to the packing shed with broccoli romanesco,
cauliflower and broccoli.
Earlier this week on Monday, we mudded out some more daikon radish and finished our first fall carrot field.  I only got stuck in the field one time while pulling out a load of carrots, but despite the mud the harvest went pretty well.  We also went through our last three broccoli fields to find the small heads that continue to grow off the sides of the plant.  The pieces aren’t big, but they are tasty!  The broccoli romanesco field looks great!  This crop will survive a frost as low as 20°F and will actually sweeten a bit with the frost so we aren’t in a big hurry to harvest them.  There are still Brussels sprouts coming too!  We’ve intentionally held off on harvesting them because we want them to have a few frosty nights to sweeten them up.  We plan to harvest cabbage before the weekend freeze-up when our temperatures are forecasted to be 27°F.  It can sometimes be colder in the valley, so we’ve already started preparing so we aren’t caught off guard.  Irrigation pumps, filter trailers, etc are all drained and put away for the winter.  Bins of firewood are in place and I am back on winter wood stove duty.  We have a beautiful fire burning in the fireplace as I write.   It sure helps to take the chill off on cold evenings. 

Some of our crew 'cracking' garlic to get ready to plant!
Or crew is anxious to return home to their families and they are waiting for our final decision as to when they can start booking plane tickets to go home.  While some crew members have asked and volunteered to stay late this year, others are anxious to make it home in time to be with their wives when the babies they’re expecting are born!  Others have fields of hay on their family’s farm waiting to be cut and baled.  There will be coffee and corn to harvest, and of course there are anxious kids counting down the days until their dad comes home.  It’s hard to predict when our workload will lessen, but we do our best to make estimates and work efficiently.  We are trying to make the most of our time, spending frosty mornings and rainy days cracking garlic for planting, cleaning garlic and onions, trimming root crops stored in the cooler, washing sweet potatoes, etc.  But the bottom line is that we need those dry, sunny days!  Wish us luck and lets hope Mother Nature offers us a brief reprieve with some nice weather!  


crloeb said...

Love these reports on the farm, Richard. May the needed dry days come your way!


Very informative post. I really do hope and pray this stuff works.Thank you. All Beef cuts in Pennsylvania