Ten hours of light! Even at sub-zero, walking north, the black-backed jacket gathers warmth enough to hint at spring. Two feet of snow insulate the fall planting of rye grass; in 90 days it will stand knee high. Oats that grew knee high last autumn act as mulch for the white clover with which they were inter-seeded.
Feed the soil, feed the plants, the plants feed yourself. Every year we spend hundreds on these cover crops, building up organic matter, breaking pest cycles, and, in the case of clover, plucking fertilizer from thin air!
These crops will soon be nourishing 10,000 cabbages, 1500 pounds of seed potatoes, 3000 bell peppers and over 5000 transplants of winter squash. These figures represent a modest increase from last summer, when the farm yielded about 16 tons of organic vegetables, all then given away.
A major improvement for this summer will be an irrigation system to boost the potato yield. The components of that system represent a wonderful web of friendship.
I exited strawberry farming in 1989 and financed an education, in part, by selling an irrigation system. That degree enabled a design-build landscape business and the acquaintance with the members of its professional community, who were exceedingly gracious to a newcomer.
The droughty summer of 2018 severely limited potato production, in a field not 100 yards from the pond that furnished frost protection to the strawberries all those years ago. So, enter the support group of nursery operators who allowed my gracious re-entry into the irrigation business.
Two years ago, a nurseryman donated his used irrigation pump. A perennial grower gave a valuable collection of quality brass fittings. These will connect with plastic pipe, freed up when another nursery operation shifted his methods of production.
These items combined should add several tons of potatoes to this fall’s yield.
Seed orders are starting to arrive. The cabbages and peppers will be sown into flats with a vacuum seeder donated by a local greenhouse. The benevolence of my associates from landscaping days sustains me.
The vast majority of last year’s crops, about 30,000 pounds, went to Salvation Farms, a not-for-profit dedicated to wringing the waste out of the food system. They organized volunteers for harvest, arranged for transportation to their food hub in Winooski, and got the produce sorted and packed by work-force trainees. Perhaps 90,000 servings went out.
Another large recipient was the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Based in Richmond, the group’s Health Care Shares initiative makes scores of home deliveries to needy households in northern Vermont.
We are in conversation now with this group to arrange for occasional help with weeding crops, a bottleneck in the production cycle. We are fortunate again to be associated with a group that, like my landscaping friends, honors the concept of the two-way street.
So we enjoy this time of planning and promise, await the advancing warmth to melt the snow, to stiffen the mud, to reach the day when field work can commence. From the outset you’re two weeks behind. But the growing light, the loam aroma animate the fast dance into spring. Can’t wait!