It’s been a long dry spell. This week we saw our first rain in over six weeks. The last rain corresponded with my last blog post, so it must be time to write again.
To be honest, these past few weeks without rain have been scary for me. Last year, our first year as Clueless Farmers, everything was a grand adventure, and we had no illusions of “making it” the first year, what with our little garden plots and massive capital outlays and one little farmers’ market. We didn’t even start planting until June, and our chickens were still growing when the market opened for the season. We worked like crazy, figuring stuff out as we went along, making far too many trips to the hardware and feed stores, doting on our plants and birds, and having this feeling that it was only going to get easier from there on out. This year, however, we have the intention of making it. And the real work is actually just beginning.
Here’s a little of what’s been happening at Glean Acres this year:
Starting transplants in February, March, and April–over a thousand plants–as opposed to the six trays we started in May last year. (Don’t worry, we started them in our basement with heat mats and grow lights, not in our uninsulated, UV-blocking “sun room.”)
- Signing up for four farmers’ markets: Our beloved Madison County market (our incubator), Archwood Green Barns in The Plains, the Market at Pen Park in Charlottesville area, and a new Wednesday afternoon roadside stand on Hwy 29 in Madison, run by the Madison Farmers’ Market (it starts in July.)
C0-founding a multi-farm CSA with several of our friends with small farms. There were organizational meetings, then a variety of marketing efforts from brochures to a facebook presence and e-newsletter, logistics such as payment collecting and processing, packing and distribution, and what to feed our members each week for 25 weeks…. We’re at 20 members so far, and two off-farm pick up sites. It is a lot of work for such a small membership, but we have faith that it will grow.
- Arranging to grow on over an acre of land at a nearby farm. The land there has been “worked” for decades, has great tilth, lots of organic matter, and the owner serves as a mentor for us, advising us when to plant, when to fertilize, how much to grow, when to worry, plus he does the tractor work. So far, we’ve planted over 2500 row feet of crops: turnips, spinach, beets, kale, mustard, radishes, onions, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and peas. Lots of peas. But growing over there takes great faith. Because there is no irrigation, and the water source is a spring-fed cattle trough about 1/4 mile down the road that requires filling up a tractor-mounted water tank that must be pumped out onto the crops a little bit at a time. That’s all fine and dandy when the weather is “normal,” with a rainy spring, weekly thunder showers throughout the summer, and only a dry spell in September. But when is the weather normal? This past month, we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time hauling 5-gallon buckets of water to the field in the back of our Subaru, dumping water into 2 gallon watering cans, and walking up and down the rows, rather pathetically metering out just enough juice for the seedlings to survive, but certainly not thrive. There were times when we felt very “Little House on the Prairie.” Noble, yes, yet inefficient for our times. So we are positively jubilant at this weekend’s persistent rain.
- Breaking about 1 acre of new ground at Glean Acres. This one is worth several pictures:
These pictures were taken about 2 months ago. The land looks pretty much the same now, only we’ve tilled it a few times with our rear-tine walk-behind tiller to keep the tufts of tenacious fescue in their place. We’re told the fescue won’t be going anywhere for a good long time. We’re told it would be best to plant in polyweave ground cover for the next few years if we want to have energy for anything besides weed patrol. So now, like many organic farmers, we’re learning to appreciate and celebrate decidedly environmentally unfriendly plastic. It’s a hard pill to swallow. We’re hoping to nurse our soil into weed-unfriendly health with cover crops over the next few years. Until then, we are of the mind that plastic on the ground is better than herbicides in our food.
And so, in the next few weeks, this ground at Glean Acres will be filled with eleven varieties of tomato plants, over 500 plants in all. That’s about 1500 row feet. There will also be gladiolas, and maybe even some cantaloupes and melons. The crops here will be irrigated with snazzy drip tape, with a plan unfolding to capture rain water from the roofs of our house and barn.
On this third rainy day in a row, we find many reasons to relish the rain. We get to enjoy the great indoors for a change. We get a break from hauling buckets of water. We get a respite from worrying about our well running dry when we irrigate for days on end. Our backs well-rested and pain-free, we start to feel like we just might make it after all.