Lean Sweet Acre


Since our last post, the excitement of the fall harvest has begun! We’ve been bringing in the storage potatoes to cure, along with hundreds of pounds of Butternut squash.  Carrots & beets have made a return to the market stand now that our bulk fall planting has come in, and the onions have been packed out of the greenhouse into their storage bags.

But, as always, we’re looking ahead to the next farming season which is not winter, but spring!  For the first time we are focusing a lot of effort this fall on preparing our field for Spring planting.  It’s a tip we picked up while reading “The Lean Farm” earlier in the Spring (the last time we had time to read). The book focuses on streamlining everything from work-flow to marketing to infrastructure set-up on a farm with a constant drive toward increasing efficiency and limiting waste.  This is an approach that has long been implemented in other industries since it was developed by Toyota in the 1970’s, but has only recently been applied in agriculture.

There are many inspiring ideas to be found in the book, and this ‘spring soil preparation plan’ is up there in our top three. The task, as applied on our small farm, will be to prepare our soil this fall by clearing old crop debris, shaping beds, & adding soil ammendments and compost.  Then we’ll cover the areas we need earliest in the Spring with a thick layer of straw mulch to keep the soil in place over the precipitous winter, avoiding erosion, and keeping weeds from germinating in Spring.

The issue addressed through this extra-early bed prep is the waiting game that typically takes place between farmers and their wet spring fields.  Often times in spring, the weather gets warm enough for crops to be planted long before the soil is dry enough to drive machinery over it without causing compaction and damage to soil structure.  So the field sits there, germinating weeds instead of crops while we watch at the window, hoping the sun will dry things up before our kale transplants get too unhappy in the greenhouse.  If all we have to do next spring is rake aside the straw in order to transplant our kale and seed our greens (via people power, not machinery), we’ll be off to the races much sooner and with less cursing at the rain clouds (since they’re really our friends).  Personally, I can’t wait.  The spring is a time of such multi-faceted effort for our small business: brushing off the cobwebs of winter, firing up the greenhouse, tax preparation, seeds ordering, reconnecting with wholesale accounts to finalize our planting plan for the season, and, of course, getting field planting underway.  To simplify such a large and important task at such a busy time will help to relieve some pressure.

A farming friend in our town has gone to great lengths to find high-quality, certified organic barley straw, shipped down from Aroostook County in Maine.  It arrives in 1-ton bales (see picture below which must be moved by tractor.  Straw is preferable to hay in that is it weed-seed-free and is heavier-duty material – the plants (like barley) that are dried into straw have stems that are hollow (like a straw), and contain more lignin, a material also found in wood that makes them slower to break-down over time.  Compared to hay, which is mostly dried grasses, straw gives our soil better coverage for longer without adding to our weed-seed bank.

There is also much that goes into the compost-making process, but I’ll leave that for another post before this one gets too long.