Envisioning Life Where Today There Is IceMarch 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Posted in farming | 1 Comment
Winter field planning is an exercise in imagination for northern farmers. The fields are frozen solid, covered in a blanket of snow. We sit in warm houses with our hot tea and the last of the previous year’s popcorn crop, staring at Microsoft Excel and trying to paint a picture with numbers of a bountiful farming season.
This afternoon, successions of broccoli and salad mix come to life on my computer screen as I punch in seeding dates and calculate harvest dates and field spacing. When I glance above the screen however, only the meager green of a struggling house plant is within view, and beyond it the window frames a vast white expanse dotted with angular, bare trees. The coming thaw seems almost preposterous but I’ve been on earth for a few decades and am convinced of its inevitability. Such faith allows my winter-chapped fingers to fly across the keyboard in preparation for the aggressive photosynthesis of long summer days.
In one sense, field planning is mathematical and analytical. If the picklarium needs cucumbers in July and the weather will be settled enough at the end of May to set the plants in the field, on what date should we seed them in the greenhouse? If we want to give our West Hartford CSA members each half a pound of spinach on June 10th, how many bed feet should we seed, and when?
Field planning is a vast orchestration of different systems. If we will be done harvesting the first Spinach beds at the end of June, what should we plant in those beds in July? Can we outsmart the flea beetles by planting their favorite crops (those in the cabbage family) in an area where they’ve never grown before and then covering the plants with fabric? Knowing that tilling the soil makes a nice seed bed but has detrimental affects on beneficial soil life, like earthworms, how can we keep tillage to an absolute minimum? We could plant cilantro early enough to harvest in early spring, but why bother having cilantro before the rest of the salsa ingredients are ready to harvest later in the summer?
These right brain exercises are fun and often satisfying but I think it is the left brain leap of imagination involved in field planning that I like most. With the figment taste of watermelon on my tongue and the bright red of its flesh dancing somewhere behind my eyes, I scroll down the “Desired Harvest Quantity” column in my spreadsheet until I hit the “Sugar Baby” watermelon variety and increase the number of pounds by a bit. Remembering the way that last year’s deep purple zinnias mingled with the golden rays of sunflowers and dark green of ornamental basil, I check the timing to make sure that each of those plants will be flowering at the same time.
This is my first year at Adamah and I therefor ask my brain to take an additional imaginative step in visioning seeds sprouting in beds I’ve never even seen the surface of. I’ve heard stories about the beauty and bounty of the Sadeh and of Beebee Hill and I’ve already spent many hours thinking about their spacing, fertility and tilth. As I work on my spreadsheets, I hold clear images in my mind of the rich soil offering up a colorful array of calories and it seems almost surreal that those pictures are conjured and not remembered. I can’t wait to get into the fields and to join with the Adamah community in witnessing the character of this land.
Late winter can be a difficult time. My body begins to feel suffocated under the layers of wool. I tire of eating canned tomatoes and last year’s garlic begins to mold. The snow has lost its magic and becomes a crusty hassle. But the days begin to lengthen and, with any luck, the earth will keep tilting us ever closer toward the sun and the spreadsheet numbers will soon segue into the ever exhausting and exhilarating circus of the farming season.
Submitted by Janna Berger, Field Manager