Summer is so quiet here. Everywhere else summer seems loud, crowded and sticky. But not here.
The mornings are cool, calm and almost too beautiful. They seem otherworldly. Just the chorus of a few crickets and a pink glowing sky. Below are entire fields of sunn hemp cover crop, sitting fully saturated and supple from soaking up the daily rains overnight. We start our days at the crack of dawn. Around mid-morning the heat sets in and by noon the crew is done till the evening, just in time to escape the brutal heat and thunderstorms of the afternoons. This is our prime time to plan any projects, run supply errands and make phone calls before the early evening when the crew returns to finish up (finally calling it a day before sunset).
The off-season is our chance to choose a handful of projects that will improve our workflow and productivity during the growing season. One project we chose this year is greenhouse roll up sidewalls.. We tried out a few systems for rolling up the sidewalls on our very long (and very heavy) caterpillar tunnels. The one that worked best is a drill-powered system that rolls up the sidewalls in just a few minutes per tunnel. The way the caterpillar tunnels work, we have a temperature monitor inside and when the temperature gets too low or two high we adjust the sides manually. Obviously, this can happen at an inconvenient time, like when you have six rows of zinnias to pick in an afternoon, for example. So instead of sending a team to go walk up and down the five tunnels and manually roll up the sides, one person can zip over with a drill and be done in minutes. Wa la! Efficiency!
Each one of the greenhouse construction projects take an expert level of precision and math to get things just right, making them super fun to design (nerd alert!) Skills like measuring, leveling, and creating all come in handy during summer. No one is more suited to the precision required than our very own team members, Petra and Fernando. Not only are they knowledgeable and fast farmers but they have a mind for accuracy in construction that is unparalleled, and a lot of experience too. Their greenhouse work is truly beautiful; we are so lucky to have their talent here with us.
This year we were able to source local cypress wood from Peanut’s Sawmill down the road. We have been friends with Peanut for years but didn’t realize he sells lumber to local residents till a neighbor told us. Cypress is an untreated wood with natural weather resistant properties, perfect for outside building projects. In Mid-Florida, Cypress groves are growing faster than being depleted, which means it is a renewable source of lumber as well. This was an awesome discovery for us this summer!
Aside from our construction projects, Cole has been knocking some dust off the John Deere tractor and getting back some bird friends- the little cattle egrets that follow him around looking for bugs in the dust of the tractor. In fact, the past few weeks he’s been working tirelessly to prepare the soil for planting, maintain and repair field equipment to get it primed/ready and set the fall crop plan in motion. For the field preparation, basically that includes a lot of mowing and discing, but timing is everything. Once the cover crop has put on about five feet of growth, but before it flowers, it contains the right ratio of carbon and nitrogen to feed our soil. At this time, we mow it back and let the “green manure” slowly break down on the soil surface. Then we will disc it, which begins the final break down process. This kills any weeds hiding underneath the cover crop canopy as well. Finally, we rototill it in just before planting to feed the next crop with the nitrogen it will quickly release.
August is a transition month, threading together the summer and the fall. By now, we’ve been seeding fall season transplants for a month already. And last week, we planted our first fall season crops. Tomatoes, scallions, peppers, and eggplants all went into the ground. Summer starts to fade as we prepare for fall.
On the way to Lowes, on the radio, they were talking about the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel just released a report on the climate affects of agriculture. The report states that deforestation for the creation of farmland is driving climate change. They state the key to sustainable agriculture in the future is using farmland already in existence. The affects on climate change of agriculture depend on the type of agriculture. The sort of agriculture you hear about in these reports is a distant cousin of small-scale organic agriculture. Typically these farms plant hundreds of acres of a single crop like corn, then mow it under until they fertilize and plant again, leaving the soil barren without any cover crop. The problem with barren soil is that it losses its nutrients to erosion, drying out of soil, loss of beneficial microbes and tillage. Alternatively, a system that uses cover cropping to build nitrogen and carbon can keep soil healthy and in place. A cover cropping system regularly replaces that carbon, nitrogen and other organic matter back into the soil in the form of a “green manure” so nutrients are cycled, not depleted. When you hear about American farmland soil diminishing, this process of nutrient depletion is what people are talking about. It is avoidable with the right practices.
The U.N. is right. Everyone needs to eat, and there is a way to produce food that preserves farmland for future use and creates nutrient dense clean food in the process.
Wish us luck in the upcoming weeks as we hit the ground running and set the next season of organic goodness in motion! We hope you are all well and thank you for your continued support of our small farm.
Ellen and Cole