It’s springtime here in the Rockies, and we all know what that means: abundant sunshine, sometimes strong winds, warm temperatures giving way to cold temperatures, glorious views of snow-capped mountains with green pastures, rain, and yes, snow! In other words, it’s that unpredictable time of year when a farmer must be prepared for all conditions in which to work to grow food.
A mid-April snowstorm puts the brakes on prepping outdoor beds for planting, but gives the mesa and the nearby mountains a good dousing of moisture, which will later be used for irrigation.
It’s also that time of year when we are forced to prioritize projects as we get the wheels turning for the upcoming season. We learned long ago that one can’t be fooled by a warm spell. Patience is a must. In other words, don’t plant cold-sensitive produce too soon, or you’ll live to regret it. The use of season extenders is how we can stretch what is a three-month frost-free season into a six-month growing season. We do this by, among other things, using hoop houses, planting lots of starters in the greenhouse that will eventually be transplanted and using row covers in the garden. A planting calendar with the exact dates on when to plant (with help from the Bio-dynamic calendar) also helps, with careful consideration to those plants that are cold tolerant. We have many tricks up our sleeves, gained from 12 years of commercial growing at 7000 feet in elevation!
Ultimately, the health of the garden comes down to the health of our soils. We’re strong believers in cover cropping as a means of producing “healthy soils.” Cover crops of cold-hardy winter rye and hairy vetch are planted in late summer and through the fall, and then tilled into the soil in the spring. Sometimes we’ll plant cover crops on fallowed beds in the middle of summer, with a warm-season buckwheat, which has a beautiful bee-loving and sweet-smelling blossom. The cover crops add nutrients back into the soil, compete effectively against weeds, help retain moisture and add organic matter to the soil.
A new implement this spring, the Berta Rotary Plow, has been invaluable to tilling in the winter cover crop and forming beds for spring planting. In the above picture, the plowed in beds are on the left, the bed being worked is on the right.
Beds that weren’t planted in a cover crop will see a thin coating of soil amendment produced as the end-product of our composting system. A vegan may want to stop reading here. Why? Well, because the best soil amendment comes from the so-called “waste” provided by farm livestock — chickens, turkeys, horses, goats, pigs. In our case, that’s manures, yes, but also offal, blood and bone meal, and feathers from the poultry processing plant, which are all mixed together for two years with garden scraps and from the pastured poultry brooder’s wood shavings. We let all of this organic matter compost for at least two years before it becomes a suitable soil amendment. In our way of farming, livestock is an integral part of a holistic living and breathing farm organism.
So, what does all this have to do with prioritizing projects, which was the beginning of the thought process of this essay? This discussion is a long-winded way of saying that in the spring, we focus primarily on bed prep and getting as much seed into play as is humanly possible. That, in essence, becomes the top priority out of a long, almost daunting, list of projects. But it also takes water for seed to germinate and grow. So, part of the priority process is to reconstruct the farm’s water infrastructure, which was dismantled in the fall, before the long, cold winter months.
We also spent some time in the past few days burning ditch. That is, we burn the dead grasses in the ditches that restrict the even and smooth flow of water. An efficient delivery system of water is an absolute must in the drought-prone southwest. Every drop of water is sacred; every drop of water counts toward our success.
Our first apprentice arrived this week, Amy Sobel. Look for her profile soon (with a photo!). She’s awesome and an avid learner. Two more apprentices will arrive in May.
This past week, we had a mini “work day” with some of our CSA members. A good time was had by all. We spent a morning prepping beds, planting seed and cleaning up the garden.
So far, we’ve outdoors: peas, beets and carrots, to go with the garlic that was planted last fall. We’ve also seeded onions, lettuce, arugula, beet greens, bok choi, mustard greens, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, leeks and scallions. Farmer Sajun Folsom, our only hired farm worker, is hard at work already, managing our pastured poultry flocks, three batches of which are now in the brooder. Once they reach an age suitable to put up with the freaky mountain weather, these birds will be put out the pasture to feast on the grasses in the intensive rotational grazing pasture.
Our mama goat Dahlia is showing signs that she may kid any day now. She’s huge, barely trudging along in the pasture! We’re excited to be drinking raw goat milk again!
A neighbor showed up one morning, out of the blue, and offered to sell us his retired stock trailer, which we will convert into another chicken tractor to give our egg laying hens more space for their summer pasture rotations. We’ve ramped up our hen count this winter so that hopefully there won’t be an egg shortage this summer, when our delicious and nutritious pastured eggs are in such demand.
So, what does all this mean? It means that, if you’re still with us dear reader, you’re part of a revolution that goes well beyond the healthy food on your plate. It’s about an intimate connection to nature, it’s about the economy, it’s about agriculture, it’s about community, it’s about the efficient use of resources, it’s about bucking the power of the corporation and empowering yourself to be more free than you can ever imagine. It’s about restoring a healthy planet. It’s about your own good health. Thanks for being a part of the ride. After all, ultimately, you’re in control. Make sure you’ve prepped your own figurative beds, readying them to germinate the seeds that reside within all of us.