Thursday, May 26, 2011

Field prep and planting

It's been a while since the last blog update because the past few weeks have been a frenzy of field prep, tree planting, soil blocking and seedling starting. If you've been paying attention to the weather, we've been having a very cold and wet spring, especially compared to the unusually hot and dry spring last year! In all of April, there were maybe 2 one-day windows for field cultivation and then a stretch of 3-5 days in May in which pretty much every field crop farmer in my area had to cultivate and then seed their fields from dawn to dusk. Any farmer that didn't manage to take advantage of those few days have now been waiting in vain for another stretch where fields could dry out. According to Environment Canada, some areas of Ontario had record rainfall in April. And so far, May seems to be super wet too!

I was lucky in that my neighbour who helps me out with field work once a year, was home and available the first almost dry day in April. For my farm, that was April 13, and he used a cultivator with S-tines and rolling baskets to break up the soil for the southern, relatively dry, half of my field. I say relatively dry because it was not ideally dry for any cultivation, but with more precipitation expected in the next few days I didn't want to lose my one day window to get the field ready for direct seeding. And it's definitely a good thing that it was done then because the next time the field was dry enough to be worked was May 9th! That's when the unworked northern half of the field was disked up.

In between the first and second cultivations, we direct seeded sugar snap peas, radish, salad mix, spinach, bok choy, gai lan, turnip, daikon radish, beets, carrots, chard and herbs to the field. The first sets of direct seedings were almost into frozen ground and were snowed on a couple days later. And then parts of the beds sat in snow melt puddles for days after that :( Subsequent plantings were doubled to make up for any drowning losses. It amazes me how much some seeds can actually take. The very first planting of sugar snap peas germinated relatively evenly given all these adverse conditions. I definitely expected more seed losses.

We also planted 400+ trees along the western and southern edges of the field to be future wind/shelter breaks. Many of the cedars were planted into very mucky puddles indeed! Planting trees is definitely a long-term investment as I don't expect the trees to get much bigger than their seedling size for the first 5-6 years. And I'll be lucky to see any of the oaks reach their full growth in my lifetime.

My vegetable field for the first two years was up on a hill that dried out fairly early, and the first two years weren't as wet in the spring as now, so I didn't truly appreciate what a benefit that was until this year. Each day in early April, Jeremy and I would check out the field to see if it was dry enough to start using. My first time venturing into the field when it was really wet resulted in a fall in the mud when my boot got sucked in. We really shouldn't have been walking in the field at all, to avoid compaction, but I just couldn't fathom how different things would be compared with before. Now I know!