Patchwork: How was your harvest this year

“What is going on at the farm?” September on a vegetable farm is perhaps the busiest month of the year. We are harvesting, processing, putting into storage and selling vegetables, cleaning up the fields, taking soil samples, applying compost and cover cropping. As we strive to keep order on our farm and prepare for winter, the fields that once supported long straight rows of spring and summer crops are now mostly empty of greenery.
They’ve been fallowed and harrowed a few times to incorporate all plant debris and any newly sprouted weeds. Some areas have seen applications of compost and some have been planted to one cover crop or another, depending on our plans for next spring (see Will’s side bar). Our goal is to have well-established “green manure” crops on most of our fields before the freeze sets in. These cover crops will protect the soil from wind and water erosion and provide organic material to plow back into the soil in the spring.
“What are you harvesting?” Lots of potatoes. First we mow off the tops at least one week before harvest, which toughens up the skins. Then we run the digger through each row, which lifts them out of the soil and leaves them on top of the ground. Next we pick the spuds up into buckets, which are gently poured into bins, which are, in turn, finally stacked in a dark shed. Darkness is important to keep the tubers from turning green. We’ll store them at 50-60 degrees F for 2-3 weeks to cure the potatoes. As outside temperatures gradually drop, they will be held at about 40 degrees F until they are sold.
Our winter squash harvest is well under way. The acorn, butternut and buttercup are in storage. Next it will be the delicata, sweet dumpling, pie pumpkins and Hubbard. We cut and pile them, fill the bins and park them in the green house for several days. A couple of weeks of storage in warm temperatures will help them to cure and develop flavor, from there they will be moved into the shed and stored at 55-60 degrees until sold. Chilling injury can occur in the field or in storage. Hubbard and butternut can keep for six months or more, acorn and buttercup two to three months or more. Squash should be kept dry and stored in a warm area.
How was our year? Productive and busy, but it is not over yet. Meanwhile, we will continue to harvest and sell well into the fall: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, leeks, celeriac, beets, rutabaga, Brussels sprouts and carrots. Up until frost, we’ll have tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs and flowers to tend to. The irrigation pipe needs putting way. We’ll continue to spray for those cabbage worms since the white moths are still flying. We will get the apples picked and off to the cider mill. We’ll get pumpkins to the brewery to freeze for next seasons’ pumpkin ale.
This weekend we’ll be the third stop on the Tour de Farms bike ride, and we will be preparing samples to offer the bikers. The campaign season is upon us, and it is time to order plugs and cuttings for the spring greenhouse. We can’t thank our dedicated crew enough for helping us to keep it all going!
Golden Russet Farm, Shoreham
Choosing a suitable cover crop
When thinking about what to plant for your winter cover crop, it’s best to know how the area will be used next spring. Oats, which will die over the winter, are best for early spring-planted crops. Rye (the grain, not the grass) is good for lighter soils that can be tilled in the spring, and should be incorporated before it gets too tall, since it will be difficult to manage once it sends up its seed stalk. Winter wheat is a little slower growing than rye, which makes it better suited for ground that tends to stay wet in the spring, since you will have a longer window of opportunity to till it in before it gets stalky.
Here’s a variation if you are able to take a section of your garden out of production for a year or two: since both rye and wheat generally overwinter well, either can act as a “nurse crop” for red clover. In late March or early April, sprinkle the clover seed right over the grain (this is called “frost seeding”), and then be sure to mow off the grain when it is about 6 inches tall, sometime in May. This will “release” the clover, which will (if all goes according to plan) grow on and mature. Mowing the clover once or twice throughout the season will feed the earthworms, while the roots will fix nitrogen from the air in the soil. Leaving the area in clover sod for two years will reduce the weed seed bank, feed the soil, and maximize the nitrogen yields for future vegetable crops.

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