This is one of my favourite times of year for farming. And I’m not talking about washing root vegetables or harvesting greens from a frosty greenhouse (though those things have their charm). This is one of my favourite times of year because it is when seed catalogues arrive in the mail! That’s right, it is time for seed ordering! One of my all-time favourite pastimes. Not only are seed catalogues beautiful and interesting and full of new possibilities of things to grow, seed catalogues mean the chance to try things anew, implement new ideas, review what we have been doing and make changes towards improvement. At this time of year, we have been reviewing last season’s garden for awhile now, have gone over what happened, why and how to change things for the better and have made a good dent in planning for next year’s garden. So, as the seed catalogues begin to arrive in the mail, I can choose out new varieties or tweak the combination of varieties that we already grow. I’m always making small changes in the garden – choosing varieties so that crops are ready when I want them to be, have better vigour in the field or or display some other characteristic that I am looking for. You may not know it, but there are dozens of varieties available for each type of vegetable that we grow (and often thousands in existence of each type of vegetable) and we are always trying out new ones to see how they fare in our conditions and whether they are delicious, beautiful and hardy.
In fact, lots of planning for new things is happening at the farm at the moment. I’m currently working on a new system for membership registration that will hopefully be ready in a week or so, we are reviewing our fertility management regime and we’re considering which new tools may help our efficiency in the garden next season.
We’re also seeing some of the fallout from last year’s incredibly wet season which members may be been noticing in your winter shares. You may have found onions in your share with a bit of brown, rotten-ish centre or outer layer. That is the result of disease that we had in the garden which was a direct result of constant rain. We’re also seeing our stock of squash go down quite quickly, which is due to poor yields in the field this season. We think this is a result of a combination of factors – low fertility in the squash field that was made worse by soggy conditions (when plants cannot uptake nutrients as efficiently and nitrogen washes away) and a cover crop strategy that is not out-competing weeds between squash rows effectively and may be stealing nutrients from the crop. We’re also puzzled at the low vigour of the greens in our winter hoophouses and have a bit of a theory for that as well. You see, we should have had very vigorous growth in the hoophouses this fall but we think that a very warm fall and then a sudden cold snap meant that tender greens were damaged more than usual from not having a gradual descent into cold weather. We also think it is time to replace the plastic on the hoophouses because less light may be getting through, slowing the growth of the greens at this already low-light time of year.
Though having crop losses and failures in the garden is always discouraging these thing also mean an opportunity to make changes and get better. It’s one of the most exciting things about growing food, the excitement of working within a dynamic system and learning constantly, with the chance to always get better next year!0