Fall has arrived at the farm! The changing of the seasons has many different impacts on the farm and on us, the farmers.
Last week, we had our first surface frost. The frost had a noticeable impact on many leafy plants. The bean and zucchini plants now look rather dead, with blackened and rotting leaves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the plants are completely finished – we still harvested a good amount of zucchini and beans this week – but they are on their last legs, and any fruit that was exposed during the frost was damaged. The basil in the greenhouse also suffered, with any leaves that were touching the sides or poking outside freezing and blackening. With the salad greens, the frost did not kill them, but we had to be careful to wait until the leaves thawed before harvesting, to allow them to recover.
Frost can also have a beneficial impact on some crops. Carrots and parsnips, for example, get sweeter after a frost. And the frost that kills back some of the greenery on the winter squash plants allows us o harvest much more easily.
Other Seasonal Changes
As the weather turns, we now start our days a bit later in the morning, keeping up with the later sunrise and colder mornings. We have started covering some of our fragile crops, like salad greens, with floating row cover to insulate them somewhat from the cold and potential frost. We close the greenhouses (usually kept open for air flow during the day) as soon as the sun moves behind the mountain, to trap the heat. Harvesting has shifted from the summer vegetables, and into the fall crops like squash.
As we prepare the farm for winter, one important thing to do is to cover the soil in the beds that are finished for the season. This is important for several reasons: to hold the soil in place and discourage runoff from rains and snow melt; to outcompete the spring weeds by already having growing plants; and to have a good crop of greenery to plow into the soil in the spring, adding organic matter. All of these are important for long-term soil health, as well as short term benefits for annual crops. Here at Rootdown, we are covering our fields in fall rye, a quick growing grass that can cover the soil and prevent weeds from establishing. As we finish different beds in the field, the rye is being planted, with the idea that the grass will start to grow and get established before the winter freeze.