Changing Seasons

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.

Damaged bean plants

Damaged bean plants

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.

Winter squash

Winter squash

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A Day in the Life

Greens like kale are heat sensitive, and need to be harvested early in the day

Greens like kale are heat sensitive, and need to be harvested early in the day

Do you ever wonder what your Rootdown farmers do every day? Well, you probably have some idea, in the sense that we grow vegetables and bring them to you either at market, in the CSA, at local stores and restaurants, but what exactly occupies us for hours every day?

Well, for certain, it changes with the seasons. But at this time of year – mid-July, full high season – our days have established themselves in a solid rhythm of harvesting, processing, packing, and, when we have time left over, weeding.

Heat Sensitive Crops

Some of our crops are very heat sensitive, and need to be harvested early in the morning, preferably before the sun dries the dew, so those are always our priorities. These same crops also don’t store as well in the cooler, so they must be done as close to the time of delivery as possible.

These sensitive crops are the leafy greens, including our salad greens, kale, collards, lettuce heads, and chard. We harvest these from the field first thing in the morning, get them into the shade of our processing area, cool them down with water, and store them in the cooler as quickly as possible.

Some of these crops, such as lettuce heads, and others like radishes and spinach, do less well in the heat, and radishes and spinach are finished for the season, and lettuce will be struggling in the heat!

Speedy Growers

If left unsupervised, zucchinis can grow to enormous sizes!

If left unsupervised, zucchinis can grow to enormous sizes!

There are a few crops that grow very quickly in this weather, and need to be harvested every couple of days. With crops like zucchini and cucumbers, especially field cucumbers (a.k.a. pickling or snacking cukes), if we aren’t on top of collecting them, they can easily get oversized. And even with our frequent harvesting, a few will inevitably get overlooked in the jungle of the large, leafy plants, and we come across some giants with regularity.

Weeding in our Free Time

While the hot weather and sunshine is great for most of our crops, it is also good for the weeds, and if we don’t keep on top of them, weeds can easily overwhelm our pathways and rows. Weeds also take nutrients and water away from our crops, and so we try to keep on top of removing them, especially from slower growing crops like beets and carrots.

Beating the Heat

With the extreme heat of mid-July (37-39 degrees Celsius this week!), we the farmers, like the lettuce and spinach, can also struggle with the heat. We combat it by starting earlier, keeping coolers of cold water with us in the fields, and occasionally ending the days with a bit of ice cream.

Weeding is good, old-fashioned manual labour.

Weeding is good, old-fashioned manual labour.