This time of year on the farm is always a combination of slowing and hustle. The days are shorter, the workers and crops growing fewer, but there is still much to be done to be ready for winter. Most of these winter-prep tasks have no particular deadline, but this season's weather constraints have persisted to the bitter end resulting in a worklist that has felt more like July than October. Which is to say, the last couple days have felt like quintessential farming days to me: a weather-imposed deadline for critical planting, resulting in a complex sequence of fieldwork and tractor work, which necessarily involves mechanical breakdown, all while managing the workflow so that essential picking doesn't fall through the cracks. Which is to say: exciting, challenging, rewarding. This time of year it isn't a cash crop we're rushing to plant, but a covercrop (in this case rye, which maintains and improves the soil over winter, before being tilled under in spring), since Friday's rain will close the window of opportunity for tractor work for a long time. Over the last two days we dismantled and tilled up quite literally half the farm, ready to seed with rye.
We prepared the long-dead cucumber and squash field, taking up the hoops that supported the fabric rowcover and pulling up the drip tape that irrigated the rows all season – a tool and tractor borrowed from a neighbor helped get it out of the firm ground. Then it was time to mow, but a few minutes to being finished with the field, I heard a disconcerting clunk and looked back to find that the shaft connecting the mower to the tractor had sheared off and broken free. Fortunately, neighbors will step in in a pinch, so I went to borrow their tractor to finish up. They were also preparing to seed covercrop, completing the same tractor sequence as me. I turned their tractor on, and it immediately ran out of fuel and died. We were surprised but filled it with fuel, I drove off, and stopping to open the gate noticed that fuel was now streaming out of the tank (from the bottom, where the drain plug should be). Well that explains why it was out of fuel! After running to find a n empty jug, calling the neighbor to help, getting buckets set up and settling in to let the 20 gallons of fuel drain right out again, I went to hook up my big disc to be ready for the next days' tillage. There's always a bit of unexpected setup and repair to do on such rarely-used equipment; this time a tire had gone flat and needed to be re-seated on the rim and a couple critical bolts needed to have the threads cleaned up with the tap&die set. I so enjoy the flurry of work that these sequences require, and the diversity of skills I get to employ – experimentation, problem-solving, equipment operation, and creative repairs to get the job done.
Today, luckily, everything went according to plan with the fieldwork. I drove the disc over half the farm, and over the one neighbor's field, and then the other neighbor's, since I have the big equipment for the tillage job and today is the right time to use it before rain. All the while the two workers were picking for CSA – but it took quite a bit longer than expected, because this season's weather and resulting lack of vegetables has forced us to rely on a couple terribly time consuming items this week. We finished the day by lifting the last two rows of potatoes with the tractor and potato digger, since waiting until after the rain would mean having to dig them out by hand.
Meeting the challenge of shifting weather, labor, and equipment logistics is always difficult, though it really is something I enjoy about this business: “Can we get this done? Let's find out!” In the end, the covercrop project will be a success, turning half the farm from crops to open ground seeded in rye, ready for the rain. However I'll have to do the seeding Friday morning, which means that I won't get the CSA packed in time, and hence the note about being late to deliver this week. In the midst of all this we did get the vegetables picked, which certainly feels like its own kind of success. I'm sorry to be off on the timing, and wanted to give you a little window here into what we're up to at the farm, so you can understand something of what's behind all those vegetables that appear in the blue bag. It doesn't always go according to plan, but farming always seems to offer an endless supply of challenges to meet and problems to solve, making it an endlessly rewarding livelihood.