For the past few years, we have had trouble keeping up with demand. We have struggled to get plants or seeds in on time due to the fact that there was still something growing in the desired planting area and it hadn't finished producing yet. So what do you do? Pull it out early? or get your new crop in late? I usually made the wrong decision, regardless of whichever decision I made.
I knew we needed to expand, but I just didn't know if I was emotionally up to bringing another field into production, setting up a new irrigation system, having all my crops spread out, picking up rocks for days on end and building up the soil for another few years? Could I handle managing 6 acres? 3 was about to do me in. Would it alleviate stress or add to it?
The previous season, I had spoken with my agricultural extension agent about our weed problem. Being as close to organic as possible, spraying was not an option. He suggested letting a field lay fallow for a season, tilling it under every so often, allowing weed seeds to sprout, and then tilling it up again to allow more weeds to germinate. This would rid us of some of the seed bank that had built up over the years, and hopefully allow us to spend less time hoeing, our most expensive task.
If we were going to allow half of our farm to go un-used for a season, I knew we had to expand. We had one un-used field on the corner of Pitts School Rd and Hwy 29 that was going to be perfect. I had hoped to get started on tilling it up last winter, however, my dad had a heart attack or two and we got distracted.
I was nervous to think about the amount of rocks we would have to pick up in the new field. We had been picking up rocks in an adjacent field now for almost 5 years and the problem didn't seem any better. Would this field be the same? As I got on the tractor and started to till up the new rows, I reached down to feel the soil. NO ROCKS! It was gorgeous, fluffy, organic-matter-filled soil. Had my great grandparents already picked all the rocks out of this field for me back in the 1930s? Or was this field simply devoid of the rocks that plague our volcanic-based soils around Concord?
Well, regardless, planting in the new field was awesome. It was easy and pretty painless compared to the first time we planted in our other two fields. The crops turned out great as well. I was expecting to have to build up the soil for a few years, and in turn, not receive much monetary compensation from our plantings, but it was exactly the opposite! The field (called the BP field because it surrounds the BP station) became our most productive!
And thus we had space to rotate. After having left the vineyard garden (1.7 acres behind the vineyard) fallow for two seasons, we planted it in the fall. The productivity (although un measured because we don't pick fall vegetables unless we have them sold) has skyrocketed. The Gracious Greens program that we do with First Presbyterian Church has had record yields- producing more in this garden than in the previous three combined.
We are going to have to till all the fallow/weeded areas up one more time before officially allowing it to rest for the winter. I think it might be dry enough this Wednesday. However, it gets notoriously wet in the winter and might not dry up again until the Spring.
Having 6 acres has been an awesome experience. We have been more productive this year than ever before and planted all our transplants on time instead of waiting for previous plantings to finish producing before planting directly on top. However, there is going to be one big change to how we farm. Hoeing everything is no longer an option. When we had 3 acres, we had enough people to hoe. Now, with 6 acres, we can't find the people (or pay them enough) to keep all the crops adequately weed-free. We are going to have to switch to using plastic mulch for things like our greens, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, pumpkins, basically anything that we are transplanting into the field and not planting in a trenched- fashion. This will hopefully allow us to grow melons better as well. Normally the melons rot in the field before we can harvest them due to the wet, humid summers we have, and the slow draining red clay soil in which the melons grown. Maybe with black plastic, we will be able to solve some of the rotting issues.
I am currently looking into getting bio-degradable plastic so we won't be contributing to the land fill by growing 6 acres of vegetables. I've heard great things about it, so I'm pretty sure that we are going to go this route. I hope I'm up for the switch to another growing system. Every time you try something new in farming, you do your homework. However, there are always more problems than you could ever imagine or predict. Bracing myself again for the frustration that is growing pains. I'm sure to let you know how it goes.