April On The Farm
I just love April! Spring is announced by the flowers blooming, the breeze warming, and the bees bumbling! The farm is in full production! We have every inch of our Unionville farm planted with cool season crops such as broccoli, lettuce, beets, turnips, lettuce, radishes, and a host of beautiful specialty crops that will mostly go to Charlotte area restaurants.
We have one field that we call the “Triangle” that has most of our herbs. Several years ago, it started with just a couple of lines. Now almost the entire field is entirely herbs! I bet by next year it will indeed be all herbs. When I first started putting herbs in CSA bags and bringing them to the market, it didn’t seem like anyone liked them. The CSA members often asked what to do with them or even told me that they didn’t use them. We stopped including them for a while. We often would bring home bags and bags of unsold herbs from the market. The only people who really wanted herbs were chefs. Now it seems things are changing. We put some type of herb in all our standard sized CSA bags, and most people like getting them. We have an entire table of fresh herbs at the market and sell out almost every week! We have lots of herbs on our Chef Produce List and get lots of orders for them every week. Herbs just seemed a little slow to catch on, but now that people know we have them, and lots of them, they depend on us for them. We have a huge variety of herbs such as parsley, cilantro, chervil, dill, fennel, thyme, oregano, different mints, sorrel, red vein sorrel, lavender, savory, marjoram, many types of basil, tarragon, and even odd things like lovage and sweet woodruff. The chefs in Charlotte are great, no herb intimidates them!
We have a field up by the road called the “Cashew”. This field used to be a pasture for my horse named Cashew. It is our roughest ground, and we put the toughest crops down there. It also might just flood if the weather is really wet. That field has our Asian vegetables, beets, turnips, kale, broccoli and onions. It is our biggest field and most intimidating because this is only the second year it has been in production, so it also has the worst soil and the most weeds. I am so thrilled this year to have some better trained crew to help keep up with this field. Tomorrow we will have a crew of five down there keeping it in great shape. They will have fun too, because this field runs along Unionville Indian Trail Road, so all these high school guys can wave at their buddies going by in their big trucks. If you ever drive by this field, check out how we do our planting. Everything is spaced really close together. This is intentional. We put the crops so close together that they quickly grow together and shade out any weeds that want to grow between the rows. I hope that once we go through the field tomorrow, we will not need to do much else down there, except a little touch-up now and then.
Weeds are probably the biggest challenge to pesticide free growing. Without using herbicides, there are not a lot of easy solutions. Our strategy is to plant the crop very dense, in an attempt to quickly shade out any competing weeds. We also want the crop to be growing fast and strong, and we quickly hoe the weeds when they are very small. This gives the crop the best chance to outcompete the weeds, and hopefully get big enough to have the upper hand. It is never perfect. If you ever go visit a pesticide free farmer, you will see there are weeds in the fields. It is not cost effective to pay labor to keep everything perfectly clean. You just can’t sell the produce for enough money to warrant that type of labor investment. So, we try to keep things clean enough, and make the balance between managing labor costs and growing a good crop. That normally means there are a few weeds! I try to look on the bright side and consider that weeds also are habitat for beneficial insects to reproduce and live. We need the weeds!
One of our goals last year was to get better at how we use our farm help, and give all of them more responsibility. We must do this, or we are going to work ourselves to death. I’m really happy to let you know that it is 3:45 in the afternoon and I am able to sit here at my computer while an amazing amount of work is going on right outside my window! I’m not worried at all. These guys rock! We are getting better at this.
Enjoy the spring and eat your veggies!!