• Sarah Elizabeth Smith

Observation & Consideration ~ Movements of a New Season

Welcome 2021 growing season! We've been hard at work since March, preparing the ground, starting seeds, and building & expanding on the entire farm system here at Sweet Soil. In anticipation of another hot, dry summer, we've done the bulk of our planting and seeding early this year so that most crops will be strong and established by the time the drought weather arrives. Of course, we hope for rain, not only for the success of our crops, but to sustain the ecosystem that we are a part of. It's been an enormous blessing to have received rain showers at least twice per week this season, still, we've invested in two systems that will hopefully address the problems that we ran into last year: Last season's drought put an enormous amount of pressure on our well and the pond was so low that we could not count on using that water for irrigation; The drought also affected the amount available food in the forests around the farm, and we lost much of our carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberry and beet crops to deer and racoons.

A drip irrigation system (though tedious to set up and made completely of plastic!) will both conserve water and make it more efficient for us to water more of our vulnerable crops at once - moving from hand watering every bed to this automated system has been quite luxurious - and we've invested in a wildlife fence that will keep deer and other small critters out of the fields. We're leaving the wildlife corridor at the back of the farm open so that animals can still pass through, while at the same time protecting the vegetable fields.

This is the sixth growing season we've spent on this land and our eyes are open to the accumulation of movement and change that arises as each season passes into the next; It is important to recognize, as we try to manipulate this farm system toward sustainable biodiversity and overall health, that all our farming and stewardship practices have both short and long-terms effects in each microcosm of field space and across the farm as a whole;

Can you spot the Sage, Chamomile, Chives and Sea holly?

Some beautiful Swamp Milkweed transplants ready to go for the Monarchs

All our past practices have an effect on the land and so need to be taken into consideration in order to prepare for each coming season. Some examples of these effects that we ourselves induce simply by farming the land include changes in soil structure (did root crops helps to aerate the soil; did vine crops help to suppress weed growth and maintain soil moisture; did frequently harvested crops create areas of hardened soil where there was excessive foot traffic?), changes in weed plant populations (Were perennial or annual weed plants allowed to go to seed, thus increasing their populations or did weed plants diminish because of soil covers like living cover crops or landscape fabric?), changes in soil fertility (Which cover crops have helped to replenish specific nutrients in each area of the field; how much cover crop residue still needs to break down before vegetable crops can be planted; which crops have used specific nutrients last season), changes in insect populations (taking into consideration both infestations of pests and healthy populations of beneficial insects)

Many varieties of vegetable have to be covered to protect against pests. Top photo: Cabbages, Broccoli and Kale are protected from flea beetle and cabbage moth; Above: Under the row cover are Basil, Zucchini, Cucumbers and Melons, all crops that are susceptible to cucumber beetle, flea beetle, slugs and grasshopers

Raised beds on the left and a trial of Buckwheat planted as a ground cover in between rows of potatoes.

And ... our farming practices also create changes in the movement of ground water as well as the development of micro-climates on our farm, for example: we've dug a pond which means wetland plants are starting to develop along its edges; we've tilled the soil and made raised beds which means that water is more likely to drain away from the beds and into the soil, instead of pooling in certain areas of the field; our greenhouses have created heat pockets and wind breaks and our orchard and perennial gardens have created shade and habitat for beneficial insects and amphibians.

Chives and Currants

Raspberries and Comfrey

Borage and Sage just about to flower!

Some changes we might consider to be positive and some changes have simply made it easier for this land to grow vegetables, which it would not naturally be doing had we not interfered. Nonetheless, as humans, most of us manipulate and change our immediate environments simply by being alive. If we can do this consciously and remain connected to a respectful intention, we might have beneficial effects on the world around us instead of detrimental ones.

Early Spring greenhouse with beds of Fennel, Green Onions & Beets, and trays of Squash seedlings.

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