September 26, 2016

Summer Questions in Fall


Our first fall squash is almost ready to harvest. Any day now, the butternut squash and sugar pie pumpkins will be clipped from the vine with pruning shears. The orange, heavy fruit will then lay right there in the field for a week or so to allow it to harden up.

Warm, fall days are perfect to transform the skin of the squash from soft and easily scratched to strong and resilient. We will pack it out when the rind can protect the sweet, inner flesh from injury.

As we start seeing pumpkins and officially say good-bye to summer, it is actually time to prepare for next year’s summer. The end of the season is the best time to plan for the next go-around. We do this by asking many questions. Which varieties of melon did the best? If we plant the peppers tighter together, will they grow better, shaded from the sun? Did we plant the tomatoes early enough? A particularly important tomato question is: “Into which fields are we going to plant the tomatoes next year?” We do not plant tomatoes on the same field year after year mainly because of pest pressures. All summer long, fungi and other microbes that attack tomato plants proliferate in the soil around the roots. If we put our plants in that same soil next year, they’d be ambushed by those pathogens that are lying in wait. After 5 years pass, the tomato pests diminish, and we are comfortable growing in that soil again. So, we look into our records and choose acres that have been free of tomatoes for several years.

Now, before we get too far into the details of summer, we plan the spring plantings. After our available acres are assigned to spring crops, we are left with a road map for field preparation that needs to happen right now. Every bed of soil that is destined to grow spinach, carrots, lettuce, and so on next spring must be worked and made ready before it starts to rain in October and November. Those beds stay groomed all winter, and as soon as it dries up a bit in February, we will float our lightest tractor with the biggest treads over the wet field to drop seeds for the spring.