October 24, 2016

Thank the Soil


Walking around the farm, I passed the field that had this summer’s tomatoes in it. It was not too long ago that the field had lines of six-foot stakes spaced every eight feet down the five-foot beds. Those stakes held the string that was allowed our indeterminate tomato plants to grow toward the sky to heights that were tall enough that when a person was standing in the tomatoes,
he could not see the hills that surrounded the farm.

Now there is no sign of the tomatoes that inhabited that field less than four weeks ago. After the tomatoes had run their course, we took irrigation hoses, string and stakes out of the field, leaving the tomatoes leaning over upon themselves in humps about three feet off the ground. We then made a pass through the field with the flail mower (a lawn mowing device that is 12-feet wide and goes on the back of a tractor) that devastated the tomatoes into little pieces of stems and dried leaves that were not more that a few inches long.

The process of mowing the tomatoes makes the job of the stubble disc much more effective. Without long pieces of tomato vine to get tangled up in the disc blades, the disc is able to turn over the top eight inches of the soil, mixing in the old tomato vines and roots, which have now been reduced to organic matter. The first pass with the stubble disc leaves huge dirt clods, sometimes 10 inches in diameter that tell the tale of the hard working conditions for the ground. The second pass with the stubble disc reduces the clods a bit in size, but the field is still filled with hard, dry clods of dirt.

Now Ricardo is completing the second pass with the finishing disc and the field looks beautiful. I walked into the field, and the soil gently compressed under the weight of my feet, leaving my tracks a few inches deep into the soil. Dropping down to further investigate the soils, my knees sunk softly into the finished top soil. I plunged my hands into the soil and picked up as much as my two hands could hold. Lifting the soil up, pieces fell through my fingers, and the fresh smell of healthy dirt invaded my nostrils. I noticed that there were still some clods a couple of inches in diameter, but they were soft and crumbled from the pressure between my fingers. To me, this field is beautiful, alive and ready for the rotation of cover crop that will soon be planted into it.

This is the cycle of the fields of soil on our farm. The land is used and slightly abused and then given a makeover to make up for the thousands of steps and thousands of pounds of produce that compacted every inch of the field. Soil is an amazing part of our world that everyone benefits from but few are able to truly experience. Next time you get the chance, take some time to smell the soil. If it is healthy, it will smell delicious.