Newsletter: October 2020
A message from Field Manager, Linnea:
Late October is upon us, which means frost is imminent and it's the end of days for long-lasting summer crops like peppers and tomatoes, and time for us all to change pace and slow down after the frantic-feeling summer farming season. Same goes for our soil, which needs time to rest and be nurtured when it isn't supporting the crops that support the farm. Lucky for us, in our mild coastal climate, we can grow cover crops in the cool winter season when the fields aren't hosting rows of tasty produce. Cover crops are a mix of plants, often grasses and legumes (peas and beans), that support the soil and its ability to grow "cash" crops, in our case, vegetables. They support nutrition levels in the soil which are essential for healthy plant growth and resistance to pests, keep weed pressure down, and are an important part of our organic farming ecosystem. They also keep the microbe population that is part of the soil happy and healthy, and these tiny guys (and gals) digest different minerals and soil components and turn them into stuff plants can take up and use. During winter, cover crops ALSO keep soil in place, which might run off or get compacted during big rains. During summer they hold soil in place too, by keeping it from drying out and blowing away. Having plant roots holding soil together keeps the structure healthy too, which again makes for happy healthy plants. Amazing! Ok, maybe only to me.
Over the past few years we have been working on improving our cover cropping plan, and it just keeps getting better and better. Timing is important; the more daylight and warm sunny days it has to grow before everything is gray, cool, and sleepy; the better those roots can hold the soil together and help it act like a big sponge to absorb water. This year I'm proud to say we were really prepared; seed was ready to go and we were able to seed immediately after calling it quits on our tired summer crops. Unlike a lot of veggies we grow that start in the greenhouse and then get planted out to the field, cover crop seed gets planted right into the ground and then watered in. We're lucky to use recycled water from the city of Santa Rosa for this, but it's common to wait until just before a rain to seed and let the sky do the work. This winter's cover crop is a mix of oats, barley, triticale (a cross between rye and wheat), peas, vetch, and clovers. Each of those plants brings different benefits to the soil and to future veggie crops, and they all get mixed before seeding and go in the ground together. Most of our fields have been seeded already over the past few weeks, and it's fun to go out and identify which seeds are sprouting. By late winter/early spring when the days start to get longer, the cover crop "jumps," or grows bigger faster, and turns our fields into tall seas of green, which then get mowed and turned into the soil before we plant all the veggies.
This year we also experimented with some summer cover crops, to keep blank soil covered and to try to rehabilitate some areas of the farm where we thought the ground could use a little extra love. For this, we used buckwheat, which is beautiful, grows fast, and is a fan favorite among honeybees, pollinators, and beneficial insects that help us. Having giant blocks of flowers buzzing with bees also increased general human happiness on the farm, which is another essential for growing good food! In a couple of these areas, we had two cover crops in a row, which made me feel like we were really doing the right thing to support the soil that supports us. It's fun to get better at taking care of soil each year, and to see the changes in everything else we do that result from that. It feels nice to round out a full season of farming with the final big field task being a little love note to the soil while it builds itself up for another year. And it's fun to get to write really nerdy (sorry) newsletters about maybe my favorite of many different tasks on the farm!
Questions? Feel free to hit "reply" with your cover crop curiosities, or just to say "hi"! As always, we're incredibly grateful to be able to continue the work of growing food, and we are ever so thankful for your continuous support. Come say hello at our farmers markets: Occidental has ended for the season, but Healdsburg continues on Saturdays through November, and San Rafael at The Civic Center on Sundays year-round (that's right - our first ever year-round market!).
Stay tuned for more next month on our winter crops and exciting value-added products, including some very special holiday gift options!
Oh, and Happy Halloween!
-Linnea & the Blue Leg crew