This whole farm thing happened pretty quickly, once it started. Unlike the typical farm startup – if there is such a thing – we didn’t really have much of a crop plan. The plan, if you can call it that, was determined on the fly and was initially based on the plant starts and seed that people gave us. After those crops were in, we put a little more thought into the other crops. Although, why we decided to plant beans – some dried and some fresh – seems like a mystery now.
This year has not been kind to bean growers; beans just started ripening a couple weeks ago (recall that we had a rainy and cool 7-month fall/winter/spring that only let up towards the end of May). Last year we had beans at the beginning of July, if memory serves, and then there were lots and lots. Of course this year we started them much later but, as of a few days ago, they were just thinking about flowering. That and the fact that some of them got eaten by deer forced us to answer a tough question; for them to bean or not to bean.
We have 13 beds whose length vary from 60 to 100 feet. By the time we had planted the potatoes, tomatoes, squash, carrots, brassicas and beans, we only had only 3 short beds left. In them we tested lettuce mix, spinach, kale, chard and arugula. Of those, the lettuce mix and arugula were the only ones we could sell. We were looking to the near future and seeing a poor crop of beans, some of which would have to be left until October to ripen as dried beans, and no good place to put another planting of greens in the mean time. We were also seeing the calendar and thinking that if we didn’t find some spare dirt soon, that we’d lose any opportunity to get fall and winter crops growing before light levels prevented growth.
And so it is that a cash crop of beans became a leguminous cover crop. Because beans do such a good job of transferring nitrogen in the air to the soil, our decision was a little easier. Future crops would benefit from the bean sacrifice.
The first step (after making the decision) was to remove the drip tape and its soil staples. Then I gathered all of the creeping bean shoots into the centre of the bed before chopping it into little pieces with the Palladino flail mower*. Next, I used the R2 power harrow to incorporate the mulched bean material into the soil. The harrow is nice because, unlike the rototiller which mixes soil layers vertically and tends to hyperoxygenate the soil, it (more) gently stirs the soil, leaving it in a more natural stratificaiton. Having said that, it still brings up a fair number of stones (our biggest crop, by far) which need to be removed by hand. Once the top few inches are relativelty stone free, the resulting bed is quite flat and firm, toned even.
Such a bed is critical for the finicky precision seeder but the prep work is probably worth it since the actual seeding takes mere minutes and compares extremely favourably with the alternative of planting individual heads of lettuce. And the lettuce mix pays well at $9/lb, compared with $2 per head of lettuce. Pauline, being something of a harvesting machine, can cut about 7 lbs of mix in an hour, using nothing more than scissors.
We use a washing machine to wash and spin the leaves which is a remarkable time saver compared to using a $5 plastic kitchen spinner. You can buy a 5 gallon spinner but it’s a few hundred dollars and you still have to do the work. So, thanks to Bryan on Sunset Drive who not only gave away his spare washing machine but delivered it to the farm. I gave him and his daughter bread, jam and salad mix as a token of my appreciation.
Now we just have to hope that it grows tall enough before it goes dormant for the winter and that people will actually buy it when we harvest it. On the one hand, there probably won’t be many others growing this crop in for the winter harvest. On the other, it’s tough to say how much salad people around here demand over the winter. Guess we’ll find out soon enough.
*From Palladino’s website: “The commitment that we assume to the customer is to make the brand synonymous with quality Palladino recognized as ‘guarantee and seriousness’.”