Friday, April 24, 2009

Transplanting, cultivation...

We had another beautiful day, windy, cool and bright in the morning and still, sunny and (almost) hot in the afternoon. The last couple of days, when I’ve had my hands deep in the soil, I’ve noticed that it iss really coming alive, with worms and bugs squirming about more and more. This, of course, is a pretty good sign of good soil. I’ve seen the soil analysis of the farm, and we’ve got lots of the organic matter that all these critters love. If a person is looking around at different farms that might be for sale or available to farm, good quality soil is the most important factor in farming vegetables successfully. There are many different ways that a farmer can improve the soil, but it is generally a long, painstaking, incremental process. I can see that the future might bring a time when it becomes crucial to re-invigorate millions of acres of that have been farmed exclusively with commercial fertilizers and pesticides and have subsequently lost much of their intrinsic life and nutrients. I would applaud anybody trying to figure out good ways to bring soil health and fertility up, but it would be a hard row to hoe.

Today we did more transplanting of plants that were started in the greenhouse out into the fields. We did some of it with the transplanter, a contraption that is attached to the back of one of our bigger tractors. First these big wheels with triangular spikes punch dimples into the soil a couple inches deep. Behind the dimpler are two attached seats, low to the ground, that a couple of us sit on. Trays in front of us are filled with seedlings, and we take the plants and their attached plug of soil and roots and push them into the dimples and cover the plug with soil. Sounds simple enough, and almost relaxing (sitting down as the tractor moves slowly up the bed…) but for an inexperienced hand like me it can get pretty intense trying to keep up with the (incredibly slow) pace of the tractor. I think they call the different settings turtle 1, turtle 2, turtle 3, etc. Yesterday we did lettuce, today we did cabbages, kohlrabi and onions.

The other major event of the day was I got up on one of the little G tractors again to do some cultivation. In this situation cultivation refers essentially to weeding, running squared-off wire baskets over the soil between the rows of desirable plants, in this case beets. The wire baskets run over and rotate at a depth of about an inch or so and churn up the little weeds that have gotten started and would soon grow up to compete with the beets for space and nutrients. It takes a bit of a delicate touch to ‘stay within the lines’, so to speak, as the space that allows the beets to go between the baskets safely is only three or four inches wide. But the really tricky part was getting the right depth of the baskets, as if they’re too shallow they don’t do much good, and if they’re too deep they tend to disrupt the soil too much, bringing up even more weed seeds from the soil and throwing soil on top of the beets. Anyway, it was kind of intense but a good, new learning experience.

At the end of my second week, I still feel good about where I am and what I’m doing, and am looking forward to learning more stuff next week. I hope to take some pictures soon, but it is tough to get it in during a work day. I may head over there this weekend with my camera and my binoculars to take in a different side of Appleton Farms.


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