Returning Farm Intern Muriel arrived two weeks ago (already?!) , along with increased responsibilities and a great attitude! She immediately got to work cleaning up the summer’s accumulation of spiderwebs, dust and debris in the barn, taking inventory of planting supplies, starting germination tests for our heirloom tomato seeds, posting CSA enrollments, and a host of other startup chores.
In the meantime, I, Farmer Margie, was waiting to till under the cover crop… and waiting…and waiting…and waiting… Why? It was raining every single day, and not just a little. The soil has been soggy for weeks. You can’t work the soil when it’s so wet – you’ll destroy its tilth, and that’s something you want to avoid – even if it set you back a few weeks.
So what the heck is ’tilth’ anyway? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines it as: ” the state of aggregation of a soil especially in relation to its suitability for crop growth”; not too bad, but not too informative, either. Soil consists of many differently-sized particles, with air and water spaces, and lots of micro-(and not so micro-)organisms living in it. Some are bad, but most are good and essential to the soil’s health. In the soil there are rocks (and boy, do we know about rocks here!), sand, humus (broken down organic matter), clay, minerals in many forms, bones, shells, glass (natural and man-made), and tons of other things. When the soil is in good tilth, all these materials are loosely aggregated (clumped together), leaving holes (pores) of varying sizes. These pores hold air, which the living organisms use for gas exchange (breathing), and water, which both plants and animals use in many ways. When it rains a lot, the soil gets waterlogged. Much of the air is displaced by water. If there’s standing water, the soil becomes anaerobic (no air), and most soil microorganisms die. Likewise, if you work the soil while it’s waterlogged, it gets all compacted (mudpies, anyone?), and the air spaces disappear – same result, plus it dries up hard as a rock. Those of you who have lived in places with lots of clay – or here where marl is found (which acts just like clay), know exactly what I mean. No good for living things when compacted- thus, no good for plants. Good tilth is when the soil has just enough lumps, air spaces, water spaces, and healthy, thriving organisms. This we want.
SO, I waited and waited for 3 days in a row with no rain. Finally, last Friday, I thought- this is the day! Well, here came the rain-AGAIN! It poured early on Saturday, too, but luckily, not for a long time. And it had dried enough on Sunday that I was finally able to begin.
First, the mowing. By now, the cover crop (and the weeds in the places the cover crop didn’t take well), were about two feet taller than myself -check out the picture in Redland Rambles, and remember that was taken 3 weeks ago – it grew a good two feet since then. OK! Got that started, but I may have to make another pass. Many of the Sunn Hemp plants just lay down, flattened by the tractor wheels, and the bus hog (big-ass mower) just flew right over them. Hopefully the weather will hold, though they’re predicting 50% rain chance… and I can till this week.
The next step after that is to form up the planting beds. We use a bedder attachment on the tractor to do that. It scoops up the soil from the future walkways between the rows and piles it up – ideally flattening the top of the bed as it goes. However, the soil isn’t very deep here, so even though the discs scrape the soild off the bedrock, it usually doesn’t quite stack up enough, so we must come behind and rake the tops ‘smooth’ before we’re ready to plant. But that will be another day and another post.
Chow for now-I’m dreaming of yummy tasty greens already….