On The Farm: Week 1

Last week was my first week training on the farm! There was a lot of getting acquainted – with each other and with the farm – but that didn’t stop us from jumping in and getting a little dirty.  (Neither did the weather, which was really chilly – thankfully we were able to spend some time in the greenhouse!)

There are 5 of us doing the season-long training, and we will be joined be a couple more people for the summer months.

During our first week we talked about the farm’s growing practices, learned about the history of the land, toured the high school, and got familiar with the layout of the farm.  We also had time to think and write about our own personal goals for the season.

The instructors are very big on safety and on taking care of our bodies…so each day we stretched, usually first thing.    We also had some introductory lessons in soil chemistry, soil structure, and irrigation –  WHY we irrigate and what plants actually DO with water.  We also talked about their methods of record keeping, and had a conversation about food justice and what it means to all of us.

On the work side, we jumped right into propagation and planted some seeds in the hoophouse, transplanted some crops into the ground, did a lot of weeding, and side-forked a bed that needed prepping.  Forgive the photos taken with my phone…still waiting for my camera lens to be replaced!

a row of strawberries, looking huge and already starting to bear tiny fruits! In April!

Collard greens, gone to seed

Starting with the row in the foreground, those are stock (flowers), hairy vetch and rye (cover crop), strawberries, overwintered lettuces and onions

In the hoophouse…I loved this simple work table (a “prop” table – short for propagation) made with hardware cloth – an inexpensive way to make a sturdy work surface.

We also planted lots of onions!

Using an old grill brush to clean off tools after each use – a great habit to get into, and the grill brush is a great idea.

Weeding tools

More weeding tools.  I found the curved tool incredibly helpful for cutting underneath the shallow roots of chickweed, which we weeded in great quantities!

These pink nodule-looking things on the roots of this clover are formed by bacteria and turn nitrogen into nitrate – which plants will then use. We tried not to pull up the clover but rather to turn it into the soil so that it can continue to fix nitrogen.

One of our instructors showing pulling up some beets, which we discovered had evidence of leaf miners on the leaves…

Of all the things I learned last week the thing that probably impressed me the most was how resilient those tiny transplants are!  When showing us how to transplant, our instructor talked about the difference between how you might do things gardening in your backyard vs. how they do them on the farm.  We got a big lesson on speed and efficiency.

She stretched out a measuring tape along the 70 foot row and had us very quickly scratch a mark in the soil every 8 inches.  Then she literally took a tray of 200 kohlrabi transplants, and without even bending over to lessen their blow, walked along the row DROPPING them right onto those marks in the soil as she walked along.  My mouth may actually have dropped open.  To plant them she used 3 motions:  pull soil back, set plant in, push soil up against / over.  Done.

What??  No digging a hole and gingerly placing each plant in it, then gently replacing soil and tamping down?  And dropping the plants onto the ground?

I was not the only one to ask “Won’t they break or get injured??”  In response she told us that even these tiny little transplants are tougher than we think.  Their roots actually need to be loosened a bit, which the dropping/landing takes care of.  As for whether or not they’d break or be injured, she talked about how on a farm this size they really only want plants that are tough – there is not enough time to give extra attention and TLC to plants that need help.  Wow.  Only the strong survive, huh?

I was also shocked that we didn’t really press them into the soil or tamp the soil around them…they seemed to sit loosely in the soil, with just a quick pushing of the soil over their roots.  They were practically lying sideways, as you might be able to see in this photo:

“They’ll grab on,” she said, “Just wait!”  And you know what, she was right.  Just two days later we were back and saw them standing up straight and tall.  They look great, and we got them done VERY quickly following her instructions.  It was pretty freeing to just “walk and drop” the plants, actually.

This was a major lesson in trusting in the resiliency of plants and in not being too precious, as I’m often inclined to do in my own garden!

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10 thoughts on “On The Farm: Week 1

    • That’s great to hear. It still astonishes me how much they can tolerate. I’m hoping to bring some “tough love” to my own garden this year!

  1. Someone once said… “Plants want to live. Each plant behaves as if it is the last of its kind on Earth.” I think it might have been the famous Jeff Cox on his organic gardening TV show, which I loved!

    What an exciting arena you will be working in, Aimee. Your photos are an enticing glimpse into adventures that await. I was thinking of you every day last week, jealously wondering how much fun you were having.

    Sidebar: ‘Jaune Flamme’ tomatoes, your seeds, have germinated for me after 14 days of waiting, scaring me pretty good, but coming through finally. Yelling at them did not speed things up. I had delayed tomato seed-starting more than usual because of my sale, then procrastinated some more with no excuse to be found. Then I used a soil mix that was a bit too heavy, delaying their germination. Close call, I think – I stirred around the top quarter inch just to give them a chance to push through and that helped. Whew !!

    • I love that quote! As if it’s a talent show and they’re all competing…I guess they are. I think it will be week after week of excitement (and weeding). :) Actually, I found the weeding kind of meditative…perhaps because of the long rows and the repetition? Weeding in my garden at home is a whole different (and difficult) story.

      Glad to hear the Jaune Flammes came up! Mine are also up – too big right now, really – but they did take a long time to germinate as well. I’m eager to see what they’ll produce this summer. The seeds came from Mimi, another Brooklyn garden blogger.

      Can’t wait to hear more about plant sale #1 – hope you sold out!

  2. Great photos in spite of the “camera”! I’m another one who faithfully cleans pots, tools, etc. I LOVE the idea of using a grill brush! I’m enjoying following along as you take this course.

  3. I hope this reference doesn’t come across as superficial, but I remember a scene in the film Ratatouille where one of the professional cooks is admonishing the neophyte, who’s being very careful as he chops vegetables, “Do you think this is your mother’s kitchen??” And then slices the vegetables in half a second. Your description of dropping the kohlrabi sounds like the same difference, between us hobby gardeners with all the time in the world, who cherish every seedling, and professional gardeners/farmers, whose livelihoods are on the line, and just get on with it.

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