By the end of October, my farming apprenticeship with Dave was drawing to a close as quickly as the weather changed. Within a space of days, the days turned from golden and warm to grey and blustery, and the field work I so enjoyed gave way to periods spent in a warm kitchen, saving tomato seeds and guzzling hot coffee while waiting for a cold fall rain to pass.
October signaled the passing of peak season, returning us to fewer crop varieties and lower yields as well as fewer days going to market. But I continued to plant seedlings, keeping the fall crops supplied with new growth, and other crops — like potatoes — continued to bring me a harvest to clean and prep for market.
Once cooler weather arrived, even the hardiest tomatoes drooped quickly. We cleaned out the plots, starting with the earliest-planted tomatoes. I would go through the rows, clipping the twine from the trellising and removing plants, drip tape, and black plastic while Dave rolled up the wires and pulled out stakes. (In one or two plots, I managed to do all that on my own.) We salvaged the last ripe tomatoes along with flats of green tomatoes that proved to be market-grade, and then the rest of the vegetation got tossed onto the ever-growing burn pile.
We let the second planting of squash ride out the season as long as possible, but the first hard frost wiped out what remained of the crop. While those plants came out of the ground easily, their neighbors, the eggplants, fought me with their sturdy roots clinging defiantly to the ground. (This was probably the time I felt most at risk of straining my back beyond tolerance; fortunately, I had the sense to step away and do something else before coming back to the task.)
Not everything succumbed to the cold, of course. A fall planting of pac choi (which replaced the ill-fated third planting of cucumbers in field #6) took hold even as the leaves fell, and Dave continued to harvest from this plot well into November. Other plots welcomed a sowing of rye seed — a cover crop to build up the soil fertility in the larger fields. (Field #6, the newest and the most clay-heavy, especially needed this attention.)
Dave participated in a second farming experiment from OARDC researchers this fall. In this case, the research revolved around the question of protecting fall-planted lettuce from the elements and providing the best assistance to growth. Some of the lettuce plots had heat cables buried beneath the soil; some had plastic row covers (with slits for air circulation); some had both; and some had neither. Part of the data gathering included collecting information on soil temperature through the probes found under cover as shown above. As all of the lettuce was planted at the same time, it was a pretty safe bet that Dave would have plenty of lettuce to sell at market in time for Thanksgiving!
My work at the farm would not be complete without closing the circle and planting the garlic that I found growing last year when I first visited the farm (in November). Digging under a thick mulch of grass and leaf clippings, I planted row after row after row after row… of four varieties of garlic. This first plot rapidly filled with garlic seed, so we ended up mulching two more plots to accommodate all that we have available.
(And after rounding out my last week at the farm with planting garlic, I ended up helping to plant garlic at the farm at Olney Friends School in southeastern Ohio — as part of a summit I attended — and then planting my own three varieties of garlic before the weather turned too frosty.)
Work would continue at the farm after I left: in my last weeks, Dave finally received the delivery of his high tunnel kit, paid for by the USDA’s EQIP funding. He tilled the plot that would house the tunnel, adding extra inches to both the width and length of the plot.
I helped carry purlins and posts and arches for the high tunnel, piling them up at the head of the plot so that they would be handy for construction. In November, some of Dave’s fellow farmers from his Saturday market helped him start putting up the high tunnel, and just last week, the final touches were added. I have yet to visit and see the new structure, but this should help Dave start his season early next year — as well as extend it next fall.
After eight months, starting in winter and running straight through four seasons, I left the farm at the end of October, exhausted and cold but very satisfied with all the work I had done and with all that I had learned in one growing season. I am deeply appreciative to Dave for taking me on and teaching me all that he did — and for expressing the interest in having me return next year.
It’s been a good year.