It is a rare early end to the work day (6 pm, writing on Tuesday), breezy, cold, raining again. And while I very well should be sitting back and reading Eileen Myles, I am doing THIS, because May 2019 deserves a Hexagon blog post, IMHO. After a frustrating day dealing with weeds and anxiety, I am excited to tell the story of the second year, which on a new vegetable farm often comes with surprises that are not very fun surprises (but also good stuff).
First, what have we been harvesting and bringing to market? It is not quite the end of May and we have already harvested for 3 markets! The last was canceled due to a threatening Saturday forecast, but we harvested most items prior to the notification, and they included kale, French breakfast radishes, our spring salad mix (4 types of lettuce, red mustard greens, and baby beet greens), and loads of beautiful stinging nettle.
A large portion of our market stall has been devoted to garden seedlings, which are great for starting (and continuing) conversations with customers. We are focusing on some relatively uncommon flowers and herbs, including borage, lovage, chervil, lemon balm, feverfew, strawflower, and purple globe amaranth, as well as basil and thyme. This coming Saturday we will also start bringing our wonderful heirloom tomato starts that will hopefully be planted in lots of Corcoran and Longfellow neighborhood gardens! In the field, we are looking forward to the first sweet, white salad turnips very soon, along with a new, cold-hardy heirloom collard we are trying out.
the 2nd year
One place to start the discussion of the second year is our expectation that the farm will be profitable in 2019! For a reminder of some of the fund-draining putzing we were engaged in 1 year ago, go back to this post. With most of the needed infrastructure in place, like the greenhouse and cooler we built, costs are relatively low. We vend at a swell farmers market and are a part of the brand new (and to date very small) western Wisconsin based cooperative CSA, Local Choice. Before leaving it at 'profit', however, I will point out that we, the farm owners, provide all of the labor and likely will not pay ourselves for the second year. So my definition of profit is awfully loose, as the equation does not include labor costs whatsoever (more on that in the future, perhaps).
The takeaway here is a satisfying sense of progress and the hope that we will shift to residency and internship planning as our farm systems are more in place!
Now, especially for you non-farmers, here is some fun news: technical aspects of growing, such as fertility and weed pressure, is sometimes more challenging in year 2 than in year 1. And, you guessed, that is the case here. The big challenge we are dealing with this month is rampant growth of weeds, especially grasses, in our vegetable and fruit beds (both annuals and perennials). This is commonly a second- and third-year problem because the weed pressure does not become apparent until the soil is worked for a full season and then prepared the following spring. Working the soil with aggressive tillage is a way to beat back such weeds in a relatively short period of time, but we do not do that. Instead, we are slightly adjusting our long-term plans (scaling back field expansion) and determining how to collect as much mulch as possible. Instead of aggressive tillage, we would opt for aggressive mulching (mulching being a particularly unaggressive activity).
Weed pressure this spring is exacerbated by the cold temperatures and extremely frequent and heavy rainfall, which favors aggressive (word of the day) weed growth and conditions that make bed preparations difficult. To picture what I mean, consider that yesterday I uncovered a 100-foot-long bed of carrots that had recently germinated. It was already sprinkling outside and soil was still wet from the previous rainfall, and I beheld a bed containing about 90% plants we'd consider weeds, and no more than 10% carrots. It sounds awful, but conditions like this are well known and demonstrate why farming is such hard work.
Thanks for reading!
We (Pat and Nicholas) own and operate Hexagon Projects & Farm LLC just outside of Downsville and Menomonie in western Wisconsin. Find our produce May-October at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers Market and through the Local Choice CSA (www.localchoicecoop.com). For more, follow us on fb and instagram and subscribe for email updates on our homepage.