Fall Farming 101

October 27, 2020

Each season at Stone Bank Farm brings new farm tasks, new vegetables poking up through the soil and new things to learn. After six months of working at the farm, I find myself at the bottom of the learning curve with each new season. Farming, according to Farmer Kim, is a job where the learning never ends.

Fall Plant Science 101: As autumn draws closer, the amount of daylight hours decreases. Plants respond accordingly by slowing their growth. In late summer and early fall, we harvested what we could of the tomatoes, peppers and other summer veggies —– and put our collective energies into cool-weather crops like salad mix, spinach, kale and arugula. Because most plants don’t grow much when day-length is less than ten hours (November 8th this year), we’ve got our greens planted and ready to roll.

While the high tunnel, greenhouse and hoop house allow us to extend our growing season, we are still utilizing the outdoor raised beds. Until adequate growing temperatures and daylight dip below optimum levels, we’ll continue to harvest the arugula, kale, spinach and lettuce that are currently growing outdoors. By covering these cool-weather crops with a double thickness of row cover, we’re adding extra insulation for those frosty fall nights. As for the “empty” beds: We’ve learned to leave summer plant vegetation and add straw, both of which serve as a cover crop of sorts to reduce soil compaction and erosion, as well as preserve the microbiome (i.e. protect the micro-organisms that enhance soil health).

New garden beds were recently dug to meet our customers’ demand for local, organic garlic. Kim and Maggie used the broad-fork to create 1,300 holes, making the job of planting 1,300 cloves of garlic, quick & easy!

Trying something new: Earlier in the fall, Kim decided to devote a section of the high tunnel in order to try a new “Pac-Man” technique for growing and harvesting lettuce. By planting rows of lettuce close together, with no rows in between for walking, Kim is able to fit more lettuce into the space. When the lettuce is ready to be picked, it will be harvested from left to right. That is, the row of lettuce on the far left will be harvested first, afterwhich those lettuce “stumps” can be walked on in order to harvest the next row of lettuce, and so on. This time of year, when we only plan to get one cutting out of our lettuce plants, this Pac-Man technique allows us to grow more fresh greens within our existing spaces.

Live & Learn: With each day of farming there is the potential for unexpected problems, many of which require immediate attention. Just when we thought we were going to spend our afternoon planting lettuce in the greenhouse a few weeks back, a flock of hens decided to have a dinner party in the hoop-house with our spinach plants as the main dish! It’s surprising how much damage a half-dozen hens can do! Four large rolls of fencing later…we’ve got a chicken-proof hoop house, greenhouse and high tunnel. Problem solved and lesson learned — never trust a chicken around your greens!

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