Thursday, March 28, 2013

Planting Preparation

Our pretty display at the farmer's market is the very end of a long process.  I have talked a little about the planning in previous posts, but this time of year (or later in our frequent rainy springs) is most exciting time of farming for me--soil preparation.

Cover Crop of Bell Beans, Vetch, and Oats.
We try to have a balanced agro-ecosystem, a challenge that requires us to build up the soil to withstand the disruption that is part of annual cropping systems.  We do bring in some inputs of organic matter and minerals, but our ultimate goal is to have the farm sustain itself, much of our efforts are to preserve the resources we have and build up organic matter the we grow on site.  Many of our crops are happy with open soil around them, they have less weed competition and the soil warms up more and reflects more ripening heat.  When we look at the time that our plants are growing, it is a relatively short season, the rest of the season the soil is resting, and I want vegetation to cover the soil and protect it from loss of nutrients to wind erosion or leaching.

All that means:  in spring I have thick vegetation to incorporate into the soil, and I then encourage it to break down and become a rich food source for crop plants.  This involves the farmer's favorite tool: the powerful tractor!  We do use an electric tractor in the summer season for weeding, but for our primary tillage we use two diesel tractors, using a mixture of fuel that contains 20% biodiesel.

Incorporating Cover Crop with Spading Machine
This is a fun time of year for the most part.  Going back and forth on my spot on the Santa Rosa Plain in Spring is beautiful:   green hillside vistas, sheep in their pastures, grapevines budding out.  I often see several species of birds follow the tractor looking for newly exposed treats and juvenile raptors learning to hunt.  When conditions are right the soil looks and smells wonderful, it is much like making a dough, when the temperature and micro-organisms create a perfect harmony.  The season is still all possibilities so optimism can run wild.  I must admit it is not all a joy--soil preparation involves many long hours in the sun, lots of noise dust and pollen, lots of bumps and back and neck twisting.  After a long shift of enjoying the sights and feeling of spring, one can be quite beat up and exhausted.

Rough Shaped Beds, almost ready for planting!

Happy Spring!  Enjoy some photos of our soil prep,  our blank canvas is being created so we can have a great harvest in 2013.  We will be at the Berkeley farmers market this Saturday, March 30, we will just be at a market or two in April before we take a break before our summer/fall season.

Final Shaping pass, ready to plant