Tag Archives: compost

Field Turnover

So much is changing so fast.

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Nothing lights a fire under a farmer faster than the prediction of the season’s first rain, especially if the timing is early or the outlook is for significant precipitation. Ideally, a farm’s fields are fully clean of plants and weeds, bedded up, composted and cover cropped if necessary, before the first rain event of the season. And rain is predicted for the next three days, not a lot, but certainly it will change things.

In our case, many of the fields are still producing a straggling amount of food. In some cases a newer planting is kicking into high gear; tomatoes for instance. In other cases, the crop is finished for the season, like the first plantings of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.  The fields with finishing crops are the target of attention before the rain. For example, this field of peppers was essentially finished with another crop in full production so Saturday it was mowed, tilled, composted and bedded up.

Another important winter prep detail involves making room for storage crops, onions and winter squashes, in our case. Storage crops are the staple for small diversified growers who rely on having something to sell while they are unable to get into their fields because of weather.

Thoughts on “waste”

We took a walk through the varied fields, from crop to crop in all stages of maturation, with a number of CSA members last Saturday. And one of the things that kept coming up was how much food was out there not being sold. Bruised and damaged heirlooms littered the aisles. Colorful peppers created a floor tapestry between the rows. So much to pick up that seem perfectly fine. Someone should eat this, can this, make sauce, sell it here or there. Surely, this isn’t right! This food is being wasted!

OK. In some parts of the world, it might make sense to try to glean every last green bean, every tomato and pick through weedy beds of lettuce. But, the reality in Sonoma is that planting too much is what we do on purpose. How much to plant is an art in itself. We like to be “long” on a crop so that in case that caterer throws us a curveball, ordering an extra 10 boxes of lettuce mix, it’s out there. Or in case you want to can tomatoes, you can order them from us!

Farming means dealing with products that are perishable, sometimes highly so. There is always more that could be picked of something. How much to pick and how long to spend picking vary daily, especially this time of the year when so many crops are ready. The “waste” goes right back onto the compost pile or is just left in the row and tilled in to feed the soil. After all, the crop is made up of the soil. Just makes sense to feed it back. In truth, the cycle of life is augmented by this attitude I believe. If we leave something for nature and the soil life, we are promoting its abundance.

Every week a local woman comes to the farm to pick up a few buckets of what would otherwise be compost and takes it to her property on the hill to feed an assortment of animals both wild and domestic. One day we were talking and she made the assumption that if it went to the compost, it was wasted. I pointed out that I have a population of worms just waiting for a meal also. The worms convert this waste into a pile of biological activity that is like pure gold in my farming system, better than any compost that can be purchased. It’s a closed loop that perpetuates itself and actually somehow magically becomes better and richer with time. We simply harvest the sun’s energy into plants so it can build on itself.

With all this in mind, we canned 20 quarts of tomatoes and peppers Sunday. We didn’t pick them up off the ground, there were plenty of extras this week. It seems like perhaps we’re experiencing the wonderful result of the “back to the garden” movement around us. (The economic downturn has a silver lining). It seems nearly everyone enjoys growing tomatoes, and we salute the efforts. Come visit us for whatever you don’t feel like growing.

And at the end of each week, we set 10-15 cases of food aside for Meals on Wheels. Win. Win.

Rock On


Paul’s Produce is rockin’. There are routines. The field crew addresses cultivating, picking and packing. My schedule involves sales calls, pick lists, preparing the CSA newsletter and restaurant availability sheet, farmers’ markets, preparing invoices and banking. Paul’s days are the most varied. He does most of the seeding, directs the crew, does all of the irrigation, maintains the trucks, tractors and many other tools, orders seed, boxes and such a variety of miscellaneous items I can’t list them. And after dinner he tends to peruse Craig’s List for “things that could be useful”.

One such item that turned up last week was this rock sifter. It needs some tweaking, but we have a lot of rock in much of the ground we are farming. It is set up to sift the rocks from our compost. The spreader that Paul made this spring has trouble handling wet compost and compost with rocks.

Given the right conditions, this one-bed compost spreader works beautifully.

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