Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rescuing Carrots On an Organic Farm

Even grey, drizzly weather can have a warm feeling of victory to it, the day after helping to save a crop of carrots from an impending freeze. The urgent call for help came via forwarded email yesterday, from Chickadee Creek Farm, run by Jess Niederer, just down the road from StonyBrook/Millstone Watershed Association. Nothing like a deadline to get the juices flowing.

A field of carrots was ready for harvest and a potentially damaging snow was forecast. It was a good excuse to get out of Princeton and see where some of the food for the Thursday farmers markets comes from.

Go to a farm, they say, and you'll be greeted first by animals. The chickens were happy to see us, though we had little to offer them, compared with the windrows of leaf compost they had been scratching at. During the mass urban rejection of leaves in the fall, it can be healing to visit a farm, where the wealth of nutrients in leaves are welcomed and put to use.

That's Jess on the left, with lots of bags scattered about, already filled with carrots. Harvest was made much easier by a machine that had loosened the soil's grip, but also made the crop more vulnerable to a freeze. Carrots grew so densely, in five foot swaths separated only by enough room to accommodate a tractor tire, that the soil seemed to be solid carrots.

The density made for a big harvest, and occasional promiscuity among the carrots.

The field had a well-coiffed look, coated with ferny carrot foliage. One nifty technique for weeding Jess described is to walk through the field with a propane torch just before the carrot seeds germinate, and knock out any early weeds.

After harvest, the foliage is left on the ground. One of the concerns going into the winter months is to have as much of the soil covered as possible--with crops or annual rye. Otherwise, the wind can secretly, invisibly carry topsoil away. This field won't rotate back to carrots again for at least three years.

Elsewhere, many shades of kale led veiled lives,

and an allee of miniature kale palmtrees lacked only Playmobile people for scale.

Today, a followup email arrived from Jess with a report:
"By my calculations, that's 4649 pounds of rainbow carrots and 500 pounds of watermelon radishes that we snatched from the jaws of the weather beast. Great work! Thank you, thank you, thank you. As Karla said yesterday, it takes a village to raise a farm!"
That's a warm feeling to carry us through a chilly Thanksgiving weekend.

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