Thursday was all about the farm for me. In the morning, I drove up to Brookdale Farm in New Hampshire, to buy tomato stakes, row cover, and tomato twine. They’re the best and most economical local source for many growing supplies. Luckily it all fit in the car, along with all the tools and supplies I brought up. The tricky part of having to commute 50 minutes each way to the farm is that I have to be sure to pack very carefully, because returning home for a forgotten tool is not an option. On Thursday, that meant bringing every shovel, hoe, rake, tape measure I could find, along with spare clothing, water, dinner, scissors, fertilizer, seeds, distilled water to make innoculant slurry for the peas, and more. Luckily, our car holds a lot of stuff.
Then it was off to the farm in Dracut. I was a little worried that the ground might be too wet, since it had rained a little the night before. But it’s been dry and warm, so I thought I’d risk it. Again, a challenge of being far from the farm is that it’s hard to know exactly what the field conditions are going to be. It was damp, but workable. My goal for the day was to take a soil sample, to send for UMass Amherst for testing, and then get in a row of peas.
Without a key to the shed yet and the field too wet for the tractor, putting in the peas meant turning over a 180-foot long, 2-foot wide strip of land, by hand, with a garden fork, and then putting on some row cover to keep off the voles and deer and warm up the soil a tiny bit more.
This is what the field looked like when I arrived. Once I figured exactly where the row of peas was going to be, I picked out the rocks in a two-foot wide strip, cleared the weeds with the hula hoe, and put down some pro-gro organic fertilizer. I LOVE the hula hoe. Very fast for clearing weeds (though it can’t handle thick grass) and for breaking up sod chunks, and very easy on my back.
That left the hard part. Turning over the soil with the fork. This took about and hour and a half for the whole row. I’m trying to keep close track of how much time it takes for each task, so that I can have a clearer understanding of how much time I need to budget as the season progresses.
There’s something inherently satisfying in turning over the soil by hand and preparing to plant. It’s a primal feeling, this sense of taking steps to grow food, by hand. And it’s a reminder of how much work it is. I’ll be grateful for the use of the tractor and BCS rototiller for the rest of the plot. Still, I’m now reminded that I could work a quarter acre plot entirely with hand tools. I spent about 4.5 hours putting this row together. I’d need about two weeks of hard labor to do the whole plot by hand, but I could do it.
Once the soil was prepped, it was just a matter of making a furrow for the peas (which I coated with innoculant, which contains beneficial bacteria that help the peas fix nitrogen into the soil, on little nodules on their roots), covering them with soil, and laying out row cover. All those rocks in the field came in pretty handy, especially in the cool breeze that was blowing.
I finished just in time to head to a two-hour class on indoor seed-starting, greenhouses, and making soil blocks.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted. About as physically tired as I’m capable of being and still being conscious. (I’m still kinda tired.) But it was that good kind of fatigue, one that comes with the satisfaction of a job well done, completed at the right time. It’s a reminder that the season is starting, and my body isn’t completely in shape for it yet, but I’ve at least started.
Now we’ll just have to see when the peas come up, if they come up. There are still lots of potential snags–bad weather, too much moisture, hungry voles and deer. But we’ve taken the first real step–the farm has begun.