Visitors this time last year would have witnessed a garden with only three rows left to hill and plant. But this year, with the lingering winter and inclement weather, the garden has all but about three rows to go. It’s a madness of squeezing a month’s worth of labor into about a week…if we can pull it off. That’s right, it’s time for garden frenzy.
The early crops are desperate to go in the ground. Little broccoli wait impatiently in their flats, while peas soak in the bowl. We did manage to broadfork their beds, turning in compost and lime to amend the soil and stringing up trellises framed by 2x2s and latticed with used bailing twine. There’s always a creative use for baling twine on a homestead farm!
The onions arrived during the last snow storm—a box full of 30 bundles of 60 little onion plants each. The lid reads “open and plant immediately.” The problem was that 18 inches of snow lay on the ground outside! Then we opened the box to discover that the plants were covered in mold. There was no way these little members of the lily family were going to hold over until things melted.
We sent pictures to the distributor and asked for advice. The word was plant them in flats with soil, water, and light, and hopefully they would pull through. If things didn’t work out, they’d send a partial reshipment. That night until midnight, we sat on the walkout basement floor, pulling apart the moldy stems and handling them one-by-one. Less than a week later, they were green, growing, and curling around their fluorescent grow-lights. We had saved them! But then, the UPS truck pulled up.
“Oh man!” he cringes, hopping out of the brown sliding door. “Did you guys have to get more of these? I couldn’t wait to get them out of my truck. I’ve got onion breath, and I haven’t even eaten any onions!”
It was another full box of onion plants. We opened it up…they were all covered in mold too. We looked at each other, shook our heads, and that night planted 30 bundles of onions until midnight in flats on the floor of our basement. Garden frenzy? I think so. Soon—very soon!—we hope to get them all in the ground and be done with it. There isn’t likely to be an onion shortage on our farm this year!
Last year, there certainly wasn’t a potato shortage. We had planted our biggest patch ever, with the understanding that an area restaurant was interested in buying 50 pounds of fresh potatoes each week. It didn’t work out that way, however, so we passed out potatoes in the CSA program, and we sold potatoes at Farmstead Creamery. We served potatoes in shepherd’s pie and Cornish pasties, and we ate plenty of potatoes. But still, despite everything, boxes and boxes of potatoes went into our basement storage.
By now, as you might imagine, they have been starting to grow pale red and green shoots in search of soil. What to do—we couldn’t use them fast enough! So this year, we put them all back in the ground for this year’s seed potatoes (along with some more from the store). We tilled up the patch by the beehive and had at it.
Our intern LeeAra hauled a bucket while we stuffed spades into the soft earth. “How much of this patch will be planted in potatoes?” she asked, glancing behind her at the wide circle of bare ground.”
“All of it,” I replied matter-of-factly. After the words left my mouth, I feared the idea might scare even me.
“All of it?” As it turned out, as we dug and chucked spuds into holes, we barely got them all to fit into the patch—red ones, yellow ones, white ones. Near the end, we’d toss three tiny ones into the holes, in the hopes that something would take. It worked last year with a few leftover russets, so these might as well find a use!
We planted the whole patch that day—something like eight hours of potato digging and 400 pounds of spuds. Garden frenzy? Well, Grandpa always says that most things are cured by hard work in the fresh air. We had just a wee bit of both that day.
One of our former interns and farm groupie Kelli loves to boast that “Those ladies have compost piles bigger than their house!” And it’s true. The other day, as we began the labored process of preparing raised beds in the high tunnel for tomato plants, we attacked the pile that had previously been sheep, donkey, and hog bedding with shovels and buckets. The black humus smells fresh and clean—far from the odiferous, steaming heap we had taken out of the barn.
But sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. After a good eight trips of hauling compost in buckets, we’re ready to go at this big time. The bucket brigade could take weeks to cover all of our CSA garden! It’s time to get out the manure spreader, load up the compost, and do some massive humus distributing. Forecast warning: hats with large brims might be a good idea on that day.
Garden frenzy? It’s that time of year. So grab a shovel, a hoe, a broadfork, or whatever tool gets you out in the soil planting this week. We’ve all been waiting so long for spring to arrive this year! See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com