Working the soil through planting seed, amending and transplanting provided more information on soil health and fertility. The friable crumb made it a easy to work. Little need for heavy equipment or overly strenuous efforts. Setting out transplants went as quick as ever. Early season soil moisture and precipitation were all excellent and weather permitted the soil to warm earlier than typical. Early crops were up and thriving by mid-April. Time would tell what quality and production levels would be like.
An early harvest of radishes, asian greens and lettuces bolstered hopes. Observations of plant vigor showed outstanding leaf and plant development. Few pest issues were observed and full vigorous stands filled the rows. At market time the product looked great. A few crops were the best I have ever raised. (That’s over 25 years of growing!) Transplants thrived and direct seed crops were thinned to healthy, vigorous stands. An advisor suggested great weather conditions. Yes, they were outstanding, but that is only one factor in producing top quality produce.
More information started to accumulate. Tomatoes were trellised earlier than usual. Growth on the plants was 6-8” every few days. They were not boosted with a fertilizer to achieve that kind of growth. Only a fertility mix of bean meal, bone meal and kelp with oyster shell was added at transplant time. The plants were watered in with a 10:1 addition of rain water and compost tea. These are typical measures used for years. Late spring growth was excellent. Harvests continued to be above average.
We began to fall behind in precipitation in May. Here in Michigan it's not uncommon to go a few weeks with below average rainfall. With our sandy soils we are well versed in maintaining ideal soil moisture for plant growth. A conventional farmer will add the1”/week that is needed. As a more thoughtful farmer, I’ve felt that when subsoil moisture levels are adequate, the plant will do much better in developing root/microbial symbiosis than simply poring on H2O for growth needs. So we kept adequate moisture and mulched a lot of our sensitive crops with spent hay and straw. By mid-June we added above normal temperature to the below normal moisture. As the drought began to unfold and the media alarmed the public, a lot of questions came from market customers. With adequate soil fertility I was only concerned about late season crops not so much about warm weather crops. We did enter a period of declining production. Mostly from heat stress rather than water shortages. Tomatoes and squashes often aborted fruit in the hot weather. What we were harvesting was of exceptional quality. Great tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. The customers were buying me out at market weekly. Comments about the best beets ever or the tastiest tomatoes in years were typical. We did have a few failures when seeding late summer crops. Carrots, beets and turnips were disappointing. The other problem we faced was small mammal pressure during the last weeks of the drought. With little else for them to eat, the garden crops became an oasis for any nearby coon, possum, rabbit or woodchuck.
As rains returned in August, the garden responded with a bounty that is still to be fully dealt with. Production was beyond anything experienced. The early plant development before the drought and solid fundamental farming practices allowed the plants to withstand the drought and benefit from good late season conditions. Only through good soil fertility and good farming were the results achieved. Stories of failures and disappointments circulate after an event like our mild drought. I had found in the event, confirmation that fundamental organic farming is a key component to producing great food when done on fertile, biologically active soil.
In conclusion, I am thrilled to be able to work such wonderful land at Tiller’s International. I look forward to years of developing the farm, a community of supporters and sharing the opportunities with others.
Posted by Farmer Pete @ 10:30 AM EDT