“What’s your day-to-day look like?” is a question I’ve been asked by a handful of people in the past couple of months so here’s an itemized analysis to blanket the response.
to sow – to plant a seed; meal – organic material ground to powder; to till – to mechanically loosen and mix soil; a bed – a strip of prepared ground; kale – a delicious hipster plant
The first thing to remember is that we’re apprenticing. If we were working our own land, we’d tack on at least an extra 4+ hours to our day of tidying and organization. (Still, Jodi made a spot-on observation as we were admiring our respectively bronzed farmer’s tans: “I haven’t spent this much time outside since I was a kid”) Anyway, the time we arrive at Ferme Alva Farm every morning, Eva and Alain have already cased the place, opening up overly hot or humid greenhouses, watering seedlings and transplants (the first of 2-4 times a day), and righting anything that may have gone awry in the night. Once the farm is stabilized, for lack of a better term, Jodi and I meet up with the master farmers for the day’s instructions.
Sowing seeds in a climatized environment is an ongoing chore on the farm. Sometimes it involves, filtering large material from potting soil, adding compost, or a meal fertilizer. Sometimes it’s all of the above. We’ll plant several hundred seeds, water them and wait for Lady Nature to bring forth life. It seems on a daily basis, previously sown seeds have sprouted enough to be either transplanted into larger pots, moved into another greenhouse to make room for new seed trays, “hardened” in a buffer zone between greenhouses and the outside, or directly planted into previously prepared beds in the fields.
The 30”x100’ (76cm x 30.5m) beds outside are prepared in several ways. Either a huge tarp covers several at once, allowing weeds to germinate in the nice microclimate (then die from lack of sunlight), or we use our sexy BCS 732 walk-behind tractor to uniformly tear everything up (and maybe tarp it afterwards). Once the newly tilled bed has spent a day or two drying in the sun, we will, depending on the plant variety, add organic compost and/or fertilizer to be tilled in again. A day or so later, we’ll transplant the aforementioned sprouts or directly seed something that doesn’t transplant well.
Some beds are laid with drip irrigation and then mulched with plastic to keep weeding to a minimum. Holes are cut into the plastic at appropriate spacings and little soil-clumped sprouts fill ‘em back up. Other beds will be straddled by wire hoops every few feet and covered with a gauzy “row cover” to protect the plants from insects, heat, wind, etc.
Watering is done by hand in the nursery, by drip irrigation on certain beds, or by a mobile sprinkler system that is disassembled and relocated every season as crops are rotated.
That’s that. I’ll get to harvest, storage, and sales as we experience it.
It may seem easy-peasy, but imagine holding to your chest a wet and muddy tree stump full of worms, beetles, and spiders. Widen your stance by about three feet to straddle a bed, then lean forward a bit; now, lift the stump over your head; bring it back down without setting it down; pass it between your legs like a basketball; take a few mud-sucking steps forward then backward, then pivot on one foot without stepping onto the bed you’re straddling; raise the stump back over your head; shake out a few insects into your hair while simultaneously allowing dirt and mud to fall into your eyes, ears, mouth and whatever folds and openings you have in your clothing; now, throw it as far as your trembling body is able to.
That’s why your goddamned kale’s so expensive.
Sussex, New Brunswick (cat-sitting Saturday at Jodi’s sister’s)
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