- Red Onions
- Chioggia Beets
- Green Cabbage
- Red Potatoes
- Sweet Peppers
As we walk about our farm this time of the year, we like to take note of all of the signs of the season. The fact that Summer is no longer with us, and that we are now in a season called “fall” is not just an arbitrary classification. We are not talking about the fiscal year, here. We are talking about the relationship between the sun and the earth, and just how much of the sun’s energy that all of us creatures living in the north have to work with.
In the Willamette Valley, fall marks the stark and fast transition between the hot, perennial summer drought that leaves the land thirsty, and the cool, wet winter that saturates to the bone. During this season plants begin going dormant, soil activity slows to a crawl, and animals find their own answer to that ancient question: Migrate or hunker down?
On our farm walks, we notice the countless outward signs of fall displayed across the land, like the mushrooms popping up in the border areas and beneath the trees in the tomato patch. The colors of the vegetation say a lot: There is more yellow, more brown, and less green on the farm. Although there are many fall and overwintering crops still in the ground, the fields seem empty compared to the lush, colorful, bursting growth of summer.
What was tall and highly varied from row to row a couple months ago has been mowed down, tilled, and replaced with a homogenous cover of small vetch seedlings intermixed in a carpet of young oat grass—which now gives us a daily task: Goose-watch. It is the season that our dog waits for all year, practicing on the chickens in the backyard and the vultures high up in the air. We try to do goose-patrol each day this time of year. When we find a flock of geese perusing a cover-cropped field, we send our dog off to do his important job with a command that we’ve learned to be effective: “Get those chickens!”
Although we do not see geese as the field pillaging scourge that some farmers might describe—in fact we view the contribution of migratory animals’ fertility to the soil as crucial to a sustainable agricultural– and eco-system—they sure can graze a young grass crop down to the ground if you’re not diligent. To us that sounds like another reason for being good care-takers.
If successfully established, this cover crop will grow slowly over the winter, helping to maintain the soil’s structure and protect the soil from compaction and erosion. With the return of soil activity and sunlight in spring the cover will grow quickly, forming a dense, lush stand of tall oats and viny vetch. When the soil dries out enough, we will mow the stand and work it into the soil, providing the soil with a good helping of nitrogen and organic matter—another important step in rebuilding fertility and tilth.
We are still this side of the solstice, however, so we will continue to prepare for winter as the signs of fall tell us. In the language of the Kalapuya, the people who were native to the Willamette Valley, the month of November is referred to as ‘alangitapi’ which means ‘moving inside for winter‘, and that is exactly what we are preparing to do here at the farm.
As animals, we too have to answer that question posed by the fall, and we will again choose to hunker down right here for the winter, conserving our energy for spring—coming out occasionally to chase geese and harvest vegetables for ourselves and all of you.
Read the signs, prepare for the changing of the seasons, and enjoy this week’s share.