Sand, Silt, Clay and Nature’s Calendar

The question on every CSA member’s mind is “When are we starting up?” For those who don’t want to read further here’s my abridged thoughts: as this has been the latest spring in my 23 seasons of growing, my conservative guess is the first CSA pick-up will be Tuesday July 9.  There is a chance that it will be a week earlier, so keep checking these posts as I might have to change the day. The first Farm Market Friday will either be July 5 or July 12.  Keep posted.

“Why so late? And why is it so hard for you to predict the first pick up?” You may ask.  The lateness comes from a combination of the cool wet conditions this spring (where the days that were not raining it was too cool for the soil to dry), and the degree of clay in the farm’s soil. Soil Texture refers to the size of the silica particles in the soil, and is categorized as either sand, silt, or clay.  Almost all soils are a combination of these three, and the better agricultural soils are the loams, which have a workable percentage of each.  Almost all the large scale vegetable growing locations have a sandy loam, with few to no stones.  These soils are more forgiving if you work them a bit wet, are easy to plant into (this is done mechanically for the majority of agriculture), and are heavily reliant on irrigation.  At the Saugeen River CSA, we have a silty clay loam, or a clayey silt loam, depending on where you are on the farm (this can even vary within one field), and plenty of stones!  This means the planting conditions can vary between the beautiful texture of cake, which can make planting such a pleasure and the crops love it; and the texture of bricks, which make planting horrendous and causes the crops to struggle.  Whether it is one way or the other is entirely up to me working the ground at the right time based on the moisture content of the soil and the following weather conditions.  If I work the ground when it is too wet and the weather turns dry, we have the brick conditions. This is what happened last year to the extreme where the late spring turned into the hottest driest conditions making it the worst brick planting.  If I work the ground a bit wet, but then we get some wet weather and I’m able to do a follow up cultivation as it is drying (and this window can be a matter of a few hours only!), we can have the beautiful cake like texture.
So we are running late this year because I had to wait for the soil to dry enough to work. I didn’t get the early things in the ground until the third week of May. The average over the years for planting these early crops is usually the end of April.  In the past, if I didn’t do it until early May, it felt late.  It seems the later springs are becoming more common.  The way to overcome this I think is to go in the direction of some sort of movable greenhouse, which I am looking into for next year.
So, that’s for why it is late, but why is it so hard to predict the first pick-up?  Well, although the calendar on the wall says it is the third week of June, nature outside has its own calendar.  What I’ve noticed this year is that even though my activities were later than normal, nature has been too.  I am usually planting onions early to mid May.  This is typically peak black fly season.  I know because the flats that I do the onions in are designed in such a way that as I’m holding them for planting they have little nooks that the black flies love, and my arms are usually bloody from all the bites.  Well even though I didn’t get to planting the onions until the end of May, sure enough it felt like the right time as the black flies were at their peak!  Another noticeable difference is the grass pollen.  I have a bit of hay fever, and usually the grasses are in full pollen mode the first week of June, when I’m trying to get all the frost sensitive crops out.  Well this year its only now, the third week of June when the pollen is at its peak.
The picture you see in this post is of the first lettuce and scallions, which is usually part of the first harvest.  They look good, but are still on the small side.  As the solstice approaches (this week) things normally jump forward, but that’s usually after they’ve been in the ground longer.  Since lettuce and scallions can be harvested at the small stage I usually use the garlic scapes as a gauge to tell when the first pick-up will be, which is usually closer to the third week in June (now!).  But the scapes aren’t showing any signs of starting yet (although the garlic looks good).  Since the window for harvesting the scapes is narrow, are they going to be ready in two weeks, in one week, in three weeks?  I don’t know with these strange patterns… that’s why it’s hard for me to predict.

It will be soon no matter what… just keep posted!

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