On our 40 acre farm in Clayton, Wisconsin, we have a wonderful mixture of tillable land, pasture, trees, and a beautiful stretch of open water on our pond (a fabulous habitat both for wild creatures and slightly more tame ones like ourselves). Our farm is home to a turn of the century dairy barn (still standing strong), a pole shed where we pack our veggies, an old grain storage building where we store supplies and park machinery, and a handsomely updated, cozy little farmhouse.
Our farmstead is home to our pigs which help us improve our soil through manure and rooting the ground we have them on. They love to eat quack grass and our veggie scraps! We keep our chickens rotating fields which help aerate and fertilize the soil. We value this composting cycle that keeps our inputs lower and helps keep our pigs and chickens fed.
We have about 22 acres of tillable land on our farm, where we are growing 10 acres of crops. The remaining acres are in either hay or are in cover crop for next years' vegetables. Since this is a new farm for us, we are currently creating a several year rotation plan that includes vegetable, animals, small grains, cover crops and hay. Ideally, a vegetable farm will have a rotation that grows vegetables for only year at a time on a certain chunk of land. Since we do have more land than we need, right now, we are hoping to keep our rotation on a 3 year cycle, so that our vegetables are growing on a piece of land for only 1 out of 3 years. Since vegetables take lots of nutrients off the land this rotation, using cover crops and animals, will help restore and build the nutrients and soil that is so needed on a vegetable farm.
We grow cover crops on some fields that are not in production. This could mean that in the spring, there might be a field being used for early crops and when they are finished we will use a cover crop to keep the soil intact while also building organic matter and keeping weeds down. Some cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil, while others help us aerate the soil. Overall, cover crops play a very important role in organic farming on many levels.
Another important focus (and frustration) on a vegetable farm, are weeds. Our way of managing weeds includes a combination of hand tools, tractor cultivators, straw and plastic mulch and "rogueing" a term that means to pick only the big weeds from a bed that are going to go to seed if they don't get pulled soon! As an organic farmer, it is our ultimate goal to stay on top of the weeds, but in the heat of the summer, so much growth happens every day that you can almost see them moving, reaching. As Kristen Kimball so aptly says in The Dirty Life, "Farmers toil. Nature Laughs. Farmers weep."
As much as the weeds are a focus on farm, pests can be too. Our strategy is to use row cover (used as a barrier), timed plantings (avoiding certain pest hatching periods), companion planting, an electric fence for deer (for many crops including peas, beets, carrots and brassicas) and raccoons (for the sweet corn), and most importantly keeping our transplants and seedlings happy and healthy. When a plant is stressed, it is much more prone to pest pressure and diseases. As CSA farmers, we grow over 65 crops and it can be difficult to stay tuned into every single plant all the time. So, this is harder said than done, but our weekly "walk-about" helps us prioritize and plan for the week ahead making it easier to feel connected with each crop.
We hope you can come out to the farm for a visit or to help in the fields and see what the day to day life is like on a farm!