by Alan Haight, Riverhill Farm
At Riverhill Farm we work a piece of land that is easy to take pleasure in. There are subtleties in the lay of our growing fields, and changes in slope and in aspect that bring me to delight just to see them. Standing in the center of one of our fields, it’s not difficult to appreciate the changes taking place with the arrival of Spring. With the lengthening days, the cover crop that was seeded last fall is now knee-high and growing, with each rye plant tillering into tall, multiple stems closing over the soil, scaffolding the vetch that twines at its base. Standing there, you can also tick off all the signs of Spring: the first blackbird trilling over the cattails in the pond, a heightened new pitch to the chorus of finches in the live oaks, fragrant blossoms in the almond trees, and sunlight returning to the shaded side of the field on the hill, which allows me to work later into the evening.
For the past two years, the weather has kept us inside despite all the signs of advancing Spring. Last year on February 24th, I was awakened at 3:00 in the morning to the sounds of cracking limbs and falling trees as they succumbed to the weight of wet snow. The power was out for days, the roads were impassable, and neighbors met each other on the roads to clear away tree limbs to allow passage. The conditions for farming didn’t improve even as May came along. As a result, the work that we would normally manage to do in two months had to be done in a few weeks, as we struggled to catch up in what was a short season even under reasonably good conditions. It also rained until June 28th, bringing on successive crops of weeds that made the fields difficult to manage.
Not so this year. You can blame me if you need to, but after the past two wet Springs, I can honestly say that I prayed for a dry Winter and Spring this year. Of course, we could still get slammed by wild, wet weather, and there are still some predictions calling for a wet Spring. In solidarity with our local cattle and sheep folks, though—who need the rain to bring up their pastures—I’m no longer praying for any particular kind of weather. I’d be lying to say, however, that I won’t be pleased if the mild winter continues and we can manage an early season this year.
It’s time to plant. Many people don’t realize that much of the art of farming lies in anticipation. Long before we consider discing in the cover crop, we’re in the greenhouse seeding the crops that will be planted in the fields in April, or sooner if the mild weather continues. 10,000 onions, 1,000 parsley, 1,000 kale, chard, and broccoli… and on and on — much of it destined for BriarPatch. It has been an empty shell of a greenhouse since the last transplants were carried out last June. Now we’re blending potting soil, filling flats, and shaking out seed, filling up the empty benches with the promise of an abundant season. A neglected corner of the farm is again full of life.
They call it contingency planning: What do you do if…? So, because in the last two years we’ve had two wet springs that delayed planting, we’re missing no opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. We’ve already seeded arugula, salad turnips, and beets in the field. At the next opportunity we’ll lay down row after row of carrots. The irony is that we’re planting now because we anticipated a wet spring based on the past two years of wet weather. This year, of course, has been anything but wet. Still, the preparations we made in the Fall to make sure we could plant have proven to be equally effective in a dry year like the one we’re having. All for the better.
This season, we’ll be making three deliveries a week to BriarPatch, loaded with crops picked fresh that day and lovingly handled by all the folks behind the scenes in the Patch Produce Department. Thanks to the Patch’s nearly superhuman effort to coordinate local production, you’ll be seeing more crops and more local farms represented on the shelves throughout the store. Whatever the weather may bring, you’ll be seeing the first local crops of the summer season back on the shelves by May, and even sooner if the weather holds. Hats off to all the folks in the Produce Department for their efforts to support local farming and connect us farmers with people like you! With some luck and good weather, we’ll have a great season for both farming and enjoying the fruits of our labors.
Alan Haight farms with his wife, Jo McProud, at Riverhill Farm in Nevada City. For more information about Riverhill Farm, visit www.riverhillfarm.com
by Alan Haight, Riverhill Farm