Behind the tractor’s wheel
By Eero Ruuttila
June at the farm comes with the final run of more daylight, warming soils & fragrant midsummer nights. Farm fields & the farm’s suddenly crowded cooler are flush w/late spring salad & braising greens. Recently arrived summer crew members are being trained & coached by Siena’s experienced “ultra full-time” staff. Tractors & farm trucks are in constant movement between & among the farm’s patchwork of Sudbury & Concord fields. I will not jinx future days by saying the weather has been perfect; instead, let’s just say it’s been “good enough.”
Good enough for significant acreage now established w/most of summer’s crops: tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, onions, shallots, potatoes, leeks, parsnips, peppers, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, peas, fava & string beans, broccoli, head lettuce, cucumbers, summer squash, basil, sunflowers, & many, many successive plantings of salad & braising greens mixes.
New seedings continue in the greenhouse (as they will for a couple of more months), but our new greenhouse is no longer brimming w/plants. For the 1st time since early March there are actually gaps on the plant benches.
Prepping in the fields continues for the weekly succession of direct seedings, transplants, &/or cover crops. It will continue all the way into mid-September, but the pace of putting crops in slows as primary tasks shift towards field crop maintenance & harvests. Irrigation, insect & disease prevention (or control), weed cultivation & hoeing, and near daily harvests extend 12-hour work- days for full 7-day weeks. Fortunately the farm’s crew members are permitted off days each week.
In appearance & practice Siena Farms is a busy place!
What is less apparent is the detailed planning & research that precedes what is initiated out in the fields & displayed via Siena’s public markets or CSA membership.
For a peek at the details of how one crop is nurtured prior to its 1st pollinated blossom & way before its ripening fruit is ready for hand-picking, I’ve collated some notes & field-action photos to demonstrate Siena’s sustainable farming practices.
Exhibit A: Siena Farms tomatoes
2011 soil tests & review of cropping history on detailed farm maps provides appropriate field placement & soil amendment calculations for 2012 tomatoes. Tomatoes at Siena employ a 3-year rotation before returning to a previous tomato field.
Each year Siena Farms adds to its inventory of tractors & tractor implements. Field manager Max does national computer searches during the winter for new & used farm implements. This year four newly purchased (actually new-used) implements were utilized for the 2012 tomato fields: a New Holland drop spreader, a Rain-Flo transplanter, a front-end mount Brillion cultipacker & a Williams-system flex tine blind cultivator.
Soil tests determined that 2012 tomato fields required hi-calcium lime, greensand, & Bone Char + Siena’s standard general natural fertilizer, Pro-Gro. Once soil amendments were spread, they were harrowed in prior to covering tomato beds w/a biodegradable cornstarch derived plastic. During the winter, harvest crew manager Anya created an amazing spreadsheet for all of the farm fields w/appropriate soil amendment calculations for each crop. Office manager Jess ordered farm vegetable & flower seed & created a weekly greenhouse-seeding plan.
Tomatoes transplanted into a plastic mulch are provided a weed free environment, where soil moisture & soil organic matter are conserved, & efficient water & plant fertigation can be provided via drip lines under the plastic. Tomato rows are placed 12 feet apart to provide adequate ventilation to lessen tomato diseases, to facilitate hand-pick harvests as well as space for spraying via tractor & finally to establish a living mulch of red clover in an area of considerable farm traffic during the tomato production cycle. The clover will overwinter & provide considerable organic matter & root zone “fixed nitrogen” for 2013 crops following late spring plow down.