Field Walks: Staying Connected to Your Crops
In my mind, I am a now junior grower. I figure you get one freshman year, and then a bunch of sophomore years. After 12 seasons, I am unwilling to consider myself a senior grower, but I get a little closer every day. I remember when I first started farming I felt the need to see everything on the farm everyday. There was so much going on it was hard to know what to pay attention to and what to look for. It took a little while before I had a handle on how fast plants change from day to day and how quickly field conditions can change. Now that I have a few seasons behind me, and am familiar with the varieties I grow, I can see a little further into the future and get a feel for how the farm will look. I am still amazed at how quickly weeds can pop and become an issue, but that’s a different topic for another day.
At least once a week, I take the time to see the whole farm. It’s important to set aside a time to walk your fields. There are occasions where the only chance I get to do that is when we head up to the fields to harvest but I try—and prefer to do it when I don’t have a crew with me. I take the time to look at all my fields and make mental notes about where things are and when certain jobs need to happen. This is also a good time to catalog all the little jobs that take only a few minutes. They’re good for the end of the day when we have those few extra minutes to spend. My farm is small enough that I don’t put much down on paper, but it’s not a bad idea. There’s a lot to keep straight and remembering can be half the work.
One of the most important tools that I carry on my walks is some emotional armor. These walks are often where the problems get discovered. My motto is “Detach and Persist” and I know that I need let go of the disappointment and focus on the work. There are times when what I learn from my walks is the beginning of the end for a particular planting. Keeping the emotion around the crop out of the decision making process is a good skill. It’s ok to be upset, but it’s better to move on quickly to the next step when things aren’t going the way they should. The longer a problem goes unattended, the worse it inevitably gets, and sometimes the best solution is to till it under.
I also make sure to take the time to really look hard at the plants; the base of the lettuce, the underside of the leaves, to dig around a little for root crops, anything that can give me an insight into what the crop needs or when it will be ready. Vegetables are a high value venture, and they are worth the time. In a lot of ways, the time I spend poking around is some of my favorite on the farm, and it can also be the most valuable. There’s always something interesting to see; I get caught in the beauty of the farm, the energy of the plants, all that goodness.
Someone once told me that farmer’s footsteps are the best fertilizer. It’s often true. I think of my farm as a mirror, reflecting the energy that I put in. Spending focused time has benefitted me in learning to see through the noise, and hone in on what’s important, making me a better grower every season.
I hope the upcoming season brings you everything you need.