When I began working at Abundant Acres last October, I was amazed to see that the employees managed all of the fields and crop systems on the farm. Nicola managed the quick-succession salad greens and root crops, Erin managed the plasticulture long-season crops, and Rhi managed the greenhouses and seedling production. When Jen and Dave told me they’d follow this structure the following year, I was excited to evaluate each system and determine which I’d most enjoy managing. Since I was the only returning employee, I had my pick of the lot.
After spending time with each field manager and asking (too many) questions about their work and responsibilities throughout the season, I decided I would definitely most enjoy the fast-paced, non-stop, quick-succession crop system that Nicola had been managing.
From the very first week of April, to the last week of September, I’d be planting at least one block of mixed greens, radish, and sweet turnip. Sounds easy enough, right? Each block is only 6 beds, each bed 100 ft in length, 3 feet in width. But when you think of what goes in to each planting, it’s hard to pack it in to just one week. The seeding itself is very quick, but all the prep work that goes into each block is what takes all the time and muscle power.
My field (named Pasture 1, or “P1”) is laid out as a string of blocks, totalling a length of 450 ft. Within this 450 feet, there are 84 beds sectioned into 14 blocks.
I’ve already done one full cycle through my field, with each block having gone through one growth cycle. The first week of April, I seeded the first 3 blocks, the second week of April, I seeded another block, so on and so forth. And suddenly, here we are in the first week of September and I’m almost through the second cycle of the field! Where has the time gone?
It has changed throughout the season as conditions change, but at this time of the year, I have a very consistent weekly list of tasks. First, I remove the tarp from the block that will be seeded. I coil this tarp tightly along one side of the block, and hold it down with sandbags. Next is tractor work to re-build the beds (fixing a mistake made the previous fall when the field was first coming out of rotation), and to till in the deep compost that was spread through the first run of the field. Once the raised beds are ready, it’s time to spread compost. Myself and one other person take loads of compost up to the field, and shovel it onto the beds. This compost acts as mulch, and adds nutrients to the soil. Feathermeal is raked in to the compost as a source of nitrogen for the plants.
Now, the beds are ready for seeding! Based on the crop plan, and how sales change throughout the season, I plant around 15 different varieties and crops into each block. Arugula, spinach, mustard greens, lettuce, radish, sweet turnip, bok choi, Japanese collards, cress, head lettuce, dandelion greens, baby kale, dill, cilantro, green onions… I use the Jang seeder, and a paper pot transplanting machine to get the seeds and transplants in.
Once the block is full, I set up irrigation, set up hoops and insect netting, and give the seeds and baby plants a good long drink of water.
At this time of year, it takes a few weeks for the vegetables to be ready to harvest. This is such a great time in the lifespan of each block! Pulling food out of my field and getting feedback from customers really makes all the hard labour totally worth it. Hearing how much people enjoy the arugula, how delicious people find the collards, and knowing people come in every week at the same time just to buy mustard bunches because they’re the best in town; it makes me so happy, and always puts a huge smile on my face. I feel so grateful that we have such loyal customers, because without them, this job would be a lot more stressful. Knowing that the vegetables I seed will be eaten, and knowing all of my time and energy put into growing them is not wasted, is a luxury not every farmer has. And our customers are to thank for that!
Once the harvest for each block is done, it’s time to mow the last insect-damaged plants that couldn’t be harvested, and tarp the block over. Once the tarp is on, all the living plant material underneath melts away back into the soil, and you’d never even know when you peel the tarp back a month later that anything ever grew there! Perfectly clean beds ready for seeding again.
It was a huge learning curve at the beginning of the year, but I was determined to learn quickly and efficiently, and make as few mistakes as possible. Dave and Jen put a lot of trust in me, to manage such a fast-paced system when I had no previous experience with it. They tell me frequently that I am doing such a great job, and they’re so happy with the work I do. Receiving such encouraging words about my work, and knowing I’m appreciated for the effort I put into staying on top of my field, really pushes me forward on those days where it’s super hot, or pouring rain, or I’m just tired and sore. I’ve had such a wonderful time learning about this crop system, and while I know there’s so much more to learn about vegetable farming, I feel so much more experienced and knowledgeable than I did when I first came to Abundant Acres. This is such a beautiful and supportive place to learn about farming, and boy am I ever lucky to have stumbled on the opportunity last fall!