A question we hear a lot here on the farm is “What goes on here all winter?”. The answer is quite a bit actually! To be sure, just as each year’s field work and clean-up are being finished in the fall, a great deal of planning and preparation is beginning to get ready for the following year. From seed schedules and planting maps to equipment maintenance and supply ordering, many moving parts come together to prepare for a successful growing season at Community Harvest Project. Even during all of this planning and preparation, the farm fields are hard at work as well.
Our final fall clean-up step in the field is to plant cover crops everywhere that we cultivated during the course of the previous season. A cover crop is an intentionally-planted vegetative “cover” for the exposed soil left behind after all the vegetables have been harvested from the field. This soil is often drained of much of its nutritional content by the season’s crops. When exposed, it is also in danger of springtime erosion as winter snows begin to melt and water runs its course. Here at CHP we plant a mixture of winter rye and vetch during the autumn months. Winter rye grows quickly, is frost tolerant, and establishes strong, complex root systems which hold valuable organic soil in place and help to keep unwanted weeds at bay. Vetch is a legume which, like most bean plants, has the amazing ability to return depleted nitrogen back into the soil. Nitrogen is one of a plant’s most important sources of nutrition. Vetch also produces beautiful, purple flower clusters which are a favorite among many of our most common pollinators.
When spring returns, we mow the cover crops to the ground and plow the organic material into the soil. This returns all of the nutrients that the plants absorbed during the fall months. The added benefit is that this process also incorporates a wealth of vegetative, organic material directly back into the ground, thus continuing to build on our beautiful and rich topsoil. Even when the veggies aren’t growing, the farm is working to be ready for many more seasons ahead.