The produce you receive from the farm originates from a variety of processes; by knowing your farmer you have the opportunity to better appreciate that complexity.  This time of year begins one of those periods when the farm begins growing the fertility and soil quality that becomes your vegetables the following year.  “Cover cropping” is an ancient practice which is used by many organic farmers, but today seldom used by others; it is very important on this farm.  Cover cropping captures the sun’s energy and turns it into “vegetable energy” the following year.  What I particularly like about this energy process is its perpetuity, as long as the sun is here cover cropping will be; say as opposed to fossil fuels.

The practice in August is primarily the planting of alfalfa, a leguminous crop that is excellent at producing nitrogen, a critical element for almost all your vegetables; it also does an excellent job improving the soil structure because of its deep tap root and high amount of biomass.  Alfalfa is also a very important crop for dairy farms because it is high in energy, which for dairy farms means milk; you see it growing all over the State on dairy farms.  Although not done for cover cropping purposes, all the alfalfa on dairy farms is good for the soil and subsequent crops.

We harvest the alfalfa and use the hay to mulch certain vegetable crops.  This harvest is done just like our dairy farm neighbors, and since they are so good at it, I keep an eye on them to know when it is time to cut and harvest.  The entire alfalfa crop is eventually tilled into the ground to provide fertility for vegetable plantings.  We essentially keep as much land in cover crops as possible to keep the sun working for us, capturing that perpetually renewable solar energy.

David

Different soil types determine which type of machine is used to plant the cover crop.  This machine tills, drops the seed and then compresses it into the surface of the ground.  This is a particularly good way to plant alfalfa on “heavier” soils.

Different soil types determine which type of machine is used to plant the cover crop. This machine tills, drops the seed and then compresses it into the surface of the ground. This is a particularly good way to plant alfalfa on “heavier” soils.

This machine is the best for planting alfalfa in sandy soils where most of the potatoes are grown.  It cuts a furrow about one inch deep, drops the seed and presses soil over the top.  This planting will be tilled into the ground one week before we plant potatoes next spring.

This machine is the best for planting alfalfa in sandy soils where most of the potatoes are grown. It cuts a furrow about one inch deep, drops the seed and presses soil over the top. This planting will be tilled into the ground one week before we plant potatoes next spring.

An alfalfa field close-up.  This alfalfa was planted last August.

An alfalfa field close-up. This alfalfa was planted last August.

Jesse mowing a grassy area that is too wet to plant vegetables or alfalfa, but does a fine job of growing grass for mulch.

Jesse mowing a grassy area that is too wet to plant vegetables or alfalfa, but does a fine job of growing grass for mulch.

Round bales of harvested hay wait to be put onto vegetable fields as mulch.  The mulch improves the soil, suppresses weeds, and provides  a clean and dry surface for the vegetables and the harvest crew.

Round bales of harvested hay wait to be put onto vegetable fields as mulch. The mulch improves the soil, suppresses weeds, and provides a clean and dry surface for the vegetables and the harvest crew.

Elizabeth, Paul and David transplanting the roma tomatoes into a freshly mulched field.  You will see this field as you walk out to pick your corn for the corn boil this weekend.

Elisabeth, Paul and David transplanting the roma tomatoes into a freshly mulched field. You will see this field as you walk out to pick your corn for the corn boil this weekend.