Farm Journal 17: An Early Fall

University of Minnesota Agriculture student Ruth Burke is spending this summer interning at a CSA farm called Cramer Organics of Delano, MN. Throughout the growing season, she’ll share weekly updates about the experience with readers of the Heavy Table.

Farm Journal 17: An Early Fall

Ruth Burke / Heavy Table

Well, it’s an early fall. This isn’t much of a surprise to anyone who has spent the summer outdoors. The cicadas started singing in June, the geese started flying south in July, the apples are early and all the squash plants are dying back! And rumor has it that if Mother Nature gets her way, this will be a cold and snowy winter. Remember when I was bemoaning the hot, humid days? Well, now is about the time that I sort of wish they’d come back! Winter is coming too fast, and there are a lot of things that need to happen before the first frost.

What does an early fall (and subsequent early winter) mean for a small organic farmer? First and foremost it means the potential reduction in harvest weeks for our CSA members. If the frost comes, most of our plants will die. Generally we like to harvest until October, but if this cold streak continues, that definitely won’t be happening.

This is also the time of year that we need to be incorporating manure and compost into the fields and then planning our winter cover crops. Cover crops, which are used for all manner of reasons (holding nutrients, preventing wind erosion, suppressing weeds in the spring, etc), need a little time to grow before the winter snows kill them back. Otherwise, planting them will have been a wasted effort. With the frosts fast approaching, this needs to happen sooner rather than later.

On top of feeling the rush to get the fields cultivated and planted, the urge to preserve food is starting to burgeon. Food will go bad quickly once you’ve harvested it, and this time of year, everything is ripe at once. We hate to waste food, therefore many a sleepless night has been spent canning or chopping and freezing over the last couple of weeks.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

There are a few nice things about the fall weather, however. The crops are easier to harvest because they don’t experience the type of heat stress that they did in the middle of summer. Also, I really enjoy the crisp mornings. Seeing my breath as I lean down to pick something is, in a way, rather poignant. And, believe it or not, the cold weather can actually be beneficial to some plants. While many crops begin to die back around this time, Brassicas (broccoli, kale, etc) and winter squashes and gourds tend to do very well in the cold weather. In fact, it is only after the first couple of fall frosts that the Brassicas truly taste their best! And of course, the squashes and pumpkins are starting to turn and they are just beautiful.  I promise to take a picture of the pumpkins for my last installment next week.

Speaking of last installment, next week’s will be mine. School has started and I have a demanding schedule. I’m facing my last couple of weeks at the farm, and I simply can’t believe how fast the summer went. I’ve had an amazing experience working at the farm, and I’ve learned so much. I can’t wait to share my final insights with all my readers. So, until then, get out and enjoy the weather. It doesn’t get much better than this!

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