Farm Journal Part 15: The Cycle of the Seasons

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 15: The Cycle of the Seasons

The cycle of the seasons, the wheel of the year, the rhythm of nature… this concept has many names. However, they all represent the notion of acting in accordance with the seasons. We often see this concept reflected in the actions of different animals throughout the year: the Vs of geese flying south in the fall, the bears eating lots of fish to fatten themselves for hibernation, the playful chattering of courting squirrels in the spring, and the migration of monarchs in the summer. Humans are no different, especially farmers.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Winter is spent resting, recuperating, and planning for the next planting season. November and December are the months for vacation and spending time with family. How coincidental that the majority of our major holidays fall within these couple of months! Seeds are ordered in January / February and repairs are made to machinery in preparation for spring. This is a slow time of the year, and this break (I have been personally assured by Joey) is very needed and appreciated.

In the spring, farmers hit the ground running, starting seeds in their greenhouses, prepping the fields, and making last minute fixes to machinery that will need to be used in a few weeks. As spring turns into early summer, there simply isn’t enough sunlight for all the work that needs to be done. This time of year sees lots of weeds and lots of pests, not to mention all the transplanting and succession plantings that must go in the ground. Of all the times during the year, this is the season that does not allow for any delays or breaks. Your personal schedule will invariably take a back seat to the farm. If the weather is good, you have to take advantage of it because there is no guarantee that the next day will be equally as nice. We experienced this a lot this past spring with all the rain we had. Several days were misspent doing things that probably should have waited until a rainy day.

Ruth Burke / Heavy Table

Summer is a force to be reckoned with as well. The early morning light encourages starting as soon as the sun is up, because the heat of the day will surely knock you out by early afternoon! And by this time, the weeds need to be tackled, tomatoes need to be trellised, drip tape and irrigation systems need to be laid, etc.! There is an endless amount of work to be done on a farm in the summer and because the days are so long, it is tempting to use every minute of that sunlight. However, summer is a little more reliable in that the weather is fairly predictable. Therefore, it’s wise to take it easy every now and again. On the hot, sultry days, a two or three hour lunch isn’t unheard of. And frankly, it helps keep the work ethic up!

However, as the summer nears the end, the tone is shifting. Autumn is just around the bend and that means that winter isn’t too far behind. This seems to lend a second wind to us farm workers. The days are blissfully cooler, which makes hard work much, much easier. The crisp early mornings are refreshing and they help with the harvest because the crops are not experiencing heat stress when we cut them.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

I am noticing that the mornings are darker and this lends a little solemnity to our early morning starts. We seem to be working faster, not just because our skill at harvesting has gotten better but also because there seems to be less time to do it. Or at least, it feels like it. Suddenly the lazy days of summer seem far away (although it has only been a matter of weeks) and I am filled with the desire to start canning and getting things in order for the school year.

I am excited about the coming autumn. I’m looking forward to learning about winter field preparation, spreading compost, and planting cover crops. Most of all, I’m looking forward to harvesting the winter crops (like the winter squash, potatoes, and cabbages). And I simply can’t wait for the pumpkins to start turning orange!

(Visit our full archive of this feature)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table