After a long winter, and with May just around the corner, we are enjoying the first signs of life re-emerging in our surrounding fields and forests. And as we welcome the warmer days and bid farewell to winter’s snow, you might be tempted to ask “So what’s happening this week on the farm?” Well, spring has finally sprung, and that means field prep.
A farm is not so different from a really big garden. There’s always the cleanup of what was left undone when the first snows arrived. In addition to a fair amount of brush left from the winter apple pruning, there’s firewood collection and a bit of stump removal to make way for new fields that will be plowed once the ground has dried out. And even though we could just stick seeds in any existing piece of ground and see what happens, there are a few things we do here on the farm to tip the harvest odds in our favor.
There are three kinds of fields we deal with, all depending on what grew there the previous season: New Fields, Existing Fields, and Perennial Fields (these are NOT technical terms, by the way).
A New Field is one that is being planted for the first time in several years, if ever. It could have grown sod, hay, trees, etc., which must be first removed to make way for the new crop. New Fields take a lot of work to prepare here in Maine, a place where if there were a market for field rocks we’d all retire like Midas. So we work something like this:
- Remove large stones and boulders
- Remove medium sized stones
- Remove rocks bigger than a grapefruit
At that point you can plant trees or pumpkins. Anything else and you just keep picking till the rocks are negligible or you run out of time to plant, which means the latter.
Existing Fields grew crops with similar soil needs, and often you can get a away with a quick harrowing and a till to turn under the leftover crop residue from last fall. This gives all that plant matter a chance to start breaking down and release all its nutrients back into the soil for the next crop. Rock picking is always recommended though, especially if we’re planning on making beds to grow veggies on.
Perennial Fields are ones where the same crop is grown as the year before, but doesn’t require replanting, or at least no more than to replace any that have died. In our case that’s strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and of course fruit trees. Depending on the crop Perennial Fields can require one or more of the following:
- Amending (Adding stuff to improve the quality of the soil and make it more favorable to what’s growing)
- Pruning (Getting rid of old dead growth to encourage more new healthy growth or to train the plant to particular growth habit)
- Cultivating (which can loosely be translated as weeding, but can also be used to contain a crop’s growth habit, kind of like dividing in the home garden)
That’s field preparation at a glance, and a very brief one at that. And that’s what’s up at Pietree this week.