This summer Eric Udelhofen of Taproot Farm & Fruit shared a day in the life at the farm, and illustrated how the impact of each task extends throughout the season.
Udelhofen is the main farmer of Taproot Farm & Fruit in Ridgeway, Wisconsin, where he grows a variety of vegetables for their CSA and manages an apple orchard.
“There must be few finer feelings for a vegetable farmer than a freshly cultivated field with a good crop of carrots and beets.”
“As a CSA that doesn’t have our first delivery until mid-August, and focuses a lot of our efforts on late season and storage crops, I feel like I’m cheating this time of year. I know most other FairShare farms are juggling big harvests with the planting and weeding that are so critical at this time of the year. But for us, being able to focus on weeding and seeding this time of year is pretty nice. And as we mature as a farm (we’re now in our 5th season), we realize more and more that we’re best served doing fewer things better.
Last Friday July 7th was one of those rare days this year where the weather cooperated perfectly. The soil was in perfect shape to be weeded, with not too much moisture in it that disturbed weeds would re-plant themselves, but enough that the weed seeds in the first soil horizon had germinated. I started the workday alone near dawn in the winter squash bed with the wheel hoe. The squash plants are on the cusp of exploding into the aisles in their effort to cover every square inch of ground space, so it’s a great time to get in and cultivate one last time. I was able to move through the aisles quickly with only a few rogue vines to pull out of the way.
After wheel-hoeing the hardy and large winter squash, it was time to move on to the recently emerged storage carrots, beets and rutabaga. We focus on winter crops and count on being able to pack our root cellar full in the fall, so its really important for us to get a good stand. We seeded all three crops in late June, so they’re just starting to show themselves now and are about finger-tall. I was nervous that some of the torrential downpours that hit us in early July would have washed the seed out, but thankfully there are only a few instances of “row creep” and most everything is popping up in neat, tidy, easy to cultivate rows. I always have to convince myself that these tiny plants are hardier than they look, and I can cultivate close to them and throw a bit of dirt without damaging them. There must be few finer feelings for a vegetable farmer than a freshly cultivated field with a good crop of carrots and beets.
Next, it was on to some more well-established crops in our upper field. I put another line of trellis on the tomato plants which seem to be growing by the minute with this weather, and was joined by our neighbor Megan who works on the farm with us on Fridays to start hand-weeding peppers, tomatoes and garlic. Putting a bit of extra effort into having clean, weed-free stands of these plants now will help us in our longer term effort to diminish the weed seed bank in our fields. This kind of hand weeding is intimate. You get face to face with the plants and get a very good sense for their health and vigor. But hand weeding generally is not the sort of job that I want to do for an entire day. That’s where I appreciate the scale of our 1.5 acre vegetable fields. We can only plant so many of each crop, meaning any given task is usually limited to a couple of hours at most before moving on to the next task. Having a friend to both share the task and share stories creates exactly the sort of moment that makes me step back and remember why I love this type of farming.
The last job of the day was getting out to our orchard which we planted in 2012 and 2013 to scythe down the tall grasses around each tree. We lay these grasses down to create a mulch that will help reduce competition for the trees and will allow them to retain more moisture, which is critical in these early years of growth before their taproots have become large and established. Scything is a meditative endeavor, with only the rhythmic swish of the blade interrupting the song of the goldfinches flitting around the orchard. We were excited to see more than a few apples! Not enough to include in our CSA this year, but a promise of future harvests in the many years to come.”
Read more about Eric and Taproot Farm & Fruit.