The next 2-3 weeks a critical time for us, and our performance now will determine the success of the winter vegetables. I have finally, after about 35 years of learning, (hard to get it in, hard to get it out of my head), have come to see that planting for the winter after about October 1 in Yolo County is a roll of the dice, and it is really more restrictive than that. The facts in front of me are that all long season winter crops, and that is anything longer than 65-70 days to maturity, have to be in by the 15th of September, or we will be harvesting smaller versions of the beautiful heads of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, Napa, and radicchio that we envision when we plant. All the spinach, lettuce, arugula, radishes, cilantro, the quick little ones that give us an early fall harvest had better be in now or they slow way down in their growth and fall can be bleak. The cut and come again mainstay greens, like the collards, kales, and mustards need to be in at the same time to establish a strong root system to support all the growth and resilience necessary to keep up all those repetitive cuttings.
Coming at the end of a long, exhausting summer as it does, it takes a lot of remembered lessons to keep up the impetus for these plantings while in the middle of the last big harvests of summer. One lesson constantly in Annie and my mind, is the summer of the 5 interns. We had decided to take on five young people wanting to learn about living and working on the farm, as a way to cut down on the work load for us”¦.heh, heh. It was also the summer that Annie’s Dad passed away in the middle of the peach harvest, and our kids were 8, 5, and 3. That winter, (luckily it happened before we were fully committed to the CSA winter program), we had nothing but winter squash to sell, and it took all of our persistence and ability to get to spring. But, we did, with a lot of help all around us. It has taken its place as another life experience to be remembered from a distance and with quiet thanks that time heals, and it helps to keep us on our toes in the fall planting time.
What makes fall planting so tough is that each day in the fall planting season represents a week of harvest in the winter. Practically, this means that planting one or two days later results a one week later harvest time. The later in the fall that planting happens, the greater the spread. That lesson has to be driven deep by lessons learned, in order to stay focused at the end of the summer.
This, then, is the last critical moment of the year in the life of a small, year round fruit and vegetable farm, and after this we really can look, God willing, to a period of less day-to-day crisis. So, if perseverance is my strong suit, and I’ve learned that each day goes along whether I work or not, and it is so easy to turn around and see two weeks of planting time gone, then I have the memories, lessons, and tools to do my job for the fall planting season.