(photo: May 2017, a drier–but more sleep-deprived–spring)
June 4, 2021
I keep hearing about these amazing businesses and their smart ‘pivots’ during the pandemic. The last time I pivoted was in Junior High, while playing (very uncoordinated) basketball in rural Massachusetts. However, the chilly weather this spring, and the wet, unworkable condition of my fields has got me thinking that it may be time to pivot. But pivot away from my garden plan? I like my plan, I like planning, I worked on my garden plan a lot in January when the snow lay deep on the fields. I worked on my plan a lot in May when the snow lay deep on the fields. I worked on my plan on Post-It notes last season, and on maps, and spreadsheets. I used a calculator; I made precision plans. The plan takes into account many factors: crop rotation for pests, crop rotation for disease, crop rotation for fertility, average timing of garden soil readiness, successional plantings, customer preferences, CSA memberships, and more. But now my plan is not working. I have thousands of plants ready to be transplanted—past ready—but my calculations did not foresee the conditions I now have to work with in June. So what to do?
I have four major ‘outdoor’ gardens to work with. They are outdoor in the sense that they are not covered with a greenhouse film like the high tunnels. They are not protected from the rain. One of them is currently green with a vibrant layer of moss growing on it—I’ve been watching it grow for a few weeks now, ever since the snow melted off. The trouble is that the water table is still so high, and we’ve had so much recent rain, that I can’t physically work the soil to prepare it for planting. I can’t even walk through the garden to admire my growing bryology museum close up. Well, I can, but it’s risky. Boots have been lost in there.
There is one garden I’m eyeing though. I call it, very cleverly, “Main Garden.” This was the first garden I used for commercial growing in 2013 when I brought five bags of salad to the Haines Farmers Market and brought two home. This garden is dear to me. It has also seen its share of bryophytes grace its surface, but less so in the years since we cut down many tall cottonwood trees (long since burned in the wood cookstove for minimal BTUs) just to the south of it, bathing the garden in more sunlight, less shade. This garden might be workable soon!
But my plan clearly states what is to be planted there (and when). The when was last week and the what is half carrots and half early brassicas, chard, and alliums. The leeks and scallions I grew from seed. Come to think of it, I grow everything from seed, except potatoes which are tubers, and garlic, which is…what is garlic? A bulb.
Some of the plants, like the broccoli I nurtured to plant 2 100’ long beds, are clearly past their prime. Do I plant them anyway, sticking to the plan? Or do I pivot? Throw out all the transplants that are no longer perfect, and make a new game plan? It’s too late to start more transplants for long-season crops like broccoli, IMO. Maybe no one really likes broccoli anyhow, they just eat it because it’s “good for you” and looks like little trees. I’m fooling myself, my kids love broccoli. I should plant at least one bed.
And I can’t nix the alliums, despite the fact that the leeks take forever to grow, and I’ve been dealing with them since March and have carried them to no less that three different greenhouses during their gestation. (Wrong term, I know, I’m a biologist by training. Well, technically I have a B.A. (yes, “A”) in Human Ecology. But that is a long story for another time). And despite the fact that they are not profitable to grow, and that I mainly grew them for the CSA shares that I had to cancel for the aforementioned soil/weather conditions, I must keep the delicious leeks! And the scallions. They are so cute.
So that leaves the chard. And the carrots. Well, everyone loves carrots. But, there does come a point in the growing season at 60 degrees North latitude when it no longer makes good sense to plant carrot seeds. Have we reached that point? Almost. It’s a very slow race being run here between the soil drying out and the sun’s arc across the heavens. I have planted as late as June 14th on the year I had a six-month-old baby and no babysitter. It might work with a fast-growing carrot variety. The trouble with those is that they are usually not the best long-keeping storage carrots. But back to the chard. It’s so good! Never mind the fact that I have two 50’ long beds of it already planted. It’s so pretty. I can put it in CSA shares. Oh, wait, no CSA this year. (That stands for Community Supported Agriculture). And this community sure does support local agriculture. Does the community want more chard? Or more small carrots?
So it sounds like I’m keeping everything from the plan. Except maybe one bed of broccoli. This is a good compromise. See, I pivoted. Away from broccoli, but towards what? There are so many plants planned for the other three gardens that are waiting too. The celery is ready to go in. So is the fennel, the cabbage, the kohlrabi (okay, I can ditch the kohlrabi for one year, sorry to the seven people in Haines who love it), the kale, the zucchini. Don’t even get me started on all the crops wishing to be direct-seeded last month. The potatoes are fine to go on pre-sprouting, and wait it out a bit longer. The garlic beds (five of them planted in the fall from seed I have saved for years) appear to have succumbed to the wet conditions. So I’ll have to pivot the garlic beds to something else, sadly. If you’ve ever grown Rebecca Brewer’s strain of garlic called “Awesome Garlic”—keep it going! It’s great as long as you don’t happen to have a frozen/thawing/stagnating spring swamp where you planted it.
Is re-naming a sort of a pivot? I thought “to pivot” was a verb, so maybe anything goes. I will consider the transfer in nomenclature of my “salad crop” to “rotten cover crop” as a sort of a pivot. Soon I will till in that failure and make way for a high tunnel of baby cucumber transplants. Fortunately, they’ve been growing slowly in this cold weather so I have a little time before this needs to happen. In the meanwhile I can continue to hem and haw on the plan, the pivots, and the liverworts. I hope your garden plans are right on track too!