What we do during the summer
As you may or may not know, Miami has a really unique growing season in comparison to the rest of the U.S. We are the only slice of mainland America that is considered to be part of the tropics, so we grow our annual vegetables like lettuce, tomato, broccoli and radishes during the winter instead of during the summer! This tricks newcomers and old Florida residents alike, however as local and seasonal eating has gained popularity more and more South Floridians are learning about our unique seasons and special tropical summer treats, like ginger, turmeric, bananas, katuk, sweet potato, and lots of fun tropical fruit varieties.
We are primarily an annual veggie farm, and we focus on growing winter season crops for our winter CSA and farmers market stand. Both our CSA and our market stand start up in late October or early November and run through April. We get lots of customers asking about what we do during the summer since we disappear from the market and stop selling produce. While we do take little personal vacations to escape the heat and reward ourselves for a long season of hard work, we also do plenty of behind the scenes work at the farm like cover cropping, soil building, fighting with weeds, and infrastructure and improvements.
Cover cropping is the practice of growing non-edible crops covering an entire field as a way to protect your soil from erosion while adding fertility, organic matter, and out competing weeds. Summer in South Florida is a weeds favorite environment: its hot, humid, the days are long and it rains a ton. If we didn’t cover crop our fields they would be completely covered with weeds and unrecognizable in a matter of weeks, you wouldn’t believe how competitive the weeds are, they are a constant source of worry and work during our summer break. Also, if the soil is loose and exposed during our heavy rain months, like June and September, then much of our precious top soil and organic matter (aka compost) will just wash away. Sunn Hemp is our main cover crop because it adds nitrogen to the soil, but we also like to mix in buckwheat which does a great job at out competing weeds.
A big decision that we made for this season was to buy and use plastic silage tarping as part of our summer cover crop management scheme. Once the cover crop is mature we need a way to cut it down and incorporate it into the soil and every summer we try something different to get this done right. Last year we used our new (used) tiller to try and incorporate it into the soil mechanically, but the hemp is too fibrous for our small tiller so we couldn’t incorporate it fully into our soil. If we were a larger farm we would use a flail mower to chop the cover crop up, and then use a big old tiller and disc to get it in the soil, however were not big and we don’t have a tractor, so those options are out for us. Our size makes us super unique and even though people may imagine that farming is a standard routine of to-dos and techniques at our farm we have to think of creative ways to get lots of tasks done either by hand or with limited machinery. This year, we are using the reusable plastic taping as a way to smother the cover crops to allow them to decompose under the tarp before we go and till them in. We got this idea from fellow urban small-scale farmer Curtis Stone, who is now swearing by tapping at his tiny farm in Canada. Buying that much plastic was a big decision for us, however because its not single use (if we store and treat it right we could theoretically use it for years and years) we hope to make the most of the non-renewable resources it took to produce it. Single use plastic is used throughout the farming industry as a way to combat weeds, especially in organic farming, where weeds are worse because of the lack of chemical herbicides. Covering your farm in single use plastic every season is totally kosher in organic farming however we don’t think its that is in keeping with the values of sustainable farming so we don’t do that. We also don’t use single-use drip tape for irrigation, which is another common practice especially in dry climates. During field trips to homestead we’ve seen big piles of torn and trashed black plastic and messes of drip tape in the middle of fields being burned (which is technically illegal however its still a common practice) at the end of the season. Heres a useful article about the use of plastic in agriculture and what farms are doing to kick the bad habit.
In addition to our ever changing cover crop practices were planning on fixing some small efficiency problems at our edible plant nursery in Little Haiti, plus we will focus some extra energy on blog posts like this one to help communicate even more with our community about our farm. We are also planting a few fun fruit trees and tropical spices at the farm: guava, wax jamb, cassava, turmeric, allspice, bay rum, papayas, roselle, pineapples and garlic chives can all be squeezed into extra areas of our 3 acre property so hopefully these perennials will be providing us with some goodies starting next summer. Our handful of private and restaurant gardens also still get our attention through the summer. We plant cover crops at our larger gardens, just like we do at the farm, and we also use other techniques like mulching, composting and solarization to condition and create soil for our customers. Theres always plenty to do at our gardens as each one has different needs (and problems!) plus many of our gardens owners are into planting some summer crops too.
CSA sign ups for our winter 2016-2017 program start in July (thats soon), fall planting starts at the farm in September and our big fall heirloom tomato and veggie seedling sale happens sometime in October, so keep an eye out for all of those announcements on our website and on instagram! Have a good summer, and if you need anything from us feel free to email us at email@example.com, we are around!