It’s Harvest Time At Freedom Farms
On this late August afternoon, the sky is a cloudless blue, the sun is strong and the fields of Freedom Farms are lush, but there’s a hint of autumn crispness in the air. Tim King leans against his truck, watching his younger brothers John and Paul harvest Swiss chard. In the distance, Sam King is walking the length of a field, pulling up a long line of plastic cover, kicking up a cloud of dust behind him.
The end of summer and beginning of fall is a time of great transition here at Freedom Farms. “This is the peak of the season.” Tim says. “In August and September, everything is in. All of our mid-season crops are still producing. Up until the frost we’ll still be harvesting all our crops. We’re maintaining the fields, weeding, irrigating, harvesting, and keeping up with pest control. At the same time we start clearing fields to get them ready for late-season crops like spinach, kale, chard and mustard greens, and for next year.
“We harvest everything, and then pull out the early stuff we planted. Then we pull the irrigation lines up, pull off the plastic row covers, and mow off the whole field. After we pull up the plastic, we till the soil and then plant cover crops to increase nitrogen and organic matter. After the frost we’ll still have cabbage, chard, kale, collards, mustard, spinach, turnips, carrots and lettuce. We use the greenhouses to extend our season with the crops that aren’t so hardy, like lettuce and beans. With the greenhouse, we can successfully grow spinach and carrots all winter long.”
For Tim, this is the busiest time of year, and he is about to lose two of his best workers. John and Paul are headed back to school next week. “My brothers are my friends,” he says. “They are my best men. When the boys start to play football, we lose our best helpers. Football starts at the beginning of August, and John and Paul have two practices every day. Next week school starts, and they’ve got football practice after that, and games. They are still out in the fields every weekend, but during the week we’ll miss them. It will just be me, Pete, Joe, Sam and sometimes Dan. “
Tim may be tired, but he’s excited about the upcoming season. “I look forward to fall,” he says. “Fall is my favorite time of year. I like the cold weather, I like the fall festivals. I like putting cover crops in and improving soil health. After you get partially done with a season you start to think about how you can do better next year. You learn new things every year. Every winter we attend the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention. A few years ago, I attended a presentation by Steve Groff on cover crops that really changed the way I looked at things.
“I started reading Elliot Coleman and using no till, cover crops or intensive crop rotation techniques. I’m putting in sunflowers right now, they’re great for the soil. They produce a lot of organic matter and have coarse roots that loosen up the soil. I also use a mix of oats and tillage radish. The radish is great for sucking up any available nutrients all the way down to six feet below ground level. It has a taproot that breaks through the hardpan to aerate the soil, create good drainage and add organic matter. The radish and oats will also winter kill. In the spring we will till them under, and the nutrients that they’ve absorbed are readily available in the soil for the next crop. It’s pretty cool stuff.”
Tim continues, “Slowly but surely the soil is improving. The land here has been abused for so many years. For the past 20 years it was planted over and over with sweet corn and rye, every year. This was bare ground, and there was lots of erosion. All that was left was stone and clay and a tiny bit of topsoil. Now we are using cover crops, compost, soil enrichment and crop rotation. We are growing 35 different vegetables, and 85 different varieties. We’re starting to grow fruit now, we’re diversifying even more. It’s more complicated, but it’s better for the soil, better for the farm, and better for our customers.”
Tim’s older brother Joe is enthusiastic about the changes happening on Freedom Farms. He says “The soil is already becoming way more fertile and we can’t wait to see what the produce we grow in it next year looks like.
“We’re also starting to see the value of having animals on the farm. Intensive composting is helping us cut back drastically on chemical fertilizers. In fact, Tim’s making the bold statement that starting next year we will never use chemical fertilizers on our farm ever again. We’re using pigs and goats to cut down on our steep hillsides and areas of the farm that are just growing weeds. This means there isn’t as much weed seed floating around, which makes weed control easier.
“With the help of the animals we’re really turning our farm into a solar energy collector- our fruits and vegetables already collect solar energy to make crops. Now we’re using grass and cover crops to do the same thing with meats. The only thing that’s required to grow grass is solar energy and water. We don’t need tractors, fuels, or infrastructure. Cows are our mobile solar energy converters. Instead of mowing, we’re running chickens or pigs or cows across some of our fields and creating a tangible product we can sell while at the same time laying the groundwork for next year.”
Finally, this fall will be the first time Sam King joins his older brothers at home on the farm. After graduating from high school last fall, he made the decision to spend this year on the farm. He’s in charge of the new blueberry plantings started this year, and working hard to learn the ropes from his older brothers. He is looking forward to proving himself as a full-time farmer. Meanwhile, his younger brother Paul wants to make sure they are all keeping their priorities straight. “We’re getting ready for hunting season!” Paul says. “Make sure you put that in there.”
This article was originally published in the Sept. 2013 issue of Freedom Farms Magazine.