Fall on the Demonstration Farm: Season of Transition

Farm Manager Sam Humphrey has been transitioning from summer crops to fall crops for weeks now.  It is a slow process as summer crops gradually taper off.  Meanwhile the fall crops that thrive in cooler weather make the journey from seed to transplant to field.

Sam has pulled out the tomatoes that he painstakingly grew all spring and summer in the hoop house.  He tended them for months, starting them from seed in the spring, transplanting, and then as they got tall, he supported them with an elaborate overhead trellis system.

Tomato horn worm covered in cocoons of pupating braconid wasps.

Sam also had to battle tomato horn worms, thankfully with the help of some beneficial predatory wasps. And he harvested many bushels of tomatoes for the CSA and The Piney Woods School cafeteria. But it is time to grow crops suited to colder temperatures and shorter days, so out they go. Sam will be planting collards, kale, lettuce, and radishes in their place. Out in the field, there are still some peppers and eggplants producing, even in November. They will continue to do so until the first freeze. Seasonal transitions are hard to pinpoint because of this.

That’s actually critical to the success of a diversified specialty crop farm—to always have a variety of vegetables growing as much of the year as possible, with harvest times overlapping and avoiding gaps between crops. It’s a risk management strategy that helps in so many ways: smoothing out cash flow peaks and valleys, keeping customers happy, spreading the risk out among multiple crops, and helping with time management.

One week’s CSA share: an example of the diverse crops grown at the farm this year.

Things have slowed down this month, with more inside work to be done. Sam has been looking at records, assessing what grew and sold well this season and what improvements could be made next year. Looking at income and expenses. Looking backward and forward at the same time to try to build on this year’s lessons to improve next year’s production.

This month is also a time to give thanks for the many gifts this year has offered: a beautiful piece of farmland to work at The Piney Woods School, supportive CSA customers, enthusiastic student helpers, and the many area partners and farmers that have come to the Demonstration Farm for educational workshops. We are so grateful to get to do the work that we do, modeling sustainable farming practices, providing healthy produce to our local region, and helping the next generation of farmers start off on the right foot. We look forward to seeing what opportunities future seasons will bring.

Sam Humphrey demonstrating the farm’s BCS walk-behind tractor at a workshop.

If you’re curious to learn more about the kinds of crop plans and equipment Sam uses on the Demonstration farm as well as many other topics, please join NCAT on November 15 in Mound Bayou, MS for a one-day, hands-on workshop. Titled “Small Farm Equipment: Choosing & Using the Right Tool for the Job,” this workshop will be at the Alcorn State University Extension/Research Farm. For details and to register, visit our NCAT Events Page.