As the cooler winds begin to blow off the Atlantic, the days become shorter, and before the first frost settles in, Amber Waves Farm begins its transition to winter. For me, the time is bittersweet as Katie and Amanda take on the task of putting the farm and fields to bed. For these last days of the 2014 farm season, there is much to do!
The Last Crop to Plant: Garlic
It’s been a wonderful season! Much more than I expected. The flavors I’ve tasted and the friends I’ve made will remain with me forever – and my respect and admiration for the hard work of our local farmers knows no bounds.
But before the farm can sleep, there is still one crop to plant: garlic! Amanda and Katie tell me they’ve inherited an intense love for garlic from their mentor, Scott Chaskey of Quail Hill Farm, who championed the importance of the garlic crop during their 2008 apprenticeship with him.
Garlic seeds are actually individual cloves, which must first be pulled apart from one another before they can be planted. The garlic-sowing feels ritualistic, since before any cloves are plunged into the ever-cooling soil, the farm’s apprentices enjoy the rare opportunity to sit in the warmth of the greenhouse for hours at a time breaking the monotony of this tedious task while chatting and sipping coffee.
The crew then plants the garlic the old-fashioned way (by hand on hands and knees), ensuring that each individual clove is nestled in the ground right side up and an inch below the surface — pesky crows have a habit of pulling up exposed cloves for sport.
Planting garlic in the fall is like a bridge to the following season: once planted, the garlic will take nearly nine months to form a head underground and next year’s crew will watch with anticipation as this sleepy crop bursts out of the soil with vibrant green in the spring, gives the gift of garlic scapes, and is ready for harvest by the fourth of July.
The Final Harvest: Sweet Potatoes & More
After the weeklong affair of separating and planting garlic, the last of the fall vegetables (sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, and radishes) are gleaned from the fields and sorted for donation to local food pantries and for winter storage.
Fellow farmer and mentor Scott Chaskey arrives to help with the final harvesting of the sweet potatoes, a particular favorite when it comes to root crops. Farm apprentices Adrienne, Ben, Brendan, Laura Rose, Mark and friend of the farm Kate dive in to retrieve once-buried sweet potatoes that have been loosened and brought closer to the surface by farmer Scott’s new implement: a tractor mounted “root-lifter.”
The Importance of Winter Cover Crops
Once the fields have been entirely harvested, the soil is provided with its winter blanket: seeds of rye, oats and peas are planted. These important cover crops protect the land from the harshness of winter by defending against erosion from heavy rains and relentless wind.
In the spring, cover crops are mowed and turned back into the soil, the nutrients and organic matter from these rich green crops improves the soil fertility for years to come (some cover crops are left standing as springtime forage for the free-ranging chickens).
The Role of the Greenhouses
The greenhouses that acted as a nursery that raised hundreds of thousands of seedlings in the spring now play many other important roles in closing down the season. One greenhouse has been filled with herbs and peppers to dry, including lemon grass, lemon verbena, lavender, mint, sage, and cayenne peppers.
Amid the drying herbs, sweet potatoes are laid out on tables to cure in the dry warmth of the day inside the protected houses. Another greenhouse is planted with a hearty leafy green that will grow inside all winter – the rock star kale.
The remaining greenhouse acts as a protected run for the chickens and ducks that are also being prepped for winter. The mobile coop is cleaned out and moved to the barnyard where the birds will spend the winter with access to the greenhouse. A chunnel (chicken tunnel) between the coop and greenhouse provides easy access and protection from hawks and other predators.
The Final Tasks
Bins and harvesting materials are collected and stacked in the barn, CSA members return their boxes in anticipation of a new season, leaves are raked, the irrigation system is drained, and the walk-in cooler is unplugged.
While all looks quiet, a surprise harvest occurs on this last day of the season – the arrival of the first duck eggs from ducklings that arrived at the farm in June. This is a true treat!
Everything about the farm feels like home – a true familial bond has been created this season (and every season) between the farmers, apprentices and shareholders – like me. I’m going to miss being here in the winter, and look forward to returning next spring.
While the sign at Amber Waves says "Thank You for a Great Season," it is me who would like to thank them. This has truly been a wonderful year!
A New Generation on the Farm is a season-long exploration of the work at Amber Waves Farm, and it is a partnership between The Kitchn, photographer Mallory Samson, and the Peconic Land Trust. Founded in 1983, the Peconic Land Trust conserves Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage. This is the first in a series about first generation farmers the Trust is working with to ensure that protected farmland is used for farming on Long Island’s East End.
- For more information on the Trust, visit the Peconic Land Trust.
Photographer: Mallory Samson
Mallory Samson is a storyteller who uses photographs. Mallory was a former Fashion Editor at J. Crew and Photography Editor at Nike. Mallory’s photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and she has authored two books featuring her photographs. Mallory has been a professional photographer for 17 years and lives in Southampton, New York.