Working the Process

Baby plants in their speedling trays under grow lights. Photo by Laura Berlage.

On a loom, before the weaving process can begin, there is the meticulous and often arduous process of warping. Warp creates the vertical structure of the textile and is essential to creating a fluid and enjoyable weaving experience. Even the best weaver cannot make a sloppy warping job work well, so it more than pays off to take your time when warping, even if it’s far from your favorite part of the process.

On the farm “warping,” has become our keyword for the elements of a process that are the prep, setup, or necessary effort before what you really want can happen. This style of “warping” could be cleaning up the barn, setting up the jug pens, and making order out of all the supplies before the onset of lambing. Skipping this preparatory work is a recipe for chaos once the rigors of lambing ensues and you can’t find what you need or the new family unit doesn’t have a clean place to go. Warping, in this situation, is absolutely essential for success.

The warping work of our five-plus acres of garden is often epic. As the pigs rotate through their paddocks, pens retire from active duty and are worked up for potatoes or squash. These crops adore the rich fertilization the pigs leave behind but are more rugged than crops like carrots, which need soft, crumbly soils to run the 6-row seeder.

In the main garden, we work hard to turn and tend the soil by hand as much as possible to avoid compaction. This spring, we went through the garden early with a fork and a wheel-barrel, digging out the overwintering weeds like dandelion, sorrel, daisies, and clover. Working hard to get out all the roots we can as well, we piled the evicted plants onto the wagon, then trundled it out of the garden to feed to the pigs. They adored their springtime salads, devouring everything we brought.

Next, we use a broad fork to break up the soil, then haul in buckets of composted manure from the aged piles to spread down the rows. Another round with the fork turns the compost in, and if a bed is to be seeded, finessing with a rake and even hand-crumbling the clumps creates a soft, loamy bed to receive the seeds.

Between 100-foot-long beds, we lay down paper feed sacks we’ve been collecting all winter from the chicken and sheep feed. We drive long staples through the bags to hold them in place. This acts as a weed barrier as well as prevents erosion and retains moisture underneath. In other parts of the garden, we lay down long sheets of plastic mulch to suppress weeds between patches of cucumbers and zucchini and to help warm the soil for these hot-loving crops. We bury the edges of the plastic film in the soil to hold it in place.

Much of this garden warping work involves stooping, hauling, and crawling about on the ground. I make a habit of wearing only my grungy old jeans for this work, as I’m typically wet from the knees down and coated in sandy mud. The crawling process continues as garden warping progresses to planting.

With the lingering cold this spring, planting sensitive crops has been delayed on our farm. Even into late May, we were still experiencing frost! Now it’s catchup time, transplanting zucchinis and broccoli into the beds. After all the earth work, we lay out the soaker irrigation hoses (and repair any holes as there are always new ones), fill watering cans for our mudding process, and nab one of the seedling flats. I make my way slowly along the row, kneeling on the feed bag walkway, digging holes, filling them with water, popping out a young plant, and nestling it into its new home. It literally is inch-by-inch and row-by-row.

Last night after closing up Farmstead Creamery for the day, Mom and I planted the last flat of broccoli, a half-flat of savoy cabbage, and a half flat each of brussel sprouts and cabbage in an alternating planting (approximately 450 plants). We had started all 3,200-odd brassicas and tomatoes from seeds in our basement, back when there was still snow on the ground outside. Weeks and weeks of watering, taking them out to tables set outside during the day to soak up the sun and harden off, then bringing them back in at night.

Now that small army of little plants has joined it friends out in the garden to continue their flourishing and growth through summer and autumn. Picking that snappy head of deep-green broccoli or tasting the still sun-warmed juiciness of a ripe tomato begins as a pile of labor working the process. Just like the tapestry can’t be woven without proper warping, the harvest doesn’t happen without the garden’s own warping journey, from soil and seed all the way through.

While we end the day this time of year stiff and weary, we know that this working of the process is what makes it all happen here at the farm. It keeps the process personal, rather than mechanized. It helps us nurture the whole cycle, rather than compartmentalize. This week, think on the aspects in your life where the warping process needs attention and care. See you down on the farm sometime.