Recently members of the cafe were invited by Charlie’s Produce to participate in a Farm Tour scheduled to look at the operations of a few local farms. Schols Organic Farm, located near Olympia in the Nisqually River Valley, was the first on our agenda and, to me, the most exciting!
Schols Organic Farm is a certified organic 40 acre farm run by John Schols and his crew. John specializes in growing chards, kales and leaf lettuce. John, a shy, gentle man graciously walked us through the growing process of his crops from start to finish, starting with the seeding process.
Located in the rustically beautiful antique outbuildings of his family’s former dairy operation, John’s seeding process begins. He uses metal seeding trays and clay coated seeds to help somewhat streamline the time consuming and meticulous process of accurately planting 200 cell trays measuring about 2 feet in length by 1 foot in width. Peat based soil is used to nurture these seedlings into forming strong and healthy root systems.
Once seeded, the cell trays are then transferred into the open greenhouse where these seeds become plant starts. Watering becomes a full time job in the sprouting process. Cell trays are placed on water absorbent felt mats, helping keep each cell hydrated. A close eye must be kept on the plant watering system at all times because conditions have a potential to change many times throughout the day. Over watering can lead to rot while under watering can lead to burned plants. Fertilizing is also challenging to manage in this growing stage because organic fertilizers tend to be more dry matter-based, requiring more time to activate than conventional, fast-acting water-based fertilizers.
After about 6-8 weeks of nurturing, these plants are ready to be transplanting out into the black loamy soil fields. John fertilizes the land every other year, waiting 120 days after fertilization to plant his first crop. From there it takes about 6 weeks for the plant starts to grow into full heads. Cabbage root maggot is one of the main predators to watch out for in the fields. This fly larva feeds off of the root system of the plants and is devastating to crops. John uses Integrated Pest Management strategies as opposed to pesticides to combat this predator by simply avoiding these pests during the peak of their life cycle and planting a little later. Once fully grown these greens can be clipped and harvested until the plants go to seed, thus ending its productivity. From there the plants are uprooted and turned into compost, the soil is churned and the process starts all over again.
John Schols provided great insight into the mind of a farmer. It was very apparent just how much time, thought and intuition is needed to battle all of the ongoing changes in the lifecycle of these organic plants, just so they can be brought to our dinner table. Next time you eat a salad or sauté some braising greens, I recommend spending a moment appreciating the time and energy spent nurturing those beautiful, nutrient rich greens.
This post was contributed to by Heather M & Lois R.