After a couple of weeks off, the Weekly Dirt is back in action!

Summer is winding down, and we’re getting ready for fall. In this Mediterranean climate, fall is a very busy time.

Getting Ready for Fall Planting

For the native Northeasterner that I am, adjusting to a Mediterranean climate has meant turning things upside down in terms of crop cycles.

The new crop year here begins in November, which is normally when the last crops are coming off of the field in a temperate climate.

We actually start planting in September (depending on the rain!) with the planting of our fall cover crops.

Then in October, we plant all of our hay and begin to plant some grains.

In November, we begin to plant soft and hard wheat varieties, and planting can last into December.

getting ready for fall on a farm in tuscany

Timing is Everything

Planting  as much an art as it is a science – and timing is everything.

Timing is even more important in organic production because it is a never-ending battle against weeds.

In organic production, the majority of weed control happens in the pre-planting phase (because organic regulations prohibit the use of herbicides that normally kill off weeds while the crop is growing).

Depending on the weed pressure, we pass through a field mechanically a few times before planting. The goal is to have a seedbed as free of weeds as possible.

In order to germinate well, seeds need a smooth seedbed, which requires prepping the soil with another piece of equipment.

For the best planting conditions, you want to wait for the right window between two moderate rainfalls, which is tricky. Too much rain, and you risk washing out the seed; too little, and you risk no germination.

You also need to watch the temperature closely – seeds won’t germinate if the temperature is too low.

The goal is to plant in conditions that lead immediately to crop germination so that the crop can get a head-start on the weeds, which will also germinate and grow.

Getting all of those pieces in place can be a stressful task because so much is dependent on the right weather conditions – which are completely out of our control.

And then inevitably at some point during the planting season, the tractor breaks, the seed delivered is the wrong variety, and it rains when the forecast says otherwise. So we try to adapt and adjust and get those little seeds in the ground.

getting ready for fall on a farm in tuscany

Impact of the Drought

This year’s drought adds another variable of uncertainty to the fall planting season.

The landscape is parched, and we need more rain than usual before we start planting. We have started to get a trickle of rain that would normally be enough to start planting cover crops, but we will need more rain than usual to make-up for the lack of rain earlier this year.

When it does eventually rain (fingers crossed), it will be an all-hands-on-deck situation to get all of the prep work and planting done in time for what are rains that normally come in the winter.

The fall begins!

— Ariane Lotti

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