When November rolls around, my Northeastern roots instinctually start to prepare for Northeastern winters – freezing temperatures, leafless trees, and snow. Ah – I am tempted to think – finally, nothing is growing and I can take a break!
Not. So. Fast.
Even if the days are getting shorter, November is actually the beginning of a new agricultural year in a Mediterranean climate. Instead of letting the fields lay fallow until the spring, we are starting to plant again.
Actually, we’ve been planting since September. With the current year’s rice still growing in the fields, yet to be harvested, in September we begin preparing the next year’s rice fields by planting cover crops – crops that grow in between the “main” crops and that provide important nutrients to the soil. This September (for the 2020 rice production season), we planted a new mix of cover crops that have weed-fighting abilities.
In late October and early November, we start planting all of the hay, and then in November and December we plant all of our grains and flax. This year we have a couple of heirloom varieties of wheat that we are planting.
Even if the days are short, it makes sense to plant here in the fall and winter because it rains much more frequently than in the spring and summer, and the temperatures tend to be warm enough for plants to start germinating. We usually only get a couple of weeks of freezing temperatures in January – which is our slowest time of year. Plants that have germinated and are a few inches tall by January can survive a few weeks of almost-freezing temps (at night) and then can continue growing as the days get longer and the temperatures warm up in February.
Then in February and March, we plant legumes like chickpeas and lentils. And then we get ready for planting rice in the spring…. And then we start harvest season in May with the fall-planted hay and then the grains in June and July, and the legumes in August….
It never ends, really.
At any given point during the year, we have something growing. The time of year when we have the fewest number of different crops growing is actually late August and early September. At that time of year, we have finished harvesting everything except for the rice, and haven’t yet started planting again.
Ahead of forecasted rain yesterday, I had three tractors working the fields trying to get the field prep work done before the storm. By lunchtime, all three tractors were stopped – one for a broken piece of equipment, one for a hole in the tire, one for a broken connector bar between the tractor and the cultivator. By the end of the day, two tractors were up and running again, the third one was in the shop, and the storm had held off for the day. Just another day during planting season.
Over the next two months, we will be working to plant what will become – if we are able to navigate the vagaries of the weather and if my tractors and equipment don’t break every day – the first part of next year’s harvest.
And so we begin a new agricultural year.