At 9 Bean Rows we cultivate vegetables without the use of chemicals. Because we harvest year-round our practices focus on maintenance of fertile soil, hand weeding and pest control, and delicate harvest at the coolest temperatures possible. 9 Bean Rows grows food not commodities, and with that in mind, our production practices aim to provide the freshest and most delicious vegetables.
No Till Soil Prep
Soil preparation is perhaps the most important step in the growing process. It is essential to provide plants with proper nutrients and enough aridity to grow abundantly.
At 9 Bean Rows we do not till the land. The tilling process used by most large-scale farms releases the majority of the nutrients from the topsoil into the water table. Agriculture is the leading pollutant of our water and Nic refuses to let 9 Bean Rows be a part of the problem. Instead, we use manpower to aerate the soil leaving the nutrients in the beds to be used for our vegetables, and in turn grow healthier foods for our customers.
When spring comes, the weeded-over garden beds must be cleaned up and the soil loosened. 9 Bean Rows uses a tool called the broadfork to turn the soil. By the shoulders of Nic and his crew, the blades of the broad fork extend 18” inches into the ground (as opposed to the 4’ tilling disks) to aerate the soil and chop up the roots of the weeds. The weeds are left to dry up in the sunlight and breakdown to green manure. Once the beds have been Broadforked they must not be stepped on again so the soil does not compact.
Following Broadforking is compost spreading. Because of our close relationship with Black Star Farms, we get our compost from the broken down waste of our equestrian friends. Since many of our rows are so narrow, our compost is hauled by hand. A 5-gallon bucket every 3-4 feet provides a nice layer of fertilizer. The soil is spread and raked into smooth even 3’ rows.
At 9 Bean Rows we do not spray any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. For the first time in our history, in the spring of 2013, we experimented with spraying mycelium spawn in one hoop house. Mycelium are beneficial organic compounds that fix the nitrogen into the soil. With that one exception, 9 Bean Rows is a no-spray farm. Organic certifications are both expensive and restrictive. We choose to use natural, safe, and environmentally friendly techniques without government verification.
We start our seeds in a nutrient rich soil mixture in the form of soil blocks. Using a mix of compost, pete, perelite, and mycorrhizae, we set seeds in ¾” cubes of soil, mist them, and let them germinate in the grow room for about a week or two depending on the speed of germination. Once the sprouts begin to pop out, it is time they are transplanted into 1½” soil blocks to gain strength. The benefits of soil blocks range from cost efficacy to minimization of stress to plants during transplanting. Since the root endings grow through the soil, as opposed to wrapping around the plastic containers, the tiny roots are simply snapped at planting. The broken root ends find the moist, fresh beds and begin rooting in immediately.
When our soil blocks are ready to be planted they are strategically placed along our drip tape irrigation system. With 3 rows of tape along each bed, the center row is typically used for larger plants with longer germination periods (ie potatoes, brassicas, roots, etc). The outer rows grow plants like greens, peas, beans, etc. which grow quicker and take more effort to harvest. This is the case most of the time, though salad greens are often directly seeded throughout an entire row. Likewise, some vegetables require so much space (squash varieties) that they also consume an entire row. As a 12-month production farm, planting happens regularly to stagger the harvest year round. Nic’s background in economics is evident in the planting process; his time management, and foresight for harvesting efficiency play as much of a role in the plant placement as the more typical companion planting techniques.
Weeding / Pest Control
Once the plants are successfully in the ground, managing the predators and competitors is key to the survival of the baby vegetables. Each row is weeded weekly using a shuffle hoe, collinear hoe, or the hands of the farm staff. The shuffle hoe is like a stirrup that slides under the soil and cuts the roots underneath the weeds. The collinear hoe looks more like an upside-down T, which works similarly, though it can get closer to the plants with less risk, and is able to slide under the drip tape. The farmer’s hand is the only solution to the tiny weeds right under the plants, along with the pests (squash beetle, potato beetle, cut worms, etc.) that threaten the vegetables lives. Weekly weeding and a close watch for pests, is a major part of the 9 Bean Rows process. We aim to remove the weeds before they grow 1” tall and have a chance to choke out our veggies. Once the vegetables have won the battle, the few remaining weeds are left alone until just before harvest when they are pulled out of the way.
At 9 Bean Rows we harvest at the earliest stage of maturity to ensure tenderness. Nic and his harvest team begin the harvest just after midnight the morning of CSA pickup or the market, to ensure the vegetables (greens in particular) are harvested at the coldest temperature. They are immediately hauled to the cooler so there is never a chance to wilt. With light hands, our plants are harvested young and high, and then triple washed in our cooler to be sure they make their way to the CSA bags or markets as crisp and tender as possible.