A Note From Layton | Soil, Cover Crops, and Winter Harvest

October 10, 2023

By Layton Guenther

Farms for the Future
Quail Hill Farm

Come mid-October at Quail Hill Farm we, your farmers, are starting to pack it in: as a coda to the ramp-up to our growing season in April and May, autumn brings a host of tasks to prepare the farm for the coming winter.

Take soil testing. As organic vegetable farmers, we rely on healthy, nutritionally robust soils to grow abundant vegetables for you and our community and wholesale partners. Every three to four years, farmers are wise to test their soils to surmise the presence of essential elements (NPK being the holy grail: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium), organic matter (nerdy soil science lovers, read on!) and other measures of soil health like pH. As I write, we’re about to send off this year’s soil samples to be analyzed at UMass Amherst. With testing data, we will make a plan to amend our soils as needed – compost, lime, and trace elements are all tools for building and maintaining healthy soils.

Cover crops are filling in nicely right now, lush swaths of green that, upon further inspection, contain a diverse populace of different plant species. Buckwheat, with its reddish stems and broad, spade-shaped leaves, has come back in droves where we grew this summer cover crop out in warmer months. Austrian winter peas are barely up, but prove mighty in the late winter and early spring. As legumes, peas have the unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen to the tune of 70% or so per acre! Oats, slender spears of grass identifiable from its planting pattern (long straight rows left by our grain drill), act as a “nurse crop” for our winter peas, both trellis and mulch during the coldest months.

Bulk harvesting is well underway as well – this refers to crops that we pick out completely in order to cure (or, prepare) the crop for storage. Perhaps you’ve already enjoyed the first winter squash of the season? Delicata, acorn and mini butternut squashes have been abundant at the stand, as they ripen early and don’t require curing. But please note, due to the cold and wet conditions as of late, we’re seeing powdery mildew proliferate in these squashes: when you take them home, eat ASAP!

Soon, too, you’ll find other signs of fall around the fields at Birch Hill. Tomato fields have been taken down and put to bed, peppers are slowing down greatly, and fall brassicas (and their attendant worms!) are flourishing in Block 12. Soon, we will start bringing other root crops like potatoes and sweet potatoes to the stand.


Autumn produce at Quail Hill Farm

We’re rounding the corner to our last two weeks of the 2023 Summer Share, one of our most successful and abundant growing seasons (at least in my eleven spent growing here thus far!). Next year will be our 35th CSA season, and we’re looking for members to join us to help us plan for the farm’s future. Looking to get involved? Shoot me an email at

Take care, and see you in the fields,


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