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Use the ‘Shoulders’ of the Season to Increase Farm Profits

By Stan Slaughter

Tags: garden planning, market gardening, season extension, Stan Slaughter, Missouri,


My brother, John Slaughter, lives and breeds fruit trees in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Some time ago, he told me about breeding fruit trees in order for them to go to market both earlier and later than the main crop. He said, “The real money is made on the shoulders of the season.” That term has stuck with me and recently came to mind as I walked through the local farmers market. The tomatoes were abundant and cheap — i.e. not much money being made during the height of the season. Those same tomatoes on sale in a month would be much more expensive.

Often it takes some real thought and effort to bring in your crop on the shoulders of the season. I’ve stretched the concept a bit lately to think about all the ways we Mother Earth types take the extra steps that ensure we’re ready early or have a good supply late. To me, it’s the extra steps we take that demonstrate that we’re thinking ahead to the next season.

An easy example for me is cutting down a winter’s worth of firewood in late spring and leaving it to dry all summer. It’s not easy to find the discipline to go out cutting wood after a long winter as the temperature and the sap is rising. But by the following October, the small Osage Orange trees I burn are dry and ready to cut and use right away.

Another example comes from doing the extra work it takes to start fall crops from seed in the heart of the summer and being ready with transplants as holes open up in the garden.

These are satisfying activities. They make the difference between a farmer or gardener who is immersed in his or her craft and one who just follows a formula. Stepping out to try those experiments that can bring a valuable crop or that can save a lot of time is a great way to learn something about living in harmony with the seasons and cycles of your land.

These are also high-risk activities that have to be managed just right. I once asked Bill Mollison (the founder of permaculture) what his advice was for back–to-the-landers. He said, “Try lots of things and make lots of mistakes.”

The courage to try that outside-the-box idea you had is what I’m saluting here. Some might say it’s too complicated or too much trouble but that’s where the riches lie — on the shoulders of the seasons.

In what ways do you immerse yourself in the turning of the seasons?

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