A Day In The Life Of…

14 May 2014
3 min read
Rob Montalbano and his wife’s farm outside of Chicago, Illinois at the organic Montalbano Farm.

It’s May at Montalbano Farms and that means early mornings and late evenings. It’s one of the busiest months of the year as our list of chores grows and grows. I wake at 5am to handle emails and organise the day’s tasks. We are all pretty tired of this year’s cold, cloudy spring and it looks to be a warm, sunny day ahead. I’m in a very good mood. I hope it lasts.

The crew comes in at 7am. We’re trying to get our onions planted and we’re about two weeks behind. We hope to finish planting them today. We have six different types of onions that we grow, and shallots, scallions, and leeks too. Yesterday, we discovered that the onion transplants would not work with our mechanical transplanter. So we are now planting each by hand. It is a hard task crawling along the bed planting but the crew is good and makes quick work of it all. It is a windy day and we do not want the vulnerable plants to dry out. We set up our irrigation and keep our fingers crossed.

Onions are one of the most difficult crops we grow because they do not compete with weeds very easily. Since we are an organic farm, we hand-cultivate the weeds or, if we’re a little lucky and really good, we can do most of the work with our cultivating tractor. We finish the onions early, and though the onions are planted late, we should have a bountiful and healthy crop.

At about 10am, we move on to the broccoli, kale and cabbage field. We put these plants in the ground a week ago and we need to check up on them. A crew of three walks each bed to replace missing plants and cull weaker ones. These young seedlings are looking fantastic. After cleaning up that field, we get water down as they are plenty thirsty. While the crew handles the broccoli field, Christina is busy updating our website. We use our website quite a bit to allow our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) families choose their share each week. We also use the website to organise our wholesale business. Each week, she updates the site with our harvest. It is a lot of work.

We break for lunch at 11am. Christina makes the crew and volunteers’ lunch each day with produce from the farm and various odds and ends from other farmers that we know from the market. Today’s lunch is potato and leek soup. My favourite! Alongside freshly baked bread, our hearty lunch goes down easily. Of course I am partial, but Christina is a fabulous cook.

After lunch, I get ready to prepare our potato field. Our seed potatoes sprouted early and so we’re getting ready to plant them. Usually, I like to plant potatoes in later May in order to avoid the first generation of the dreaded potato beetle. Nonetheless, we’re hoping to plant these spuds this afternoon. We have about an acre to plant. Two years ago, we purchased a garlic planter off of Craigslist that doubles as a potato planter. We will plant about an acre of potatoes, including many heirloom varieties. Our customers especially love the little red, white and blue ones we harvest around the 4th of July (if we’re lucky!).

For most of the crew, the afternoon is spent dispatching weeds. Armed with stirrup hoes and heavy gloves, the farmers head to the greenhouses first. The herb beds, asparagus and rhubarb need weeding and they help fill the afternoon. At the same time, our cultivating tractor is hard at work cleaning up between rows and beds. Weeds are an organic farmer’s biggest challenge and we utilise every tool that we have.

As the sun fades, we decide to call it a day. The whole crew worked hard today and we accomplished a great deal. On the farm, some days are good and many others are frustrating. Today was a great day and we accomplished much. It’s time for dinner and an early sleep.

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