Autumn is a season to harvest the last of summer’s bounty and get ready for the chill of winter. At the Gaia farm in North Carolina, the team is busy harvesting Ginkgo and roots and making sure all the pieces are in place for what’s next. Farm Manager Kate Renner shares the latest update from the farm, including how the team preps for the forthcoming winter season.
What’s going on on the farm right now? We’re still in early September, so it’s still technically summer but moving into fall.
Kate: We’ve gotten a lot of rain lately, which has kept us out of the fields but we can pivot! We’ve started on our Gingko leaf harvest. The team has been harvesting the Ginkgo leaves by hand; that’s one we send off for lab analysis before harvesting, and it was meeting our specs and the concentration we need for products, so we started harvesting it. Once things dry up, we’ll move into roots and harvest Burdock Root and Dandelion Root. We just did Echinacea Root and Black Radish.
The Hawthorn harvest is one of the first harvests in the spring and Ginkgos are one of the last, so [I like] using those trees as an example of bookends of the season.
Can you share more about Ginkgo harvest? It’s really cool that it’s all done by hand.
Kate: The Ginkgo grove was planted in 1998 and we have about 410 gingko trees on the property about that age. The team will be out harvesting, with some people standing getting lower branches and others on ladders for the mid-heights. We have a bucket truck for the very tip top of the tree. Since the leaves are pretty fragile, we’re very aware of trying to get them in the dryer as soon as possible so they don’t wilt and it’s a bit of a dance.
How does that process differ from root harvest?
Kate: We use a root harvester, which is basically a potato digger that we’ve converted it for our herb use. We mow down the aerial parts of the plant and come through with the digger, which digs about eight inches in the ground [to harvest roots], and conveyers and shakes dirt off. The team picks them all out my hand, making sure what they’re picking is only the root variety we want; that’s a big first step in quality control. Then they’re sent to the root washer and they go into the dryer. Roots take quite a bit of time in the dryer compared to a Gingko leaf.
What does the farm smell like and look like right now?
Kate: The Ginkgo leaves that we have yet to harvest are starting to turn a bit yellow, more of a lime green. We are seeing some shades from the rich greens of summer to the amber of fall. We’re also seeing a lot of new growth which you might not expect in fall, and that’s because we cover crop our fields; after we harvest, we plant a diversified mix of cover crop seeds.
We have a mix of colors and stages of life at this time of year, but otherwise it smells like rain and wet earth. The humidity will start to drop and we’ll see cooler temperatures. The days are getting darker too; when we meet each other in the mornings, the headlights are still on, so we’re definitely seeing that shift in seasons.
What are some of the biggest steps you take to transition the farm from summer to fall to the eventual start of winter?
Kate: We’re planning for the departure of our farm team. We have about three weeks left before the first half of our team leaves at the end of September, and the other half leaves mid-October. We’re thinking of winter right now. What that looks like: wrapping up harvest, getting fields tucked in under blankets of cover crop. It’s also taking small chunks out of cleaning, tidying and organizing of the farm for winter: washing equipment, sanitizing flats, slowly organizing and knowing where things will be set over the winter.
Can you give us a hint at what’s to come for winter?
Kate: This winter will be interesting because we’re in transition on selling our existing greenhouse and building a new one, so there will be a lot of taking care of plants. We have Bacopa but it’s a tropical species, so tending to Bacopa and Passionflower in a greenhouse, doing a lot of planning. It’s a very intense time of planning for the season ahead.