Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
I feel lethargic in winter. I find it easier to do less work each day and over more days than to experience a true “weekend.” Some days I even get downright snuggly. A warm fire, a warm beverage. This is comfort zone extreme. I crave heavy, hearty foods like stew and gravy and dough. I trimmed the extra plants out of the greenhouse tray cells the other day. I call it giving the greenhouse a “haircut.” I saved the tiny greens for a salad. The first fresh of the year besides the kale and collards and carrots we’ve been milking out of the last year’s fall field. It felt so good, eating fresh again. I felt so good. So good that the next day I felt so energetic that Tully and I decided to hike up the ridge behind the house. I’ve never seen her so happy, I swear. The neighbor’s motion activated wildlife camera must have gotten some hilarious shots of her as she ran up and down and jumped around in full puppy mode. I guess that’s how I felt too: like laughter beneath the eyes of the long awaited sunshine. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with the baby plants—getting back in touch with a part of this lifestyle that I love. Watching things grow into plants from those tiny seeds never ceases to amazement. Welcome to spring!
Jason tilling in a beautiful cover crop in the hoop house (turn the volume down, tractors are loud!)
Jason preparing beds in the hoop house for planting
Last year we confidently took on a new approach to winter squash production. In this case “confidently” is close to “stupidly.” We had seen it work, more or less, on someone else’s farm. It seemed like a great idea. So we went for it. All of it. Never mind that usually when conducting an experiment or trialing a new crop, we do it on a tiny scale first. Just to see. Not this time, nope. We experimented with organic no-till on the entire field. Funny, I’m usually sick of winter squash by this time of year. But not this year. We lost the entire field to that experiment. Oops.
So it’s time to begin planting again. As usual this time of year, “planting” involves a lot of tricky maneuvering around the weather and wet fields. So the other day I was out sticking my hands in the fields expecting that oft-wet field where the no-till experiment so greatly failed us to be too wet to get into with the tractor. I stuck my hand in this year’s brassica field: too wet. I stuck my hand in this year’s beet/chard field: too wet. So only half heartedly did I even meander over to that ill-fated field to stick my hand in, but (you’re way ahead of me now)lo and behold! It was perfectly fine in the moisture department! I did a double take (or a double soil squeeze as is the case). Huh? Yep, turns out the ole’ no-till routine is EXCELLENT for soil quality (tons of organic matter and super drainage). Almost makes me want to try no-till again. Almost.
I am sitting in my office today, gazing out at what suffices in North Carolina as a winter wonderland. I hear the rapid staccato of ice pellets hitting the roof and find myself exhilaratingly thankful that I have a roof that doesn’t leak and is insulated. It wasn’t so many years ago that we would have been huddling together under blankets sporting bulky winter hats and clothes in the camper on a day like today. Instead, there’s a nice fire burning and a dog cuddled up by my feet which makes sitting here gazing out the window at inclement weather a lot more pleasant. We’ve just completed our taxes and yearly budget which, strange as it is, always energizes me for the upcoming season. I just picked up the last of the farm equipment from the repair shop and as soon as the fields dry out from this current system, we’ll be bundled up out there planting! We just hired our first employee of the 2013 season and I’m beginning to form visions of the greatest season yet in my head. For farmers, every season begins with hope. The new year begins with nothing but an inner vision of beauty and bounty. We sow these little specks in the greenhouse with all the faith in the world that they will grow into successful crops that will pay us back in kind for all the love and care we give them. I guess that’s the difference (one of them anyway) between what I like to call our “annual parenthood” and real parenthood: we fully expect a payback from our adult babies. That and the fact that they don't cry or talk back (not in the literal sense anyway).
Shiloh sowing 2013's first seeds in the greenhouse means our vacation is officially over.
This picture is from last year, but you get the idea.
We had a day lily open yesterday. One surprise stalk- the last drips of summer for us to actually stop and enjoy because of the lessened work load. I’m glad autumn is taking its sweet time letting go. I took the dog for a walk on Sunday. She misses Taurus and the workload. I did my best to squander the day in laziness, but then it was such a gorgeous day. And the dog needed me. So we meandered around the dog park until all the dogs left, then ambled (as much as Tully would allow ambling) around the walking path that winds around the park. People were out playing. Football, basketball, playgrounds, and gardening: all with smiles on their faces. I spoke to a gardener who labeled his efforts “fun work” and I understood. I get to do that too.
Jason harvesting ALL of the chard before the last market
Usually this time of year I’m tired, lazy and sort of praying for frost. Then we rest for a few weeks before we begin planning the next season. But a perfect storm (not Sandy) has me already in an excited dither for next year. First of all, after some sort of expansion and capital investment every year since beginning, we had decided last year that this was to be a “no new projects/infrastructure” year. Which was great! It had us a little more relaxed and concentrating on improving current systems. And secondly, I just returned from a sustainable agriculture conference in Greenville, SC that was full of education and inspiration both. So now I’m all excited to talk about and plan our next big thing, especially if it means I can hang out inside by the fire until this whole Sandy thing blows out of town.
Have I mentioned how much I love October in North Carolina? A few wine shoppe Wednesdays ago (is that like dog years?), we found ourselves elatedly enamored with the North Carolina weather and many a toast was made. Well it may be cool at night and the crops growing slowly, could the days be any more divine? And now, the colors! I know there’s a scientific explanation for all of this, but I prefer the majesty. Sometimes it’s just more magnificent shrouded in mystery. It’s as if some playful child cracked open several different cans of warm colored paint and spilled them all at the top of the mountain, and they are oozing their way down to us. 75 degree days edge us outside to feast our eyes. Once again, nature conspires to captivate us. Just in case we were tempted to feel gloomy about the winding down of the growing season (I’m not) and the approaching cold and potential wetness, nature stuns us into submission with its magnificent light show. We’ll all be sure to ease into winter now with a smile pasted on our faces. Okay, I say, bring it on: I can head into winter this way.
I awoke today to heavy darkness, the sound of rain pounding on the tin roof. No way was I getting out of bed for that. So we didn’t. It was worth the wait. The day morphed from misery to this cerulean sky, set against the blushing forest. I’m always awestruck in October. From the day of my birth, I suppose. Every autumn, it’s like this—a kind of rebirth (heck, it was fun the first time!). This is the month we molt our farm tans and mutate into something else. Not farmers, but tourists in our own community. Always a little awkward, we toddle around the world with wide eyes. Strangers in a strange land. Awestruck by all of what’s beyond Tumbling Shoals Farm.