Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
An oversized puzzle (our new hoophouses! Ha evil step-mother nature, try to thwart us next year!)
August. I almost feel like I need say no more. I used to think of August as the most brutal farming month. In fact, a wise old farmer once advised me never to evaluate my profession in August. The weeds are a mile high, the wicked hot air presses down on me, and the insects arrive en force. But I’m welcoming this August with open arms. It brought along with it the first hot and dry-ish weather we’ve seen all season, which is what all our summer crops have been waiting for. Insects, I suppose, but that includes colorful butterflies, the summer serenade of the cicada, and, well technically not an insect, the hummingbirds also come out in force in August. This is the time when I love working in the flowers. And weeds, well, I suppose that can’t be helped much after all the rain, but all in all, I’m inclined to defend August this year.
I’ve been talking a lot about thwarting Evil Step-Mother Nature next year. Well, our hoophouses arrived today! To us, they’re basically big umbrellas under which to grow strawberries and tomatoes (and actually harvest some!!!), but they also offer a little season extension (earlier tomatoes and late strawberries). It was exciting to unload the truck, but it will be even more exciting to put them up, I’m sure, as right now they appear like an oversized puzzle. Hmmm. I think Jason will manage that project. We intend to get one of them up for strawberries in the next few weeks, so be on the lookout pictures of frustrated faces.
The latest weather related heartbreak: the third and last planting of corn laying down on the ground after Wednesdays storm.
After last Wednesday’s latest weather related disaster, I’ve taken to calling her Evil Step-Mother Nature. I guess she didn’t like that too terrible much because she decided to give me what I’ve been wishing for…in the extreme of course! Sun and heat! Why do they call these the “dog days?” What is it about a dog that causes us to sweat, dehydrate, move ridiculously slowly, and become exhausted? If I’d have invented the phrase to describe these days, I’d have called them the “okra days.” The okra has actually jumped up and down for joy. I swear it. It’s become an everyday picking event, and one we might consider a twice a day picking event if we had it in us to do that much work. I haven’t heard the eggplant complain lately either. So, okay, Evil Step-Mother Nature has made her point, and I swear I’m not going to complain from my comfy chair here in the air conditioning:) knowing my crops are kicking it into gear as I type. But I’m NOT going out there either:)
A ground hog has made a home in the cucumbers! How's that for natural!?
I always get a kick out of the label “naturally grown” on produce. Honestly, it seems sometimes that nothing could be less natural. Okay, some things are less natural, but you get the point. This year, I’ve spent my days scheming up new ways to thwart Mother Nature. Oh sure, we aren’t using any synthetic chemical junk in that effort, but still, I feel like I’m at war. Really though, I was feeling like another rainy day in a season of rainy days, armed and dangerous with a rotten tomato in my hand. And then Sunday, when the rain finally cleared in the afternoon, I sighed and made to head down to the fields when Jason said, “I think you should take the day off.” We’d already spent most of the weekend planning ways to grow strawberries successfully beneath the wrath of Mother Nature. He said his reasoning was that it just seemed important that I take the day off. He’s very good. Considering that I nearly threw a rotten tomato at his head for no reason the day before, I’d say he’s quite observant. And he didn’t have to tell me twice. The stars aligned, I spent the rest of the day lazing around, reading, and doing nothing, and the sun stayed! Today, I went to town and got me a temporary crew for the week to help catch us up on all that stuff we’ve just not been able to get to. Jason’s working on the farm this week. And the heat and sun arrived to my welcoming arms. Wow. I swear I’m a new woman. Did I mention that the sun is out? Mental note: take a day off sometime in July before you’re tempted by weapons of mass disgustion (okay, okay, I just made that word up).
Some things are happening at Tumbling Shoals Farm this month! This weekend is the high country farm tour: Saturday and Sunday from 1pm-6pm. I know we’re in the foothills, but we’re on the tour. Two other Wilkes County growers are on it too this year. But a wristband and see as many farms as you can, or just visit one for $10. It’s a fundraiser for Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. For more details, check out their website at brwia.org.
August 20 Tumbling Shoals Farm is hosting a tomato tasting event through the Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce from 5:30 p.m. until. We’ll be touring the farm and tasting tomatoes (hopefully!) You’re invited!
One of the many farm hand colors!
My parents aren’t afraid of hard work. I’ve always known that. But wow, did they work their butts off last week. I mean, everyone knows that if they visit us in July, they work (and incidentally, our parents are the only ones who’ve ever come back in July), but this time my folks came geared up. I remember my brother wanting to farm some land he had access to. He mentioned it to my mother and she told him to come visit me in July. Funny though, I have yet to see him (but I do think he’s growing some things on that land). I guess he heard the warning in her voice.
As we sat down for lunch on Tuesday, my father looked around and said, “everywhere I look I see work!” Ahh, July (and May, and June, and August too for that matter!). We have arrived at the perpetual list. It starts out innocent enough. Just make a list of the things you have to do. What you don’t get done this week goes on next week’s list. Except the list only gets longer! Each week I add more than I cross off. And oh! Do I ever cross off! I’ve confessed this so many times now it’s no longer even embarrassing. If I do something productive that’s not on my list, I have to write it on my list just so I can bask in the glory of crossing something off! Oh yes, I love to cross things off the list.
So I had to do that this week. You see, there’s this little shed up on blocks in the middle of the field where we plan to put up some hoop houses. It’s pretty old (it came with the property), but dead useful for storage, and we didn’t really want to disassemble it to move it to a better location. Every now and then we mention its relocation, but never had we come to a conclusion. Evidently, one of the times we mentioned it was in front of my father and he never forgot it. He thought about it all week, I guess, and finally, on Thursday, the day they were scheduled to leave, he came in from the job I had assigned him and bee-lined right over to the shed. This is when I realized that he had been thinking about it all week. Earlier, he had been inspecting our lumber supply stacked under the big shed (from other buildings we had “re-located”). I just hadn’t been paying attention to how much attention he was paying to the shed and his scheme to relocate it. Finally he divulged his plan and we spent the next few hours enacting it. By golly, (much to my pleasant surprise) it worked! Nearly without a hitch. Now the shed is resting peacefully, still intact, out of any potential fields. I’ll have pictures of the move when my mother gets around to emailing them (I took them with her camera). So, not that this wasn’t on some mental list somewhere in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t on my “immediate emergency to do last week” list, so I got to add it just so I could cross it off. Oh! The glory!
Fun with carrots
I wish I were a swallow. Well, not exactly, but you have to admire the way they eat. I wish I could do that. Not the bugs really, but I wish I could just fly along the fields with my mouth open, munching away on whatever was there. I finally mowed the old spring field today. The swallows greatly appreciated the disturbance of all those insects that thought that field was home. It was awe-inspiring. I wish I had had the camera. The sky was filled with dramatic blue-black clouds, the tiny winged insects lifted like a blanket from the field in fear of the onslaught of the mower, and the swallows positively swarmed. All that careful protection of their nests in our shed seemed to have paid off. I dare a mosquito to hatch down there. I’ve never seen so many swallows, just swirling and twirling, feasting on the abundance. There had to be forty of them.
Why is it that we tend to think little things are cute. Oh go on, admit it, you’ve called some inanimate object cute before. No way you passed those miniature soda cans in the grocery and didn’t at least thing, “aw how cute.” I found little beans cute today. I couldn’t help it. Maybe it was the sun, or the promise of their future earthy sweetness in my pan, but I did, I thought they were cute.
Folks are sure going to think our little house is cute. I mean, I knew it was small in concept, but now it’s a visible reality. It started like a little seed. An idea planted by my mother. “You know, maybe the camper isn’t a long term housing solution.” Something like that. And then, with a little thinking, the idea grew into purchased house plans, loan applications, contractor interviews, and now the little house has sprouted!!! And my, it grows so fast! Be sure to check out the pictures! I'll keep updating them as our little house grows.
Of all the annoying things in nature, usually I can at least see a purpose for them. Flies, well, their larvae help break things down. Smartweed, well, it’s nature’s cover crop. Ticks, well, I don’t exactly see what ticks benefit, but the worst of all of these (in my humble farmer opinion) is spiny amaranth. I mean, come on, is it really necessary to have ridiculous spines (that can penetrate leather, mind you) all the way up and down the plant, from tip to base, in addition to the ability to produce a zillion seeds on one plant (the one plant that might have been missed last year)? Not only that, but spiny amaranth (lovingly called “pigweed”) is also a C-4 plant, I’m told, which, complicated definition aside, means it grows like crazy, outcompeting anything around it. Admittedly, it’s kind of fun watching the C-4 Olympics between sweet corn (also a C-4 plant) and pigweed. Personally though, I’m rooting for the sweet corn. Maybe spiny amaranth is tasty, but who can get close enough to find out? I’m also told pigweed does excellent in a drought year. But apparently, it does awesome in a wet year too. And for what all these advantages? What purpose does this plant serve? If I thought you could cheat in nature, I’d say the deck is stacked.
Maggie and I dug potatoes today. I guess I’m far enough removed from the strawberry disaster to be thankful for all the rain. I mean, I have never seen Yukon golds that big before! Digging potatoes is a lot like an Easter egg hunt and panning for gold combined into one glorious game. We sift through the soil in search of these starchy sweet little treasures. And since I can’t just grow a “normal” potato, the little treasures we seek are all different sorts of pretty colors. Purple, pink, blue, red and gold—a veritable Easter palette!
I was talking to a chef from Charlotte this weekend who is writing a cookbook all about cooking local and seasonal from farmers markets in North Carolina. He is attending 52 markets in 52 weeks in North Carolina. He was wild eyed and excited, asking about every variety of every kind of vegetable. So wild eyed and excited that he kept leaving his purchases at the previous market stand while rushing off to the next great thing. This is what’s great about local food from local farms, he said, farmers get bored of the same old veggies and are constantly challenging their growing prowess and palettes. Exactly. I can’t tell you how much fun seed catalogues in the fall are for me. There are so many crazy varieties of standard veggies and so many crazy veggies out there to grow when you don’t have to worry about shipping and shelf life.
The first ripening tomato June 22
I came home from market last week in the rain so I had a nice excuse not to do any work that evening. We were sitting in the camper enjoying dinner and a glass of wine when the doorbell rang. “Doorbell?” you say. Well, yes and no. It’s a doorbell alright, with the little chime tune we’ve all heard a million times. But not in the way that you think. Deer, you see, are oft self invited guests here on the farm. We have a fence, but some of them don’t take the not so subtle hint and come on in anyway. So we installed these little motion detectors in the fields to alert us to their arrival. You know, so we could, um, give them a proper welcome and all. But all that jerry-rigging, (nailing up the base on the well house, cutting off the button on a wireless doorbell, soldering said doorbell to the base and installing the doorbell chime in the camper), had not all come together for us yet. While we were working out the bugs in one part, the batteries would get weak in another and so on and so forth. So when the doorbell rang Wednesday evening, we got all excited to have it all in working order finally. We jumped in the truck and whisked down the hill, to find nothing, no one, nada. Hmmm.
We went back up the hill to finish enjoying our supper when the darned thing went off again. And again. And again. We went down the hill several more times, moved the detector in the corn field in case it was the corn itself setting it off, hypothesized on the whole matter, and took out the battery in the middle of the night. So much for that genius. (For what it’s worth, the battery is back in and it is behaving properly—must have been the rain)
Apparently, the deer LOVE radicchio!
Last week’s near miss reminded me of a near miss several years ago. It was before my farming days (yes, there were “before farming days”).I was working my way through college on a golf course (insert witty comment here). I saw the storm clouds approaching and anticipated the afternoon halt of golf course work. Being that I commuted to work on a motorcycle, I decided that I had better things to do than hang out in the shop all afternoon sharpening tools or whatever it was that grounds crew workers did when it rained so I told my boss I thought I would try to beat the storm, hopped on my bike and whisked away. I drove home as fast as that little bike would carry me (which I’m positive was always under the speed limit). Now, I lived in an old house converted into an apartment then, and underneath my living room was an old garage with a dirt floor that no one used so the landlord let me store my little bike in there. I was pulling into said garage when it hit. Hail. I’m not talking the cute little peanut hail that might be considered normal. I’m talking HAIL! I dashed inside and watched with relief (that I had decided to beat the storm and that I had won that race by milliseconds) as the little pebbles grew into baseballs and then into softballs. A near miss. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. My car, which was parked at my roommate’s job halfway across town at the time, bore the multitude of dents for years after and never failed to spark conversation.
The crazy thing is that I never even thought about the local farmers then. How it must have devastated their crops and livelihoods. All these years later I wonder how they managed? So after all this complaining about the weather, I again have to acknowledge our near miss of a hail storm last week. So besides the weather, this is what we call the “June lull” here on Tumbling Shoals Farm. It is the time to take a breath after the intensity of the spring season, catch up on all quite length “to do” lists, but also the time where I’m a little thin on diversity of produce. Especially this year since my carrots are all so late. We’ve still got plenty of cooking greens (get them while they last! They go away as soon as the potatoes and onions are dug) and plenty of new and exciting squash and cucumbers, but only a few beets, all while we await the okra and green beans and onions that arrive soon. And of course I haven’t forgotten your tomatoes and peppers-we’re looking at mid July for tomatoes (a little late this year) and August for colored peppers.