Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Brooke and David harvesting onions
Our job depends a lot on efficiency. There’s notoriously too much work to do with too few people in too little time. Some days, though, I’d just like the routine to take over. I’d like to ponder life while I plod through the natural list of things to do instead of having to be “on my game” and thinking. There could even be a little soundtrack. Or better yet, a montage! A little number of building momentum where we are seen working at a normal pace (ho hum). Then we cross one thing off the list, and the song speeds up and the scene changes to little snippets of work punctuated by the crossing of things off the list until the crescendo where we are shown pumping our fists in the air in apparent victory over said list. No wonder they do that a lot in movies: it feels quite satisfying just thinking about it.
Hats, hydration and humanity (a good swimming hole, a cold brew and a seat in the shade)
Hats, hydration and humanity
Last week in all my “woe is me, whoa it’s hot!” drama, I had people ask me how in the world we survive working outside under the blazing sun when it’s nearly 100 degrees. It’s a fair question. It’s been my experience that even if you survive the heat, you still have the minefield of interpersonal relationships to negotiate. Because let’s face it, when the temperature rises, tempers flare. So how did we manage to stay a happy little Tumbling Shoals family last week? Hats, hydration and humanity. Hats, well, that’s a no-brainer. Hats, preferably of the big brimmed type, are a necessity. It’s like a little white lie to yourself: “see, it’s shady and cool under here.” Hydration, well, it’s weeks like last week when I suspect my body of having a direct route from swallow to sweat. So we don our little camelbaks and sombreros and march right on out there under that cruel sun despite the circling vultures (I swear there really were vultures circling!). We really should be on the camelbak payroll since we look like permanent camelbak advertisement (especially if sweat really is sexy!). Still though, despite hats and hydration, the heat can really just take it out of you. When your vision burns through the sweat in your eyes to notice everyone staggering around in exhaustion, sometimes it’s just time to pull the plug on that whole work thing and go swimming. I mean really, I think it’s written in the Geneva conventions. A good swimming hole, a cold beer and a seat in the shade. Now that’s surviving.
I remember a commercial from my teenager years that said sweat is sexy. Is that still true? If so, boy were we some of the sexiest things around today. In fact, it’s days like today that I worry about skinny farmers; it seems like they might just wilt down to nothing. At least those of us who put a few pounds on this winter have got something to melt! It’s also days like these that make us question our sanity. I mean, if we’re really honest with ourselves, when we sat down and planned for this farmy dreamy thing, it did not include days like today. I mean, it’s still May for crying out loud! And let’s face it, we thought farming was kind of sexy: a bit romantic, if you will. But unless sweat, coupled with dirt, grime, sunburn and exhaustion, really is sexy (surely there’s an argument for that!), today didn’t rise beyond just plain hot, humid, and downright miserable. Tomorrow, there will be shade.
Jason braves the torrential downpour to
rescue a terrified Kitty Amin
Jason rushing his charge in from the rain
Shiloh dries off poor said kitty
Kitty Amin? Well, he's had
better (hair) days
The daring rescue of Kitty Amin
Jason set this deluge in motion. As the sun slowly lowered its hazy mask and the temperature began its ascent, he suggested today might be a good day to go swimming. Or maybe it was all the planting we did this morning (any guesses on our current squat count?), all of which needed watered in. Or perhaps the filing gods put in the request so I had no more excuses for my overflowing “to file” pile in my corner office (it may double as a closet, but all the same, it’s in a corner). Or the van, whose tags are about to expire and needs an inspection, requested some rain to push us into accomplishing all these things we tend to put off until rain days. Either way, it was providence. Here I am, daylight still painted outside my window, attacking that “to file” pile and other office “to dos,” strawberries and tomatoes all tucked under their umbrellas (whew!), freshly planted babies getting watered in, van on its way into town for inspection, AND I feel like I have been swimming!
Strawberries ripening on the plants
A honeybee feasting on blackberry nectar
I try my Midwestern best to remain calm and steady—no extremes. But there are moments of intoxicating joy that sneak up on me here on the farm. What I mean is: sometimes I just can’t help it. Often, this time of year (the time of insanity—is there a line in “Turn! Turn! Turn!” that says “a time for insanity”?), we’ve got our heads down, working so hard we forget to look up at the magnificence surrounding us, both cultivated and natural. We lose touch with the glory that is spring, when the world is screaming “yes! Life!” all around us (really, it’s a bit over the top for my Midwestern sensibilities). But nature has its own wake-up call and is not afraid to use it. Take yesterday, for example: I was listening to the radio on my earphones while operating the tractor at a high and loud engine RPM. You’d think that would be enough to drown out nature, but I passed the strawberry field and was nearly knocked off the tractor by the most intoxicating scent: ripe strawberries! My mouth watered Pavlovically (oh yes, I did just say Pavlovically), and I was forced (Forced! I say) to descend from my throne of oblivion and feast with wild abandon till I lay, belly up, bloated and smiling like the village fool. Then, as if that weren’t enough to make me stand up and notice, this morning the scent of wild blackberry blooms overpowered my senselessness like a child’s stomping feet and shrill scream: “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” Hello nature, I got your message and am returning your call.
Newly planted tomatoes underneath their umbrella
There is a sarcastic saying for desiring credit for something ordinary: “do you want a cookie for that?” I admit, I always want a cookie for accomplishing ordinary tasks. It doesn’t matter that it’s in the job description and that it is expected of me, I still want that acknowledgement. Hey Jason, did you notice I did a load of laundry? Yes I’d like a cookie for that. Hey! Did you see I hoed a row? Yes I’d like a cookie for that. You get the picture. Well, recently, it seems, that figurative cookie has been arriving in the dough, so to speak. Twice already in the past couple of weeks, Brooke has brought over cookies for no apparent reason. And then today, just when my tummy was a-grumblin’ and I started eying up the strawberry field for snacks, our neighbors brought us cookies! Alas, your strawberries remained safe (for the moment).
Putting away the frost blankets
Some people call it the “blackberry winter.” We call it the “squash frost.” Nearly without fail, a week or two after we plant our summer squash, comes a frost. There’s no use in waiting a week or two to plant it; that will just push the frost even later when there might be even more frost sensitive babies like tomatoes and peppers in the field (we tried that in 2009, and got a May 18th frost). So, we call it inevitable, plant the squash, pack up the frost blankets and put them away (that, too, is required. If you leave the frost blankets out, the frost will still wait until you put them away before it arrives), then just count on dragging them back out a week or so later. And so it goes on Tumbling Shoals Farm. So…we planted the squash last week and folded up all the frost blankets and put them away, and sure as a death and taxes, here comes a frost Thursday morning. How about that? Part of me wants to feel all smug about my wisdom (I do admit to leaving the trailer parked next to the frost blanket storage), but boy do I dislike hauling those blankets and bags of rocks around (literally, bags of rocks—to hold down the frost blankets in the case of wind)! Luckily for me, it will happen like magic while I am away at our first market of the year at the Downtown Hickory Farmers’ Market on Wednesday. For current pictures of the tomato umbrella project, click here! Don’t forget to check us out on facebook!
Covering the tomatoes with a little extra protection for a cold night (this hoop house still standing strong!)
Plastic is strong. Structural, we might even call it. I’ve heard plenty of farming horror stories about farmers who lost greenhouses because the plastic would tear, so the relentless wind just bent the metal hoops out of its way. You’d be better off to cut the plastic to let the wind through; it’s cheaper to replace than the metal hoops. “How do you know when to cut the plastic?” Brooke asks astutely. How do you know when to cut the plastic indeed? As it turns out, this is a common theme in agriculture: when to cut your losses and move on. So I’m declaring right here, in front of everybody, that I am coining a phrase and I want credit for it 30 years from now. How did we know it was time to give up on the spinach planting, cut our losses and till it in to seed something else? “You just gotta know when to cut the plastic.” How did we know to mow over the blackberries and try again next time? “You just gotta know when to cut the plastic.” Else, you might find yourself with more loss than you bargained for.
transplanted onions, the beginning of the 12,000 transplants
I’ve always wanted to make a farm exercise video. Or advertise the Tumbling Shoals Farm weight loss camp. You know, you pay me to come and work on the farm where you eat only organic veggies and do 12,000 squats. I just added that up. Yesterday, we planted this year’s 12,000th transplant, which, roughly translated, means we did our 12,000th squat so far this year. Which, since we don’t begin planting until the end of February, means that we did 12,000 squats in a month. No wonder I found myself soaking in a tub of hot water last night and begging for a massage today.
Every winter, I make quite a strong effort to rest, and a somewhat feeble attempt not to fall completely out of shape in anticipation of what March has in store for me. But March still kicked my butt this year, as it does every year. Luckily, help in on the way. Our employees arrive next week! Which means that it’s already April and we’re only a month away from the first harvest of fresh organic veggies. I admit, I’m a might bit tired of eating potatoes, carrots, cabbage and butternut squash, which are the things we managed to store over the winter. The cupboards and freezer are beginning to look a little bit bare and I admit to purchasing lettuce at the store a couple of times just to have something at least somewhat fresh.Our 2011 harvest shares are sold out; contact us to get on next year's waiting list.
We finally entered the facebook world! Check us out for quick updates, food and agriculture related links, pictures, etc. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tumbling-Shoals-Farm/100581960023289, or go to facebook and search for Tumbling Shoals Farm.
Shiloh and Jason
Tumbling Shoals Farm
Tomato "umbrella" with tomato plants inside at Peregrine Farm
photo by Alex Hitt
I keep attempting to delude myself into thinking I’m still on vacation. But today came calling with fierce reality. First, we filled to maximum capacity both of our germination chambers in our greenhouse with newly sown seed (I hope you’re getting hungry!) And second, we received notification that our tomato umbrella is arriving this week (including a 1300 pound roll of plastic!) and will need to be unloaded from the tractor trailer it is arriving on. You might have noticed that we’ve had two less than stellar tomato seasons in a row. Tomato plants are a might bit wimpy and don’t like to be rained on. This wimpiness is the biggest challenge to organic tomato production in North Carolina. After two frustrating tomato years, we decided to explore our options. Option 1: move to California. Well, you probably can see the complications involved in that choice. Option 2: Spray the heck outta them suckers (You may also have noticed that tomatoes are one of the most sprayed crops). Well, you can also see the complication there, being that we grow organically and don’t like to sell things we wouldn’t feed our own children (or nieces and nephews in our case). Option 3: Bring California here (read: keep the rain off the tomatoes). Well duh! But Mother Nature just doesn’t tend to listen to my pleas (see 2009!), so how in the world are we going to do that? An umbrella! Or lots of umbrellas (like a 1300 pound roll of umbrella)!
Hence the title: big changes at Tumbling Shoals Farm. We are putting up a giant umbrella over the entire tomato field! This is both incredibly exciting (good tomato years, even if it rains!) and incredibly intimidating (unloading a tractor trailer in the road, screwing support posts 20 feet into the ground, erecting 15 foot high umbrella supports and pulling plastic over said supports, yikes!), but mostly exciting. Stay tuned for adventure stories on the progress of that project, beginning with the unloading of the tractor trailer.
Remember that we are in open enrollment for the 2011 harvest shares! A couple of changes happening in that department too (I promise to update the website this week!): we are offering a new pick up spot on Thursdays at Twenty One & Main in downtown Elkin. And we are offering again pick up points at McRitchie Winery in Thurmond (also Thursdays) and Western Carolina Electric in Moravian Falls (Wednesdays). Shares are selling faster than I anticipated, so if you’re sitting around thinking about it, you better get your registration in soon! A $100 deposit holds your share. We might not make it to April before selling out this year so if you’re hungry for fresh organic veggies, get on board. You can print the registration form here.
We’re looking forward to growing food for you this year!