Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
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.
I mowed the weed patch formerly known as arugula, salad mix and radishes today. The spicy scent permeated the heavy pre thunderstorm air and all the little insects fled their newly established homes and ran for quieter ground. I remember clearly the feeling of rebirth in spring. Green was the theme-both in my environs and my diet. I felt so cleansed and new. The arrival of summer brings its own kind of rebirth. There’s a subtle shift of gravity like the stretching of the puppeteer’s string, worn from movement. My diet gradually shifts from green to a more colorful palette. The arrival of summer squash gently nudges us toward the explosion of color that arrives with tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. Wouldn’t want to shock our systems!
I love eating seasonally. The next crop to come on never fails to send me excitedly digging out my favorite recipes and searching for new ones. Eating seasonally is what keeps me healthy. With things changing constantly, fruits and vegetables never get monotonous and I end up with a veggie laden crazy kaleidoscope of food. Yum.
I picked summer squash today. Nature breathed a great big sigh of relief. Or maybe that was me. I mean, can you blame me? Two Mondays ago we had an extremely late frost. Last Monday we had a flood. So I was understandably tense as I braced for today’s weather report and…sunny and dry! I could feel my body involuntarily relax as I reached for the tender little yellow and green beauty. At last, a shift from the frantic scrambling of incorrigibly unpredictable spring into the (relatively speaking) slowed down signature of summer that the arrival of summer squash signals. Don’t get me wrong, for a farmer in summertime, the living ain’t exactly easy, but (I feel the need to again qualify here), given the right conditions (not flooding), it can be a lot less stressful.
The arrival of summer squash also signals the end of the bagged baby greens (sorry arugula lovers) and this year, the end of strawberry wine. The rye grass between the strawberry beds must be drunk with it all. The scent of fermenting rotten strawberries permeates the air and I have to admit that I’ll be glad when I get to mow down the memory of such a strawberry year and plant cover crops there instead. But while floods are not the strawberry’s lover, the chard and kale are smitten. To each his own, I suppose. And we all march on toward the next best thing to come out of the fields.
Our little meandering Tumbling Shoals Creek a rippin' and a roarin' after the flood!
Maggie and Jason planting your tomatoes
I swore off the word “efficient” this weekend. I knew I was risking institutionalization for obsessive-compulsive disorder if I said it one more time. But I couldn’t help it-it was making me into a liar. I’d say I had it available and then get to market without it. Honestly, I didn’t mean to do that. I just couldn’t seem to get to everything. So I began to obsess about efficiency. How can I do the same amount of things in less time? Eventually though, I tired of hearing and saying the word so it became taboo.
Speaking of weather…oh, we weren’t speaking of weather? Wow, that’s hard to believe this time of year. I refuse to complain about the solid week of rain we’re expecting. At least it’s not cold. And as we walked the fields today I realized that nearly everything out there right now loves this warm rainy weather with tidbits of sunshine in between. The kale loves it. The chard loves it. The peas love it. The beets love it. Well, you get the point anyway. In fact, the only crop producing out there right now that hates it is the strawberries, but they seem to be handling it for now. So I decided that I’ll take rain any day over frost (I hope I don’t regret saying that later). And this tropical weather is great for planting! Which we have been doing non-stop since last Thursday. We completely cleaned out the greenhouse of all those summer crops that have been waiting somewhat patiently for us to get around to planting them. Yep, all the ones that were quite happy not to be in the ground last Tuesday morning. Tomatoes, peppers, okra, oh my!