Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
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!
May 18th low: 31.9 degrees!
I am trying to figure out the date stamp on my camera. It’s evidence in my case against Mother Nature. She is behaving badly and is getting on my bad side. May 18th frost is NOT supposed to be the nature of the farming beast. This is going to screw up the statistics for years. So instead of the usual frantic harvesting of spring crops and planting of summer crops that occur in May, we are frantically scrambling around protecting all the fragile crops from frost as best we can. I had a nice long talk with the spring crops and they agreed to be tough tonight, but that was not a conversation I could have with the baby summer crops, most of which are fairly fresh in the ground. There’s a funny coincidence though. Last year (still adjusting to this climate), my tomatoes were scheduled to be in the ground around April 25th, but I got behind in the spring/summer craze so they were not in the ground April 28th when we got 28 degrees in the field. We covered frantically the night before and came out early in the morning to “hose off” the frost on summer squash and summer flowers that had already been planted. The complicated thing about tomatoes and frost is that they are virtually impossible to cover with our frost protection “blankets” due to the nature of their trellis which goes up before they are planted. Well, due to last year’s April 28th frost, I moved all summer planting back a week, thus my tomatoes were scheduled to go out the first week in May. Yet again, I got behind in my summer planting and said tomatoes are still in the greenhouse! Whew!
Jason hosing off the May18th frost this morning
Our mixed bouquets
What did the vinaigrette say when the man opened the fridge?
Shut the door .... I'm dressing!
It’s salad time!!!! I compare this to spring cleaning. After the heavy foods of winter and all the time spent indoors, spring pushes us out the door and fills us up with fresh fresh fresh. Last week the first bit of salad mix made it up the hill to our little fridge. Jason saw it and made himself a big bowl of salad for lunch, thought, “hmm..that was good, I think I’ll have some more.” He made himself another big bowl and when he was done with that he looked at the bag and thought, “well, there’s not that much left, I’ll just go ahead and finish it.” He didn’t even realize how fresh deprived he had been until then.
Then at market last Saturday, a pregnant woman came up to the stand eyeing up the seven bunches of radishes left. She said she had been dreaming of radishes and wanted to buy all seven bunches. Fresh deprived. But that’s all behind us now. We’re harvesting plenty of fresh things now, and planting summer things like crazy.
Indigo bunting chicks in their nest in our barn
Sometimes a cliché is all there is to say. “Spring has sprung.” The air is rich with warmth and moisture and rebirth. The Tumbling Shoals Valley has changed its wardrobe. Last fall, the valley raised its swan song voice in a stunning display of color before the naked curtain of winter. And now, in case you might be tempted to ignore it, the valley has donned the brilliant emerald of spring. The opening act hums a fresh tune. The air dances with the laughter of the goat kids next door and the twitter of chicks growing to fledgling in nests tucked here and there in the barn. Babies abound, in perfect rhythm with the emergence of food everywhere. Grass, bugs, leaves, veggies. I love spring. I, too, am reborn in a sense with the shedding of winter wardrobe and the taste of freshness on my tongue. The main character in Still Life with Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins, tucks the world into two categories: “yum” and “yuck.” May= “yum.”
Speaking of “yum”, we saw the first pink of a ripening strawberry yesterday. Which leads to my prediction that we’ll be eating red in two weeks!
|Day old calf with mama||goat kids playing|
radishes growing in the field like they're supposed to
Let me preface this by saying that one: I’m pretty sure I don’t “believe” in astrology as any more than entertainment and two: that I don’t usually admit to you all that I ever feel anything but positively perky about my profession:) That being said, I have to tell you first about how Jason came to work for the wonderful organization that he currently works for. We had just moved to North Carolina from Madagascar. We were young, came here with everything we own packed into a Pontiac Grand Prix (and had room for more passengers), and had very little money. Classic modern vagabond returned Peace Corps volunteers. We camped in a tent (the camper seems like an upgrade!) while we looked for an apartment to rent and for employment. At some point, I had three jobs, plus I was completing some hours on a farm for a class I was taking. Jason could not even land a low skill job and was becoming increasingly frustrated. One day, he opened up his Free Will astrology horoscope in the weekly Independent (a fine publication if you’re in the triangle area of NC), which was usually more vague and universal but this week it said, “now would be a good time to work in a fast food restaurant.” Well, there was only one fast food restaurant in Pittsboro so he went there and got a job. The farmer I was working for was incredibly impressed by the fact that he was willing to work in a fast food restaurant (being educated, experienced, and not a teenager I suppose). As it turns out, said farmer was also on the review board for the Tobacco Communities Reinvestment project at RAFI-USA and they happened to be looking for a new project director. Jason was both informed of and recommended for the position (of which he was quite qualified for, I might mention as an aside, but we didn’t even know about the open position) by my farmer boss and the rest is history. We still say that Rob Brezny’s Free Will Astrology is at least in part responsible for Jason’s employment.
So….(here’ where preface number 2 comes in) the other day I found myself in a bit of a state of frustration and doubt. It’s the radishes’ fault. No really! Normally, radishes are incredibly easy to grow. Mostly because they germinate in just a few days and grow really fast. But I had looked at my first planting of radishes (and spinach, which is not easy to grow by any stretch of the imagination) and the germination was poor, barely even a crop. Radishes! I’m in trouble if I can’t grow radishes! What can I grow if I can’t grow radishes?!! Well, you get the idea of the state of self doubt and frustration (and probably a bit of panic) that I found myself in. It was in this state that Jason tried to tell me that I was a good farmer, and that it will be fine, just because one planting of radishes (and spinach!) didn’t look so hot didn’t mean that subsequent plantings of everything wouldn’t be just beautiful….(etc. etc.) But for some reason, he wasn’t quite able to lift me out of my “I’m a failure” desolation. (I should mention here, that I am writing this with a hint of laughter at my own distress because, as it turns out, subsequent plantings of everything are beautiful—it was just the abnormally cool soil temperatures that caused our early germination woes). At some point during his attempts though, he got on line and looked up Rob Brezny’s Free Will Astrology and found this was my horoscope for that week:
I once had a girlfriend who was tormented by her demons. As brilliant an artist as she was, as much good as she did in the world, she couldn't get those jerks to stop whispering curses like "You're a fraud" and "You'll never make any money from doing what you're good at" and "No one will ever love you for who you really are." I did my best to silence the voices that plagued her. I tried to sing them to sleep or scare them away or make her feel so well-loved they'd die of malnourishment. But nothing worked, and she and I eventually broke up because of those demons. Since then I've worked hard to improve my skills as an exorcist. As much as I'm inclined to use those skills to help you chase away the pests that are bugging you, however, that's not necessary. You now have the power to perform a dramatic do-it-yourself banishing. So get to work!
Who is this guy? Since I quoted him here, I should at least provide the link to his website: http://www.freewillastrology.com/ .
In other news, we finished our last major farm construction project this weekend, check out the building projects slide show to see more construction pictures of our walk in cooler! Here's the finished product: