Farmer John Writes: From Mud to Dust
Week 3, July 23rd – 27th
Our third week of harvest is underway. I am reminded of the of complexity of managing a CSA farm–the overlapping and sometimes conflicting rhythms of the many crops; the sharpness and quality of harvest knives; the size of the harvest totes; which harvest trailer to use; whether to transplant or weed or harvest; whether to chisel plow or subsoil; whether to rent an expensive reliable delivery truck or rely on our less reliable farm delivery truck; fix the tractor now or wait until later; when to harvest the garlic; how to navigate heat, rain, drought. Drought?
After the Rains
We usually set up our overhead irrigation system in May. We have not set it up yet.
We seeded arugula, dill, cilantro, and peas in a field that we had been stale seedbedding. (Learn about stale seedbedding in last week’s Farm News, A Rogue Bank.) The seeds lay there in the dust for days, then more days. However, I look at the farm through soggy eyes. My thoughts are wet. The rains are omnipresent as an imagination, a fear, a threat. The dust is real in the way that a mirage seems real.
Last week, we transplanted fall broccoli and the last of our sweet corn in tremendous heat, blistering sun; we transplanted into dust. After transplanting, we watered the broccoli rows with thousands of gallons of water from our water wagon.
Eduardo watered slowly.
“The ground is drinking the water,” he said. “The water is disappearing fast into the dust. I have to drive very slow.”
He applied tank after tank of water.
Two days later, Victor applied tank after tank of water again. Some of the broccoli transplants had already withered.
The parched broccoli field is near a new marsh on the farm–a temporary marsh, I hope, as it is a group of many fields that we usually grow crops on. I attempted to cross it recently in my Jeep. I felt the tires sinking in to the mud. I quickly stopped, powered out of the field in reverse, powered backwards to the edge of the field of dust where the broccoli was struggling to survive.
In a moment, from mud in one field to dust in the neighboring field–complexity.
When the Cattle Walked on Top of the Snow
I remember the winter of 1976. The snow covered the tops of the fences, and became hard like pavement. Our cattle walked on top of the snow over the tops of the buried fences, walked off into the horizon, black specks in the distance.
My friend came to pick up his car.
“Where is it?” He asked.
“Somewhere over there,” I said, pointing to ten and twelve foot mounds of snow.
“I’ll come back for it in the spring,” he said.
The snow wouldn’t stop. Week after week, an enormous bulldozer came to clear the driveway so we could get feed to the livestock.
I think temperatures reached thirty below that winter. I was cold all the next spring and summer; I couldn’t warm up. That summer, I acquired huge snow moving equipment and a large tractor to run the equipment.
Rain can be like that snow and cold of 1978; it takes hold of one and won’t let go, even after it’s over. Drought, too. They make their way inside of me, into my bones and my judgment.
Last night, it rained. For now the dust is in remission; the broccoli that survived the harsh, temporary drought is plotting its path to your table.
Overheard Last Week
“Can you work in the fields this afternoon? It’s going to be terribly hot.”
“I don’t mind. After all, it’s a farm.”
Your Box Contents
We are still getting up to speed on the Harvie system, especially for deciding what vegetables and herbs to offer and how much of them for you to choose from. The more different things we offer, the more pack volunteers we need on the pack line. Ideally there will be one pack volunteer for each item we offer (and then an additional volunteer each to construct the boxes, insert the newsletters, close the boxes, and stack the boxes on pallets.) If we offer 12 items for you to choose from for your box, that means we would need 16 volunteers for a pack. Often, we are short on pack volunteers in relation to the number of items we have offered for you to choose from. Then one or more volunteers has to pack two items per box.
Another detail is that the more items you choose for your box, the smaller the font on your label to accommodate the whole list of items, and the harder it is to read what is supposed to go into your box as the box comes towards each pack volunteer on the conveyor line. We are trying to determine how to correct the important issue of packers often needing to squint to read what to put in your box, probably not always getting it right.
What Do Our Shareholders Prefer?
Garlic scapes, cilantro and basil are about equally preferred by our shareholders, and about 3 out of 4 shareholders choose each of these. Beets, scallions and lettuce are about equally popular, and most shareholders choose each of these.
Peas and Politics
Pea shoots are more popular than I thought; over half of our shareholders prefer them. There has been a lot of controversy amongst shareholders in the past about pea shoots. It seems that they are a polarizing force, like politics. I’m happy that pea shoots now go to those who want them and not to those who don’t want them. Could there be a comparable solution for those with polarized political views?
A Less Divisive Crop
Unlike peas, I suspect that garlic is a top contender as an inclusionary crop. We lifted our garlic last week. Thankfully, we got it out of the ground early enough so the wrappers that enclose the bulbs are mostly in tact. We’ll now cure it for a few weeks and then it will be ready for your boxes.
No Summer Field Day
We have been battered by the season. The workload spills nonstop into Haidy’s and my weekends. Therefore, we think it’s best not to schedule a Summer Field Day, as there is a lot of preparation that goes into a Field Day, a lot of cleanup afterwards, and then there is the day itself given over to hosting. The many other things that we need to do on the weekend won’t get done on a Field Day weekend, and since we also work nonstop during the week, it’s just about impossible to catch up on what we wouldn’t be able to do on that Field Day weekend. Sorry to cancel.
No U-Pick Garden this Year
A highlight of our Summer Field Day has been for people to pick flowers and beans from our U-Pick garden. That field was all mud all spring and impossible to plant into. We just need to count our blessings in a season like this that we have crops to put into your boxes.
Fall Field Day is For Sure Happening
We have nice looking pumpkin and gourd vines coming on. There should be a great crop of pumpkins and gourds for you to choose from on our Fall Field Day, September 21 (the 3rd Saturday in September, two days before the Fall Equinox).
Please Fold Your Boxes Properly and Return Them
The farm re-uses the vegetable boxes. Flaps are easily torn when the boxes are dismantled improperly, and then the box bottom might later burst open with fresh, organic local produce heading towards the floor. Please carefully flatten your box and return it to your delivery site. If you receive home delivery, place your flattened, empty box it in the location where your box is delivered.
Thank you for being with us for a dramatic farming adventure this season.
Let Us Know
Angelic Organics Learning Center
Angelic Organics Learning Center is an exciting and engaging place to learn about food, farming, and caring for the earth. They even offer overnight programs. Sign up for a workshop at www.learngrowconnect.org/events
Just made broccoli and beef with your beautiful broccoli/scallions/garlic scapes and some parsley. So good! Love your veggies, cannot wait for your garlic. Thank you for growing this!
Thanks, Chris. Sounds like a great dinner.
Thank you so much for all the thought and care you put in to farming in such a responsible and loving way!!! We are so excited to get more broccoli this Thursday and I can’t wait for your gorgeous cucumbers! Thank you all so much!
I love your enthusiasm, Colleen. Thank you for being part of our farm.
As always we are humbled by the work you do and the incredibly great tasting vegetables and on our table. Thank you.
Stu, Nice to get such an appreciative not from you. Farming is quite the adventure.