Farmer John Writes: Time Twister
Week 7, August 20th – 24th, 2019
This year, this part of the season is a bit like waking up at 2 in the morning and wondering why the sun isn’t up…or waking up and thinking I am in my childhood bedroom. It’s a collapse of timeframes.
Normally, we seed 18 fields to clover and alfalfa every spring, fields that are being retired from their two years of service growing your vegetables, and subsequently being offered a 2-year sabbatical of regeneration with restorative cover crops. This past spring, however, we could not seed these fields due to flooding, and weeks after the rains subsided, a vast swath of these fields simply would not dry out. Now, in August, they are dry enough to work up and seed–work that we usually do in April. We’re doing spring work in late summer.
At the same time, we are preparing beds for 2020 vegetable shares.
The schedule of the whole season has been upended, like a carefully scripted play giving way to improvisational theater.
We are filling your boxes with mostly dense items–corn, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, zucchini, maybe more melons, maybe more corn. As I have mentioned in prior newsletters, the leafy greens that are almost always available for your box at this time of the year–kale, chard, baby greens, head lettuce–are absent due to weather impacts that reverberated forward in time from the relentless rains, including weeds that seemed to emerge from years of dormancy into carpets of grass. These greens are usually very easy to grow–dependable and satisfying to usher towards harvest–and they nicely balance out the share.
There will be kale and chard again; there will be baby lettuce and head lettuce and most likely arugula or mizuna again. I make note of it so often in Farm News because I really can’t get over the absence of these crops at this time of the year. It is just as challenging to face this absence as it is to be doing April’s cover crop seeding in August.
As of today, we have head lettuce growing in the fields, and we have seeded many beds of mizuna, baby lettuce, baby kale, tatsoi, and pea shoots, which should be ready for harvest in late August and into the fall.
Just like you can’t tell what a person is like based on their looks, we can’t tell how ripe a watermelon is based on its exterior. We have some clues, such as that the spot that touches the ground starts to turn yellow; it makes a deep thumping sound when you strike it; and the tendrils where the vine attaches to the stem tend to dry out; but still, there’s some guesswork involved with regards to ripeness. Of course, we always cut a few open to see if there is consistent ripeness amongst the melons. But you still could get an unripe melon, or an overripe melon.
Our small icebox melons tend to have fragile rinds, so they don’t take too well to truck travel. When they are extra ripe, one might split open just from picking it up.
I will add that the crows love watermelons, and usually feast on a few hundred before harvest. As one worker noted, the crows seem to make friends with our scarecrows within a day or two of erecting them.
In spite of all these challenges, I always raise some watermelons. If the color of the melon flesh confuses you, some are yellow inside when ripe, some ripen orange, and of course, many ripen red.
Sweet corn offers somewhat similar challenges regarding ripeness. The silk will turn from green to brown as the ear ripens, and the ear gets plump right out to the tip, but the kernels can still pollinate unevenly. If a person is really skilled at harvesting sweet corn, they can often discern from squeezing the ear whether it is suitable for your box, but not always. And this year, the sweet corn has matured somewhat unevenly, so we have been picking each variety twice. This is not ideal, because sometimes the corn from the second time through the field is marginal. It’s tough to throw out an ear of corn that is only 3/4 filled out; sometimes it will get into your box; sometimes it will be discarded.
There is a lot of concern today about food waste, hence the popularity of Imperfect Produce. At Angelic Organics, we are always looking for that dividing line between produce that we think will be acceptable to you and produce that will not–that line is a bit jagged, due to crop conditions, discernment of each field worker, etc.
My wife Haidy nonchalantly lead me over to the barn loft on the afternoon of my birthday, where I was dumbfounded by an exhibition of gifts, cards, art work, poems, personal notes, and a photo album from friends from all over. Even the large prints on pedestals were surprise gifts. Not only were there real chocolate chip cookies, but there was also a promise from our friends at Red Acre Farm in Utah to send me a dozen chocolate chip cookies every month for a year. With the help of our Community Coordinator Denise Glasenapp, Haidy had secretly created a presentation of birthday tributes, some from friends going back many decades.
Forty years ago, my friend Mark Street lived in the barn loft where the birthday exhibit is. He was in his late teens and quite the rebel–now a filmmaker and film teacher at a university in Brooklyn. When Haidy and I went back to the loft in the evening to revel further in the birthday exhibit, out came Mark from hiding behind an architectural artifact, accompanied by his vivacious daughter Maya–same loft where he had lived 40 years earlier. He was beaming; we were all beaming.
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.
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