Farmer John Writes: The Anvil, The Tulip Tree and Grandma Moses

 In Farm News

Harvest Week 5, July 26th – 31st, 2021

The Anvil

This past May, I installed an anvil—an ancient train car coupling—in concrete near our farm shop. This was part of the project of creating an outdoor blacksmithery, which I wrote about in Farm News, Roundup and the Snap of the Shank. I had purchased the coupling in the 70’s, with the plan then to embed it in concrete. The coupling had been laying in the weeds since then, dormant.

anvil in foreground of blacksmithery

The Tulip Tree

I live with my wife, Haidy, in a 180-year-old converted limestone schoolhouse across from the driveway to the farm. In 1972 I bought the one-time schoolhouse to save it from the likely fate of demolition, as it had fallen into disrepair since it had been closed as a school in the late 1940’s.

In the front of the property when I purchased it, very close to Rockton Road, was a tulip tree. It bloomed in springtime throughout the 1970’s.

Then it stopped blooming. 

Decade after decade, it did not bloom. I began to wonder if it had ever bloomed, or if I had just imagined that it had bloomed. I began to wonder if it actually was a tulip tree.

This spring, it bloomed, after at least 40 years of blooming dormancy.

Grandma Moses

Life Magazine, which was a major source of our news years ago, profiled Grandma Moses in their September 19th, 1960, issue. I remember comments by my mother at our supper table back then. (Supper took place at 5 pm, between feeding the livestock and milking the cows.)

My mother said, “Grandma Moses is what they call a folk artist or a folk painter. She didn’t start painting until she was in her 70’s. Imagine that, all those years and then suddenly, she started painting and got famous. Well, good for her!”

From Wikipedia: “What appeared to be an interest in painting at a late age was actually a manifestation of a childhood dream. With no time in her difficult farm-life to pursue painting, she was obliged to set aside her passion to paint.”

The Thunderstorm, 1948, Grandma Moses

Dormant Decades

After decades of dormancy–an embedded anvil, a blooming tulip tree, a painting career. What other surprises might be in store?

Our General Harvest Forecast for Mid-Summer

Thankfully, our crops have not been dormant. Coming up are sweet corn, melons, peppers, eggplant, zucchini/summer squash, onions, carrots, cilantro, dill, sage, thyme, kale, parsley…also, probably another week of beets, fennel and cucumbers. (The cucumber yield surged wildly last week and is now subsiding quickly.) We will also offer a sampling of okra—just a test this year. There probably won’t be enough okra for everyone. And we’ll probably have another harvest or so of beloved basil.

sweet corn is almost ready

Our Weekly Harvest Forecast

It’s a little tough to figure out just how much of what to offer to our shareholders every week. It’s hard to know what the weather will facilitate or impede. It’s sometimes a stretch to trust the numbers of what we think we have in the coolers; they are usually close to accurate, but sometimes close is not good enough. Sometimes, if we run out of an item, the crew can harvest more of it right away; occasionally, there is nothing left of that item to harvest. At times we have another item that is close enough to the missing item for us to substitute, such as sweet onions for scallions, or lettuce mix for head lettuce. On occasion, we are surprised by a burst of yield (such as the cucumbers last week), and we put extras in the boxes of those who chose cucumbers, because we don’t want to stockpile a lot of cucumbers in storage.

There are many aspects of this kind of farming that are interesting, but one of the most interesting (and most challenging) is making forecasts for our shareholders of what is available for the next week’s box. We do our best to deliver what we schedule, but we are not impeccable, even though there are shareholders who occasionally insist on impeccability. Please remember that we are a farm first–not a store, not a retailer, not a warehouse full of goods. Thanks to the many of you who are mindful that we are primarily a farm and give us a bit of slack, when needed.

Is there a substitute for beets, if we run out?

How many bags of mixed lettuce in this bed?

Unless there is a major shortfall of an item scheduled for your box, we probably won’t be letting you know with an email followup. If we make an item substitution so as to keep your box value in the proper range, we probably won’t notify you of the details. It’s too much for us busy farmers to track and communicate.

Please Supply Photos Right Away, If You Receive an Unacceptable Item in Your Box

If you have an item in your box that you think is unacceptable due to spoilage or other damage, email us with a description of the item, a photo, and the day it was delivered. Please send us any such complaints within two days of your delivery. Sometimes we get requests for a credit for an item that was delivered a week or more prior. Did this item spoil due to a grading or packing oversight here at the farm, or due to improper storage in the shareholder’s home?


Years ago, I often included an Overheard section in Farm News, in which I shared snippets of the conversations of others I overheard and sometimes the conversations I was part of. I will again occasionally share overheards in upcoming issues of Farm News.


Farmer: What do you do?

Guest: I help startups to succeed.

Farmer: What did you want to do when you were growing up?

Guest: I wanted to be a spy in the Middle East.

Farmer: How did you plan to go about that?

Guest: Study Arabic in high school, go to the Middle East and learn about the culture so I could eventually be a great spy.

Farmer: Did you do that?

Guest: Yes, I learned Arabic in high school and then went to Jordan as an exchange student for several months when I was in college.

Farmer: And?

Guest: I loved the Jordanian people. They are the best people ever. I could never spy on them. I read too many Tom Clancy novels, I suppose.

Farmer John

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Showing 10 comments
  • Mary Ann

    I was interested to read that your tulip tree bloomed this year after 40 years of dormancy. I had 3 plants bloom this year that I have never seen in my garden before, and I have been trying to figure out why – a new color of peony, a large swath of purple coneflowers, and some thread leaf coreopsis that I was sure had died out 5 years ago. Was all the rain we had last spring responsible for this rejuvenation? Or was it the lack of air pollution that resulted from the mass quarantine last year? I guess we’ll never know for sure!

    • Farmer John

      Three back-to-back seasons of rain, 2017 – 2019, seemed to cause the soil chemistry or soil biology to change. We have experienced more weed pressure here for sure.

  • Mary N

    I don’t mind if you’re low on something or need to substitute in my share box. I bought the share knowing that I would be accepting the risks of the farm and the growing season. It makes my food experience so much more interesting! For example, the broccoli you were embarrassed to put in our boxes was perfectly beautiful to me. I cleaned up and cut the broccoli florets and bagged them. I finished them off last night in a saute of garlic and olive oil. That’s how I love the beet greens as well. Love reading your stories; this subscription has enriched my life in so many ways.

    • Farmer John

      Thank you for the generous reassurance. I admire your versatility.

  • Lali Watt

    I kind of enjoyed the days of getting what we got. I like variety and I wish there were more odd types of veggies and things to try. I realize most people don’t feel that way but I miss tetragonia. And I really hope we get some okra! Part of the reason for joining a CSA (to me anyway) is to eat seasonally and locally – more of something and less of something else. I appreciate personalizing the box so I don’t double up on things I have growing in my herb boxes but it sure changes the experience.

    • Farmer John

      Tetragonia–it’s been a while. Purslane, sweet potatoes, collards…all memories. We still grow 40 crops or so.

  • Nicole Beck

    What a beautiful surprise- your tulip tree!! I’ve had to amend my preferred deliveries this year due to my abundant container garden on our new Chicago deck….a wonderful “problem” to have! Was worried at the late Spring start, but heartened by the recent abundance! We’re blessed compared to the rest of the country no doubt. And thank you for taking the time to write about your farming & philosophy! My grandparents were farmers in Indiana and gained an appreciation for gardening & canning from my Grandma. Happy to support this CSA!

    • Farmer John

      Nicole, thank you for writing. Nice to read about your own gardening life. Thanks for letting us supplement it.

  • Kate Phillips

    It sounds like this is a year of miracles for farmers and Gardner’s. My daisies are 4 feet tall. Not what was planted. In fact this year everything in the garden is tall and full. I am so appreciative of the bountiful harvest you have been having this year. It’s too much for my husband and I so I give some away.
    I love your newsletter. And the farm share experience. Thank you for all you do.

    • Farmer John

      4 ft daisies–whoa. Thank you for your nice words, much appreciated.

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