Thursday, March 31, 2011

February/March 2011 Newsletter

The promise of regeneration resides in every flowering tree. It seems there is a hard, cold stretch before a thing of beauty can take shape. And when it does, it is unexpected, and a treasure to behold. Nature reminds us in March that out of difficulty and out of seeming death a thing of beauty can grow, and, if the conditions are right, feed and sustain another. Spring is a persistent season, urging us to break from our drab winter cloak and greet the sun with flying colors. And she can be cold, sending us right back into our shell. This in-between time leading into full-blown Spring is like a recalibrating of sorts, and if we are attuned, we can acknowledge the shifts and grow alongside. Spring was always the most difficult season for me, until I got into growing…then I forgot about most everything Spring has become something like marathon nursing. With each decision, I’m asking the question, “How can I create the conditions for optimal growth?” and “How can I cultivate a semblance of order amidst all this green opportunity?”

I’m answering the first question each time my Dad and I stack a load of wood next to the water stove, knowing it will keep the tomato seedlings warm on these chilly nights. I’m answering every time I hand-water seedlings, getting a better feel for their thirst as I gain experience. I answer every time I decide it’s dry enough to till, feeling the earth crumble, knowing the resulting mix will breathe and relax and not clench up and bake when the sun burns hotter. I’m answering with each decision to transplant into the field, with a faith the plants I’ve nursed in the most optimal of conditions will survive and thrive in an uncertain environment, this fickle Spring.

The second question (“How can I create a semblance of order amidst all this green opportunity?”) is an easier question to answer, and yet a more difficult one to put into practice. By “green opportunity” I refer to weeds and tilled ground. As Peter Fossel states, “Weeds are nothing more than nature’s attempt to bring stability to what she considers a highly unstable and volatile environment…Nature wants a…high degree of biodiversity. What we want is a high degree of corn or broccoli.” Last season, our weeds grew too mature, too quickly for us to handle manually. So we’re taking a different approach this season. We’re answering the question at hand by investing in the tools and materials we need to confront the many waves of emergence. Where we cannot weed around sensitive squash, melons and sweet potato vines, we are laying plastic. Where added soil heat may improve yields we are also laying plastic. Everywhere else we are planting rows at least 10” apart to allow easy passage of our beloved wheel hoe. It is essentially a stirrup-shaped blade that sits behind a wheel and below two handles. And I will tell you, this hoe on a wheel will be busy. Its continued use at the right times (when weeds are at their “white thread” stage and preceding a rain) should, at the very least, allow us to find our crops.

Some folks have asked me, “What is fresh at this time of the year?” These are lean times indeed in the garden. We have found ways to stretch our winter harvest with minimal effort. We erected a couple of row covers late last fall to protect some spinach, arugula, lettuce, carrots (and leeks). We are trying the theory that spinach grows best if fall-panted, and so we planted some in each season to compare. We’ve found that its performance may also be more cultivar-dependent than some other vegetables, as one variety (Tyee) is far outperforming the other (Bloomsdale). We’ve been munching on much steamed spinach, as well as the fall-planted lettuce, green onions, kale and carrots. The greatest surprise by far was the lettuce’s survival. Planted in early November and withstanding a cold winter, we are still harvesting cuttings. From our experience this winter, gardening in winter is quite easy if you leave enough food under row covers in late fall…it doesn’t grow much, but the plants are preserved like little living monuments to the fall garden.

We have continued to erect row covers into Spring. Asian greens (pac choi, tatsoi) and anything in the mustard family (including most mesclun mix ingredients) fall prey to flea beatles in April. The surest way to protect them is simply to hide them. If our little experiment works, we should be able to provide a greater a variety of succulent greens come May. And well, if they’re shot full o’ holes you know we tried.

By now, I’ve seeded just about all our Spring and early-Summer crop, and we’ve planted most of our potatoes and onions. The potatoes we planted are Yukon golds, a couple red varieties and two types of fingerlings. I went a little crazy on the onions, planting thousands, but I alone am not to blame, as we had a little help from our friends: Grant, Wendy, Virgil, Ted, my dad Kevin and my wife Holly all pitched in. Grant is here almost every Saturday, wide-eyed and sometimes bushy-tailed. Family friends from St. Louis, the O’Neals were in last week, and we were fortunate to have the help of Mark erecting trellises and daughter Isabel to transplant tomatoes and herbs in the greenhouse. A big thank you to Holly for all her hard work in the greenhouse this Spring and to my Mom, Wendy, for the delicious meals, and, I should add, for both of you for putting up with your manure-slinging farm husbands, no easy task for sure.

While I’m handing out thank-yous, I should thank all of you that have placed your faith in us to grow your produce this season. We are doing everything in our power to prepare for the harvest. May it be abundant! I should note that we have five 2011 CSA memberships still available for purchase. If you’ve put it off, now’s your chance! To enroll, please make check payable to Harmony Ridge Farms, 3835 Bowens, Rd., Tobaccoville, NC 27050. Basic program is $675 and "plus" $895. You may read more here: ______________

I would also like to thank Wildfire Creative for designing our new logo, as seen at the top of this screen. I admit being finicky during the creative process, but Chris, Tony and company had the uncanny ability to decipher exactly what stood in my mind's eye.

Thanks also to Peter V. Fossel for writing "Organic Farming: Everything You Need to Know." I referred to the chapter "Weed Limits".

I will leave you with a few more pictures from the farm and a fond farewell.

(1)These have all been moved to the field. (2) Oh so many onions. (3) Ted and Virgil