Wednesday, June 8, 2011

April/May 2011 Newsletter

Sometimes I am overtaken by gratitude for this place, these gardens and even for the time in which I live, we live. Like the Earth's movement, there is so much change afoot, and much of it passes without so much notice...a glimmer on a beetle's back. There is a merging of awareness that can seem sometimes no more than an exchange of a knowing glance. In these times of heightened awareness, I try not to clutch onto the sensation but let it pass and allow the sequence of experiences that follow be perceived simply, without judgment. It is incredible the way gratitude can wash away the mud of judgment and lift the fog of expectations. Living in gratitude is I think as close to simply "being" as can be.


A day so happy
Fog lifted early, a day in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

-Czeslaw Milosz

I will think of this last line when I am straightening up in the field and will not feel disappointment upon seeing instead a hill of browning wheat and hearing the bray of Bobby's donkey.

Between these little recognitions, there is work. And a long work song it is. At times and earwig of a work song, forever prying me back at it, immersing me in a kind of frantic hypnosis, like a John Coltrane solo. It is feeble to attempt to complete all the tasks at hand, there are only a series of small triumphs, and I try to see each action as significant no matter how menial. This is easier to do when I have a sidekick to share the burden as I do with Tyler, intern extraordinaire. His enthusiasm and humor has lightened the mood and he always takes his work and our occasional frustrations in stride. My Dad has been right there with us, dedicating his scarce days off to see to it we keep in time with the many cycles of the garden. Each crop has a cycle, and with thirty-some crops the overlapping can be dizzying. The help I've received this Spring has been overwhelmingly know who you are, Dale, Holly, Grant, Wendy, Susan, Jeremy and many more, you all have my utmost appreciation.
May I also extend my gratitude to all of you supporters of our farm. You all have shared now in four weeks of harvest, and I hope your mealtimes have been enriched as ours have. Here are pictures of our first four weeks of CSA shares....

There is much goodness to come as we transistion into summer: (more) potatoes, onions, squash, cucumbers and beans, and it won't be long before tomatoes and corn grace our tables.

Spring has been marked by early rain and humidity, giving way to brutal heat. A successive wave of cool fronts and many a storm passed through in May, a small tornado touching down less than a quarter mile away, destroying part of our neighbor's corn crop, downing some large trees and damaging a few structures (and blowing our snap peas off the trellises). Although the excessive rain has not significantly harmed our crops (save rotting a good number of lettuces), much of the seasonal fruit in the area has been ruined, including cherries and strawberries. The weather looks to be hot and humid this week, and hopefully not too dry for too much longer.

Believing, or wanting to believe we would continue to receive and inch or two of rain every week, I foolishly put off setting up our irrigation. Since May 20th we've received very little rain and very much heat. Kevin, Tyler and I undertook a drip line laying marathon on Saturday, setting some 3000 feet of drip line. I am still finding it difficult to stand up straight. Surely this is a lesson in planning ahead and pacing.

We commenced our potato harvest June 1st and it appears we'll have an increase in productivity over last year, pulling almost three bushels of red potatoes out of one 120 ft. bed. I believe the combination of planting mid-March, growing in sandy loam (vs. clay loam), manually hilling the plants after the first 8 inches of growth, spraying Monterey at first sight of Colorado Potato Beetles, and fertilizing a week after hilling has proven a productive method. We have also planted about 750 Sweet Potato plants and have another 700 waiting to go in the ground for harvest in fall. I don’t like to push a planting without any kind of reliable rain the forecast. Looks as though we might finally get them in this weekend at our new property on Briggs Rd., where we now have a well in place. We hit quite a good bit of water at a shallow depth…the amount of water at the depth predicted by the dowser we hired to “witch” the well. This should eventually allow us to drip irrigate another 5 to 7 acres, which will also allow us a greater flexibility to experiment with different cultural techniques without sacrificing productivity. In addition, we will better be able to utilize cover crops to gradually increase soil fertility.

One of the highlights from this Spring has been our broccoli harvest. Broccoli is typically a late summer-planted, fall-harvested crop, like other plants in the brassica family (cauliflower, collards, kale, cabbage and kohlrabi). The difficulty in growing it in the Spring here has to do with the early heat typical of a piedmont Spring. Last Spring our broccoli was on the small side for a few main reasons: hot and dry weather, pot-bound plants started too early in the greenhouse, excess soil acidity and multiple frosts occurring post-transplant. The wet Spring and (relatively) gradual heating made for a particularly generous (and tasty) harvest this Spring.

Another improvement to this year’s Spring harvest has been our Mesclun Spring Mix. Many of the greens in this mix are in the Mustard family of garden crops. Owing to their sweet flavor and high nutrition, many insects are drawn to them in Spring, dotting the leaves full of holes. Flea beetles are particularly troubling to the organic gardener. They also affect arugula, Napa Cabbage, Pac Choi, and Eggplant. Because we do not like to spray leafy green crops (even using organic pesticides), we choose to “hide” the crop from would-be pests. We use a transparent row cover to enclose the rows of mesclun (or Napa, eggplant, etc.) This not only provides reasonable protection from bug damage, but also creates a greenhouse effect inside, quickening growth, while protecting the plants from late frosts. We will continue to experiment using row covers in fall and winter to extend our greens harvest. Unfortunately the summer heat here makes growing greens quite difficult, although we will attempt to grow arugula in afternoon shade.

While I have your attention I should announce our intention to hold an on-farm cookout on July 2nd. More details will soon follow. Thanks again to all of you for supporting our farm this season. Until next time…