This is an interesting time of year because you’re really in transition from summer to fall. Just the other day, somebody at the market was asking if things were winding down for the season and I looked at him like he was out of his mind “There’s still 1400 tomato plants with tons of green tomatoes…don’t you dare mention winding down!” For him, it was a fairly cool morning and the leaves had started to rustle a bit with autumn in the air; for me, I still in the trenches battling weeds and harvesting like mad. It shows how the perspectives of two people can really diverge when talking about the same thing. Still, even I feel things slow down a bit. July truly is the nightmare month, and it is about this time in August when I “let it ride” for the rest of the season. What I mean isn’t that I stop working, but I let go of the idea of tending the garden with the same intensity necessary earlier to keep up on the weeds and bugs and such. Just the shortened days alone cause growth to slow down. A weed which germinates this week probably won’t even go to seed before the frost, so why worry. And this is really helpful to us, because it may be a surprise to know that the real challenge about farming isn’t the physical work, but the psychological stress. A season really is a wild ride that you just have to keep on all the way to October. It’s filled with too many tasks to list and too many risks to think about and the stress of that can really grate on a person as the season wears on. That’s why I too celebrate hitting this time of year. Although there are many more things to do, we do start to slow down with the days.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I’m feeling pretty good about where things are at this week after last week’s aggravations. Seems like our electric fence is keeping out raccoons and those high-season crops are actually ripening (thanks to 85+ degree heat). It’s tough when you keep slogging through all that work and the plants don’t holding up their end of the bargain; I’ve cultivated, weeded, and trellised tomatoes, but the tomato plants are just giving me green fruit.
One project we’ve made significant progress on is the farm stand which we plan on setting up later this year at the end of our driveway. My father-in-law is a carpenter and he helped me do the framing this past weekend. Our concept is to make it an honest-to-goodness farm stand which makes for a good customer experience. Sometimes people just set up a card table with a couple of coolers or a Menards-built utility shed and try to pawn that off as a farm stand; it just doesn’t do it for me. What we’re building is a 10x6-foot lean-to structure made of recycled barn wood…something that really looks like a farm stand. I keep picturing it spilling over with fall crops this September, so much produce that extra bushel baskets overflow onto the grass…nice sight, eh?. It’s one of those projects you dream up without any sense that you’d ever get to it, but I’m excited it’s actually becoming reality!
The garden work is also in a good place or going according to schedule. We’ve just planted the last seeds for the year like salad mix and radishes. This should give them enough time to get into the boxes by the end of the season as long as we get some germination in this heat. Last night we set the kids up in the van to play (they really like playing in cars) while Mar and I pulled all the garlic out of the ground til nightfall—it’s always a good feeling to be heading to the house at dusk after finishing a job. Also we almost have all the mulch down in between the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.
It feels good to be mostly “on schedule” at this point because we’ll be hitting the high harvest period as the tomatoes, peppers, corn, and such come in. We end up in a blurry non-stop picking routine from now until mid-September, which makes it tough to get to anything else. Still, other big project await, like pulling all the onions to cure and putting tilling ground for this fall’s cover crops.
A neighbor of mine says that coons are never a problem until the corn gets just right, then they will show up two days before you want to pick it. Well, I’d have to say that his thinking is right. They completely decimated the planting that I was going to pick on Friday…two days before, right on time! Yesterday I noticed that some plants were stripped of their cobs here and there, which was surprising because I’d never had any problems with coons before. I knew that once they had my number that they weren’t going to go away—kind of like zombies in an old horror movie…they just won’t stop. The major outcome
is that the good looking bi-color sweet corn which SHOULD have been in the box today didn’t make it.
With the next planting of corn ripening in another week, I’m guessing what I’ve now dubbed “Coon War ’08” does not end there. My mind is consumed with plotting the next round with these critters. I’ve already told my wife that the dog and I will be sleeping in the machine shed to shoo the racoons away—typically a dog will chase anything most garden-attacking critters, but ours is used to sleeping inside each night. I’m sure if we left him out on his own, he’d just sleep on the deck by the house, so he need a little encouragement. Also, following another neighbor’s technique, I’m looking to set up a polywire fence. Polywire is a tape that carries an electric charge. The trick is to set a single strand just a few inches off the ground. Since raccoons walk with the head down and low, the single strand keeps them out. I like this approach since it is in the organic production mold…pest prevention instead of pest eradication, which needs some form of poison. I’ll stand guard over the next week, and, if all goes well, deliver a slug of corn in your box next Friday—let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
One thing we’ve learned is that we have to specialize our labor. We’ve tried working at the same time, hoping that the kids will just stick around, but it typically ends up a disaster. Something like digging potatoes or picking weeds holds a kid’s attention an average of 1-2 minutes; after that, they move onto bigger and better things. So, when we try this, one of us is always chasing after kids and we end up arguing over whose turn it is to catch them before they get hurt or trample a whole crop. Now we trade off a lot. One watches the kids and the other concentrates on farm work. Yesterday I took the kids for a 2-hour bike ride to the lake and Mar did some serious bean picking.
The great part of farming with children is watching them grow up with the farm. Sylvia knew the word “kohlrabi” at a very young age and Will THINKS he’s ready to drive a tractor. I read an article recently by an author named Gene Logsdon in Farming magazine about all the toys farm kids enjoy that you can’t buy in stores: everything from ponds to rocks and bugs. It made me think about the kids’ favorite toy of late: corn. For the past couple of weeks they keep asking us to go ‘play corn’ where they run up and down the corn rows screaming and trying to surprise one another and me. It’s pretty cool that we have four corn patches, so when they get bored with one area, they can move onto another. For me, as a parent, I just love it and I often think about the memories we make for our children. I have great memories of gardening at our plot near the sugar plant in East Grand Forks, wondering off looking for fox along the rail lines or harvesting corn with my family up by
example, last year when it was extremely dry after June, we didn’t have to set up irrigation until the end of July. Places with sandy soils like near Erhard and Dent had crops simply burn up. The couple disadvantages are compaction and soil
temperature. Both of these issues have been challenges this year since we’ve had the “monsoon season” most of the summer. As I’m sure your own plants did, many crops just sat in the mud not growing at all because of the low soil temperature as well as the retention of moisture. With so much water, plants were turning yellow because they simply weren’t getting oxygen due to saturated ground and not functioning to their best abilities because of the low temperatures. Compaction is the other issue which I think we’ve been skirting to the best of our abilities. The trick here with a clay soil is to use machinery only when the ground is pretty dry, if not, you’ll have cement where the tire tracks are and mud chunk cement pieces where you tilled—not good. This, of course, messes with when you can cultivate to take out the weeds. Basically I’ve been working on being more patient this season, so I should be a better person for it.