How can this time of year not be the best, most wonderful time of the year? I know my heart is biased to whatever season is just beginning…I always have a little love affair with each season when it starts, its newness, its difference from the season before…my senses reel, I get giddy in the midst of such magic. I forget for the moment that three moons down the road I will call winter the best as I embrace that deep, deep stillness, the wet and the gray as beautiful when they come as these multi-hued golds exploding in crisp but still warm air are today. I know that I can’t stop talking about this, but perhaps this farm life has simplified me to a more constant state of grace. How can one of the more consuming thoughts I have on these days be about how absolutely beautiful it is, when there are so many other things trying to press into these simple thoughts, things more weighty and consequently more sombering and subdued? I feel like a child a bit, but when I look around and see the changing colors against the evergreens in the hills, linger over a calm rather than rushed picnic lunch in the midst of calm rather than bustling field work, basking in the warm sun so intently, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by these thoughts. When I comment to everyone about how wonderful the weather has been, and how gorgeous these days are, it is not for me just small talk but rather a real sense of joy that keeps running through my veins, in spite of the weight of the world.
Besides, this is an exciting time of year for us as farmers, because as things do slow down, we begin the fall and early winter tasks of planning for next year. We have spent a lot of time these last few weeks using the good weather and relaxed field schedule to take more time walking the rest of the property. During these walks, we check on fencing and plan repairs or improvements, talk about and look towards the grand picture for all of these areas, then think about the next step towards this. Although during these strolls we aren’t in the vegetable field, we talk a lot about our plans there as well, all while the kids collect acorns and mushrooms and oak galls to bring the outside into our home, a tried and true decorating approach!
Our first year growing food on this farm–our first year growing food for a CSA–was wildly overwhelming, a result of our being overly ambitious, whole-heartedly idealistic, and surprisingly (to us) under educated in growing this way, all on top of finding out our topsoil had been sold to the dump and our first year soil amendments were not enough to loosen the heavy clay subsoil we found ourselves in. For my part, I went into last winter needing to not think about the next year. I re-focused on my home, the children, and tried to unclench the tightening of muscles and queasy stomach reflex I had every time we tried to make plans for the next year. Thankfully, our plan for this second year was to step back, to proceed more slowly, with a clearer understanding and with caution rather than abandon; an approach that brought success both in the fields and in our home.
As we find ourselves around the circle again moving past the big push of our second year, it is so wonderful to have had a good year, to have reached most of our goals, and to be able to move forward with excitement instead of stress. Our children are all a year older, all (mostly) wonderful little field helpers, our soil is rapidly improving, and the real life experience of working a small farm for the last two years has made our planning skills far better. We feel that our CSA goals were met this year, which was our top priority, and because we planned this year for just what one field worker could do and still only had 50% yields on most things, we are excited to look towards next year. Where we were conservative with multiple varieties this year to keep our expenses low, we plan on expanding this a lot for next year, fun for us and for all of you! With our continued plan for soil improvement and as we see topsoil returning to this place, we feel confident that next year our yields will increase at least 25%. And as the soil health improves, we anticipate pest issues will lessen, although we are brainstorming for effective controls on some of our worst problems.
The root maggots that plague the bottoms of most of our radishes, turnips, and rutabagas, as well as the rust fly that damaged all but our first crop of carrots this year, are at the front of this list. Things like flea beetles we have decided to combat by more seasonality. Although kale may sell all year long, it becomes bitter and is usually riddled with flea beetles in the heat of the summer while it is sweet and pest free in the fall and winter. All in all we are happy with the results of our switch to all open-pollinated varieties this year, although the non hybrid broccoli do not perform very uniformly, so we may need to succession plant these more often to make better use of their staggered maturity. With 100s of broccoli plants in the field this year, we still were never able to harvest 20 at the same time, not a good thing for a CSA! Still, as one of our market customers repeatedly expressed, the many florets we harvest from these plants who put out such small heads when compared to their hybrid cousins are more delicious and easier to cook with anyways. I suppose as with most things, there is always a balance between benefits and costs. We move forward through this balancing act based on our priorities and personalities. Although we abandoned our no-till ideas for this large (and getting larger!) of a growing space after our first year and now happily work the tiller and hire out tractor work, we will stick with the extra labor and loss of efficiency and predictability open pollination lends itself too because these choices still seem to leave the scales balanced for us and our members.
Now when I set out to write this week’s newsletter, I had planned a quick blurb and a copy of a poem because I am fighting a cold and have invoices to do on top of this. I guess sometimes the words find their way even when I don’t ask them to. Still, I wanted to share a poem, a different one than I had intended but by the same author, just more related to the thoughts that came out instead. It is by Wendell Berry, and I was reading his words because of a post by Rich at Mossback Farm linking to an article about Berry and one by Berry. I have been reading Berry since I was 19. After all these years, I never tire of his words.
As soon as I felt a necessity to learn about the non-human world,
I wished to learn about it in a hurry.
And then I began to learn perhaps
the most important lesson that nature had to teach me:
that I could not learn about her in a hurry.
The most important learning, that of experience,
can be neither summoned nor sought out.
The most worthy knowledge
cannot be acquired by what is known as study–
though that is necessary, and has its use.
It comes in its own good time
and in its own way to the man who will go where it lives,
and wait, and be ready,
Hurry is beside the point, useless, an obstruction.
The thing is to be attentively present.
To sit and wait is as important as to move.
Patience is as valuable as industry.
What is to be known is
When it reveals itself to you, or when you come upon it,
it is by chance.
The only condition is your being there and being