the quickening


The quickening.  Can you feel it too?

That is the word that has been coming to my mind again and again  these past few weeks.  And lo and behold, it is also one (of the many) names given to this week’s full moon.

The beginning of things.  Or more accurately, the middle.  Almost the tipping point, but not quite.

The slow, gradual journey to fecundity, started with tiny seeds, and now itching our skin from the inside, almost ready to be found on the outside, in our bodies moving, full again.  Full of life, which of course we are all through these sleepy winter months, but still, full in louder ways, full and abundant–that is what we are now stepping foot after foot towards. It’s thrilling.  And the word on the tip of my tongue so perfect, so encapsulating of these feelings stirred in the blood by so little a thing as earlier sunrises and daffodil shoots.

When you feel those first few butterfly flutters of new life in your womb, the moment is a rush of excitement and awe, wonder and delight.  But everything is wrapped in the yarn of anticipation.  Don’t we love those little fingers and feet brushing against us from the mystery of inside out?  Even when all that is to come is still hidden.  Everything is unknown.

the mystery of seeds

Of course, we feel this way about a farming season too.  The eager anticipation that begins with making the plans, ordering the seeds. Germinating before germination. Cleaning up the seed starting greenhouse, mixing the potting soil.  And then, sowing.  Tediously filling up a large space with very tiny things.  It is all so good.  Good because of what it means, what it intends–because the real birth of a season comes much later when we see what kind of spring weather we’ll have, how much rain and when and for how long, and whatever other particular awesomenesses or challenges arise from the earth along with those plants.  A mystery teasing us now in its all promising way, quickening our pace bit by bit until soon it will require full laboring.

And then, reaping, always abundantly, one way or another.

But for now, I will stir that word around in my mouth a while longer.  I know too well that the cycle goes by faster and faster with each breath.  The quickening.   For now, while we are still able to pause and savor it all easily, without too much weight or worry, we will revel in the magic that is the unknowing, in the promise.  Spring is magic.  And hope, faith.

All things sweetly anticipated and reverently moved towards are more graciously received.  The whole process is a joy, each part inseparable from the whole.

My pulse quickens at the thought of those long, ripe days of summer; I seriously long for hot and sweaty skin, I do love the sun so.  But when it arrives, it will be all the better because of this season of calm.  Watching those perky daffodils grow without any hurry, their greens a cheery sight, there yellow bonnet flowers so much the more, I attempt the same myself.

It is the quickening, but that translates to slow and steady, inch by inch.  It is a happy pace, and definitely a picked up pace.  But not rushed, nor wild.  It is that special place between worlds.  It carries movement towards, healthy, sure growth.

Like an expectant mother, we wait.  But like her too, we nourish ourselves while we can.  We prepare for the birth of the season.

the quickening

Learning under water

It was a stormy day yesterday, and the rain fell and fell and fell.  And so, this morning’s sun slowly rose over a flooded veggie field.  I could hear the arugula calling out, “hey!  we’re under water here!  Hope you enjoyed our time on your plate!”  The rest of the veggies didn’t even write a letter.

Truth be told, the Asian greens were already too soggy for harvest last week.  This field is wet all winter long and well into the spring, so it is never a surprise when this happens. But that never makes it any easier to watch all that growing food go under overnight.

Most everything growing there was well harvested though.  The arugula would have kept on going for a while, and there were some good Chinese cabbages we lost.  But between the deer eating all the other cabbages and the fall broccoli and what we pulled out ourselves, it was all okay in the end.  The frisee was looking really good and was fun and it isn’t planted anywhere else on the farm, so I will miss the pretty, spike-y spunk it added to the salad mix.

The real bummer was that the strong winds ripped a corner of our greenhouse plastic off. Those end walls we meant to build on it all summer; well, we never got to them.  So now, we will take all of the plastic off  and re-use a portion of it for the smaller propagation greenhouse we need to build this winter.  And then we will have to buy new plastic for this one.

A good lesson, all of it, always, this weather.  We could easily come away from these things feeling like we can never catch a break from it, never win.  It is a formidable foe.  But the beauty of being six years in and having this element of nature challenge us over and over again is that we had the choice from the beginning to decide we could just let it roll off our skin instead of sticking.  And we had the choice to decide that instead of caving in, we could just keep learning from each event as it happened, adjusting as best as we can to face the next round of winds as at least as well as we did and hopefully better.

Those were our choices, are our choices.  That is how we weather all the storms around here, big and small.  With a grain of salt and goggles if necessary.

Time changes things

There have been two big changes on the farm this week.

The first is our new greenhouse–we were finally able to purchase the plastic and pull it on this week!!!  We are about two months behind our desired time frame on this since we were putting this together piece by piece with extra funds as we had them and using this nifty tool. In the end we kept the transplants intended for this space figuring they will still grow better and faster planted now than if we had planted them in the ground sooner.  So yesterday, the farmer cut out of market early and came home to start planting bok choys and spinach and arugula in there.  We will also put in cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as some eggplant and peppers.  We primarily want it for spring and I am sure it will come in handy for winter too, but throwing some of those heat loving summer crops inside there won’t hurt since they tend to ripen slowly in our temperate summer climate.

Finishing it up the day before the plastic arrived was a family affair and the next morning, the farmer even gently woke up our one late riser to go out and pull the plastic over the hoops before the wind came up.  Grandpa came over as well and even the cat and dog tagged along and did their bit by entertaining the baby.

We hope to put two more of these up throughout this summer so that we go into winter with three ready to go; but we’ll see if we reach that goal, just having this one finished feels really good.

It also feels strange.  If you’ve been with us for long, you may remember that we have always said we would never put one of these up.  We’ve written about it here and here, and mentioned here.  The farmer, especially, has always wanted to try something different.  But last summer we actually talked with a friend who farms about how long he leaves his plastic on (up to 10 years) and about it being recyclable and all of that seemed more reasonable than the assumptions we were running on.  We also went through two really late, cool, and wet springs that made it seem a necessary addition for keeping our business running smoothly and competitively.

We have often, since we began this farm, come around to doing things much differently than we imagined.  And that is ok and even good since it means we are continuing to learn and move forward and find ways to stand by what we feel is important and grow a lot of delicious, beautiful, and healthful food for our community.

The other big change that happened out here on the farm this week has nothing to do with farming,but in the same vein, it is quite a change from the way things have been.

I cut this sweet boy’s long baby curls off.

I have not been one to cut my kid’s hair much.  Both older boys had long and wild hair when they were young and the oldest chose to keep his quite long until just this past year.  I left our little girl’s baby curls for quite a while, even though her somewhat thin and straight hair wasn’t really long hair material.  I don’t like to do trim and proper cuts because there is something about them that always makes the child look older and truth be told, that always breaks my heart a little.

But this boy’s hair grew so long, so fast.  His curls reached past his shoulders and after going through bangs in babies’ eyes three times already as I try to grow them out, I couldn’t take that hair in this little guy’s eyes this time so I kept trimming his bangs, leading us dangerously into mullet territory.

And so I cut it, very hastily, and now he has a helmet hair cut that may not be that much better and the older children hate it and I  really did nearly cry when I lopped off those curls, knowing they would never be back.

And he does look a wee bit older–but he is still terribly cute.

And things change, continually, and grow and evolve.  Looking back on pictures of my kids, I sometimes notice that their hair really made them look like wild urchins.  In my mother’s eyes at the time, I never noticed; but now I can see that they may have looked a bit unkempt to those who didn’t know us!

I can’t believe I will be 36 this year.  Certainly not old, but getting older; and little things are different now that are neither good nor bad, they just are.  Now, I plan on keeping a kind of short and easy to care for haircut on the little tike.  Probably not all the way prim and proper, but you know, with less tangles.

And now, we have food growing under a giant sheet of plastic where it is really, really warm today.

Time changes things.

Saturday morning

Saturday mornings, for the last year and a half, have been off to market days for us.  Our little town has been blessed with the opportunity to build a thriving year round farmer’s and artisan’s market, and having somewhere to bring winter produce to sell during the off months of our CSA program is really great.  Growing food year round has been a fun and satisfying part of our farm adventure here in Oregon.  And for us especially, having moved from the much colder Midwest, being able to grow so much out in the open through the winter has been amazing.

Here in the Willamette Valley, there is so much that can be grown out of doors through the entire year.  Winter hardy greens top the list, but root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, and rutabagas can also stay in the ground and be harvested from through the winter, and the really fun stuff is the overwintering sprouting broccolis and cauliflowers that are such a treat come the end of the cold season.

The only hitch, for us at least, is the space winter growing requires.  To continue harvesting in the same quantity as we do for the rest of the year, we need to have winter vegetables in a lot more ground than we need for that amount in warmer months.  Since things aren’t growing at all for a good twelve weeks of that time and growing slowly for the rest of it, we have to plan differently.  With much of our usable growing space wet (albeit highly fertile) from December through May, we still haven’t been able to grow as much as we would like.

This year we were really excited to use the dry acreage we are leasing near town to grow more for winter, but are now equally disappointed because those vegetables attracted foraging deer who ended up eating everything we planted there–kales, radicchios, chicories, red mustards, chard, perpetual spinach, turnips.  They kindly left the arugula and green mustards, but being so far away from that space, it felt hard to protect those crops and we aren’t necessarily keen on putting up deer fencing over there right now.  Here at our place, even when we see some deer activity in the winter, we have the easy protection of our dog to keep them at bay.

And so, the winter growing part of our operation is still the part we still struggle with.  Many people are amazed that we have what we do at market but we know that we could have a lot more.  And people really, really love our winter greens.  Growing them out of doors in the cold produces the most wonderful flavor, and to be eating something so fresh and alive in the coldest months is awesome, we aren’t coming close to meeting the demand for them.  Even as we get ready to put up our first hoophouses on the farm, we don’t want that to be our main solution to having more to harvest for the winter market and ultimately, for a full season CSA too.

A puzzle we are working on–just as there are always are in the farming business–but one we feel we can solve.  That is part of what keeps us on our toes and ever humble in the work we do.

This morning, the sky was on fire, Mt. Hood so breathtaking in the sky against those colors.  It will be a beautiful market day.  We are heading out now with some delicious greens, thankful for what we do have and for yet another Saturday to visit with the community and continue “farming” year round.

Thinking about Greenhouses

This morning, even though the farmer usually starts harvesting for tomorrow’s CSA and market first thing, we lingered over our cups of coffee talking greenhouses.  This is a topic that often comes up, but it is at this time of year that we think about it most.

When we started farming, we used a small little house constructed of pvc-pipe given to us by a friend.  We covered it it in recycled plastic sheets removed from another friend’s large hoophouse when he was replacing it with new plastic.  It was a fine size for using as a place to start our seeds in late winter/early spring, and that was what our immediate need for a greenhouse was.

Every spring, though, when the winds would rise, and usually before our starts were all planted out, this flimsy little greenhouse would get ripped apart.

The last time this happened, the plastic we were using was finally too shredded to reuse.  And so we had to take all that plastic to the dump:  we could hardly stand it!

Since that time, and always really, we haven’t been able to decide how to fit the use of plastic into our vision of sustainable agriculture, or our original driving principles of permaculture, which aims to create a permanent agricultural system.

There has also, however, always been reality to deal with too, and the truth of the matter is that season extension is pretty important in many ways, the most significant being, we want to provide as much food as we can year-round for our community.  Just as strongly as we believe in sustainability and permanence, we believe in eating locally.  For all of you to be able to continue eating delicious and fresh, locally grown food in the winter months is just as important as is is during the abundance of summer.

And we really, really appreciate farms like our fellow farmer’s Denison Farms at the Saturday market, who with the use of lots of hoophouses are able to bring a wonderful variety of foods year round.

We also, quite honestly, need to be competitive, and every other farm in our area uses some  hoophouses or grows partially on black plastic.  Our crops grown out of doors and in the soil will always be behind those grown in these conditions.  We have a small amount of crops covered in mini hoophouses in the field, using more recycled plastic from old greenhouses, but we could easily  see the benefit of having so much more covered.

Two winters ago, we built this wood framed passive solar greenhouse off the south side of our machine shed.  We didn’t want to hassle with that flimsy pvc framed house blowing around in the spring anymore, and we had reached a time when we needed more space anyways.  The intention with this greenhouse is to ultimately cover it with glass.  For the first year, we again used the plastic we had around.  This year we replaced that with corrugated fiberglass that came from a small greenhouse we helped remove from someones property.  This will be somewhat more permanent until we get all the glass together and installed.  This is the kind of greenhouse we always envisioned.

Inside, we have been able to play around with a layered system, providing multiple uses beneficially.  Underneath the tables we use for starts, we scattered straw innoculated with elm mushrooms.  Last year we used the space to brood our baby chickens at the same time we were germinating most seeds and this added warmth to the greenhouse at a cold time of the year.  This year we switched to water barrels to collect the sun’s warmth and bring up the temperature inside.  We added a wall to the west end and created a mini space inside of the larger space to keep extra warm in order to start our warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers.

The farmer is experimenting with growing carrots in large pots, has peas growing up the unused wall, already harvested a small crop of bok choy with no flea beetle damage, and has the basil that will stay in the house all summer potted up.  It has been fun and useful and we only which it were bigger.

This morning we started talking in earnest about doing just that, making larger versions of such a greenhouse.  The farmer is tired of me pushing him to consider moving towards getting some hoophouses, but I have always felt pretty stongly that we needed more space in season extension.  So, we are going to draw up some plans and figures and just go with our guts on this one.  To actually build these, we will have to get some funding, something we have yet to do formally in our business venture.  But we feel that it will be worth the extra cost to keep both our idealism and practical business needs happy.  If it seems doable in the end, and the finances are there, we will hopefully be building these this winter!  Then next spring, no matter how long the cool and wet weather seems to last (we ended up starting a fire last night!), we will have a warm and dry–and even spring pest free–place to grow more food.  That is a happy thought!