Friday, October 30, 2009

HT Progress

Mom and Dad keep asking for photos of the high tunnel construction project, so here goes. Getting Blogger to load the photos may take almost as long as building the HT...well, not really. But it's very slow with the new camera, for some reason.

Progress on the HT seems slow. But it keeps proceeding, and the weather is cooperating at least in terms of not freezing yet. Not setting deadlines helps keep tempers in check. Mainly, it's hard to fit in time around all my other schedules for market, picking for the hospital, and driving the bus. Mon., Tues., and Wed. mornings from about 9:30 to noon, plus Sat. afternoons and some time on Sunday, are about the only time I have. Various friends and strangers contributed a few hours here, a few hours there. Feel free to drop by!

The first photo (if all goes well) shows various framing members loosely connected to the second bow. The directions are along the lines of "Now install purlins." Install WHERE, exactly? the novice wonders. One vague drawing shows the approximate relationship of the roof braces, diagonal braces, and side purlin, so we "sketched" them all in to try to figure out how they need to fit.

Note that the purlin is very bendy along its length. This makes it quite annoying to work with. I assembled it on the ground and attached it to each bow with slightly loose baling twine. The twine, with the weight of purlin on it, will bind against the bow and support the weight of the purlin at any height...most of the time. Three ropes provide a check against backsliding. This method allowed us to work the purlin up the bow little by little, many trips back and forth along the tunnel pushing it higher and higher. Primitive and slow, but effective and safe and do-able working alone.

The second photo shows the technique I devised for attaching the roof braces, which span the upper part of a bow to make a sort of truss. The long-nose vise-grip nicely holds the band in place on the bow, then I have both hands to put the brace in place and jiggle the bolt through the band and brace and get the nut started.

The last photo shows all roof braces hung on one end, the other end resting on the ground. After initially assembling them low on the bows, I supported the far end on a milk crate (so it could slide) and then "walked" the band up the bow to approximately the right spot. Fine tuning those roof braces so that they are level enough to not drive my printer's eye nuts will be an interesting project with one ladder and one person...though probably they can be adjusted down the road sometime, after the cover is on.

These tunnels do not have to be built perfectly plumb and square; they can roll along a hilly site and everything about them flexes with the contours. But my site is nearly flat, and my garden layout is geometrical, and I like things to look nice. So we are taking pains to measure and level things as best we can.

Next will come placing the ladder just so, tip-toe among the seedlings already thriving in the beds uner the HT, and hoisting the other end of the roof brace and attaching it to a similar band...times 7.

Thinking of trying this at home? Don't even consider it until you've mastered assembling one of those cheap metal storage shelf units without cussing or yelling at anyone, or losing all the nuts in the gravel driveway.

If you decide to try anyway, let me know. I'm trying to keep track of some of the fine points & methods we've figured out along the way.

One is to start out with the right tools. That means cobalt drill bits for drilling pilot holes...the pipes are very stout. When I tried drilling the 3/8 holes for the baseboard at the end bows, I thought I'd just use my regular multi-purpose bit that came with my bit set. After all we only have to drill a dozen holes that size. After drilling approximately forever on the first hole, I went and forked other the 14 bucks for the cobalt bit, since we have to drill 11 more holes that size. It took less than half the time.

Magnetic nut drivers that fit in a of each size of, make that two so that two people can work at, make that 3 or 4 as they end up in pockets and other odd places. Long enough extension cords or cordless drills are vital, as well. When we were assembling the bows, having a drill bit for the pilot holes in one drill, and a nut driver in the other, saved a lot of time. A bucket hanger designed to hold water buckets in lambing jugs fit nicely over the back of the ladder...and held the drills safely within reach of the person at the top of the ladder.

Still waiting for those photos. Apparently something timed out and "Internet Explorer cannot display the web page." Sigh.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Toss followed me over to the woodlot to visit with the "tree guy" who brings us wood chips and firewood, as he parks his truck at the end of a long autumn day. When he left, and I headed back to the farm, she was checking out the smells along the front of the brown barn.

I walked towards her, but she was intent on her investigation, her face turned away from me. Finally, a few feet away from her, I rapped the wrench in my hand against a nearby trash can. She looked up, as if I'd called her name. She is so deaf now, she only hears the loudest voices. But a big sound like the echoing empty plastic still gets through.

Relaxed and slow at the end of a long day, we strolled side by side along the wood-chipped lane under the tall arching trees, feeling like a calendar picture. I thoughtfully watched her walk beside me. We have walked together for a long time, nearly 4/5 of her life.

She is the same weight as she's always been--no middle-age spread for her, nor any wasting away. She is fit and trim, though calmer than her younger days. She walks by my side with practiced, comfortable ease. She is glad for me to have these extra days off, to be in my company more. The bus job takes me away from my beloved creatures too much of their time. These busy years seem much shorter to me than to my short-lived furry friends.

In years past, though, I would have seen just the faintest tilt of an ear towards me, monitoring my direction as we walked with her slightly ahead. Today, she bends her head towards me ever so slightly, casting a glance out of the corner of her eye to gage my position every so often. Attentive as ever, but with a different sense.

I walk a little slower than I used to. Her visual checks are intermittant, and I realize that I've relaxed into a silent, responsive dance with her. I unthinkingly wait until she is making her scan to change my path, when I decide to go back to the building site instead of the house. Otherwise, she brushes against me, or even trips me. I respect her dignity too much to cause her that embarrassment.

At fourteen, she is as beautiful to me as she has ever been. Not just her lustrous, thick black fur with stunning white trim. Not just her slender figure, balanced tail, alert little foxy ears, trim muzzle frosted with white hairs. Far more than that--her very being. Honest, gentle, timid in some ways but bold in others. A relationship that is beyond mere dogged loyalty--rather an easy cooperation, a partnership of two independent minds.

Eider, my oldest sheep at 12, communes with me in similar, but sheepish, ways. She looks over the fence, chewing her cud, gazing into my eyes. She is content, skin and bones though she is. If she were in need of anything--water, mineral, better feed--she would let me know, and I would understand. We have been in one another's care for a long, long time.

The beginning date of the farm is a fuzzy date. What marks it? The purchase of the land? My first step onto it's soils? My first sowing, or my first harvest, or my first lambing, or my first slaughter? When DID I become a farmer? I tend to count my age as a farmer the same as Eider's age as a sheep. We have grown up together, but the farm is young, and I am middle aged, and Eider is old.

They are all good ages to be, in this way of life.

Baby steps

After picking vegetables for the hospital Thursday....

After dealing with the stuck-in-the-mud truck, the no-show helper, the changing departure schedule, the most chaotic day ever at work, thus not getting many vegetables picked for Farmer's Market....

After the washhouse fridge froze the salad turnips overnight....

After waking up to frost on everything, deep darkness in which to set up the booth, frozen fingers (but not toes, thanks to my Winnipeg boots), no sales at all until after 9 a.m.....

After various visitors coming by for various reasons in the sleep-deprived daze of Saturday afternoon after market....

FINALLY we buckled down to work on the high tunnel. Or I should say, putter on the high tunnel. A bit of dirt moved here, a board pushed there, two things connected, a few holes drilled...tiny steps gradually move us closer to a fabled indoor paradise. A sunny afternoon speeds the work while teasing that it might not be necessary.

So much vocabulary. Tek screws vs. carriage bolts vs. lag screws. Nutsetter, drill bit, socket wrench. Purlin, hip board, base board. As much teaching as building in this project, while I learn on the fly and try to stay a jump ahead of my team. Some volunteers know a lot about building but have no knowledge of greenhouse terminology, construction or concepts. Some are starting at the basics of how to drill holes and tie knots. I have a smattering of all of it, and an overall concept in mind, both for its construction and use. And a vision.

When I explain some of it "professionals", my farmer's market colleagues, they look skeptical. A high tunnel without irrigation MUST be impossible.

But I look to the testimony of the 12 foot tall sunflowers flourishing in the compacted soil of the barn, and my vision holds steady. They aren't even mulched.

Soon, I promise, I'll post photos.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Taking Sheep to Bowser's

It's always a long day, a day long anticipated but never, any more, explicitly planned. It happens at such odd hours that it's a strictly auto-pilot affair, any more.

Yesterday I was off from the bus job, and we spent the day sorting sheep. The first half, probably, was putting together the year's data in its various forms to form the foundation of breeding match-making choices, as well as deciding who would take the one-way trip.

First we ran all the lambs through the chute and weighed each one. Any over a certain weight, that had not been pre-selected for the breeding flock, went into the small sort pen. I was very pleased to see the gains they've made in the last month, just on pasture and hay.

Then we scrutinzed the bloodlines of the females in that group, to decide whether I might want to keep one of them. It's tempting to save lambs back by default--to market the biggest ones when cash flow is a concern--and to thus slaughter our best genetic potential. I have to keep my focus on the future, not this week's bottom line.

In this case, a further consideration was logistics. There were a couple extra uncastrated ram lambs in the market flock, and I didn't want to have to handle them separate from the breeding flocks. So those two really-two-small lambs took the trip today. The extra labor would far outweigh the small economic benefit of feeding them for another 6 weeks until our next slaugher date. And the increased size of the lambs whose places they took should eventually offset any losses.

I just kept all the lambs together this year, instead of separating out the ram lambs to keep them from breeding the ewe lambs. Either the ewe lambs have been too small to breed up till now, and the lambing dates will prove the sires, or their first-born lambs will not be kept for breeding, since we won't know who the sire was before a certain date.

After selecting the final 8 for the one-way trip, we sorted the rest of the lambs yet again, to divide them into breeding groups. There are two ram lambs this year: Annie's son Fancy, black with bold white crescents all over his body; and Eider's pure white son Aslan (the shearer left a big puff on the tip of his long, mobile tail). These are some of the finest ram lambs I think I've had, in terms of appearance and breeding. It will be fun to see what we get in the spring.

Then when we had the lamb flock split, we brought the older ewes up and divvied them out between the boys.

Then we went to the urban farming meeting in Kansas City, and didn't get home until after 10:30. Set the alarm for 5 a.m., then started getting the truck ready. OOOPS--low tires, and I still haven't fixed the cord on the "new" air compressor. So I had to go find an open gas station with a working air hose.

Eventually it is 1 a.m. and I'm still puttering at this and that, getting the truck ready, backing it in place against the ramp, etc. But it's a beautiful night, and I know this by heart, and I don't EVER plan to do anything after taking sheep to Bowser's. Presumeably I'll load lambs in the morning. But I decided to hang the headlamp in the front of the truck bed, behind the cab, and open up the chute. Miracle of miracles, they all immediately ran up the ramp...but only until the first one got to the truck bed. Then they stopped--stood motionless for a long few minutes--and cascaded down the ramp again. In order to fit the big ewes when needed (the ones that greatly outweigh me, that I DEFINITELY can't load without a ramp), it is wide enough that the lithe lambs half their size can turn around. But--I have an opposable thumb, and I can open the barn door. A flake of alfalfa hay thrown in the back got everyone loaded in a remarkably short time. Then I whisked it out again. Sheep with relatively empty rumens are less likely to have the hides torn during skinning.

A bit of sleep, and then a long, quiet ride to Meridan. The customary greetings, the questions we ask one another every time. And the sharp snap of the captive bolt stunner begins the ending of lamb lives, one at a time.

And I am always so glad to bring them here. I never have regrets, not for the lambs. The alternative death they could have died, death by parasites, as so many did last summer, is so awful and senseless compared to this pragmatic, quick demise.

Fleshing hides on the back loading dock at Bowsers, in warm humid morning air that feels like spring more than fall. They have new people training to assist on the kill floor today, preparing for deer season, so for a change they are ahead of me all morning. I stay to finish the fleshing, and feel like it takes for ever, but really we are on our way home--or rather to Rees Fruit Farm for the obligatory Apple Cider Slushee and Apple Cider Donuts--by 10 a.m.

The rest of the day is dreamlike and surreal, lack of sleep mingling with contentment with my singularly odd life swirling with psychedelic autumn colors on every tree.

Weeding a bed of lettuce in the late afternoon helps me reconnect with life here at home, after an evening and a morning on the road.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pic of the Day: The Next One

I have only seen a member of this insect family ONCE in my entire half-century...and I spend a lot of time looking at bugs. I NOTICE bugs, wherever I go (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

This one was pretty hard to miss: the brilliant Day-Glo green of a safety vest, perched on the fleece of a black lamb while we were sorting sheep to go to Bowser's in the morning. Even though it's much smaller than the photo (only 1/2" long overall), the distinctive silhouette triggered instant recognition.

It's clearly a member of the Mantispidae family, order Neuroptera (which includes lacewings). Mantispids are predatory on insects, and lay their eggs in spider egg cases where the larvae are parasitic.
But the Mantispids shown in "The Book"--Salsbury & White, Insects in Kansas--are brown. My first Mantispid sighting, on Roger Andres' farm in extreme eastern Wabaunsee County, was obviously Climaciella brunnea--beautifully patterned in brown and yellow, it looked for all the world like a paper wasp that had dressed up as a preying mantis for Halloween, and was about the same size, more than an inch and a half long.
So what is this one? The only other species listed in the book are Mantispa interrupta and M. sayi--both apparently grayish-brown, with wings bordered in brown. It doesn't give a size. In body form, this one seems quite similar to the photo shown for these two Mantispa spp. Obviously the development of the wings in this speciman is aborted; they look like the wings of a butterfly that was handled too much during the terribly sensitive time between hatching and hardening. Maybe the color is also not fully developed, and it will "ripen" to brown? It has not appeared to change significantly in any way from the time we found it mid-afternoon until now, about 11:30 p.m. I doubt that my capture of it did any more harm than its ride on the sheep's back. In fact, I suppose that lanolin from the wool might have interfered with its natural development process.
It will be spending the night in a quart canning jar, and I'll post an update if anything "develops". I'll also try to get it to the Biological Survey folks for a definitive ID if possible.
My favorite part of it is the 1960's "flower power" eye pattern quite distinct in many of my photos. In manner, it is a calm but alert little creature, continually turning to eye me like the frog did. It woggles its antennae alternately.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pic of the Day

I'll put off posting the high tunnel construction progress pictures (all bows up!) to share this incredibly beautiful little creature. It was under the floating row cover on a bed soon to be in the high tunnel.

I always seem to make the mistake of catching a critter like this in my right hand, leaving my left hand to operate the camera. The camera is, of course, designed to be operated by the right hand, so it's pretty awkward. This darling was a good sport about the delays, but very curious. Hoever I turned my hand, it would turn to look at the camera! I had no idea frogs' backbones could be so flexible.

The photo simply fails to do justice to the color of this tiny frog. It shone like polished metal in the bright sun--irridescent metallic, like a metal flake paint job on a car.

If anyone knows the species, please share it as a comment, ideally with a link to an online photo. It's much smaller than our usual gray tree frog.

I hope it will have a happy winter in the hoop house.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Posting updates

Yet again, I find myself well into a major, important farm project without having documented the first stages.

Baby step by baby step, we've begun the work of putting the hoop house together. Each step changes how the size of the future structure "feels".Today was a major milestone: the two south corner posts are pounded into the ground. Somehow this made it feel both smaller AND larger than the string lines strung between the formerly tentative corners. On the other hand, the sketched-in baseboards make the area seem huge, larger than the garden beds, even though it is lopping off a foot or two of garden bed on each side (we'll plant the margins outside of it with sage for one of our customers).

The instructions with this "kit" are very sketchy. But as we dig through our brains and the boxes of pieces, it begins to make sense.

The WWOOFer and one of my long-time farm buddies have been working on salvaging and laying out the base boards for the long sides. How will we splice them? They puzzled while I was at work one day, not knowing that there was a pile of special splicing brackets in the bottom of one of the boxes.

A summer or two ago, a co-worker asked if I wanted the lumber from a deck they were tearing off to build a new addition on their home. I said sure, before thinking about all those nails to pull. It's been stacked by the brown barn ever since, a nagging long-term "to-do". It's good wood--mostly sound despite more than a year of outdoor storage, because it was treated wood and had not lived out its useful life. I feel better about building with reused materials, even if it's more work.

One of the challenges of a project like this is to avoid frustration with the endless "prep work". It seems trivial, but it is such a huge part of the project. Gathering tools and parts. Clearing the site. Cutting the metal strapping that binds the groups of structural members together. Moving the posts from the trailer to their locations, and marking them with masking tape to indicate soil level as a rough guide when pounding them in.

We polled a number of experienced growers, and decided to take our chances with just pounding the posts in, rather than setting them in concrete. For one, it's faster, cheaper, and WAY easier. For another, we CAN pound them in--no rocks or heavy clay soil. Also, I like not being committed to it being right here forever (some would nod and roll their eyes knowingly at my general reluctance to commit to anything, in any area of my life). I had already made this decision when I went to get the giant post setter from the rental center. "Good call," they said. "So many people set them in the wrong kind of concrete, and it just eats the galvanized posts right off."

The risk we take is the lift created when high winds rush over a curved surface, creating a suction on the far side that could pull the posts out of the soft soil. Our hoop-house could become too much like a butterfly, and take off! But I think our site is obstructed enough that this is unlikely. The winds will be too confused for any such shennanigans...we hope. Gambling on the farm, again! Though probably I will prudently deploy a few of the anchors used for mobile homes, by and by.

I will try to remember to take pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

National Coming Out Day

I didn't particularly observe this occasion (yesterday) in any planned sort of way. But as I heard others mention it towards the end of the day, I got to thinking I should mark the day somehow, even if a bit late. This seemed like a good way. I'll leave coming out to my Old German Baptist friends for a day in the future when we've had more time to learn to know one another. That is a process that I will leave to God to guide; it's an odd journey I'm being led to.

On one of the spiritual listservs to which I belong, someone posted about his experience at church. He mentioned that he'd come out more than a decade before "National Coming Out Day" was established. Someone in the congregation approached him later in surprise, and said that they hadn't known. My friend was surprised--he thought everyone in the relatively small congregation knew. Someone else responded, "It's a never-ending process that we do day by day."

I resemble those remarks. You would think that wearing a rainbow on my head at all times when in public would sort of clue people in, but it often doesn't. They can't reconcile the rainbow message (fringy radical "out" non-heterosexual) with the prayer covering message (conservative Christian "women are to be submissive" heterosexual), so they dismiss one or the other...and it's generally the rainbow that goes unseen.

But bisexual/Christian isn't an either-or situation, for me. It's both-and. I don't know why. It's just where I've ended up. It's not an affectation, a pretense, a chosen self-image. Certainly not anything I've specifically tried to be. I looked long and hard at my experiences, my actions, my relationships, my values, my beliefs of 30+ years--and the rainbow covering pretty well summarizes who I am, through and through.

The most amusing situation was a couple years ago when I took a short break from the driver's seat of the bus, leaving a couple passengers waiting to resume our trip. When I returned, the woman (whom I'd chatted with on many occasions) came to meet me, obviously concerned. "That man said your covering means you're a lesbian, but I told him it means you're a Christian." She seemed proud of herself for having had the courage to defend me, and wanted me to know she wasn't going to let anyone insult me. I laughed lightly, and gently told her both of them were correct. She looked startled for a moment...I could see her re-evaluating all our past interactions, and everything she thought she knew about me. Evidently the equation worked out ok--after a few moments she shrugged, smiled, and said "Not that it matters".

But this can certainly be a lonely place. One day at work, I listened with a long sinking feeling as co-workers went on and on about lesbians they had known, evidently not recognizing my identity. Not that they were being negative or discriminatory--just that they kept talking about "those lesbians, they..." as if they were "other", as if lesbians (etc.) were foreigners or zoo animals, not the co-worker standing there listening to the conversation. Within 10 minutes, I was walking into the "women's" Valentines Day dance. I visited with some women I'd never met before, and they quizzed me about the covering. "Oh, Mennonite! I knew some Mennonites once, they...." and she went on and on about "those Mennonites". Not bad stuff, just as if they were "other", as if Mennonites (etc.) were foreigners or zoo animals, not the woman next to them at the lesbian dance.

I've learned to take such things in stride, to trust that people are not trying to be rude, that really their clumsy interest is a positive thing. But it's a struggle to not feel like a bug on a pin.

At times like those, it's a relief to get home to the dog and the cats and the woodstove, the untidy kitchen and the beckoning chores, and just be a farmer and simple-liver. I can relax and be all of me, in my comforting little world that doesn't need to name things and put them in boxes.

Or, at least, if I AM naming things and putting them in boxes, it's fleeces from a dozen sheep being labeled and packed to send off for carding and spinning!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pest control

It must have been just a few days ago. I knew I shouldn't say it, but there the words were coming out of my mouth and I couldn't stop them, and there was no wood handy to knock on.

" far we haven't had any sheep in the garden this year. That's progress!"


We heard the strangest sound while picking vegetables in the steadily pouring rain this afternoon. It sounded like a small animal being killed, or like a car engine being cranked when it was already running. It was loud.

And it was coming from Freckleface the llama, we discovered after investigation. He was very not happy about something, but I couldn't tell what...unless he was just voicing his extreme disleasure with the weather.

So I checked the sheep. All present and accounted for. No predators that I could see. Water tanks were not an issue. I rearranged an electric fence so the lambs had some fresh grass, and I opened up the lane to the green sheds so that the ewes and llama could seek shelter in the sheds as well as the barn. Then I went back to picking, until nearly 5:00.

The WWOOFer and I went out at 11:30 p.m., to replace the frost blankets we'd moved for picking. "Sheep," he said, in a voice of mild surprise. I don't know him well enough to know the exact nuances of his voice yet.

"Yeah, I let them into the lane earlier, and they have access to the chicken pen from there," I nonchalantly replied, still focused on the frost blankets.

"No, I mean in the garden!"

And so they were. Four of them, briskly moving towards the door to the chicken coop which we'd left ajar last week. They knew very well that they weren't supposed to be in the garden, and they knew exactly where they'd come in at.

I closed the gate behind them. That was easy...but only 4 of them. Where were the others? I scanned with my headlamp, looking for their glowing eyes in the dark. There they were, on the other side of the chicken pen, bedded down by the gate to the shed lane.

I posted the WWOOFer with scary headlamp between them and the beds of salad greens, went around to the shed lane gate, opened it up, and they all stood up and marched in, nice as you please.

Sigh. I knew I shouldn't have said that, about them not getting in the garden all year.

It does not look like they've done too much harm, other than deep pits from their hooves in the soaked ground. In time the worms will fluff up the soil again. The kale may take awhile to regrow, but they didn't touch the lettuce in the next bed, and their other favorite crop was covered with frost blanket.

The frost blankets--a heavy floating row cover--are designed to protect the crops in several ways: from wind, heavy rain, falling leaves, cold air, and insects.

But they also seem to offer some protection against sheep.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Steel Blog Co.

Actually, the name of the business, in huge block letters, was "STEEL BLDG. CO.", but the square corners and round corners were barely distinguishable.

It was a fitting laugh for the end of a long day. We drove to Morgan County Seeds, deep in the green rolling hills of central Missouri, with Dad's 16' trailer to pick up our new high tunnel kit. One of those road trips where if there was a way to miss a turn, we did. But we werent' watching the clock, and chose not to stress over it. The point was to get there and get back, safely, and hurry and worry wouldn't have contributed much toward that goal.

We returned with an odd assortment of strangely small bundles of steel pipe. Somehow, like a butterfly unfolding its wings, this will soon become a passive-solar-warmed greenhouse to aid in growing later into the cold weather.

Just in time. Maybe too late.

When, at midnight, I saw the forecast was for upper 30's, with possible frost pockets after 4 a.m., I went out to cover the basil. Basil turns black at about 36 degrees.

But the night was clear, the stars were bright, and the crickets were scarce. Soon it was eerily silent, and I knew: the first frost was upon us.

There is a special feeling for this night, a gentle surrender, panic at the end of a certain chunk of cash flow woven through with gratitude for the past season's bounty. A gathering up of remnants. Acceptance.

I could have returned to the house and roused the WWOOFer from his warm bed to come help measure out row cover, stretch it over the new wire hoops I bought today, pick tomatoes, etc. But I didn't. Partly out of courtesy. But mostly because this is an intimate time in the yearly cycle of the garden. A passing of thousands of plants that I've watched grow from tiny seedlings. Stephen is a wonderful willing worker, but he hasn't known these plants since infancy. It would be like having a stranger at their death bed.

The solitude of first-frost-night is a special, contemplative place in the universe. An active meditation: I am moving about so steadily that it seems hard to believe the gathering frost on the leaves and materials. I'm not the least bit cold, even my fingers in soaked gloves. That will come later, when I'm resting indoors and realize how weary I am after a long day and a long night.

This year, only a few half-empty crates of tomatoes remain on the few plants that we managed to gro this year. A blessing, I suppose--less work, mess, smell of rotten tomatoes in the coming months.

Next year will be better.

But this year, in its own strange way, was good. And it has significantly laid a strong foundation for next year.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Time of Change

I noticed in early Sept. that sunset was coming earlier and earlier. But in late September of a wet year, with temperatures perfect--day and night--for the human body, amid the scintillating green legacy fo a wet summer, each moment in the garden sometimes seems like it could go on forever.

Now it's a week and then some past the Equinox. The sun sets earlier and earlier, still...wait! I want more day! I'm not tired yet! There's work to be done!

But autumn comes, tree by tree this year. Nearly all the leaves on the ash by the front door have turned brown and fallen. A neighbor's hackberry is beginning to glow yellow, starting at the top and working down the green branches day by day.

And the surest sign of a waning season: I begin checking the weather forecasts nightly, not in hopes of rain (enough already!) but to judge the odds of a first frost, or just the cool temperatures that basil hates. At first I gaged a "cool night" by whether it went below 60; now I realize I'm satisfied with mid-50's, elated by 60's, and dread 40's.

I start fussing with all manners of row covers, trying to maintain warmer conditions for the lucrative favorites like basil and hot peppers. Then the wind blows, and all fall down or blow off. Sigh. Someday I'll figure out a fool-proof system that works with my no-till vegetable methods?

The rate of growth on many things slows noticeably. Other things seem to grow so fast I can see them. A big challenge for me is predicting how much salad crops will grow during the next week. Will they be too big by then? Should I pick them now? Today we decided that mizuna and tatsoi need picked every week for salad greens.

Seeds germinate so quickly, with the soil still relatively warm and moist. We've been planting as much as we can, reclaiming huge areas of the garden from fallowness.

Sometimes I'm not sure how to end an entry like this. It just keeps rolling on, little details following one on the other. But that is the way of this season....

Just like any other season on the farm, I suppose.