news

A year for the record books

December 17, 2022 Nathan Johnson

Stewarding farmland in 2022 was a wet, wild, and wacky ride. Just when you think you're familiar with the rhythm of the seasons, nature reminds you that there are no guarantees! We're so very grateful that you've hung in there with us through so many uncertainties. For a while there, it seemed questionable whether we'd have our favorite summer crops for more than just a few weeks. In the spring we were often frustrated and discouraged, having to compost thousands of plants that had no where to go due to the very wet soil conditions. We hedged our bets and decided to not grow corn and winter leeks. We tried our damnedest to grow cilantro all year long to no avail. We were surprised with a booming crop of melons, summer squash, green beans and a decent crop of potatoes despite a very, very late planting. Along with farming, Nate and I serve on local boards and as members of the Marys River Grange. One of Nate's duties at the Grange is to write the monthly Ag Reports. I thought it would be fun to share a sampling of them with you below. There's a lot of information in the poetry of it. 

MAY

First the good news: the frequent rains and cool days in April meant drought has been pushed off the horizon, at least for now. Lush growth looks likely for all the plants we depend on and admire. Grazing animals will have fine pastures if they haven't been allowed to stomp it all into mud by now. Speaking of mud: those of us needing to open up ground for planting aren't allowing ourselves to make mire of our own fields, at the cost of our patience, good humor, and timely production. We're maybe a month behind schedule, and resorting to absurdities like putting onion starts in 3" pots.

Yes, it can frost after the frost date.

What does an icy, soggy, fickle April mean for blossoming fruit trees? All will be revealed in a few weeks. We'll walk out in the orchard, look to what the petals left behind, and wince or nod at the facts. 

Mow the worst spots as you can, just so you can move around without getting lost. Take heart! It may be the season of the slug, but it's the year of the tiger.

JUNE

It's been a strangely cool and wet Spring. The timing and volume of the rains has hampered the efforts of farmers all across our region. We've had precious few warm and dry days in stretches long enough for fields to firm up to allow the work to proceed. We're like travelers clutching useless timetables for trains that won't arrive on time. So we sit on our bags (of seed) and look down the tracks, wondering when we'll be able to move things along. Singing helps, and so does sighing. Frost in April during the blossoming has clipped the fruit set in some orchard trees. In our own case, it kept any Italian prune plums from forming. No jam this year, but I should lighten up anyway. And maybe the trees will devote more energy to limb and leaf growth. Might mean next year could be a bumper. Lots of self-soothing speculation these days.

We're just now mowing, and have yet to open the fields, at a time when we would normally have all the potatoes planted, the onions in, the carrots seeded, tomatoes transplanted, melons going into the ground, etc. I don't know how the grass seed farms have managed it, or the Christmas tree and Hazelnut operations, for that matter. I'll reach out to some folks working with those crops and will report back. Infrastructure for protected growing earns its keep this year. We're grateful for the covered spaces we have to work within. High and dry is treasured ground right now, as all the nurseries know. The loveliness of the land shares its source with our challenges, and we're keeping that front of mind until the whistle blows.

JULY

The world spins like a top, and a season can turn on a dime. Mild and moist becomes hot and dry faster than you can find your hoses and pipe lengths in the grass, untangle, repair, and deploy them. It's a race against evaporation, which happens all about, rapidly, while you have to pick your favorite crops to get the water you may or may not have enough of. 

Heat means the rhythm of the days change, early and late becoming the most active times, and the cultural genius of the siesta is understood to be undeniable. Iced sun tea is invaluable, as is shade and true humility. When your day's schedule plays chicken with the sun, you'll find out which is the immovable object and which the resistible force. This is where another cultural stroke of genius comes in: remember, there's always mañana. Which is where the weeds will be waiting for you. 

Blackberries look to be a bumper crop. A long, wet Spring into a cool, early Summer set them up nicely. Tomatoes ripen, melons lengthen vines and form fruit, Summer squash and cucumbers start to bear in bulk. Fall and Winter crops are growing or going in the ground, at least they will be when the heat abates. Foxes leave us offerings, we feed a cat with too many ribs, and songbirds give themselves away in the sprinklers.

SEPTEMBER

Ever wonder why a yellow-jacket has the color it does? When they patrol the grasslands of September and I find them underfoot, I do give it some thought. The quick answer is evolution, but it's not a rapid process to explain it. Think of the spooled years involved, the countless intersecting influences, their predator's preferences, their own shifting habitats, behaviors, and tastes. All perfecting the pigment, the shine, the alternating pattern of deep black, so that wasps could arrive at their aesthetic, and not only by accident. Something in their nature creates the new forms and the world whittles away or allows them. And we're fortunate, when we're sane enough, to get to admire the state-of-the-art result crawling out of the foaming end of a fermenting melon.

We're getting a bit cooler nights, and a little less glare in the days. There's gold showing in the tree leaves. The grass is dry, the weeds are going to seed, and the dust is up in the valley. These are small changes, but they mark the progress of the season as clearly as the stars trace the night.

We take our cues and start cleaning harvest containers to bring in the goods. And then we remember we have to make room in the storage spaces to get them ready to receive. Fix the flat tire on the hand cart, buy masking tape to mark dates and weights, etc. The tasks start to queue up like kids at recess, and you find each one needs a little tending before they can go back to class.

I'm buying seed for Winter cover and plotting which fields will be ready next Spring, and for what crops. Things will change quickly when the rains come, and they can arrive at any time in the next month or so. Let's hope next month; I've got a lot to do before then.

DECEMBER

Thank whomever or whatever you like for the fact of the seasons, just know I'm not particular when it comes to the infinite. There are cars a wiser dog won't chase. And in that spirit I post up in front of a fire, eat without special cause, grow a thicker coat, and ramble out nearer the doorstep than was true a month ago. Satisfaction and some sweetly deserved idleness are plums we pick without ladders from the short days and gathered goods of earlier labors. The trees clinch a new ring and in a few weeks we'll seal our own deal with 2022.

Also in keeping with the holiday just past, I'd like to thank everyone sensible enough to eat food made possible by their own efforts and those of nearby producers. We're all keeping an invaluable way of life from foolish oblivion. I'll thank John Lee Hooker for reminding us: "You don't miss your water until your well goes dry." With each planting of good seed, turning of trowels, exchanging of true value, and lifting of our forks, a vital underground remains here on the ground. Viva la Tierra! Viva la Grange! (Editor's note: Viva local farms and farmers!)



Older Post



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published