On the eve of the first “Big Freeze” of the season, we scurry like squirrels, gathering and stashing food into every nook and cranny of our warm house. When the work is done, or done enough, as is often the case, we look around, amazed, satisfied, and slightly overwhelmed at what the season has provided. It’s time to reflect on the State of the Farm Report.
We came into this season with a mind to change things. We wanted to grow a little less, have less pressure to sell, be better stewards of the land, and make room for other avenues of livelihood and Life.
In the big picture, I think we succeeded. We still grew a tremendous amount of food, but it was less than years before, and it was organized in such a way as to allow some summer cover cropping, which felt like a nice rest for the garden. There was still a lot to do, and moments of complete overwhelm, but the scale of the labors was much more realistic for the two of us with outside commitments, and the season passed without injury. Considering some of the seasons’ gone by, this is a victory in itself.
I let my mind’s eye drift back over the gardens, watching the maturing of the season, and considering losses and gains. The pole beans, for instance, were a total bomb. My Fellow Man recently realized though, that some unusual coloration we were seeing on the broom corn, which was to be their support, indicated a rather severe magnesium and iron deficiency. So maybe we can learn something about the garden from the placement of that loss. Tomatoes and sweet peppers were great this year. Because we grew less tomatoes, we had just about enough cages left over to cage our sweet peppers, which was wonderful. The Golden Treasure peppers nearly outgrew the cages. The neighboring eggplant had a great big first flush, then seemed to almost die. The leaves fell off and we more or less given up on them when they made a surprise come back and gave us another small Fall harvest. I don’t know what that was about, but it worked out well.
Both white potatoes and sweet potatoes were bumper crops. Sweet potatoes were especially fun. We saw some purple sweets in a grocery store early in the season and pick up a couple. The slips they made were healthy so we planted about a third of a row in purple sweets. The vines seemed to spread for miles, and even bloomed beautiful delicate purple morning-glory type flowers in the late summer. When we dug them, we found HUGE long twisty potatoes reaching way down into the subsoil. That was a treat. Unfortunately, they didn’t follow the habit of their pink brethren, which make a handy cluster at the base where the slip was planted. The purple potatoes made potatoes in a large radius from the original stem. Hand digging was the only way to extract them. We were grateful for only a piece of a row, but in my opinion, they were worth the work. Levon’s birthday purple-sweet-potato-cheesecake topped the charts, in my opinion.
Not far from the sweet potatoes, we tried an experiment. We grew chia – as an herb, for the seeds. The plants are beautiful, towering probably eight feet high with velvety soft leaves slightly reminiscent of catnip. We watched and waited all season. No blooms, no seeds. Only last week, as we made the final rounds of the top gardens, did I finally find pretty little seed heads, immature. We’re supposing that chia may have been developed in high altitude areas with cooler nights, so was waiting for the temperatures to drop before it made seed. Oh well.
At least we finally succeeded at rice. This is the third year we’ve tried. The first year we had nice plants, but got them out a little late and they never set seed. The second year there was a horrible drought and the rice set seed but not much and not very good. This year, my Fellow Man ordered seed from the USDA seed bank. We trialed four varieties and grew the bit of seed we collected from the previous year. It worked. The rice was beautiful. Birds began to eat it when it grew plump, so we covered it with bird netting. Now we just have to figure out how to thresh a few bushels of rice. That will be fun.
My ambitious husband’s seed saving skills took a leap, as he had more time to focus on those details. We grew three different kinds of corn, and saved seed from two of them.
The Taos corn is a flint type that my folks brought back from New Mexico. It is shorter in stature than the Damon Morgan that we usually grow, and it is accustomed to growing in the high arid Southwest. But it made nice ears, plenty enough for the year, plus some to select for seed. I’ve already told you about Glass Gem, which was just great fun. We haven’t popped any yet. One of these chilly days, soon.
Paul also saved seed from summer squash, melons, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and beans. That’s just what I can remember off the top of my head. We had set aside some lettuce for seed, but I think it was overrun by weeds and over-shaded by some beautiful pink cosmos.
Weeds were the issue of the garden in this long cool summer. Galinsoga grew rampant. It least it isn’t thorny. There were a few places where we managed to hold it at bay, but I lost my will to fight after we lost Susan in mid-August, and some parts of the garden were swamped.
We made it. There have been heartbreaks, two deaths in the family and on the smaller scale, loss of some of our poultry flock. But as for the living, we are still here. We have loved one another, learned a lot, enjoyed our world and eaten well. The children continue to grow smarter, stronger, and fiercely free. There is plenty to eat, plenty to think, feel, and love, and plenty to be grateful for as we go forth, day after day. As goes the soil, so goes the grower.
May the same good fortune follow each and every one of you. Happy Autumn.