Succession Plantings, Heat Waves, Miracles
Two Sundays ago we hosted our annual herb walk and medicine-making workshop, led by doctor/herbalists Ellen Kamhi and Eugene Zamperion. Participants started out with a walk through the gardens and fields, collecting various plants and “weeds” while learning about their medicinal values. Then they returned to the Tin House, where they processed the herbs into skin salves, cough tinctures, and smudge sticks. I’ve been a fully-engaged participant in past, but in recent years I enjoy fading into the background, ready to jump in should anyone need anything, but content to observe from a distance. Most times I catch up on weeding in the flower beds. With this season’s weed situation largely under control, however, I was able to follow through on a long-shot goal: a second planting of statice and snapdragons. Compared with branching flowers like zinnias and strawflower, these cutting flowers have a relatively short bloom time; by early-August, they’ve usually run their course. That said, several years ago I made an unexpected discovery, when a new variety of snapdragons didn’t perform as expected, and I attempted a second planting with my preferred variety. I wasn’t sure if it was too late in the season, but I figured I’d give it a shot. Not only did those late bloomers thrive, they lasted all the way to Thanksgiving. It got me thinking of how succession plantings—follow-up plantings of short-lived crops—are often the secret behind a grower’s "green thumb." It would be great if everything seeded in the spring remained healthy and productive right up until the frost, but it’s inevitable that a number of crops will succumb to pests, disease, and/or inattention. The most important thing, however, is to never stop planting—to always be attending to tomorrow's pipeline. In that regard, it’s helpful to have empty spaces specifically reserved for succession plantings. When we hold our annual plant sale in May, I've noticed that many new growers are determined to fill every square inch of space, so that their gardens look complete. What often happens, however, is that once the weeds and pests creep in, these gardeners lose heart, believing they’ve lost control. In most cases, all they need do is pull out the old plants, plant a new round of beans or snapdragons, and just keep going.
And many times, it’s easier said than done. This week’s heat is taking a toll on the farmers and plants alike, making it hard to get excited about bonus successions. We always seem to have one big heat wave right after garlic harvest, but this one has been especially
challenging, because it’s been so dry. We've been irrigating as much as conditions will allow, but the best irrigation system in the world is no substitute for a soaking rain or a break in the temperature. In most cases, a healthy plant can power through several days of extreme heat, and I’ve learned not to judge a plant’s overall health at 2pm on a hot summer day, but it’s still dispiriting to see rows of wilted winter squash, knowing the relief of sunset is still hours away. Earlier today, as Steve as I seeded several beds of beets and carrots, I found it helpful to visualize a cold December farm stand loaded with storage crops and a warm fire cracking outside. If you can’t get to the beach, dreaming of winter isn't the worst coping mechanism.
On a closing note, our crew is breathing a huge sigh of relief after a traumatic couple of days. Last Thursday, crew members Peter and Jen were in a serious vehicle accident, and Jen was air-lifted to a nearby hospital with a fractured skull. For several terrifying hours, we didn’t know if she was going to make it. But Jen is tough as nails, her sweet demeanor notwithstanding. It'll be a few more days before she's discharged from the hospital, and some time beyond that before she's fully back on her feet, but she's expected to make a complete recovery. Our farm family is still somewhat stunned at how fast it all happened—one minute everything was fine, the next minute we were in crisis, and the next we were celebrating a miracle. More than anything else, we’re relieved and grateful that sooner or later, Jen will be back with us.