Let the New Year Roll

January 20, 2021

So apparently this pandemic is putting otherwise even-keeled people at risk of going completely bonkers—from boredom, from claustrophobia, from too-much-togetherness, you name it. I heard about the phenomenon last spring, and I empathized with those suffering, but I didn’t feel it myself. Covid notwithstanding, work at the farm remained business as usual, and own my risk factor was neither up nor down. Fast forward to January, and it’s a different story. After a nothing burger of a holiday season, and a back-to-school send-off that wasn’t, I get it. I’m missing all the rituals that make winter the delightful season it normally is—the annual family ski trip, catching up with fellow growers at the NOFA conference, Friday night potlucks with our crew, quiet weekday mornings, sans kids, to plot the season ahead. But it could be worse. I have my health and I have my livelihood, and that makes me luckier than most. So let’s carry on.

Last week I completed the season’s seed order, a winter ritual that has undergone many changes over time. At its best, years ago, we had a crew of eight or more crowded around my dining room table, debating the merits of purple carrots or striped zucchini, for hours and hours on end. These sessions usually concluded with an epic potluck lunch. At its least glamorous, I tackled the job alone, not exactly surprised that in the same amount of time it took eight people to get through the Cs—cabbage, carrots, cucumbers—I could get through half the alphabet. The lunches, however, were far less memorable.

But no matter the crew, at the end, there was always a long spreadsheet to guide my annual call to the seed companies. This year, the crew consisted of Steve, Peter, and myself. Instead of starting with the As, we chose to limit our focus to the crops whose 2020 performance seemed less than stellar, and for which new varieties might make a difference. For lettuce, we added four new varieties, and we resolved to label each succession faithfully (easier said than done). For tomatoes, we dropped some low-yielding heirlooms in favor of higher-yielding hybri