August 15, 2021
Ahhh…mid-summer…when a bad day leaves you wishing for an early frost, and a typical day leaves you eating your body weight in Sun Golds.
Tomatoes always take center stage in summer, but this year they share the spotlight with Peter’s Oddballs. Last spring we gave Peter a quarter acre in Lower Crooked Field for his various “oddball” items. We nicknamed it Peter’s Magic Carpet Ride, knowing he would turn it into something magical. It’s the first field you see as you emerge from the woods, and if you’re accustomed to our style of regular, uniform rows, you’ll probably scratch your head and wonder what the heck happened. At the moment, Peter’s got corn in a cage, a patchwork trellis full of beans, a giant pumpkin that’s 300 lbs. (and still growing!), and sunflowers scattered throughout. Since June, he’s harvested long beans, speckled beans, sweet melon, bitter melon, ground cherries, sweet corn, and “rattail” radish, a seed pod that feels like a stringbean (crisp and crunchy) but tastes like a radish. Peter’s Oddballs has become a highlight of the summer farm stand, sparking plenty of conversation (Rattail what???!!!) and giving the tomatoes a run for their money.
This has also been the Summer of the Sunflower. It actually started last year, when Ada and I planted 150 single-stem sunflowers for her start-up bouquet business. The sunflowers were vigorous and easy to grow, but they bloomed all at once, which we weren’t prepared for. So for 2021, we planned on six smaller successions. We began in April and made it as far as the fourth planting in late-June before the heat, weeds, and encroaching squash vines prompted Ada to declare, Mom, you can take it from here. Oh well…it was good while it lasted. Nevertheless, by early July, new space had opened up and my affinity for sunflowers had morphed into an obsession. So when we mowed down a bed of kale because the caterpillars were getting out of hand, I seeded sunflowers as a follow-up. When we discovered an empty bed next to the cabbage, or in the herb garden, same thing. This time, however, it’s the CSA members who do the picking. If I’d known pick-your-own sunflowers would be this easy—much easier than raspberries—I’d have started years ago. It’s amazing how much joy can come from a bright bloom on a long stem.
It was ninety degrees last week, but fall harvests are getting into full swing. Our playbook goes something like this:
1. Assess volume of anticipated harvest
2. Assess current storage capacity
3. Freak out!
4. Scavenge/build/buy whatever it takes to achieve necessary capacity
5. Begin harvest
Two weeks ago, Peter walled off and insulated a 6’ x 8’ space in the green trailer next to the Tin House. It has a working A/C and is perfect for storing potatoes and fresh onions. Within days of completion, it was halfway full. Then, last week, he assembled 16 greenhouse racks. These manufactured racks replace the collapsible onion system Steve designed and built several years ago; that has been repurposed for garlic. The racks were delivered on Tuesday, and by Saturday they were fully assembled and full of onions. At some point during the week, we also harvested an unknown quantity of spaghetti squash.
Hauling storage crops is a big job, and ordinarily we’d enlist volunteer help on Saturdays, but not this summer…at least not yet. With Steve out sick, our kids requiring occasional off-farm parenting, and the Saturday farm stand demanding a full staff, our hands have been tied. As a result, all the hauling has fallen to our weekday crew—Peter, Nancy, and Jackie—and I can’t sing their praises enough! Nancy has been with us since May, and Jackie Ford joined in July, when I put out the S.O.S. for help. Jackie is another CSA-member-turned-crew-member; she previously worked at Harvest Power Solar, and she’s currently the assistant manager of the Arts in the Plaza festival in Long Beach. Though the summer weather has been brutal at times, this crew has stayed upbeat and productive throughout. They’ve proven that ninety degrees isn’t that bad if you wear a hat and drink plenty of water. It’s been a blessing and privilege to work with them, and I wish every workplace could be so positive.
Thanks for reading, and see you at the farm!