Monday, February 15, 2010

Summer on the Farm

June 30th, 2009

By Nicole Sugerman

With the summer solstice a week past, the days are getting regrettably shorter, but they are also getting hotter and drier as summer surrounds us suddenly. I feel unprepared. Just two weeks ago, the weather was cool and wet, and the growing season seemed to be suspended in perpetual spring. But now, the signs of summer are everywhere, leaving me wondering how I failed to notice them until just now. The first planting of corn is shoulder-high. The peppers, eggplants, and winter squash (!) are flowering, while the tomatoes have green fruit. The summer squash is showing its first sign of powdery mildew, an inevitable squash ailment that, unusually for a mildew, thrives on hot, dry, weather (not to worry, we are combating the mildew with a spray of diluted milk.)

Summer brings a change of pace to the farm, quite literally. We all have to move a little slower to cope with the summer heat, and we have to remember to take frequent, chug-your-whole bottle-at-once water breaks to avoid dehydration. While spring is defined in my mind by a frenetic energy to get beds prepared and plants in the ground, the planting tapers off for a little while around this time, to be replaced by almost constant harvest. Summer squash and cucumbers grow so quickly that we have to harvest them every other day. Basil, a signature summer crop, is in, and I take pleasure in its harvest because its aroma is so appealing. I am looking to the approaching tomato season with equal parts excitement and dread; the tomatoes will need to be harvested every other day, sometimes each day, and always come on in such abundance that among the tomatoes I often find myself at my most overwhelmed (get your canning supplies ready!).

Along with harvesting, we are also busy transitioning beds newly cleared of spring crops into summer cover crops. First, we pull out all the weeds and bolted (farmer jargon for flowering, which means that a crop is usually no longer good to eat) vegetables. Then, we lightly prepare the bed and plant our cover crop. A cover crop refers to a crop that is planted in a bed but not harvested; instead, it is tilled back into the bed after it reaches maturity. Cover crops stabilize the soil from erosion, which happens from wind and rain if beds are left bare. They also suppress weeds, and add nutrients when the plants break down in the soil. We generally plant grasses (like oats or rye), which grow quickly and add a lot of organic matter to the soil when tilled in, and legumes, which fix nitrogen, as cover crops on the farm. At this time of year, we are planting buckwheat, which grows and matures within a month, so we can turn it in and have the beds ready to plant another food crop in the fall.

I cannot believe this is already the seventh week of the CSA; seven weeks impresses me as a long time. But even more, I cannot believe that the season is really just kicking into gear—we still have nineteen weeks ahead of us! Sometimes I think that farming makes me less able to appreciate the moment I am in—instead of just being in the present, I am always looking forward to the next step, the next season, or the next crop to ripen. A favorite refrain of mine is “I just can’t wait until we get to eat broccoli/beets/butternut squash/parsnips. . .” So, in typical fashion, I am really looking forward to summer, which contains some of my all-time favorite vegetables, like sweet corn, eggplant, onions, and, of course, tomatoes, as well as long, light days and warm, pleasant nights. The season is off to a great start, and I am sure the summer will be a success as well.

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