Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer is here!

By Nicole Sugerman

I can barely believe that July is almost here. Until I wipe the sweat off my brow and realize that the temperature has been over 90 degrees every day for the past week. Until I glance at the sky when the sun is about to go down and realize that it is 9:00 at night. Until I remember that we are harvesting an entire bin of squash every day, and remember that the broccoli and the mustards are flowering. All of the evidence points to the fact that summer has arrived, in all of its excitement and frenzy.

Summer crops are exciting and delicious, with some universal favorites coming into production: cucumbers, zucchini, and basil have been in your shares for a few weeks now, with eggplants, new potatoes, onions, and string beans on the near horizon. Unfortunately, some of our cool-weather standards are not enjoying the summer heat; broccoli and hakurei turnips are nearing the end of their spring season, to return in the fall, while salad mix and lettuce will continue to grow but more slowly throughout the summer.

Summer brings new insect pests as well. The arugula and mesculun mix bear the telltale buckshot holes of flea beetles, while I crushed at least ten of my arch-nemeses, the prolific and destructive harlequin bugs, within the last week. On Saturday, I began crushing squash bug eggs, golden and armored, on the backs of the squash leaves as I harvested. Happily, our beneficial insects are also flourishing. We collectively saw several baby praying mantises last week, and ladybugs are everywhere.

One of my favorite things about summer is the thunderstorms, which come in so quickly we can barely run up to move our backpacks into the shed, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder to make sure we are not being foolish as we continue to harvest in the downpour, cold with big hard raindrops when we had previously been emanating heat. After the storm, I can tangibly feel the relief—of the humidity, of the parched and thirsty plants, and of the dust, settled instead of hovering in clouds as we work in the dry fields. Our first summer storm last week was exciting and joyous even as the winds ripped a piece of the roof off our wash station! I wish it had been a bit longer—the precipitation barely penetrated the first few inches of soil.

Summer is all about setting priorities. As harvests get larger, our ‘real farming’ activities get squeezed into smaller pockets of time throughout the week. Simultaneously, as the weeds get larger, our list of tasks gets longer and our schedule begins to resemble an exercise in triage- do we have time to proactively hoe the carrots, or should we try to save the peppers from the pigweed? Should we try to pick the ragweed rhizomes by hand out of the turnip beds, or should we just till them in because it’s faster? We work as a group to come up with solutions, encouraging each other to work faster and use our time efficiently so that we can whittle away our list of tasks and keep the farm productive, with an eye on the long term goal of reducing weeds and maximizing soil and plant health.

Now that summer is here, our time also looks a little different. We take a break from hosting many large classes until the fall, working only with the incoming first years once a week. We are poised to welcome our four Saul summer interns next week, who will spend twenty hours a week with us throughout the summer. We appreciate the chance to do more focused, one-on-one instruction even as we miss the energy the big groups bring to our space.

There is a strange pleasure to the summer heat, an enjoyment even through the whining as our skin is coated in sweat, even before we begin farming in the morning. Water has never tasted so good. Neither has a post-work water ice or popsicle. I try to soak up as much summer as possible, knowing that in a few months, I will look back at this hot, busy season with nostalgia—this is a farmer’s true season to shine.

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