Monday, October 12, 2009
Hi all! As you know by now, Summer has relinquished her crown, and we are swiftly moving into the post-equinox days of Autumn. Not that we dislike Autumn (it's Yvonne's favorite season), we're just doing our best to keep up with the seasonal changes and their attendant chores. However, we always do our best to value the unique quality of every season, even as we run for more row covers to keep our late-season crops from taking frost damage.
After the relatively cool and rainy summer, tales of early freezes became one of our pressing concerns. One evening in mid September, we realized that we had about six crops to cover. This translates in area to about one third of our half-acre. Although this isn't an enormous amount of land to cover, we live in a spot that's often windy. After our various adventures in Spring trying to cover summer crops with 40 mile an hour winds whipping our Agribon row covers like a skinny sail while we tried to get them to cover our summer crops, we were feeling somewhat depleted of enthusiasm. Remembering that some of our neighbors had volunteered help if we ever needed it, we did take a few moments to leave a short phone message for friends of ours in Wallingford. Although certain that their cheerful offer was a kindly platitude, perhaps my call would be regarded as an incitement to our friends to get together at some future date. Farm work, after all, was still the province of farmers.
Imagine our surprise later while sizing up some row covers for our cucumbers when we heard a friendly voice hail us from the area of our workshop. Two friends were there ready to assist us, and their spouses were on the way to join them.
With a total of six adults on the task, we were able to cover five vegetable crops and one patch of zinnias in record time. Frost protection in place, we adjourned to the kitchen to begin happy hour and make plans for a dinner get-together. We were grateful and impressed. It was one thing to know that we could make sales to friends and neighbors and get their support as customers; it was quite another to know that they'd happily give us their time and effort. Sometimes, difficult situations let you know who's in your corner.
Speaking of difficult situations, we have had all sorts of mixed blessings as we attempted to divine which planting procedures, crops, fertilizers, pest control methods, and weed suppression tricks will yield the best results. Sometimes we find the right answer, but our application comes too late: as when we discovered Spinosad was exactly the right organic pesticide to apply to voracious Colorado potato beetles. Although we were able to control those ravenous little freeloaders, not before they had totally destroyed the greens of our potato plants and stripped our eggplants down to the soil. When Ed brought the plague of orangey insects to heel, they were making for our tomatoes. Lesson learned: Do your research before the clouds gather.
In some instances, it just didn't matter how prepared we were. We were very excited this year about our tomato crop, having carefully selected a mix of heirloom, cold-hardy and visually attractive tomatoes for sale this summer. We were especially excited because although other growers we know had suffered tomato losses from early and late blight, our tomatoes were bearing fruit and ripening into a luscious palette of reds, greens and warm yellow. Anticipating the chance to arrive at the Farmers' Market with yet another colorful, lively crop, Ed noticed that the foliage on the tomato plants was wilting a mere two days before that week's market. Sadly, these were the signs that we'd been dreading: the arrival of late blight, a fungus that spreads easily by wind-borne spores. Even if we picked every tomato right away, we couldn't take any of the fruit to market for fear of spreading the spores to other vendors' produce.
Despite the disappointment of losing a crop, we count ourselves lucky in many ways. We still made our financial goal for our first season without a tomato, cucumber or eggplant crop. We gained a new customer in Blue House Bakery, a local business that bought our honey by the gallon. We participated in three events promoting local produce. Best of all, even on mornings bringing rainy, blustery chills, we were still visited by regular customers offering friendly encouragement. Certainly, some of the best payment for our efforts has been in the currency of community.