We’ve begun harvesting late summer sowings at Stonegate Farm of mixed mesclun greens, bok choy, mustard, broccoli raab, and heirloom radish, repeat plantings that bookend a season that began four months ago.
And the blackberries, pole beans and Sun Gold tomatoes have come on in miraculous abundance, their sun-swollen selves dangling like ornaments over trellis and fence.
A Woofer harvest of Sun Gold tomatoes for the weekly CSA, and a Last Tango in Paradise for the seedless Concord grapes in the greenhouse. They’ll live to dance another day.
By “we” I don’t mean the royal we (Pluralis Majestatis, that would be very sad) but my Woofers and me, helpers who’ve come to the farm from far and wide to sow, harvest, weed, and delight in all things organic. Like the plantings that bookend the season, Woofers tend to keep you balanced and centered; delegating daily chores, managing needs, avoiding idleness (although there’s much joy in idleness). Without them, it’s possible that things would fall apart; that (to paraphrase Yeats) the center could not hold, and mere anarchy would be loosed upon (my) world.
The anarchy of weeds has certainly been suppressed by the hands and hoes that have been loosed upon them, and far from falling apart, the farm is being re-born daily with their mindful help.
Though there’s still much to be harvested and weeks to go before the farm sleeps, some mid-season stalwarts like the costata romanesco squash and the sweet and abundant greenhouse grapes have thrown in the trowel. The seedless concord that clambers so beautifully beneath greenhouse glass has been pruned back to thick cordons. Its bright purple sweetness lit up shares for more than a month this season.
If Google Maps went micro, local and organic, this is what might come up with a search for Stonegate Farm. Harvests have been colorful and diverse this season, with deep purple pole beans, variegated eggplant, candy-colored pimento peppers, and bright Sun Gold tomatoes. Grow, Shoot, Eat.
Long season greens like the kale and chard will be with us until frost. Though they may have lost their novelty by now, the lacinato kale, in particular, is one to “cherish until perish”; it’s just so much more nutritious than any other leafy green, full of omega-3s, calcium, iron, proteins and antioxidants. It goes into our smoothies, salads (and psyches) daily.
Just as we anticipate the first new growth in Spring, and delight in the fresh young arugula, spinach and snap peas that emerge, we should anticipate the season’s end, savor what we have and value where we’ve been. Sounds like a good life-mantra to me. –Mb
The swelter this past week brought out the crazies at the farm. Woodchucks burrowed manically under fencing to trample and chomp through loose beds of kale, chickens lost their small minds and pecked incessantly at heirloom tomatoes, chipmunks tore heat-swollen plums from young trees in the orchard, mockingbirds stripped and gorged on ripe pearls red currant.
Weather extremes bring out the worst in all creatures, great and small.
Even a colony of mostly well-behaved Italian bees swarmed off in a cloud of thrumming wings to cooler pastures. They ended up moving into a hollow in my neighbor’s faux-corinthian columns (they are Italian bees after all – were they pining for the Pantheon’s columns in Rome?).
No one prepares you for the forces acting against your farm, from absurd weather to the persistent and insatiable pressure of critters who think you’ve set a Whole Foods just for them ; it’s empirical trial and terror.
I’ve had to learn from my optimistic folly, and the more I learn the more I want to warn. To that end, I have a half dozen eager farm volunteers coming to Stonegate throughout the season, from Italy, France, Germany, all primed to experience to agony and ecstasy of small scale organic farming. They’re coming through an organization called WOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and will apprentice and learn for room and board. Good for all.
Ideally, everyone should have some sense of what it means to grow food from seed (that may be a necessary survival skill once the petroleum food economy collapses), and have some rich organic dirt under their nails and the deep muscle memory of hoeing, tilling and weeding.
Farming builds strong, resourceful bodies, and feeds the spirit (I was once asked where I “worked out” and I said I didn’t, but I “worked, out” – meaning “outside” where the sweat and strain has meaning).
Organic farming is also an act of political conscience. If, as Sylvia Breeland said, “How you eat changes how the world is used,” then WOOFers are interested in political change, to reversing the half-century old plague of proceesed industrial food and the various scourges of GMOs and acres of monoculture dripping with pesticides.
By volunteering on small farms like mine and making organic farming viable, WOOFers are changing how the world is used, one weed at a time. –Mb
Hurricanes Irene and Lee came and went last month and ripped through the farm with blustery, sodden winds and a muddy swill of rain that’s still running down the drive.
Newly planted seeds of Fall arugula, snap peas, and mesclun greens were washed out of their beds, heading toward the Hudson. Chickens stood out in the wind and rain, transfixed by the chaos, their pouffy feathers matted like leaves. Bees hummed in damp confusion around the hive.
Harvests have been bountiful, despite the rain, although the heat lovers like tomato, pepper and eggplant are beginning to grumble.
I was away on a book shoot in Maine, and was texted regularly by my neighbor assuring me that the farm hadn’t been swept off to Oz, and that none of our geriatric trees had tumbled out of the sky, although some are looking precariously frail; just a puff away from oblivion. There’ll be some tough Kevorkian-esque decisions to be made with the chainsaw, but safe open sky to follow.
Two white pines, in particular, are standing too tall and frail and barely fleshed with needles at the crown. A few years back, a massive spruce fell in the middle of the night, it’s brittle bones splintering across our gate house roof like glass. Only the gutter was damaged, but our tenants were jittery for months.
It’s a miracle that anything edible has put up with a month of relentless rain and hurricanes. True, the tomatoes have been reduced to puckered globs, and eggplant and pepper are hanging hard and obstinately unripe on their stalks. Nobody likes to get his feet wet, much less stand in water for weeks on end. Bad for the posture.
These sweet Hungarian peppers have produced non-stop since July, even with their feet wet.
What a bore, to prattle on about weather! But it matters more when you’re farming and feeding others. If this is the new normal, I suppose the farm can either founder under increasingly erratic weather, or learn to suck it up. As a true Darwinian, I think I’ll adapt. There’s always aquaculture. - Mb
Cooling showers have given the greens something to croon about. They’re just singing’ in the rain.
Despite all the fuss over weather, roses paid no mind and busted out in glorious bloom this Spring.
Supper in the garden, umbrellas on stand-by.
I flew in to New York shaking off the usual thunderstorms, and returned before dawn just as the sky began to slowly unfold, blue over black, and the night-lustered scent ofnicotiana was releasing itself into the still air over the farm.
Wakefulness at this hour is magical. From years of shooting gardens for books and magazines, I’m familiar with the secret, transitory beauty of twilight. The world seems to hold its breath, insect legs stop their determined rasping, and birdsongs have yet to be summoned by any indication of morning.
Then the day comes, and there is the usual damage assessment after a storm: The tight purse of the soil again pummeled into a swill by rain, the folds and clefts made by hoes and thoughtful hands all leveled, the tomatoes in a sad, rain-spilt tangle, the small-by-nature varieties of pepper and eggplant – confused by the inconstant weather – reduced to props for my daughter’s American Girl doll.
And despite all that, a smile. The Buddhists tell you that only by leaving your home can you know it for the first time. Knowing this place, with all of its quirks and provocations, is a gift.
Heidi reminds me of that. She reminds me not to become a grumpy farmer, grousing on about apocalyptic weather and the latest Book-of-Revelations pest that’s decided to stop by, and to find the good light (use a photography metaphor and he’ll understand…)
That night, we tossed a big harvest salad ofmesclun greens and loose-leaf lettuce, sweetened with sun-warmed greenhouse grapes, and made fresh pesto with skewer grilled eggplant and pepper. We ate in the garden as the little hens wandered aimlessly about our feet, and – with little effort – found the good light, filtering through the apple trees. - mb