Aunts in the garden

The farm feels as if it is transforming daily. The longer days are fully taking hold of reaching green leaves and encouraging them to stretch and settle in for the many days of growth ahead.

With the warm days and lengthening sun, the starts in the green house have started to glow, buzz and create somewhat of a commotion. With roots ready to reach beyond their plastic square homes and upgrade to more spacious lodging; a movement akin to Occupy was rumored to take hold. They were ready, in mass, to take over the fields. I knew the weather would be a bit dicy, but with a busy schedule you can’t always accommodate to precision timing. If time and good weather presents itself and plants are begging to go in, then you just have to do it. Monday was a big planting day, half of the tomatoes went into the ground at 60 plants, some peppers and eggplant too. They were given love, water, a blanket of frost cloth, a gesture of prayer flags and wished the best of luck for the somewhat chilly nights ahead…like Firday, when we were ‘graced’ with snow. As slyly as rumored, Siskiyou County weather tossed in a wicked curve ball. I think the local Spring saying goes as such; in like a lamb, out like the abominable snowman.

Although the weather outside was frightful, those sun-soakers hunkered down and pulled through! Yahoo! At present the frost cloth is off and hopes are being cast for amiable lows that don’t dip below 50. A girl can dream and dream I will.

With non-stop work on the daily docket and the dockets of days yet to come, additional hands, smiles and company out in the fields is a blessing. I’ve already expressed how the journey of this land and project has filled it’s significance and reward, just with the people and relationships it has cultivated. Homeward Bounty has seen and will see a lot of special visitors, but this week might take the cake, or the lamb chop, as would be appropriately coveted by the O’Brien family. Memorial weekend brought the whole clan to Lake Shastina. All five of my Dad’s brothers and sisters and their partners, my sister, cousin Ben and Kelly all made the trip for one fun-filled and incredibly loud weekend. Now the weekend couldn’t be all play and no work. That would have been horrible, right!? While the guys when out golfing all the ladies rolled up their sleeves and set out to work on the farm. It meant the world to me to show them all the land and work that’s been invested into it. They were great out there, planting tomatoes like professionals. What a blast! Talk about hard workers. They even folded up the frost cloth like fine linen.

Irrigation & Cowboys

     Irrigate! Irrigate! It’s in, it’s installed, the drip tape has landed!

Purchasing a drip irrigation system was a mega ‘gulp’ investment, but after hand watering each individual plant for the last month, it feels so nice to just be able to hook up a hose and let her run. I even surprised myself with over the top excitement, when two big boxes of irrigation bits and bobs arrived at the doorstep. The days are getting longer and the 80 degree trend has not ceased. Time for everyone to stay hydrated.

The irrigation came with impeccable timing. The big tasks that accompanied the big field have finally found completion. The three hundred feet of fence, applying manure and tilling. I played a small roll in getting the field to the state it is in now. A major highlight of this year has been making beautiful connections with hard working, high spirited individuals who are shaping this season.

The services of Austin were recommended to disc the field back in March. At 13 years old, he owns his own tractor and contracts out his services at a nice penny, that he earns through good work. A Siskiyou boy through and through, Austin stands with a hand in his back pocket and all his weight to one side as he spits out sunflower seeds and discusses the weather, this year’s season and the price of diesel.

Ed, our neighbor to the west skillfully and amply applied manure to the field. He is also very much of this land, offering a warm smile and stories of growing up in the area circa 1950. In addition, I’ve had the joy of meeting Ed’s mother-in-law who has shared story gems of her own. With delight in her voice she talks of how she, at 87, is third generation Siskiyou County. The house where her father was born still stands near Greenhorn Park in Yreka. It was her elders that taught her how to garden, a tradition she continues, although her hip slows her down now. I can’t help but continue to feel blessed and humbled. As turbulent in joy and hard work as this season will be, it’s grounding to know that in the end it’s all just a part of a story. To know that my story and that of Ed and his families’ have come together brings a depth to this project that makes everything feel right.

Ed has further extended his generosity to the farm in lending the use of his Troy Built rear-tine tiller. With this tool now a part of the farm’s arsenal I feel as if I can take over the world. It’s as if I ask, “What are we going to do today Tiller?” And it responds, “The same thing we do every day. Try and take over the world!” It’s the type of power I could get used to. A half an acre of pasture has now been converted, weeds tilled in and fluffy beds created ready for transformation and transplants.

A half an acre is a lot of work by one’s farming self. Just enough to truly appreciate the companionship and help of additional hands. Jonathan Mann has become a devoted friend to both myself and the farm. Even with a full time job of his own, working 40 hours plus on a fire engine for the Forest Service, he continues, week after week, to be there. Always in for the adventure he’s there to the milk cow as part of the milking share, plant transplants, put in fences, install irrigation, weed, till, dig trenches and more. He’s been catching on quick, having never worked in a garden or with plants. We’ve come to an agreement that I’ll teach him what I know about farming in exchange for chain saw skills, harvesting and bucking fire wood and to learn how to drive a stick shift. Yep, that’s right folks, she can grow your food, but can’t drive la manual.

Not Romantic, but Yummy

I can officially say that I’ve indulged in the fruits of my labor. Sown from seed, cared for in the green house, planted out in the field with encouraging thoughts of Napa Cabbage grandeur. Allas, those chinese cabbages are truly fickle things when it comes to day length and heat. I knew that the cold nights and random 80 degree spikes of a few weeks ago would trigger its primal response, “if we don’t go to flower now and produce seeds then our whole gene pool will be lost. We’re not going to be able to survive these long hot days.” Plants interpret many different conditions as stressful; longer days, shorter days, extreme heat, extreme cold, too much water and not enough. These stresses can trigger premature bolting in some plant species. I’ve always found it extremely fascinating that that response is truly imbedded in their tissues and plant memory. What a drive. I wonder if it’s a individual battle of making sure that YOUR seeds are out there in the world or a collective consciousness, where each plant is responsible to invest their best for the greater good of the species. Regardless, up they went! When life gives you lemons, we all know what to do with them. So when mother nature gave me bolting (the term for plants flowering and going to seed) Napa cabbage I harvested the leaves and made a lovely saute with garlic and onions. The perfect green for a summer time burger! Not the most romantic of first harvest’s on my new land, but it had to be something. The bed is already cleared and a new crop has already taken it’s place. Live and learn.

Getting Rooted

I don’t think I’m going to call it working late, beyond the hours of sun, a solid day of work setting out of view with more coming on the shadows of the moon. I’m just going to think of my late night task extravaganzas as dates with the green house. Ah yes, I put on my comfy work cloths best, pour a (generious) glass of wine and get the tunes rolling. We always agree to see each other again after such nice nights, and thank goodness too, because there’s much to be done!

Things are looking very positive. Thanks to a very determined, strong, hardworking and skilled work crew a nice stretch of fence has been put up. Five 3′ holes were dug to sink railroad ties. From the posts we set H braces and then ran out hog wire and a line of barbed wire. It made for a long and rewarding day. Bob Copeland was gracious in providing his knowledge and expertise. He joked at one point that among neighbors in the area he’s known as the Minister of D-fence. That one had me giggling for a while, Bob is a Pastor. I’ve been able to enjoy a nice jump start by planting potatoes, onions, cool weather crops and greens in an already fenced side garden. The vision however, is to get the 1/2 acre plot fenced and in production for the bulk of the season’s seed crops and CSA vegetables. It is just a matter of a few days and the rest of the length will be up, the field will be fully amended with manure and tilled to fluffy perfection.