There comes a time, in late August, when Nature seems to pause - to take a breath - to take a moment to silently contemplate the miracle of her creation.
At this time of year there are days of pure perfection - the sky is a soft deep blue and wispy clouds trail high above. The air is still warm and dry but at times a cool breeze stirs the air, a reminder of the coming autumn. There is a quiet to the day - a stillness, even with the chirp of the crickets.
The rush of the early and mid seasons is over. The planting is done and the plants are maturing, setting forth a bounty that never fails to astonish me. Much remains to be done - the harvest cannot wait, food needs to be stored for the winter, weeds need to be pulled or mowed before they seed, and cover crops need to be seeded in time to blanket bare earth before winter comes. Still, the to do list is getting shorter rather than longer - just like the days.
A calm and a peace settles in and my soul sings in wonderment. The farm is beautiful.
The hard work to provide for myself and the native denizens of the land has paid off. Insects, birds, and little four footeds are all getting their share of what's been planted or what's been left in its natural state. My place in the world and the web of life is clear. I am inextricably bound to and part of all that has been, all that is, and all that will be and, for me, there is no greater joy.
I am content.
Fertility counts - we all know that. But sometimes it takes a real life example to make it sink in. The photo is of this year's winter squash and pumpkin field. I have never had such exuberant growth! I walked through the patch today (about a month after this photo was taken) and was blown away by the quantity and quality of the fruit set.
What was the difference between this year and other years? Clover. Red clover to be exact. This field was set to clover and remained that way for a few years. The clover grew lush and fed bees and butterflies while it was there. This year I tilled it in and planted the squash which are well known to be heavy feeders. Well - they loved it as you can see.
There have also been remarkably few cucumber beetles and squash bugs. I haven't even seen a squash bug yet. I'm thinking this must be due to the hot dry summer we had and maybe also because I got the seedlings in a bit on the late side. Who knows - it's nice not to have so much insect pressure in any case.
The early hand watering - tedious as it was - kept everything alive until the rains finally came. Enough rain came that the fruits are sizing up beautifully - I have some absolute giants out there!
The other upside to planting to red clover (beside fertility) is that the clover grows in so thickly that it very effectively kills thistles and crowds out most other weeds. So, far my little farm - red clover is now legume of choice - it can be tilled in, feeds multitudes of insects, and creates a huge bounty in the following food crop! A win-win-win!
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Easy it is not. Global warming means, beyond warming, increasingly erratic weather - and erratic it has been. A mild dry winter was followed by an early dry spring and by an early HOT summer. Now it's mid-August and at last the rains have come but now it's unseasonably cool. Yes - weather is always erratic but this - this is global warming.
We are in for even more of it - committed to a certain amount due the CO2 we've already pumped into the air - maybe we'll find the will to stop now and prevent the worst from happening - and maybe not. Regardless, we have to deal with what we've created right here right now - and those of us who are farmers are on the front line of adaptation to a changing climate.
Dry land farming means farming without irrigation. Typically there is enough rain to keep crops growing without adding additional water. The warming models tell us that what we can expect are spring deluges (making it too wet to plant on time) follwed by summer droughts (making some sort of irrigation a necessity). The last several years have followed this pattern though this year we did have a dry enough spring that I was able to plant my cool season crops on time. The big problem was that that dry weather continued and continued and continued.
As mentioned in an earlier post I did irrigate after a fashion. I carried up water in gallon jugs and doled it out onto individual plants or down rows of seedlings. A farmer friend did bring me over about 500 gallons of water in tanks - this was huge - both because I needed the water and because it took time from his own farm work to fill the tanks and bring them over to me. (THANK YOU GARY!!)
It was enough to keep everything alive but sort of growing through the scorching heat and constant winds until the rains finally came. The lack of water did have an impact though. The onions were much smaller than usual and so are the tomatoes! And in general - things are simply bearing much later than they would have if there had been rain.
So - the question is - how do I adapt? There are a few possibilities - give up the rented land and learn how to intensively garden the home property (working on expanding the home gardens as we speak), look for additional property nearer to home that has water available (found a few plots that never sold in the neighborhood and one has water already exteneded onto the property); continue building the soil on the rented acres and keep at it. I'm pursuing all three. I love Reverence even though the land is not mine - I love the quiet, the space, the ability to carve out a little refuge for birds and insects and furry critters, I love being able to build the soil and to watch a miracle take shape every year. But to be practical I also need to keep in mind that it's 25 miles from my home and has no on site water so I do need to develop my other options (especially since I cannot afford to buy the land I rent).
I'll also continue to use raised beds and rows and to plant seedlings through heavy mulch - the clay soil will hold moisture pretty well as long as the mulch is heavy enough. I'll also pay close attention to which varieties do best in hot dry years (and which ones do best in rainy years). I'll also try to get better at succession plantings so that if one planting doesn't take another one will. I'll also continue my lobbying and political efforts to try to get our elected officials to finally take note of global warming and finally take decisive action to head of the worst of it.
The photo above is the 'long view' of about two thirds of the farm - foreground is beans and carrots and the farther field is tomatoes and potatoes and my first stand of wheat (and experiment - I didn't till it in for green manure).
It has been an exceedingly dry year - very very very little rain. I have been hauling water up in gallon jugs and hand watering individual plants and the rows. I live about 25 miles from little rented piece of heaven and have no water on the property.
As usual, to help conserve water and to help give the plants some rooting room in the heavy clay soil I have build raised beds and rows. I've also heavily mulched all the beds that I transplanted into and made sure that every seedling went in with a generous amount of water.
The watering is keeping the plants alive but the heat stress as well as the lack of sufficient water is spurring may plants to flower and set fruit too early. So, I 've been pinching off the flowers in the hopes that the plant will throw more energy into vegetative growth.
On the up side - the lack of rain has meant very little in the way of weed pressure and by this weekend I should have all the rows weed free - at least until it rains - if it ever does.
I'm going to try to post more frequently but we shall see if I manage to pull that off.
In the meantime - if you have questions about vegan farming - please send questions through the Contact Us feature!
Sadly - we lost another sweet soul over the winter. We adopted Spencer - a blind poodle - just before Thanksgiving and we lost him in February. Spencer was a sweet mellow soul who learned his away around the house very quickly and was gentlemanly enough to let the ladies get snippy with him without ever growling back. Shortly after he came to us we learned he has kidney disease. Sadly, though seemingly mild at first, it progressed to full blown renal failure very quickly. But as always - I don't want to tell the story of his passing but of his life.
Despite being blind, Spencer quickly learned where the front and back doors and the water bowl were. When he heard leashes coming out he would dash to the front door and jump up on it - eager to go outside to smell the smells. When in the backyard he would follow the sound of our hands clapping to come back in. He love food - any food - and staked out his special corner of the bed. He loved snuggling in laps and would fall asleep on his back in my daughter's arms.
Spencer had a favorite toy - a moose - that he loved to kill - sweet Spencer would morph into a fierce predator and shake shake shake his mooose.
We miss our boy dearly and wish that he could have stayed with us much longer.
Spencer joins Goldie (the fish), Mark (the guinea pig), Babbit (the rabbit), and Katie, Bailey, Toya, Mikey, Jeffey, Sara, Meli, and Pumpkin in our hearts. He is survived by Cocoa the bunny, Gabby, Winnie, Belle, Nina, and our newest addition - our foster Simon.
On Sunday August 14 we lost our beautiful Pumpkin at the age of 20.
Pumpkin arrived in our house three years ago after she had been left at a local shelter because her person had been admitted to a nursing home. I saw her picture in the shelter's newsletter and showed up there the next day with adoption on my mind. We ended up adopting both Pumpkin and Jeffrey on the spot.
Pumpkin was skittish and it took months to be able to pick her up without her snapping at me but perseverance and love won the day. After a time she became comfortable enough to rest on my lap - but never for too long! Pumpkin had her preferences - and her preferences were either to be on the move or snuggled up in her bed. For the short six months before Jeffrey passed away he was Pumpkin's constant companion. He'd been a lonely boy before he was rescued so never wanted to be far from company.
Pumpkin, though 17 when she came to live with us, was an active dog. She loved being outside. Though walks were typically 'sniff arounds', Pumpkin would suddenly take off at a run and I would have to go trotting after her - she winded me more than once! And how that little Miss Pumpkin loved to sniff at the local 'watering holes' - the fire hydrant, the mailboxes, any place another dog had been instantly became a source of utter fascination for Pumpkin!
As the years passed Pumpkin slowed down and so she became content to hang out in the backyard and spend more time cuddling. I loved to cuddle her - her small sweet body nestled into mine. And I loved to just look at her - Pumpkin had the most beautiful eyes and a little mop of fur at the top of her head that dangled into her eyes, requiring constant trimming.
I miss my Pumpkin. I miss the sound of her breath, the tip tap of her paws as she walked around the house, her eager crunching of the dog cookies I baked for her, and those beautiful beautiful eyes.
Thank you Pumpkin for being with us. You are forever in our hearts my little love.
Despite a shaky start at Reverence the Wave 2 planting is nearly complete (sunflowers and some experiments with grains yet to be done this weekend). The Wave 1 harvest is still underway - lettuces and kale and collards though strawberries are almost done and peas and spinach were a major bust. Lucky for me that I am friends with a local farmer who is willing to trade spinach for asparagus!
Of course, in the rush to get all the planting done the weeds have been overlooked. The potato hills are thistle infested and it will be a major undertaking to get those all cleared. On the up side - the cole beds and onion bed are weed free (for now) and the tomato rows look OK. They will be hoed and mulched this weekend and the corn field will be dethistled and tilled. I'll also be planting clovers and annual rye in between rows - this creates lovely pathways during the season. The rye will winter kill and leave a nice mat of biomass to walk on during the spring - and the clovers will come back - hopefully densely enough to crowd out weeds.
Buckwheat will go into a section I am working on rehabilitating (Wave 1 cover) and will later get tilled under and succeeded by winter wheat or oats (haven't decided yet!). And sometime very soon the potatoes will get dethistled and otherwise weeded and then hilled and mulched (she said optimistically) with annual rye and clovers in between.
A little rain is needed now though - those carrot, beet, bean, and cucumber seeds are unlikely to sprout without it! The Chicago area got some heavy rain (and damaging hail) while we stayed dry here. I really wanted that rain but am glad not to had golf ball size hail slamming into my tomatoes.
All in all, though, I am once again wildly impressed with the way the farm is shaping up. I'm also thrilled by the legions of red wing blackbirds and swallows who have made their homes at Reverence and by the development of a substantial stand of milkweed. It's great to have the company of the birds and bees and butterflies while I work (the swallows where busily gulping down winged insects while I was mowing down the asparagus the other day - an amazing aerial ballet).
No matter how the season finally turns out I know I will be deeply grateful - not just for whatever I harvest but for the opportunity to work with Nature to create food and habitat. I feel the deepest sense of awe and reverence on the farm and in the backgarden - a connection to all that is and the humble realization that I am not apart from nature but deeply rooted within it.