Tuesday, September 23, 2014

sprinting through september

There was a palpable frenzy at Headwaters tonight, as almost every farmer was out, scrambling to get their crops harvested before tomorrow's forecasted rain. After a long summer of ripening, crops like winter squash, onions, and dry beans can be ruined by a good rain. Winter squash that have started to cure can split their skins (as I learned the hard way last week after giving one of my favorite varieties--Uncle David's Dakota Dessert Squash--one last watering); dry beans soak up water like a sponge and can quickly rot.

I dropped by the farm this evening after working all day at my other job. I needed to bag up the beans laid out on one of my tarps in the barn, because I'll need the tarp to harvest one more bean bed first thing tomorrow morning. I arrived to find the farm hopping. Rowan, the manager of the Headwaters Incubator Program, was out late on the tractor, trying to get one last field disked and cover cropped. Several farmers had called in reinforcements to help haul in their vegetables as the sun dipped low.

heading to the fields
After working for a while to consolidate my beans, I decided, just before sunset, that I had better go back out and cut the stems of all my squash plants. Since I didn't have time to harvest them before the rain, cutting the stems would keep them from sucking up more water and allow them more time to cure in the field without cracking. I finished cutting the last of my seven beds in the pitch dark, feeling for each stem with one hand, snipping with the other, and trying to avoid cutting my drip tape at the same time. The thought occurred to me, as I grabbed onto yet another thistle plant, that a headlamp would be an indispensable piece of farming equipment, if only I thought to keep one at the farm.

there's not much plant left on these squashes, but they can still take up water if you don't cut them
By the time I retired to the well-lit barn to finish bagging my beans, almost everyone had gone home. Only one last farmer was still out, picking beans in the total darkness.

beans and beer--a relaxing end to a long day
September is the most manic time of the farm season. Everyone is punchy and a little irritable, but the crops don't care--they're exploding all around us like a crazy circus act. That's in a good year, at least, and this one certainly counts as such a year. There's a part of you that just wants to yell, "Enough! I give up." But there's another, stronger part of you that feels super-charged with excitement, because it's almost over and it's so worth it. One more sprint and you'll be over the finish line, with your crops stored safely in the barn (at least until the first freeze) and then the universe can do what it will.

tomatoes near dusk--both actually and metaphorically
It's in that mood that I'll head back into the field tomorrow, rain or no, to pull my potatoes from the ground. Potatoes, at least, won't be harmed by a little mud. And neither will I.

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