Here’s the last farm news I wrote for our CSA newsletter. It sums up the season – a wild one! – pretty nicely.
Once again, I can’t believe the season is coming to a close. This happens every year – one moment we’re seeding onions in the greenhouse and the next we’re harvesting cabbage and rutabaga in hats and vests. In the next two weeks we’ll be wrapping up what’s left of the field work – planting more garlic, mulching the beds with leaves, and putting up low tunnels over chard, kale, and other greens. As deep fall settles in, with winter just around the corner, there’s time to enjoy the changing, falling leaves, sleep a little later, and begin dreaming and scheming and planning for next season.
With the coming frosts and the shorter days, farmers have more time to talk and visit. I’m making plans for the usual round of winter visits with farming friends and mentors. We always greet each other with the same question, “how was your season?”
If there is any constancy in farming, it is that no two seasons are ever alike, and that every season has its own triumphs and heartbreaks. I always answer the question the same way – it was great – with the caveat: it was interesting; it had its ups and downs. There’s no such thing as the perfect season: gorgeous stretches of sun broken by gentle soaking rain, disease-free, pest-free fields overflowing with bountiful crops. There is such thing as the not-perfect-but-totally-worthwhile season: 106 degree days in July, floods in September, more onions than we know what to do with, devastating crop failure in the tomatoes, 4-pound cabbages, sweet and enormous fall carrots.
This year we lost most of our tomato crop to hornworms and disease. After bringing in a gorgeous haul of winter squash, we lost a hefty chunk of it to the hungry clan of chipmunks living in the barn. We grew a total of 2000 pounds of onions, about twice as much as we were expecting. We’ve had the wettest fall I can remember, and flooding in our late field cost us a few beds of arugula and spinach. But the raised beds we’ve been building all summer and the burlap in the pathways is doing a great job. There’s standing water between the rows, but the enormous savoy cabbages, luscious lettuce, and beds of late radishes and spicy greens are growing splendidly.
We lost our leeks to weeds in the heart of summer when we just couldn’t keep up with all the work. Mexican bean beetles and the stifling July heat did in a few plantings of green beans. We grew a lot more lettuce than we did last year, planting more successions and harvesting them frequently. A woodchuck ate our Brussels sprouts. Our garlic grew beautiful heads the size of my fist. Our potato yield came out just about where we expected it. We’ve struggled with the unpredictability of our hens’ egg production. We had five wonderful community workdays with friends old and new, and many delightful Saturdays shoveling compost with dirt-loving volunteers.
Everything that’s happened this season has taught me something new about farming. In the coming months, I’ll be holed up cozy while the snow falls outside, planning for the new season by reliving the old: what worked and what didn’t, which systems are running smoothly and which need a complete overhaul.
Farming is hard work, deeply satisfying, often hilarious, often frustrating, always sustaining. It is never boring. Over and over again, there are new surprises and new challenges. Even when I’ve been doing this for twenty years, I know I’ll still learn something new each season.
Thank you all for sharing this season with us. For me, it was truly representative of the CSA model: you shared with us both in the bounties and the losses. As always, I’m grateful for the patience, fun, enthusiasm, and kindness of our CSA community. We couldn’t do it without you, and it wouldn’t be much fun. As for next season – who knows what it will bring?