From the Farmer’s Mouth

Somehow in the last three years I became an “old” farmer. I don’t feel old. I mean, sure I have some aches and pains and I can’t quite do all the things I used to do when I first started farming. Actually it is not that I can’t do them; rather I don’t do them. I attribute this to the voice of experience yelling in my ear that I would be stupid to attempt the thing I did five years ago again. Mostly because what I did five years ago probably didn’t work and if I try it again it still won’t work. Does this make me old? Maybe. Or maybe I am jaded. Or maybe just maybe, I am a little bit wiser.

Wise or no, other farmers consider me to be an old farmer. Those other farmers who are doing the considering are in their twenties and just starting out and they see me as a font of knowledge. I don’t feel like a font, but I do like to share what I have learned on my journey. The reason I bring this up is that last week I was giving a presentation to a group of new farmers on farm equipment: what you need and what you don’t.

About a year ago (it might have been two years ago, I can’t remember—probably because I am old) I was approached by the University of California extension specialist in Placer County to be a signatory on a grant that would provide funding for new farmer training. The plan was to get the grant and create what is called a C.R.A.F.T.  Group: these kinds of groups exist to train new farmers. On the east coast there a bunch of these groups, but on the west coast I believe we were one of the first groups, if not the first group to form.

Over the last year I have presented on topics such as cover crops, tillage, greenhouse procedures, weed control, and crop planning. I am so happy to share the knowledge that I have and I wish that this kind of program had existed when I was just starting out. I teach by sharing the mistakes I have made in the hope that those listening won’t repeat my errors. I guess I am really old because now I am like some sort of farming vampire. I meet all these new “young” farmers that are so full of dreams and enthusiasm that I can’t help but to feed off of that energy and get all excited about being a farmer and doing my best to keep small scale farming alive in America.

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Well, it is about time I got the CSA going. The weather has been quite a challenge, to say the least. The good news is that all of this mild weather and rain has made the crops that I have planted grow really well and they look great. The bad news is that everything grows more slowly and the rain has delayed a few of the plantings. My crop plan that I spent hours on last winter is out the window. I am doing my best to catch up, playing it by ear and listening to my guts for what to plant and when. I am using the “Force,” I guess. So far neither Ben Kenobi nor Yoda have shown up to encourage me. So maybe I am not using the “Force.” At this point I don’t know. The upshot is: don’t expect tomatoes by July 4th, but do expect tomatoes in July.
Your share this week has a big bunch of onions in it. These are a small fraction of the 6000+ onion transplants that were planted last fall by members of the CSA. The onions have been growing great and are just starting to mature now. I gave such a large bunch because I thought you might like to use some right away and let some of them dry for a few weeks. I left the tops on and the roots on for a couple of reasons. The tops can be used like green onions if you wish, and they are necessary if you choose to dry the onions. The roots are vital if you are going to dry the onions because they really help to evaporate the moisture from the bulb. If you choose to dry some of the onions, all you have to do is hang them by their tops for about 3 or 4 weeks. It is best to hang them in a place where they will not be in the sun. They don’t need pitch dark but the direct sun will burn them. I did not wash the soil off the onions on purpose: adding water to something you are trying to dry just makes your job harder.
This season is going to be just great. I can feel it in my bones. Spring has given me many challenges, but when I look out onto the fields I am really happy with what I see. The crops may be a little late, but they sure look good. The plants are thriving and the weeds a pretty much under control. I don’t think I can ask for any more than that, do you?

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Man-o-man!  This has been one heck of a week out at the old farm. I will just give you the highlights and try not to bore you with too many of the mundane and tedious details. In an effort to help create a new crop of farmers, I am a member of a group that puts on workshops to teach farming skills. I figure it is part of my responsibility to help others who want to get into farming, especially since I feel that I received lots of help from other farmers when I started. As one older farmer told me when I thanked him for his help, “We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.” I will always remember what he said and I try to share my knowledge with others because of what he said. Then the toilet truck got stuck.

Yup, stuck. And I don’t mean a little stuck. I mean sunk up to the engine block stuck. So stuck that my biggest tractor plus my neighbor’s tractor chained on to the truck and pulling like crazy could not get the truck out of the hole the driver had dug himself into. In fact, I almost got my tractor stuck trying to pull him out. Luckily, the neighbor could pull me out with his tractor. In attempting to pull out the truck, the rear wheels of my tractor dug two deep holes rupturing the 3″ water main that goes out to the field where I grow the pumpkins. Thankfully, I had turned off the water to that line when we had the really cold weather in November to avoid breaking any pipes due to freezing. Not that having water gushing out of a broken pipe would have made any difference, since it was raining at the time and I was already soaked. Did I mention that all this happened on Monday?

So, back to sharing farming knowledge. The truck was at the farm to drop off the porta john for the farm clinic I hosted on Tuesday. The clinic was all about how to manage soils and irrigation on a small vegetable farm. We had great turn out of about 25 folks and as luck would have it, perfect weather. There was a nice mix of young and old new farmers and all of them asked lots of great questions. I am sure I will be hosting some more teaching events at the farm, but next time the toilet truck is not allowed to drive off the driveway.

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Planting for fall is really getting going out here on the farm. The winter garden planting is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the removing of the worn out summer crops and planting all the leafy greens that will nourish us throughout the colder months. All the planting renews my spirit and inspires thoughts of chilly fall days and blustery winter nights. By the time we start planting all the lettuce, kale, broccoli, and cabbage I am ready for a change. I have to admit I am really tired of picking cucumbers. I long for the cool weather and the chance to bunch Kale again.

So you’ll know what you have to look forward to in your Fall and Winter share boxes, here is a brief list of what I have planned to plant:

  • Kale-Dinosaur and Frilly leaf types
  • Cabbage-Red, Smooth Green, and Winkled Green (Savoy)
  • Kohlrabi-classic green type
  • Carrots-if the weeds don’t kill me
  • Beets-round red, Cylindra red, and 3 Root grex
  • Potatoes-russet, red, yellow Finn, and fingerling
  • Winter squash-butternut, and blue ballet,
  • Pumpkins-the awesome winter luxury variety
  • Lettuce-red leaf, green, butter, red butter and more
  • Turnips-white Japanese Tokyo and maybe purple top
  • Radishes-French breakfast and watermelon diakon
  • Broccoli-the winter classic
  • Cauliflower-both white and the green romanesco

These are just the highlights! I told you I like the Fall/Winter garden! It is hard to believe it is September already and it is even harder to believe that one day in the near future it is going to be much cooler and that the days will start to be really short. When that happens, the winter crops will be at their peak and we will all be happily eating them in the comfort of our homes surrounded by our families.

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Marlin Perkins has nothing on me and that is all I have to say about that. For those of you who do not remember Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Marlin Perkins was the host. The good old Wild Kingdom was something I had to endure before The Walt Disney show would come on the TV on Sunday nights during primetime. Okay, so I am dating myself. I was sitting in front of the good old black and white TV in feetsy PJs waiting for the old dude in the safari shirt to quit talking so I could get on with some serious TV watching before my busy school week once again took over. Now just to be clear, Marlin was the host, but Jim was the guy who really did all the work and put himself in danger wrestling crocs, and tranquilizing rhinos, and holding onto anacondas. I am not sure what qualified Marlin to be the host, but whatever it was he must have been one tough dude if Jim had to do all the stuff that imperiled his life.

Back to my thesis: Marlin has got nothing on me. It is now late summer and that means I am working hell bent for leather to get all the fall crops planted. To get the crops planted I have to clear out the crop residue from the previous crop and prepare the soil. Preparing the soil involves the tractors and that results in all sorts of soil churning which results in all sorts of varmints running about and me wishing I could crush them under the tires (I am talking mice and gophers not cute bunnies, you know things that anybody would want to crush if they were eating your food). I am really not a psychopath, but these little guys drive me nuts and besides I don’t really ever get the crush them. I just want to, and anyway the move way too fast for the tractor to catch.

They don’t move too fast for a hawk, though. This is the Mutual of Omaha part. I am tilling the soil and 10 feet in front of me is a mouse the size of a rat running for all he is worth. That is until a hawk comes in out of nowhere and picks him up so fast I wasn’t sure if the hawk missed, but there was no mouse anymore so I surmised that the hawk did not miss. This sort of thing went on for an hour. I was tilling and the hawk was sitting the walnut tree and whenever I scared something out, the hawk would swoop in and remove it. You have got to love nature!