Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Road Is Smooth, The Pipes Are Empty

And I am on my way to Texas. I have been proudly checking items off my To-Do list for days now, putting the farm asleep for a while so I can seek my fortune near the Brazos. I vacillated between that There’s-So-Much-To-Do freakout and that self-satisfied Hey-This-Is-Starting-To-Look-Pretty-Good conceit. I exist now somewhere between the two, which is the only reason I’m able to post.
The Greenhouse On The Other Side Of the Creek saga continues. I brought over some fans and some shelving units today, significant because that clears out the middle of the field and the area around Sam’s barn. It makes the whole area look a bit more manageable, instead of the jumbled mess it’s been the last few years. Only a hundred more trips.
I’ve graded my neighbor’s road for them, and it will hopefully stay in fairly decent shape until I return. I went up that road in a friend’s Jeep the other day and it jarred my bones but good. My twenty year old Toyota gives a smoother ride. Jeeps are good if you’re a prospector, I guess.
Heat lamps are on in the well house. I’ve layed in a good supply of chicken food. All the equipment is in the shed. With the batteries disconnected. Pipes are drained in the house.
This farm is ready for sub-zero temperatures.
I had set Nov. 1 as the get ready to go date. I was going to tie up all my loose ends starting the first of the month, get them out of the way, and then coast the last few days before I departed.
One day turned into the next, which turned into the next, and there I was rushing around at the last moment. And I shouldn’t have expected any different, but I did. This year, I’ll be organized, I said.
And maybe I am. Tardy, but organized.
There’s a difference.

Friday, November 07, 2008

People Usually Update Their Blogs By Telling You What They Had For Lunch

It was the nature of his profession that his experience with death
should be greater than for most and he said that while it was true
that time heals bereavement it does so only at the cost of the slow
extinction of those loved ones from the heart's memory which is the
sole place of their abode then or now. Faces fade, voices dim. Seize
them back, whispered the sepulturero. Speak with them. Call their
names. Do this and do not let sorrow die for it is the sweetening of
every gift.

Cormac McCarthy
The Crossing

Ginger has convinced me that this tale is worthy of a post. Her title is: They Don’t Call It Troublesome Gap For Nothin’
It all started Tuesday, after I voted at the Spring Creek Senior Citizen’s Center. I was upstream of the farm, and had errands to do in Marshall, necessitating a drive down to Hot Springs and then over Walnut Mountain to Marshall. And I said to myself: It’s a beautiful fall day, and I’ll take the shortcut over Spring Creek Mountain. This is a road that starts out paved at the fork of Spring Creek and Baltimore Branch, goes straight up the mountain, turns to dirt, goes straighter up the mountain, to the summit at Troublesome Gap, and is still a dirt road to the North Fork of Pine Creek, where it’s paved down to the French Broad. It’s been so dry lately, that I thought the road would be fine. It’s after a few days of heavy rain that you want to avoid that road.
I was pretty close to the top when trouble started. The wheels of my little van were spinning and spinning, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I braked and stopped, and then started sliding backwards. Then I slid backwards some more. And came to a stop. I tried to ease it forward just a bit, but got nowhere. The wheels spun and spun but forward I did not go. I braked again and slid just a bit further down the hill. I gave up on making summit and decided I just had to try to ease it downhill, slowly, slowly, till I could turn around and abandon my mission. I put it in reverse and eased back, but was sliding faster than I really meant to go. And noticed that steering was no longer an applicable concept; the van pretty much just went where it wanted to go. That’s when I started to realize the extent of my problem. I couldn’t go up. I could go down, but not exactly down in quite the way I wanted to. Just down in whatever way the van felt like going. And the edge of the mountain was getting closer and closer.
I should mention that on one side of me, me left, was the dirt face where they had carved the road into the mountain. On my other side was the edge of the mountain, straight down further than I cared to think about. There was a little, bitty drainage ditch between the road and the dirt face of the mountain, full of leaves and snuff cans, but there nonetheless. I started to think that if I could get the wheels into that ditch, then the ditch would guide me downhill some. At least it would prevent me from sliding off the mountain.
Bit by bit, I guided the little van into the ditch, straight back into a rock, the only rock, I noticed, for as far as I could see, up and down, in the dirt face. I was stuck, but at least I wasn’t sliding. I was about to walk down the hill and ask for help, when I said to myself one of those things that selfs say to itself sometimes, and almost always presages trouble: Lemme try one more thing. I wedged myself between the van and the mountain, back against the van and feet against the dirt, and pushed.
And the van actually moved. An inch away from the rock, and six inches down the hill. And back into the rock. So I pushed again. And again, an inch away from the rock and six inches down the hill. And stuck again. And so, of course, I tried one more time. The back of the van slid away from the rock, the front of the van slid toward me, and all of us slid down the hill six inches. And I was pinned. I pivoted around sideways, put a shoulder into the van, and pushed just a bit, just enough to allow me to shimmy up the van and over the top.
I reconsidered this and that, then started the van up and put it in reverse. I drove, or, more like it, slid backwards, bit by bit, by bit. The brakes were useless, but I could control my speed by wiggling the front wheel in the ditch: straight went faster, turned slowed everything down. And down I went, until I ran out of ditch. I was back on the road, all four wheels, and sliding back slowly. I came to a stop after a while, and decided there was only one way out: Up. Reverse just made me slide, possibly somewhere I didn’t want to be.
I put it in drive and gunned it, one last all out attempt to get to the top. I avoided the middle of the road this time, where the gravel was loosest, and hugged the inside shoulder. I slipped and slided and spun a bit, but I kept going and made it. To the top. Troublesome Gap.
I looked around, and coasted down the other side.I’ve forgotten just what my errands were, and, somehow, they don’t seem quite so important now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


The race is on, the annual race to get this farm laid down for the winter before I take off for gainful employment. I've got a few more patches of land to turn over and cover crop, and a few more trailer loads of greenhouse paraphernalia to haul over from a neighbor's field. I've got a little plastic bag of goodies for the van: filters, plugs, etc. I've got to seal off the greenhouses and drain the pipes in the house. That's all that's on my list. I think.
It's, of course, the same list as last year. And the same list as the year before that ....
When I return, a bit after New Year, I'll fire up the greenhouses almost immediately. Build another greenhouse. Get another field ready - a field only about five miles from the house. And make the whole farm deer proof. There's probably a few things I'm forgetting, but those are the big things.
I'll do the CSA again next year, and my usual markets. The CSA is the big thing. I've been disappointed with the CSA the past two years - I just haven't been satisfied with the quality of the shares I've provided. I can do better. I also want to be a stronger presence at my markets. I've been, the past two years, the poor cousin down the way with not much on his table.
The way to get there is to have the infrastructure in place early to allow us to do the work that needs to be done. I need things set up so that when it's time to farm, I get to farm. I spend too much time fixing broken stuff.
All this is possible, barring unforeseen catastrophe. It's the unforeseen catastrophe that gets me every time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What the Dormouse Said

Axl Rose and I agree on many things, and this has long been a comfort to me during my more trying times. I have recently discovered, however, much to my dismay, that Mr. Rose sits on the other side of the aisle from me on the issue of electro-magnetic waves.
This message comes to you, like all my posts, via my dail-up internet service. That is all that is available in this particular corner of the boonies. The FCC votes today on legislation that may/may not open certain part of the air waves to internet service. I, personally, find myself a firm for regarding any issue that may improve my internet speed. Mr. Rose seems concerned that his wireless mike may inadvertantly broadcast one of my posts instead of a live rendition of Sweet Child of Mine.
After all the posts I have written while listening to Sweet Child of Mine! How many times have I been tried during this dark night of the soul, only to find myself bouyed by the melody of Welcome to the Jungle!
You will not be surprised to learn that I was humming some of Mr. Rose's more upbeat tunes just the other day, as I opened an email from our local ISP. The email contained the email addresses of each and every one of my legislators, and contained a form email I could forward urging them to "do the right thing." I had to click on a link to one of my elected officials, click on a send button, and then repeat the process, from my US senators right down to the county dog catcher. Twenty minutes later I had sent messages to both my senators. The sun was quite a bit higher when I'd contacted my congressional representative. It was getting late in the day and I'd worked through a few of my state officials. That's when I gave up.
Such is life for rural America. You don't have the internet capability to demand better internet capability. Sounds like a good theme for a Guns'n'Roses song. Only, I won't be able to download it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Season Ending CSA Letter

We’ve woke up to frost on the ground for more than a week now. The mountain behind Mr Hunter’s farm, across the creek, is ablaze in color. It’s especially magnificent late in the evening, when the sun’s set on our place but is still shining on the mountain. Rye has a tenuous hold in the upper field. I’m pulling up tomato stakes and bundling miles of twine. Orion’s up overhead when I first get up and stagger out into the darkness. What all this means is that it’s autumn. Furthermore, it means that our season’s ended, and our CSA deliveries have stopped.
I want to thank all of you for being a part of what we do this year. We did our best week after week to provide a diverse and nourishing box, sometimes surprising ourselves with what we were able to pick and sometimes sheepishly dropping off boxes that seemed, to us, paltry or repetitive. The box loading every Wednesday morning is joyous and nerve wracking. We wonder if we’ve provided you with the fixin’s for many fine meals, or if you take one look inside and then run down to Ingle’s.
We had a great tomato season this year. They were not only abundant but tasty. We kept our lettuce mix going all summer, no easy feat, and brought the broccoli in early. Our Mokum and Chantenney carrots made us happy, as they always do. As one of my market customers says, “You have the best carrots. They’re ugly, but they’re good.” We kept the deer out of the green beans, so were able to give you some in mid-summer. We managed to keep them out of the squash more often than not. They got the cucumbers, the okra and most of the winter squash, including Isiah’s pumpkins. We lost all of our onions due to an over-zealous neighbor mulching them while I was away last winter. It’s the same neighbor who helps us grow our garlic, so perhaps we came out even. Anyway, we try to provide some kind of allium every week – kinda hard when all the onions died. Sorry about all the leeks.
We had planned to grow potatoes and sweet corn on a leased field in the next valley over, a plan we had to abandon after the tractor inferno. We can’t grow good potatoes here due to a fungus, aptly, named Carolina potato wilt.
Speaking of the tractor inferno, it seemed to be the characterizing catastrophe for the year. It was ugly, as anyone driving past at the time can attest to, and, due to some quick thinking and heroics on my part, there was no loss of life. I still remember my initial reaction: “Thank God, at least we saved the livestock!”
Nonetheless, it put a tremendous burden on all of us this year. All ground was prepared late, things were planted late and some things weren’t planted at all. Several succession plantings were made on ground that was prepared by hand, or with a rototiller. It sometimes took us a day and a half to prepare beds that would otherwise have taken 45 minutes. A number of smart-aleck friends have said that it was good practice for when the oil eventually runs out, but, on the whole, I’d have rather had the tractor. We’ve been through a lot, that tractor and me, and neither of us will quit. It’s running now, in it’s own sputtering little way, and I’m going to give it a complete rebuild this winter. (Truth is, for years I’ve been saying, “Just get me through this year, and I’ll rebuild you. But I need to get through this year!”
Other fun news this year was our ongoing troubling relationship with the deer. They hit us harder and harder every year. My first few years here, I rarely saw one. And then they began to nibble. Then devour. It’s getting a bit out of hand. As of today, we lack a few gates and a few short runs of fencing between the greenhouses, but, other than that, there’s a fence, ten feet high and a bit more than two thousand feet long, surrounding the farm. And, it seems to be working. It had better. If the deer pressure continues as it has the past few years, we will be unable to continue growing food. We can’t continue to let them have the bulk of it, give you the rest, and have none left over. Not to worry. The fence is holding.
Our CSA venture proves to be the most rewarding aspect of farming. I started it after eight years of growing for and selling at farmer’s markets, exclusively. I dared not start a CSA until I was confident the farm had grown to the degree that we would be able to provide adequate shares. I sometimes think I jumped the gun. Many of you have told me I did not. The thanks we receive from you, week after week, is somehow more meaningful than the thanks we receive from market customers. Perhaps because you’re in it for the long haul with us. Perhaps because you have the right to complain but don’t.
Many of you joined because it’s the easiest way for you to get fresh veggies. Others joined because you don’t want to support the corporate food chain. Others joined because you believe in keeping farms part of your community and part of your landscape. Every year it is driven home to me, harder and harder, how valid all of these reasons are, and how important all of these issues are to our small community and to the world at large. We’re going to keep doing what we do, and we’re happy that you’re along with us. We never expected it to be easy. We just sometimes wish it was a little less hard. This farm is here because we sell vegetables, and for no other reason. We have no other sources of income. That’s rare, both in Asheville and across the country. All to often, sustainable agriculture is sustained by capitol from somewhere else. We‘re not doing it that way. We’re doing it with old equipment and second hand tools. The scrap yard is my favorite parts store. And we’re having a blast doing it and we’re going to keep on turning over ground and coaxing vegetables to grow and somehow or another filling boxes every week. Your CSA membership is a vote for self-control of your food system. It’s a vote for small-scale, family oriented businesses of every kind.
The bottom line, however, for you, is whether you got your money’s worth or not. We sincerely hope you were happy with your involvement with us this year, and will be with us next year. That’s for you to decide.
We’re in a two year drought, but there’s still water every time I fill my glass at the kitchen sink. Gas is expensive, but I can still buy it whenever I need to, pour a bit in the pump, and spray some water on my fields. I complain about the age and the condition of our equipment, but I can keep it running, and can always scrape together enough cash for the necessary tools. The corporations take a greater and greater role in our food supply every year, but we have just as many CSA members as want and our markets are full of people every week-end. It’s bitter, icy cold every morning, but the sun still comes up. We’re blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Not a day goes by that I don’t say that to myself, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about farmers the world over with no water at all, or with no choice of what to plant, or with no hope of keeping their farms. All in all, we’re pretty lucky.
The winter sees me completing the deer fence, rebuilding the tractor, and building another greenhouse. I’ll also help a friend sell some Christmas trees, and also help another friend with a habitat restoration project. That first sentence lists what should help make some money for next year. The second sentence should make enough to see me through the winter.
My friend Carolyn worked on an organic farm in Texas this year. This is her favorite joke: A farmer from Texas meets a farmer from North Carolina. The farmer from Texas says, “I can get in my truck in the morning and drive all day. Then I get up the next morning and I drive all day. Then I get up the next morning and I can drive all day and I still haven’t gotten to the other side of my farm.” And the farmer from North Carolina says, “Yep. I used to have a truck like that.”

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