Week 20 (Chicago Week 18)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Norland Red Potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Leeks
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Peppers
  • Red Venture celery
  • Mizxpoona Greens
  • Basil
  • Hot peppers
  • Eggplant
  • A few tomatoes
  • Spicy greens
  • Lettuce mix

We waded, Dela and I, into pepper and eggplant hedges waist- and chest-high. Temperature had fallen nearly 20 degrees. Rain and wind made it feel even colder. Mid-October frost was finally descending on Scotch Hill.

She’d finished harvesting and packing vegetables for Madison and Milwaukee subscribers with Tashana. I’d finished the last regular season 3 a.m. delivery to Chicago-area households. We’d fortified ourselves with some lunch and headed out on our mission before dark.

Through the long weeks of extended harvest, we’d had the luxury of waiting for peppers to mature to beautiful colors. No more. Plants – still flowering, remarkably – were already beginning to feel cold under our hands. We stripped all but the little buds now, saving all sizes and colors we could from impending death by frost.

Branches of the double-row plants were so dense from bountiful rain and the long, hot summer, it was hard to see the mulched paths under-foot. It was disorienting to move, challenging to find the dark peppers and eggplant. I walked in a stoop, feeling around each plant for the weight of a swaying bell, or sweet roaster.

We returned with five-gallon yellow pickle buckets, time after time, to dump laden containers into huge tubs near the pickup at first in the rented field, then wagons on the farmstead paths. It was an amazing last harvest from the dear plants, and our hearts were so grateful as we worked until we couldn’t see.

Writing in the moonlight now after waking in the dark, I let myself grieve a little for the plants. They were still so lovely, so generous. I feel as I do when I learn a parent with young children has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It feels wrong. It feels way too soon.

I think of every step Nature has let us take, every farming task we’ve learned faithfully to perform across 10 months up to this time. Season to season unfolds with us in an order that lets us act day after day to bring all manner of plants to life – up to this point of death.

For a time, especially if winter is mild, we do what we can with floating row cover, metal hoops, bended electrical conduit and hoop houses – all covered with commercial-grade plastic. Elements of the cold, however, limit what human beings can do in the pattern that brings winter to kill back insect populations and weeds, to rest land and rejuvenate soil.

As portions of garden and field had been harvested and were already dying back, we’d begun to concentrate more and more on small corners and beds of cool season crops. Spinach, carrots, varieties of kale and leaf lettuce, collards, turnips, spicy greens.

Wet ground had been making weeding so much easier; it also had been making for a lot more weeding. Where the flush of weeds from heavy rain had overtaken these plantings, I was reminded of the human scale, the human limitations. It forced me to let go of what I could not accomplish. It is easier to do with age and fatigue.

Communities, of course, across the entire season make so much more possible than an individual or single family can accomplish alone. Each of you, in your subscription, in your volunteering, is Scotch Hill Farm. I must say it again and again: it, we, cannot exist alone.

I spent as much of the week as I could, trying to regain control of plantings in the high tunnel greenhouse we just covered with plastic. Quick weed here had demonstrated to us more than ever before how apt its name. It had just about outrun us in this high tunnel when I finally found time to help Dela meet its threat.

Today, as we finished up the pepper and eggplant harvest, and lamented not being able to begin covering plants against frost outside of the hoop house, Dela took a little joy aloud at thought of what frost will finally do to quick weed. I think of her saying it again and smile. I hear her sleeping, resting finally from so much work. This, too, the cycle brings to farming people.