Week 19 (Chicago Week 17)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Tango celery
  • Garlic
  • Assorted beets
  • Eggplants
  • Onions
  • Fire lettuce
  • Greens mix
  • Collards
  • Pink potatoes
  • Peppers

So much of farming with devotion to Nature requires precise moments to act. I wait until the soil is dry enough to work ground into a seed bed. We wait in spring till the earth is warm enough to plant or transplant vegetable. We watch weather forecasts for a block of 4 dry days to cut, rake and bale hay for livestock in winter.

There’s no sitting around, waiting for dry spells. As soon as vegetable seedlings and seeds are in the ground, cultivating and mulching against weeds becomes constant for 5 months. Controlling weeds is timing, timing, timing, as an old-time farmer once told me.

After rain, we must wait to harvest sensitive plants, especially tomatoes or green beans. We don’t want to spread disease from wet plant to wet plant down double-row beds, 250 feet long. It’s one of many precautions.

Good farming, like good parenting, becomes an identity. We tend the life we bring into the world. We tend it with what it needs at each moment, not with some bias or self-interested notion. We pray the responsibility does not become heavy. We do not want to lose the joy of seeing life in its delicate newness to the world.

None of these observations escapes a grower who refuses to use chemicals. Chemical shortcuts in a mass food and farming system distanced generations from such knowledge. Only one bound to the soil, relying on Nature for precise moments to act, keeps alive this knowledge important to grower and consumer alike.

I wonder if the entire American population entered garden and field to work – every year, whether so many would deny that climate is changing rapidly. Dela and I’ve been growing food in southern Wisconsin nearly a quarter of a century. We’ve never harvested fall squash in August before. We’ve never before made it to the second week in October without even a threat of frost. This long summer, it felt more like my 6 months near the equator in the Congo than weather patterns I’ve known in Wisconsin since 1992.

Changes in climate, swinging wildly from cold to hot, dry to wet, are more and more alarming. Yet we look as farm students of Nature for ways to adapt, to act. We think. We reason. We respond over fear. We know so much life depends on this sort of response.

For a month this summer, we’ve squeezed into each week tasks necessary to restore one hoop house weather weakened over time until a violent storm tore off its plastic covering. As time approached for the last act, recovering the huge structure with plastic, I began closely watching weather forecasts for calm winds.

That precise moment to act came Monday, a heavy harvest and vegetable packing day. Dela had our one part-time helper for just one harvest and packing day. I had to work alone most of the first 3 hours.

She joined me midday. I was working up and down the 92-foot structure to pass the unfolded plastic up and over the greenhouse peak. Over and over I poked a wooden device I’d made 12 feet into the air against the plastic, then dragging and pushing it above me toward the peak.

It was exhausting work. Periodically, a ripple of wind against the huge sheet of plastic warned me not to stop. We paused only to fasten the plastic a little at a time to a metal track the length of the high tunnel and 38 feet over the metal purlins, working from the corner source of the wind. I felt the physical limits of age. It wasn’t pleasant.   

A neighbor I’d tried to call for help, returned from a medical checkup late afternoon. He joined us as we had two sides completely secured. Yet we were grateful for his help drawing the plastic tighter into place.

Wind was beginning to break the calm as we finished. Beds of carrots, turnips, spinach, also some tomato and pepper rows were protected from first frost. We’d listened to Nature, acted with her. In the tired, relieved moment of completion, we felt our actions rewarded.