Week 12 (Chicago Week 10)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Maxibell French green beans
  • Broccoli
  • Spicy mizoona greens
  • Melons
  • Assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Patty pan, lemon, and Lebanese summer squash
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Luscious bicolor sweet corn
  • Okra

Organic farmers’ lives—and your support—matter

My rake tugs at roots and rotting remnants of weeds, golden straw from volunteer oats and the vines that were three varieties of snow peas.

A mass of the jumbled organic matter gathers, turning over and over beneath the strokes of my rake. About 10 feet across the ground is all the weight this old rake can bear. My arms balance gentleness to the fragile implement with steady pounding the vegetation requires.

It all must come off this section of pasture we turned to vegetables several years ago. The rotivator I employed with the tractor could not dig through it. The trusty 800-lb. machine bounced over the dense mowing, barely reaching the dry August soil.

There’s no time to let it all decompose in place. Fall plantings must finish quickly. My senses feel the diminishing sunlight now, about 2 minutes a day. Thought of the tiny seeds that need to fill this place with cool season crops goads me on.

My eyes focus on the parts that make this whole, turning beneath the rake. A plump, purple flower of clover. Stalks I recognize, of a weed I fought almost in vain for months this growing season – every growing season. Quack grass roots, a naked white, exposed from the soil by the huge tiller’s tines.

It’s been quite a season for grasses. So much rain early on- and then now this drought for a month. Around me again, as it has repeatedly for hot, dry weeks, I see dark clouds passing around us.

Sometimes there has been lightening, streaks of rain from heavenly sacks spilling out at rates that flood roads to the west and east of us. All we’ve gotten has been the wind and cruel sprinklings, time after time.

I pray for mercy. Our fall squash in particular has been suffering in a 22-acre field we rent that’s not set up for drip tape irrigation. Jim has been shuttling our flat hay wagon with the tank we bought in the drought of 2012. Everywhere else we had time to lay drip tape or hoses and sprinklers has kept water enough on the plants to keep them yielding, keep them living.

Across the bare ground, stretched my windrow of mowed and turned up vegetation. I thought of how it would compost into fall and winter, of the improved soil next spring. In my arms and chest, I felt the stamina of 60 pushups a day, in my 60th year of life, moving with the windrow.

My eye kept returning to the clover flower, its tiny cartwheels, a joyful movement in the rake’s rhythm. The clover plant’s leaves and stems, separated from the flower, were certainly somewhere a part of this vegetation.

I recalled a proud little farmer, twice my age and half my height and weight, kneeling in an entire field of red clover he’d frost seeded into winter wheat. It was in Walworth County at least 12 years ago. The wheat grain and straw had been harvested. The lush clover, almost to his waist, was thriving. A huge boost in nitrogen lay ahead for the corn crop to follow, once the clover was turned under.

Only a few years later, cancer took that proud, joyful steward of soil to his death. It falls on the just and the unjust. Time, chance and herbicide take us all. Even the best conservation practices can be spoiled, twisted into ill-health by modern exploitation, propaganda and advertising. If he’d just used a disk, instead of a chemical.

You, dear subscriber, are doing the only thing I’ve seen really make a difference in agriculture, the food system, the landscape. In your disciplined, faithful relationship to soil’s service and protection, your dollars and your cooking are making a difference. It matters, really matters.

Later in my thoughts, my brooding and praying, my puzzling about so many days on this land, I hear a sound. Above the darkened bedroom, on the metal roof my sons helped finish last fall, I hear finally, the patter of rain.