Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall on the Farm

This year we had a long, cold spring that seemed to finally lurch into summer, right before our son's wedding in early June. I think the same could be said for fall's colors. The trees have been green for a long time, then green and dry-looking, then just dry-looking, finally bursting with color for a few days, then, poof!, the winds came and stripped off the leaves just like that (thankfully, leaving our power intact this time), so that today it almost looks like November while still not being quite that cold yet.

We went to our last local farmers' market this past Tuesday, knowing we had scheduled our year-end garlic 'fire sale' at our farm for this weekend, which was a huge hit, bring garlic lovers from as far away as Kalamazoo, MI (2 hours west of us, I'm not kidding!). We are nearly sold out of garlic, but thankfully there is still enough left (1) for us!! and (2) to make powdered garlic to sell later.

We can now totally switch our focus to finish planting the garlic for our 2012 harvest next July. We have ~16,000 (and likely more) garlic cloves to get into the ground during the rest of October and early November, hoping they still have enough time and warmth to get their roots well established. Time will tell on that, i.e., how fast can I plant (hint, hint, I love planting with friends!) and how well the weather gods and goddesses smile on us.

So here are a few photos of the current 'goings-on' at our farm, from pond construction to Michigan State University dietetic students helping us with planting and other needed farm work.

(Photo: Two piles of new organic compost to be spread in the two fields where our garlic will be planted this fall for harvesting in July 2012. Both fields have also had multiple cover crops, i.e. 'green manure', planted and plowed back into the soil for the past two years. The highest compliment we heard today at our garlic barn sale was from a neighbor exclaiming about the beauty of our soil. Thank you for noticing! Yes, we have worked very, very hard since May 2009 to bring health and life back to this land, both literally and figuratively. Although, it is impossible to see, I really took this photo to show the hundreds and hundreds of robins who were 'feasting' on this free lunch, a buffet of life in this healthy compost.) 

(Photo: Our seed garlic hanging in the south end of our barn's loft, harvested in July, quickly sorted into seed, labeled 'seed stock', labeled with the variety, labeled and labeled again, bundled and hung separately to minimize risk of mixing it up with our 'market' stock. These bundles are still waiting for the heads to be broken into individual cloves to plant. We save the biggest and best for our own seed so that next year's garlic harvest will be coming from the hardiest genetic stock that grew in our own climate and soil.)

(Photo: Four of the Michigan State University dietetic undergraduate students who came to our farm to help start our 2012 garlic planting. Here they are taking the bundles of garlic in the previous photo and breaking the heads into cloves. Notice the box, which is clearly labeled by variety. We always work on one single variety at at time, no matter how many workers there are. When you are growing as many varieties as we do (42 this year), labeling, labeling, labeling is the key to our niche at the local markets!)

(Photo: A box of Applegate garlic cloves ready for planting. We planted over 1000 of these huge cloves, which will make gorgeous large heads of garlic perfect for making roasted garlic! Row marker labeled with pencil, which does not wash off as readily as markers, also included in the box.)
(Photo: We plant our garlic in raised beds, the cloves being roughly 6 inches apart, using this string system to keep our rows straight.)
(Photo: An Applegate clove next to cottonwood tree leaves, ready to be planted into the ground. My fingers automatically feel the clove to make sure that 1) it is only one clove, not two that still need separating, 2) the clove is still perfect without spoilage of any kind, and 3) I plant it so that the pointy end is up.)
(Photo: Our last day at a farmers' market in 2011, at the Ypsilanti Downtown market. Today we brought some of all varieties of remaining garlic, 17 out of the original 42, so we needed two tables to display them all. Note the best addition to our stand are the cushioned mats on the concrete between the two tables. SO many people loved it, coming to our booth just to experience standing on it because it feels so good. A friend heard us saying how hard it was on our legs to stand on concrete for 5-6 hours, bought these exercise mats at a second-hand sporting goods store, gave them to us, and wow!, do we enjoy them. Many of our customers told us that they did too. In fact we liked this open booth arrangement so much that we might do it next year, too, even if we don't really need to spread out on two tables. As we put up our tent that day, we noticed a hole - how did that happen? We don't know how it happened, but I think that means we have officially been broken in as farmers' market vendors!)
(Photo: a typical after market dinner, always late, something easy with food I prepared ahead like the red lentil soup complemented with more food we bought at the market or obtained by trading with other vendors. Turnip slices from our garden, plus the cherry tomatoes, fermented garlic scapes, and goat cheese spread all from other vendors. Our dried garlic scapes are sprinkled on the cheese and soup. We also had locally made bread using Michigan ingredients and although not shown, we likely had a glass of my husband's home-made beer, also using all-Michigan ingredients.)
(Photo: Our three bee hives, looking beautifully color-coordinated with the fall foliage. All three have been spectacularly productive this year, although one is currently showing signs of stress. Hopefully we can keep these honey bees alive this winter.)
I recently saw a quotation by Wendell Berry that was new to me. At least the words were new to me even if I already 'knew' them.

"What I stand for is what I stand on"
~~ Wendell Berry
  From "Below" in A Part (1980)

I know I have mentioned that I collect soil quotations and these words seemed like they fit that description. However, I have requested this collection of poetry from our library as I want to read the entire poem to get a more complete feel for the context of this line. 

All weekend long my husband and I deeply appreciated hearing the compliments people paid us on the beautiful garlic we grow plus how much they enjoy our enthusiasm for growing and sharing these multiple garlic varieties with our community. However, I have already mentioned the comment that meant the most to both of us was the one in which one of our customers told us how beautiful and healthy our soil looked. Yes, that was truly music to the ears of these 'old-new' farmers, whose goal was to bring health and beauty back to this neglected spot in our community. To have someone say that about our soil after only two years of healing this 'spot' made my heart melt and was a huge reward for our focused, non-stop life since purchasing this 'vision' in May 2009.

I 'stand for' the health of my community by starting with the health of my soil. 'Standing on' my fields, planting garlic on my hands and knees, feeling and smelling our soil, listening to the wind and life around me, looking at the life I can see in our soil plus knowing how much is also there that I cannot see gives me deep pleasure, beyond words or measure. 

I am sleeping well at night, again, finally. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

1 comment:

Elaine said...

Hello, Diana. Reading your wonderful stories this afternoon has been a treat and inspiration. There's so much I want to say in response to this post but for now, will limit it to "I'm so happy you're sleeping well at night!" Yes, lots more I'd like to say about your soil, garlic, after-market dinners, bees, biology, Wendell Berry, Lorna Sass, and dietetic interns... but I have my own dietetic intern to whom I must direct my time and attention now.

I'll be back as soon as possible.