Now that the rainy days of May are gone, and the humid, dusty days of June are here, it is really feeling like Summer. Despite the May 14th hail damage, it doesn’t appear that our tomatoes will be late. We think perhaps our switch to Vermont Compost potting soil might even be pushing them a little early. We start our earliest tomatoes in mid-February, so we don’t ever get fruit until July, and we’re not expecting any until then. But some of the cherry tomatoes have some full-size green fruit on them, so we’d better keep our eye out for color while we’re stringing them up.
In mid-February, right after my birthday, Ben gets the greenhouse started. Every Monday, he seeds a new round of flats. The flats are germinated in the house, either in a cool guest room, or in a closet we have newly outfitted with a space heater and metal shelving. Some seeds, like tomatoes, germinate best in the heat, others, like lettuce, in the cool. Once the first seed leaves show themselves, the flat gets whisked out to the greenhouse where the sun shines. We heat the greenhouse, but only barely; we want our plants to be hardened and ready for chilly spring conditions, so we only heat enough to keep the nights in the forties.
New this year, we’re trying for some fall broccoli. Even the best broccoli farmer I know says that there’s only a 70% chance of broccoli every year, but we found the space to give it a shot. Another new crop this year is celery, which we’re looking at as sort of an experiment. From what we’ve read, Virginia’s climate is borderline too hot for celery, which takes a long time to grow but prefers cooler weather and plenty of water. We made some irrigation improvements last year, and we found a space for it close to the edge of a field where it will receive some morning shade, which may help it keep cool. So if we get some celery or broccoli that we like the looks of, they will make it into our CSA share, and show up at market!
It is not to late to join our CSA! Bring the fruits of our labors into your home, and sign up now–we would love to have you!
Yesterday was Father’s Day, and it was also the summer solstice. And around here, you sure can tell. Many summer plants flowered this week; the day lillies lining our roads, the mimosas at the swimming hole, the rogue sunflowers in the middle of our fields, and the black-eyed susans, chickories and milkweeds in forgotten pastures are all capitalizing on the nearly 16 hours of sunlight. The berries are ripening; I harvested the first blueberries and raspberries this week. And we always harvest garlic near the solstice, because the bulb size peaks with the longer days.
We can’t help but feel some kind of relief on the occasion: we made it to midsummer! It feels like we’ve reached the top of the pass, and can now coast downhill. From now on, the days will grow steadily shorter, the weeds will grow steadily slower, and before we know it, the season will wrap itself up. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of work to do–we haven’t even started to harvest tomatoes yet!–but it is somehow reassuring to know that we’re over the hump.
About three inches of snow fell last night. Coarse, wet, heavy spring snow. On nights like these Ben and I tag-team through the night to keep the high tunnel and greenhouse free of snow. He stays up to the wee hours, and then sets an early morning alarm for me.
This morning, the greenhouse looked like an abandoned museum exhibit, with the dim first rays filtering through the poly walls to settle on the gossamer row cover draped over our seedlings. Many of them are garden starts to sell at our first markets in April. There are tomatoes, of course, and lettuce, and three generations of basil, herbs and flowers. But there are farm seedling there too. All of the farm eggplants and peppers have been seeded, most of the spring brassicas, our first tomatoes, and our chard. We will seed more today–our second generation of farm lettuce, the first dill, and flowers for sales, including, incredibly, the first sunflowers.
This last night, the snowy one, was the first that we dared to leave all of our cold-sensitive seedings out in the greenhouse. Last week we risked first one flat, then four, before we felt confident enough in our wood stove and the little electric heater under the bench. There is no perfect solution; either we carry sensitive flats in every night, disturbing roots, exposing them to our next clumsy move, and depriving the plants of the first rays of the sun, or we risk that cold, or chilling injury, sets them back.
There are also seedlings in the bakery. Yesterday the rye sprouted, and today, wheat. I am working on developing a dense, Danish-style dark pan bread, which is a complete departure from most of the bread I make. I am going for toothy, dark, and moist, a bread that makes a meal with bit of smoked trout and dill. It is recipe-development time at Little Hat Creek Farm. I’m learning the behavior of flours from Carolina Ground and Woodson’s mill, tweaking current recipes, and increasing my repertoire of skills. This will be the first sprouted grain I have tried. Last week I experimented with fermenting flaked grains before mixing them into dough, which resulted in an impossibly tender crumb in the barley almond bread.
So go ahead and snow old man, you can’t stop the force of spring that has begun. It may look, and feel, like winter out there, but the true story is told by the first daffodil two days ago, the expanding buds on our Nanking cherries, and the little peepers peeping their spring song.
This afternoon I drove up the road to my neighbor’s house to talk to him about when he might be available to help us out with his 80 hp tractor. Just before thanksgiving, we bought an old chisel plow, but don’t have the horsepower to pull it. The ground is too wet right now, but I thought I’d see if my neighbor had time early next week, if conditions are right. When I drove up, he was supervising some siding being put on an old barn. He agreed the ground was too wet, but said that he’d stop by sometime in the next week. But he invited me in, and said, I want to show you something.
He took a book down off the shelf, a coffee-table book of photographs that his daughter had put together about a few years ago. It was professionally printed and looked very nice. It appeared to be a one-off, self-published book that she had printed as a Christmas or birthday gift. Inside were portraits of family ancestors, snapshots of my neighbor as a boy, sometimes alongside snapshots of his grandchildren doing the same things: playing in the spring-fed horse trough, or posing with a rifle next to a freshly killed buck. There was also a page on Hurricane Camille, a 1969 storm that unleashed devastating rains on parts of Virginia. According to the Washington Post, parts of Nelson County experienced the heaviest rains, with over 25 inches falling in just eight hours, causing flash floods and mudslides that killed at least 150 people in Nelson County alone.
When I got home, I wanted to show Heather the photo of a Camille mudslide I had seen in my neighbor’s book. A Google image search of “Hurricane Camille Nelson County” turned up the photo in the first page of results:
(for a hi-res version, see here)
My neighbor’s house is at the top of the photo. The road is Shaeffer’s Hollow Lane, and the East Branch of Hat Creek flows along the bottom of the photo. The house in the group of trees in the center of the photo is where we live now! My neighbor said that the big trees around the house caught the logs at the head of the mudslide and created a little dam around the house, which is why the mudslide parted around the house. Today, our fields are to the left of the driveway, and our greenhouses are to the right of the driveway. Had they existed in 1969, both fields and greenhouses would have been devastated by the mudslide.