July 16, 2011

These Days

To help you all understand how much love and pain goes into growing your food, we thought we'd share a typical Puzzle Peace Farm day:

After hitting the alarm snooze on the phone for the 4th time, roll out of bed at around 6:30 with guilt that we are 30 minutes behind for the day, putting our overall work deficit at around a month and a half.  Feed and water the pigs, goats, chickens. Milk the mamma’s.  Eat a quick breakfast, most often oatmeal with fresh milk, but hopefully eggs with a mix of fresh veg’s and goat cheese on this day. 

Arrive at the farm around 7:30, providing the truck hasn’t had another episode of the won’t cranks. Summertime daily harvest time!… cukes, zukes, squash, beans(every other day along with…), okra and tomatoes. Get them back to the wash room before it gets too hot. Wash them and put them away, hopefully finding enough room in the refrigerator.  If not, packing them away in a cooler with ice bottles while pining for that walk in cooler we wanted to have operational a month and a half ago.

It’s pushing ten o’clock now. No rain in the forecast? Better start watering. This brings on another bout of wishful thinking. If only we had money to buy that drip tape.  Instead we drag soaker hoses and rainbow waterers around that we managed to buy in ignorance way back when we had money, before we started farming. They get the same job done as drip tape but are much more time and labor intensive. This process repeats throughout the day.

Between watering we balance a steady stream of priorities with lists made from lists from previous days or weeks past. Often what seemed to be “do or die” yesterday but didn’t get done becomes less important today for some reason beyond my comprehension. Even more common is the side tracking. For example… While planting that cover crop in the pathways of the asparagus we realize that wiregrass (aka Bermuda Grass if you desire it’s presence) has crept in. This aggressive invader must be dealt with ASAP to prevent a complete and overwhelming takeover in a matter of days. An hour or so later the list becomes the priority again.

Other typical side tracks and items on the list:  weeding; pulling off rotten tomatoes while pruning; injecting BT (Bacillus Thurengensis, a natural bacteria that infects and kills many larval pests) into the base of infected squash to kill the vine borer that has all but killed a large majority of our plants (hopefully its not too late); moving goats, pigs and chickens to fresh ground; hoeing weeds; prepping and seeding beds; working on our equipment (tractors, small machines, and /or vehicles); trellising cucumbers and tomatoes; turning under cover crops; adding a super to the bees; working on infrastructure (plumbing, sheds, walk in cooler, animal shelters…); mulching, pathways and individual plants; and of course weed control, among others I have forgotten at the moment.

Lunch/break time is usually taken around 1:30 or 2, after everyone has become delirious from the heat. Usually a dip into the cool waters of the creek behind the house is enough to revive our spirits and appetites. Lately we’ve been eating fresh vegetable sandwiches for lunch.  There are so many options that it doesn’t get old; cucumbers, squashes, tomatoes, onions, kim-chee, pickles, radishes, greens, carrots, fresh goat cheese… all or parts put on fresh bread we’ve traded for at market or a local bakery. Oh, and mayonnaise… ‘tis a crime to forget the mayonnaise, salt and pepper.

After we’re nice and stuffed and hot (we refrain from turning on our A/C to conserve energy.  Proud to say we haven’t used it and don’t plan to use it this year. It helps that we have shade trees around us) it’s either a short siesta, house work, yard work, uptown for errands, or a combination of the sort. This is also an opportunity for recreation… blackberry picking, mushroom hunting, more swimming… I personally find it hard not to indulge in a midday nap for 30 minutes to an hour.   

At around 4 it’s back out to the field and on with the list. It is still miserably hot but gradually getting cooler and more bearable. By 6 o’clock I’m ready to work all night. I had rather work hard in the evening than early in the morning. With Lindy and the interns it’s just the opposite. So, unless we have sweet potatoes or some other transplants to go in the ground, they usually take off at around 8.  Not to say they are done. I usually continue working until it’s difficult to distinguish between cultivars and weeds, then it’s back home to dine on the fine meal lovingly prepared. Then we clean up our mess, make lists, relax for a few minutes, and prepare for bed. It’s now well after 10 and we’re all worn out. Can’t wait to wake up late tomorrow!

Please, come join us…


July 1, 2011

Under my feet, baby, the grass is growing.

The grass is greener these days and not just on our side of the fence. The black clouds swirl around us and we can literally see thunderstorms strike our neighbors as we hook up more sprinklers and know this one won’t touch us either. Well, that was the beginning of the June, towards the end we all got it good and we are all grateful. We would much rather deal with a little too much than far too little. And thank Glory, we only had hail once.
Our story of blessings in disguise:

The first of this month brought a 10 minute high wind and hail storm. It was a Thursday afternoon and Thomas was trying out a new market that evening in Boiling Springs. I stayed back with the interns, Matt and Erika and we frantically planted all the sweet potato slips we had cut as the clouds rolled in and the lightening and thunder crept closer. The storm arrived, the market yielded an understandably low attendance, and our field was laid out. Most of the leafy greens: kale, chard, pac choi, and turnips were beaten and shredded. The tomato plants were down from their trellises, and the squash plants were all pointing the same direction, on thier sides. Our gratitude was directed towards the market which did not yield much of an income but had unintentionally saved most of the week’s crops by requiring us to harvest a day earlier than usual and 6 hours before the storm hit.

Salvaged Hail Damaged Pac Choi

My dad asked me the other day, "So, I thought that farming was supposed to be less stress but it sounds like your job is just as stressful as anybody else’s". No and yes and yes, Lee. I replied that the stress is just as strong as everyone else’s but mine was based on a reality I believed in and was worth it because of my conviction. A little high on the horse, are we? Probably. I think what I meant was that I personally prefer to be concerned with producing food and anticipating (laughably) nature than answering to boss hog up in the office. But I honestly can’t say I blame or judge anyone who chooses or prefers the latter. The grass is greener over there when it tops a heat index of 110 and we absolutely cannot go hang out at the pool without sacrificing our meager income, so we work. Or when it’s Sunday and you just worked Monday – Saturday, and nope, no day off this week either. Or when you finally make it to dinner at 9:30 pm, pass out a little after 11 and are up again before 6. Or that we came home from market with produce and are broke again before the end of the week. No, this is not a pity party; I do not feel sorry for myself and I don’t want anyone else to feel sorry for us. I’m just through with handling misconceptions or juggling appearances.

We work hard and we are tired all the time and the growing season is rough. Our physical fatigue, dehydration, and heat stress give way to major contemplations about our way of life, absolute fits of rage and panic and complete mental and emotional meltdowns. But is anyone’s grass really any greener? Knowing that tomorrow might and most likely WILL bring any of the prescribed hardships does not change the fact that we will be up tomorrow by 6 as well, and it’s already after 11.

Now that you’re good and depressed, we’ll get to the fun stuff. So here’s our anecdotal pork story for the month:

Thomas went to RS Central Farm (go toppers!) last week to get our next round of pigs that will hopefully be ready by the holiday season. He brought home, honestly, three little pigs that were just weaned and so very cute. They are a mix of heritage breeds which means amazing flavor and great marblezation, and…borderline feral tendencies. We set up their electric fence paddock as usual and set the first one out. The little guy ran straight through the fence and took off for the woods. We all looked at each other and started running. Thomas, myself, Matt, and Erika started a cross country sprint/hike/walk/delirium that lasted 2 and a half hours. At one point we ended up with the piglet back in the paddock. We started back for the house, and turned just as he charged through the fence for a second escape. About an hour later I found myself hiking through all the back trails with a glass of water for Thomas, (he had yelled up and asked me to bring him one while he had his eye on the pig) only to end up in a Mobius strip of woodlands. I never did find Thomas in the woods but he came out later on his own. That night we went to sleep with Peter, as we came to name him, on the loose.

The following day we monitored Peter through the back window, watching as he came up to eat the bait/feed tray we set out for him by his friend’s pen (Loretta and Lucion have been gold star piglets so far). We moved his feed closer and closer throughout the day but ultimately Thomas snuck up on him while he slept. Peter was napping heavily and Thomas was treading lightly, taking almost 10 minutes to walk 25 feet. He paused, fearful that Peter would take off, then snatched him by the leg. Peter paused, apparently groggy, then proceeded the squeal like only pig farmers have heard. Thomas carried him into the pen and held him until he calmed down. It was here that he earned his last name – as Peter Peebody urinated all over Thomas.

Puzzle Peace out,