A Memory of Last May
Are you out-standing in your field?
I am. I stand here in the midst of lush green foliage, the juice of a ripe red tomato dripping from my face, gazing at the towering peak of Mt. Shasta. This five percent south facing slope has once again produced sweet juicy fruits of our labor.
These nourishing foods did not come about easily…farming is damn hard work and takes a mind not prone to losing sight of a dream or vision of what can be. Thinking back to the way this season started, I stand out in my field and am amazed.
Following weeks of warm weather, with the fields tilled and neatly ordered into patches of twelve seventy foot rows each, the soil invited us to bring the seedlings out to plant. We set our date for May 19th. Friends came up to help plant, eat, and camp, and at the end of the weekend, we had the whole farm planted. We were on top of the world! This was the earliest we would ever have all crops in the ground. All our energies could now be focused on tending the crops…hoeing, watering, feeding, protecting. Our confidence was up and we felt we would have the first tomatoes this season.
I can’t say enough about that…protect from what? you might ask.
I’m convinced that farming is all about protecting those plants which we choose to allow life and eliminating those that get in the way. Why do we choose one plant over another? Because that plant allows us life. So, we do what we can to organically protect our potential food source from weeds, bugs, critters, and weather, for the most part.
I began each morning with a stroll along the pathways, checking the tender leaves of the melons, squash, and cucumbers, the bright green miniature elongated blades of the corn, the fragile, delicate nature of these beginnings of life being raised to sustain the life of our family and community.
Then came that sudden freeze…passed through the area for just four hours one night and cut short the life of over fifty percent of our crop. Blackened tops of the tomato plants were laid over, apparently dead. Crops spottily dotted the landscape, some black and shriveled, survivors standing green and clinging to life, reaching for the sun.
It was only a brief drop below freezing…they could still have life in them…
This thought entered my consciousness and began to dominate in my mind. I rolled over and hit the light on the clock…five am…I figured I’d get an early start to the day and walk out the door as the sun began to shed its light and warmth back over our small part of the earth. I slowly walked towards the tomatoes, the field that was entirely laid over. Could they really be dead? I knelt down and dug my fingers into the loose soil at the base of a tomato and poked my finger at the stem beneath the soil. It felt strong, unlike the withered blackened tops above ground.
They could still have life in them…treat them as though they are alive…
Although no change was apparent after a week or so of watering and weeding the tomato field, I refused to give up.
Finally after about ten days, I looked closely again at the stem beneath the surface, scratching around at the base of the frozen plant. A tiny spot of green began to show itself near the base of the plant, throwing up a lateral branch! This could take over as the main stem!
Short wire hoops placed over the tops of these delicate plants helped support the emerging branch and keep it from snapping from its own weight. Time, attention, plenty of weeding, water, and manure tea nurtured these near-dead tomato seedlings into full lush productive tomato plants.
So, here I stand, out in my field, tomato juice running down my chin, smiling at the face of Mt. Shasta in the late afternoon glow of September.
Are you out-standing in your field?