Month of August

Well, these weeks slipped away.

Due to the personal requirements of moving houses, working and maintaining what feels like a mountain of projects all at once this month, I haven’t had time to update this thing. Despite appearances, we have not slipped away into the void. Quite the contrary! It is the best time of the year!

The tomatoes are on in force, and so I’ve begun the annual canning ritual. I’m hoping to get to thirty quarts this season, as well as doing salsa, catsup, and some other oddities (pickled cherry tomatoes, anyone?). I expect the harvest will peak sometime in the next two weeks, and then slack off as the nights are beginning to get noticeably cooler and earlier. Anyway, I’m optimistic about the haul; I built a whole other shelf today specifically for holding tomato products.

Other new arrivals these past few weeks include beans and peppers. Let it be known: this is the first year of farming here that I’ve ever managed to grow hot peppers. Cutting the water off almost completely when they flower seems to have done the trick, although three years of experimentation with different varieties and sustained temperatures above 80 this summer can’t have hurt anything either. I’m proud of myself, anyway, even if no one else is. Gonna make some ristras, y’all. It’s been nice, as well, to have the beans again after the long break from feeling totally swamped by peas in June. I was late on the bean planting this year, since the first two attempts mysteriously failed to germinate— I blame the trashy soil in the raised beds.

Today, Kathleen and I harvested the potatoes. It was a reasonable haul, not quite as heavy as I’d hoped, but respectable. The lesson for this year, I think has been to put in more potatoes, less spring greens, and no corn. Every year, I get excited about planting corn, and while it’s done okay this year, given the yield I’ll get, I’d rather just have another hundred or hundred and fifty pounds of potatoes, quite frankly. Nonetheless, I’m glad to have potatoes in, it’s definitely one of the more tangible feelings of accomplishment I get in a season. Something about uprooting several months worth of food in the space of an hour just feels luxurious and decadent, you know? Anyway, of the five varieties we did, I’m most impressed with the quality of the Colorado Rose— beautiful, large, relatively uniform red potatoes. The Russet Silverton, unsurprisingly to me, did terribly, and the other three— Yellow Finn, German Butterball and French Fingerling— were the workhorses I’d expected. I think this is the last year I do Russets. The yield is far lower than any other variety, the rats seem to favor them more than anything else, and they’re just, truth be told, kind of bland. They’re also about a dollar for five pounds in the store, so why bother? Next year, more French Fingerlings, no Russets.

From pommes de terre we go to pickling the apple trees (nice transition there, right?). Both the trees by the garden are about ready to be picked, so I’m going to start hauling them in next week, and after they’ve sweated for a bit, we’ll press them for cider and then I’ll get around to making brandy later this fall. Eau de Vie for all the farmhands will ensue, hopefully.

On the subject of booze, the hops desperately need to be picked— I’ve got a wet hop ale scheduled to be brewed early this coming week, and the rest I’ll dry out and freeze. The chest freezer is getting mighty cramped these days, but that is really just a good excuse to eat more of the hog.

Speaking of hogs (I am an unstoppable segueing machine! Hot damn!), on Wednesday this week Kathleen and I went to OSU’s “Integrating Pigs Into a Diverse Small Farm Operation” class in Corbett, OR, which was about as sexy as it sounds, which is to say, very. We toured Growing Seeds farm, which hosted the class, and then listened to Gene Olson from OSU and Chris Roehm of Square Peg farm in Forest Grove talk about aspects of raising hogs on small farms— feed, health, pasturing, farrowing and breeding, and so on. It was very informative, and of course made me all the more regretful for not raising a couple pigs this year, but there’s always next season. The real highlight, of course, was playing with these guys:Image

 

Growing Seeds had two sows that had farrowed recently, and so there were a lot of baby pigs enjoying the mud, sun and attention from people happy to give them scritches.

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Of course, no journey to another farm would have been complete without the ever helpful, always well behaved Hazel, who I’ve also taken to referring to simply as the World’s Worst Farm Dog, given her startling ability to always find and stand on top of seedlings. Hazel, who had never seen a pig before, let alone two dozen pigs, was to say the least, excited.

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That, as you can perhaps tell, is a picture of me holding down a very unhappy dog who would like nothing better than to eat as many piglets as possible in the space of about a minute, and who was very displeased at the sight of a 250 pound sow coming close to the fence and snorting at her before the wow shuffled back to the mud and what I can only imagine is the rather tiresome task of being a mother to about eight piglets. Said sow:Image

Despite the poorly behaved dog, however, it was a good trip, and a nice break from the normal. One of the best parts of farming on Vashon last year was the close proximity to so many other small farms, and the tight knit community there that made visits and tours and workdays so easy to arrange. It’s a bit harder here in the Willamette valley, but it’s always nice when it happens. It’s valuable to see what other people are doing, both to get ideas and inspiration, and to spend time with people who know and understand what you’re trying to do. The validation of shared suffering is hard to find sometimes in this largely solitary pursuit. For me too, as a current member of “the youth”, it’s invaluable to spend time amongst people who’ve been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive, and to gain some of that insight and wisdom, cranky and cantankerous though it may occasionally be. The rural world is changing, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Either way, though, if we’re going to make it as young and beginning farmers, we need to figure out ways to build our own rural communities. The churches are gone, the schools are gone, most of the towns are gone, let alone the small feed stores and farm stores and rural veterinarians happy to make midnight calls to a farm. So that’s the question facing us: how do we do it? I think talking to the old-timers is as good a place to start as any, and at the least, we’ll get some good stories out of it.

So, this is my missive for now. The very last of the fall and winter plantings will go in tomorrow, although I may try to sneak in another round of radishes sometime around the end of September. Other than, that, we’re in the thick of it; sadly, our camera is broken or I’d have many lovely pictures of tomatoes for this thing. Words will have to do.

Harvesting these weeks: Kale, Chard, Basil, Leeks, Cherry Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Beans, Flowers, Hops, Potatoes, Peppers (Hot), Peppers (Jalapeno), Peppers (Sweet). I love this time of year— cool nights, warm days, tomatoes on the vine, potatoes in the cellar, garlic in the kitchen, squash almost ready to harvest, saison in hand. A good time of year for bike rides and grilling and enjoying the fruits of a long seasons worth of work.

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