Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Un-Education

Hwy 55, last week
Already, this season, I've learned one big lesson: There will be no learning this season.

Rarely have I seen Brent flustered and unsure but today, I did. Thanks to all the late-season rain and consequent floods, farmers are stuck between a muddy rock and an economic hard place.

Seeds still in packet - sigh
A few days ago, Brent explained to me a common farming formula, which is, that every day after May 10 that you don't have seeds in the ground, the farmer can plan to lose 1/2-3/4 bushels a day. Furthermore, the deeper in to the season a farmer waits to plant, the more he is penalized on his crop insurance. (Though I am still learning about what this means, I believe the cut-off date is June 10.)

Right now, every farmer in the region is walking around with a spinning mind, asking himself, "Do I dig up and replant? Wait until after this rain passes? Will it be too late?" and the bigger question, "Is the 2013 season going to be a total washout?" The latter is the scariest question of all - no crop means no income and again, the damage to one's crop insurance with regards to annual averages. Talk about taking a long-term gamble - hoo boy....

Sitting on the mower today, Brent sounded nervous. "I'm not sure what to wish for, more rain - which is due late next week - or hot and dry," he said. "Either way, it ain't going to be easy." 

Nearby "field"
And then Brent, a man who has been farming nearly all of his 56 years, said something that was so strange and bizarre, it made perfect sense to me:

"After doing this year after year, the only thing you learn is that no two years are the same. You're learning but you're not really learning. Every year is starting from scratch."

He painted a grim picture that was suddenly clear. Though one may gain experience, anecdotes and a body of knowledge each year, Mama Nature shakes that big Etch-a-Sketch in the sky and it begins anew. While the older generation continues to compare everything to a big storm in 1950, Brent's generation still refers to 1997 as a measurement. Looks like 2013 will register in there too, somewhere.  Basically, we're all a bunch of hairless meatballs running around on a blue marble trying (and mostly failing) to make sense of it all - liberating and depressing all at once.

All this makes me wonder what I could possibly learn in my own tiny effort at growing food here. Right now, I guess, I'm learning to wait and it is not easy.

Though my garlic and shallots planted last fall survived nicely under all the straw mulch, they still need more sun and heat. In my uneducated opinion, my square section of earth looks healthy and ready for seeds but Brent tells me it is too soon. I kick the dirt and see he is right - though a chalky, white crust has formed on top, it is still dark and moist below.

After uncovering the garlic - photo by Kirk, who helped!
I also see random weeds and quackgrass already trying to take over and we agree that it could use one more run with a cultivator. "If we do it now, you'll get nothing but mud balls," says Brent.

Strange that I planned it so well to get here early and now I'm just waiting around, feeling anxious. One thing I've learned, I understand why country folks talk about the weather so much.

Last week, in the nearby town of Leroy

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