Thursday, March 20, 2014

Yay For Spring!

''Tis SPRING! 

The fertile season has officially launched - at least on the calendar - and so my thoughts turn to farming, growing and all things SCRANCH.

Truth be told, my brain never really left the farm. As much as I enjoy gallivanting about here in Los Angeles, seeing old friends, gorging on movies and sushi, running on the beach and discussing the brilliant character development on (insert title) TV series, my heart is deeply embedded in the gorgeous black soil of the Red River Valley.

And when my earthly shell ceases to be, could someone bury me deep down in my garden soil? No box, no shroud, just use the frontloader in the barn and compost me direct as a final gift back to the land that has taught me so much. Not sure if this bloggy statement will stand up legally but such are my wishes. Should my survivors be squeamish, I suppose my ashes will work just as well for soil enrichment.

Planting those first seeds 2 years ago.

But I morbidly digress.

Watching NE North Dakota this past winter has, nevertheless, made me grateful for the California sun, even the gritty smog that comes with it. The average North Dakota temperature this past winter (December-February) was 4.3 degrees. On December 16, it was -27 degrees. In fact, I'd heard about a record number of days-below-zero this winter, something like 45 in a row. Crazy, right? All that plus 60-mph winds? For the love of God, what crazy-ass humans are still there this time of year?

Brent, for one. I spoke to him last night and evidently, the 2013-2014 winter was especially brutal. "It was either the second or fourth coldest winter on record, depending on which station you listen to," he said.

In Walhalla, just 16 miles west of the farm, 35 houses are currently without water because the water lines broke. Why? Because they are buried 6-8 feet down and this year, the frost goes down 10-feet deep. That's 10 feet of frozen topsoil, people.

Also, my garlic is still hibernating under a huge snow drift. I had to ask, "How high?"

"'Bout up to m'crotch," Brent explained helpfully. (Brent is 6'4" I believe, so that's a high crotch.)

This bracing reality has cooled my jets. No need to rush back to frozen ground. Anyway, this gives me time to plan crops. Reflecting on lessons learned from the past two summers, I'll make some adjustments. Some crops are getting fired, others, promoted. Here's the pink slip (or reduction) list:
  • Green beans - Too much labor, not enough sales and so, too much waste.
  • Yellow Crookneck Squash - They became orange gourds much too quickly.
  • Carrots - They are harvested so late in the season, they sometimes get wasted, never sold.
  • Tomatoes - I love 'em but it's overwhelming. Maybe just four varieties instead of eight? (Last year, I was making giant batches of tomato soup every single day for weeks.) Plus, everyone grows their own so I don't sell much.
  • Lettuce - Just one variety instead of four, and not so much. They bolt fast and are heartbreaking to till under.
Meanwhile, some crops are getting an enthusiastic 'Welcome, back!' and maybe, more space:
  • Spinach - my favorite crop of all, especially Lavewa and Bourdeaux. I sell it like crazy, it never freezes and I eat tons of it myself.
  • Herbs - especially Lemon basil. Dill, cilantro, sage, basil, parsley, chives, oregano, thyme - they are easy to transport and sell
  • Watermelons - though I will no longer use saved seeds, easy since they were all stolen. I believe the quality was weaker last year - not as red or sweet.
  • Ground Cherries - Delightful, easy to harvest and kids love 'em.
  • Peas - only because they are fun to eat in the garden while doing other things.
  • Eggplant - I still cannot believe I had such success last year, even planting by seed and fighting potato beetles. Amazing.
  • Lemon cucumbers - But only if I can sell then again to the organic co-op. Locals at the market are scared of them - too exotic.
  • Lakota Winter Squash - beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Oh, and sentimental.
  • Uncle David's Dessert Squash - Super yummy and long-lasting. I am STILL eating them.
  • Onions - Like spinach - they always produce, never complain, easy to harvest.
  • Popcorn - Not getting a fair chance to succeed and it's my fault. I need an electric fence to zap those fucking raccoons who pillage every year. 
I told Brent I'd be going online to purchase a solar-powered electric fence to battle the varmints and was immediately scolded:

"No, no, NO. Don't be doing that. We've got enough material around here - we can make our own. We got wire, we got chargers, we got everything we need."

"Um, okay, but you realize that 'we' means you, right?"

"Just don't be buying anything off the internet."
And then, just yesterday, I just had to see the headline, "Grow Your Own Tea"…. dang! Now, I want to be a tea farmer. 


My favorite seed sources:

Echter's - incredible garden store in Denver. Love picking out packets on my way north.
Landreths' - a 230-year old American company that I adore. Their catalogues are works of art and they get personally involved in your happiness.
Prairie Road Organic Seed - a small, family-owned North Dakota company. I met Theresa, a co-owner at the MOSES conference. I went to her house to buy seeds and she and her husband popped me popcorn from their fields.
Peaceful Valley - wonderful company in Grass Vally, CA - this is where I get my garlic and shallots every year.
Seed Savers Exchange - I've heard about this wonderful nonprofit for years but I have yet to get involved. This is the year I learn more.