June 8, 2009

It has been a shockingly long time since I’ve been able to write anything…but there are no lack of good excuses. If I were to sum them up they’d be: chorus, summer planting, weeds, root cellar project, baby chickens and turkeys, voice practice, SF Giants games, tomatoes, shade house construction, weeds, drumming up more business for our CSA, Farmer’s Markets, harvesting crops, Sinfonietta rehearsals and concerts, new gardens, weeds, and the all important coffee and newspaper.

Now that I’ve spelled out where 95% of my waking time goes, I can narrow the topics to items of interest. I’ve wanted to lament the whole tomato ordeal for some time, so I’ll start with that. As usual, we started a bunch of heirloom tomatoes from seed in the greenhouse. We were completely on time this year, those seeds were in at the end of January. By April we had some pretty robust looking transplants that I was feeling proud of. Then we had that hundred-degree mini heat wave. We didn’t get the shade cloth on the greenhouse, and suddenly my little darlings looked like they’d been deep-fried. Not all dead, but mostly dead. My helper Areceli opined that perhaps they were getting too much water. This can happen in the greenhouse, so we backed off a little on the watering. Let’s just say that while a reduction in moisture may have been in order, whatever we did was a bit much. The outcome of all this was, that I had about 100 seedlings I wasn’t ready to toss out completely, but it was obvious at the end of May that we had nothing that was worth a damn ready to plant. Time for the backup plan, known as Orchard Hardware Supply. For about $23 I bought something like 29 tomatoes (tip!–if you look for the 6-packs where there are two stems in some of the cells you get free plants, since tomatoes can be seperated prior to planting!). But oh, how like loaves of white bread they were. Ace. Celebrity. Better Boy. Early Girl. Super Sweet 100. A virtual lineup of what’s boring and predictable in the world of homegrown tomatoes. I was pleased to find some Mortgage Lifters and even a Lemon Boy, but oh the shame of it all….a farmer who has to go to the hardware store. So each of those humdrum plants is in the ground now, with its smattering of rock dust fertilizer and black compost. But the good news is, about 85% of my crispy seedlings pulled through, and I’m gonna plant them anyway. Who knows if they’ll amount to anything, but summer isn’t summer without orange tomatoes. Hmpf.

This is also the first year where, as we head into summer, the gardens are in some semblance of control. We’ve burned and mowed and sprayed and hand-weeded and all in all, the property is more or less relatively free of weeds. That’s saying a lot, for this place. We are paying the price for at least 3 years running in which we failed to control weeds and they went to seed on us, which is of course the real problem. Weeds are just fine until they can reproduce themselves, then there’s hell to pay. But to be fair, this is also the first year in which I have been able to be working on the farm enough to do something about it. Today I sprayed 90% of the gardens, a task that took from 7am to 3 pm roughly. And as soon as it’s finished, it’s time to go back and do it all over again in about a week. I’ve learned to use a dangerous but effective method…..set the sprayer for very coarse droplets so as to minimize aerosolizing, and keep the pressure in the tank very low. Keep the sprayer nozzle very close to the ground and always go around, not over, plants you care about. Work close to dawn and dusk so there is no wind. Place only the tiniest amount of relatively concentrated (5-7%) spray right on the weeds, not the soil and certainly not on anything expected to live. It takes a great deal of time and practice but the weeds die with nearly surgical precision. Of course, it’s dangerous because any mistake kills a vegetable or flower….the watchfulness needed to recognize tiny desirable plants in a sea of weeds is very tiresome…but there’s the old adage, "get ’em while they’re small". The more we manage to do this, the easier the work becomes.

 Baseball season has as usual exercised its influence over life on the farm. I have a routine of getting up early, and doing as much as possible, but taking 2-3 hours to crash or nap during the afternoon or early evening, after which there is time for more work. This is where SF Giants baseball comes in. We’re lucky enough that the home team usually has several innings that are perfect for falling asleep, especially during away games. I find that innings 1-3 are great to watch, 4-7 are for dozing or outright loss of consciousness, and 8 and 9 contain either great highlights or time to gradually wake up while wondering how so much could go wrong in one short nap. The only exception to this is Tim Lincecum’s glorious pitching, which usually calls for extra time staying awake. It’s pretty funny, even though we aren’t that close to SF there are quite a few farmers who are Giants fans. Go figure.

 Speaking of turkeys, the birds have been particularly challenging this year. I really don’t know why, but I can attribute some of it to the bad start we had. For those who don’t know, several of our birds were attacked by a dog belonging to an irresponsible neighbor. We had 3 turkey hens that were injured and subsequently nursed back to health, but the hens in question were experienced mothers that may never reproduce again for all I know. The ones currently reproducing to fill the void are brain dead. So we’ve had to deal with a lot of utterly vile problems. Abandoned chicks. Rotten eggs. Flies. Fly traps. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination lest I cause remotely induced retching. Just remember, we’re helping conserve rare breeds, and some days it’s pretty obvious why the breeds are rare. The peafowl are faring somewhat better. As of today there are  7 chicks with two mothers. Peahens are doting parents, carefully guarding their chicks all day long, and the chicks never wander more than a few inches away from the hens. They really are amazing to watch. The chicks constantly make a sort of soft whistling sound….it’s very endearing. Chickens are doing fine. We have one named Thermo currently living in the bathtub, but that’s a looooong story.

And after a triumphant Carmina Burana and a really decent collage concert performing a Cesar Franck duet for soprano and alto, the concert season is OVER. It was fun, but all those trips to SF were just about making us psychotic. I’m looking forward to a long summer of working on my own singing, and just maybe I’ll figure out what it is my long-suffering teacher is trying to get me to do with those high notes.

So that’s the overall update from the farm, hope everyone had a good spring!