Spring — with its promise of new beginnings unfolds its gifts on the farm. The lilacs bloomed this week. Such a simple pleasure to sink my face into a handful of soft flowers and inhale their sweet purple scent.
When I was a little girl, I craved the first strawberries of the season. After a winter of deprivation, my mouth couldn’t wait to savor the juicy sweet warm goodness of a strawberry plucked right off the plant, one for the mouth for every three strawberries picked for shortcake. Now that strawberries are available all year round I’d venture to say I’ve become only slightly jaded. Maybe once every spring I break down and buy them, knowing those California strawberries were picked under ripe for shipping, and I’m always disappointed that they’re a pale imitation of the local ones I’ll pick in June at the peak of ripeness. I froze bags of them last year from Wheelerbrook Farm, where Farmer Bob has one of the best U-Pick strawberry beds around. We enjoyed them on ice cream and shortcake a few times during the winter and put them in smoothies. I think that the pleasure of enjoying most what’s here, in season, will always stay with me.
Mike, our strawberry and melon farmer, planted a small bed last year, and has just doubled the area with new plants. June-bearing strawberries take two years to produce. He’s also planted everbearing varieties. We don’t know yet what our yield will be, so we’re not promising strawberries to our shareholders just yet. The plan is to keep expanding until we can. Maybe next year! Meanwhile, Farmer Bob on Tenney Street in Georgetown will be opening up for strawberry picking sometime in mid-to late June. Tell him Mehaffey Farm sent you!
I planted three types of kale and a lovely spinach mix Tuesday. Kale is nature’s gift that keeps on giving. If you harvest its tender outer leaves every week, it keeps going until the snow flies and beyond. A small bed of it survived in my garden through last winter, and we ate some last week! Spinach is a different story. It thrives and produces tender leaves as long it stays cool. Once summer’s heat sets in, it bolts. Overnight, it sends up a woody stalk and a seed head. Once that happens, the tender tasty leaves become tough and bitter and it’s over for the spinach until late summer when temperatures cool again. Then we plant it again for a fall crop. Lettuce, another cool weather vegetable, doesn’t do well in the heat either. We get around this by covering beds with shade cloth, and planting it underneath other crops it’s compatible with, like tomatoes. The lettuce forms a mulch layer to keep down the weeds under the tomatoes, which in turn provide a cooler environment for the lettuce. A nice symbiotic relationship I think. This year, we are trying several heat resistant varieties like New Zealand spinach and Claytonia, also known as Miner’s lettuce. We’re also planting Jericho, and other heat resistant lettuce varieties that thrive in warm climates.
Yesterday we finally got the fenced garden into shape after all the damage from flooding in March. Four loads of topsoil shoveled into the wash-outs, and all the weeds rototilled and pulled. Half the garden is planted with cool weather crops. The rest will be planted by the end of the week. The work is physically intense. I feel every muscle in my body. Meanwhile, 25 more chickens are coming! Found a place that’s selling 12-week Comet pullets. They’ll begin laying in about 8 weeks. Now we need to finish their home! Ross and Mike are repairing an old falling-down shed. The roof is still pretty good, so they’ve jacked up the corners and are putting in new posts, ridgepole, and siding. We’re adding a fenced pen outside. There’s nothing like farming to get in touch with nature’s rhythms. It becomes your job to pay attention, to be intimate with the weather, the rise and fall of the thermometer, the frequency and amount of rain, how much the sun shines. Each year is so unpredictable and different. After the disastrous March flooding, we’re now getting a picture-perfect spring like we haven’t had in decades. Spring planting is always a little like Russian Roulette. Will there be a frost? We got one of those in early June last year right after we had planted the tender plants. Will we get another prolonged period of torrential rains like we did last June, when we harvested in the rain nearly every day of the month? Irregardless of the weather, we keep right on planting and tending and nurturing and picking and hoping for the best. Some crops will grow well under the conditions of any given year, others won’t do as well, because of the very same conditions. Last year was a banner year for lettuce. Not so great for tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. We just plant plenty of everything to make sure there’s enough. I love Spring because we get to start all over again. What’s it going to be this year? Wish I had a crystal ball!