Waiting over winter

So much youth and newness surrounds this time of year.  Buds and blossoms creaking open, shoots breaking through soil, tender baby transplants being tucked into the earth.  It's so easy for me to focus on the novelty and freshness of firsts, and get swept away in the excitement of seeing the first blossom, the first sprout, the first harvest.  Just this afternoon, as the Tuesday crew set out zucchini plants over freshly laid plastic in the new high tunnel, we marveled at the miniature yellow fruit that some of the plants were already producing.

 Teeny yellow zucchini fruit already formed before transplanting

Teeny yellow zucchini fruit already formed before transplanting

All these things are awe-inspiring, and if I allow myself to stay present and appreciate each one, they're all special and meaningful.  By this point in the season, though, all the cuteness starts to blend together for me.  It's too much to take in.  I get tired of relishing new life.  Yes, the tomato stems are thickening exponentially and the first round of red kale has clearly taken root and started to settle in.  But nothing we've planted this season is anywhere near maturity, or gives off a sense of wear and age.  Nothing is strong yet.

Into this super sweet nursery game came flooding the overwintered cauliflower and carrots today.  The cauliflower, though it looks fresh and tender after harvest (and to the palette it very much is!) , seems epically ancient compared to all our new starts.  It was planted early last fall into widely spaced rows, and has been bearing every last hailstone and wind gust over the past half year.  The early heads came on a couple weeks ago, and today we harvested all two hundred bed-feet of the Picasso variety.  Its skin darkens to a light gold color after its nests of leaves retract to expose the rough, lumpy cauliflower heads.  There's another two hundred feet of Chester still wrapped tightly under whirls of leaves.  We'll keep an eye out for that second wave of bright heads poking forth from beyond the cabbage raab. 

 UO Environmental Studies intern Hao with overwintered cauliflower

UO Environmental Studies intern Hao with overwintered cauliflower

In comparison to all the immature plants in the nursery and fields now, they remind me of elephants: old, lumbering relics of last season's abundance, some wider than dinner platters and several pounds each.  All but a few totes are bound for the food bank.

 Relics of last season

Relics of last season

Beyond that, there are just a few crops that remain from last year's plantings: a bed of stalwart leeks that we'll start to harvest this week, some greenhouse chard that's still buttery even as it starts to bolt, and some rogue carrots that we gave up on in the fall.  They'd been under row cover and their tops melted to sludge in the steamy heat of late summer, so we had nothing to pull them up with.  Plus, we'd harvested many tons of them over a few weeks for Fill Your Pantry and the food bank, and were ready to quit for the winter.  They sat.  They waited through the darkest days.  In early spring, they slowly started sprouting new greens from their shallow crowns, and this morning we found two long patches of them where the fall beds once flourished. 

 Michael and Sophie harvesting carrots on the broad forks

Michael and Sophie harvesting carrots on the broad forks

With some quick work on the broad forks, Michael and Sophie loosened both patches while I helped pull them out of the ground and our new UO interns Hao, Mo, and Huiyang tackled breaking the tops off.  To our surprise, they're still sweet, super crunchy, and not too damaged by rust fly maggots or rot.  

 Crunchy, sweet overwintered carrots

Crunchy, sweet overwintered carrots

All morning, I was in awe of how different these crops feel from all the new plantings.  They've weathered so much over the past several months.  By our standards, they should be haggard, weak, or even rotting away by now.  Maybe if the winter was less mild they wouldn't have made it.  Maybe if we'd left them for another few weeks, they would have bolted or burned in the new sunshine.  In any case, they made it.  The carrots were planted last July 20th and harvested April 17th-- that's just shy of nine months in the ground.  And here we are, throwing seeds down that we hope to rush to market in a mere two or three months.  Pah!  I appreciate how much and how quickly we produce food during the growing season, but my heart sings for the slow, agonizing process of waiting over a long winter to find some sweetness in the fields.