Eighteen hands

Eighteen hands on the farm.  Holding coffee mugs, slathering sunscreen over bare arms, gesturing and waving in the morning.  Hands to open bolts first thing, and different hands to lock back up at day's end.  Hands to hold ladders, tie knots, write bold black letters on white sticks.  Hands always moving, and eyes watching to keep them moving right.  

My hands stayed somewhat clean, brushing over young plants, writing labels for the sale this weekend.  Pointing at pairs of labels, fingers wiggling to help scan over trays with legions of white tags sticking up from them.  They started among the marigolds and cosmos outside, crushing up those pungent nursery smells, spreading a forest of foliage apart to find the spaces where labels were forgotten.  One hand holding the rough shade cloth above my head, pinching clamps with all its gripping strength to pin up the cloth.

 Marigolds under shade cloth outside

Marigolds under shade cloth outside

In the nursery, they felt a ting of spice (real or imagined?) in the cracks around their fingertips while sliding over the hot peppers: Fireball, Golden Ghost, Habanero, Cayenetta... They avoided rubbing my eyes that were still needing to wake up, just in case.  And they recoiled ever so slightly while searching beneath the eggplant canopy, soft leaves giving way to the occasional spine.  The right hand reaches for my phone, swipes open the camera as the left holds the canopy open to reveal a bright lavender flower.  These plants are ready to get in the ground.

 Eggplant flower under a thick canopy

Eggplant flower under a thick canopy

Hands scribbling notes of missing labels, flicking through piles of old tags, writing out neat lists of labels we need, writing a sample for someone to copy.  Hands wrestling hoses to water the nursery, feeling cold water dribble past the sprayer handle, plucking weeds as I make my way along the benches.

Meanwhile, the other sixteen hands accumulate varying coats of tomato resin throughout the day.  They start golden, then green, then blue, then black.  Fingers sorting through tomato branches, finding side suckers to snap off, laying them down tenderly on their sides.  More hands find the two leaders of each plant to tie up, pulling baling twine through fists, fastening black clips around the stems to hold them upright, gripping ladders to position them a couple feet further down the high tunnel.  Hands pull the twine tight, and hands tie quick knots around the conduit pipe above each bed.  Forearms sparkle with resin, reek like musty perfume, gradually learn how bend and not break a sturdy Solanum.

 Hands tying up tomatoes, measuring out twine, clipping up plants

Hands tying up tomatoes, measuring out twine, clipping up plants

 Phil and Michael's hands tying up tomatoes

Phil and Michael's hands tying up tomatoes

Our hands converge over the picnic tables at lunch.  Cutting an avocado, ripping fresh spinach into a sandwich, grabbing chips and folding pizza slices.  The gesticulating takes over again, hands dancing with our words.  The wind picks up, and the sweltering heat of the greenhouses fades quickly to goosebumps on my arms.  Why don't hands get goosebumps, anyway?

After lunch my hands brush past every last tomato plant in the nursery, but it's not enough to stain them.  They're not handling the stems, ripping off leaves, rubbing along the gritty petioles of the older plants in the ground.  That musty reek envelopes my senses for a while, though, and I dream of the day we're cutting fresh tomatoes for lunch.  After all that, the basil feels smooth and forgiving on my fingers.  It flops back and forth as I search for tags, and I remember basil ice cream and Caprese salads as my hands conjure out its sweet aroma.  The lettuces, too, send up memories of harvests and salads, and my hands move gingerly to avoid damaging the tender leaves.  Hands brushing along the tips of onions flats, just because.

 Smooth, sweet basil

Smooth, sweet basil

Phil and Sophie's hands ended up in the dirt, planting a final bed of those grafted tomatoes next to all the trellised plants late in the day.  They felt the warmth of black plastic oddly contrasted against the fluffy tilth of the newly prepared soil, massaging each upside-down plant out of its pot, striking a hole through the plastic, tucking the soil back against the rootstock stem.  Michael's hands tucked the wiggle wire back over the greenhouse doors at the end of the day, closing in all that activity.  Hands to high-five, and hands to wave goodbye.

 Michael's end-of-the-day tomato hands

Michael's end-of-the-day tomato hands