How to make compost

How to make compost

There are ten thousand ways to make compost, which is one reason I love it so much. The idea is simple: put organic materials in a pile, turn it every now and again, and wait. Small life forms, most invisible to our eyes, will do the rest. It’s the best example of how we can work with nature to co-create richness, how we can foster life without controlling it, how a garden takes a small amount of initial energy and multiplies it into more than we could ever create on our own.

And it can be kinda gross. Which is cool!

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Ready for winter

Ready for winter

I’m still blown away by what all can happen on the farm in a week. Rains in the forecast. Blissfully sunny days. An unexpected frost over the weekend. A few sizable volunteer groups. We push, and rearrange projects, and let harvest fall off while we focus on the fields. We woefully sort all the peppers that got zapped by the light freeze, take turns on the tractor to turn in the blackened plants, water the last bits of parched soil to get the moisture right for tilling. We spread manure, chicken pellets, fish meal, or lime over neat mounds or entire sections of flat fields, till it all in, and have to remind ourselves that it’s fall— that these delightfully neat beds ready for planting are not the first of the season, but rather the very last.

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Plowing flowers

Plowing flowers

“Odder than plowing flowers,” someday, will be a proverb. You’ll say it when you’re ripping down old wall paper that could eke by for another few years. When you’re cutting a friend’s hair that’s grown beautifully to their waist. When a spring ice storm splits open your full-in-bloom cherry trees. You’ll say it when a friend puts to sleep their cat that doesn’t seem that old or decrepit, and when your teenager cleans out the fridge and tosses a few bags of veggies that were still salvageable. It’ll be the perfect utterance when you’re sorting through all your children’s artwork you’ve saved over the years, and somehow, bittersweetly, choose which pieces to let go.

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Ashes to ashes

Ashes to ashes

They come, they sing, and they go.

And there’s a period in between that no one likes to think about: that period when they’re fading, succumbing to pests or disease or simply old age, leaves thick and gnarly, defenses raised, bitterness overcoming sweetness in their tissues. It sounds like a bummer— and it can certainly feel like it sometimes, especially when it’s premature— but it’s just as much a part of this cycle as the freshy fresh tender baby time. I’ve celebrated the first tastes, first harvests, vibrant colors, bursting sweetness of summer for months now, and in many ways it’s a relief to lay attention on the decline, if only for a few minutes as I drag a tiller through an old bed of sunflowers in the dim evening light. Ashes to ashes, petals to petals, dust to dust.

Well hello, great Fall.

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A week in brief

A week in brief

This is why I've been forcing myself to write every day: because when I set out to document and reflect on an entire week that's somehow slipped past me, the task seems impossible.  There are so many details and conversations and colors and projects that happen in one hour, let alone one day-- and forget one whole week!-- that to try to encompass the whole will be woefully inadequate.  Nonetheless, I guess, I'll persist.

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Preparing for squash

Preparing for squash

It sounded so easy: "Transplant the winter squash."  They've been ready for a week or two already, so what's the big deal?  Just pop 'em in the ground.  

After a full week of trying to get such a seemingly simple project done, I am humbled.  Yes, amazed by how much zucchini is coming out of the fields, dumbfounded by how fast weeds are growing, impressed by the skill and pace of all the interns, and surprised by how much time irrigation management takes.  But mostly, I am humbled by this project that's not even close to done on the eve of our last chance for the week.

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New partnership, old tractor

New partnership, old tractor

What a way to start a week.  Five well-dressed Trillium Community Health Plan representatives are waiting near the road when I pull up at 8:45am.  More arrive every minute as we discuss where to set up the canopy, podium, and catered spread.  They don't waste any time getting organized and set up for the event we're hosting: a new partnership announcement between Trillium and FOOD for Lane County to provide more fresh produce to local low-income patients.  The event seems kind of hyped up, like a public relations stunt, until I hear our board members, executive director, and people from Trillium speak about the programs we're collaborating on.  They're providing $120,000 over the next two years to expand our Produce Plus markets around the county, where people can get fresh fruits and veggies at convenient locations, institutionalize the "Screen and Intervene" program where medical providers ask whether patients worry about running out of food-- then provide them with resources to access the food they need.  For the Youth Farm, the program means an extra $5,000 for diabetes prevention program participants who receive vouchers to spend exclusively at our farm stands.  These are the types of programs that anyone who cares about food insecurity have been dreaming of, that get to the root causes of hunger and the social determinants of health.  Finally, the funds to make it all happen are starting to flow.  

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Snippets

Snippets

Experimenting with a new format and combining two days into one post: a first, and a sign that both on- and off-farm lives have been stacked full this week.  There's so much to share.  More prose coming soon :)

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The last day before harvest begins

The last day before harvest begins

There's nothing and everything special about days like these, when the sun finally breaks out in the late afternoon and our backs are waking up for the week and I have no idea what to write about because any single moment could become an entire book if I explored it.  I'm searching to find the most magnificent part to share, but it's all magnificent.  It's all normal and wild, monotonous and exhilarating, tiring and energizing, frustrating and peaceful.  It just is.  And it's all really, really good.

So here.  Here's this most majestic, perfect squash blossom to top off this most sublimely imperfect last day before Harvest Season begins.  

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Everything by the minutes

Everything by the minutes

8:30 am.  University of Oregon Duck Store.  I'm buying two cases of Listo grease pencils for marking flags with planting dates and varieties at the farm.  We've tried "permanent" markers (they fade), China pencils (they break), and yellow crayon-like grease markers (they don't show up).  Now we have a seemingly endless supply that do the trick.

9:20 am. Strawberry patch.  I'm poking around the plants while Michael weed whacks the end of the bed so we can hook up irrigation lines.  All three patches have been swallowed up on either side by tall cover crop, and I'd almost forgotten about them.  To my delight, they're ripe!  I pick one deep red one and pop it into my mouth, stem and all.  I almost forget to taste it while I search through the beds, looking to see how many are ready.  But then I do, and stand there for a minute, letting that ultra sweet summer flavor sink in.  This sensation will keep coming until fall sets in.

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Onions all day

Onions all day

They planted onions all day.  Patterson and Talon: yellow storage onions.  Michael, Phil, and Sophie, with Hao, Mo, and Huiyang helping until three o'clock.  Four beds that we'd prepped a couple weeks ago, covered with black plastic, and waited for the weeds to sprout and die off under the darkness.  Plants six inches apart, four rows in each bed: almost 5,000 onions.  Mo's mother is visiting from China for the next month, and she explored the fields to take photos while everyone tucked in all those plugs, one by one and two by two.

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Reverse engineered to-do list

Reverse engineered to-do list

Thursday, April 26th: A reverse-engineered to-do list

  • Thin and fill out trays of lettuce and Swiss chard for the plant sale (everyone)

  • Prick out tiny ground cherry plants to pot up for the plant sale (Sophie and Alice)

  • Pot up green onions that are left over from a farm planting for the plant sale (Alex and Kiya)

  • Soak the trays we'll be transplanting (me and Ted)

  • Lay out spinach (me and Hao), plug it in (Kiya and Alice)

  • Transplant lettuce, fennel, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage (everyone)

  • Chat about how to get grandkids and nieces to eat foods they claim they don't like (me and Alice)

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The tractor was running

The tractor was running

While I was potting up tomatoes with volunteers, the tractors were running. 

While I was watering in the heirloom tomatoes, dousing the brassicas that'd been wilting, and unfixing a swath of plastic to let more air flow into the nursery, the tractors were running.

While our program manager, Jen, and I were giving short tours to our youth crew applicants, asking them the same set of questions eleven times over, and thanking them for their time, the tractors were running.

As I closed the nursery back up at the end of the day, spot watered a few trays that looked especially dry, locked up all but one shed, and packed my baseball cap into my bike bag to head home, the tractor was running.

On a day like today, eighty degrees after a week of dry weather and a smattering of rain coming toward us in the next few days, every minute counts. 

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Good tools

Good tools

I'd like to take this evening to appreciate some of the tools I work with at the farm.  I love working directly with my body and hands, and wouldn't want to farm in a way that replaces all my labor.  That's one of the joys of small scale farming or market gardening: I get to be in there, planting seeds and pulling weeds and tossing handfuls of limestone down each bed to keep the fertility high.  There's nothing like the joy of hand-cutting a head of broccoli or gazing out over a bed of young chard plants I just tucked into the ground, and there's no substitute for physically walking the fields to assess how everything's growing.

But there are also many times that I can't imagine doing a project without the right tools, and others (like today) when I realized how much time and energy I'd wasted using the wrong tools. 

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(More than) operating heavy machinery

(More than) operating heavy machinery

I had a heavy machinery day.  More than anything else I do, I think I'm most attentive when operating vehicles that have the power to destroy: rototiller, flame weeder, tractor, box truck.  Today I tilled three of our greenhouses, which gets me even more attentive because I could easily rip a hole in the plastic (which, ahem, has happened), dent the metal bows, plow through a wall, or bury nearby crops.  So that's first on my mind.  Then there's the fun of creating what Sophie called "chocolate cake" on the ground: hundreds of square feet of fluffy, crumbly dark soil.  I have mixed feelings about tilling, which I hope to write about here in the future, but for today I relished the beauty and satisfaction of freshly aerated beds.

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