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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Eighteen hands

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.  


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Winter's passed

Winter's passed

I think we made it.  Through winter.  I mean, I don't think it's coming back.  It hit me, not earlier this week when I was sweating in a T-shirt or burning the back of my neck in the summery sunshine.  It hit me this evening, when I was walking my friend's dogs in Westmoreland Park, looking toward a rainbow stretching up from a field of camas and buttercup, realizing I was wearing only a thin sweatshirt a few hours after a thunderous downpour.  Just a few weeks ago, such a rain would have chilled me to the bone.  There wouldn't have been any tulips to catch those droplets, or steam swimming up off the freshly tilled fields as the sun shone through the thunderheads.  There's still a couple weeks until the average last frost date here, but this feeling of relief-- six months in the making-- is too great to let that sway me.  Winter's passed, I say!  We made it.

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Closing time photojournal

Closing time photojournal

For all those times I thought to take a photo, I didn't take one until I was making the final rounds of the day: closing up the high tunnels to trap in heat, watering in the army of eggplant and pepper starts we potted up, soaking up the harvest. 

A short photo journal of the end of a sunny day in April: 

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Teaming up with Americorps

Today would be a good day to have a guest writer share their side of the story.  I was in my own world for most of the day, giving an orientation and tour to a new Americorps NCCC group in the morning, leading our last plant sale seeding with a few of them until lunch, and again leading them with potting soil and a couple solo projects later in the day.  I overlapped with Michael, Phil, Sophie, the UO interns, and Kiya and David just for a couple hours in the afternoon for a workshop, but the glances I could steal out into the fields toward the end of the day gave me an idea of how hard they worked out there all day. 

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Tomato scars

Tomato scars

I still feel like a mad scientist, and I'm still in awe of how the only evidence of being severed in half ends up a dainty scar, soon to be nearly invisible near the soil level.  I suppose tomatoes aren't the only organism that shows such resilience.  I wonder if, like an ache from a bone broken in childhood or the deep quaking of long-ago heartbreak, these tomatoes will remember the day I cut them in two and made them whole again.

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Plants to the people

Plants to the people

I had to wait a couple days to write about the plant sale, and I'm glad I did.  People keep asking me how it went, and I've narrowed down my telling to a few key details: the weather cooperated for the morning with sunshine and wind, an impressive amount of people came out considering the dismal weather forecast, there were the perfect amount of people helping out throughout the day, and we ended up breaking our sales record by the end of it all.  We've gotten it to run as smoothly as possible, people gave us great feedback about the plants, and I was personally quite happy to be healthy and have a voice, unlike last year.

That's the short story, and I'm not going to drag into the long story here.  Instead, I'm imagining how all those baby plants are doing in their new homes. 

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Racing spring rains

Racing spring rains

Lunch.  I rinse out a bowl from our kitchen supplies and start to wander.  Duck into the last greenhouse and cut a couple heads from a small patch of salad lettuce that still stands.  Pluck a few big spinach leaves from the neighboring bed, and slip back outside.  Turn the corner to the single bed of flowering arugula and mustards, smell the pungent aroma of arugula flowers as I stride past and snip off a few buds, mindfully and playfully.  A few semi-opened tat tsoi flower buds for yellow.  Across the roadway, I grab several red cabbage flower stalks and toss them on top.  Eat the rainbow, they say.  I walk back to eat at the picnic tables, grateful for sunshine and vibrant everything.

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Evolving visions

Evolving visions

My goals for Wild Heart Botanicals are constantly evolving.  The idea of starting an herb farm was in the back of my mind for years, and it got a jump start when my friend Dana and I started brainstorming herbal business possibilities in 2015.  She'd been training as a midwife and postpartum doula and had been thinking about making herbal products for women's reproductive health.  I mostly wanted to grow herbs, but I'd been studying the ethnobotany of women's health after graduate school and was keen on putting it into practice.  So, we got as far as forming a name and throwing lots of ideas around, and then she realized there were too many unknowns in her immediate future to commit to a business.  Though I would've loved to have a partner, I just kept running with it on my own.

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Tomato stories

Tomato stories

After seeding tomatoes for the summer plant sale, potting up the last of the early tomatoes, letting a bit more light trickle in to the grafted tomatoes, and plugging in labels for the spring sale tomatoes, you'd think tomatoes would be all I could think of at the end of the day.  But no, this evening it's easy to let the tomatoes slip my mind.  The people around me have more important stories to tell, when I slow down enough to just listen.

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How to graft tomatoes

How to graft tomatoes

I said last week that I would describe tomato grafting in more detail, and now's the time because I spent much of the day finishing our stock in the nursery.  Before I dive into the nuts and bolts, I should note that our success rate so far over the past two years has been closer to 65 than 100 percent.  That's not bad in my book, but it's something to keep in mind when you're buying rootstock seeds. ...I'm truly in awe of the fact that any of them live at all!  To be able to continue growing and producing (better than before!) after having half their bodies chopped off and recombined with a foreign replacement is miraculous to me.  Plants are just astounding.  

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Pricking out, filling up

Pricking out, filling up

I was yelling and still not quite making myself clear.  No, I wasn't mad, or even agitated.  I was just trying to give instructions under a greenhouse being pummeled by raindrops.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: the rain on plastic is deafening.  I spent the morning with the interns thinning and filling in plant sale trays of brassicas and lettuces.  It's refreshing and fun for me to help develop new skills with these enthused people.  They pick things up quickly, and so far I just check in every now and again to give pointers on efficiency, another eye to completion, and reassurance that they're doing a great job.

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Japanese exchange... and a start to herbs

Japanese exchange... and a start to herbs

A group of young Japanese students came to volunteer at the farm this afternoon.  I usually give groups an introduction to our programs and FOOD for Lane County before leading them on a tour of the site.  Today, as I started to explain the mission of our program, I caught myself and backed up a bit to some key terms we use: hunger, food insecurity, and poverty are most central to understanding why we exist.  As I explained food insecurity and hunger to the students, their faces turned blank.  

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Whether the weather be fine...

Whether the weather be fine...

People can't seem to resist talking about the weather.  It's always happening, and it's always different, and I guess it's an experience that everyone nearby shares to some degree.  This time of year, the weather tends to be wholly unpredictable in the Willamette Valley.  And on the farm, the microclimates of my days fluctuate faster and greater than anywhere else I've been.

Today I looked out over my coffee mug to a gray morning rain, and accepted the fact that I'd be in rubber boots and waterproof bibs all day.  Just accept it. 

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Full house

The propagation house is full.  It happened so fast.  Not even three weeks ago, there were a couple snow scrapers and brooms, and onion peels still floating around from curing last year, and the house hadn't held baby plants since early summer.  (Back when we had to take all the sides off to let air flow, and it was nonetheless too hot in there for life.)

Now it's the only place life will tolerate.

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Field walk

Field walk

For the first time this year, Ted and I walked the fields together.  In my focus on all the seedlings and greenhouses, I'd almost forgotten the acres surrounding them, patiently braced against winter.  There's an old adage that the best fertilizer is a farmer's footprints- or something like that- and it always turns out true.  Even when there's not loads to do out there, making regular observations inevitably turns up new developments, new projects that need attending, new pest or disease or irrigation problems that need solving. 

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Twenty one degrees

Twenty one degrees

The tomatoes have sprouted.  The greenhouses are full of tender leafy greens.  Eggplants and peppers are trying to germinate over specially heated mats. And the forecast is calling for a low of 21 degrees Fahrenheit tonight.

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