News & Views:  Plowhand's Journal


A gritty-detail and big-picture snapshot of the sweat, tears (and maybe blood?) involved in running the farm. Occasionally we pause to reflect how this labor and its fruits connect to the rest of the world. Better yet, where do our spirits find nourishment for the work ahead?

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pruning blueberries in the snowFebruary is our month to prune the blueberries. But it’s been cold and we can’t do fine work with numb fingers. We finally started last week and are about a fourth done. It is beautiful on Blueberry Hill, and the birds (bluejays, chickadees, and cardinals) are starting to sing to us.


Autumn started at 3:44 PM yesterday. Happy first full day of autumn. Things have been busy around the farm. Maybe things will start to slow down some week soon. Maybe even some frost which will kill some of the weeds! But frost will hurt the tomatoes and raspberries, so I have mixed feelings.


Happy Vernal Equinox to all. Spring just started at 6:21 A.M. But we’ve been listening to the spring peepers since Saturday a week ago. We finished pruning the blueberries on Monday. I think it will be a good blueberry year. We are now working on pruning the blackberries. They had a lot of disease last year, so I have doubts of how well they will do. Then we go on to pruning raspberries. We will take a break from pruning and divide the rhubarb. Tomato and pepper plants are looking healthy in the greenhouse. It’s also about time to take the mulch off the strawberries. We keep busy!


We were pleased to see Chicago Parent magazine ranked Plow Creek’s Blueberry hill as number one in their Summer Fun S.O.S. article. They entitled it Blueberry Hill Thrill. For those of you who aren’t old-timers, Blueberry Hill was a popular song that came out in 1940 and was recorded by many artists including Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, Led Zeppelin.


After several days of preparation, today we planted most of the potato and onion crops. Potato varieties include Kennebec, Magic Molly, Yukon Gold, Desiree, Mountain Rose, New York 129, Romance, Adirondack, Red Fingerling, Red Viking, Rideau, Peter Wilcox, Dark Red Norland and Cherry Red. Onions included Walla Walla Sweet, Copra, Yellow Spanish, and Red. A beautiful day and a good-sized and good-natured crew made for as satisfying day.


Yesterday afternoon, while pruning blueberries, we heard the first spring peepers of the season. Spring must really be near. We’re hearing a whole lot more birds than when we started pruning in early February. The blueberry pruning is almost done. Next blackberry and raspberry pruning, then on to strawberry planting… We looking forward to a great season.


Cold weather in the forecast. We spent most of yesterday and today mulching the strawberries with straw. We had a big crew: Meg and Jim, Carlos and Erin, Neil, Matthew, David, Heather and Paul, Phillip, our new guests, Chris and his 7 year old Noah, and even a little help from our “competitors” from Coneflower Farm, Dennis and Ellen. And Tutuk and Louise provided snacks. We worked in sun, wind, rain, snow and sleet, got tired, but all in all had a good time. I figure we got 7 or 8 miles of strawberry rows covered, but haven’t finished yet. We might get snowed out tomorrow, but that will be OK, because the snow would serve as insulation from the cold Wednesday night.


A seedless watermelon plant emerging from its seed The seedless watermelon plants are now up in our greenhouse. Seedless watermelons are strange, unatural kind of things. Seedless watermelons are a triploid plant - they have three sets of chromsomes. They are created by crossing a more standard diploid (2 sets of chromosomes) watermelon with a a tetraploid plant (having four sets of chromosomes), which itself was created by another crossing of two diploid plants. The seedless watermelon seeds are hard to germinate, needing special care for humidity and temperature. You have to plant a normal seeded watermelon to fertilize the seedless watermelon flowers so that they will produce fruit. That fruit will have few seeds, mostly soft and white that you can hardly notice when you eat. It’s convenient not to have to spit out seeds, but sometimes I wonder at the bother we go to for convenience! I even think the seeded watermelons have better flavor.


Boo Graham putting plants into the new greenhouseYears ago Plow Creek Farm had a greenhouse, but lately we have hired out the work and used a few cold frames. Now, both for convenience and to be able to follow organic standards, we have a new greenhouse in operation.New Plow Creek greenhouse opened for ventillation


Earlier this week, we had announced a visit to the Thursday evening Farmer’s Market in Wyoming. Sadly, this will not be possible, as we are just too understaffed and worn out right now for the additional harvest, prep and staffing. I (Kevin) came down with a cold yesterday and no longer have the stamina to be out marketing until 9PM after being up since the 5:15AM strawberry picking. No one else is available to run the market. The early blueberry season has been a hardship as it arrived 3 weeks before the month-long staffers who were recruited largely to pick and sell blueberries. To make matters worse, five of our teen helpers are on vacation for a week.

The good news is that from yesterday afternoon until tomorrow afternoon, we have 6 helpers from Reba Place in Evanston. They heard our distress call and came to volunteer their time for picking and weeding. It was perfect timing; I really don’t know how we would have met this week’s market schedule and picking quota without them, and there is now light at the end of the tunnel in weeding the newly planted strawberries.


Friday night became Saturday morning as I and the Mazda rolled in, like wayward jet lag victims, for another flashlight flagging of the strawberry field. Like I said, it’s the berries’ fault. On Friday afternoon, the blue ones told us to add another big Saturday market. We scrambled to get them picked. Then there was a market staffer to recruit, transportation to arrange, a truck to pack, directions to give.

And so at 12:30 AM I arrive at the bottom of my list - flag the strawberry field for tomorrow morning’s picking. I know well enough it’s easier to get it done now that to beat the 5:30 picking crew out by half an hour. The properly aligned headlights on high beam are nearly enough to indicate the starting points of all 74 strawberry rows. But in a few steps away from the truck, those headlights are dwarfed by the other hundreds of lights in the field. I have to stop and stare.

This rattletrap of a truck and wreck of a schedule just stumbled onto a dazzling masterpiece of creation. Spread across 3 acres of strawberry field is a fireworks display second to none. Surely here is a crop of fireflies at peak production - lights too numerous and ever-changing to count, dancing in 3 dimensions to beyond my field of focus. For a moment I fancy that this flurry of activity is secretly operating, by some unknown biophysical interaction, to endow our late set of strawberries with crowd-pleasing, quart-filling size. Then I trudge back to the truck, placing flags by headlight every 3 feet. The gift of the firefly dance is now committed to memory. By God’s grace I will recall it at times when the physical, interpersonal and economic demands of this work dull my spirit.


We finally got the rain we so needed.  Praise God!  We had an inch of rain by last evening and I awakened to another downpour, so we've had plenty.  I know the garden is going to be full of happy mud. 
 
The unwanted visitor of the week is deer eating the lettuce and nibbling on the peas.  They just munch their way down the row and in short order can destroy quite a few lettuce plants.  We also have potato bugs, but last week when I visited a neighbor's garden I decided that the quantity of bugs we have a only just a few.  They really have an infestation.  We still have flea beetles making lace of our arugula and turnip tops and boc choi.  I know this rain is going to help with the bug issues because healthy plants tend to fend off pests better.  The good news is that I have not seen one cucumber beetle and that is almost a miracle. 
 
I think we'll pick the first peas in the coming week. 
 
And, that is what this sleepy valley gardener has to offer.
 
Erin

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