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Leona Palmer

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Farming 101: Growing Pains

Posted: 03/29/2012 12:51 pm

First of all, let me just say that farming hurts. I was sore everywhere for most of the last two weeks. My inner thighs and hamstrings took a particular beating, the former from a mere half-hour of squatting to harvest winter kale, and the latter from the everyday up and down of pruning, weeding and various chores. I wasn't exactly a spongey slob when I arrived, and I'm not looking forward to a painful transition into summer's full swing. I nipped my finger with the pruning sheers, scratched myself in a dozen places, scraped my knee and already managed a sunburn on the two days it was over 80 degrees. Also, I accumulated an impressive number of mosquito bites. My blood is apparently ambrosia to the little devils, and I've been assured of my popularity at bonfires this summer, since those close to me will be less appetizing.

Besides incorporating morning yoga to alleviate soreness, the answer seems to just toughen up and get over it. This is a good reminder that bodies are made to get hurt and then heal, to bleed (a little) and sweat (more than a little). I've had to inhabit my body in a new way, more practically and fearlessly, no longer a carefully-tended ornament of advertising. The split-second anxiety I noticed upon injury was not necessarily pain-related but a leftover body vigilance from modeling. You can't exactly show up on set covered in bandages and tan lines. As a final transition, I cut my hair and declared the door back to fashion closed indefinitely. My body, for better or worse, is now my exclusive concern and domain.

The farm has also been hurting in these first weeks. Our public farm stand at the end of the drive burned down. (Other fires were set in the area that evening.) We're rebuilding bigger and better, choosing to see the setback as an opportunity for growth and innovation (a lesson that is never easy, and mostly repeatedly learned). If you'd like to donate to our fundraising effort, there is a link on our homepage.

I was personally saddened when my little beets got hit with a fungus/mildew that causes "dampening off." The roots basically rot in the soil, and the top wilts to death. We're leaving the seedlings uncovered to lessen the humidity and increase air circulation. We've also put them out in the full sun on warm days, which seems to perk them up, and we've taken the precautionary measure of giving the rest of our seedling trays a bath in diluted bleach water before seeding further.

Germination of seeds is never 100 percent, but you'd like to believe that the germination of your seeds will be such, owing to your miraculously-green thumbs. However, our eggplant is spotty, our swiss chard came through a bit of a rough patch, and we've had to replant spots of cabbage and red onion. The good news is that the spinach looks marvelous, the tomatoes are promising, and the onions certainly have bounce. The greenhouse is finally turning "green" for the season.

Last week Joshua and Megan hooked up our irrigation system. This required an acetylene torch to heat and loosen the ground pipe fittings to then attach the pump, replacement ballvalves and handles on the various ground spigots and running the heater on the pump until danger of frost has passed. It all worked beautifully for about five days until the pump broke. This, on a weekend I was alone looking after the greenhouse, which then had to be watered by hand: the only mishap I've managed myself. It's being repaired in Lowell, and we ran a hose from the house in the meantime.

Finally, we have a beaver den in the culvert, which drains our fields. They were savvy enough to construct their dam where it is most inaccessible, under the middle of the road. I respect this as a nod to wildlife's suburban evolution, but it threatens a flood if there is heavy rain and has become a bureaucratic nightmare to remove.

Nevertheless, things progress smoothly. We seeded the parsley -- which likes a pre-soak for speedy germination, tomatoes, kohlrabi, basil (lime/lemon/thai), lettuce, chamomile, fennel, sweet peppers, hot peppers and scallions. I pruned and weeded the perennial herb beds, cleaned up the educational garden, and helped move the hoop house (a large greenhouse that held winter spinach and lettuce) onto fresh ground. I also rolled half-rotted bags of leaves insulating the base of the greenhouse away and transported them to mulch the orchard. Megan and Joshua maintenanced our ancient tractor, reorganized the tool shed, turned the compost and spread it on the berries and asparagus and checked the "remay" (large sheets of lightweight fabric used to protect early crops) for holes. One idyllic evening Megan burned the pruned applewood branches in our fire pit as Joshua sharpened tools, and I did nothing but enjoy the fragrant smoke -- until the mosquitos noticed me.

The first flowers have bloomed in bursts: Daffodils throw their sunny heads up to the sky, tiny, vibrant red stars cover the hazelnut tree, royal crocuses stand in groups, and the ground ivy, a brilliant indigo, has bloomed -- almost two months early. The rhubarb and asparagus are rising quickly, and the fruit trees are budding.

It hasn't gone perfectly, and we don't know what's around the corner, but we here at Newton Community Farm are better for it. Farming, I'm learning, is one part obstacle course, one part adventurous labor camp, and two parts planning, guesswork, and abrupt problem-solving. After all that there's nothing left but to just roll with the punches and enjoy the miracle of life happening all around you. Not a bad recipe for life off the farm, as well.

This piece is also featured by Handpicked Nation.

 

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