Surviving the season might bring you to your hands and knees.
From the start, conditions were against my spring broccoli crop. Unseasonably cool temperatures right after transplant can cause cole crops to bolt, which means there is no marketable head. The plant just goes straight to flower.
In an effort to hedge my bets against the failure of any given crop, it is my practice to plant a few different varieties and hope that at least one type will persevere. Of my broccoli, one bolted while the other soldiered on. The surviving rows were late but lush, and just before the heat struck, they were “making-up” building a crown at their core. Unfortunately high temperatures make broccoli bolt, too. So, in a day’s time I saw the burgeoning falter, and in another day the tight beads broke into yellow buds. Many will just rot. I’ll not pick half of what I planted. I’ll do things differently next time, next planting, next season…that’s the internal language, my lesson learned, that gets me through the unmitigated waste of time and resources.
When you get down on your hands and knees to plant your first vegetables, you’ll soon see that the soil is not a mere medium but a living world of crawling tiny things. Dirt is a dense forest for and of creatures much smaller than the deer, but who, like the deer, will try to eat your lunch every day. Don’t be fooled by the pictures, attaining food is very competitive. And so farmers don’t just grow it, but they have to stave off and protect almost every single crop from other hungry and well-positioned organisms. It is more of a struggle than a pastoral cornucopia. Farmers talk about this among themselves. In fact it is the basis for most farmer-to-farmer conversations. But for the most part they don’t have the time or patience to explain to 98 percent of the population, those that don’t farm, how miraculous and tentative every bite actually is; vanquished of weeds, wrested from the claws of beetles and bacteria, nurtured through droughts, prayed over in deluge.
Early this summer I received an invitation to a benefit garden tour. These aren’t gardens in the normal sense, something to feed a family or inspire a watercolor, instead they are usually large homes with appendages of green that architects and designers and landscapers have created from the remains of what was once, most likely, a farm field. But the invitation says it more euphemistically than that with the term “post agricultural.” As if such a thing is possible for two-legged creatures with big appetites. I don’t know if it is because I am a farmer or in spite of being one that I stay amazed, stunned really, that we have enough to eat at all.
Marilee Foster farms and writes in Sagaponack.