A customer puts her hand on a tomato, gives it a squeeze and then recoils a bit, snatching her hand back to her side and asking, “Were these in the refrigerator?” I gesture to the morning air, and she rethinks her question and thus, deflated, continues, “Oh, wait, it’s just that cold today.”
Summer ended early this year and so the task of turning things under feels premature. All season I’ve been adding to this field, it grew greener and taller and fuller, and now all that is over. There are rotten watermelons, zucchini the size of your leg and a rank meadow where the garlic was. I want to level this hardworking plot and plant oats. So I hitch up a small disk and begin knocking down the raised beds.
The sky is blue and crisp, tree swallows are migrating high overhead, and hundreds of dragonflies fill the air around me. I look ahead, I look behind, watching the silver coulters cut and fold down debris. Down go the spires of lettuce, chopped are the big beets thus leaving a crimson wake in the dirt behind me. Still, I am undoing all that I have done, and because the undoing takes me row by row, I am also assessing the success and failure at every pass. I come to a section of the field where I had carrots, and for the most part the rows are picked clean, but here and there is a clump of bushy carrot greens, and only when I am upon them do I note the caterpillars that adorn them.
Early in my farming career another farmer asserted that I wouldn’t be in business long if I did not get used to the idea of killing things, and I have. The simple act of mowing or stirring the soil kills things. I am sure mice and crickets, maybe, God help me, even a toad, flee my whirring implement. But here I can so clearly see the grazing worms, swallowtail larvae striped as if wearing pajamas. I must cover-crop this ground, and I cannot wait for them to crawl away to make their chrysalises. Who says they won’t spin right here? So, I stop my tractor and now walk the remnant of these rows looking for caterpillars, pulling the greens and sometimes the whole carrot, then transporting all to the bed of parsnip. When I’m too rough, up goes that rich aroma and out go their little horns.
Marilee Foster farms and writes in Sagaponack.