You Reap What You Sow

If there’s an iron law in farming, it’s this: You reap what you sow.

Amid all farming’s guidelines, suggestions, best practices, rules of thumb, ballpark figures, and back-of-the envelope calculations, this one thing holds true always and everywhere. You reap what you sow.

And yesterday, as I watched with horror and revulsion as the riot unfolded in our Capitol, I thought—and not for the first time this past year—You reap what you sow.

For quite a while in this nation, the president and his enablers have been sowing poisonous seeds, and now we all reap this bitter harvest.

I won’t lie: I am tempted to despair. These noxious weeds are now so deeply rooted that clearing them will be a long, hard job. It seems likely to take years. But the problem didn’t develop overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight.

But here’s the good news, the thing that keeps me from despair: You reap what you sow.

We farmers and growers and gardeners know some things about the hard work of sowing and reaping. Seeds must be nurtured and plants cared for and tended to all season long before we receive a harvest. Perennial flowers can take a couple of years to establish before they grace the garden with their beauty. Fruiting shrubs take longer. Trees, a lifetime.

We farmers and growers and gardeners also know some things about what it takes to bring an abused field back into good tilth. How to transform a neglected garden into a place of heart-rending beauty. How to meet fecklessness and carelessness and vandalism with determined and loving care.

We farmers and growers and gardeners know how to take the long view. We know how to do the work now that will yield a good harvest in months and years and even decades to come. We know that you reap what you sow.

So, my friends, grieve if you will, rage if you must, but only for a moment. Above all, despair not. We may be in the frozen and forlorn heart of winter, but spring is coming, and with it good work to do. Let’s get ready to do that work. Let’s get ready to plant some good seeds.

The Hidden Promise In Dormancy’s Heart

The ground has now frozen, cold and hard as iron. As recently as a couple of weeks ago that wasn’t so. Those days I worked outside nearly in shirtsleeves, clearing out and mulching the farm’s perennial beds, and grateful for the unseasonably mild weather. But winter is here now for sure, and the farm has gone dormant for the season.

I suppose we often equate dormancy with barrenness. And in Michigan, in the clutches of winter, it’s easy to look around and think, “barren, frozen wasteland.” But that’s not so. To be dormant is to be stilled yet full of life. Waiting. Preparing.

For example: This fall when I harvested the last of the crops from the field, I made sure not to leave it bare. Instead, I sowed a crop of winter wheat, and now little green shoots cover the ground. And though winter wheat does go dormant in the cold, it does not die, and when the air and soil warm even a little, it will start growing again. The roots of that cover crop will protect the soil over the winter, and so will protect all the microscopic life that teems in that soil. So while right now the field may appear barren, in truth it is full of life, paused for the season but ready to burst out come spring.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? I’ve tried not to go on at length about the pandemic in these newsletters this past year, because all of us already hear so much about it everywhere else. But this promise hidden in dormancy’s heart is too good a balm to be left unspoken—especially in the face of what we are told could be a grievous winter. Our lives have been dormant for so long, and we are all so tired of waiting, and while light does lie on the horizon, we find we must wait longer yet.

But spring will come. This dormancy will end. Life will burst though the thawing soil with new green growth. And won’t that be wonderful.

The World Drawing Inward

One warm evening last week I worked until dusk, which comes so early now, then wandered about the farm a little. It’s a habit I pick up from time to time, especially in the spring and fall. I did it partly to admire the work I had done that day but mostly just to soak in the autumn silence. No birdsong. No tree frogs calling to one another. No crickets thrumming in the twilight. Not even the breeze rustling the fallen leaves. Only a vesper stillness and the dark indigo sky fired salmon and pink at the western horizon with a thin, bright slice of the new crescent moon. As I stood there, I felt the world drawing inward, readying itself for winter.

I’m readying for winter, too. The farm is just about put to bed for the season—the fields cleared out and sown to a protective cover crop, the hens nestled in their winter coop, the greenhouses tidy and ready to be fired up again come March. The farm’s dormant season has arrived.

Which does not mean an inactive season. There will be plenty to do this winter, dreaming and planning and plotting. I have to draft budgets, set planting schedules, order seeds and supplies—a whole constellation of preparatory tasks that need tending to.

But first, before all that, we are given a moment to be thankful. And one thing that was driven home to me this season is how grateful I am to be a farmer, and for this farm, and how so very grateful I am for everyone who has helped this farm along these past seven years—thank you, all.

My Favorite Turn of the Season

Here at the farm, we’re on the back half of the season now for certain. All the signs are here: the trees along the edges of the field turning red and orange and yellow, the Great Bear in the evening darkness dipping lower toward the horizon, the farm cats spending less time hunting field mice and more curled up on blankets in the house, the sumac catching fiery red, the cool green freshness of the fall crops reaching maturity. It’s my favorite turn of the season, and with it my mind also turns toward next year.

Which is, as you well know, full of uncertainty, given all that’s going on in the world. Planting the farm’s garlic crop this week, I found myself wondering, What will the world look like when these little cloves are pushing their tender green shoots through the straw mulch this coming spring? Who can say? But in the same way the cycle of the seasons keeps on turning, the farm work moves along its well-worn path, and I follow it, in faith and hope.

One more thing: This fallow season has reminded me how grateful I am to be able to farm, and how grateful I am for all the support of our members over these past seven seasons. From the bottom of my heart: thank you. I am looking forward to growing food for you and yours next season, and for many seasons to come.

Blackbird Farms Spring Plant Sale Dates and Online Ordering

After a bitterly cold weekend, it looks like more seasonable weather is coming our way this week, which means here at the farm we will busy ourselves with spring planting. And considering the overwhelming mania for home gardening right now, you might be thinking about that as well.

I’m all for this mania for these pandemic gardens or quarantine gardens or doomsday gardens—though I like best calling them the new victory gardens. Realistically, maybe you can’t completely feed your family from backyard gardening, but it sure seems to me like a great way to spend some of this anxious energy and extra time many of us now have on our hands. So I wish all of you gardeners success and bounty this season.

And if you or someone you know is eager to garden this season but not eager to brave the stores or farmers markets to purchase herb and vegetable plants, we’re offering online ordering, with a number of no-contact/low-contact curbside/barnside pick-up options over the next few weeks.

Here are the ordering details: Each Sunday in May, we will update our order form (see below for link) for the pick-ups occurring that week. (Yes, I am afraid that means that you cannot order too far in advance—only for the current week.) Note that the inventory will likely change from week to week, depending on what we have in stock. If an item sells out in any particular week, it will be removed from the form. New stock may be available the following week.

Here is the online order form: https://forms.gle/SznJrmb57kk26SdS6. Orders are due by 10:00 am on the day prior to the pick-up.

Here is the list of upcoming pick-up dates and locations:
–Friday, May 15, 4:00-6:00 pm at Blackbird Farms (5213 Roosevelt, Coopersville, MI 49404)
–Saturday, May 16, 10:00-11:00 am at the Sweetwater Local Foods Market (6401 Harvey, Norton Shores, MI 49444)

–Wednesday, May 20, 5:00-7:00 pm: DBC Natural Holistic Health Center (2851 Michigan NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506)
–Thursday, May 21, 4:00-8:00 pm: Blackbird Farms
–Saturday, May 23, 10:00-11:00 am: Sweetwater Local Foods Market

–Friday, May 29, 4:00-6:00 pm: Blackbird Farms
–Saturday, May 30, 10:00-11:00 am: Sweetwater Local Foods Market

–(tentative) Saturday, June 6, 10:00-11:00 am: Sweetwater Local Foods Market

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

We are looking forward to helping both new and experienced home gardeners get off to a good start this growing season!

How To Do Things: Fertilize Organically

A good time to add amendments to your garden soil is when you are preparing your beds for spring. Loosening and aerating the soil while incorporating amendments mixes everything together well, knocking off two tasks at once.

But what sort of amendments should you add? Short of taking a soil sample and sending it in for a complete analysis and set of recommendations (which is what we do here at the farm), the best solution I have found for the home gardener is to utilize the recipe for Steve Solomon’s “Complete Organic Fertilizer,” taken from his book The Intelligent Gardener.

On the up side, the recipe is adaptable, and it provides a nice range of nutrients. The down side is that some of the ingredients might take a little looking to find. (I have found them at various co-ops and agricultural supply stores, but I’ve never looked to see if they’re stocked at local garden centers.)

What about compost, you might ask. Yup, use that, too—it’s going to add organic matter and improve your soil’s texture, as well as provide some nutrients. But to ensure your plants are getting the full profile of what they need, I think it’s best to fortify your compost application with the sort of amendments Solomon’s recipe provides.

The New Victory Gardens

Maybe you’ve heard how the pandemic has inspired folks to put in gardens this season. Maybe you’re even one of those so inspired. Some have named these “Doomsday Gardens,” which is a little dark for me—I much prefer “New Victory Gardens,” after the old victory gardens from another national crisis, the Second World War.

I’m assuming many who are planting these gardens are newbies, which I think is great, and I wish them all success this season. But there’s a steep learning curve, and I hope they don’t get discouraged when things go awry. (And in a garden something always goes awry.)

And as a primer for how to get started, I came across a great little article in the Washington Post that walks through all the basics, plus offers a few additional resources. I’m going to strive over the course of the season to post good resources here as well. So godspeed you, newbies, and remember: The best fertilizer is the footsteps of the gardener.