This week looks like a scorcher, with high temperatures and high humidity pushing the heat index into dangerous territory. So my priority becomes making sure everything and everyone stays well hydrated—crops, ducks, chickens, cats, and, especially, the crew. While there’s a full slate of work to do, we’re just going to have to downshift our expectations of what’s possible in this summer swelter. I don’t want anyone going down with heat exhaustion.
It helps to know that this weather will pass. We’re on the cusp of September, after all, and the glorious golden days of fall. Which is not to say that these late summer days aren’t full of their own satisfactions. Not just the good things to eat coming out of the field—all the tomatoes and sweet and hot peppers and squash and zucchini and the rest of the summer fruits—but also the way the days are lush and languid and full of life and light and heat, treasures to gather and store up against the coming winter’s siege.
What makes August hard is the growing weight of the season’s accumulating failures. In a big, complicated machine like a diversified organic vegetable farm, there are bound to be at least a few things that go sideways. Somewhere Wendell Berry writes about how each growing season is bound by the contingency of creatures, and how at some point one has to trade the vision for what could have been for the acceptance of what is. For me, that inflection point arrives sometime in August.
And right now it feels like a great many things have gone sideways. We’ve lost a few crops to weeds. And when I say lost, I mean that literally, as in, “Where did that succession of beans go?” A few crops are under heavy disease and pest pressure, and time to respond to those pressures is short. So we’re in full triage mode, prioritizing the work that will make the most difference, and letting go of the rest.
Even so, we find ourselves amidst abundance. The generous earth yields its gifts. Each day we find numberless things to delight our senses, from the few sunflowers the deer didn’t eat in riotous bloom to the sweet melons hiding in the pigweed and foxtail sedge. And as summer fades into fall, we remember that this all is a limited time offer, and that the time for feasting is now.
Monday afternoon I mowed off the yellow sweetclover cover crop and found myself surrounded by birds. Tree swallows and barn swallows, their liquid bodies looping and darting all around me, catching the insects flushed from their hiding places in the field. The swallows kept at it all the time I was mowing, and even long afterward, feasting on the wing.
It always makes me happy to see those birds flying over the field. It tells me that I’m doing my job as an organic farmer, extending hospitality to as many creatures as the land can support. It tells me that the land is tending toward health, with a rich and diverse habitat. Plus, the swallows are a delight to watch.
It’s not always easy being hospitable to all the creatures that call this farm home. A couple of baby deer have decided to eat down to the ground all the sunflowers I was hoping to harvest for the CSA later this month, and some as-yet-unknown four-legged critter has been snacking pretty heavily on our first cucumber succession. (The crew thinks a raccoon, but I’m betting on a groundhog.) But in the main, there is room for all, and all are welcome.
To be a farmer in August is to be exhausted yet expectant. This month and the work that fills it can make or break the season. This is when we make our last ditch assault against the weeds, and when we strive against repeated waves of pests and diseases. It is when we make our final plantings for fall, and when we begin our larger scale harvests of onions, potatoes, and shallots. Indeed, as the month progresses and the crops in the field begin their peak-of-season crescendo, more and more of our days will be filled with harvesting. And then we enter glorious fall, and the downward slope of the season, and the abundance it brings.