by Amanda Cather
July on the farm is a time of change and growth. While some tasks are constant - harvest, weed, transplant, tie tomatoes - others shift and change. Successions of lettuce, beets, and carrots roll across the farm like waves on the beach. Crops mature, finish and are turned in within a matter of days. Some mornings you find yourself standing in front of an empty patch in the field that only the week before was a thriving lettuce planting, wondering where to harvest next. Weeds grow like wildfire, and their message to us is clear: here at the height of midsummer, they are setting seed, preparing for the cold, short days of winter. The long hot days of July hold the germ of the cold and the dark, and the hope, held in a seed, which will bring us out the other side.
It's been dry on the farm. Rain is sorely needed. At the same time, we are very aware of the challenges of wet weather, including the likelihood of the spread of disease to tomatoes, cucumbers and basil. We've been irrigating, watching the dust blow around the farm, and then heading back to those constant tasks - harvest, weed, transplant, tie. We've been noticing the weird low population of one of our more common pests, the Mexican bean beetle, which we've been trying to reduce for years using targeted releases of a parasitic wasp. Where are they this year? Will they show up next week? Did our efforts work, or is it just a fluky year for bean beetles? Questions like this are always in our minds as we go back to those tasks - harvest, weed, transplant, tie.
The farm has shifted from the early spring orderliness to the wild, uncontrollable bounty of the summer. There are flowers and berries in every hedgerow, weeds in every pathway, rabbits in every corner. For the first time in five years, a groundhog has returned to the Lyman Estate and taken up residence on the edge of our watermelon field. For the first time since I can remember, a big buck is hanging out down in the low area along Waverly Oaks Road. The coyotes, indiscriminate eaters of groundhogs and watermelons alike, seem to have moved on, at least for the time being. Change is all around us now. Every day now we are planting crops that we won't harvest until November, bringing autumn onto the farm. Our harvests are also about to shift, bringing potatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, and finally tomatoes into the mix.
Every time a succession of lettuce or spinach or beets is turned under, the roots and leaves that remain add organic matter to the soil, nourishing the microorganisms that are the true crop on an organic farm. As soon as that crop, along with its accompanying weeds, is broken down, we'll plant another one in its place, and before long we'll be standing before that once-empty lettuce planting snapping rubber bands onto our hands, getting ready to harvest autumn radishes. The messy jubilance of July will give way again to the abundance of August and September, and then to the more austere beauty of autumn. The march of the season continues. Harvest, weed, transplant, tie.