UPDATE: The official outdoor ice cream bucket here at the Work Farm recorded exactly 2.00 inches of precipitation overnight and early this morning. The crops are already bustin’ out! Yahoo!
We’re having a heat wave, a continental heat wave. We just knew that when Trump pulled out of Paris …
The unlettered field hands here at the Experimental Work Farm are toiling in the verdant growing fields, their bare backs glistening in the summer sun. Singing as they work, mainly from the discography of Motley Crüe and Def Leppard, although thought I heard Judas Priest the other day. (May have been a comment on the pay.)
The Squire is not without compassion. In the heat of the afternoon — temps may reach 90 degrees F again today — the hands get an extra 15 minutes respite in the shade of lady Oak and a dipper of cold Madison tap water to wet their whistle while the Squire mixes his gin with tonic.
The heat pulls groundwater to the surface, which should be plentiful from the monsoons of May, but the tender seedlings reach their roots not very deep at all, so they need our help. The Work Farm (and Penal Colony) has been irrigating all weekend but nothing can replace a good soaker from the sky. Fifty percent chance of that tonight, the weather fellow predicts. (And there’s only a 50% chance of that!) Farmers reported last week that soil moisture is adequate.
The aging Squire has ordered the mowers to Stay Off the Grass, you kids! While others shave their bluegrass, fescue, and perennial rye to the crown, we let ours grow shaggy as that Walt Disney dog. Even a sharp blade does injury to the plant, exposing its water-bearing capillaries to the blazing sun. Further, short stuff cannot shade its roots. Grass likes cool feet. Ireland is the Emerald Isle because it is cool and wet. Also, leprechauns.
Work farm philosophy 101
Our philosophy here at the Work Farm is simple, as are its day laborers.
- We grow what grows. That takes peas off the list. Love the stuff but never could grow them.
- We grow what fits. Successful sweet corn is measured in acres, not rows. In any event, Eugsters or Peck’s will set up their parking lot stands soon enough. Same thing with potatoes. Also, peas.
- We grow what we eat. We’ve grown muskmelon. They’re tricky, but even when we succeed, the Squire doesn’t eat them. So they’re out.
- We are biased toward that which is better fresh than stored (in both senses of the word). Leaf lettuce fits that bill. We’ve been eating the Buttercrunch variety for a week now, just minutes from the garden. The very definition of a good salad. The major proviso, protect from bunny rabbits. Now that our crop is table ready, we drape cloth over the top of the fenced enclosure to shade from the heat. We don’t want the lettuce to bolt.
We’ve been taking asparagus since late April. Although they’ve gone to trees, a few fresh stalks can always be found. We don’t fertilize. Just top off the rows with dark soil from the compost pile behind the garden shed. We dug the beds 25 years ago, waited the recommended three years and have been feasting ever since. As a side vegetable (just add butter, salt & pepper) or an integral partner with scrambled breakfast eggs.
A couple of eggplants and pepper plants (purchased potted) are in the ground. Make a mean ratatouille with zucchini. We eat kohlrabi (seeded) like radishes, with which I’ve had little luck. (See soil, below.)
Mr. Green Beans
But the main export crop here at the Farm is green beans. We’ve transitioned from bush beans to pole beans, inspired by The Lovely Lisa. Purchased some 5-gauge hog wire from Farm & Fleet. Has enough tensile strength to support itself. Comes in 16-foot lengths. We took two sections — each 34 inches wide (or high, if used as a fence), bent them into a hoop, and secured each side into the ground with stakes. We spaced them 30 inches apart so that we could drape some of the wire fencing we had on hand, in between. In July, the pole beans will hang down from the hoops like grapes begging to be plucked. Ready for the kitchen steam pot. (Just add butter, salt & pepper.) They’ll bear well into September. We plant Hilda Romanos. They are meaty, tender, and tasty even when seemingly over-ripe. As with all vegetables, always steamed, never boiled. And never al denté.
Better than Blue Lake. (“Romanos aren’t just any green beans“)
We do experiment at the Experimental Work Farm. (I am a Wild and Crazy Guy!) This year it’s Fortex (sounds like a prophylactic) also from Jung’s. Have tried various French haricots verts (with is French for green bean), the real thin beans. Not impressed.
Dishing the dirt on soil
We’re also growing beets. Good ol’ Detroit Red. Must say, we’ve had limited success in the past but this year they seem to have taken. I think they’re working this year because I socked the soil last fall with leaves and needles, those being macerated by the mulching mower. First, run the mulcher over the autumn garden residue. Run the Honda mini-tiller to loosen the soil. Apply the macerated lawn residue. Repeat the tilling and let the soil microbes feast. By Springtime, you’ve got the good earth with only the very top layer undigested. Repeat the tilling thing.
So that loosens up the soil for the plant to a) take root and b) grow a nice red bulbous root. Did I say I like beets? (Just add butter, salt & pepper.) Also, like the way the leaves look. We’ll eat some of those, too. I alternate between trying to plant them in a row and just raking them in like grass seed. Where there is vegetable there cannot be weed. That’s the idea, anyway. Seed is cheap. Plants that emerge can always be thinned.
One hill of zucchini supplies the field gang here with cold cut (and salted), fried, or steamed delights. (Just add butter, salt & pepper.) The Lovely Lisa said she planted some but they have not emerged. Same with cukes. The Lovely Lady is in charge of tomatoes. This year’s roster: Juliette grape, Early Girl, Brandywine, and Polish paste — the last two being heirlooms. We’re eating her rhubarb pie right now. (Just add Reddi Whip.) The doyenne of the Manor also has an herb garden. She just told me there’s Chinese cabbage somewhere.
The garden of peace
Let’s pull the curtain aside: in the interests of marital harmony (if not bliss) man and wife divide the garden space along the parameters of King Solomon’s court: down the middle. Accordingly, she gets half the hoop space.
Let’s see, what else? Swiss chard (Butter, salt & pepper.) Arugula (Do we ever eat that stuff?) Dill. It re-seeds itself. (Does it ever!) We inherited a raspberry patch but never do a proper job of harvesting. We do clear away the dead canes in fall. No tree fruit or nuts at the Work Farm. Flowers? You bet, but a subject for another time.
Next year, the Squire many enroll in UW-Extension’s master gardener course to that he really knows what he talking about. Until then, we’re eating locally.