Field Notes: A Winter's Forecast
Today, August 1, is exactly the mid-point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. Six weeks ago, summer started. Six weeks from now, autumn will begin. Lammas or Lughnasadh, is celebrated on August 1. It is an ancient holiday celebrating the first grain harvest. The Christian Church also established it as a day to bless the fields. What it means for us is that the sun is decreasing in energy and power. You can’t tell yet, but the days are getting shorter. By tomorrow, we will be closer to fall than to summer.
Last week we transplanted the first cool-season cauliflower. The plug house teems with brassicas. We may be able to squeeze in a few short warm-season crops to catch San Diego’s summer, but at this point in the Wheel of the Year, we are swinging toward winter.
The plants are performing at their summer best. All cylinders are firing in the fields. If the beet variety states that it is a 50-day crop, the beets are ready in 50 days. Watermelons calling for 90 days? David brought us our first perfect watermelon today - clocking in on the 90th day. How can I consider the beets I’ll plant in winter as the juice from the first watermelon dribbles down my chin? But consider I must and we will have to calculate an extra month for those 50-day beets in winter. Holding this crescent of veined watermelon, I feel like the grasshopper but must plan like the ant.
We continue to whisk through the fields frothy with plenitude. Typical of summer, we can’t harvest fast enough. We’ve planted just enough of everything for everybody. Only the lettuce seems to be susceptible.
Though we didn’t suffer much May Grey or June Gloom this year, neither have the hot days waxed. Our tomatoes, lavish with fruit, are finally coloring. The sunflowers, planted three weeks ago for the maze are a short five inches. The okra and the eggplant, usually the last floats in the summertime parade, are finally flourishing.
Yet, we look toward winter. Robin, Ellie and I have scheduled a meeting for this week to discuss our cool-season selections and planting calendar. I see a future exuberant with peas. Robin has ordered artichokes. And though our Farmer #1, Ellie, is primarily concentrating on the Sunflower Maze and her art installations for each secret garden room, I know she’s got some ideas for winter crops.
And this is where the fun begins. With a different growing season comes dreaming and seed catalogues. On tours people often ask me how we decide what to plant. I tell them, we’ve got a credit card and a dream.
We’ve learned our lesson with some crops. This year in the cauliflower department, don’t expect anything but our favorite Romanesco. I don’t think we’ll try Brussels Sprouts again. Parsnips, though often requested, take over 120 days to grow. But we will enroll for classes with a few new teachers-artichokes, rutabegas, shallots. We will get our strawberry crowns early. And we will plant loads more garlic and potatoes.
As always, the craziest part is anticipating the future by six months while trying to appreciate the present. I’m fast forwarding myself into December, the wind a bit wilder, the air a bit colder, the roads more mucky. Juicy tomatoes, summer squash and sweet peppers forgotten as my palate readjusts to bitter greens and creamy winter squash.
But for now, I’ll concentrate on discovering new varieties, ordering the seeds and frying up as many sweet peppers as I can. I may have to forecast the cool-season crops, but I’ll keep enjoying my summer.
Photo: Scott Ballum for Suzie's Farm