Week 18 (Chicago Week 16)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Delicata fall squash
  • Arugula
  • Radish OR turnips
  • The biggest gold beets we’ve ever grown
  • Bok choi
  • Beans
  • Roasting peppers
  • Hot peppers
  • Chard
  • Sorrel
  • Tomato
  • Gift of cheese from our farm’s goat milk

A subscriber who hosts delivery of our vegetables with his family at their home in Madison joined me for a day of volunteer work, mostly in one of the fields we rent.

I mowed withered melon vines with the tractor and rotary mower. We removed black plastic mulch and rolled up the drip tape irrigation from work completed back in April and May. We dug out radishes with garden forks and combed ground now overgrown with grasses and weeds for the last of the fall squash.

We had a little lunch together and weeded spinach. When Mark drove off from the farm to see his son play soccer, I went back to the field where we’d worked to disk in the mowed ground and prepare sections for planting winter rye.

Riding back and forth over this ground, I felt as if in a dream. Within minutes, the overgrown foot paths, beds and mowed vegetation had vanished back into the dark soil. Food now for the microbiotic life, the organic matter disappeared into the soil in the wake of the turning coulters of the 9-foot disk.

I felt a loss of life from 7 months of time and familiarity spent within this space. In my memory, I saw Dela, friends, Elise, myself interacting with the plants. I remembered walking, stretching, kneeling, squatting, tending, harvesting, mowing, weeding (especially, mowing and weeding) – up and down the plant rows.

Bare ground, then lines in the dirt from the Earthway Seeder, flanked by chips of mulch from hundreds of bales I opened and laid out for picking paths. Then the first signs of plants, pushing up into our world. Then beautiful, lush plants, yielding long in the frequent, recurring rain. Finally, withering, fading plants succumbing to the life cycle, and bare ground again, waiting for cover crop seed. It all happens so quickly, transformations unfolding and taking place across a vegetable crop season of growth, life and death.

Our work is a metaphor for human life. As long as I perform its tasks, I shall never lose sight of how precious few growing seasons a human being has entrusted to his or her family and community, to hands and heart.

We have two more weeks of harvest and vegetable delivery. We’ll cover fall plantings with protective plastic against the coming, inevitable frost during this time. This week, I managed to get one small hoop house covered, working alone during a few precious hours of calm and stillness that broke the winds of autumn.

I’m holding my breath in hopes this freedom from frost holds out long enough to permit covering our 92-foot high tunnel with plastic. Yet we’ve started warming the farmhouse at night with a wood fire as temperatures dip into the 40s. If you’d like to help with fall chores in garden or field, your visit is surely welcome. We converse as we work and get to know one another.

No one has contacted us about house sitting a week or a few days in mid-October. Let us know of availability or interest. Having someone reliable here, exercising the puppies and tending the chickens will give us peace of mind over a week we want to travel to see family in North Carolina.

A handful of folks signed up in the past week for the two deliveries of our fall share in early and late November. It helped bring us about halfway to our 45-share goal. Thank you. Please get your subscription and payment to us as soon as possible if you still intend to sign up.

Our fall share volume is about 1.5 bushels (two very full brown paper grocery sacks in each of two deliveries), and the price is a little less than I’ve seen Chicago area growers advertising for a single bushel of fall produce. It will make a growing season linger into holiday meals. It will help you savor a little longer all we’ve done together at Scotch Hill Farm.

Week 17 (Chicago Week 15)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Round or long pie pumpkins
  • Eggplant
  • Two varieties of beans
  • Bell peppers
  • Red Roaster sweet peppers
  • Cayenne and jalapeno peppers
  • Green Wave mustard greens
  • Red Streaks Mizspoona greens
  • Tomato
  • Pink radishes OR turnips
  • Broccoli OR kale

A lone bird calls out, as if confused, in a dense morning fog. With that lone song, I wonder where all the other morning birds are. It’s a strange September.

Another night of rain, after another day of 84-degree weather, makes everything slow to rise. We can’t see the sun through the heavy, wet mist. The day is not inviting.

Digging potatoes by hand had been proceeding too slowly. This week, I fetched home the mechanical digger from an equipment shed we rent a mile away. Mud and dense weed root masses – especially that awful quack grass – have made digging potatoes hard, yields thin.

To uncover the potatoes, I broke up soil and deteriorated oat straw mulch with the aggressive digger and tractor. I first mowed down the weeds as close to the ground as I could. I hunted for the potatoes on my hands and knees in the jumble of turned ground and organic matter.

Suddenly the sky turned ominous with approaching rain, I hurried, fast as I could go. Losing the sun to the clouds brought mosquitoes out in force. My hands caked in mud, I couldn’t slap the bugs on my neck and face. I warded them off with my arms. It was miserable going.  

Your farm and farmers the past decade have weathered record snowfall and record drought. We’ve gotten through violent storms. We’ve survived rainfall in a single day a fourth as much as falls here in a year.

Fuel prices have swung widely for all of us, too. Fuel for tractors, harvest pickups, weekly delivery vehicles took more than 10 percent of our gross income the years that prices rose to nearly $4 per gallon.

Cheap fossil fuel, ample water and reliable climate patterns are what made industrial scale agriculture – and cheap, mass-produced food – possible the last century. An inspiring book that we started reading this week, framed importance of what we’re doing here. It’s about the next century, which will change everything again.

The book is titled “Fields of Learning.” It’s a collection of writings by some amazing individuals who’ve led establishment or operation of student farms at colleges and universities. Sometimes with thin administrative or institutional support, these individuals are bravely teaching alternative, sustainable and organic agriculture alongside science, technology, arts and letters.

One of the book’s two authors has invited Dela and me to visit the 500-acre farm and agriculture program he directs at Berea College in Kentucky. It is probably the oldest academic institution operating a student farm.

It is also where my student from Senegal, Hamidou Sakhanokho earned a B.S. degree in agriculture before going on to complete graduate studies and then conduct plant research for the USDA.

Journalist and peak oil energy educator Richard Heinberg is referenced in this book. A Post Carbon Institute fellow, Heinberg says America is going to need 40 to 50 million farmers to return to the land if we are to produce food adequately as fossil fuel runs out.

That number is astounding. There are only about 2.2 million farmers left in the United States. Only 5 percent of them are under 35 years of age. All along, Dela and I have realized how vital it is to share what we’ve learned about organic food producing with young adults. We want to tour this farm in the last half of October during a week’s vacation visiting family in North Carolina.

We can’t both do this unless we find someone willing to care for our poultry and dogs daily while we’re gone. If anyone of our subscribers can help us do that after our season ends, mid-October, please let contact us.

Southern Wisconsin has a lot to do locally this time of year, including Cheese Days in Monroe, Embrace the Race during Brodhead’s Autumn Fest and Oktober Fest in New Glarus. Visit Green County websites for details.

Week 16 (Chicago Week 14)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Spicy greens mix
  • Red Russian kale
  • Redventure cutting celery (this heirloom variety packs a flavorful punch)
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Bright lights chard
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Provider and Maxibel green beans
  • Colorful bell peppers
  • Sweet roasting peppers
  • Basil

A semi truck made its way down Scotch Hill Road to our farm a few days ago. It dropped off about $600 of new plastic in a 150-lb. roll lashed to a wooden pallet.

That’s enough commercial-grade material to cover one of two high tunnel greenhouse roofs, which a fierce storm ripped apart this summer. Dela and I have not enough time or money to repair both hoop houses before frost.

I was grateful this past Tuesday when new subscriber Aaron of Oregon, who’s been volunteering so much around the farm this summer, brought along his visiting father Roger. They came with portable power tools to dismantle rotted wood along the structure’s south wall.

Four years of brilliant sunshine and the heavy moisture of the greenhouse took quite a toll on that wood. With the high tunnel kit Green Tech sold us were huge bags of heavy metal screws. These screws pierce a metal track that runs all around and over the end spans of the greenhouse to hold the plastic to the frame.

Aaron and Roger, a great carpenter proved quite a team. We managed to quickly retire all the rotted wood that caused the original plastic to give way. Neither rain nor mosquitoes, which came out in mass in the cloudy weather, kept us from installing new wood. We had to fend off hornets, too, that were nesting in the mechanism that lifts and lowers the wall’s curtain.

Scotch Hill still needs 2 adult volunteers on this project. This structure’s 12 feet tall. Helpers must be comfortable with heights and standing on extension ladders. They’ll hold the 92 feet of plastic tight while I attach it to the frame. It will take a couple hours for me, working along the ground from the middle in both directions, to weave wire over the plastic into that metal track on each side. We’ll need a calm day, too – no wind

There are plenty of other things volunteers can do to help here at this time of year. There is harvesting, weeding, and retiring trellis, tired vines, black plastic mulch and drip tape, where early varieties of plants are beginning to die. Email tony@scotchhillfarm.com, text the cell (608 312-9588), or leave a message on farmhouse answering machine (608 897-4288) if you can come here for a work visit. Spend the night if you like. Camp in our garden paths, or bunk in spare rooms.

Southern Wisconsin has a lot to do locally this time of year, including Cheese Days in Monroe, Embrace the Race during Brodhead’s Autumn Fest and Oktober Fest in New Glarus. Check out Green County websites for these towns for details.

Helping Scotch Hill get through winter: As our primary growing and harvest season of 20 weeks concludes this last month of deliveries, we look to two other means of sustaining Scotch Hill over winter.

Since before the 2008 economic downturn, we’ve offered a fall and cool season crop delivery in a special November share. It’s a double dose of at least 20 varieties, including a number of Dela’s canned and preserved vegetables.

Delivered twice, in the first week of November and a week before Thanksgiving, this hefty fall share provides a flavorful return of garden goodness going intoholiday season meal preparations.

Dela and I are working now to raise and harvest enough produce and canned goods for 45 fall shares. Please sign up as soon as possible if you want to take part in this offering from our farm.

A second way anyone can help our farm meet expenses over winter is to purchase Dela’s milled soap, which she’s been making from our goat milk for at least 18 years. She has a number of other great, natural ingredient skin care products she’s crafted over the years.