by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA
photos by Joe D. Finnerty
A quiet garden walk in the late August twilight; high above blue-grey clouds hurry along propelled by some stratospheric wind unfelt here below. Momentarily splashed with pink, the clouds glow and like summer, quickly fade. I wander thoughtfully through the bounty of summer. Here stand the brussel sprouts, each plant tall and noble, holding an unlikely weight to an unexpected height waiting for the dark of the year when I will gratefully snap off the compact baby cabbages to complement a winter meal. Now I stroll among the tomatoes, sprawling and falling off stakes I so dutifully placed back in May, each tied with care only to be forgotten in the business of summer. Each year I vow to dutifully prune and stake, side dress and mulch; yet each year I fail, inevitably leaving each plant to fend for itself where they eventually fall, overgrown and sprawling. But I remind myself that tomatoes and their wild cousins grew for centuries without proper pruning or staking; besides my undisciplined tomatoes are as delicious as any. Now I gaze on the bare patch of earth from which I recently pulled the garlic. The brown soil waits expectantly for my attentions: additions of compost and a winter cover of rye.
I marvel at the fact that I have not watered the garden all summer; nor has any measurable rain fallen for six weeks. Native of the arid west that I am I feel, despite all evidence to the contrary, that I simply should water the garden; yet when I dig down through the dusty top layer of soil I find to my delight that the soil remains moist. I look at the size of the cucumbers that have been overlooked while harvesting, they are plump and full; I turn my gaze to the ginormous leaves of the costata romanesco zucchini: erect and turgid; pumpkins swelling; beans long and fat; all is well. After all, the farm lies between mountain and river, the water wending its way from the heights to the river below must tread an underground path through the farm. As a consequence our fields and lawn remain green while many nearby turn brown.
The kitchen garden is a marvel to me: an entire supermarket produce section right outside the door with nary a trace of chemical residue or stain of petroleum-fueled overland travel. In this mild Northwestern maritime climate it is not unreasonable, with a little planning, to have something fresh to eat in every month of the year.
Recently I hooked up Star and Clark to the McCormick Deering binder and began harvesting the oats — that is — what is left of the oats. We experienced pretty severe lodging from some rains of significance back in July just when the grain was beginning to head out. I feel somewhat sheepish about how last year I blamed the deer for ruining half the oat crop. I was sure they were bedding down in the field when really lodging was to blame. Lodging happens when the grain heads become too heavy and the whole plant falls over. One falls into another and another and so on down the line, like dominoes, until whole swaths of the field are lying down. Interestingly, even in a small field like ours, the damage is visible from space. If you were to look at Littlefield Farm on Google Earth the latest picture shows not only half of last year’s oat crop crushed flat to the ground, but you can readily discern a team of horses digging potatoes and a whole gaggle of kids out picking up the freshly dug praties.