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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

The Persimmon Tree

The Persimmon Tree

by Rebecca Joy Rising of Gallup, NM

I was nine years old. My brothers were seven and five. To escape the constant clamor of the two boys I had locked myself in my bedroom and worked on braiding my own hair. For dramatic effect, I worked a piece of wire through one braid, bent it over the curve of my head, and worked it down through the next braid. I bent the wire until my braids stuck straight out like Pippi Longstocking.

As tempted as I was to open the door suddenly, so that my brothers would fall into the room in the midst of all their banging and shouting to admire my ostentatious hairdo, I decided to go out the window instead.

Earlier in the day I had put a ladder up against the window for just such an opportunity. I figured the two rascals would beat on my door for another half an hour at least.

I was the brains of our operation — or so I figured. They couldn’t come up with a fun idea on their own. But they hadn’t been showing due respect lately, so I was on strike.

I opened the window in the midst of a particularly loud wave of ruckus so they wouldn’t hear it squeak. Then, quietly, I climbed over the sill, maneuvering my head this-way-and-that-way to get my Pippi-braids through the opening, and down the ladder.

Unfortunately, Moses, our female dairy dog (named by my brother) came around the corner of the house, barking. When she saw it was me, she stopped, but I knew there was a good chance the boys would check on that bark. So I ran.

It was only an acre of open grass before I was in the woods. I never did know who those woods belonged to. Maybe they were timberlands or national forest. I don’t recall any “keep out” signs or houses. We had explored and been lost and found several times in the four square mile area between our house and the next neighborhood.

It was late summer and the air stuck to my skin like a warm, wet towel. I kept running, trying to stay out of sight in case my brothers were following. The woods were timbered with oak and cottonwood. Some poplar trees stood on the edges. From the oaks hung long vines, as big around as my arm.

We had cut a few of them with a machete to use them as Tarzan-vines. Right after cutting them, we could drink the pure sap water that dripped out through the cut. Then we would swing from one tree to the next, never more than a few feet off the ground.

With a quick glance behind me, I reached the first vine and left the ground, sailing across a fern-carpeted valley to the next hill. My wired braids boinged and flopped. I had to pause and straighten the wire, then I was off again.

I heard voices behind me, and Moses barked excitedly in the distance. She was telling on me, and the boys were in pursuit. I was mad and glad at the same time. There’s nothing like a thrilling pursuit, and I did want them to see my braids. But I wasn’t going to be easy to catch.

Where could I go that they wouldn’t expect? They would look at all of our forts and hideouts first. The moss covered hut was my pride and joy and they knew it. I couldn’t go there. Then I thought of the perfect place: The Alien-Ship Crater out by The Persimmon Tree!

I had been a story teller as long as I could remember, and one of the stories I had told had been so compelling, my brothers and I had developed a real fear of the location in which my yarn took place.

Aliens had come to harvest persimmons from a big, gnarly, gray persimmon tree that stood in a clearing about two miles from our house. When they landed, their space ship had burned a large crater in which nothing ever grew. Even the persimmon tree had been blasted by the flames of their engines, but it had recovered, to stand alone on the edge of the crater.

Aliens love persimmon preserves, and in all the galaxy, there was only one tree that could provide the juiciest, sweetest persimmons. So, every year in August they returned to harvest persimmons from that tree. This is why we never went there — because the aliens might come back.

Now, as I swung from vine to vine, I chuckled with devious glee. It was time to revisit the persimmon tree.

The sound of the boys and the dog faded, and I knew they had mistakenly gone to search for me at the moss-covered fort. After they didn’t find me there, they would check the fallen-tree fort. After that, they would cross the edge of the clearing in which the persimmon tree stood. And when they did, I would be waiting, making weird noises to freak them out.

I knew my stories were fiction. I made them up myself. But the alien crater story was inspired by a real creepiness about the place. Why was everything dead around it? How did that big hole appear out in the middle of nowhere?

One time we had led our daddy out to the crater to look at it and tell us what it was. He couldn’t figure it out either, so the alien crater story was our best guess. Now, as I approached it, I laughed nervously at my own apprehension.

The tree looked prettier than I had ever seen it. Pale green leaves covered the spooky, gnarled form and made it seem pleasant and approachable. I paused on the edge of the clearing and critically analyzed the tree and the crater beside it. No aliens.

It wouldn’t take my brothers long to make the rounds. I needed to be ready, so I cautiously approached the tree and stepped under the shade of its branches. Then I leaped backward, causing my braids to wave forward like swinging doors. There were possums in the branches — possums hanging from their tails! After the first reaction of surprise and fear, I was overcome with amusement. They were so funny!

Possums look like large, white mice with black eyes. The possums hanging in the persimmon tree were half-sedated with over-ripe persimmon fruit. It lay on the ground all around me, filling the air with a sweet, sticky scent.

Possum heaven, I thought. There is no where else in the whole world they’d rather be.

Then I started grinning. These were our aliens! I couldn’t wait to show the boys. My plan of making spooky noises was forgotten. I wanted my brothers to come to the tree and see the possums I had found.

I heard their voices in the distance, and turned to see them running across the edge of the clearing.

“Hey!” I shouted at them. “Come over here!”

The sudden, loud sound of my shout startled the possums and they began dropping out of the tree just like the overripe persimmons. The dropping possums frightened me. I screamed and ran out from under the tree.

My brothers had stopped on the edge of the clearing, staring in my direction. Another possum dropped with a thud and I ran out into the clearing, still squealing.

By the time my brothers arrived, I had a grip on myself and a plausible story for why I had screamed.

“Couldn’t you hear me?” I fussed, “I’ve been yelling my head off trying to get you to come over here. You’ve got to see what I found in the persimmon tree!”

Their eyes were wide with alarm. “What is it? Aliens?”

I smiled smugly, leading them back toward the tree, keeping a firm grip on Moses’ collar.

“Yep,” I said. “Possum aliens. I told you how much they love persimmons. They were hanging in the tree from their tails. When I shouted at you, they started falling out. Now look at them!”

We looked, and then we started laughing. The possums were playing dead. Three of them lay on their backs with their little legs and hands sticking straight up in the air and their eyes closed.

“They’re playing possum!” one of my brothers exclaimed. “They’re pretending to be dead!”

“Not all of them,” I said. “Look in the tree. I see two babies still hanging by their tails.”

We waved overripe persimmons on sticks under the noses of the possums on the ground, but failed to get any sign of life out of them. Finally we turned away to inspect the alien crater again.

After walking around it, looking for alien tracks, we returned to the tree. The possums had climbed back up and were hanging by their tails again.

I had completely forgotten about my hair, and my brothers had not noticed, until we were about to start for home again.

“Hey!” my youngest brother exclaimed, “your hair is standing straight out like Pippi Longstocking. How is it doing that?”

“It’s the alien energy around the crater,” I explained soberly. “They must have been here recently to harvest ripe persimmons.”

Then I moved out from under the tree and shouted toward the crater, “Go home, you slimy aliens!”

To my satisfaction, I heard the possums dropping out of the tree and my brothers screaming as they ran.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

by:
from issue:

We are approaching this from a seed quality standpoint, not just a seed saving one. Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did. Both the home gardener and the seed company must understand seed quality to be successful in their respective endeavors.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

by:
from issue:

Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

by:
from issue:

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT