notable farming stories
We are very serious about compost around here.
The other day, I was both thinking about compost (for a magazine article I’d been asked to write) and plopping compost into holes, the new row houses into which greenhouse broccoli plants were moving.
My assistant mulching broccoli plants with chicken bedding.
The prize, 2011
I was thinking about what I wanted to write about compost, which to me is a miracle on par with say, Moses parting the Red Sea, when I found, in a shovel scoop of compost, a desiccated mango pit. I pried open the hollowed-out clam shell of a seed, and inside, a small green worm wriggled into the light of day.
And I thought, that’s exactly what I want to say about compost.
Making compost is a practice of embracing surprises and being awed by the persistence and goodness of life. You can throw something that looks like waste scraps into a pile and it reinvents itself as free fertility. And it’s always a blessing to strive not for perfection but for completion. (My finished compost has been known to contain shards of egg shell, curling wedges of lemon peel, and sprouting avocado seeds, one of which was rescued by a certain 7 year old and is now a robust plant in our greenhouse).
Col, caretaker of many things, doting over the squash plant he started from seed. (Bright lights chard glowing in background).
In gardening too, it’s the surprises that chime the bell of my heart: last year’s forgotten potatoes resurrected as young upstarts, the peach pit that sprouted in our compost pile, now a fruit-bearing tree; the self-sowing indigo larkspur whose seeds I swiped 8 years ago from a neighbor’s garden, now shooting up everywhere like blue firecrackers; how after 10 years of mediocre fruiting, the plum trees in the alleyway behind our house are loaded with green orbs.
Sometimes the surprises are of a different nature. Like coming home from our camping trip last weekend to find that the hand of a freak frost knocked down all the tomatoes in the hoop house (yes, those tomatoes, including all of this year’s “Hal’s Plums,” already heavy with fruit). While I was sitting around the campfire, drinking wine and singing John Denver songs like a cliche of my own raised-in-the-70’s, Colorado-loving self, a crazy cold front was moving in. By the time we were back at the campfire drinking coffee the next morning, those 13 tomato plants were a pile of withered, blackened leaves.
That frost seems to have bounced around the yard, swiping at raspberries, grape vines, our baby pears, squashes, potato leaves and peas. Peas! I’ve never in the history of growing food heard of peas affected by frost.
I’ve cut away all the frost damage on the tomatoes (which for most of them was the entire plant) and am waiting to see if any will rebound. I can already feel this frost shuffling around in my mental files, slipping from “tragedies” to “notable farming stories.”
And I’m always grateful and humbled to take part in nurturing a plant, to be one of the many forces that transform a seed speck to a meal; to know that in gardening, like parenting, and in life, I can only set my intentions and do my best and see what surprises await.
And also, there’s still another 20 tomato plants in the greenhouse.