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Farm News 6/22

It’s all about the sun these days. Warm, dry, heat and lots of it.

Things are getting pretty dry. Leaves in the pasture are curling up to keep from losing all moisture. Things are turning yellow.

We’ve had almost no rain for a month or more. Drought can be very devastating for a farm. Thankfully we have irrigation infrastructure in the garden. But sprinklers are no substitute for good old fashioned rain and we’re struggling to keep things cool. Especially the pastures where we DON’T have irrigation infrastructure. Grass growth has slowed to a crawl there. That worries me a lot. Without grass, cows can't graze and gain weight. We could buy hay for them to eat, but hay is just harvested grass so without rain, there won’t be much hay for sale. If you know anything about supply and demand you can see that if there isn’t much hay, it'll be expensive to buy.

We need rain.

The sun is our primary conductor here on the farm. His heat and light are obviously essential (and sometimes overwhelming) for all plant growth on the farm, but he affects things in more subtle ways as well. For instance, the first several shares of the CSA season consist mainly of leafy greens. Later in the season we'll have more of the fruit type vegetables. But in order for any plant to put forth a fruit or seed, it must first flower. And flowering, is largely controlled by the sun. Believe it or not, most plants are very in tune with day length. And when days switch from lengthening to shortening, most plants make a shift in their growth from vegetative to reproductive. As long as the sun is rising in the sky and days are lengthening, most spring plants focus on vegetative growth or putting out leaves and sizing up. Once the sun begins to recede after the solstice, and days begin to shorten, most plants see the writing on the wall and begin to focus on their reproductive processes. Setting lots of viable seeds before frost and winter comes is their primary objective.

This means that flowers start coming on in more force. (Flowers being the first step in setting seed.) Many of the cooler season greens like spinach and arugula will try to “bolt” or send up flower stalks. Also, crops like Broccoli and Garlic Scapes which are flowers in and of themselves will begin to arrive on the scene.

Of course, a gardener can manipulate things to a certain extent by adjusting the environment with greenhouses and such, but it is difficult to completely override the sun. When daylength shifts from increasing to decreasing, plants respond.

And so do we. Time for us is marked by these solar events. The solstice is a significant mark in our calendar. We can feel things settling into rhythm--the uphill slog is tapering off.

Watching these natural rhythms and involving myself in them is something I really enjoy about farming. When all food is all ripe all year long in the store, we have successfully insulated ourselves from the stress and uncertainty of nature. Things like dry spells become mostly irrelevant when food is sourced from anywhere in the world. But something is also lost when we erect that insulation. As a farmer, my interests are directly related to the interests of the plants and animals. When they are under stress or struggling, I feel the stress and struggle. When there is too much heat and not enough moisture, I feel the imbalance. Becoming sensitive to these things makes me more sensitive to what is needed for life and health. The very things that "protect" us from the uncertainties of nature are sometimes also the things that dull our senses and keep us from noticing when things are amiss.

And by the way, this applies to far more then simply and environmental sensitivity. If you try to create a life of endless warm sunshiny days you may be endangering yourself--dark storm-clouds, as gloomy as they may seem, are essential for growth and new life.

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