No, I’m not talking about the coming celebratory fireworks, though the colors and shapes of my explosion rival, and in my opinion surpass, them. And I’m not talking about some distant act of terror in a far off corner of the world, though to be sure my explosion carries with it the possibility of devastation. No, this explosion is closer to home and occurs with such a regularity that it’s hard to miss, though I did for several years. But once I noticed it the first time it quickly became such an important part of my life that I prepare for it months in advance and benefit (or suffer) from it for months afterward.
For there is no more important event in the lives of the plants and micro-fauna in the garden as the explosion that occurs at the moment of the Summer Solstice.
While the description I gave above may seem overblown, I assure you it is not. As I said I missed this event for several years at the beginning of my life as a farmer. The daily struggle to accomplish the impossible, namely 48 hours of work in 16 hours, can sometimes install blinders on the eyes of those slogging through. But one day three or four years ago, after a particularly well organized and managed start to the season, I came up for a brief breath of air and noticed the explosion that comes within two or three days of the Solstice. And once I had noticed, it seemed so obvious and my whole outlook regarding the shape of the season, began to evolve. No longer do I view the growing season here in Central Maine as a steep slope culminating in the peak of the first killing frost. Rather, it is a lopsided bell curve with the apex occurring about two days after the Solstice. This is when everything goes into hyper-drive. Everything. Including the weeds.
And that’s where the devastation I mentioned can come into play. Any weed that hasn’t been cultivated, smothered, burned or pulled by the second or third day after the solstice will reach up and smack you in the face the next time you walk through the garden. And if there are a lot of them in a group? Well look out. Looking back on the years I farmed before noticing this phenomenon I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was just mentioning to one of the women that works for us at the farm about all the years I waited until July or August to get her to come over and weed. (That’s when the money comes in for a farmer you know!) Little did I know!
But now, with my new found observational knowledge I have the foresight to cultivate as much as possible, mulch the big stuff and the season long plants like squash and kale and chard and get some help weeding…all before the solstice. Don’t get me wrong, all that stuff still happens after the solstice too. But now it’s not quite as, well…depressing. Now we get to feel like we might actually be winning. Or at least coming out with a clean draw. And that’s a wonderful feeling for a farmer, just this side of an explosion.
Tomorrow I’ll be at the Hampden Farmer’s Market from 2-6 pm at the Town Office in Hampden. After years of struggling after the explosion I never even saw, it’s more of a pleasure these days to be standing at market chatting with our loyal customers and my fellow vendors. I no longer think quite as fearfully of the return to the farm in the evening. Six hours away at market is a long time for lambsquarters to grow you know.
No, tomorrow evening I’ll pack up the truck at the end of market, make the trek home, kiss my wife and help usher the kids to bed with a book, head back out and unpack the truck and then, perhaps if the weather is fine, enjoy one of my most fulfilling times as a small scale, alternative, family farmer in Maine. As the sun begins to sink and the distant tree line begins to darken, I’ll wander through the thigh high grass of the hay field as it ripples softly in the breeze, out to the garden. There, I’ll meander down the walking paths between rows and simply take it in. The smells, the feel of the soil beneath my feet. The sounds of the pea vines as they speak to each other in the wind, and the sight of it all. Colors in a number and variation that humanity cannot begin to duplicate, shapes and heights galore and most satisfyingly, the organization of a garden that’s being managed not on a steep, terrible slope, but a challenging (yet rewarding) bell curve over whose peak we just tumbled.
Perhaps I’ll pick a few potato beetles off the eggplant, perhaps pull a weed or two, or maybe I’ll simply take it in, breathe deeply, smile and head off to bed at a decent hour firm in the knowledge that there is, indeed, always tomorrow because I’ve managed to get out just ahead of the Solstice this season and the weeds haven’t made tomorrow disappear. See you at market. Until then, Local Food. Eat well – be well.