Newsflash: Farming is hard work. Even nice, earthy, green, feel-good-about-yourself-and-the-planet organic farming. Oh sure, we organic farmhands don’t have to worry about pesticide poisoning (at least not on the job), nor are we subject to spirit-crushing while traversing a miserable monochromatic sea of soy in our air-conditioned harvest machines, but there are moments when you realize that the path you’ve chosen is a long row to hoe. Sometimes–many times–literally. And a hard one at that.
You see, while “conventional” growers are busy spraying their crops with all manner of herbicides and pesticides, we’re busy eradicating weeds by hand. On occasion, this involves the use of good, ol-fashioned hand-hoes, and a lot of back-breaking repetitive motion on a hot muggy day. On other occasions, it involves getting down on all fours and picking the little weedlings out from between the crop plants one-by-one. I had not been aware that finger muscles could get sore until I pulled weeds for four hours straight on a fine spring day in May. Up until then, I resorted to over-the-counter pain killers about once or twice a year, usually after a physical mishap of some sort. Now, I’ve got a “family size” bottle of generic ibuprofen sitting on my dresser.
But nothing beats banging stakes into the ground, especially if it’s dry ground. Ever done it? How about an entire row or five, involving about 250 wooden stakes?
“You know the season has really begun when you hear the sound of banging stakes into the ground,” noted seasoned farmhand Virginia (the one holding the bucket of peppers above).
It might not be so bad if the banging tool itself didn’t weigh about 30 pounds and need to be hoisted above your head to get it fitted onto the top of the stake before you can start driving it in. Women’s lib is great and all, but it’s a safe bet to say that most of the stakes at Greenbranch got sunk in by the males among us. It takes a lot of upper body strength.
Wait, did I say stake-banging was hard? I meant straw-mulching. That’s what you do when you’re done staking the tomatoes. Tomatoes love a good straw mulch. Thick. As in 6 inches or so thick. Keeps the moisture in and the weeds out. Once the plants are established, and the stakes are in (every other plant), we get to dive in and roll around in the hay! Sounds like fun, and it is–the first dozen bales or so.
“Rub the big yellow dog,” said Virginia. “That’s what Jeff likens the spreading of the hay between the rows to,” she explained. And it is like rubbing the tummy of a big yellow dog, kind of. Again and again and again. Plus you have to gently tuck the hay under the delicate leaves of the tomato plants, so you can’t just go in like a football team kicking hay all about.
Oh, and did I mention it’s about 90 degrees and high noon while you’re doing all this? You would think you would be done with the tomato prep, but you’re not. They need to be strung. Another job which requires precision and patience as each plant is carefully hemmed in between two lines of twine themselves wrapped around every stake.
So then while we’re all–this includes you, dear reader I’m sure–waiting in great anticipation for the tomatoes to fruit and ripen to perfection, it’s time to go pick some other ripe stuff. Like beans, lots of beans. Or, even better, dig up some new potatoes! 25 pounds to a bucket, each of which must be hand-carried over to the truck, then unloaded and lovingly loaded into crates for sale or storage.
Wait, these aren’t the potatoes from the seed potatoes which we sifted through back in May, are they? Sorting out the viable ones from the rotted, fetid ones, cutting them down to size and coating them in sulfur to keep them fresh for planting? The smell of sulfur–which some liken to rotten eggs–was with us and those who had to live with us for days. They couldn’t have spawned new potatoes already, could they?
Just a little something to think about the next time you wonder why organic produce costs more. Even a labor of love ain’t cheap.