Vegetable farming in Alaska is fast and furious. From the cold, possibly snowy days of spring to the nearly 24 hour sunshine of the summer solstice to the cold, possibly snowy days of early fall, farmers are going, going, going. The face of a burnt out farmer is a familiar one around here come the end of September.
I recently realized that the vegetable farming season is structured much like a good Shakespearean drama—the farming exposition comes in the form of perusing seed catalogs and planning out the coming season’s vegetable rotations. The rising action occurs with the slowly growing diversity of crops available, first the early turnips, radishes and cutting greens, Some head lettuce here and some carrots there, eventually new potatoes and peas are ready to be harvested, and then…EVERYTHING is ready from the cucumbers to the rutabaga to the monstrous Alaskan cabbages, we have reached the climax of the farming season. After this boom of peak harvest, the falling action happens very quickly. First the zucchini fail to size up, then the peas no longer make peas. The onions start to rot in the ground and the beets no longer size up. All the root crops are harvested during the few daylight hours when the ground isn’t frozen. As a sort of resolution, the Brussels sprouts, kale and leeks stand tall in the fields, reassuring the farmer that winter is still, indeed, a few weeks away.
We reached the climax of our farming season about a month ago, and the weather remained above freezing until about two weeks ago. It was an amazing season up here, with lots of warm sun and a good amount of rain, with a very warm spring and a late first frost. It seemed like it was going to be hard to say goodbye to the growing season…like maybe we would have to reluctantly harvest those onions that seemed perfectly happy in their warmish soil (rather than save them from certain demise, like usual).
However, Mother Nature once again let us know that the seasons were still going to change, and the time to grow vegetables was over.
We wrapped up with two more farm stands and the final CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share last week. The last few days of farming were fairly miserable. One day it was frozen hoses that made it impossible to wash the veggies. The next day awful winds whipped slushy sleet at us as we harvested the few things still left in the fields. Finally, we had to haul warm water from the house to keep some semblance of feeling in our fingers as we bunched, bagged and cleaned pre-harvested root vegetables. Have you ever heard of the screaming barfies? It’s a mountaineering term for when warm blood rushes into cold fingers…it makes you want to, you guessed it, scream and barf at the same time. This same phenomena happens to farmers working in freezing temperatures. Luckily, we all kept our lunches!
On top of the good ol’ weather, we were also looking a bit worse for the wear—dreaded hair, tired eyes, perma-dirt under our fingernails, coffee cups (of hasn’t-been-hot-for-a-few-hours-coffee) scattered about (might as well just get a coffee IV!) and too many bouts of aimless confusion. Then to top it off, our rubber bibs have broken clasps, holes in the knees, ripped off snaps and too many places for water to get in. My rubber boots have holes where the toes bend…so much for staying dry!
But then, we get to partake in one of the best feelings a person can experience—a nice, long, hot shower after being chilled to the bone. The kind of shower that keeps you warm and lazy for hours after you have dried off and cuddled onto the couch. The kind of shower that encourages you to go back out the next day just so you can experience the feeling of a nice long hot shower, again.
It’s the end of the season when I am thankful that I am not the owner of a farm, I am merely a farm worker. The last day of harvesting for market is my last day. I don’t have to sort through the hundreds of pounds of winter turnips, storage carrots, potatoes, and onions. I don’t have to clean up the rest of the frozen irrigation lines that are still out in the fields and take down the outbuildings and fences that will not withstand the fierce winds of the Mat-Su Valley winter. I would happily do these if asked, but it is not my duty (or my livelihood, yet!) to make sure the produce eventually finds a happy tummy and that the high tunnel survives the long winter. I am looking forward to the time when this could be my reality, but for now, I’m thankful that my last long, hot shower of the season has come and gone!
What does the end of the season look like in your neck of the woods? Frozen fingers in a flurry of snow? or beautiful crisp harvest days with bluebird skies?
Now it’s time to think about what this winter will bring!
Until next time, Sending you peace and love from Alaska,
Alex, The Rural Farmgirl