A Nice Hot Shower

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.


Cold, cold sun
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.

Brussels 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).

Staying warm in the hay shedHowever, Mother Nature once again let us know that the seasons were still going to change, and the time to grow vegetables was over.

Baby in the brussels 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!

Delivering CompostWhat 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

  1. My how that little girl has grown and so pretty too. Glad you will have a chance to get some rest now. I know how hard you work. My daughter in law works for the local Experiment station here in Virginia and she also is a laborer in the fields. She loves her job. But is hard work and she get very tired. But oh so much satisfaction. I’m send hugs to you and your family. sincerely Juanita from Eastern Virginia

  2. Mary Fenske says:

    Alex, I love your stories, your descriptions and most importantly, the pictures of your adorable little girl. She is precious. Stay warm.

  3. Margaret Martabano says:

    Really enjoy reading Alex’s blogs. I have visited Alaska in summer. Hope winter isn’t too bad this year.

  4. Diann says:

    Are you ready for this one? It was 97! yep 97! where I abide, which I am grateful for because it wasn’t over 100!!! We are so excited around here because next week it will be in the high to mid 80’s…woooohoooo! Can’t wait! The nut ranchers (that’s farm anyplace else I’ve lived!) are done with their 24/7 harvesting and the dust is about to settle. But alas, new plantings for corn, hay, etc., are already being prepared to plant. I am still amazed at the farming that happens here in California. I remember the first year I was here buying fresh strawberries for Christmas dinner….amazing! I love the changing seasons…as long as I don’t have to experience winter! So young lady, bless you and yours for your love of farming and tolerance for that cold stuff. As for me and mine, yeaaaa for sunshine.

  5. Tamara says:

    You sure have a short season! Beautiful baby,too. It’s been a very, very hot summer here in Grants Pass, OR and it’s continued into October. At least it’s not in the 90’s, but it’s been quite warm and dry except for one brief rain storm. Next week is supposed to bring more rain and we’re all quite ready for it. My corn is long gone, tomatillos were finished a couple of weeks ago and the tomatoes are waning. My beans did not do well this year, so I’m harvesting all I can after they dry and saving them to plant next year in more ideal locations. The squash were done long ago. I have bok choy and swiss chard that is doing well for winter. I have to force myself to get out and water because I’m just SO done with that…and fire danger is still looming until we get some steady rains. I’m on a well here and it seems to still have plenty of water, but I don’t want to risk it. My boyfriend has been harvesting anjou pears and figs. I’ve been making dried pears, pear butter, canned pears, and fig and pear preserves. There are still tons of pears on his tree, so I’m waiting for another delivery and we’ll probably call it quits before all the fruit is used. In for a major pruning this winter! Thanks for your blog. I always enjoy it!

  6. Alex, I have family in Alaska and have been there many, many times. So I could really understand this post. I have never seen such BEAUTIFUL rhubarb as I’ve seen at my sister-in-laws Alaska home!!! But I’ve also never been so cold anywhere as I was there. That wind blowing off the icy inlet. Oh my word, it was cold! 🙂 It’s a gorgeous place that is NOT meant for wimps! And you my friend, are not a wimp! Loved this post. – Dori, your fellow Farmgirl blogger – 🙂

  7. Barb says:

    Love your blogs, and the picts of you and the little one….gasp, choke…working OUTSIDE together!! My friends all thought I was horrible and nuts to have my kids out hiking, in the gardens, working sheep and cows in all weather. And awesome adults they have grown to be, as I’m sure that little girl of yours will be! So much of the work we do for the love of it is hard, dirty, and discouraging at times…something as simple as a hot shower or cup of tea makes all the difference and lets us reflect on why we do what we do. Carry on!

  8. Linda says:

    Your daughter is just so cute. Aren’t babies wonderful? Fall is coming in at full speed ahead although today it is quite warm. A goodly amount of leaves have already been composted. I planted garlic earlier this afternoon – some cloves from this season’s garlic harvest from my garden as well as a grab bag of an unlabeled mixture I purchased at the Mother Earth News Fair. I also picked some of the remaining eggplants, tomatoes, and yellow squash in the garden to make ratatouille soup. Everything in the soup except the olive oil and salt are from my suburban backyard. Looking forward to eating a bowl of it tonight for supper accompanied by a slice of homemade bread from the freezer. An aside – the zucchini and yellow squash plants are still putting out blooms and squash. Never, ever have I had summer squashe go this late in the season. (Mid Oct. here in Central Ohio) Just a tad weary of them and so are my neighbors. 🙂 The freezer is full of grated zucchini for winter use and there are many jars of dried zucchini chips. Memo to self – be thankful for abundance. Enjoy the winter break from your tasks on the farm. A time to recharge internal batteries even if it is cold and dark.

  9. Joan says:

    Clean-up is my fall thing. Can’t really think after seeing you and your most precious helper – yes I do think she helps you keep that beautiful smile going. Thanks for sharing.

  10. susana says:

    I remember those days working on a farm…..couldn’t wait for the sun to go down and we could go back to the farm house, get the dirt wahed off and food in our bellies. How dry my hands were and he sore my legs and arms felt! And still having to go out in the dark to get buckets of milk to start churning for the evening butter. Such was not fun! But hard work for a teenager, but it instilled in me so many things ….especially gardening for my later years. My family went every summer and my suster and I stayed the whole summer and for several years before I realized it was More hard work than fun…but it was nice getting Paid……it was my first real job. But wouldn’t change a thing from those learning days. It instilled in me the love of seeing things GROW.

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