I’m writing on a gray November day, with the 2015 season mostly behind us-just a few loose ends left to tie, a few projects left to complete, a few markets left to attend, a few veggies left to sell. And, of course, this newsletter left to write, a summing up and synopsis of the growing season of 2015.
It began with the reappearance of the soil from under an unusually thick and tenacious covering of snow-an event (or process really) that we all awaited impatiently, but with some trepidation at the thought of the epic mud season that would surely ensue. And yet the mud was mercifully brief and nowhere near as dramatic as we had imagined. As soon as it disappeared, the season began in earnest, with parsnips to dig, fat garlic shoots breaking the surface of the soil, and the sculptural skeletons of apple trees bursting into bloom. The prodigious amount of snow-melt watered our newly sprouted hopes and plans, while an endless succession of sunny, blue sky days set the template for a beautiful summer, full of warmth, color, and the constant roar of irrigation pumps filling the rainless days that stretched well into the fall.
I have often said, have probably even written in some previous newsletter that I’m about to plagiarize, that, given the capacity to provide all of one’s crops’ water requirements through irrigation, a farmer is better off without any rain-and the past couple years (along with the Arizona and California produce industry) have borne out this premise. Some of the most devastating crop diseases are fungal or bacterial in nature, and require extended periods of wet foliage to cause an infection. Running sprinklers on a hot sunny day means that foliage dries quickly (or even better, running drip irrigation where foliage doesn’t get wet at all) and creates an inhospitable environment for plant pathogens. Cloudy, rainy days and nights, on the other hand, provide the ideal conditions for infection and spread of a wide variety of plant diseases. Of course it has to rain sometime to recharge the surface and subsurface water sources, or all bets are off.
None of which helped us avoid Basil Downy Mildew again this season, an unwelcome newcomer, but apparently here to stay. The happy marriage of tomato and basil seems to be falling apart because they now occupy different seasons, only meeting briefly each year sometime in July, when the very first tomatoes pair briefly with the last of the basil before it succumbs…Tragic. And dry weather doesn’t prevent infection from some diseases, notably Powdery Mildew of cucurbits, which, along with other pests and insect-borne pathogens, can cut short our cucumber and summer squash season even in a dry year.
But most crops grew and flourished amid our frenzied attempts to keep them hydrated. It is unusual for us to see crops get to the point of wilting, but this year, at various points, we were alarmed to see potatoes drooping, sweet potatoes at the point of collapse, peppers sad and ready to give up-how surprising and gratifying that, despite their privations, they produced nonetheless, providing in each case I mentioned a bumper crop well beyond our expectations.
Apart from the dry weather, and the incongruous yields that we managed to coax from crops that were clearly not always ‘thrifty’ (a farmer’s word that is a form of the word ‘thrive’), the year was notable for a major transition: After tending the orchards and farm for many decades, John Bemis retired-leaving us with quite a crop of apples as a parting gift, and the legacy of a well-tended orchard that, if we can figure out how to manage it as successfully as he did, will provide delicious crops for years to come. His brother Gordon remains at Hutchins, helping chart the course of this long-lived and well-loved venture into the future.
Which brings us to the present: cold, worn out and shell-shocked as we are even (or maybe especially) after the most successful season. But it’s not quite at an end, with our usual markets on Saturday at Union Square, Somerville and Monday at Central Square, Cambridge, along with a new market (for us) on Sunday at The Arcade Building at Coolidge Corner in Brookline, all continuing for two more weeks until Thanksgiving, at which point, in keeping with the spirit of that holiday, we will breathe a sigh of relief. And as long as the weather and the crops hold out, we will continue to stock our porch with self-serve veggies – check our website for the most up to date list of what you’ll find if you stop by.
We are all grateful to be able to pursue this interesting, strenuous and gratifying livelihood, humbled by our debt to those who have farmed before us, those who had the foresight to keep the farm fields open, intact and undeveloped, the continuing pageant of workers who provide the labor and enthusiasm that’s necessary to our enterprise, and especially to those folks who continue to patronize our stand, enjoy the fruits of our labor, and appreciate our efforts to provide the most nutritious and delicious food possible. We wish you all a safe, healthy, and happy winter season!