July 2010

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Roosters are the boon and the bane of the farmyard. As protectors of the hens, they are fierce contenders. Face off with a rooster asserting his territorial rights and you quickly learn the meaning of  “macho.” We have knocked roosters ass over tailfeathers in such confrontations, then had to run away after an even more determined counterattack.

Clyde was that kind of rooster. He let you know he was a master of the universe–his universe–from his first early morning wakeup calls to his defence of his flock. You didn’t mess with Clyde on his turf if you knew what was good for you.

We are using the past tense here because the coyote that nailed Clyde Saturday night apparently didn’t get the message. When Louisa discovered the remains, all that was left of our rooster was a sad little pile of feathers. Louisa was crestfallen at the death of a kindred soul.

We would never have called Clyde a friend exactly, but he did earn our respect. You know New Hampshire’s license-plate motto, “Live Free Or Die”? Well, Clyde managed to do both.

Which raises a broader philosophical question that we are currently wrestling with around here.

If open-pasture grazing for Clyde and his hens–instead of being cooped up in a smaller enclosed run–means you are also prey to predators, is freedom worth the price? In other words, suppose the slogan was, “Live Free and Die.”

We are well aware that this goes beyond chickens, but we’ll stick to the issue at hand for now. We sell most of our hen’s eggs at a nice little profit. But now, with Clyde gone, we have to decide whether to get another rooster and keep the flock at its current size–about 100 hens–or cut back, keeping the remaining hens in our more confined upper chicken run, and skip the new rooster. We’d be trading some profit for some peace.

Around here, this is not all that philosophical. Last night, for instance, when the interns  went to lock the hens and other birds into their houses for the night they were startled by a large barred owl that came swooping down out of the trees. The owl was casing the henhouse. It was a dramatic entrance, but it would have been curtains for a stray chick.

In a similar situation the late Clyde would have shooed his hens under the cover of a tree or under the henhouse or some other protection. (If you need a better picture of what we are talking about here, consult the April 28 post, “Farm Guide” for an aerial view of the farm and its various sectors.) Then Clyde, tough guy that he was, would have probably challenged the owl, and maybe driven it away.

On the other hand, experience has taught us that Clyde and his ilk–that is to say, roosters in general–can be a pain. Last year, when one of the interns went into the chicken yard to gather eggs, the rooster jumped him and ended up sitting on his chest. Roosters, with their testosterone overload, seem to get in everyone’s face and they never shut up.

Some women we know would say this is a gender situation not necessarily confined to barnyards–or roosters. That’s another philosphical debate we’ll skip. We’ve got enough on our plate right now.

Any ideas?

Persephone

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We have known Bob Dash for a decade, both as a neighbor and friend. He’s a member of the Wise Acres community across the road, a dedicated teacher, and a photographer with a telling eye. He’s also imbued with that wonderful quality, patience, which all the best shooters possess.  

A while back, we suggested that Bob and his camera spend some time looking at Persephone Farm. The results, we think, are often stunning and we’d like to share them with you. You can see even more of Bob’s work, and more of his farm photography, on his website, http://www.robertdashphotography.com/

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Back in March when I was first asked to photograph Persephone Farm for The Season, I was intrigued by the assignment. Living across from this property for two decades, I’ve witnessed a tremendous influx of energy and productivity since Persephone began. Although I’ve spent dozens of hours there over the years, I wasn’t prepared for the richness and depth that I’ve found.

Wandering around with my camera at all hours of the day has given me the excuse to pause and find the story within the story. The place teems with intensity; all the cycles of birth and death are played out by untold numbers of life forms, from the two-legged to the hundred-legged and everyone in between. Enter the gate or the greenhouse door into an inspired land where life hops, twists, digs, culls, climbs, flies, laughs, and above all, becomes its best.

Robert Dash

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Scarecrow and silver chimes: Sometimes drastic action is called for to prevent crop loss. Hanging this dead crow in the lower field did keep some of the crows away. I was drawn to the contrast of old silver chimes next to this ominous talisman.

 

 

 

Here’s some detail of the same crow wing two months after the previous shot.

 

 

 

Steamy compost—Louisa’s potent brew. So much effort to create abundant produce goes on behind the scenes. The complex art of soil enrichment with compost is one key to that success. When I taste a delicious strawberry or carrot from Persephone I generally don’t think about steaming straw and rotten plant matter—but here it is.

 

 

 

Kale goes out in flames. I love the “spring colors” of brassica leaves as they decay. Chlorophyll fades first, just like with maple leaves, and a host of brilliant pigments are revealed.

 

 

 

Sometimes the smallest life forms make the greatest contributions– the surface of this compost puddle is covered with springtails, minute hopping insects who are masters at speeding up plant decay.

 

 

 

Persephone never misses out on the chance to create yet another vegetable bed.

 

 

 

Mounds of lavender are remarkably spherical; I couldn’t resist blurring the rim to accentuate the effect.

 

 

 

Joel’s halo just proves what we all know:  that the farm interns are all angels.

 

 

 

Here’s newly-peeled garlic on the way to the drying racks.

 

 

 

During community gatherings at Persephone, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t smiling.

 

 

 

Rebecca and her lavender gifts–little did I know that this one was for me.

 

 

 

Veiled peppers.

 

 

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summer squash

How predictable. Common lore around here is that summer arrives in the Pacific Northwest July 5th, right after a cold and gloomy July Fourth. And sure enough, though we had our doubts, that’s exactly what happened. We watched the fireworks on the beach wrapped in sweaters and blankets. But a day later summer arrived and the temperature hit 89. That scene above is our interns, Greg and Mondrian celebrating in the summer squash patch yesterday. Then they went to the beach and jumped off the dock.

We wondered if this was to be The Summer That Never Arrived. But suddenly we are wearing flip-flops and up to our ears in flowers and veggies. And a good thing too. The orders are flowing in from our restaurant customers and the CSA boxes are stuffed with produce. And the sure sign that summer has arrived is that we will soon be harvesting fava beans. 

A couple of things about favas. They’ve been around since 6,000 B.C., which makes them one of the oldest known cultivated plants.  Legend has it that Sicily once experienced a crop failure that wiped out everything but favas and they are still celebrated there on March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, for saving the population from starvation. Legend also has it that favas are nature’s answer to Viagra because of their high concentration of L-dopa, which is also used to fight Parkinson’s Disease. 

That’s pretty much the spectrum of our fava-bean lore. Oh yes, and if you eat them they are supposed to make you dream about impending conflict. We’re not sure what that means.

Early next week, the weather gods willing, we will harvest all our favas in one day. They look a bit like lima beans on steroids–big leathery beans that you have to boil for a while to soften them up. But once cooked they make a great dish or a salad. People have been asking for them all spring.

We’ll spend the afternoon under the broad leaf maple down in the lower field, shelling favas while the bees hum in the lavender patch and the young swallows learn to use their newly hatched wings.

And then, if this hot spell holds, we’ll all pile into Sunny, the old yellow farm truck, drive down to the Indianola dock, and jump in the still icy Puget Sound. After that, we’ll probably stop by the Indianola General Store and get Rob’s giant ice cream cones.

Ah summer. You got here just in time.

Persephone

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Sometimes things just go right. Last evening, for example, the sun broke through and shone on our annual garlic party, the crowd wasn’t too big or too little, the music was great, food ditto, plus we got our garlic crop–or what remains of it–peeled and stored.

Who could ask for anything more? 

For those of you who couldn’t make it, Leslie Newman, our friend, neighbor, CSA subscriber, website queen, and all-round ace photographer, shot a few pictures which we will happily share.

Here’s a shot of Louisa, her husband Damon (left) and some of the peelers, hard at it. We managed to peel and hang about 1,000 garlic bulbs in about two hours–quite a bit of this year’s crop.

There is something magical in music at an event like this. Add a fiddle, a couple of guitars, and  accordian to the mix and the work seems to fly by. This crew–neighbors all–are especially talented.

Our apprentices are a hard-working bunch. Here’s Joel loading Gypsy garlic into the farm cart which will go to the barn for hanging.

 

The yurt meadow was piled with garlic, the sun was warm, the food delicious and the party was a success.

The cleaned and peeled garlic will be hung to dry out in the barn loft. As it dries it gains potency. Here Joel hoists bags of garlic to Greg, another of our apprentices, who is hanging it in the loft.

Dave Smith is one of our Wise Acre neighbors and a musician of amazing talent. He can switch from fiddle to guitar to mandolin and the music seems to fly from his fingers.

Ah yes, the food. That is what it is all about really, isn’t it. This was a potluck and the contributions–mostly from food we and our neighbors grew ourselves–once again raised the bar. The lavender comes from the farm’s garden and is the first of the season. Quite a lovely picture, all-in-all.

Thanks for everyone’s help.

Persephone

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