Sometimes I feel that all the weeks and months of the year are just a count down until summer. Summer is time’s destination. My spirit looks forward to it so much. It is as if the longer days gift you with more time to live. I love the clear skies and the crystal water of the rivers and lakes. I love that you have to go high in the mountains and forests to find cooler temperatures. I love that sometimes it’s so hot in the middle of the day that the field is a rippling mirage, and I’m forced to drink a beer on the porch, to take off my boots and wait for the sun to dip lower in the horizon, at which time work can continue. I love that another season comes to fruition in the heart of summer. Plants grow, flower, fruit, their actions defining how this season will be celebrated and what lessons will be learned.
Exhausting and exhilarating are the days of summer. It’s never a challenge to fall asleep after these long days. My body collapses and is covered in a cool breeze, one that has welcomed itself in from the open window. Each morning it is early to rise. Rising before the sun, when the temperature can be described as refreshing. Rising with the birds, the dew, the unopened squash blossoms, the sunflowers wide-eyed, awaiting the arrival of their sun. Tea in hand I watch and feel as the earth continues its spin eastwards, suddenly exposing golden rays over the summit of Mt. Shasta. In the morning glow, I can almost hear the sunflowers exhale with joy.
Summer is juicy, and social, and the epicenter of abundance. First among much in abundance comes heat. In Siskiyou County, we can have a killing freeze Memorial Day weekend and then, by the middle of June, a week straight of 100 degree highs. With heat in abundance, it is inevitable that shortly thereafter arrives a glut of zucchini and summer squash. Once you have squash, you continue to be wholly rich in never-ending squash. You might consider yourself a generous person: now compare yourself to a squash plant! With the way these plants produce, there’s the potential to put Malthus’ theory at bay. If summer squash were a nutritionally complete meal, their whiter papery seeds could be scattered out of airplanes, were they could spout throughout every corner of the globe. To ensure you don’t get fruit the size of your entire leg, squash has to be harvested every other day, at a minimum. It is a good thing this prolific fruit is a favorite at Farmers’ Market and with the CSA. Otherwise, I might resort to old country tactics. As the saying goes, “Don’t leave your car window down in a parking lot during the summer time, or you’ll find a bag of squash on your seat!” Summer squash is the definition of being rich in abundance. Oddly enough I never get sick of harvesting it, and Jonathan and I never get sick of eating it. It’s the bounty of summer and we celebrate it.
Other fruits soon follow in abundance. In time, this farmer’s patience and much hard work pay off as lemon cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, melons, watermelon, corn, and tomatoes find their authenticity and ripen to a pure state of presence. This is what we savor and what brings the smiles of summer to every crescented slice of watermelon. The diversity of color and taste this time of year is special. It’s a feast for the eyes and the taste buds alike. Summer means potlucks and moments to enjoy time with friends in that extra life gifted with the long days. Whole, fresh foods are always the centerpiece of these potlucks. Foods that are rooted in nature and as pure as the banks of the river where we share it. These moments can feel so perfect, perfectly simple. Life distills itself down to a hat, river rocks, cool water, laughter of friends and slices of lemon cucumber, and nothing more is needed.
The abundance Homeward Bounty Farm produces would not be possible without our high tunnel. With the purchase of the farm in 2013 I started to look into programs that could support the business. I applied for a high tunnel through the Season Extension Program offered by the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service). In 2015 the funds were awarded and we got the community together for a high tunnel raising. This structure is basically a large greenhouse, where plants are grown in the soil. This structure has truly been the gift of season extension. I can over-winter greens in the cold months. I can also start tomatoes and other summer crops earlier in this protected and warm environment, allowing them to mature quicker to the unabashed joy of shoppers at the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market. This year I believe I have completely dialed in the concept of intercropping (planting quick maturing crops along the edges of slower maturing crops. The early crops are harvested in time for the later crop to grow into that needed space.), as well as growing vertically to maximize space.
Tomatoes for example are grown vertically in the high tunnel. I prune the tomatoes aggressively, down to one or two leaders or main branches. I pinch off all the suckers and clip the main branches to a line that is hung from an overhead truss system. As the tomato grows, I continue pruning and add more clips to keep each plant successfully growing up the line. The result of all this hard work is healthy, dense, high quality heirloom tomatoes, shining in all different colors. You can find these atop an artisan gourmet pizza at Café Maddalena’s in Dunsmuir and displayed out on the table at the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market, where they draw many smiles and camera clicks. Each year we try and grow more, feeding the hunger of our community for one of summer’s most popular totems. I have even turned my once tomato shunning husband to the light of truth and yumminess, as he now looks forward and enjoys, rather than detests these fruits.
The abundance this time of year also inspires preservation. True season extension can be sought in the challenge of finding a way to eat from the farm or CSA basket bounty, all year long. I love it when I sell in volume, knowing that the flat of tomatoes will be tomato sauce, enjoyed on a stormy day in winter, or a bunch of dill will be used for pickled cucumbers or pickled okra. One CSA member makes the best pickled okra! Vinegary, slightly slimy and delightfully crunchy, spears of okra can’t be beat! In the jar, dill flowers stay suspended, holding onto the story of sunny summer days. Often this time of year, between tasks of weeding, harvesting, and irrigation management, are tasks to process our own farmer seconds, the fruits that are bruised, sun scalded or blemished. Although the house is already hot, we fire up the canning pot. We process salsa from tomatoes and tomatillos, we can pickle beets and squash, as well as dehydrate many vegetables for later enjoyment, for a later time when the field is under cover crop and building nutrients for the season ahead.
I delight in the notion of preservation. To keep the joys of an abundant season tightly in a jar. To hold on to summer’s bounty, to memories of repetitive squash harvesting and strong corn stalks reaching higher towards the sky. So much more than just fruit is preserved, which can be felt when jars are opened and shared in the weeks where snow is on the ground and leaves have fallen from the trees. It’s amazing to experience the sensation of having a time where there was too much, when food could pile up, when abundance overflows. It feels powerful to save and store it, to bring that bounty into every week of our life. To extend our season or health and our connection with food and the ability to continually share it with those we love. To give a sense of plate, to each meal, regardless of the season.
I love that the summer days are truly long and full of life. I track the sun like a sunflower, moving about my day from task to demanding task. Golden rays exit West, into the belly of the Klamath National Forest, sending an alpine glow to the cheeks of Mt. Shasta, the same rays that earlier left mine a little rosier. I soak in the spirit of these abundant days. I pull it close to my bones, preserving it, the season extension of summertime for the soul. I hold it for the times when the days aren’t as bountiful, when the sun isn’t shining.