June is often a dry month, but as of last Thursday the Berkshires had officially reached “moderate drought” according to the US Drought Monitor. We were on tenterhooks, waiting to see if a drier-than-usual June would lead to a full-blown summer drought, or if we would finally get the rain we so badly needed.
Well, dear reader, if you’ve been in the Berkshires for the past several days you know how that turned out! The rain we got over the weekend was a relief. Monday’s hail wasn’t exactly ideal, but the damage from the hailstones is still better than the potentially devastating effects of a persistent dry spell. We won’t know for sure until this week’s drought report whether this rainy spell has been enough to pull us out of the drought altogether, but we’re relieved and it seems promising.
We’ve weathered drought before, not too many years back. More recently, there was a season that began with a drought, and then somewhere around mid-July it started raining and just. didn’t. stop. The damp, cool weather was worse than a short-term drought, because as long as the water table doesn’t dip too low you can at least irrigate in a drought — but there’s not much to be done for lack of sun.
If we controlled the weather, it’d be warm and sunny every summer day, with gentle soaking rains two or three nights each week. We hope the weekend’s rain didn’t spoil your plans too much! Here’s to more beautiful, sunny days, with just the right amount of rain to fill your wells and make the plants grow.
Twelve thousand years ago, in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, human beings began the work of planting and tending food crops for the first time.
Last Saturday, in West Stockbridge, we were much too busy with the rush of tending our own crops to give much thought to the history of agriculture. Hah.
We are still planting some long season crops and flowers. It’s been so dry that everything desperately needs water — except the weeds, which are experts at growing in even drought conditions. So we drag around the hoses and we hoe and pull the weeds to give our big, healthy plants the best possible beginning. We haven’t gotten into the heavy harvest season yet, when it’s all we can do to keep up with the tomatoes and snap beans and squash, but we know those days are coming up fast.
This is not to complain about the work! We love this work and we count ourselves very lucky that we get to make a life this way. But it’s easy to get stuck on the to-do list and forget to stop, take a breath, and marvel at the miracle of growing food for our community.
But when Cian came in from the field after nine on Saturday night and said “I finally ran out of light,” we both nodded in silent acknowledgement; it was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
Anything we plant now — the late rounds of cucumbers and beans, fall greens, and so on — will take longer to grow than their spring-sown counterparts, owing to the shorter day length. The waning daylight over the coming weeks will also prompt plants to mature, producing the vegetables we will be harvesting in abundance before long.
For millennia, farmers in the northern hemisphere have marked this day. Historically, many cultures have celebrated the solstice with festivals and ceremonies at sites like Stonehenge, built to recognize and honor this crucial moment in the astronomical year.
We like to imagine farmers throughout history in their fields on the solstice, hand to their brow, surveying the crop as the sun finally, slowly begins to sink below the horizon. What a privilege, for us, to be a part of that history.
We have two kids: Bridget, who is 4.5, and Finn, who is just a year. Farming with children has always been an adventure and a challenge – I wish I could go back and pat sweet, naïve 2015 me on the shoulder, she had no idea what she was in for – but the pandemic put the kibosh on our very-part-time childcare situation and now it’s all babies, all the time around here.
It has been interesting. We don’t live where we farm, so there’s no taking the kids inside for lunch or a nap. And believe me, these kids need their naps! But toting them along with us is also giving them the opportunity to develop their independent play skills. They get to see us working hard at something that matters to us, and Bridget gets to help out as often as we can manage to come up with tasks for her.
Last week, for example, we planted potatoes. Cian dug the holes, and I carried the bucket of seed potatoes in my hands and the baby on my back. Bridget walked between us, dropping the seed potatoes and patting down the soil around them. We could have gotten it done a lot faster with just the two of us – heck, one of use could have gotten it done faster working alone. But for about 15 minutes, Bridget was engaged and learning about plants and insects and what it takes to feed a community; we felt proud, in that moment, to be growing little citizens right alongside your vegetables.
Then she ran off to pick dandelions, but that, too, is the work of childhood.
When we were kids, my cousins and I loved to pull stalks of rhubarb off the plants in the back yard and eat them raw, still warm from the sun, dipped in little dishes of sugar. Our parents did the same when they were kids – same backyard, same rhubarb plants, and probably the same sticky faces too.
The rhubarb in your CSA share this week is from the same plants, which have been growing here on the Tremblay homestead since the 1950s. We think of the plants as a living, delicious family heirloom, left for us by my grandparents. For Cian, caring for the rhubarb plants — mulching them, dividing them, harvesting hundreds of pounds each spring — is a tangible connection to my grandfather, a man he was never able to meet. My grandfather was a gardener at Naumkaeg and Shadowbrook (now Kripalu), and it seems entirely likely that we are harvesting from plants initially taken from a division of a plant from one of those grand Berkshire Cottages of the Gilded Age – which obviously makes it some of the fanciest rhubarb around, right?
Our eldest child, Bridget, is four and a half now. She’s been eating rhubarb straight off the plant since she was two, but this was the first year I handed her a little dish of sugar to go with it. I wish I had a picture of her face in that moment, a combination of surprise, delight, and suspicion (as though she was thinking, what’s the catch here lady?). “It’s okay, babygirl,” I told her. “It’s a family tradition.”
When she was done she snuck up and gave me a big kiss, sticky face and all.
Rhubarb: It’s not just for pie! Here are a handful of recipes we love: