The Humorous Carrot Recites Limericks

This vegetable farmer has spent a lot of time weeding this summer, and a fair amount of time writing about weeding. Now I've outdone myself, by writing while weeding, or perhaps weeding while writing. Not long ago, on a hot dry day, as I weeded carrots for several hours, I made up several poems in my head.

Now, these were not serious poems. In fact, they were quite silly, especially since they were limericks, and especially since they were limericks about a certain carrot we had harvested the day before.

We've had odd carrots before, with two roots and legs, or carrots bent at 90 degree angles, exactly as if they were sitting in a chair, or two carrots twined around each other, or twins joined together at the carrot hip. But never had we an eight-rooted, eight-legged carrot as we had this year. They were short little legs, on a very wide carrot, and inspired me no end, particularly since I knew that the Guilford Vermont Fair was coming right up.

The Guilford Fair is a wonderful small old-fashioned country fair, with a horse show and a cattle show, sheep-shearing and vegetable and food and craft exhibits, along with live music and other attractions (such as cotton candy, and caramel apples). We entered vegetables and fruit and flowers this year, and we happily collected 15 blue, 4 red, and 6 yellow ribbons.

We were especially pleased with the blue ribbon on our giant heirloom tomato, weighing two and a half pounds, and in beautiful condition. We also had a blue on our three peaches, thanks to an unexpected peach yield from the tree on our lawn (well, it's really a pasture for our three workhorses, but it used to be a lawn). I picked through dozens of peaches for the perfect trio, and clearly the judges were as impressed as we were.

Another blue came from a miniature flower arrangement, not more than four inches in any direction. This was a little-bitty bucket from my collection of dollhouse furnishings, filled with the tiniest of wildflowers: a pink star-like bloom, a minute “daisy” (from our vigorous weed hairy galinsoga, or hairy gorgonzola, as we call it – which is another story, and one I believe I have told here before!), and the little yellow blooms of sourgrass. Oh, gee, it was cuter than you can imagine, and I had a fine time arranging it, and a fine time knowing that my farmer-fellow was, at the very same moment, at the Farmers' Market, upholding the productive, money-earning end of the farm.

But the crowning glory was, of course, my entry into the Richard J. Blazej Humorous Vegetable Contest. A humorous vegetable would, of course, be a vegetable who tells jokes, and I've had some good comedian-vegetables over the years.

This year my humorous vegetable was the eight-rooted, eight-legged carrot, and here follows those riotously funny limericks:

The Humorous Carrot Recites Limericks

There once was a carrot so odd
It grew a most marvellous bod.
One root wouldn't suffice,
But eight were quite nice,
And delighted the Great Carrot God.

There once was a carrot of choler
Who announced in an angry holler,
“I have to be me!
Unique will I be!”
And didn't earn the farmers a dollar.

The Humorous Carrot Can't Stop

The carrot had a very strong hunch
It could gow itself into a bunch,
Then go the the fair
Where folks gasp and stare,
And the farmers wouldn't eat it for lunch.

There once was a carrot with a curse
Of growing roots and reciting verse.
“All of this must cease,”
the carrot begged, “Please!
Because these rhymes go from bad to worse!”

Yes, the Humorous Carrot earned a blue ribbon. (And not only that, the Vermont fairs are so generous in their cash awards that we earned nearly $100 for our entries! What a productive, limerick-writing, mini-flower arranging, money-earning farmer am I!)

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Sept 25 - Oct 1, 2019

Farming Vows

Sometimes this writer-farmer takes a little break in the summer from writing about weeding to write about haying. Happily, thanks to a hot dry July, we already have all our hay in, and it is good hay, too. Only the very last load of the season got a tiny bit wet, just one small rain shower. After a marginal hay crop last year, and three horses pushing their noses through their daily doses of hay without enthusiasm, it is a relief to have a barn full of sweet-smelling hay.

It is not a relief, however, to come back to the weeding after the haying. The garden has gone completely amuck during our hay-hiatus. I begin to worry that, in fact, we are going to lose a crop entirely again to weeds this season, despite my recent claim that this hasn't happened in years.

I mean, heck, I can't even remember now what we planted under those towering weeds.

“Did we plant anything under these towering weeds?” I moan to my fellow farmer.

“Gee, I think so,” my fellow answers. “Leeks, right? And weren't you harvesting scallions out of there?”

Ah, yes. Now I remember, and one hay-free day, I dive in, and liberate the leeks. They still have a chance, valiant Welsh vegetables that they are. (I love leeks, my mother's family is Welsh, and the Welsh symbol is the leek. Therefore I start by weeding the lovely leeks. A person needs to bring some sensible order to her weeding.)

Next in the weeds is the Swiss chard. Chard is a nice big leafed sturdy vegetable, the Swiss are nice orderly people, and the chard has not been entirely overpowered either. I weed more quickly now, and then come to an abrupt halt.

Let's see, I did harvest a lot of scallions out of this section some time ago. But are there any still lingering, hanging on to life, or can I just rip out all these monstrous weeds? I rip, making relatively quick work of the weeds in the almost empty of scallions section, and we use the last few determined bunches for our lunch.

There is still a big chunk of the bed left to weed, probably 100 feet, and I peer into the weeds, hunting for food. Then it occurs to me: Oh no! The dill and cilantro!

Luckily, my fellow farmer isn't nearby to hear my muttering and cursing, because this dill and cilantro planting was a mistake in the first place.

Years ago, I announced: “No more big plantings of dill and cilantro! We can't keep it weeded! We're only going to plant a tiny bit in the herb garden from now on!”

“All right!” announced my fellow farmer back.

This is what happened too, for several seasons, until I was once again swayed by my optimistic fellow farmer, and by a big empty space in a bed, that needed something planted in it, quickly, before the weeds came on. I had foolishly forgotten my dill and cilantro vow, after so many peaceful herb years.

“How about dill and cilantro?” my fellow farmer said, also clearly forgetting my vow, or, perhaps, happily bypassing it.

“Isn't that too much?” I said, a faint bell ringing in my head.

“Nah,” said my fellow, “Everybody loves dill and cilantro.” He got the seed packets out of the storage tub.

“We're going to keep it weeded?” Bells rang more loudly.

“Of course,” he said, dumping the seeds in the seeder.

“We're going to harvest it on time? Before it bolts?”

“Of course!” he repeated, as he barreled down the empty stretch of bed with the seeder, planting dill and cilantro. A lot of it.

“I don't know if this is a good idea,” I called after him.

“It's a great idea!” said he, man of action and enthusiasm.

And so it goes.

And so I sat, glumly contemplating the huge weeds, and the supposed dill and cilantro planting. I don't even like dill all that much, I thought. And cilantro's pretty darn good in salsa, but some people are allergic, and think cilantro tastes like soap. Why are we planting this much soap?

Then my herb vow came back fully and clearly to mind, all bells clamoring. I also had a sudden understanding of my farmer-daughter's sighs and groans when sent to harvest dill and cilantro, as well as an increasing understanding of her paltry harvest.

Then and there, I made a new farming vow, or at least a new weeding vow: to write all my brilliant vows down, and announce them, at top volume, every morning, all season long. Now that sounds like a fine start to a farming day!

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Aug 28- Sept 3, 2019

The Literal Learning Curve: Haying with Horses

Sometimes when we talk about the learning curve in haying with horses, we like to actually show it: our literal learning curve.

There are two curves, to be precise, one on each of the massive posts that frame the doorway of our barn.

“Come on over,” we say, “Here it is! Our learning curve!” We point out the elegant curve that has been carved out each of the posts, just at the height of the floorboards of our haywagon. Yes, indeed, it took more than a few tries to gauge the width of the haywagon, and the width of the barn door, and the width of the swing necessary with the horses from the right, and the width of the swing necessary with the horses from the left.

Of course, given that the haywagon is eight feet eight inches wide, and the doorway is nine feet one inch wide, and that the hay on a loaded wagon sticks out a good foot on either side, there's no wonder we have a literal learning curve. In fact, it is only my fellow farmer, the teamster here, who can take credit for the learning curve, as he both carved it out of the posts, and finally conquered all the widths and swings.

For our part, my farmer-daughter and I, riding on the top of the full wagon, do our best to ensure all will go well while entering the barn by hiding our heads and squeezing our eyes shut, in order to ward off the big thunk. We must be doing our part very nicely, along with the teamster and the horses, because we haven't had a big thunk and an abrupt stop in years.

We all like this very much, including the horses. The horses pull hard up the slight incline to the barn door, and they are not delighted when they come to a thumping halt, nor are they especially fond of the load becoming unexpectedly heavier as the post is being carved by the wagon floorboards.

We've also have had a few instances when it wasn't the floorboards that halted the works, but the hay itself. When the load is both big and unbalanced, the hay tends to gets stuck in the doorway. Then the horses have to hold the load steady while we riders slide down the load and race for the chucks.

We chuck the wagon to take the weight off the horses, and then we chuck off some of the hay, and ask the horses to pull again. They do, willing and strong horses that they are. Once we actually get the wagon into the barn, we unload the hay into the mow, which can be quick and easy, in a clear spot, or long and hard, if we have to stuff the hay up in the rafters. After unloading, there are the two massive posts on the exit door to navigate. Generally this is much easier, and these two posts don't show much learning curve wear.

But we do have a vivid memory of one year, when our big horse Ben was new to the haywagon, and my fellow farmer was giving Ben some practice in making small adjustments to an empty wagon that was just slightly too far to one side as it went out the exit door. This is finer work, not requiring brawn so much as precision. Backing up is already very fiddly work for a horse, and backing up a few steps, going forward at a slight angle, backing up, over and over again, was all just too much for a green horse. At one point, Benny had a complete fit in the harness, not going backwards or forwards, but somehow making his entire body into fits of frustration visible to all.

“Oh, Benny,” we said, sympathizing and laughing at the same time, and we unhitched him then and there, and brought in his wise old auntie Betsey while he had a rest in his stall.

Now wise old Auntie Betsey is buried underneath our apple tree, right across from the barn doors, where she can keep track of things, and Ben has become much older and wiser himself, twelve or more years later.

Whether we can say the same for the farmers is another matter, since here we are, learning curves, head-hiding, eye-closing and all, still crazily making hay.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, July 31- Aug 6, 2019

Can't See the Garden for the Weeds

We've come a long way in our weeding since we first started farming. Why, back in the early days, we lost entire crops to weeds.

My fellow farmer and I would go out to check the planting of carrots, recently germinated. A little weedy, we said, but not too bad. We could wait a bit to tend the carrots, surely, while we tackle the much weedier peas and salad greens.

A week passes, and we check the carrots again. We are in complete agreement: these carrots are getting urgent. We better get to them this week.

Another week. Getting urgent turns to “Oh my gosh, the carrots are desperate! We have to weed these, without fail!”

But, yes, another week passes, and the carrots have entirely disappeared, under nearly knee-high weeds.

“Don't panic,” we farmers bolster each other, “We're having a weeding and ice cream party this very weekend, and our fine CSA members will clear this out in a jiffy!”

Oh, ha ha ha. Even with our fine CSA members, and our careful work, trying to hold in the wisps of carrots while rooting out the gigantic weeds, we are able to clear about twenty feet, out of six hundred, in three hours.

“Well, we've got a good start?” we say, with more hope than sense, and rush to another crisis in the garden.

The next week, one stalwart volunteer returns. We are surprised to see him. “I just wanted to help you finish those carrots,” he says.

“Oh,” we answer, looking quickly at one another. We don't want to break this kind member's heart, but we have to admit the the sensible truth. “We, uh, we realized, we didn't think, there was no way, without losing everything else, the weeds were just so big, the carrots didn't germinate all that well, we just had to . . .” we stumble around, and finally get it out: “We plowed them under.”

“Oh!” the nice fellow says, not seeming heartbroken at all, but looking rather jaunty. His whole afternoon has opened up before him, and he makes his escape, before we suggest yet another crop desperate for weeding.

Now, we can't say we've gotten to be better, faster weeders over the years; in fact, we may be just a smidge slower and creakier than we were 25 years ago.

But we are smarter weeders. Since we couldn't see the garden for the weeds, so to speak, we decided to open up a little more garden land, in order to rest garden sections in yearly succession, rather than having every bit of the garden in production all the time. Over the long-term, what with bare fallowing and cover cropping, we've been able to knock back the weed seed bank considerably.

In the short-term, we've been able to prioritize our weeding. We look at how vigorous the crop is, and how long it needs to stay in the ground. Those carrots, for example, need serious and speedy weeding. Carrots take three weeks to germinate, which means most weeds already have a head start. Carrots also have such fine feathery tops that they're not able to compete with any broad-leafed and vigorous weed, or really even any narrow-leafed and not very vigorous weed. Carrots also stay in the ground a long time, compared to some other crops. Salad turnips are sown at the same time, but they grow quickly, and so are harvested quickly, which means a different weeding technique altogether. We have another vivid memory of a volunteer, in a salad turnip bed, who was wading in weeds. Her progress, not surprisingly, was very slow.

We went over to see how it was going, and realized she was taking out every weed, from the giant to the miniscule. She also had a look of weeding despair on her face. We recognized that look, and we knew how to help.

“Oh,” we said gaily, realizing we hadn't explained what we meant: “These salad turnips will be out of the ground and into people's stomachs in less than two weeks! You don't really have to weed them! You just have to find them!”

We demonstrated: finding a crop means cutting out the giant weeds with a pair of clippers, so that we can see the vegetables to harvest. Things speeded up considerably, and our volunteer began to whistle.

Of course, we are still all about weeding, here on our sustainable vegetable farm, especially in July. But happily, we haven't even had to “find” a crop, or plow a crop under, in many years, which is excellent progress. Speaking of which, I believe I'll go out and weed those carrots.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, July 3-July 9, 2019