Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe

Though I'm not working regularly at anyone's farm this year, I promised myself to find time to help out on occasion as well as to explore new-to-me farms. On Monday, having nothing else pressing on my schedule, I decided to meet both of those promises.

My best barter buddy from Local Roots -- a woman I'll call The Delighted Gardener (you know, it's really tough to come up with a nickname for someone when they are just waiting to see what you will call them!) -- is a farmer who has frequently accepted a goodly amount of my leftover bread from the market in exchange for herbs, greens, and other good stuff. Knowing that she was growing a LOT of garlic this year, I offered to head out to her farm in Kidron to help when it was time to cut garlic scapes (something I use in a really delicious pesto, smeared on flatbread).

Tucked back off the road, her quiet farm shows a wide variety of plantings and ideas in progress. This "edible landscape" appears right out front of the house, full of herbs, salad greens, strawberries, and her favorite edible flowers. Behind the house, rows upon rows of vegetables, herbs, and flowers create an impressive contrast to the rolling fields behind the property.

A walk back through the gardens and skirting the woods led us to the garlic patch: 5 or 6 long rows filled with many varieties of garlic. I started my work day here, weeding between two of the rows while she hoed through another path.

After making a good dent in the garlic patch, we both grabbed hoes and hacked through weeds in a retired lettuce bed and around tomatoes. As we cleared, we laid down newspapers (topped temporarily with clumps of weeds) to prepare for a straw mulch (due later in the week).

I mixed up my weeding between standing to hoe and bending or kneeling to pull by hand, but between the two of us, we cleaned up all the tomato rows as well as around the peas. Whew!

Once the Delighted Gardener had sufficiently worn me out, we had a chance to wander through the rest of the gardens. Each of her five children has their own garden plot, from the 16-year-old's rows with tomatoes and enough salad for his own eating to this wee patch of tomato (sprinkled with lime and guarded by one of his favorite toys) belonging to the toddler. And given how all of the children wandered through the garden to snack as well as to work, it's clear that they've learned from an early age that the best food comes from the backyard. (Though they've been known to demolish one of my pecan rings in record time, too.)

One of The Delighted Gardener's specialties is flowers -- both for creating beautiful bouquets for special events or to complete her CSA customers' shares, and for eating. (She'll be teaching a class on edible flowers at the local kitchen store in July.) She's very fond of nasturtiums (as am I!) and already has an impressive array!

Though the wide selection of vegetables planted was impressive enough, I was tickled to see that she was willing to try new things each year. This bed of fava beans is something new to her, so I offered to take the first batch and come up with a recipe to share with her CSA customers when she includes them in a weekly share. (Am I not helpful?)

One of the things that has delighted me the most in our recent swaps has been receiving the first fresh broccoli of the season. I've said it before and I'll say it again, broccoli is my absolute favorite vegetable, and I am insanely jealous of her having all these plants! Lucky me, though, she was more than willing to share and broke off several small heads for me to take home.

My friend's generosity knew no bounds today -- not only did she let me fill a canvas tote with all the garlic scapes I wanted, she also let me pick my fill of herbs (bronze fennel, basil, dill, and more), pressed the broccoli on me (darn!), and sent me off with an astoundingly fragrant "Grandma's" rose. All because I helped her weed for three hours! I love working for food.

As I headed out, passing the old barn and waving to her husband and children, a loud raucous cry caught my attention. We had seen (and heard!) the neighbor's peacock wandering through the gardens earlier, but when I saw this gorgeous bird perched on an old manure spreader, I had to stop and take a photo.

What a delightful end to a delightful morning!

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