It is the first of October and there is the sharp, rich smell of fall in the air finally. We have had a long and dry end to the summer which has extended the harvest of a number of varieties of vegetables. A cool start to the season delayed the seeding of a number of crops. Now it looks like all the corn, chile and squash will make, despite the late planting.
Well, it is hard to believe, but it is time to begin the 2017 season. I think all farmers have an internal clock that tells them when to start. Even now in the dead of winter I know the that the days are growing longer and soon the ground will thaw for days at a time. Things that are now quiet will begin to stir and the sap will begin to rise. Out in the workshop I have started the first of the early tomatoes. They are pushing through the soil and soaking in the light from the overhead lights.
We hope everyone is sharing a wonderful holiday with friends and family and it has brought you all closer. In our neighborhood we exchange baked goods, chile and wine with the neighbors and take time to visit. The sound of drums at Santa Clara Pueblo drifts across the river. On Christmas Eve the big bonfires were lit and at Santa Clara they danced the matachines which tells the story of driving the Moors from Spain. That may seem odd, but it is a tradition of both the Hispanic and Native people here. At Santa Clara just the drums are used. At San Juan (Ohkay Owingeh) there is a guitar and fiddles and the Malinche wears a white dress.
A few days earlier at the winter solstice, I go to see the sun come up over the canyon wall at Bandelier. On that day the morning rays strike straight down the central path of the ruins of Tyuonyi. It is a good way to start the year and a good thing that the sun halts its southward migration. Each day will now be a little longer.
I remember as a kid my relatives on the plains sent a Christmas letter with a month-by-month description of disasters that befell their crops and animals. It seemed like a lost strand of our western myth – a hand turned against the best efforts of decent folk – narrated in a flat Kansas voice. When one planting was lost, they started again if there was time enough. There is something about this business that brings out the Stoic. Anyway, our season was marked by flood and hail and a number of plants eventually succumbed to diseases and pests. It was a good test of these open-pollinated varieties and of my temper.
Eventually, though, I gathered seed for dozens of new varieties of tomatoes from the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, France and Belgium. Many are old – dating to between the wars. Nearly all were remarkably productive and unique in shape, color or flavor. The catalog is stuffed with new offerings.
I also grew out new varieties of dry beans with mixed results and tried chile and peppers I had not grown before. It is the peppers and corn that have really benefited from our warm fall. In the spring, when we hold the seed blessing and exchange, I will be able to share a number of wonderful crops.
So it has not been perfect, but with the trees loaded with apples and the vines covered in grapes, it is easy to forget the difficulties.
This is the best time of the year and as good as life on the farm gets.