By Vicki Hertel, Third Generation Farmer, Sun Gold Farm
Late summer is probably not the time to ask most farmers about their career choice. By this point in the season, most of us are worn out from a summer of hot days and short nights. Spring found us full of hope and energy after a dormant, restful winter. New ideas mixed with past standards filled our days of planning and planting. We looked forward to an even better harvest than the year prior. And as the days grew warmer and longer and the fields filled to the edges, we were even excited about all the work that comes with the harvest. But now it is fall, and we are tired. Very tired.
This past summer, especially, was exhausting. With the largest harvest we can remember coupled with hot, dusty days, we are glad it is about over for the year. Summer squash and cucumbers were picked, washed , and sorted three times weekly. Tons (literally) of potatoes and tomatoes made their way into the sorting shed. Often the lights came on in the evening after supper to finish boxing tomatoes and tomatillos. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries waited impatiently on the vine. Ten acres of sweet corn were hand picked and rushed to the coolers almost daily. Work began as soon as there was enough daylight to find the fields – in June and July that was 5 AM.
This was a season of rapid weed growth and ravenous insects. Some of our fields escaped with little damage – others not so lucky. Aphids were worse than ever this year. Even the thousands of lady bugs that were shipped in could not keep up at times. Cucumber beetles kept the mud swallows fed, and then some.
Proper irrigation was the key to success this unusually dry summer. From May through August, there was water flying or dripping somewhere on this farm 24 hours per day. Irrigation lines were laid in the wee hours of the morning and turned off just before bedtime, only to be moved and repeated the following day.
By the end of August, some farmers really begin to question their chosen career. But then, somehow, for some reason, our memories of the long, hard days, and our aches and pains all seem to fade as we slow our pace and head into fall. Maybe it’s that promise of winter that the fall color gives us. Tomatoes are in abundance, red and orange color peeping through green leaves. Sweet peppers are turning orange, red and yellow, becoming even more flavorful. Lastly, the winter squash, gourds, and pumpkins arrive, bringing a variety of shapes, colors and textures to the fields.
It’s almost as if nature knows of the farmer’s weariness and does its utmost to make the ongoing harvest as pleasurable as possible. Everything has its own unique color, pattern and shape and helps to keep the farmer entertained. Seed catalogs start arriving in the mailbox and a new season is in the planning stages. The long nights of winter give us plenty of time to rest up and start the cycle all over again next year. And most of us are more than happy to do so.