Sunday, December 12, 2010

September 26, 2010 – The First Spring Rain

September 26, 2010 – The First Spring Rain
It finally rains, unexpectedly. I have clothes and rags hanging on the wires, gardening tools and oilcake out. In spite of all need for rain, I wanted at least one more day of sun. My father finished coffee harvest, leaving one of the workers free to help me. For one reason or another, the hauling of chicken manure were postponed for a few days, and now, it’s impossible to collect it. It gets too heavy and smushy, messy and smelly. As we pay by the ton, extra water makes it more expensive. I have been waiting for weeks to spread manure over the already existing plots and I want to fertilize new parcel for other kinds of crops such as okra, corn, squash, sweet potato, yam, gourd, sesame, which takes up more space, grow taller or spread wider than green leaves.
I had been getting a cheaper kind of lime, but this time, I bought a high grade dolomite lime with faster absorption. I also bought powdered castor oilcake, 1,5 times higher in nitrogen than chicken manure, but 5 times more expensive. I heard from a vegetable farmer that this kind of oilcake prevent nematodes to attack the roots of lettuce. For my horror, I found lettuce and beets full of pearls around the roots. The advantage of oilcake in comparison to chicken manure is, no doubt, the neutral smell of the first, while chicken manure get to a toxic level when not composted.
I had a problem composting chicken manure with grass last year. It heated too much but it was too wet. It is said that white mold appears when it heats and lack water. Not in my case. I have still not found an answer for my problem, and it has been difficult to find a specific direction for composting chicken manure. The proportion of manure/green matters must be different for each kind of animal manure. Anyway, this year, against all recommendation, and specially for absolutely lack of bulky organic fertilizer, I wanted to spread raw manure between the plant lines and dig in new plots, and help for the best. The farmers I visit often told that he uses it neat between lines and no coffee bean straw necessary as ground covering, as he uses a net for sunshade.
Along with the use of castor oilcake to avoid nematode action, I also started to plant marigolds between tomato vines, and more seedling being made to cover a whole raised bed in the middle of the garden. It is said that marigolds act as an insecticide, but I have found some of them with leaves all eaten – it must be ants?
My house helper told me that a young couple returned from Japan and now is growing and selling veggies door to door in her little town. They live near my farm. I was curious to meet people that were willing to move back to the farm after living in big cities, and specially, living abroad.
For my surprise, I had gone there a fews days prior to buy salad veggies (or to spy their technology). My neighbor told me that a big cover plot with huge lettuces were grown just across the road. As I located the farm, I remember I had been there before to invite the farmer to join Milk Farming classes that were supposed to be held on my farm. But as I didn’t get the financing for the cows, the program never happened here. At that time, I didn’t know that an Italian landowner was married to a half-Japanese woman. Their son, being one quarter Japanese went to work in Japan. His wife is also of Japanese ancestry. That means, just like me. Being racially and culturally closer, I went to meet them.
Their gardening plot made me envious. Tall posts held sunscreen net and sprinkling system irrigated their four times bigger plot, covered with huge lettuces (of expensive seeds, the hybrid kind). They moved in December of last year and are activelly selling their goods. And has a young man as an employee. Oh, what an envy! Specially after battlering so hard watering my plots with a hose which desconnected at each pressure of my thumb in attempt to spray the water. The soil was constantly dry and the veggies never grew properly. The last few days have been even more difficult with aphids covering my broccoli and nemathodes attacking other plants. The lettuce I grew came out small, tough, and bitter. The beets never reached a decent size. The cauliflower has not still flowered, and I am not sure it ever will. The weather is not helping and the lack of technology (meaning money for the investment) made of my garden a big disappointment. My classmates were here yesterday and they didn’t seem impressed with the condition that my garden meets. Regardless, they took home cabbage (which supposed to be soft for being hybrid, but turned out very tough), green onions, parsley, mustard and collard greens by bagfulls. I would have charged some in another situation, but my morals were low that day.
Well, my garden will someday have a sunscreen net and a sprinkling system. My father is fixing a place to leave the water tank (in the middle of my orchard!) My classmate made a comment of very few seedlings I have in the greenhouse nursery. Right now, I only have lettuce, white onions, Swiss chard and chicory.
But it rains, and it will get hotter. That means, I got to sow different crops and go through summer eating scallions like last year. I feel so tired right now that I don’t care much about growing tender veggies. I want a worry free veggie. Those kind that God waters. Corn, okra, squashes.
I am also disappointed with my tomatoes. Many of them got viruses and I needed to pull them out. But there are still many left, some with heavy yield. I will be so happy if those bigger kind of tomatoes could finish the cycle yielding edible fruits. It’s widely known that cultivating tomatoes in Brazil is not easy at all. It is one of the veggies that carries the most chemicals and it is always a risk to eat it, along with bell peppers, strawberries, and watermelons.
I am not totally won yet. I don’t like the flavor of hybrid greens, and I may continue sowing common seeds, cutting them earlier, and selling pre-washed and packaged as baby mix. I don’t want to be just like any other commercial grower. I don’t want to make money (as if they made money. As my father said, he never saw any veggie farmer moving up), I want to make something different. Along with packaged mix, I can also sell dressings I learned in America. How about “Caesar Salad”? Greek Salad? Herbed oil? Herbed vinegar? Compotes?
One thing I know. I won’t pay to have an employee. I would be his slave to be able to pay his salary and all the benefits I wouldn’t have myself, besides all the headaches and possibly deal with lack of knowledge and enthusiasm. Today, I thought about joining someone willing to work and take half of the yields, and that would free me for other projects. I am not giving up my organic garden, but I need more time to develop my ideas.
Nobody told me that it was going to be easy. Nobody told me it was not. I just thought it was going to be romantic. Hopefully I am going through some cyclical crisis and not a pre-divorce phase.

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