Rudbeckia “Prairie sun”
Yesterday was Father’s Day, and it was also the summer solstice. And around here, you sure can tell. Many summer plants flowered this week; the day lillies lining our roads, the mimosas at the swimming hole, the rogue sunflowers in the middle of our fields, and the black-eyed susans, chickories and milkweeds in forgotten pastures are all capitalizing on the nearly 16 hours of sunlight. The berries are ripening; I harvested the first blueberries and raspberries this week. And we always harvest garlic near the solstice, because the bulb size peaks with the longer days.
We can’t help but feel some kind of relief on the occasion: we made it to midsummer! It feels like we’ve reached the top of the pass, and can now coast downhill. From now on, the days will grow steadily shorter, the weeds will grow steadily slower, and before we know it, the season will wrap itself up. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of work to do–we haven’t even started to harvest tomatoes yet!–but it is somehow reassuring to know that we’re over the hump.
Folks ask us all the time what it means to grow “ecologically.” We like to think of our farm as a living system that is not really all that different from the forest and fields around it. We humans help orchestrate and direct what happens, so we too are part of the whole, and it makes our lives easier if we harness systems that are already in place, instead of trying to fight the forces of nature. So making sure our plants are happy means making sure a bunch of microbes, insects and other animals are all happy.
Our North Star pie cherries are ripening!
Perhaps the best way to illustrate how we do is through examples. Just yesterday I noticed that a few of our pie cherry trees had oozing trunk wounds (see photo below). Trees ooze sap when they are trying to reject an infection or an invading insect–in this case, I suspected a bacterial canker, which is common in stone fruit. To treat it, I looked to a cheap and cheerful, but time-tested antibacterial remedy: garlic. This ubiquitous vegetable, along with other alliums, is an indispensable feature in many cuisines because it helped keep foods safe prior to refrigeration.
Oozing wound before…
…and after garlic compress.
I pounded a whole head of garlic with a little salt (another handy antibacterial substance), and pressed it onto the wounds. In a week or so, I will douse that spot with a fermented brew of beneficial microbes, to recolonize the bark crevasses with the good guys. This is akin to eating yogurt to recolonize your gut after taking antibiotics.The main ecological idea here is competition; there are only so many resources on a plant’s surface, so the more good guys there are, the lower the chances are for a bad guy to gain a foothold. Last year when I did this, they dried up and stayed that way for a year, so I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to have many more bowls of cherries.
Summer is truly the season of plenty on a farm–we’re reveling in the delicious fruit of our efforts!