The cruelest month

By Caroline Hampton

“April is the cruelest month…” wrote T.S. Eliot, but with the start of May I’m beginning to think he was off by a few weeks. The joyful part of this month is the beginning of the Watauga County Farmers' Market, where I am selling produce and bedding plants. I harvested for the first time and had produce to sell at the Mother’s Day Market--so far baby lettuce for salad mix, spinach, arugula and radishes. I am happy to finally have fresh greens to eat! I sold out of produce last week, which felt promising. There are not many produce vendors at the market yet but there will be more as it warms up.

Here in the High Country, the rule is that you do not plant tomatoes and other summer crops until after Mother’s Day. Nighttime temperatures may fall into the 30s this weekend, so the rule appears to be valid. With May comes the balance of harvesting my first crops, preparing beds and planting new crops and the hardest part of all, keeping up with the weeds that are coming on strong with the warm weather! Weeds have been my biggest problem to deal with lately, and I spent eight hours hand weeding my salad mix the other day after picking weeds out of harvested salad mix for four hours the week before.

I have been struggling with everything that I have to keep up with right now and feel like I am falling behind. I guess when you are a farmer this is the norm; there is always more that could be done. My wish is to be farming full time and also have consistent hired help, which I can’t do right now. Part of this struggle is due to how far I have pushed myself physically lately, which manifested this week when I experienced an illness that was a combination of dehydration, a stomach bug, a low grade fever and a sinus headache due to allergies. I had to take two days off of work at the farm and it took me about five days to feel fully recovered.

Another challenge has been the rain, or the lack thereof. I feel badly to even complain about this when I think about the long term drought in the western part of the country and also when I recall the summer of last year when the farming season across North Carolina was essentially rained out, with rainfall as much as 30 inches above normal in parts of western North Carolina. Farming in climate change conditions means dealing with increasingly unpredictable weather. Spring in the High Country is usually quite rainy, and throughout the summer it will usually rain daily. This makes it a hard area to grow things like tomatoes and other nightshades (though I’m going to try to grow them anyway). The spring so far has been rather dry and we’ve been getting rain about once a week. I am not using an irrigation system so now dry weather means I’m a little tense and irritated until it rains.

Other highlights of the past month include a group workday out at the F.I.G. Farm where all F.I.G. participants got together to plant potatoes at the end of April, and the Supporting Economic Alternatives in the Mountains (SEAM) dinner. The potato field is about 1/4 acre and we all got three 300 foot rows to plant in. I’m looking forward to Kennebecs, Red Pontiacs and fingerlings! There are some plants starting to poke out of the soil now!

At the SEAM dinner, I and two others pitched an idea that we needed funding for, and the audience voted on our proposals so that the most funding went to the project with the most votes, etc. My project received the most votes this time around, so I will be working with a good amount of money to construct a germination chamber. It was a fun evening where I got to meet new people in the community, eat good food and also feel the support of friends. Next month I should have some updates on the germination chamber, and I look forward to having more crops coming on!

Caroline Hampton is a first year farmer, growing vegetables, herbs and flowers at the Octopus Garden in Valle Crucis, NC. A North Carolina native, Caroline grew up in Raleigh and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an Environmental Studies degree. Caroline enjoys writing, playing banjo, and hiking in the NC mountains. Her favorite vegetable is the carrot.

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