The end of the gardening season is at hand. Most beds are tilled up and planted with cover crops of oats and rye. Some are home to the fall-planted crops that expectantly wait for spring.
The garlic is starting to poke through the ground, developing its root system so it can make it through the winter until its spring burst.
Spinach, lettuce, chard, kale and Chinese vegetables are covered with row covers, tucked in to survive winter's blast. Broccoli is still shooting up its little heads. A few carrots and beets are still waiting to be harvested.
The greenhouse (a solar collector on the side of the house) still has a few tomatoes slowly ripening. I lost all of my outdoor tomatoes this year to the blight, so these few are a real treat.
Here at the Bluebird Farm, we just finished packing our truck for the last market of the year and reflections come easily on things to be thankful for. One great lesson learned from the farm this year is the hope that comes from planting seeds and watching them sprout. We started off the early spring season planting flats of onions and lettuce; three weeks ago we ended by doing the same. Some crops produced well this year, others failed. However, I've learned if one doesn't try by planting, there's no chance for the reward of a hardy fall salad of sweet greens, with a scallion or two. We learn from our mistakes and keep trying and are grateful when plants grow up strong.
My parents just turned 96 and 98 years old. They are my mentors in the joy of gardening. The garden at home provided our family with the majority of our food. There is nothing like canned green beans to make a winter soup sweet. My parents always ate out of their garden and that might be the reason for their longevity. We shared a meal this Thanksgiving with our winter stores of squash, beets, potatoes and greens and shared in the thanks for another year of nutritious gifts from the earth.
Another great reward to be thankful for is the sharing of labor with an outstanding crew that works at Bluebird Farm. Finding people who don't mind crawling on their hands and knees, pulling weeds and facing the heat of the summer sun is rare. This year, we had four people in their early 30s who pulled, plucked, cultivated, washed, packed and carted to market the delicious produce that filled the tables of our customers rain or shine.
Yes, it is hard work, but it is filled with people interacting with the four dogs, two cats and 200 chickens and the ground we call home. From Mother's Day until Thanksgiving day, we worked together to put a smile on peoples' palates and healthy food in their bellies.
The soil on Bluebird Farm is another thing to be thankful for. The beneficial bacteria, earthworms, nematodes and mycelium, along with our hand-turned compost, all worked together to produce our bounty and still work to ensure future soil diversity. We recently cleaned the chicken house of its bedding and manure, added the raked leaves from the yard and started our new compost piles for the winter turning. The heat has already started working in the pile. We will add kitchen scraps, eggshells and more straw and manure. It will have to be turned every other day throughout the winter, which will keep me in condition to wield the hoe in the spring. By then, we will have some rich nutrients to feed our biota and plants; starting the beautiful cycle all over again.
There is nothing more grounding than working in your own garden and seeing the cycles of nature unfold. When the trees drop their leaves to hibernate through the winter and nature tells us to go inside and rest, we bundle up with our family and friends, reminisce on the passing year and plan and dream of the future garden.
Now is a great time to mark out next spring's garden. Touch the earth and it will touch you back.
Mick Luber is an organic farmer at Bluebird Farm in Cadiz. He has more than 20 years of organic farming experience and is a regular at the Wheeling farmers' markets.