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Farm To Farm

Trees are losing their grip and falling wholesale throughout the North Coast as the ground is satu­rated for the first time in four years, and storm winds are blowing. On the gravel portion of Lambert Lane an almond tree recently tumbled, blocking the road. I suspect that gophers are partially responsible. In the dry seasons they were unable to claw through the brick our clay had become, and they concentrated around the roots of trees, gnawing them like beavers do to the trunks of cottonwoods and willows.

The almonds left standing are blooming along with some plums, blooming vainly in the face of daily rains. January was mild and without frost, and the volunteer potatoes are coming back in rows, their leaves reach­ing six or eight inches from the soil already. I would suspect they are doomed to being frozen black in March or April or whenever the subtropical storms finally clear. There is no way I'm going to plant pota­toes before April. I'm currently sitting on several hundred pounds of French Fingerling and German Butterball seed stock, and would be happy to part with some, cheap, if you're interested. They're either French Fingerlings or Russian Bananas — I can't remember. I think the butterballs are the best eating potatoes, but this spring I plan to order a few boxes of russets to cut up and plant along with the butterballs and fingerlings. The russets keep better with their thick skin, and they're more fun to harvest because they're big. They're not gourmet, but so what? Since when were potatoes supposed to be gourmet?

I spent the rainy Thursday afternoon ordering seed for broccoli, cabbage, and onions to begin planting shortly. In the last few years I've been able to keep enough ducks in line to grow winter squash and corn for seed, but little else. I should be producing my own tomato seeds, but so far have not gotten around to it. However, there is a variety of winter squash I've been growing for several years and have managed to keep the seed.

“Calabasa,” I call it. The seed comes from Michoacan and is not uniform. I like how some folks from down there grow squash and just call it “Cala­basa.” They don't order varieties with cute names from the seed catalogs. There is no distinction between “winter” and “summer” squash. If they eat it young it is “Calabasita.” The squash will grow around here with next to no irrigation — multiple varieties, all in one. Some look like turbans, some like blue hubbards, some look like hokkaidos from Japan, some like red kuri squash, but they all end up sweet and worthy of banquets — at least that's the feedback I get. They get big, too. I sent a few whoppers with my apprentice, Diana Winter, and some friends from Emerald Earth who made a trip to a ski lodge in the Sierras for a week. “Just save the seeds, please,” I said.

I've been willing to give squash away to people who are willing to save the seeds. Seed for another variety I grow, Delicata winter squash, is worth $100 a pound. That's like 25 bucks for one little squash as long as you don't grow zucchini or pumpkins within half a mile.

The squash from southern Mexico don't cross with the delicatas, pumpkins, or zucchinis. They're almost like a different species.

On their little ski trip, maybe sitting around a cozy fire at the resort, my friends from Emerald Earth scooped out the seeds before baking the squash, placing them out on a cookie tray overnight to dry. In the morning the seeds had disappeared, thanks to the mice.

“We found them in [an Emerald Earth resident]'s boot,” said one returnee from the trip, presenting me with half a pound of squash seeds in a plastic bag. “It was almost full of seeds when he tried to put it on in the morning. It was a miracle.”

That was a light moment on Sunday afternoon, while the rest of the nation was watching the Super­bowl, when my apprentice and I were engaged in a mediation session moderated by several neutral observers from the natural building community on Peachland. What had started as a minor difference over the perception of living conditions had escalated into a full-blown drama after I'd made the mistake of offering Diana a part in the four-minute skit I was planning for the Anderson Valley Variety Show. My boys and I have been watching reruns of Gilligan's Island episodes in the evenings, and we came up with a tentative plan to contrive a skit based on the theme song, with a band of survivors stranded in Anderson Valley after the capitalist economy collapses, the highways having fallen to mudslides, and all that.

“You could be Ginger,” I said to Diana, meaning it as a compliment.

“Oh, so I'm just an airhead chick to you?” was one of the things she retorted on her way out the door.

Crap, I thought, I'd meant to say, “Marianne.” Diana reminded me of Marianne, not Ginger. I had the names confused. Ginger was the movie star who spoke in that rasping whisper like she was moments away from orgasm. Marianne, or maybe “Mary Anne,” was the capable, intelligent, home spun woman with pigtails.

There we were, in mediation. I'd been planning on asking her to the Sweetheart's Dance at the Grange on Saturday Night. So it goes, they say.



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