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Farm To Farm

The watermelon seeds finally showed up on Thurs­day, after a month of waiting and harassing the people in the office at United Genetics, or whatever the company name is. Evidently they'd never done business with a farmer before. They dealt with secre­taries or department heads.

I kept bugging these guys because I was after a well-bred strain of the Mickey Lee watermelon seed. It's an open-pollenated, diploid variety that is com­monly used to cross with the tetraploid sugar baby sport to produce seedless watermelons, so the breed­ers closely monitor its brix. Brix is the sugar content of the red flesh.

I wanted to order the seed from the big time corpo­rate breeders because they are paying more attention to sweetness than most of the organic seed producers these days. Most organic seed producers are focusing on the fact that they're technically growing watermelons according to USDA organic standards, and then they sell these unselectively-bred fuck-ups that are liable to taste more like zucchini than water­melons, with pumpkin strings like telephone lines between all the seeds. I mean they save seeds from every dang fruit like it was a crop of wheat meant for bread.

It pisses me off because the funnest thing in the whole world is saving watermelon seeds from open pollenated strains which I swear to do for the rest of my life so I don't have to depend on people like United Genetics. All you have to do is eat watermel­ons and if you think they're really sweet, with the right texture and all, you spit the seeds in an old plas­tic yogurt container or something.

It took real persistence to convince the people at United Genetics that I was serious about purchasing a pound of Mickey Lee watermelon seeds. The first round of talks, they just said, “Yeah, we'll send them,” over the phone and blew me off.

There's no hurry to plant watermelons here in Anderson Valley. Tadpoles are still chasing mosquito larvae around in the hoof prints of bovines where I plan to plant this hot desert crop, and we could see frost up until the summer solstice.

There is still manure to spread, ground to work. We're slogging around in February style muck. The spring jobs are piling up, and we're fooling around. In the last few weeks my friends and I have been collabo­rating to round up cows, training for the Boontling Classic, we kept telling each other.

It is the time of year that small farmers like me want to start sending the steers off for T-bones and ground beef. On Wednesday we slugged around in rain boots and slickers, coercing the critters into chutes. It wasn't supposed to rain much that day but it poured sleet like rapid fire from machine guns part of the morning. Two of us lost our rain boots in the mud the way toddlers do. The cows nearly bottomed out. All of us were sweating in our rain gear.

Then on Saturday a friend and I drove up Deer Meadows to check on the cows pastured adjacent to Octopus Mountain, as some people call it, or Tar­water Hill, according to others. Whatever it is, this piece of geography figures prominently in most peo­ple’s minds when they imagine Anderson Valley because they do so based upon the picture on the beer label.

Since I don't drive I have to buy a six pack of beer to share with somebody else with wheels every time I want to go somewhere. With the high levels of unem­ployment on any given day I know several people who might otherwise have been working construction jobs who are literally twiddling their thumbs and don't mind hiking around the hills in search of cows.

My friend and I were both planning to attempt the Boontling Classic the next morning so we were sort of glad not to see any cows from the road. At least a good hike up and down the hills, searching for cows, would provide more evidence that neither one of us was in danger of a heart attack on Anderson Valley Way in front of God and everybody in the big 5K.

Over one draw and the next, we finally reached the fence bordering an expansive ranch that stretches for miles, up to Peachland. No sign of the cows. We fol­lowed the creek down to a spot where an abundance of fresh cattle tracks were evident, meticulously pressed into the clay since the last rains had subsided. We followed the tracks up the hills, through a gate that was open to the neighbor's Tarwater Hill or Octopus Mountain or whatever Ranch that stretches for miles.

“Man, I'll come back later and search for the cows,” I said. It was well past lunchtime.

My friend inspected the gate like it was a crime scene. “Could have been cattle rustlers. I remember they did that a bunch in Potter Valley when I was a kid. In the morning you'd see the bones out there with meat hanging on them, the guts all over the grass. They did a half-assed job in the dark, you know.”

The twelve foot stretch of woven wire on the ground was what they call a “Kansas” gate in Nebraska. In Indiana we called this a “Kentucky” gate. I guess out here some people call it a “Portu­guese” gate, or a word to that effect. You have two loops of number nine wire on one end, and then the regular woven-wire fence is wrapped around a steel post upside down that you insert first in the bottom loop, then use leverage to fit through the top one. The gate was swung wide open, and the top loop had been unraveled. I guess a lot of young stoners and mush­room eaters like to climb around Octopus Mountain to bliss out from what they say. I suspected them before I did cattle rustlers. Anyway, somebody had opened that gate, we determined, and they'd done so weeks or months earlier, because an oak stick roughly the length and diameter of a baseball bat partially lay across the woven wire on the ground.

Rather than search for the cows, my friend and I returned to Boonville. It was lunchtime.

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