A gift that being a farmer gives you is living life by the seasons. They all have their defining features and creatures — for me in spring, it’s unpredictable weather; it’s watching tulips ripen; it’s little baby frogs living in the greenhouse lettuce, purple sprouting broccoli, absurd amounts of raab, piglets in a pen and bringing new crew onto the farm. Going into my third season at Red Dog, I’m in a throws of nostalgia: this time last year I was doing a lot of the same…picking tulips, for example. Here I am doing it all over again, but I can feel it in my bones: I’m not the same person I was then. That’s the beauty of being a farmer, you start to tell time in the same way that plants do. Tulips don’t care what the calendar says, they’ll bloom when they’re good and ready. When the sun hits just right and the temperatures don’t drop too cold at night.
I remember Karyn teaching me how to harvest tulips last season. At first the subtle cues they give were anything but intuitive for me to pick up on. Now, I can practically hear the tulips ripening from across the farm on a warm afternoon.
We pick them just before they open in the field so they can hold in our walk-in cooler until they get to their next home, to put on their divine display on someone’s countertop, maybe in an old jar with a honey sticker half peeled off, or in their great-grandmother’s old silver vase.
Little stripes of color, a hint of orange, slightly puffy, blush with pink, bright red petals just barely peeking through, little tips brightening just so. “Pick the ones that look like they are glowing from the inside.” These are just some of the hints the tulips are ready. Their cues are as various as their appearance. It’s a special experience tuning into something so acutely — I wonder how I can pay more attention in other parts of my life.
Akebono. Apricot Parrot. Red Princess. Banja Luca. Great Barrier Reef — Just some of the names of our tulip varieties. Our storage crops are dwindling, our fields relatively not producing much. But as we slowly get seeds in the ground and work quickly to grow plant starts in the greenhouse, the tulips give us a crop to sell. Just because you can’t eat it (don’t tell our farm puppy Angus) doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
It’s fun to cycle back season after season and layer on the learning. It’s one thing that I think keeps farmers doing it year after year. There’s always more to learn. And inevitably it’s not just about the crops, it’s about ourselves and how we exist in the world. Right now, I hope you’re all enjoying the energy of spring!
PS – did you know a good portion of your CSA share this week is flowers?! Not just the tulips. Purple sprouting broccoli and raab are also the flowering parts of the brassica plants! Eat up!