On a Texas Farm, Sunshine Is Back


Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

I can hear farming folks who live "up north" laughing at our complaints about the cold winter we have experienced in Texas. Of course, if we were farming up there, with snow banked up against the farmhouse, we too would be cleaning tools in the barn (ours are never clean), looking through seed catalogues in front of the fireplace (we speed dial the pages), or even going on a "busman's holiday" down to Texas to visit farms where the farmers toil in their vegetable fields all year long (we rarely go anywhere, even in Texas).

Several times each winter, we welcome Vermont, Maine, or Michigan farmers to our farm stand. They like the fact that they don't have to wear every set of long johns they own to stroll around our farm, which, in contrast to theirs, is thick into field production of tender lettuces and robust broccoli. It's like an agricultural version of Cancun! Without the beach and exotic drinks, of course.

Many crops didn't like the freezer experience. English peas, for example.

Our winter this year, however, has been more like the one from which they have momentarily escaped. If they had visited while our thermometer read 10 degrees, they would have felt cheated! After all, they brought their shorts and t-shirts for the tour!

But finally, after a month of freezes—the coldest December in memory, and the coldest one-day temperature (10) in decades—we are back to normal highs in the seventies. After a dark December and January, we now have sunshine, so we are newly energized to get more crops in the ground. Yes, in January! We are fortunate to have two viable planting periods in the cool season (early fall and late winter).


Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

Many crops didn't like the freezer experience. English peas, for example—you'd think they could take it, but they can't. The vines were heavily damaged. So today, bathed in brilliant sunshine, we cleaned them up, left some vines that might have half a chance to make a pea or two, and sowed seeds in trenches on either side of the original planting. We reason they'll have the necessary 60 days to maturity before spring heat fries them, and they can leap over the elder peas' helpful corpses to reach the wire trellis's support.

Even the romaine lettuce, under row cover, suffered freeze-damaged cells in the stems of the leaves. This lettuce is still too short to harvest, and if we don't get another arctic blast, perhaps they will grow above the marred leaves, which we can then cut off to present perfect lettuces on the farm stand tables. Additionally, it's a fine time to plant more lettuces.

When times get hard, especially in the dead of winter, our motto is, "Keep planting." Something, eventually, will make it to harvest. And the plants that don't will go back to the Earth, from which they sprang those many months ago. Imagine the golden "Cheddar" cauliflower, its fruits blackened by frozen moisture, giving its short-circuited life to nourish spring's plantings of heirloom tomatoes.

We have sown those tomato seeds in the greenhouse, and in March, we'll be thanking the decomposed cauliflower for its generosity. Meanwhile, one last chance: baby cauliflower in the field tries to be more successful than its predecessors. May it thrive and finally give us its fruit.

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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