A big topic of conversation at the farm stands lately has been the beautiful, cool weather that set in a while ago and seems in no hurry of moving along. One customer wondered whether we’d been leaving our windows open, to which I enthusiastically replied in the affirmative and asked if the same was happening in his household. When he said they preferred to keep their windows shut, I was a little surprised at first, but then thought it must be because they’re ragweed sufferers.

“So you’re trying to keep pollen out of the house then?” I asked sympathetically, imagining his family huddled indoors, wheezing.

He shook his head. “No, no! It’s the dust. If you keep the windows open, dust gets all over everything!”

When I exclaimed, “Oh I don’t care about dust!” he burst out in a laugh (probably imagining Farmer John and me at the dining room table writing our names with our fingers in the quarter-inch-thick dirt that had settled there).

Obviously, he’s more of a clean freak than I. But truthfully, the dust isn’t quite that thick in here – and a little dust doesn’t bother me anyway. It’s a small price to pay for the luxury of fresh breezes wafting through the house. I can stand only so much fake air, and grow weary of long summers with windows locked tight while artificial coolness blasts out of the air conditioning vents. Even if the weather forecast called for the possibility of random sandstorms, as long as the outdoor temperature was cooler than indoors, I’d probably still open the windows (but maybe only part way).

Besides, a bit of dirt is beneficial. There are so many products on the market nowadays designed to anti-bacteria the devil out of every surface – even out of the air. Is it any wonder that antibiotic drugs are losing their effectiveness? Those microscopic bacterial wigglies are no dummies. You try to eradicate them all, they’ll just morph on you until the next antibiotic comes along, then they’ll morph again, and again, etc., etc., etc. If people aren’t exposed to good old-fashioned dirt, grime and what they perceive as “bad bugs,” they’ll lose their natural defenses…and the bugs will win.

We’re seeing a version of this phenomenon happening in the farm, as a matter of fact. Granted, there’s plenty of dirt (and microscopic wigglies) out there to go around, but we might have worked a tad too hard at eradicating another form of untidiness: weeds.

Because we’re starting off our fall season rather slowly, crop-wise – to be honest, even we’ve gotten a little anxious, awaiting more variety to harvest – there has been ample time for chores that in years past have fallen by the wayside, like cutting out spent crops, pulling weeds and cultivation. While the end result of all this work is lovely,

it leaves these well-manicured crops susceptible to bad bugs of a different kind, most notably grasshoppers. It’s a vicious grasshopper year, and all we can do to combat them is erect row cover fortifications over the most delicate plants such as baby onions, baby greens, baby spinach and the lettuces. Still, row covers must come off at some point, so once plants obtain a certain size, they’re on their own.

The two hoop houses won’t be topless for long. Soon they’ll be covered in clear plastic to guard against frosts and freezes, yet for now the plants are exposed to the elements. And to bad bugs. At the far end of this hoop house are the first beds of chard…chard that we should have been harvesting the first day we reopened our farm stands. The flood put a temporary kybosh on that, but the plants appeared to be pulling themselves out of it and we’d hoped for a big chard harvest last week.

Then blister beetles made their move. Blister beetles are naturally more interested in the pigweed that normally surrounds our early fall crops, yet because the area is void of pigweed this season, the beetles began eating the centers of the chard plants instead.

See what I mean? It’s just too darned clean.

That certainly can’t be said for the entirety of the farm,

but the messy parts are fairly far away from the existing vegetable crops. Although it’s counterintuitive to the rationale I’ve espoused thus far, these areas will need a good clean-up if we ever hope to get into them in the future.

Soon – very soon – we’ll be harvesting so much, there won’t be time for “housekeeping.” There’s no way we can get the whole farm wiped clean before we get too busy. And that’s a good thing.

* * *

Here’s what we’ll be bringing to the farm stand on Wednesday (look closely…the list is getting longer!):

Four varieties of summer squashes – Zephyr, yellow squash, zucchini and some pattypan; LOTS of arugula (sorry we ran out early last week – we have twice as much for this Wednesday!); many bunches of mixed Asian-American mustard greens (great for cooking, or tender enough to be eaten raw); bunches of young Brussels greens; heirloom eggplant, Italian eggplant and white Japanese eggplant; red, yellow and white bell peppers, cubanelle peppers, jalapenos and some Corno di Toro peppers; some Asian cucumbers (our miracle cukes are getting a little tired now!); as much chard as we can wrestle away from the blister beetles; the first of the pink radishes;* and the first of the salad mixes.*

*When I say “the first of,” keep in mind that means there might not be a whole lot of that particular item this week – but more coming soon!

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center on Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)