After we made the announcement about our plan to eventually move to Washington State, opinions about our decision ran the gamut. Happily for us, most of what we heard was positive — yet we did get a fairly good earful of warnings about the cold, rainy winter months for which the Pacific Northwest is infamous.

We’re not going into it blindly. Honestly, until we visited Washington this last time, we never dreamed we’d want to move somewhere so cloudy. Maybe fourteen spring and summer seasons spent working outdoors in relentless 100-degree heat finally broke us of our disdain for gray skies. Or perhaps we’re just ready for a change.

Some folks have commented that we’ve been fooled into thinking it’s clear up there more often than it actually is. It’s true that when we revisit our vacation photos, in almost every single shot the sun is out. There was one afternoon, however, when we experienced a more typical Washington fall day when we took the ferry from Orcas to San Juan Island to visit a waterfront park known for orca whale sightings.

John on San Juan

We saw no whales — we weren’t in the mood to be patient — and the weather was anything but perfect. We’re fully aware this is how it’ll often be, if we do indeed wind up living there (and we are hoping to see some of those orcas eventually, too).

Thing is, though, we’ll be able to stay indoors when it’s cold. I’ve heard rumor it’s what normal people do when weather is inclement. Here on the farm, we don’t have that option.

Like last Monday morning as a cold front was barreling through. No matter the atmospheric conditions, there’s salad mix to pick and it has to be done first thing in the morning before the dry wind wilts the leaves to a texture resembling tissue paper.

cold harvest

So we all bundle up in three, four or five layers — as many as possible while still allowing for a modicum of movement — and go out to meet the chill head-on. Literally. (Mary and Dana are both facing north here.)

Of course, being that this is Texas, as the day goes on it warms up enough to ease the pain. Still, for Farmer John, once the afternoon comes to an end and the wind finally dies down with the setting of the sun, the second phase of work begins. When we’re looking at the possibility of temperatures dipping into the teens in our valley, every single crop we want to save must be covered.

That’s a lot of rows. Yet as I was watering the bone-dry “landscape plants” (you’d have to see the poor neglected things for yourself to understand why I put that in quotes) in an attempt to assuage the punishment they were sure to receive that night, John rushed by me and exclaimed, “I need to get a fire going before I start to cover.”

See, he’d promised early that morning he’d stoke up the wood stove with the first fire of the season.

wood stove

Granted, I’ve been shown how to start a fire in this thing too — but I’m really lousy at it. John can get one going in ten minutes; I can work on it for a good hour, until the puny excuses for flames do nothing more than cause my painstakingly stacked logs to crumble into a smoldering pile of charred wood. It’s humiliating.

So as much as I would have loved a roaring fire that night (something else normal people probably enjoy on wintery eves), I wasn’t about to volunteer to make it. And knowing that any amount of time John spent on getting one going was time taken away from his row-covering task, in reply to his offer to start a fire I said, “Don’t worry about it.”

With a touch of annoyance in his voice, he asked, “What do you mean, ‘Don’t worry about it’?”

Obviously, his mood was hanging on an emotional thread. I didn’t want to push him over the edge any more than the thought of spending a few hours in the freezing cold — in the dark — was already doing, so I stopped myself from asking him what else “don’t worry about it” could have possibly meant.

Instead, I simply reiterated, “I mean don’t worry about it.”

Imagine if Webster had defined words that way in his eponymous dictionary: eponymous \ adj : eponymous

We enjoyed no roaring fire that night, thanks to me. John would have done it had I allowed him. It’s one of the big differences between how he and I view multiple tasks when time is limited. If I assign myself three chores — A, B and C — and reach a point where it seems unrealistic to try to tackle them all, I might choose to skip B. John, on the other hand, when realizing the completion of A through C is verging on the impossible, adds a D. (The moral of this story being: he’s much nicer, and certainly less lazy, than I am.)

row cover

Our wood stove remains fireless. The second night of the cold front proved even more frigid than the first, and although the job of putting the row covers back on was made much less onerous with the invaluable help of young Stephen, Farmer John was pooped.

I suppose I should try harder to learn to start a fire in that stove. If we do move to Washington State, we’re going to need supplemental heat a whole lot more often than we do here. But then, John won’t be spending hours covering 200- and 400-foot rows of crops up there, so why should I bother? I’ll let him do it. He’s the nice one, after all, and he’ll have a lot more time to tack a D onto his ABC’s. Heck, maybe he’ll even make it to E.

* * *

This Wednesday will be our last Jollyville Road market before the holidays. We’re planning to come back beginning January 9th and then will remain open probably through January 23rd. For this week’s farm stand, we’ll be bringing:

Lots of broccoli, Romanesco cauliflower, lettuce mix, Euro salad mix, the first head lettuces from the latest crop (butter head, red leaf and romaine), green onions, sweet white turnips, bulk purple and golden beets, bunches of chard, bunches of dinosaur kale, Brussels greens, bags of arugula, pink radishes, watermelon radishes, cabbages, some spaghetti squash and kabocha squash, plus some of this and that.

head lettuces

Thanks!
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, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

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John and I arrived on Orcas Island at nearly 10:30 at night. The ferry from Vancouver Island only goes to San Juan, the namesake of the San Juan Islands chain above Washington State. From there, you must transfer to the local inter-island ferry to get to Orcas, and the 10 p.m. sailing was the last and only one available to us after our long journey from Tofino, B.C. which began early that September day.

Consequently, we didn’t actually see what Orcas Island was all about until the next morning when we awoke to discover the view from our cottage.

Orcas view

We chose to linger there for a while — for a very apparent reason — before finally pulling ourselves away to search out the town of Eastsound and grab some lunch. After stuffing ourselves with Dungeness crab cakes at a waterfront restaurant we paused for a quick photo op,

John on Orcas

and took off on foot for a closer look at the little town. Tucked in alongside coffee shops, restaurants, gift stores and the like were a couple of real estate agencies. At the first one, John turned to me and asked, “You want to go in and talk to an agent?”

Without hesitation I replied, “Yes. Yes I do.”

Until that spontaneous exchange, neither of us had ever expressed to the other that we might consider a move. Certainly, we hadn’t talked of selling our farm.

fall colors

Yet there we were, walking through the agency’s front door, asking the receptionist if we could meet with someone. The agent we spoke with gave us a detailed map of the island and pointed out the best areas for gardens or small farms. The next day we took off in our rental car and got to know the island a bit better.

And we fell in love with it.

Jo on hike

In all the years I’ve been writing the farm newsletter, I never anticipated this one. But people are starting to ask us when we’ll reopen the farm stands after our usual winter break, and although we’ve danced around the answer as best we could thus far, we can’t continue being evasive (and we’re both lousy liars). It’s time to just come out with it:

We’re permanently shutting down our two farm stands.

It’s not happening quite yet — we’ll keep the Jonestown stand open until the Saturday before Christmas, and will continue selling at our Austin stand every Wednesday (except over the holidays) as far into January as Mother Nature will allow. After that, however, we’ll no longer have the help of Dana, Mary, Stephen and Zac. It’ll just be John and me, and we’ll be busy readying our house and farm to put on the market.

Weird, isn’t it? Honestly, John and I were absolutely, 100 percent positive we would be here at this farm for the remainder of our lives. We’re no spring chickens, after all.

chickens

It’s not as if we’re still trying to figure out what we want to do for a living. We’re doing that now — except we’ve come to realize we’ve reached a point at which farming at this intensity is no longer what we wish to do. Like I said, we’re not getting any younger.

birthday John

And while we’re not looking to move into the Old Folk’s Home quite yet, we are wanting to slow down. We need to have time to relax a bit more — to perhaps get back out on the water and sail, or kayak, or even tool around an island lake on a paddleboat, dork-style — and we need to be able to do it more than only once a year.

me on a paddleboat

Although we’ll obviously sell our house and property to any interested buyer (and happily so), it would also be nice if our place were to end up with someone who wants to continue it as a farm. We’ll pass along everything we’ve learned about farming in this beautiful valley — and believe me, in 14 years we’ve learned a lot — along with all the infrastructure we’ve built in order to produce food to nourish ourselves and, most importantly, you.

We hope you understand our decision. We hope, too, that you’ll stick with us through these next few weeks at the farm stands. We’re not ready to say goodbye just yet.

* * *

With today’s dry north wind and what will most surely be a hard freeze Tuesday morning, harvest is a challenge! Leafy greens especially don’t like these conditions. We’ll do our best, though, and for Wednesday’s stand we hope to have:

Romanesco cauliflower and white cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce mix, Euro salad mix, spinach, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, kabocha squash, sweet white turnips, bulk purple and golden beets, bunches of chard, bunches of dinosaur kale, Brussels greens, bags of arugula, purple and green kohlrabi, watermelon radishes, green bell peppers, and anything else we can manage to gather together.

broc

Thanks!
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, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

Farmer John and I were avid sailors in our former lives (pre-1998). Every weekend the weather permitted, we were out on our boat. It was never a question of if we planned to sail. We knew we’d sail. The only discussion we had about an upcoming Saturday concerned which of our friends we wanted to invite along.

We knew next to nothing about sailing when we bought our first little boat. We launched the 14-footer at the Jonestown ramp one fateful summer afternoon, hoisted the sails and immediately began twirling in circles. Repeatedly. Lucky for us, someone on shore shouted out instructions and we were able to move, shakily, in a direction somewhat resembling forward. We made it all the way to the main body of the lake that day, and back to the Jonestown shore in one piece. Well, almost one piece, and only after some emergency repair to the rudder…but that’s a story for another day.

See, John and I aren’t real keen on doing research before we jump into something. We know we should. We just don’t.

After years sailing on Lake Travis in progressively larger boats, we met a former Austinite when we were vacationing in Trinidad who’d since become an experienced seaworthy sailor. Once he found out where we kept our boat, he said, “If you can sail Lake Travis, you can sail anywhere.” It’s the narrowness of this lake combined with the surrounding hills that make it challenging — crazy gusts of wind come out of seemingly nowhere, and you have to stay on your toes.

By that time, of course, we were well aware of the lake’s vagaries. However, had we done our research — or even just asked around a little bit — we might have begun our boating “career” with a tad more preparation. (Sailing lessons perhaps?)

As painful as it is to admit, we started our farming career in much the same way. Although John had been gardening for nearly 20 years by the time we purchased the property designated as our future farm, we didn’t bother to look closer at the merits (or lack thereof) of this particular chunk of land other than to dig a hole to confirm the soil was indeed deep. We had no soil analyses done before we signed on the dotted line, no water tests. We knew how extreme the Central Texas weather is, yet never fully considered its impact on what would soon become our livelihood.

As it went with sailing on Lake Travis, over time we learned our farm’s idiosyncrasies as we also learned to anticipate inevitable weather-related disasters. Still, we admire folks who do their homework — like some new up-and-coming farmers we met this year, one located in Central Texas and another in the Waco area. Both have taken time to educate themselves and have made informed decisions while slowly enlarging their farms, despite the inherent difficulties.

To be fair, it takes a certain amount of tenacity to decide to farm no matter where you are. Even if that place happens to be paradise.

During our recent trip to the San Juan Islands above Washington State, John and I visited a farm very similar in size to ours. It wasn’t certified organic, but the owners follow organic practices so we were eager to compare their farming experiences with ours. After our question and answer session regarding their soil and water quality (both excellent), we got down to the nitty gritty: bugs.

“Do you have problems with cucumber beetles?” Farmer John asked.

“Nope. We don’t have any here.”

I cringed. “How about squash bugs?”

“None.”

The farmer realized where John and I were going with this and volunteered, “We did have a few aphids in spots this year, which is unusual,” then quickly added (to make us feel better, I presume) “and we always wind up with aphids in our greenhouses.”

The moment we began to breathe a sigh of relief that the farmer’s life wasn’t too cushy, he explained, “We just squirt them once with that Safer Soap stuff, and that seems to take care of it.”

Drat.

This is the aphid situation on our fall eggplant after having sprayed them twice with various organic insecticides these past few weeks.

The undersides of the leaves on the majority of the plants are covered with the tiny life-sucking monsters. As they kill the upper foliage, they drop their “honeydew” (a term that’s entirely too precious) on the underlying branches, turning leaves that should look like this:

into this.

We’ll continue to battle the creatures, you can be sure of that. In the meantime, I think of the farmer in paradise and wonder what he might be doing with his spare time…

Toward the end of our vacation, after a bike ride on one of the islands, John and I wandered into a nearby establishment to reward ourselves with a glass of adult beverage. While there, we chatted with some of the locals and told them what we do for a living. One of them, a man who farmed for a short while himself, exclaimed, “If you can farm in Texas, you can farm anywhere!”

My, that sounded familiar.

Could you do us a big favor please? The next time we decide to try something new — like lion taming, maybe, or bungee jumping into active volcanoes — would you remind us to read up on it a little bit first?

* * *

Many thanks to everyone who made our first day back at market such a success last week! We’ll have lots of goodies for you again this Wednesday, and hope to see you. Here’s what we’ll be bringing:

Oodles of summer squashes (yellow, Zephyr and zucchini), lots of chard, Dinosaur kale, bunches of Raab, bags of arugula, yellow bell peppers, sweet Corno di Toro peppers, Cubanelle peppers (perfect for stir-fry and stuffing), Asian cucumbers, Nubia and Beatrice eggplant, butternut squash, Kabocha squash and some spaghetti squash.

Thanks!

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, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)