Thanks, Qayyum, for the invitation to blog; this is my first summer season since 2011 not working fiercely on the farm at Green Gulch, and I’m grateful for the chance to say hello to all of you on this virtual turf.
I bear the unwieldy title “Head of Grounds” at Tassajara, Green Gulch’s higher and drier counterpart in the Santa Lucia mountains. I prefer to include “Garden” somewhere in that title, as my passion is for eking abundance of food and flowers out of this heat, this sandy soil, this monastic-ish schedule, alongside the watchful eyes and voracious appetites of blue jays, ground squirrels, and deer.
Tumbling into summer for some time now, the heat overtakes us for a few days, then recedes again. Knowing that there’s fog at the coast, just a few miles away, is little comfort. The best advice I’ve heard (sung) is ‘lean in to the heat.’ Still, I brace myself against the bright days in the mid-nineties, and relax gratefully into the cooler evenings. I am reading Rebecca Solnit: in a year at the Poles, she says, there is one long day, and one long night. Not so at Tassajara. Here, every day has two seasons. The temperature extremes, at all times of the year, leave me wondering how best to moderate them for the plants in ground and greenhouse. The hottest day of this month was also the coolest: 102 and 51 both recorded on July 20th.
These days, lows are in the high 50s and highs in the 90s or 100s (the greenhouse, though, gets up to a shocking 120). In February, nights got into the 30s and days in the 80s – and the greenhouse, without shade from the then-bare trees, still reached the 100s and only moderated the cold nights by 10 degrees or so. It took a lot of convincing to get the seeds I sowed successively through the early spring to germinate, and then to GROW. Somehow, though, nearly every variety of flower was abloom by the solstice, and the leggy red kale born into those short February days is still producing [it’s been yanked since first writing, to make way for basil].
Gardening here has been a practice of patience. Patience with the extreme conditions that cause slow growth, hungry deer, dusty plants. Patience with the incredibly high turnover of summer students, which has meant that I’ve trained my garden crew on flower cropping, weeding, mulching, making bed cages, handwatering…more times than I care to remember. Patience with myself, for struggling to be organized in a new setting, having received no training in this job from any predecessor and wanting to do everything, and do it well. Patience with the surprising number of other obligations that the garden crew, which is viewed as non-essential, has within the community. I do a lot of driving for Tassajara back and forth over the 14-mile, hour-long dirt road, watching the native flowers bloom and fade, wondering when I can make it out of this (barely) creek-cooled crevice in the mountains to collect seed on the parched hillsides.
Maybe I’ll have a chance to collect some chia, penstemon, bush poppy, or woolly blue curls seed on my drive over the road this afternoon, in a newer and slimmer version of GGF’s ‘Boxy.’