University of Minnesota Agriculture student Ruth Burke is spending this summer interning at a CSA farm called Cramer Organics of Delano, MN. Throughout the growing season, she’ll share weekly updates about the experience with readers of the Heavy Table.
Farm Journal 13: The Dog Days of Summer
My, oh my, has it been hot lately! The last week or so has seen temperatures in the 90s and humidity levels nearly as high. It shouldn’t be much of a shock, then, that this translates into absolutely miserable working conditions on the farm. We like to joke that our “comfort level” for the day will be a whopping zero. Although this weather is less than ideal for humans, it actually has a lot of benefits for farming. I don’t think I’ll ever like August in Minnesota, but at least now I can fully appreciate the multitude of meanings behind the phrase “the dog days of summer.”
Given that I try to move with the rhythm of the seasons, I am doing my best to enjoy these days for what they are: the last hurrah before autumn comes and winter follows closely behind it. Come January, I will be thinking of these days with longing. But it’s pretty hard right now to imagine those 10°-below-zero days when, even at 6:30am, I have sweat slipping down my temples and back as I hunch over to snip salad mix.
I’m not going to lie; harvest days are not fun right now. Lugging 30-lb baskets of zucchini and cucumbers, bending over to pick cherry tomatoes with the sun baking your back, and digging elbow deep in mounds of dirt to pick potatoes are some of the most torturous tasks when you are so hot that your clothes are soaked with sweat half an hour into the day. The early mornings have one benefit: The sun isn’t out yet. Come midday, the combination of 95° heat, high humidity, and bright sunlight is enough to melt you where you stand. Every movement causes you to sweat and breathing is difficult because, as humans, we don’t process air laced with water very well. We have had to be very careful to drink lots of water and eat salty foods at lunch to make up for lost electrolytes.
Although I paint a grim picture in terms of working conditions, I meant what I said earlier about these dog days having a few benefits. By this time in the season, weeds are down and so are pests. It’s just simply too hot! This makes weeding and pest control a lot easier to manage and keep up with. Even better, what little weeding needs to be done is less energy intensive because a lot of it can be done by hand, sitting or kneeling. On hot days like these, standing and hoeing for three or four hours would be practically inhumane.
Also, there are quite a few crops that love (and I mean love) these sunny, steamy days. Corn is a big one; it needs as much sunlight and heat as it can get. I have never seen happier corn than what I see right now on my drive to work every day. The zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and melons (all those cucurbits) are also happy as can be. The melon and winter squash fields look like small jungles; their vines and leaves reach as high as my waist in some places, and we literally trip over the massive fruits as we search for cucumbers in the adjacent fields. The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are doing well also, producing large, healthy fruit quickly. Quite frankly, there are so many crops that do well in this type of weather, the farmer in me should be rejoicing, not bemoaning, this past week.
This time of year has always evoked memories of a childhood spent biking to the beach, jumping through sprinklers, and lazing on the porch with a book, listening to the cicadas buzz continuously in the background. Now I will have thoughts of harvesting massive zucchini and cucumbers, “accidentally” spraying my fellow intern, Mary, with water while we clean peppers, and row after row of healthy, gleaming tomatoes to add to my repertoire of “dog days” memories.
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