Taking stock of our 26th season growing food

By Mike Jopek

What a difference a year makes. Last week’s air was refreshing, cool and crisp. Our summertime rains have returned to the Flathead, this year anyway.

Our garlic is now curing, in hanks, in the barn. The hanging crop looks great, big bulbs with keeper skins. It won’t seem long before we replant the biggest and best cloves into the ground. It’s a sign to end this farm season.

The chokecherries turned red, our raspberries are done, and the currants are picked as time allows.

The apples, plums, and pears are plumping fast. So far I’ve eaten a couple just to see how far the season has progressed. If our current yield is any indication of what other stone fruit growers may experience, expect a bumper crop.

We’ve mostly eaten the Flathead cherries we procured this season and are well into consuming the lugs of peaches we got from down on the lake. Both the cherries and peaches taste great; they’re juicy, mostly stable and quite delicious.

In our field the sweet onions, torpedo onions, leeks, chives, green and red scallions are having a great time with the rain. The showers with their atmospheric nitrogen help keep allium leaves green while fall rains plump the bulbs.

Many broccoli heads are even bigger than human heads.

Some crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are slower to mature this season, it’s just not as hot as last August. But to most anyone who spends all day outdoors during the growing season, cool rain is nice after blazing sunshine.

This season, so far, proved a steady combination of sunshine, clouds and rain. That sweet rain that helps all things grow. It’s given the lettuce eaters among us much joy by keeping the traditionally late August bitters at bay. Lettuce, like spinach, doesn’t much like really hot days. Sunshine can turn some red-leaved lettuce as bitter as the finest of the new aged pale ales.

This Augusts’ hornets, wasps and yellow jackets are plentiful. Hopefully they will remain far more docile than our national politics have suddenly become.

This is our 26th season growing food. Every year seems unpredictable. It’s like the one constant is change. Last season’s excessive heat produced many challenges, yet so may the return of traditional summertime rains.

Luckily for local pale ale enjoyers the valley’s hop buds are now maturing fast, soon ready for harvest. Our hops coned up nicely after last week’s rain.

Students must be headed back to school soon; even the Mountain Ash berries are orange.

The winter’s firewood is in the woodshed. It’s a solid indicator; like purple plums and “hanked” garlic that the growing season will soon end. Some would even say it’s time to take stock of the plentitude of pinecones hanging on trees. Looks like lots.

But before then, harvest. It’s time for tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatillos, and winter squash. Garlic needs planting; the gardens need to be put to bed. Winter sounds so close on paper, but in reality it’s months of hard work away. Yet, the transition has started.

Fall will be here soon enough. Those hungry ghosts that frost away heat loving crops like sweet basil and white cucumbers will soon haunt us. It’ll prove another bittersweet reminder to the cycle of life.

I’m grateful for rain, while at the wrong time may cause trouble for some growers. Soon the water from the sky may be displaced by sunshine, as the long days of August produce the last and finest of the growing season.

Thankfully for growers and eaters, the tireless volunteers at the local farmers markets in Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls are doing a great job assuring that locals and tourists alike have access to some of the finest crops grown right here in the Flathead.

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