It was the Best of Times, It was the (less than) Best of Times

Catskills Comfrey_Fall Leaves.png

As I get older, I have noticed a mellowing of my attitude to issues that affect me daily. I’ve learned at my age (70), you become very aware of what defines each day and what provides meaning, benefit, and pleasure in the daily actions I undertake.

I wrestled with the title for this blog. I was going to name it The Sorrowful Farmer in honor of a young, rail-thin farmer we met early on in our days (ca late 1990s) at the Round Barn, one of the largest and longest-running farmer's markets in the area. I now cannot even remember his name - but he was very affable but with his long beard, his occasional tales of woe re farming left me with a sense that his daily life as a farmer was not as successful as he had wanted it to be. I heard that he later died - but the whole-wheat flour I bought from him lives on in my freezer.

So why the pessimism?

The cherry tomatoes I planted this year didn’t happen as anticipated - the profusion of rich SunGolds on the vine just didn’t occur. The sun wasn’t out enough, the days were cool and the rains frequent, leaving me with beautiful green fruit that simply appeared to stall on the vine and not ripen. And I had one hundred plants in the ground! And to top it off, the deer discovered the plants, nibbling away at the lower fruit, literally halving my available crop. Yes, I was caught off guard re fencing but the deer had not bothered the four ‘test’ beds I had planted last year - my wife felt the bigger mass of plants attracted them. I DID learn, though, that of the ten varieties I planted, there are (five) various reasons why I won’t replant them next year.

But, to balance all that, the comfrey thrived under these same conditions. It was wonderful to watch the phenomenal weekly growth of rich, lush comfrey leaves, some measuring 2’ in length. I had weekly harvests of comfrey leaves throughout the summer and into fall. And in the end, as I made my last comfrey harvest, in mid-September, I was able to accurately determine what my approximate comfrey yield could be.

And I successfully installed a three-barrel irrigation system for both the cherry tomatoes and comfrey, making watering both more convenient and consistent. And all this supporting a gravity-fed system with a natural spring located nearly ½ mile higher up the mountain. The stream water is potable - and makes our entire gardening system possible. This, to me, is a true blessing.

The ongoing summer and fall days have been incredible: warm enough to still be going barefoot and lying in the hammock as the sun sets. My wife and I are both happy - and delight in the monarch butterflies alighting on the many, many zinnias we planted this year in front of the house

And, I suppose, to top it off, the maple leaves have begun to color, just when we had declared this fall’s leaf ‘peeping’ season a bust. The colors in the Catskills, when they happen, are magnificent and a joy to behold. Last year, my wife’s sister, an avid hiker, came out from San Francisco. She caught last year’s colors perfectly and was so blown away, that she vowed to return.

And she did this year, bringing 20+ hiking friends from the San Francisco area. She arrived a week earlier than her group and although the sun was out and the preliminary hikes we took were breath-taking, the colors weren’t really happening, like Annie and I knew they could do if inspired.

But two days before the group arrived, the colors began changing - and as we drove around Delaware County, in pursuit of hikes or a short drive to enjoy the colors, the constant litany of “oooohhhh”, “look at that tree” or “look, over there” became constant.

Yes, it’s another beautiful day in the Catskills.

Danielle Gaebel