Last Wednesday was one of those spring days. I was racing to work my way through an overly ambitious to-do list before Andrew had to leave the farm for a doctor’s appointment. We had spent the morning wrestling with socket wrenches and greenhouse purlins, and I hoped still to till and lay plastic between lunch and 3pm. I was in overdrive: hopping on and off of the tractor to adjust the tiller depth, rolling too-big rocks into the bucket so that I could ferry them out of the field, stopping every now and then to check the texture of the soil. I felt optimistic. As I drove the tractor out of the field to switch implements, I noticed an unfamiliar car in the driveway, and looking closer, a stranger talking to Andrew by the barn. “Good,” I though “he can talk to the customer while I switch the tiller for the plastic layer. Then we’ll book it to the field and get ‘er done.”
In the barn, I quickly disengaged the tiller and backed up to the plastic layer. Then Andrew and the stranger walked up. Our visitor looked familiar, but it took me a few moments to place his face. Then it clicked. He had sat next to me at my nutrient management class last fall. I didn’t know much about his farm, but I recalled that we had talked a little bit about growing vegetables.
“I’m sick of seeing you in the paper!” he teased us, and I felt myself blush. While the attention we’ve received has been a huge boon for business, it has not come without a certain uncomfortable notoriety. When your neighbors have lived here their whole lives and never once made the paper, and you’ve been in two stories (and a bank advertising campaign) in less than a year, you start to feel a bit over-exposed. He asked about our Winter CSA, and I told him about our crops and about how I’d learned winter growing. He asked if we would be attending any farmers markets this spring, and we said that, because we could sell through CSA, we would not. “You’ll leave the standing around in a parking lot for the rest of us suckers,” he remarked.
I answered his farming questions as best I could, but time was pressing and we tried to excuse ourselves to go lay the plastic. “I’ve heard of these plastic layers before,” he said, “do you mind if I come along to watch?” I obliged, and we headed off to the field.
This was to be the third time that I used our plastic layer. The first time we had the supervision of Chip and Susan, from whom we had bought it, and the second time we laid it ourselves, without incident. While I felt fairly confident that we could put down a neat bed, I still felt my pulse quicken as I approached the field. Stage fright and haste are not particularly conducive to good work.
I should stop here to give you, gentle readers, an idea of how complex the plastic layer is. While it has few moving parts and does not require the force of the engine via the PTO, it has approximately 8,000 possible adjustments, all of which need to be dialed in for a good, clean, tight bed. You can adjust the level of the layer so that one side is higher than the other. You can tighten or loosen the link arms to swing the entire implement to the right or left. You can adjust the third arm of the three point hitch to bring the front of the layer down, or lift it up. You can move the press wheels in or out and you can change their orientation. You can center the line of drip tape being laid, or put it off center for a two-row crop. You have to find the sweet spot for the coulters, so that they throw soil onto the edges of the plastic (but not too much). You can raise and lower the layer with the three-point-hitch hydrolics. I’m probably forgetting a few adjustments, but you get the idea.
Well. We forgot about all but maybe two of those adjustments. Andrew buried the end of the plastic; I lowered the layer and drove forward. It was disastrous. The plastic caught on sharp edges and ripped. The layer swung off to one side. The coulters threw small mountains of soil, though not in the correct place. We stopped, rediscovered each adjustment, and started again, limping our way forward in 10 foot increments. The bed became ominously wiggly from all of my backwards looking. Meanwhile our observer was offering well-intentioned (but not particularly helpful) advice. Persistently. Time was slipping away.
In the end, we laid two rather appallingly bad beds before Andrew had to sprint for the car. At that, our guest decided to depart as well, leaving me to wallow in my humiliation and frustration. I could imagine his thoughts all too well–young kids getting all the attention, not having a clue what they are actually doing, wonder if they actually grow all of the stuff that they sell…
That was my first dose of humble pie.
The second came when I tried to redeem the day by making a not-so-humble pie. We had about two pounds of lemons in the fridge (not, alas, from our lemon tree yet), and I decided that writing a blog post with a pie recipe could redeem the ignominious episode. I found a promising recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie and started to feel better.
I do not think that it is the fault of blogger Ms. Humble (source of the pie recipe), but my pie was as much a debacle as the aborted plastic laying. I undercooked the lemon filling such that it never gelled–at all–and I ended up with lemon soup served in a pie crust and topped with a gorgeous meringue. Lemon soup is not nearly as delicious as lemon pie. It is also a great deal more sticky.
There is some small measure of redemption to this story–the next day we laid the rest of the plastic without trouble (or bystanders). As for the pie–I used the filling as the base for two very lemony tea loaves. They’re particularly tasty when slathered with meringue.