A Girl and Her Farm: Turnbull Creek
It's early morning on my farm. The Tennessee sky is a gray cloak that stifles all play of light. There is the slight shuffle of the rufous-sided towee, scratching around in the leaves of the underbrush, and of my boots on the gravel drive as I walk up to the greenhouse.
It is the beginning of spring, my favorite time of year. Buds on the trees swell, and peepers sang at the pond last night. Everything is new again, formless yet energized and awakening.
I grow all my own vegetable and flower transplants here on the farm, and now is the time when starting seeds fills my days. It is a much slower pace than the hot, frantic days of summer. I inhale deeply the scent of the warming earth, and drink hot tea while I work.
As I enter the greenhouse, all my senses shift to welcome the damp air. Outside, the wind bites bitterly, but inside this large plastic structure, I feel snug and protected. It is a lovely place to spend the day.
The coaxing of new life in this artificial environment is a basic part of my job description that I have done repeatedly. It can, however, still be nerve-wracking. I find myself walking anxiously amongst the seed trays peering closely for signs of growth. Until the seedlings appear and the vigor of new life convinces me otherwise, anxiety fills me.
On this morning, I find that some plugs dried out on the heat mat, drips of condensation have taken out some delicate new sprouts, and the young plants over on the north side still don't seem to have grown at all in a week. But I know that, at that first emergence of green, when those cotyledons open and stretch towards the sun, like clockwork my heart will lighten, and contentment will set in. These are my babies, after all; although their highly evolved sense of survival assures much of their growth, it is my job to make sure they thrive. Like any parent, I want my young ones to grow up to be the best they can be.
Tray after tray I plant, similar to any other factory line where repetition and efficiency is key to good productivity. I have been farming this small piece of land 11 years now, and experience has taught me that every new season is a great unknown. The possibilities, the variables, are endless and unpredictable.
I can only cling to this routine that I know — dampen the potting mix, fill the plug trays, open the seed packets with my dirty hands and do my best to connect these tiny life forms to a medium they innately recognize and can thrive in.
I am a "diversified" farmer, meaning I grow dozens of varieties of vegetables and flowers for my customers. By now, each vegetable and flower has its own story, accumulated over time, that is rich with threatening characters — insect pests! bacterial blight! — and high drama.
There was the time when it rained for weeks, and the melons all burst and the beans all rotted. Or that summer when it was so hot, for so long, we got up before dawn and harvested cabbages with headlamps. Or when the watermelons were so overgrown with tall weeds that harvesting became treacherous, like walking blindfolded through a room of bowling balls.
The farm during high summer is a chorus of these stories, each competing for attention. It is a riot of color and texture, with layers of intrigue and suspense that I must navigate.
But for now, on this March day, all I need to do is plant seed.
Follow Tally as she traverses the highs and lows of life on her farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee, Turnbull Creek Farm. Find her at Turnbullcreekfarm.com
Subscribe to her Co-op at freshharvest.locallygrown.net