Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Farm work on hold, tomatoes, no-see-ums, and hoping for fall

I have a moderately ambitious wind research summer field season scheduled out, working with a crew of current and former students who are interested in climate management and renewable energy, putting up and servicing anemometers all around the central part of Maine. The results will enable me to tell the authorities, municipal and state, where community-owned turbines might reasonably go. They'll also help in mapping the winds in our area.

But it means a big work week one week in two. I decided on the week-on/week-off schedule since it gives me the best chance to both do the work and also enjoy the growing season. That was before my father died, and now I'm somewhat behind with my field work. So we're going to do a two week blitz and finish a bunch of sites and then call it quits for the summer. Administrative work demands are beginning to appear, and I have a big dossier to write. And before we know it students will be arriving back and I'll have classes to teach, and the Common Ground Fair, and the harvest, canning time, putting up food, slaughtering time, and on and on.

Fall is our busiest time of year. And fall arrives fast in Maine and lasts a long time.

Fall also means tomatoes. Oh, tomatoes...

Every day I go walk around our Womerlippi tomato rows looking hard for ripening berries. There's a few turning yellow, so any day now we'll have our first fruits. I am a great lover of fresh tomatoes, and am always just a little sad to walk away empty-handed.

Poor bear! But soon.

Fall also means no bugs. Surprise: you can get tired of bugs in Maine. I'm just starting to feel the pinch of my least favorite Maine biting bug, the no-see-um, a kind of flatlander's midge not unlike the Highland one with which some readers will be all too familiar. I can handle the dreaded blackfly, "the Maine state bird", no worries. They drive some folks nuts, even some native Mainers, but these days I rarely notice them. Mosquitoes bother me some, but they're relatively easy to avoid. Biting flies, the various horseflies or clegs are rampant this year in comparison to others but still only found here and there in the countryside.

But little no-see-ums come through your bug screens and into your house and get you while you sleep, little Nazis that they are. And their bite is nasty. Painful and long-lasting. I have red welts all up and down my ankles.

There are two ways to remove the threat of these little buggers. One is to leave all your windows closed, which with our current sultry weather is not an option. The other is to spray the screens with a deterrent.

Every year I say I'm not going to do it this year, but the sleepless nights build up, and I go pull out the spray. It's a pyrethrin-based product and supposedly harmless to humans and animals, although toxic to fish. It's the same stuff I use to keep the carpenter ants out of our house's sills.

Although a MOFGA member, I'm not a die-hard organic farmer. I use a few mild chemicals carefully. Penicillin, for instance, is a great help to unhappy sheep. And marigold juice, pyrethrins, are good bug deterrents.

There's a third way, which is to replace your standard screens with a smaller mesh. But apparently this reduces the air flow considerably. And we need that airflow right now.

But not for long. Fall will arrive in a few short weeks and with it this moist air will vanish back to Iowa where it belongs, taking the heat and humidity and noo-see-ums, giving us that perfect 70 degree day, 40 degree night, crisp, clear weather in its place. The first dry Canadian air mass is not yet in sight on the weather map, but I can smell it. It's out there somewhere.

Usually by the second week of August we've had our first taste of fall.

I'll let you know.


  1. Every year those little creatures (noseeums)make their way into the house, but I'd never suffered a bite until this year. Two months of chewing on my toes, arms, back and other delicate places,has left me sleep deprived and looking like I have the measels.After tea tree baths,clove and pennyroyal treatments, I broke down and purchased Deet. But you know, those little needle nabbers have burroughed into the fibers of sweaters, fleece,wool...and towels! I'm just wondering how long they can live on an article of clothing? I swear at 4pm each afternoon, sitting in an enclosed area, far from home, they wake up in the sleeves of my shirt, and undergarments for a little snack. The nights are cooling off and frost will soon come, but in the meantime, these little tormentors continue to be relentless. Any advice? Great site, look forward to perusing it when I can sit for more than five minutes without the jab, sting, itch.

  2. The pyrethrin spray works wonders. last year we had millions of them, but they all ended upo dead on the windowsill. Ugly mess, but dead as dodos.


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