Weekend essay: Plenteous harvest

Weekend essay: Plenteous harvest

JONES MOUNTAIN, W.Va.

Make no mistake, more things are growing high atop this outpost in the Appalachian Mountain foothills than just vegetables and flowers.

Yes, green bean production has been so phenomenal that ways to prepare them are being exhausted. (If you’ve never steeped two big handfuls of beans in a freshly boiled pot of beef broth with onions and bacon, you’ve never eaten well.)

And the cucumbers, amazingly large and succulent, just keep coming. Which can be either a blessing or a bane to the neighbors, right?

Those cherry tomatoes? So candy-sweet that most are eaten directly off the vine, never seeing a salad. Some of the regular tomatoes are so large that only one slice is needed to cover a sandwich-sized piece of bread.

And with late July looming, well, it’s time to ensure that the bounty extends into the autumn.

Nary a summer carrot has been harvested but fall carrots already have been sown. So have new groupings of yellow and white onions. Planting even more green beans isn’t far behind.

Before you know it, fall lettuce will be staged as well. It’s lettuce that, placed under cover before the first frost, should produce right through the holidays, if not through most of the winter.

Now, not far from the garden beds is a large bank of wild flowers. One can never do enough to attract a wide array of pollinators. Which means only one thing: More wildflowers will be sown.

But there’s another harvest going on here – of common sense and of innovation.

Large rain barrels already in place, connected to soaker hoses, are handling an increasing amount of the watering duties. A recent rainfall left 75 gallons in one barrel alone.

That nitrogen-rich rain water might as well be liquid gold. Considering the rain is free, a larger network of barrels could be in the offing.

But the bigger and more complicated harvesting project is getting a test run this weekend – a sun-harvesting project, so to speak.

A large array of solar panels will be connected to a controller. That controller will be connected to a bank of batteries. That battery bank will be connected to a DC-to-AC inverter.

In the least, this rudimentary system will be handy for keeping cell phones and the tractor battery charged, radios running and power some LED lights. In the event of an emergency, it and a gas-powered generator, will make life a whole lot easier.

Whether the solar investment proves to be cost-effective per kilowatt-hour remains to be seen. But, in the least, it will be nice to have an alternative energy source for small applications and those unforeseen circumstances that are sure to pop up.

So, the “farm” is coming along nicely, thank you. There’s produce, flowers, water and, now, at least a modicum of “free” electricity. The tractor’s running great. And the first cicadas of summer already are singing in chorus that it’s time to start designing a snow plow for “Fireball.”

Alas, if the deer, bobcats, groundhogs, rabbits and at least one bear can be kept out of a certain gentlemanly farmer’s hair, the winds of Jones Mountain will be whispering “Life really is good.”

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).