And there lay this lovely note tucked under a hand-made scythe alongside my combine when I arrived to check on our Pasayten hard white wheat field. The note read:
“Farmer Sam, Wishing you and all at Bluebird Grains Farm a bountiful and successful harvest! Here’s a piece of the valley history for you to share, as we will share in the goodness you bring to the table -The Valley”
Truth to tell, I cried. I can’t think of anything else that would sanctify what we’ve been up to here at Bluebird for the past 15 years. No idea yet who left this gift but it sure did make my day!
The wheat is ready as the August sun and crisp, clear skies have worked magic by curing out our grains perfectly. Classic eastern Washington harvest weather, and why we are able to finish grain so well on this side of the mountains. Now, over two months on the downside of the summer solstice, it always seems the sun has gained intensity even as days shorten and shadows lengthen. There are plenty of hot days left, but the mornings are cooler and the slow edge toward autumn at least becomes a thought.
Alas, the hummingbirds are still enjoying our lawn flowers and the supplemental sugar. The fledgling flycatchers and robins can hardly be differentiated from the adults. One notable new song is that of the black-capped chickadee. I’ve heard them the past couple of mornings, and now as I sit here in the evening. Meanwhile those swallows: Gone as gone. Poorwills still sing at dawn and the quail are 2 hatches along. Coyotes have been very vocal these past weeks. I wish they were more persistent around our hard wheat, as the Canada geese have eaten into a couple of acres!
Why am I waiting? Well, the weather looks stable and I’ve got to finish sowing our heritage fall rye as well as, our seed stock of an older WSU variety of hard red winter wheat: Finley. Fall grains, which actually are interchangeable with “winter grains”, really need to be in the soil before the end of August in Washington. A true “winter grain” ideally rows up, then stools out before winter so that there ends up being multiple heads off of one seed. A true winter grain must “vernalizes” to give this yield and thus needs to be planted in time to get to this certain stage before going dormant.
Since our inception, the only fall-planted crops at Bluebird have been this old rye that I am going to call by the variety name “Treebeard” since he was the pal who gave me the rest of the seed stock that he’d grown out for many years East of here. And he had it handed down to him from a previous generation of farmers even further East. Lately, I’ve been trying to grow out a little winter wheat to keep some older stock going. The variety Finely I procured from Jerry Robinson at WSCIA. I got the last of it from him, want to keep this rugged strain going for our growers.
By the time you all read this letter, I should be closing in on having both the rye and wheat planted. I’m planting these grains following a terrific buckwheat crop that not only brought up our potassium levels but brought down our PH at the Big Valley lease to an almost perfect 6.5!
The late Bruce Tainio – seed breeder and founder of Tainio Technologies in Cheney WA. once said that if a grower can keep their PH at 6.4 nothing will ever bother their crop. Well, we shall see?! (I miss Bruce) I’m also planting on the building full moon – always a plus.
Then, we will get the scythe out and begin laying down the wheat! Maybe I’ll employ the Gleaner if things get too slow. This will be the first crop we’ve taken from our Highway 20 property, and the first time I’ve farmed and harvested there in 25 years as this was the first field I drove a combine while working for Ron Vanderyacht all those years ago. If we are lucky, things come full circle. Which brings me back to the note. The note clearly was from one familiar with the Methow Valley heritage, as there was a flour mill in Twisp a hundred years ago, and plenty of grain grown here at one time. I’m happy to revisit the past!
Our flour mill has been cranking away up here in the foothills. Lenore has been doing a terrific job, and our local customers have not gone without since the whole pandemic began. Nor without grain, and this includes all our customers far and wide. We feel most fortunate to have such loyal followers and to have gained many new. We look forward to continuing this relationship as things turn toward fall, and our quality grains start coming in for yet another cycle – thanks most of all, to Mother Nature.
Enjoy these last weeks of summer. Enjoy the crickets and katydids of the evenings, and try and concentrate on peace – bringing peace one mind at a time to this volatile, stressed out world we find ourselves in. It is during these trying times when empathy and humanity can shine the most.
Your Farmer, Sam