Posted by: chlost | September 18, 2011

Mum’s the word!

We live on the edge of a metropolitan area. On one side, there are suburban tract housing developments. On another side, there is a large natural area, alongside a river lined by trees and wildlife. A third side is a small town, with a dying downtown area sucked dry by national retail chains which have expanded beyond the outskirts of the city.

On the fourth side of us, however, is our favorite landscape. This is the farm land. Farmers still have large fields which surround family homes and outbuildings which house tractors and old rusty pick-up trucks.

Neither my husband nor I grew up on farms. But we both love the rural areas. He works with farm animals, crops and pastures, but we do not live on a farm. I spent a good part of my teens living in a small rural town where the FFA membership outnumbered the sports teams. In case you didn’t grow up in rural America, FFA is the acronym for Future Farmers of America. In my high school years, girls were not welcome in FFA-we had FHA-Future Homemakers of America.

When you live in this rural area, seasons are marked by the changes in the fields. As the farm fields are plowed, planted and spurt green from the black expanse of dirt, we know that spring has arrived. When the corn is “knee-high by the Fourth of July”, it is truly summer.

Now, however, it is autumn. I know this is true because the crops tell me it is autumn. The corn has turned light brown, awaiting harvest by large teeth which are attached to the front of a combine.

Field of corn awaiting harvest.

This is the equipment which will soon be winding its way between the rows of corn to pick the dry ears of corn. The machinery then processes it and shoots it into a truck to haul it out of the field. Once the corn is ready it needs to be picked, and the farmers will work until late into the night. There are lights on the equipment, and teams of people travel from farm to farm to get the crop in while it has the perfect ratio of water to plant fiber.

Picking corn and trucking it out of the field. Image is from USDA, via Wikipedia.

There are also potato fields surrounding our area. The potatoes are dug out of the ground late in the summer. After they are gone from the field, the farmer needs to have something else planted in the field in order to be sure that the good fertile dirt is not eroded away during the fall and winter months.

After harvest, the dirt is exposed and would be eroded away by wind, rain or snow if left exposed. As you can see, the ground is very dark and fertile for farming.

So, until the new seeds can be planted in the spring, an annual rye grass is planted. In the fall, this is one of the few green areas we can see in the fields.

Annual rye grass is planted in the fall and then turned under in the spring before planting season.

One of the most certain signs of fall in our area is the annual appearance of the local pumpkin patch. There is a roadside farm stand for which the owners plant their surrounding fields with the vegetables and fruits that they sell each season. The final crop is that of the pumpkins. Once there has been a frost-we had the first frost this past week-the greenery dies away and the orange of large globes of pumpkins peek out, just waiting to be picked by local families. By Halloween, most will be gone. There may be a few “pie pumpkins” which will remain to be purchased for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The pumpkin crop looks pretty good this fall.

For me, these changes in the local landscape predict the seasons far more beautifully than even the trees’ color changes. Maybe it goes back to my elementary school days when there was always a poster somewhat like this one (of course, for us, California was in another world, and we would never have considered it as having any farm products-it was too exotic for that!).

California cornucopia, from Wikipedia

Around my house, though, the best harbinger of fall is something completely different from harvested fruits or vegetables. It is the sight of the mums surrounding the house, which have replaced the summer plants this past week. Although the labels claim that they are winter hardy, I have never had much luck with them overwintering in this climate.  So I have given up, and they are in pots at my door and on the deck.

For it is truly fall when the mums are the flower of choice.

There were so many varieties this year, but I love these little red ones with the yellow centers.



  1. Thanks for telling us about the seasonal changes you have surrounding you. We’re surrounded by more woods than farms, so I never paid attention much to the changes on farmland. I love your mums – they herald the autumn here, too. And the apple cider mill!

  2. Your post reminds me of my life growing up on a farm. I live in the city now, my kids like urban living, but sometimes I miss the country.

  3. Sometimes, in this fraught season, I forget all about the natural and agricultural world and get lost in the straight lines of NYTimes Op-Eds and the furrows plowed by TPM’s Muckraker. Thanks for hauling me home for a bit.

  4. How lucky that you get to watch the seasons change as the farm production changes. I do miss seeing that here. I have cattle behind me and the only seasonal change is their furry coats and strips of hay spread out as the grass dies.
    I do plant annual rye grass in my raised beds for the winter but that is such small scale.
    Lovely post.

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