This year differed from the previous one. Last time, the seasons had a different course. Even though by the human calendar, we arrived at the exact date, the garden and its plants were in totally unlike stages. Nature proved, once again, that it’s not the detailed human planning that sets the rules. If last year we found pretty cold temperatures and the month of May began with heavy rains, this time a very short cycle of chilly nights (maybe only three or four) was followed by a steep rise of temperatures during the days, bringing the noons’ heat close to 80F. The rain was scarce, a few thunderstorms circled the area but released the needed water up in the mountains, which still helped by assuring a steady flow of water on the streams.
The vines were bare of leaves when we came and they waited a little longer to flower. The dirt dried quickly, and we had to begin irrigation earlier. Still, compared to our last year's performance, this year we improved a lot even though the challenges were more daring. We chose to till a smaller surface, and we worked efficiently in preparing the soil for the seeds to be planted. The knowledge and experience we accumulated during our last stay played essential this time. We became a little more skilled in using the small farm machinery and we had a better relationship with the dirt.
Yet we failed at cultivating the greenhouse. The success we had with the kale, collards and bok choy in the previous cycle encouraged us to go with them again, disregarding basic rules of rotation. The seeds sprouted on time, and they even advanced in their growing at a fast pace, but as soon as the leaves became ready to be harvested and consumed, a vigorous attack of insects made them inedible. All these species are part of the same family as the cabbage, botanically called Brassicaceae. Some of the kale was even left to hibernate actively, producing leaves that enhanced the chickens’ diet, but they most likely harbored a growing colony of cabbage moth, which enthusiastically waited for our leaves to become pleasant and colonized them quickly. I think that it even happened overnight. Given the moment of the year and the length of our stay, we stuck with the tomatoes and a large part of the greenhouse remained to produce weeds. Still, the chard grew successfully, and we had a beautiful surprise with cilantro, which made its way through the crust and defied the fast-growing weeds to spring to life and produce the aromatic leaves which helped us make that Mexican-style guacamole. The avocadoes available in stores here are coming mainly from Spain and African countries, and sometimes the Peruvian or Bolivian farmers are shipping their produce over here in Europe, but they definitely miss the flavor of those Haas avocadoes we are used to buying in the United States. Anyway, they still are workable into a decent dish, and cilantro was the essential ingredient that we always missed here. Its aromatic leaves really make the difference. So even this minor victory seemed to be big for us, and some recipients might have appreciated our fresh guacamole.
The outside garden, now cultivated on a smaller surface, was productive enough with the help of irrigation and constant weeding. We followed a random order, and we planted out important American seeds into the dirt. Soon enough, a powerful onion sprang toward the sunlight. Various beans thrived as well. Kale, chard, carrots were overgrowth by the weeds, and Gina had to pick every single one of them by hand. Her mom planted tomatoes and peppers. We capped the plot with a few rows of sweet corn, which will sweeten the meals of whoever will want to harvest it in the fall.
The greatest surprise of all was offered to us by the zucchini plants. After following the instructions and carefully burying the seed on top of small mounds, they jumped joyously to life. They grew unexpectedly fast and their large leaves covered the competing plants quick enough to steal the light from them. Consequentially, weeding became unnecessary. When they bloomed, we admired their flowers every morning and, soon, the little zucchini formed, then grew potently every day. The harvest became abundant in no time. That is how we discovered various ways to eat and cook them. Eating raw thin slices drizzled with salt and pepper than sprinkled with olive oil was the novelty of the season. That made an excellent and refreshing appetizer for lunches served in the shadow on boiling days. As the little squashes continued to brighten our mornings with their green, dark green, and yellow skins, we prepared them by grilling or boiling them into delicious soups. Soon we distributed them to our dear ones and acquiescences as well.
The grass in the orchard and near the garden grew tall two times, and we had to mow, dry, and stack a few times. Meanwhile, the grapevines opened a sea of green limbs toward the sun and fresh tendrils stretched to grasp on the supporting structure. We performed one of the vine prunings by reducing the length of new growths to two or three leaves and eliminating the hungry tendrils to offer more nutrients to the grapes. The results were seen rapidly as the grapes got fatter right under our eyes.
Two cherry trees formed their fruits during the time, and the cherries ripened under the sun. Their savor filled our days. It was so much offered to us with no effort. The strawberry patches turned their berries red like competing for time with the cherries, and we had an exceptional snack before our breakfasts.
And then the time came to see our greatest investment of the year turn into fruition. By mid-May, we traveled to Hateg to attend a funeral, and we stopped at a blueberry nursery right outside the town of Orastie. We loaded fifty or so plants of blueberry and we hauled them back home, their roots still wrapped with fertile soil. The surface where they were supposed to be planted was previously prepared by tilling. The handyperson of the village, known by the name of Mitrut, dug the fifty holes manually respecting the exact depth and width we required. Because the blueberries are originally growing at high altitudes on thin alpine soil, they love acidity. Therefore, we mixed the excavated soil with spruce sawdust (for every two parts of dirt, we added one part of sawdust) and filled the holes with it, then carefully placed the plants into the ground covering with soil a small portion of the stems. We laid weed proof membrane on the ground, building a three foot wide stripe around the plants. Gina had to tailor the membrane using scissors, metal hooks, and adhesive tape, but the result came out fantastic. We build a dripping irrigation system by ourselves from planning to purchasing the parts and to connect the pieces together. With a little twist of a faucet, the precious drops of water fall right at the root system of the small shrubs. Now we enjoy the small blueberries as they ripen gradually. Only a few of them failed this year.
Especially at nighttime, the farm miraculously transforms into a ground for various animals, mostly wild ones, even though a few domestic cats are patrolling the yard in search of prey. The most active is the groundhog, which, under the ground, is digging some tunnels, excavating fresh dirt on the surface, and making mounds in the grass or between the plants. Right after sunset, the hedgehog comes confidently and patrols the garden. They seem to be the masters of the garden, and if we think we are mastering it under daylight, for sure it turns into their kingdom under the starry sky of the night. There are also birds, lots of them, different species and sizes, chirping joyously and working diligently on their nests or nurturing their offspring. They are all our friends, and they respect and love you back just as much as you do.
Last year, we had the construction project of building the platform that sustains the old fashion cast iron bathtub that refreshes our overheated bodies during hot summer days and the artisanal solar shower. It took a lot of nerves and a few mistakes but it came out just as we envisioned it. And it’s perfectly functional now. We added a small area with a table and four chairs made of oak logs, by cutting them at a measured length with the chain saw. The former local soccer superstar assisted us on these projects by welding the metal and cutting the wood.
This year, the new blueberry field and the irrigation was our construction project, and it has succeeded.
Meanwhile, our greatest help and mentor, father-in-law Maximilian, had to assist from the side as he has to win the battles with his piling ills. Gina ran with him from one doctor to another to find the best care and best treatments. Obviously, the farm misses his hard working hand, but mother-in-law Aurelia compensates here and there with her inexhaustible energy.
Life offers surprises at every corner. One day the smell of smoke filled the yard as we were preparing for lunch in the garden and we rushed to find brother-in-law Marius’s house on fire. Heavy black smoke filled the inside of the building and made its way out through tiny cracks. Windowpanes were overheating, and they were making crackling sounds ready to explode and give way in to the air that would ignite the flames. The fire squad came fast and acted, rapidly extinguishing the fire and reducing the loss. Still, the damage was too big and reparations will be expensive.
The world around us seems to lose its mind again. A war is raging in Ukraine. Everybody everywhere seems to be dangerously divided. Romania stands with its allies, but the government loses confidence internally. The population gets intoxicated by negativity and bad influence. It looks like everything needs to be changed, but nobody wants to change.
They choose instead to dismiss the necessity and agree only on gradual action. The gradual change led to no change after all throughout history. Americans and Romanians alike are facing rough times ahead, but humanity had always had hope. Like the little plant
perforating stubbornly, the hard crust of clay, defying the drought, the overheating sun and the forever overgrowing competitors, so will humanity and the good prevail in the end. It’s in our way to find the way out from the darkest cave, to open our minds to daring changes and to fulfill our hunger for knowledge and discoveries. Waking up in the morning and watching the tiny sprout coming out to light is the magnificent spectacle that can set up the mood for a new day.
Gina’s Happy Farm shines under the sun and sleeps silently under the stars. It is offering us the sweetness of her fruits and preparing for our next arrival.
This year the sophisticated James Webb Space Telescope sent us back stunning images from unimaginable faraway galaxies which, because of the complicated relationship between time and space, are actually showing us the past of our universe. One might feel smaller than a grain of sand looking at the immensity of a space we don’t comprehend, but the greatness of the soul that one can feel while looking at an emerging moon coming out of the sky, from a reachable horizon, can only connect you with the beauty of the very ground that one’s bare feet can literally touch and connect with its energies.
It’s the summer of 2022, Gina and Adrian conclude the yearly reporting from the farm. Sending happiness to everybody.
written by my beloved husband, Adrian Cluciu