August is the busiest time of the entire year on the farm. We often call it ‘second spring’ since we spend much of the month planting crops for fall and winter. And while the actual spring is also a very busy season, “second spring” is coupled with the added challenge of balancing the care of newly planted crops with the harvests of large fields of storage crops such as potatoes, carrots, and butternuts.
Although all of these tasks are physically demanding, the mental component of balancing the needs of so many plants in different life stages is perhaps the most challenging part. With time at a premium it can be very difficult to rank the importance of tasks that all seem to need immediate attention such as irrigating young fall crops, weeding baby winter carrots, harvesting potatoes that are ready, transplanting seedlings, or hoeing the lettuce fields. At this time of year we can be very prone to ‘decision-making fatigue’ and what farmers call “August mind”. The constant prioritizing of high priorities can lead to situations in which it becomes difficult to think clearly. The contemplation of simple decisions such as whether or not to weed the carrots or the beets can stretch out for many minutes.
We like to counter the mental obstacles of August by facing them with a sense of adventure. This is the part of the season’s journey that is the most difficult to maintain fortitude but also the most exciting as we near the end of our plantings and bring in large harvests. The equivalent of farmer “August mind” can be seen at critical points of other types of long journeys. In high peak mountaineering mental clarity decreases significantly at low oxygen altitudes near the summit. In marathon running mental blocks are more likely to pop up around mile 16 when the end is close but still miles away, and in deep sea diving water pressure effects cause decision making to become more difficult below 200 feet.
Although these types of intense adventures seem unrelated to farming, in each case there is a threshold of mental challenge that can be faced with patience and training. With each season we can view the demands of August as an opportunity to practice being calm even when ‘August mind’ takes over and clear-headed thinking seems as distant as the snow of winter. We know in order to make it to the calmer days of mid September we need to take the wild adventure of August one step, one highest priority of the high priorities, and one laughably long decision at a time.