Monday, December 24, 2012

The Green Monster and a 5 foot Horizontal Blue Flame

Or Here We Go Again!

It’s tough this time of year. I never liked winter, that’s why I moved to California forty years ago, but there’s always winter, isn’t there? 

The days short, I go to work in the dark and return home in the dark, morning and evening chores are done in the dark.  Moods are dark, the weather dismal.

I was so happy last Friday when at 3:12 am we finally turned the corner and our half of the planet started to turn toward the sun instead of away from it.   Better days are ahead.

It is at this time of no-flowers-anywhere that we dig our begonia crop.  It’s the busy season, the soil and sky dark, wet, and heavy.  Dark, wet and busy, the joy of this season evades me. 

As I write this piece, two days before Christmas, the rain is bucketing down and has been for days. 

The begonias were happily going to sleep in their wet soil, maybe they would have died there, maybe they would have risen next summer and been a glory again, but they are saved from whatever their fate might have been now that they are meeting the Green Monster. When its time has come, The Green Monster is called out. The Green Monster stops only for dark- not rain, not mud. 

The Green Monster
The Green Monster, surrounded by his attendants, moves through the begonia fields

An old piece of agricultural equipment, the Green Monster is not used for any other purpose than to unearth begonia tubers.  The Green Monster is a modified potato digger; the blade passes under the tubers and they are lifted onto a broad chain that jumps a little on a small cam to shake some of the sand off. Then the lumps of soil are unceremoniously dumped into a bin, each with it’s tuber inside, and transported to Moss Landing, where most of the remaining soil is washed off and the begonias are dried, sorted and sold.

The washer dumps lots of recirculated water on the tubers, two settling ponds collect the Marina sand that gets hauled away in summer. And there’s the dryer.  Oh, the dryer.  The dryer is 3 standard shipping containers placed side by side and cut so that a hot wind driven down the center container is divided and driven back up the outer two.  The begonias, wet after being washed, are stacked on pallets and are subjected to this hot wind.

Many years ago the Brown Bulb Ranch dried apple pulp.  There were several companies around here that pressed apple cider and the pulp was recycled, after drying, to various uses.

One of the many burners that dried apple pulp now dries our begonias, supported by a big fan.  It’s magnificent in it is extravagant consumption of natural gas!  See below the video I took today of the begonia dryer.

This will be the thirtieth begonia crop that I have seen harvested, washed, dried, graded, counted, and shipped.

They hired me for just this work.  Thirty years ago I was big, young and strong (now I’m just big).  We used no equipment to unload the begonia boxes that arrived at the Brown Bulb Ranch from the fields; they arrived in wooden boxes on a flat bed truck. We unloaded them and dumped them, one by one, on the washer chain. Keeping track of the varieties by their numbers. We listened to football games on a little black radio that we kept dry.  It rained.

One more time, here we go again.  I wonder if I prayed to one of the ancient gods of agriculture, if they could lift the weight off me during this season and I too could rejoice in colored lights and wrapped packages. 

Turn towards the sun, little blue marble, the light is coming back, we are going to be born again, I am almost sure of it. 



  1. You are such a great writer. Seriously, I mean it. And don't worry, sweetheart, brighter days are on the way.

  2. Well, the above comment says it's from Andy Snow, but it's not, it's from Laura Crum, wife of Andy Snow. The computer is mixed up.

  3. Andy
    Hardly surprising that I look upon this time of year in the same way that you do but once we pass the winter solstice I consider that we are on the way back up-the start of the new season here in this little part of the English west coast is January 15th.Small tubers formed from cuttings taken last year go onto the heated mat then and just to show you how small my part in this big wide world of begonias is,this is normally less than one hundred-I can't wait!

  4. Hi Mr. Hague,

    Yes, I feel better now that we have turned the corner. We will start sowing next year's crop on Jan 14, so we are not so different.
    by the way, I have a couple of our lace tubers to send you. They are from our mother stock, about 6 years old and as ugly as a bucket of worms, but I hope they will do well for you.
    I would like to send over a couple of tubers from our seed lines too, just harvested, of the same varieties for comparison. If your tight for space, you could give them to an interested party
    Regards -Andy

  5. Hi Andy,

    Enjoyed reading about the "Green Monster". Had no idea she was meant for potatoes. To know that the dryer was once used for apples is a great factoid too. I have had the priviledge of seeing both in operation this season. I guess that make our company "green" that we have repurposed two great pieces of machinery. Looks to me like the tubers are coming out the other end looking happy, and hopeful for some new homes this coming season if I have anything to do with it.

    Neil Meshorer

  6. Andy
    Just like every begonia enthusiast I know,we have no spare space but there is just enough space for one more plant......or perhaps two......or maybe......

  7. Hi Neil,
    Thanks for the comment. The tubers do look nice. Fat and healthy. I hope they grow well for our customers.

  8. Andy - I am helping Ross Bolwell with the International Begonia Database and trying to find good pictures of each of historic as well as newer cultivars. Do you know of any resources to help me find images of long standing tuberous cultivars? Many thanks!