Long Days

These days sunup to sundown makes for very long days.  I write these posts at night and post them next morning.  I’m sitting down to write this one at 9:12, after a very long day on the farm.   I’m going to sleep well tonight.

I’ve decided to get all the gardens cultivated and tended before I start cutting hay.  The quality of the hay decreases the longer I wait, but the process of cutting, raking and baling it will take several days and I don’t want the gardens to get overrun while that’s happening. 

One of the first things I tackled yesterday morning was the cantaloupe garden.  It was in danger of being taken over by grass, so I spent a couple of hours in it with a hoe.

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The green tint to the rows is grass.

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The cantaloupe seedling (in the middle) is surrounded by grass.

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Note the difference between the rows on the right (visited by me and my trusty hoe) and those on the left.

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One row to go.

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Much better.  Now the canaloupes will have a fighting chance. 

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Getting the tomatoes staked was another major job I tackled.

We grow large heirloom varieties that require support.  They’re starting to bloom and staking and tying them just couldn’t wait any longer.

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After a lot more quality time with my hoe, cultivating around the plants, I had to drive a bunch of t-posts.  Hard work in the 90+ heat.

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All done.

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Cherie and I spent a lot of time setting up our new coops for the Dominecker chicks, who are nearly grown.  It’s way past time they moved out of the barn.  We ran out of daylight before getting them moved, so that job will have to wait till tomorrow.  I’ll post pictures of their graduation when it happens.

After feeding the pigs, tending a sick kid and squishing a lot of potato bugs, we walked up to our “old house,” which is having its balcony repaired.  Cherie worked on her herbs as it grew dark, in the company of her loyal pal Ginny.

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With lightning bugs blinking around us, we walked home.  My mind was already on tomorrow’s list of things to do.

Hoeing Corn

I spent a lot of time Monday cultivating our sweet corn.   We plant our corn rows close together (about 2 1/2 feet apart) to help with pollination.  So it all has to be cultivated by hand.  I use a wheel how for the middles and an regular old-fashioned hoe to side it up.  The corn was in danger of being overrun by grass, so I’m glad to have that task behind me. 

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Hoeing corn is something that doesn’t happen much more.  The vast majority of the corn grown these days has been genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate (Roundup).  So after the corn starts coming up farmers just spray the entire field with Roundup, killing every plant in it except for the GMO corn.  That’s the theory at least.  Nature finds ways to defeat the things that attack it, and increasingly this practice is creating herbicide-resistant superweeds.  I reckon that just opens up a new market for more powerful herbicides and more novel GMO seeds.

I’ll stick to my hoe.

Back to the Pasture

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Our pigs are now happy to be out of the shed and back into the pasture.

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It turns out there were two trees, not just one, over the fence.

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It’s a really busy time of year and I just haven’t had any time or reason to inspect the fence that far back in the pasture.  But it didn’t take long to repair.

Being back there gave me a chance to enjoy the clover and wildflower explosion.

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Now that the fence is working again the girls have plenty of room for pig fun.  Things like rolling in the mud.

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They’ve got a good life.

Wet Soil

I’ve complained a lot about wet soil this spring, realizing that many folks may not understand why that would be such a problem.  In this post, I’ll try to explain.

We try to keep our gardens covered with growth at all times.  This improves soil life and organic matter in the soil and helps retain moisture (normally a good thing).  To prepare the soil for planting we have to till it.  We prefer to harrow it and follow with a PTO-driven rotary tiller, but at a minimum we have to till it to create a seedbed.

If the soil is tilled or harrowed when too wet, it will just break into clods that the sun will dry into rock-hard bricks.  Nothing will grow in it.  If wet soil is pulverized sufficiently to avoid clods, the sun will dry it into a rock-hard sheet or crust.  Nothing will grow in it that way either.  It takes about a year to recover from that kind of mistreatment.  Over the winter the freezing and thawing of the soil will break it up again, but mistreating soil in the spring renders it useless until the following spring.

But soil doesn’t have to be bone dry to be tilled.  In fact some moisture is necessary or the soil will blow away like dust as it’s tilled.  So how to know when it’s dry enough?

One simple test is to take a handful of the soil then make a fist.

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If the soil stays in a ball when you open your hand, then it is too wet to till.

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If it does not, then it’s OK to till.

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During years like this it’s often hard to be patient, especially as I think of our CSA members counting on us to grow them food.

The results of impatience can be ruinous to the soil.  This lunar landscape is the result of me tilling too soon.   It is a cloddy rock-hard crust covering soupy wet mud.

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This garden was intended for beets, chards and onions and I knew that if we didn’t plant soon we would  have none of them in our spring crops.  So I took a chance.  Fail.

This year has been very unusual.  Normally any delay is only a couple of weeks, rather than a couple of months.  Still, it has put me to thinking more about ways to avoid this kind of situation.

Any method that doesn’t rely on tilling won’t have these problems; permanent no-till raised beds for example, or permaculture.  Growing inside a hoop house also limits how much nature can interfere with gardening plans.

I’ve added more raised beds and will continue to do so, but the blessing becomes a curse in times of dry weather (more common here) as raised beds require much more irrigation.  In the long term humanity will need to adopt permaculture as an alternative to tradtional agriculture and we’ll continue to study it, but for now that option isn’t really on the table for us.

Soil that’s too wet for deep tillage can be tilled lightly (a few inches at a time over a week or so) to gradually dry it out.  I’ve done that before but never considered it as a practice I’d try to do regularly.  Yesterday I started tilling our squash and sunflower gardens that way, hopeful that it will work out.

And I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time before I’ll be hoping for rain and wishing the soil wasn’t so dry.

Cannot Possibly

We have given up the understanding–dropped it out of our language and so out of our thought–that we and our country create one another, are literally parts of one another; that our land passes in and out of our bodies just as our bodies pass in and out of our land; that as we and our land are part of one another, so all who are living as neighbors here, human and plant and animal, are part of one another, and so cannot possibly flourish alone. 

Wendell Berry
from The Unsettling of America (1977)

The Wet Spring Continues

It continues to rain and last night’s low was 37.  Amazing.  As someone said, it’s not May 24, it’s February 112.  Unless Keeling is becoming Seattle.

I can’t remember a Spring like this one.  It’s been so continuously wet that we still don’t have all of our summer gardens planted.  We were fortunate to get most of them planted last week during a rare break in the weather, but I still haven’t planted most of our squash and cucumbers or any of our sunflowers. 

On the other hand our cool weather veggies, which we planted much later than normal, are loving this weather and thriving.  We have lots of spinach, lettuce, collards, kale and asian greens and the broccoli, cabbage and english peas are coming on fast. 

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We have the best-looking potato garden we’ve ever had.

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The weeds are also loving it though and I haven’t been able to cultivate.  So I’ll add that to my list of worries.

The pastures are lush.  Just a couple of months ago I was buying hay, but now the grass is waist-high. 

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I need five clear days to cut, rake and bale the hay.  Who knows when that will happen.

I released the pigs into the pasture yesterday and they loved it.  They were soon racing around, eating grass and rolling in the mud. 

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But I noticed they were pushing their noses against the electric wires on the fence, and not getting shocked.  Not good.  They need to be trained to the fence now or they won’t be afraid of it when they’re bigger.  I assumed that all the wet vegetation touching the wires is draining it of any juice, and that is no doubt an issue.  But as I was trimming along the fence line I discovered a tree had fallen over the fence  in the far back of the pasture.  Today I’ll saw it up and (hopefully) repair the fence.  In the meantime I had to put the pigs back in the shed, much to their disappointment. 

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I can’t move the chicks onto pasture until I cut the hay.  As I used to say in the law business, these delays are impacting my critical path.

So the weather, as it usually is, is a blessing and a problem.  This time last year we were experiencing record-breaking heat and a prolonged drought.  We just have to play the hand we’re dealt.

Ramona’s kids have taken to crawling through the cattle panel and roaming around the barn.  Whenever I come near they scurry back into the pasture, as if they know they’re being mischievous.

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Yesterday, from a distance, I saw Ramona with one of her kids.  I wondered where the other one was.  As I got closer I realized it wasn’t Ramona.  It was Michelle, who had just delivered this pretty kid.

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And today our daughter leaves for two months in Guatemala.  Life, like my heart, is full these days.