Monday, May 5, 2008

lessons & livestock

The sheep seem to be doing well. They are so quiet-- not a baaa yet! Just the sound of ripping grass when they're out in the pasture! When they are in the barn they just stand around chewing their cud. Peculiar animals. They ate madly the first hour they were out tonight, then they all decided to lay down next to eachother. It was really cute. Guess they needed a little break from all that intense grazing!

The chicks are 1 week old, and already have wing feathers growing in, black & white stripy things! I decided to take the netting away & let them roam free. The mama hen went outside &
scratched around aggressively, finding little worms & bugs & showing them to the chicks. They keep trying to hop on top of her, and slide off again! She is incessantly clucking & they are
peeping in answer. This is how they all stick together so well. She's cozy tonight in her corner, with little beaks poking out from under her. I need to find a way to keep the chick feed from being open game for the other hens. Maybe some kind of box or cage that won't allow big chickens but will allow little chickens in.
We looked under the frost-cloth on field W1 this morning & assessed the situation. The plants are growing! And so are the weeds. Funny how that happens.
A little frost damage too, from that 18 degree night last week: The leaves turn yellow where
they touch the cloth. But they'll survive.One basic lesson I'm learning in vegetable growing is:
Get the weeds before you see 'em!

The idea is to find that exact moment when your plants are big & strong enough (they can still be little seedlings; just robust seedlings) and the weed seeds are beginning to sprout in
between them. Then you can just scratch up the surface (with various blades, basket-weeders, hoes, or hands) and the poor little tiny weed seedlings just get lost in the hustle & burn up in the sun. Aw. You never want to get to the point where you're pulling weeds. That's for gardeners-- once you're talking about acres or 100 foot rows, you can't waste that time. This is what it's like to cultivate on the Cub tractor with the basket-weeders:

Left foot on the clutch, right foot on the brakes, hands grip the steering wheel, and eyes focus entirely on the space between the baskets & the passing broccoli plants. One inch of slip means 10 pounds of food you just erased from future existence. It happens.
Usually when you're looking back... that's why I clutch & brake so many times during the row-- to look back & make sure I'm staying straight, not burying the plants by having the level of the baskets too deep, but scraping up the soil enough to get those pesky weedlings. It is pretty awesome to see how fast you can efficiently wipe out thousands of hopeful competitors.
Too bad kids, this time broccoli is going to win.

After I go down the row with the Cub, Nick follows up with the wheel hoe in the middle lines where there's no plants. Then somehow you need to get in between the plants. I do enjoy hoeing, it's kind of like a dance or an exercise.

But Dave says that using your hands to loosen the soil around the plants is faster & more thorough. This is true. You can do a much better job getting all those weedlings around the
broccoli stem, and you don't accidentally slice the broccoli down. I only got two, I swear! But using your hands to do this kind of weeding means crawling down the row on your knees. I need to get knee-pads for those rocks.

Doesn't my sheep barn look so nice? Halters, hay, grain bucket. I'm like a
real cowgirl now. Or sheepgirl. Or something...

Here's future field F! I spent the morning ripping up black plastic mulch from 2 rows of neglected rhubarb (we transplanted it out last week). The plastic had broken down somewhat from sun exposure, and the edges that hadn't broken down were swamped in weed roots & grass. I yanked & yanked. I got the majority of it out of the field, but it got me thinking about this whole plastic on the landscape thing. I worked on a big farm in California last year, & we grew several acres of
strawberries under plastic mulch. I spent two backbreaking days ripping that stuff out, and filled half a dumpster. Then I went on a bus tour of San Joaquin Valley farms, the heartland of strawberry growing country. Lots of farms contracting with Driscoll Berries, you may have seen them in your supermarket. There were seas & seas of plastic mulch. Black, green, white, clear. I had no idea that strawberries were grown like this.

Of course you see the plastic packaging waste when you buy one of those little boxes of yummies, but you don't see the full dumpsters of plastic mulch. Or the factories that make the stuff out of petroleum & spew out noxious fumes. Lots of farmers commonly grow other crops on plastic too, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc. And most of the time they rip it out every year. Can you believe? Yep. That's common practice. Things like plastic mulch can be justified of course, it's effective-- controls weeds without pesticides, conserves moisture in the soil, warms the soil. But shouldn't we be headed towards long-term sustainability instead of short-term easy solutions? Maybe we just have to eat less strawberries & more mulberries.

But you can mulch strawberries with straw. Maybe that's hence the name. Check out a local organic berry farm with pick-yer-own starting in a MONTH!

1 comment:

Dzeli said...

You're a shepherdess!
everybody is so cute!