The weeds are worth it.

In an ideal year, all transplants would gradually be placed outdoors during April and May. Each week, one or two new things would be planted in the garden and only the pepper plants and sweet potatoes would remain to be planted at the beginning of June. This would leave plenty of time to put down plastic mulch, drip irrigation, and row covers gradually, as these items were needed.

This hasn’t exactly been an ideal year. I planted most everything during the one ten-day dry spell we’ve had. Because of my haste, the rows are not straight, and plastic mulch didn’t make it down under as many of the transplants as I’d have liked. All the rain has given the weeds ample time to germinate and I’m spending a lot of time hoeing, hand weeding, and wishing the rows were straighter so I could do a little more tractor cultivating. However, there haven’t been many days dry enough for that anyway.

But even when everything isn’t perfect, I still love it. Being out in the sun, rain, mosquitoes, and flies, pulling foxtail grass endlessly, sitting on thistles, dodging poison ivy, getting drip tape wrapped up in the rototiller tines, and standing on the hot pavement every Saturday morning bright and early are all parts of the best job in the world. I see the sun rise and set. I eat fruit warmed by the sun at the peak of ripeness. I watch hummingbirds, discover barn swallows, and am surprised by toads. Even weeds have pretty flowers sometimes. I am in the fresh air and obtain free exercise and a tan. I get to drive a tractor. I pick fruit and vegetables by the pint, quart, bucket, bunch, bushel, and hundredweight. I sleep a blessed, oblivious sleep on nights when I’ve been working in the field. There are always new problems to solve and interesting things to think about.

Besides the pure enjoyment of the outdoor physical labor, there is the satisfaction of doing something to make this little piece of ground better. Organic matter is being added to the soil. Erosion is slowing down, rain is being soaked down into the ground instead of running off. Zillions of microbes of every kind are coming to life and doing everything they do to support life. The ground is making a recovery from its deadening dependence on external inputs.

And as if this weren’t enough, people who care about what they eat are getting a chance to eat wonderful food that comes from 25 miles away from their home instead of the average grocery store food that travels something like 1200 miles. And I get to meet these people! I love this.

Chasing Cows

We had almost 2 inches of rain on Thursday.

The cows arrived on Friday. They were less than thrilled about the whole moving experience and within 10 minutes, three of the five cows had found the highest bit of electric wire and managed to get under it. Mr. B. and I took off after them. Mr. B. put our 2.5 year old in the “baby backpack” and high-tailed it across the very muddy adjoining fields. The cows were off our property, heading for who knows where. I was running across the field also.

Now I’m sure it was obvious to anyone who was watching that neither of us knew anything about cattle, and any time we tried to run or walk faster those cows would start running too. I have no idea where they were going, but the corn and beans around us are all still miniscule and so there wasn’t really anything for the cows to stop and eat. Since this is a family website, I won’t mention all the epithets for the cows that were going through my head at this point. The thought of the rather large amount of cash we had just shelled out for these creatures, the knowledge that two of them were still back there unsupervised and maybe getting out as well (we lowered the fence right away, but I had no idea how seriously they would try to join the herd) and the sight of large cow feet stomping through the mud and tearing up my neighbors’ crops were combining to make me totally miserable. Also there was the adrenalin rushing through my body as I tried as hard as I could not to lose my shoes in the mud. I remember praying, “PLEASE GOD HELP US CATCH THESE COWS!!”

In a feat of superhuman strength, running (or walking as fast as he could) through the mud,  with an extra 30 lbs or so on his back, Mr. B. was able to get in front of the cows and get them to turn back.

We kept on our journey. The cows retraced their steps, went back into the pasture (but still outside the wire), into our yard, back across the street into the other neighbors’ soybeans, all over the place. A few times they tried to get back in and rejoin the two steers who had not escaped. A steer got back under the fence and rejoined his brothers, but the 2 heifers were too big and just got shocked by the fence and got even madder than they already were.

After about 2 hours of this delightful adventure, our 2.5 year old was ready for lunch and a nap. I brought him in the house and started calling everyone I could think of on the phone. My first call was to my farm mentor, who tipped us from the point of “thinking about cows” to “getting cows” this year. He gave me some suggestions of what not to do, and said if they were still out the next day we’d have to find someone with a rodeo hobby to come out and rope them. I called our neighbor with horses to see if he knew any rodeo types, but he wasn’t home. After that I figured I’d better call Farmer Y, who rents our land, since the cows were out there stomping on his crop.

Farmer Y and his family kindly agreed to help. I called Mr. B., who was still out in the field with the cows, and let him know they were on the way. The cows were more tired now and were back in our pasture eating the nice long grass, but were still *outside* of their electric fence. Farmer Y, his dad, and his grandfather came over with two trucks and a rope. I was in the house getting the child to take a nap at this point. Once he was asleep I went out to see what was going on and if I could be of help. The cows were still out with Mr B, Farmer Y, and Farmer Y Senior herding them around. Grandpa was keeping his distance and just watching everything unfold. They’d made one unsuccessful attempt to corner the recalcitrant heifers back into the fence, but had failed.

I went back inside and got on the phone to see if I could find more help. I won’t mention all the people I talked to, but I was on hold for the Animal Control officer when the men came back in and said they had gotten the cows back in. The cows had been out for a little more than 4 hours.

We had nice farmer chat and a drink out in the driveway afterwards, mostly about what a wet year this was. Grandpa said it wasn’t as bad as 1974, when he didn’t get his corn in until the end of June and then didn’t get anything for his effort. When talking to the three generations of family farmers, I noticed even more than usual what newcomers Mr. B. and I are to this area and to farming, and how different we are from the “normal” farmers in this area.

The cows are doing fine, and are staying in their fence, and are getting the hang of rotational grazing.  We are doing our best to befriend them so that if they ever escape again it will be easier.  Now that we’re not chasing them all over the county, the cattle are actually less work than chickens- they feed themselves!

Chicken Rescue Squad

The other day, several chickens were huddled in a corner of their pen. I don’t remember what the occasion was, whether it was raining, or if we were mowing, or what. Regardless, there were about three or four chickens packed into the corner between their house and the fence.

Dinner time was coming up, so I headed up to the house to start making dinner, and as I walked past the chickens’ area, I noticed three pullets pecking at something in the corner. It looked like there was some blood, so I rushed in to see what was going on.

The arrangement was like this: One araucana was laying down in the corner, apparently thinking that it was dead. A delaware was half-lying on top of it, with one of its feet caught in the fence, so its leg was stretched way out behind it. Three other pullets were busily attempting to help free the delaware from the fence. Their chosen method: amputation.

My investigation had stirred things up, so the pecking had stopped. I freed the delaware, and tried to pick her up, but she started pecking at me, so I put her down. I picked up the araucana and told her that she was still alive. She was pleased and ran off to join the flock.

The bloodied delaware had also tried to rejoin the flock, but one of the other pullets was chasing her around, trying to peck at her wound. So I had to be a chicken rescue squad to rescue the chicken from another chicken rescue squad.

Now the damaged delaware is isolated so she’ll have a chance to recover. She is quite dismayed at being separated from the rest of the chickens, and every evening at dusk she gets antsy, wanting to go get into the house with the rest of the pullets. And she’ll get her wish … in a week or so.