Saturday, June 19, 2010

Working the land, and thoughts of time

Greetings from Pagan Lane in mid-June, friends. Here's a snapshot of today, as per some of your requests.

Morning: feeding the various animals. Cats and dog are easy; it's the goats which are more challenging. So Ceredwyn hauled feed out to them, and water. Unfortunately, one escaped from the enclosure and romped about for a bit, yawping and nosing, until Ceredwyn and Gwynneth teamed up to get goat back in goatspace.

This kind of animal wrangling can be very stressful! On the one hand, there's the sense of frustration and failure felt when the beastie simply refuses rational directions. On the other, the gut-spasming shock of impending destruction, as the goat homes in on rows of freshly planted (or freshly growing) veggies.

Afternoon: a full-scale sweep of the homestead with two targets.
  1. Trimming the lawn, or the various lawns not enclosed by electric fence and slated for goat-brush-hogging. This is partly a matter of convenience, in that having laws to tromp over makes it easier to haul rocks, wood, etc. It also stems from, what, a persistent suburban ideal of green flat laws, or a resistance to total wildness? Moving does mean some tasty greenmanure. It's done with an old, reliable push mower, using only human muscles.
  2. Weeding every single plot. So we straddle the potato rows, squat in the dirt alongside the onions or broccoli, identifying the enemy and yanking it out. Lots of green casualties get ferried to the compost piles, bucket by bucket.
Evening: as a light rain and the dusk light start to fall, I plant corn and beans. Corn in a freshly made bed, a kind of terrace on a sharp slope. Beans in two beds on the other side of the homestead, from which we've harvested some barbaric radishes. In fact, I pulled a dozen tonight, red bulbs gleaming in the deepening dark.

I (Bryan) do this in what Vermont offers for summer heat. It's nothing next to what I recall of, say, Michigan's humid torpor, or the full Venusian furnace of Louisiana heat. So it doesn't bother me - yet; perhaps my body will grow more sensitive to this light stress.

I do all of this in external silence, but my ears are filled with podcasts. My old, tiny mp3 player has Barbara Nussbaum and Radiolab, Escape Pod and The Memory palace. Discussions are the tiny, utterly close soundtrack of my work.

The compost grows in a day like this, and I feel vastly satisfied. Yes, there's clearly some kind of Freudian dynamic here. But there's also the positive sense of turning waste into product, recovering usefulness from what I used to disregard. On top of this is the longer duration pleasure of slowly, so slowly, building good soil. The Nearings and some of our fellow Riptonites speak of improving our land by many years, by decades - a daunting prospect, but one satisfying in small steps.

I (Bryan) travel a great deal, often by air, and I miss these hours of working the land more with each season. Greater practice and research on the homestead means I think about this stuff more often when I'm doing something elsewhere. It's the stuff of cliche, really - the weirdness of turning a switch to alter my local climate, the strange lack of connection to food processing (either production or disposal), the sad absence of animals. Every airport stay, every airplane ride makes my back ache to schlep a big rock, or saw some wood.

And how late this all is! With all of our work, it's not enough. We can grow enough food to live for a little while, but are still dependent on buying stuff we can't raise, or can't raise enough of. We aim to be able to grow enough food to live on for a year, like Barbara Ganley can with her awesome spread, down in the valley. But we're not there yet.


Reed Hedges said...

Thanks for the glimpse. I'm way behind this year, I have squash seedlings still waiting to be planted which are starting to take over the living room. Got ambitious with the size of this year's garden and am still trying to break the grass and till it. And my health has not been cooperating :)

For weeding, the farmers CSA we also work at seem to use these very efficiently:

especially if you weed early and often before they get big. Also, mulch!

Mowing is good, it's "good farm culture" to quote David Tresemer in "The Scythe Book", not because it looks neat and tidy (though that's good for the psyche and aesthetics of where you live) but because it keeps weed seeds out of your crops.

Reed Hedges said...

Oops, messed up the link about the hoes:

collinear hoe

Bryan's workshop blog said...

Hey Reed!

So sorry to hear about your health. I hope you do better.

Breaking the soil to plant is so much harder than sticking the seeds in. Wish I could help you!

That hoe looks like fun. Resembles a comb, doesn't it?