Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tractors, owls and high tunnels.

If riding a tractor is like riding a horse, I want nothing to do with either one of them. I had my first tractor experience on Friday and I was still feeling the effects of it on Saturday. My introduction was slightly more traumatic than it should have been.

For starters, we were discing five acres of previously unused pasture. Dave, the CSA manager, and another intern, Dayna, had done a good deal of discing before me so the ground was nice and torn up. When I got on the old Landini I had the pleasure of being jostled over peaks and valleys on a machine with no suspension. My butt spent one second on the seat and two seconds in the air while I swayed to the left and right trying to steer the tractor straight. I yelled out to Dayna, who showed me how to use the tractor, that I think I was going to flip it. She yelled back " you won't." I screamed out "I think I may fall off." She just told me to go faster.

After an hour and a half I was more than ready to get off the tractor. Towards the end of it I was standing up more than I was sitting down.

I was switching with Dayna when we realized that one of the hitches on the three point hitch was no longer attached, part of the pin had broken off. That put an end to our tractor work. We removed the implement and I said I would bring the tractor back down to the garage. As I was driving it out of the field the wheels would not turn to the right, no matter how much I turned the wheel, I almost ran right into the gate. I reversed and turned to the left, and decided to try again and found myself again almost crashing into the gate. For some reason the wheels would only turn left. After several attempts I turned the tractor off, and muttering a few expletives, walked a mile to the CSA shed to get Dave's help.

It turns out the hydraulic fluid was leaking and steering had completely failed all together when they got up there. I was slightly relieved because I half worried that I had done something stupid. At least it was the steering and not the breaks.

Sunday chores were quite adventurous. In the morning, as I was letting the meat birds out of their coops in the orchard when I pretty much came face to face with an owl. The owl, who must have gotten in through a tare in the plastic, was sitting quietly next to its carnage and staring right at me. His talons were as big as my dogs legs. I opened up the door and the owl spread its wings and gracefully flew out. I was left with his mess. Three headless chickens lay in the coop while the rest of chicks must have been quietly shitting themselves.

This morning in the pouring rain, yes rain, that elusive thing we have seen little of this summer, a large tractor trailer showed up carrying our high tunnel kit. A high tunnel, also known as a hoop house, is an unheated greenhouse that is technically not permanent. They are useful for season extension (can grow greens longer into the fall or start crops earlier in the spring) or they can be used for your heat loving plants such as tomatoes or melons. We already have one, but we plan on building a bigger one. That will be a project for us in October.

Dave had to go to a meeting, so us three girls went to offload the high tunnel kit. Well as I tried to fine a place to put the Bob Cat, I took one look at the items on the palettes on the truck and I was like hell no, I am not going to be responsible for dropping $4000 worth of materials. Cale, the livestock manager, showed up to help and so did one of the contractors who was in the middle of leveling out the pad where the high tunnel was going. The boxes were very long and awkward and one of them weighed over 2000 lbs. They needed chains and a crain to get it out of the truck. It was a tad bit more involved then we thought it would be!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall is here!

Wow, September is flying by. I haven't had the chance to put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard in a few weeks, and there is so much to share. I will give a quick recap of the past few weeks.

Labor Day we harvested all our winter squash. Our pumpkins were deep orange globes of various sizes, our acorns were dark green, delicatas were yellow with faint orange striations, and the hubbards were big and bluish gray. A real feast for the eyes. Visions of soups, pies, and roasted vegetable dishes danced in my head. All the harvested squash was put out on tables in the greenhouse to cure them (so they can store longer.) The field looked bereft with them gone and I felt a twinge of sadness knowing the season was coming to the end. (I will try not to go Wendell Barry on you.) Our CSA members quickly noticed their absence and panicked that they might have missed the distribution of them. We reassured them that there were plenty of squash (it was a great year) and they would be seeing them again shortly.

When I think of Fall foods I picture squash, pumpkins, cabbage, potatoes, beets and of course, turkey. The new hierarchy on the farm (of animals that I love the most) is now goats, pigs, turkeys, cows, sheep, chickens, then lastly, rabbits.

I love our heritage turkeys, Bourbon Reds. They have been a source of entertainment for the three to four weeks they were in the apple orchard near the garden. Their funny little gobbles, the way the Toms puffed up their feathers to make them look like the turkey you see on Thanksgiving decorations, and best of all their love of raspberries.

One day while picking raspberries I decided to throw some of the rotten ones over to see if the Turkeys would eat them. The result was four or five turkeys would chase after the one raspberry. So I started throwing a few more and they all started running around after them, sometimes even fighting over one. Every couple of days I would throw them some raspberries and they started to get used to it, so much so they would call out when one of us was near by, probably in hopes we would throw some more raspberries. The best way to describe how the turkeys react to raspberries is to imagine a bride throwing her bouquet to a crowd of single
30- somethings..that's pretty much what it looks like, minus the hair pulling.

The first week of September we were racing to make soil amendments and put down our cover crops. We had a few thousand pounds of rock dust to put down (using only a Bob Cat and four shovels) which is full of minerals. After the rock dust we then sowed field peas and oats wherever the soil was bare and under-sowed some of our current crops. This cover crop will be left over winter (it will actually be killed by a hard frost but will leave a nice layer of green-matter preventing soil erosion and put nutrients back into the soil.)

Last week I was away on vacation, enjoying the fruits of someone else's labor for a change, though the vegetables paled in comparison to ours.

This week the pace has slowed down remarkably. All of sudden weeding takes two hours instead of 8, and tomato picking takes 30 minutes instead of 2hrs. The temperature is pleasant and they days are sunny with blue skies. I can't think of a better time to be outside then right now.

The winding down of the season reminds me of when I finished the marathon last year; While you're running it you think, "wow, this is kind of intense" but you grit your teeth and pull through it. Two days later you think, that wasn't so bad after all, and a week later all you can remember is the feeling of accomplishment and the memories of pain and discomfort disappear.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Seed Saving

Some peoples' summer reading might include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sarah Palin's book, for a good laugh I imagine, or whatever Oprah or the New York Times tells them to read. I, on the other hand, chose a book about how GMOs are going to destroy this planet. Okay, the book may not be as doomsday as that but I am in chapter five of Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds, by Claire Hope Cummings, and the future looks pretty grim.

This past Monday however I felt a glimmer of hope. I went to a seed saving work shop at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. To be honest, I know nothing about seed saving and my knowledge of plant biology is embarrassing to say the least. I vaguely know the difference between hybrid and open pollinated, and self-pollinating and cross pollinating. If you are like me and also fell asleep during plant section of your Biology 101, see my note below.

We were taken on a tour of the garden grown just for seed collection and I was struck by how different the plants look when they are allowed to go to seed. The lettuce, arugula, chard, and kale were unrecognizable. According to City Seeds Seed-Saving Resource Packet plants that are grown just for seed have to isolated by distance, time or physical barriers to prevent any genetic contamination from other plants of the same species. Isolation requirements could be as little as 20-50ft for selfers up to 5 miles for wind-pollinated crossers, for example corn.

If saving seed requires so much thought and planning why bother? The reasons are numerous and can include seed integrity, preservation of varieties that seed companies might decide to drop at a whim, saving seeds from plants with desired traits such as maturity, color, flavor, disease resistance, or adapted to certain regions climate, it can help save money and it is a tradition that is rapidly being lost and forgotten.

You don't need to grow all your own seeds, you could choose to grow a few and trade them. Fortunately, there are seed swaps happening all over the country.

As someone who keeps well informed about food issues even I have overlooked the importance of seeds. But as I have read in Uncertain Peril, most of our seeds are now controlled by a handful of corporations and they are profit driven. If the flavorless hybrid tomato is the money maker then the delicious and beautiful heirloom varieties could be dropped. If we want to maintain control over our food the first step is to control the seeds we use.

*Hybrids are a cross between plants that are genetically different, they are good for one growing food one time but should not be saved for seed because they do not breed true to type. Open pollinated varieties breed true to type as long as they do not cross-pollinate with another variety of species. The difference between self-pollinating and cross-pollinating is that the self-pollinators contain both the male and female parts and can pollinate itself, a few examples include tomatoes, lettuce, and eggplant. Cross-pollinating plants rely on insects, wind, or humans to transfer pollen, examples include beets, cabbage, pumpkins, and watermelon.