Thursday, June 17, 2010

Farm Journal: Barn Cleaning and Weeding

It’s a lot easier to work on the farm this year because I know how to do a lot of things with less direction. I’ve done certain chores before and now know what is expected.

Today, I would finish weeding the potatoes and onions and get started on the garlic. It was gratifying to see how much I’d done on the potatoes and that the weeds stayed down as I wait for them to grow more before I hill them with compost and soil. Hilling keeps the moisture on the plant and the weeds down. Weeds steal the nutrients from the plants. (So it’s especially interesting that in industrial farming they spray the weeds and kill the soil. Plants get their nutrients—and I’d say their good taste—from the sun, rain and soil. A bit of a misstep it looks like on the part of the ag scientists and technologists.)

Weeding is very therapeutic. Grabbing hold of the weeds, pulling them out of the ground, gathering them and then throwing them on the compost pile allows me to see my progress. It doesn’t require a lot of thought so I have time to reflect on other things or allow a song to go through my mind. Also, if I’m frustrated about something, I can easily take it out on the weeds. On the other hand, oftentimes when I’m at the farm, I just don’t think about the things that bother me. Is it the sun, the outdoors, the plants, the goats? That’s another reason why I farm.

I didn’t quite finish the weeding when Ron came down from working on the house and said the barn needed cleaning. I had noticed that the ammonia smell was very pronounced—and we had just cleaned the barn three days ago! It’s the constant rain that is making the goats spend more time in the barn. It also prevents things from drying up. Along the edge of the north wall, there seemed to be water seepage, too.

Ron still had more work to do on the house so I said I’d clean the barn—yet another thing I know how to do without supervision. And I cleaned the whole thing!! I piled up the compost in three places so the tractor could get in the barn. Then we scoop up the compost and put it in the tractor bucket. I also scraped the floor to rid it of the wetness and then let it dry on this hot day.

I’d just finished piling the last of the compost when Ron arrived. I was so proud of my accomplishment on this my first time cleaning the barn alone. He said I could take a break. Instead, I attacked the weeds in the garlic patch. The patch had been overwhelmed with weeds—which Donna and I did only a month ago. However, it’s not that there were so many weeds as that they were so big. These weeds presented me with the ultimate satisfaction. Because the soil was still wet, I could pull out the big weeds very easily. I was on my hands and knees to do this because the high-wheel weed puller didn’t work as well as it did when I weeded the potato field. I didn’t quite finish weeding, however, when we went to the straw store.

Over the winter Ron bought a big, white pickup truck and it is so high off the ground that I can’t hoist the straw bales in there as easily as I can with Donna’s smaller truck. Ron can hoist the bales up over the sides of the truck. So it became my job to arrange the bales to fit all nine in there. We returned to the farm and spread the straw. Ron had put lime down on the floor to remove the smell of ammonia, which must be annoying to the goats and buffs who are much closer to the ground. It’s bad enough for us who are a half body higher from it.

Spreading straw is like making up a bed with clean sheets. Everything is so nice and fresh. I’ve learned how to kick around the straw flakes to spread it more evenly. Soon after we finished, Ron let in the goats. Almost immediately, however, three goats urinated on the new straw. A farmer’s work is NEVER done and it doesn’t take long for the next round of barn cleaning. Whew!


Ron says the rain this spring is affecting farming, especially the hay crop used for feeding animals. There has been so much rain that this may indicate a change in weather patterns. Ron has been noticing these changes just over the past year. In talking to one of the vendors at the Bank Street Farmers Market, she, too, has noticed these same changes. Are other farmers seeing these changes? What effects do they have on farming? How has the rain changed planting/harvesting and what can be done about it? Is there, in fact, a new pattern of weather and rain developing or is it just this year?

This might be something legislators in the state and U.S. Congress might find interesting since they are going to have to respond to changing weather patterns some time or another—especially the deniers of climate change.

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