Irrigation Irritation: Creating Ha-Ha-Ha-Harmony in the Farm and the Universe

Irrigation drives this vegetable farmer bonkers. In the past, it has worked very nicely to busy myself with other chores while my fellow farmer tackled the irrigation duties, which do not drive him bonkers, despite our old, leaky, kinked-up driplines and holey headers system.

This year, however, for the first time, we used our beautiful new irrigation system, with brand new drip lines and fancy new headers, which came to us thanks to a wonderful grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. I needed to help protect, preserve, and prolong the life of all this nice new irrigation; it was also high time to conquer my irrigation-induced madness.

After all, how could rolls of mere plastic and little metal bits deliver me into such a towering rage, year after year? I was determined to vanquish this deterrent to harmony in myself, the farm, and the universe.

Thus I went boldly out to the field armed with masses of twine and a good sharp knife. Maybe my problem was not having enough stuff to corral the irrigation while I was rolling it up. I would tie it so firmly over and over to itself that it couldn't play any of its nasty irrigation tricks. (Or maybe if all else failed, I could cut it up into tiny pieces with my good sharp knife!)

Alas, though I nearly strangled the irrigation with string and twine, it did not help a bit. The irrigation was still a kinked up, writhing pile of black plastic, and I was still a kinked up, writhing pile of rage. My fellow farmer wisely gave me lots of room, and offered no advice. He simply went along, tidily rolling up three lines in the time it took me to mangle one.

I surreptitiously studied my fellow's technique: what the heck was he doing differently than I was? An idea came creeping into my overheated brain: maybe I was trying to do it all too quickly. I was just trying to get it over with because I hate it. Maybe I needed to slow down.

I took a deep breath. I decided to pretend I was my fellow farmer, who seemed to think rolling up irrigation could be a pleasant affair, especially on a fine autumn day, and hey, so what if there was a very occasional kink in the drip line? That's just the nature of irrrigation.

I tried again. I went very very slowly. I quit caring how much my fellow was ahead of me. I quit trying to get it all done before lunch. I quit worrying that I might put a kink in the new driplines. I just rolled with it, so to speak.

And by golly, at the end of my 200 feet bed, I had rolled my first circle of tidy, hardly-kinked-at-all irrigaton. Plus I had a great start on my best selling self-help book for irrigation roller-uppers:

Tips for Those Taxed with Rolling Up Irrigation

Firstly, minimize distractions. Have a hearty snack before you start the project. Tie your hair back firmly, or cut it all off, so that no wisps can poke your neck or your cheek. Don a hat that doesn't constantly fall in your eyes. Wear your least raggedy clothing, or the end of the dripline will catch on every frayed bit or hole.

Choose your timing carefully. Roll up your driplines on a sunny, cool day, with no bugs. Arrange for pleasant bird-song and pretty clouds in the sky, while you're at it. Don't wait to roll up your irrigation until it is covered in snow, which makes it darned hard to find and darned cold to handle.

Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Especially your fellow farmer, who is working three times faster than you are, and whistling cheerfully, to boot. Why, you are you, and you have your own strengths and challenges!

Give yourself a little respite. Even though that same fellow farmer rolls up driplines both coming and going, up and down the field, you can decide to roll from only one direction, which allows you a 45 second period of peace, as you make your dripline-free way back to your starting point.

Savor whatever you are able: Savor the bird song, or savor the lack of bugs, or the lack of snow, or savor the fact that you are lucky enough to have a working irrigation system, and a pond, and water. Or you could actually savor the fact that your fellow farmer is working three times faster than you are, because it will save you lots of irksome work.

Or, indeed, thanks to your lovely new slowing-down-as-you-are-rolling-up method, you could savor the harmony you are helping to create in yourself, your farm, and the universe.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Jan 17- Jan 28, 2018

Gee, We're Glad It's Over

December is generally a celebratory month on our New Hampshire vegetable farm. Our CSA season is officially over, our Farmers' Market season is winding down, and our time taking naps and reading by the woodstove is picking up nicely.

This year, however, it has taken us a little longer to recover. We had an excellent plan way back in February: all our new fence supplies would be delivered early in March, after the maple sap season, and before the full-on garden season. We would rapidly, happily and efficiently put up our wildlife exclusion fence, taking breaks from the possible brisk March weather by working in the heated greenhouse.

We would be finished with our big project by mid-March or so, and then we would have plenty of time to gaze gratefully at the new fence, come to us thanks to a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant. Plus we would have lots of time to plow, disc, spread compost, harrow, plant, weed, and get the vegetable distribution shed in order for the end of May, when we begin harvesting.

Yes, 'twas a lovely, laughable plan.

It turned out, despite multiple clear, firm phone calls and emails, followed by multiple pleading, begging phone calls and emails, all of which were equally ineffective, that the March fence materials did not materialize until the end of May. This had quite a decelerating effect on our plan. 

Of course, we still gazed gratefully, but now it was not at a beautifully completed fence, but at enormous piles of possible fence. The piles included: 6 locust posts, 50 cedar posts, 150 metal posts, 5 rolls of woven fencing (weighing 330 lbs each), 500 plus staples, 1000 plus fence clips, three fancy new gates, and 125 one foot long white pieces of fabric to be tied at a four foot height so that the deer would see the fence.

And two farmers, who began to believe that lying in a pile on the ground might be a fine idea indeed.

But we had a fence-completion deadline to meet, and we swung into action. We had some help, thankfully, in setting the wooden posts. Then the two of us, and our farmer daughter, scrambled from garden to fence and back again for what seemed like decades, but was merely a matter of weeks. By the time the fence was really and truly finished, in early July, everything else on the farm was really and truly in a riotous mess, and we scrambled for the whole rest of the season, trying to catch up.

Did we ever catch up? Not really. But as we raced around, we reminisced about our early years of work, with a brand new baby, a brand new team of horses, and a brand new farm.

“This summer feels a lot like then, doesn't it?” we would say to each other, and “No big projects next year, right?” As the season advanced, and the farmers grew wearier, and perhaps a mite testier, our conversations turned into “This is the worst season ever!” and “No big projects ever again! Never, ever again!”

On the brighter side of it all, at the end of the season, one of our long-time CSA members said, “This has been the best year ever!”

“Really?” we said, a little surprised, a little doubtful.

“Oh yeah! Top three anyway! Definitely top three!”

Well, gee, maybe? Amongst all the scramble, we did harvest and distribute and eat a lot of delicious fresh vegetables this season. And not a single deer ate one bite of them.

(Well, except for that brief period when the troublesome old gate was down and the fancy new gate was not yet properly mounted. We cleverly solved this deer dilemma by leaning the fancy new gate on the fancy new posts. It worked like a charm, until the fancy new gate fell on to one of the plain old farmers, which may be what started the “Never, ever again” chant.)

But even better, this big project, this fine fence, is supposed to last for thirty years, which gets the farmers up to nearly eighty years old, at which time we might consider it appropriate to hand over big projects to other fine farming folk. Thus we will be able to spend thirty years gazing gratefully at our very completed fence, and the memories of a tough season will fade into funny stories. In fact, the memories are already softening, because it is December, and the garden year is over, and we get to celebrate the the holidays, and, best of all, we have the woodstove and the couch waiting.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Dec 20-Dec 26, 2017


Fall Spirits on the Farm

For years, we farmers waited eagerly for Halloween to fall on a CSA harvest day. Finally, not long ago, it did, and we played lots of funny tricks on our CSA members. We changed all the vegetable signs around, so that the lettuce read carrots, and the kale read beets. We put some rocks in the potatoes, and we drew ghosts and spiders on our harvest chalkboard. We even had a fierce fanged green pepper and a turnip jack-o-lantern.

We were so thoroughly Halloweeny we thought the trick or treat spirit would last us for another good many years. But Halloween happened on harvest day again, a mere three years later, and we didn't have any new tricks up our farmer sleeves.

Luckily, even if we weren't ready, the Halloween spirits were.

A little autumn on the farm background: for two months, we dig our potatoes for the week on a Monday, so that we are ready for the following Tuesday and Friday harvest days. The potatoes are not a quick harvesting job; it takes 3 or 4 hours to dig a 200 foot bed. We had been digging our Monday potatoes for a good month or six weeks before October 31st this year.

But somehow, on the Monday right before Halloween, we completely forgot our potatoes. Of course, we were doing other useful harvest tasks, such as gathering apples to press cider, but potatoes? Never crossed our minds.

Thus it was, on Halloween harvest morning, that I woke with a jerk.

“Oh, no,” I whispered, in great alarm.

“What's the matter?” whispered my sleepy fellow.

“Did you dig the potatoes?” This despite the fact that I had been working with my fellow all day, and we clearly had not dug the potatoes.

“No,” he whispered, very succinctly.

I uttered a mild Halloween curse. “We're never going to get done on time!” I threw off the covers, and leapt into my clothes. My fellow did likewise. We stumbled down the stairs. There in the kitchen was our laughing Halloween clock: it read 4:00 a.m.

“Oh, geesh,” I said. “It's four o'clock.”

“Happy Halloween,” said my fellow.

“Meoooow -puuurrrr,” said our Halloween Kitty, which translates as, “This is fantastic, I love getting up this early, let's go outside right now and catch a mouse!”

By that time we farmers were so overstimulated by our harvest panic that we couldn't imagine going back to bed. We strapped on our headlamps, and went out with our happy kitty to greet the Halloween stars. They were brilliant. The air was still, and it was relatively warm. It was actually quite pleasant. I harvested the lettuce, and the kale, and the Swiss chard. My fellow tackled the potatoes.

At 6 a.m., which is when we might normally get up on an October harvest day, we went inside for breakfast. We didn't linger over coffee and kefir, however, because we still had a lot to do. My fellow went back to the potatoes. I went on to beets, squash, and carrots. The morning wore away. We began to feel we had been up for a good many hours.

Around ten, we had some popcorn, complete with Halloween colors – a little black on the burned  

bits, a little orange from the turmeric, which tastes good, and is anti-inflamatory, i.e., it wards off Halloween devils. The popcorn pepped us right up, or at least kept us harvesting.

We picked, sorted, washed, and labelled. We were getting close to our one o'clock deadline, when CSA members would begin to arrive. Since I had so few years to think since the last Halloween harvest, and so few hours of sleep, I really couldn't seem to come up with any new tricks. I resorted to my old ones: switching the vegetable labels around.

My fellow came over, yawning, with the parsley he'd just picked. It was the last crop of the long morning

“Let's see,” he said slowly, “Why does the kale say potatoes? What happened here with the tags?”

I smiled at him. “Looks like my old trick still works,” I said.

He looked at me, a little blankly, a little sleepily.

“Happy Halloween!” I said.

My fellow mustered up a smile. “Oh, right. At least we got done in time. That's a treat.”

“Indeed,” I answered, and we held hands all the way to our Halloween Harvest lunch.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Nov 22-28, 2017

Farmers On Tour

Not long ago, here on our New Hampshire vegetable farm, we gave two farm tours, one to the Cheshire County Conservation District Board, and one to a Keene State College class studying ecological agriculture. We farmers enjoy an occasional tour, because it's fun to tell stories about our vegetables and our horses and our goofy, yet sustainable, farming.

But the nicest thing about giving farm tours is how much people appreciate our farm. Even as we say, “Oh, we haven't quite finished weeding this section yet,” meaning, “It looks so bedraggled and overrun by weeds because we haven't even started weeding it yet,” or “Oh, gee, we've got a lot of work to do in this greenhouse,” meaning, “We've had to ignore this for months because every other crop is so pressing,” people say, “What a beautiful place! What wonderful horses and vegetables! Everything looks great!”

This of course, is very nice to hear, and now we've had the even greater pleasure of going on other people's farm tours, courtesy of the recent Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition's Farm Tour Day. We wanted to visit all eighteen farms on the tour, but we only had time for four, which turned out to be three, because we got lost so much. We saw a lot of beautiful back roads of New Hampshire, and we also saw:

Wellscroft Farm in Harrisville, NH, a fine sheep farm and fence supply business. In fact, our new deer fence (thanks to a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service) came from Wellscroft, so it was nice to see all that fencing and then revel in the fact that our fence was already put up, not still waiting in enormous piles for the hours and hours of work it would take to build it.

But the best thing about Wellscroft was the sheepdogs. We got to see three dogs herding sheep and goats, and one dog guarding sheep and goats. The guarding mostly consisted of a huge white dog happily lolling in the shade while all we farm tourists rubbed his big fluffy belly. The herding, on the other hand, was a lively affair, with a demonstration of a young and overeager dog doing things she shouldn't, such as creeping up on the sheep, or racing around in circles in the wrong direction. We also got to see what happens when an active wasp nest is in the very run-in shed which a flock of sheep wants desperately to enter, to get away from a young and overeager sheepdog. “Oh, gee, this doesn't usually happen,” said the farmers. “What a beautiful farm,” we said. “What wonderful dogs! Everything looks great!”

Draft Gratitude is a draft horse and mule rescue center in Winchester, NH. There are 12 or 15 critters here, some of whom will go on to adoptive farms, and others who will peacefully, comfortably live out their lives with well-cared for arthritis or cancer or lameness troubles. We got to imagine happy retirements for all draft animals (including our own, right on our own farm, we hope), as we met the horses and mules, all outside enjoying the fresh air and snacking or snoozing.

Since we were there at feeding time, we also got to see how grumpy happily retired horses can be when a volunteer inadvertently changes the order of feeding. Squeal, snap, kick! “Oh, gee, this doesn't usually happen,” said the owner.  “What a wonderful place!” we said. “What wonderful horses! Everything looks great!”

Picadilly Farm: We got to this farm five minutes before the farm tours ended. The farm tour brochures were very clear that a person should not come too early or stay too late. We tumbled out of the car, happily into the arms of our friends, the Picadilly farmers. “We got lost, and we really wanted to come here!” we said. “We're so glad it's you!” they answered.

Our farmer friends proceeded to give us a tour of the beautiful old barns, and the vegetable shed, and the greenhouses, and the you-pick gardens for CSA members. We walked around the fields and visited the piggie-wiggies, and then our friends invited us to pick from the you-pick gardens, fed us supper, and caught us up on farm news. Their farm news is much like ours, since Picadilly is also a vegetable and CSA farm, though on a larger scale, with similar farm news and troubles, also all on a larger scale. “Our tomatoes aren't quite what we'd like this year,” they said, and “Oh, gee, we're not quite finished weeding this section yet.”

“What a beautiful farm,” we said. “What wonderful pigs and vegetables! Everything looks great!”

There's nothing like a farm tour to cheer a farmer.  Especially someone else's farm tour.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Oct 25-Oct 31, 2017