Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Planting Peas

This morning I got up fairly early, and had the whole morning free to work in the garden, so I planted a bed of peas and onions...and barely made it to my bus-driving job on time.

But planting peas shouldn't take all morning!

Well, first I did chores...after my own breakfast. Yes, I know the farmer is supposed to see to the animals' needs first, but this farmer isn't generally really awake until she's eaten. And I don't do chores well while I'm groggy. And, not the least, once I start chores I somehow end up moving from one thing to the next and forgetting to eat breakfast at all, with dire consequences later in the day. For me, breakfast is the foundation of the day; I make it a solid one with scrambled eggs from the hens, bacon from the meat processing plant where I take lambs in the fall, bread from a local bakery, real butter, and jam my mom made from strawberries my nephew grew.

"Doing chores" today ended up including moving a bunch of fence panels and gates around to give the group of late-bred ewes access to new big round bales of brome hay and alfalfa hay. I've found that 6-rail pipe gates, the inexpensive ones, make the best feeders I've found for big round bales. With several lengths on hand, I can conform them to the size of the bale (or two bales side by side). The ewes were so happy to have the new bales.

But it took awhile. It's not hard work, just many little details like finding, cutting, pulling off, coiling up and tying up all the baling twine from each bale. This is essential because I've realized that baling twine is one of the most dangerous things on the farm, for people, animals, and machines. If left loose, it seems to reach out and ensnare things when least expected. Moments is all it takes for a stray piece of baling twine to throw a person flat on their face, strangle an animal or amputate its leg, kill a lawnmower. Few things test my temper more than trying to disentangle a tool I need RIGHT NOW from a snarl of uncontrolled baling twine that got thrown into the same bucket. One of the fundamental principles of working on Pinwheel Farm is: Baling twine shall not be left uncontrolled under any circumstances.

And it is eternal. Fence panels secured to T-posts with baling twine (as a fiber artist, my farm is tied together with baling twine rather than wired together with baling wire or taped together with duct tape.) at least 6 or 7 years ago are still secure, while the wire connections of my earliest fences have long since failed. And that twine has been exposed to the ravages of UV all those years! So it's important not to leave even a small piece around, to be buried in mulch and later unearthed by a rototiller (hours of cutting and pulling out twine from the tines) or animal.

But standing out in the northwest quadrant of the garden, where I've been feeding the sheep hay on fallow land, in the bright morning sun, methodically pulling and coiling twine, was, in fact a pleasure. It gave me time to really look at the willow row--200' of hybrid willows I planted as mere pencil-thin rooted cuttings 11 years ago, the first spring of owning the farm ground. I ball-park their height now at more than 40', because they are more than 4 times the height of the Torii that Ross built for his wedding to Jeanne, which is about 10' tall and stands across the central farm lane where it passes through the Willow Row, marking the transition between garden and pasture. This morning I noticed that the willows were just beginning to unfurl tender new yellow-green leaves from the buds on the slender twigs. After today's 80-degree afternoon, the leaves are probably an inch long by now!

Then a first-time-this-season bird song caught my attention, and I turned to see a flash of blue in the silver maples, bursting in to vibrant red bloom, to the west: A bluebird! Hopefully I'll get around to getting the birdhouses set out that have been in the barn for a number of years now.

And so it went, until there was only about 1 1/2 hour left to plant peas.

Preparing the bed for peas was much the same as for lettuce, except I had to root out the rotten stems of last fall's chard. I could have covered that chard after the frost knocked it down; I'd be watching it push up succulent new leaves right now. But instead, I just watched it. With no cover whatsoever, it survived surprisingly late into the winter. Now I know how much...or perhaps I should say, how cover it next year to preserve it. This is important, because covering things too much can be as bad as not covering them at all, if rot or mice ruin them.

After pulling the 7-Row Furrower through the bed, I skipped the middle row (a support fence will go there), and planted a row of peas (these were Dwarf Grey Sugar) on the row to each side of the middle. I pushed one pea into the bottom of the furrow every 2 inches or so. I have a seeder that would plant these two rows in minutes, but it always takes more time to set up and adjust than seems worthwhile for just two short rows. And the results from the seeder are inevitably uneven. With hand seeding, I won't have to thin out double-planted spots, and won't have skips in the rows.

In the outer two rows on each side, I plant onion sets...small white bulbs bought from the neighborhood garden store, Pine's. Mostly, these will grow green onions that will be harvested before the peas mature. Some, where the natural cycles governing bulbing vs. bolting to seed have not been unduly interrupted, will be left to mature into white cooking onions. When pushing the onion sets into the furrows, I check carefully to see that the root end of the set is "down". The leaves will find their way to the open air even if the bulb is upside down, and the plant will grow, but the white portion of the onionwill be a loop--awkward in Farmer's Market bunches!

When the onions are harvested, and the peas are nearly finished, I'll transplant basil plants into the outer rows, and pull up the peas when they're done. I've learned the hard way not to leave pea fences in place down the middle of the basil: birds perch there, and leave their mark on the basil below.

To finish the bed, I carefully drag the back of the rake over the rows to cover the sets and seeds with soil. Then I walk everything in. Yes! I WALK on my garden bed! Since I've only worked up the top 2" of soil, I don't sink in or adversely compact the bed. My footprints are at most 1/4" deep. My weight firms the soil around the chunky peas seeds so they can absorb the moisture they need to germinate.

Finally, a heavier mulch for this bed than for the lettuce yesterday. Pea shoots are strong, and can push through a surprisingly heavy hay mulch...a mulch heavy enough to block most annual weeds. The onions, too, will have no trouble sprouting through the mulch.

Only about another 118 beds to plant....

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