Monday, March 19, 2007

Sowing Oats

Another day of planning one thing, doing others. Several egg and lamb customers/farm visitors this morning, then moved some furniture (A real mattress at last, after sleeping on camping pads since I moved back to the farm in Nov.).

Finally, late in the afternoon, I got out to do some "real" farm work. Since rain is predicted for the coming week, and my understanding is that the oats should have been in by now, I decided to sow the oats I bought the other day.

Pinwheel Farm's garden/sheep pen/barnyard area encompasses about 2 1/2 acres, divided from the pasture to the north by the "Willow Row". It's bounded by neighbors' fields on the east (popcorn and potatoes) and west (horse pasture surrounded by trees), and adjoins my back yard and the poultry areas on the south. This square of land is bordered by very wide fenced lanes on all but the north side, and divided into "quadrants" by 16' wide lanes.

The northeast quadrant was tilled by the tenants last spring, but only a small portion was gardened. So it grew a lush growth of annual warm-season grasses: crab grass (which sheep love) and goose grass (which sheep don't like, and lawn mowers choke on). It wasn't grazed, however...just left fallow, since there were tomatoes at one end. So the entire quadrant (108' x 130') is naturally and completely mulched with dry grass. I'm hoping that this area, sown to oats this spring, will provide some forage for the sheep, since the main pasture will be out of service for renovation for a few years.

I have hand-crank broadcast seeders, but for this job decided to do it simply by hand. I fill a bucket full of the oats, and tuck my right arm through the bucket handle. I step forward slowly while dipping my left hand into the grain, scooping it with slightly spread fingers. As I continue forward, my hand arches out wide to my left, trailing kernals that make the faintest pattering hiss, like raindrops, as they fall on the dry grass. But there is still grain in my hand as it reaches its leftmost limit. So it swings out broadly to my right, gently flinging the rest of the grain in a broad arch in that direction. It's a slow, leisurely, rhythmic motion. Very relaxed, and relaxing. "One cannot sow seeds with a clenched fist" reads a prominent mural in town. It's true.

I repeat this gesture many, many times, thinking of the countless generations of farmers before me who have sown their fields this way. The large, smooth oats in their sleek hulls are pleasant to handle, and they flow through my hands in graceful arching showers of grain as I spread them. It was a fine sabbath meditation. I considered the parable of the sower...the seed falling on different surfaces, and how it fared. Some of these oats will doubtless be eaten by the mice and voles that I know are tunneling under the dry grass...although scat shows that the fox has been hunting supper here, and I've seen Ambrosius the cat working the field. Some of the oats will be found by birds. But some will grow, especially if we get rain this week.

While sowing along the fence under the willows, I see several fine large dandelion plants. A pocketful of deep green leaves, young enough to be just barely bitter, follow me back to the house. After chores, after cleaning and rearranging the contents of the galvanized shed where I keep feed and tools, after washing eggs...I walk back out to the garden by headlamp to dig the first clump of "walking onions". Back in the kitchen, I fry some bits of bacon (deliciously hand crafted at the meat processing plant where I take my sheep), saute the onions in the grease, and just barely wilt the dandelion greens. A few drops of red wine vinegar complete the dish. A true sign of spring.

The apricot tree is starting to bloom, and there are a few early daffodils. The violet leaves are rapidly pushing out of the earth; that will be another favorite spring treat in a few weeks. Here and there, I see tiny lambsquarter very favorite leafy green. On the down side, the Japanese Hop Vine ("vegetable barbed wire") is germinating profusely and rapidly in areas where the tenants allowed it to run rampant last year. The garden is mainly so well mulched from last year that I'm not seeing much chickweed...disappointing, but perhaps it will appear later. I am not the one who orders the germination of the seeds in the mellow earth.

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