Thursday, May 24, 2007

Snake in the Grass

This morning I used one of my favorite tools, the Austrian scythe, to mow grass and weeds that have grown tall in unmulched fallow areas of the garden where we will soon mulch and plant tomato plants. The real purpose of this was to provide some fresh green feed to the sheep--a feeding method once called "soiling" the animals. In a wonderful little book from century-before-last called "Ten Acres Enough", this is put forth as a method for making the most of weeds while at the same time concentrating the production of manure for the garden. I think of it as a good motivation for mowing...the sheep say THANK YOU!

It was interesting that some of the sheep stayed at the big round bale of alfalfa and didn't come for the fresh feed. It appeared that the ones that stuck with the dry stuff were all the "open" ewes...ewes that never had lambs this spring. Another hint that they know WAY more than most people give them credit for...though exactly WHAT they know, I can only guess.

One of my volunteers expressed some frustration the other day that I was having her work on potato planting rather than working with the sheep, which is her main interest. Part of her interest is in pasture management. At the time of her comment, I could only reply that we need the potato crop to help with the cash flow to raise the sheep to market size. This morning, as I was pulling various types of grass out of the garden beds, I realized I had totally forgotten the obvious point that the pasture and garden are the same. Not just the same species, but often the same place thanks to portable electric fencing. She can learn more, actually, about smooth brome, brome and tall fescue and orchardgrass (good in the pasture, bad in the garden) and cheat grass, little barley and foxtail (generally unwelcome) by pulling them out of the future potato beds, than by strolling through the pasture. She can see the wandering, creeping rhizomes of smooth brome compared to the stationary dense clump of orchardgrass. She can see the shallow roots of downy brome compared to the huge root mass of tall fescue. She can see how each creates a different ecosystem underneath itself.

Something moved in the fringe of tall grass--mostly seeding tall fescue--along the edge of the neatly mown lane, and I realized my scythe had just missed a box turtle. This one had a small white patch of skinned, healed-over, shell in the middle of its back. I suddenly realized that it would be good to actually measure the height of our usual box turtles, and set the power mower just higher than that dimension, for the sake of the turtles.

A little later, something moved in a different way, and a huge black rat snake appeared. This is a couple hundred feet from the back yard where I've been seeing him, or one just like him, quite frequently.

Tonight, I went out to gather eggs and found the snake (same one?) moving along the edge of the floor. There were mice everywhere! Was the snake hunting the mice, or ignoring them to seek eggs, when my light disturbed them all? I am still trying to understand the dynamics here so that I can hopefully tweak them in favor of harvesting some eggs one of these days. I'm taking a clue from the fact that some of the hens have been laying in the yard. Outdoor nest boxes? Then how to protect them when it rains, so the hay bedding in the nests doesn't stain the eggshells?

I suddenly realized tonight that in coyote-proofing the chicken pen, I've also cat-proofed it. So other than the snake, the mice are quite safe inside the hen house. Maybe I could lock that cat in there at night? Or figure out a cat door that wouldn't let the coyote in? Oh, it all takes so much cleverness and planning and TIME, time that I never, ever have enough of.

Writing this reminds me that I was so occupied about the snake and the mice that I forgot to shut the poultry in their coyote-proof inner sanctum, so I'll go do that.

1 comment:

Wandering Coyote said...

Ah, the volunteer dynamic! Remember that you know where?

The cat door sounds like a good solution.