Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And the good stuff....

I haven't written for a long time because we--a shifting, ever-changing"we"--have been so busy.
Some highlights:

Friends from Canada visited overnight. The 30-something mom and her daughter (same age as my granddaughter) made their second annual stop on their "Grand Tour" bus trip. Using the bus company's special 30-day pass, they travel at night, sleep on the bus (no hotel bills), spend the day (or overnight at a friend's or hostel) sightseeing, and then another night on the bus while they head for their next destination. In this way, they have seen FAR more of the U.S. that most citizens ever see. I really admire their stamina...esp. since the mom has mobility challenges and chronic pain. We met at a Canadian Quaker gathering while I was on sabbatical.

We have our first WWOOFer staying and working at the farm. It has been delightful! She fit right in with our household, and is a pleasant, self-starting, dependable worker on the farm, always willing to stop and attend to some little task that she notices needs done. We hope she'll come back in future years, since her current itinerary allows only a short stay. Another WWOOFer is scheduled for later this summer and fall. For those not familiar with WWOOF, it is an organization that helps connect farmers with people who want to volunteer on farms in exchange for room and board. Check out http://www.wwoofusa.org/index.html. A great way to travel (more to my taste than my friends' bus trek--I like to get to know a place and its people and critters and plants).

My daughter's 2 long-haired chihuahuas stayed at the farm for a few days....cute and SHRILL. Actually I was impressed with how quickly they settled in. I forgot to get pictures, though. Harper looks like a miniature of my older dog, Toss.

We've had rain upon rain, lots of wind and lightning, thankfully not much hail. It's a good thing we don't rely on mechanical tillage for our gardening. We've been hard at work muching our no-till beds for tomatoes and potatoes. As of today, we have about 180 plants in the ground. A crazy quilt of standard production hybrids, popular and obscure heirlooms, slicers, paste style, cherry tomatoes, you name it. Striped, red, orange, yellow, gold, purple, green. One thing they mostly share is they are indeterminate varieties. We plant them 2 feet apart with beds 10' apart (there is a non-tomato bed between each pair of tomato beds). This allows air circulation and access for picking. It looks silly at this stage...but experience proves that they WILL be 6' tall and 4' wide by the end of August.

In one block, we experimented with wheat as a fall cover crop, broadcast on a weedy fallow area that was garden a couple years ago. Where we got a good dense stand of wheat, we just mowed out the tomato beds and left the wheat to ripen in 7' x 23' bands in between. It is starting to turn color, with nice large heads! We'll harvest by hand, then mulch and plant in the wheat beds between the tomato rows. We have a small graingrinder that will allow us to make cracked wheat for cereal, or coarse flour. Other friends have better grinding equipment if we make this a habit.

Mowing around the tomato beds was an experimental thing. We "inherited" a BCS walk-behind tractor, with rototiller and sickle bar mower attachments, this winter, and have been experimenting to see how it fits into our production system. It mows wheat and tall weeds very well, turning a fallow area into a partly mulched garden in a matter of minutes. It also will cut through chainlink fence quite nicely. It does balk a bit at T-posts, though that was a stalemate--non-fatal damage to both post and mower.

We make sure the dogs are locked up in their pen before using the BCS mower.

In summary, we decided that the BCS is great for mowing large patches of tall stuff where we are certain there are no metal objects, and we don't have to be perfect. The Austrian Scythe proved to be the best tool for mowing out the narrow, precise beds for the tomatoes. So, we are working hard to be more deliberate about putting things away, and the farm is looking very much more organized and tidy than ever. This also makes things easier for our wonderful volunteers to find things.

The wheat was dense enough that we were able to mulch the tomato beds with it, after laying down a narrow band of very broken-down sheep pen waste as a "fertility mulch". This is an effort to "stretch" our waste hay mulch. A consequence of a very wet spring/early summer, combined with a late start and having the best mulch-hauling cart out of commission for awhile early in the season, is that the hay pack in the sheep pens had decomposed beyond the prime weed-control-mulching stage already. So we are making do and experimenting. Another experiment is using the new (gasoline) riding lawnmower to collect grass clippings from the yard and lanes and using those as mulch. This promises to be a great way of augmenting potato mulch as it gets scattered around during our rummaging for new potatoes.

Speaking of new potatoes, we rummaged out the very first tiny new potatoes from "Pink Wink" (the first variety we planted, one that isn't even sold in catalogs that we got as a substitute a couple years ago, and has ended up being a real favorite). The WWOOFER, the Growing Growers apprentice, and I all savored a "potato communion" when I boiled those few tubers this morning. MMMMMMM...THAT'S why we're doing all this hard work! It will be a few weeks before we have enough to take to market, but we know they're coming!

We are also using the BCS tiller for the first mechanical tillage we've done in years. Accepting the negative consequence of compacted soil structure, we're "stale bedding" a large (75' x 25') area near the garden where Sweet Annie (sweet, indeed, but invasive and not eaten by any farm animal) and Japanese Hop Vine (a.k.a. "vegetable barbed wire") were allowed to proliferate by the tenants a few years ago. We'll plant in there soon, now that we've killed 4 or 5 crops of seedlings, and then clean cultivate (no mulch, lots of hoeing) the rest of the season, in an attempt to kill as many weed seeds as we can and not produce any more.

I have mixed feelings about the new gas-powered equipment, but overall they are very helpful at this stage in the farm's life, and I'm very grateful for them and the dedicated friend who likes to run them.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Hi there,

Doing a little browsing on farm blogs, I came accross yours and greatly enjoyed it.

I thought you might be interested in a blog I run, called www.aplaceintheauvergne.blogspot.com Under the first photo post of every day are articles from the International Herald Tribune concerning agriculture, food, and water.

I'm also the author of a book called 'A Place in My Country: In Search of a Rural Dream' which might also interest you too. (For some reviews, please see below.) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Place-My-Country-Search-Rural/dp/0753823888/ref=pd_sbs_b_title_14

Good luck with your venture,
Kind regards,



(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardcover July 2007; Phoenix paperback May 1, 2008)

'Stressed city couple seeks slower life in Cotswolds idyll'. The premise is so familiar there's even a predictably technical term for it: 'downshifting'. Yet it's hard to think in those terms about A Place in My Country, given the care with which Ian Walthew has skirted all the sprung traps of nostalgia and sentiment. A thoughtful observer and magpie-ish collector of oral history, Walthew has a sharp sense of the absurdities and the assets of his native land, reinforced by years living overseas. In his country life, escaped cows and the hunt ball jostle for space with barn raves and hawkish property developers. Avoiding the usual bland elegy for the rustic and redemptive, his book is a valuable memoir, both personal and social, a meditation on belonging in one of many Englands.'

The Observer

‘I have been reading about the British countryside all my life but this is the first post-modern take on a national asset so routinely taken for granted. Author Ian Walthew takes a 12-inch plough to the cosy complacency that so many apply to the subject and reveals that 21st century rural life is not a place for the genteel - in a corner of Gloucestershire most commonly viewed by outsiders from their 4x4s as they hurry to overpriced weekend retreats, he finds a farming heartbeat that is proud and defiant, defended by a cast of characters that outshine The Archers. A revelation of a book.’

Tim Butcher

Author of Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart

(Galaxy Book of the Year 2008, 3rd Prize Winner)

'Far from being an idealistic paen to the English countryside, the book becomes a hard-edged and moving account of life rural Britain today.'

Sunday Times

'a poignant portrait of country life....the book could have been a rollicking, laugh-a-minute riff on ignorant townies having to ask what exactly a heifer is. There are certainly some fine comic episodes.. but it quickly turns into something more sombre - and more interesting...His beautifully written book is an elegy for an England that is dying, or at least in terminal decline.'

Daily Telegraph

‘When stressed out media exec Ian Walthew panic buys a Cotswold cottage as an escape route from the urban treadmill, he unwittingly acquires a window on a corner of rural Britain at work and at play, and his writer’s eye sees just what’s going on. Walthew has a genuine gift for bringing both people and places to life and marshals his runaway real life narratives with a novelist’s skill. The story of his surprising friendship with his neighbour Norman - who is trying to keep his ramshackle farm and his dignity together with a few strands of baler twine, while his millionaire neighbours embrace the prairie concept of modern industrial farming - is compelling and often deeply moving. And Walthew’s own struggle with age-old issues of identity, friendship, community and a place to call home are fresh, sympathetic and never trying. It’s not the sort of book you’d pick up expecting a page-turner, but that’s exactly what it turn's out to be.’

Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall

‘Ian Walthew was a newspaper executive with a career that took him round the world, who one day did a mad thing. He saw a for-sale sign on a cottage in the Cotswolds, bought it, resigned and moved in. For the first few weeks he just lay on the grass in a daze. Then he started talking to his neighbours and digging into the rich history of this beautiful part of England. Out of his inquiries grew this affecting and inspiring memoir.

What sets it apart from others of its ilk is the author’s enviable immunity to cliché and his determination to love his homeland better than he used to. His elegiac account of relearning how to be an Englishman should be required reading for anyone who claims to know or love this country.’

Financial Times

‘Having lived and worked abroad as a director of the International Herald Tribune for most of his adult life, Walthew, along with his Australian wife, Han, made a snap decision, aged 34, to buy a house in Gloucestershire, and embrace life in the country.

This is familiar territory, but Walthew combines his own story - coming to terms with the untimely deaths of his father and brother - with that of the land and the people who make up village life.

Funny, touching and ultimately very moving, this is a beautiful, unsentimental account of a personal loss that is reflected in the rapidly changing texture of life in rural England.’

Sunday Telegraph

‘Even peripheral characters…really come to life; as does the beauty of the Cotswolds and the harsh realities it conceals. A Place in My Country is an edifying consideration of the English countryside, its rich history and its attempt to adapt in today’s world’

Times Literary Supplement