Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Avoiding Farm Failure

 

A few days ago, my husband started his car, preparing to drive out. Our front yard has full sun in the mornings, and the chickens often find a shady retreat under the car, but always scatter in panic at the first sound of the engine. This time, however, one of the chickens - whether suicidal or simply too zen to move - remained where she was. 

You can guess what happened. Eeeeek. 

My husband ran for the shovel, hoping to get the deed done before I notice anything, but alas, this was not to be. I poked my head out of the door to remind him of something before he goes.  

I felt really sorry for my poor neighbors, who only just moved in a week or so earlier. I'm sure they didn't expect to hear such a blood-curdling screech so early in the morning. I whipped up a cake and went for a nice neighborly visit later, and they were very friendly, but I could tell they looked at me weird.

Homestead living is full of casualties. Chickens die. Chicks don't make it out of the egg. A frost or a draught wipes out a vegetable garden. Unseasonable hail knocks down unripe fruit. The longer you are at this thing, the surer you can be that something won't go as planned. And the only way to gear up for it and last in the game is to plan for losses (practically, emotionally, financially), and decide you will stick to it. 

Some losses can be devastating, and really make you feel like it isn't even worth it to try again. We know people who have bought some very expensive purebred chickens for breeding stock, and have become extremely discouraged by a few unsuccessful turns of running the incubator. They are now planning to sell their stock, though when eggs don't hatch successfully there's often plenty of room for improvement (from using fresher eggs to monitoring temperature and humidity more closely). They are too stung by their experience to go on. 

Homestead burnout, homestead regret, farm failure... there are many names for this feeling, and a few simple strategies to cope with it:

1. Assess your methods. Is there something you could legitimately do to improve your experience? A reinforced coop against predators, a friendlier chicken breed for easier handling, crops more suited to your land?

2. Plan to fail. Hope to succeed, certainly, but leave yourself a margin of time and money to fall back on. Don't count on having a productive vegetable garden or a self-sustaining chicken flock within a year. Set aside a sum for casualties. Assume things will always cost more than they are supposed to. 

3. Be flexible. Some things that have worked for others won't work for you. Accept it and be ready to try something else. For example, if rearing a batch of incubator-raised chicks seems like an overwhelming commitment, try to let broody hens do some of the work for you. That's what I suggested to our acquaintance with the purebred chickens. 

I sometimes hear that I am way too pessimistic, often talking about ways to cope with loss and failure on the homestead. Well, the truth is, nobody needs advice on how to deal with a successful crop or a constant, plentiful supply of fresh eggs. But a lot of people can be encouraged by hearing that the perfect green thumb gardener they know has also experienced blight, and the people with the quaint little family dairy once had all their goats escape and trample their neighbors' flowers. 

Emergencies will happen, and the only way to combat them is by resilience and flexibility. Adopting some simple precautions can help as well. 

In other words, always look under your car before you back out of the driveway. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


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How's Your Honey Flow?

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Coming in for the landing

So, you have the box, you have the frames, the foundation, the bottom board, the inner cover, the outer cover and most important, the bees. You may have even started attending monthly beekeeping meetings, or, at least, read a handful of books. One thing you may or may not have done yet is to decide what type of beekeeper you will be, or your style of beekeeping.

There are many flags flying in the sea of beekeeping. You have the chemical free keepers, the treatment free crowd, the small cell group, the natural peeps, the top bar gurus, the horizontal keepers, the nudists, yes, I said nudists, the veils/no veils, the gloves/no gloves, the flow hive members, the old school extractors, the combers, and a lot more I may be leaving out. I have been bullied in many groups for not adhering to a particular club when it comes to my girls. I have my own personal rules; no pesticides, no fungicides, no miticides, no corn syrup and no plastic in the hive.

I want to raise, what I see as hardy bees. I want stock that’s built like a tank, not something I have to treat just to limp them thru a season. I will feed simple sugar syrup because to me, a dearth of nectar is not a signal of a weakness or bad genetics but of Mother Nature’s humor-if you will. I also use herbs grown on farm and essential oils thoughtfully in my practice. The great thing about so many different styles of beekeeping is that you can pull what you like from groups and leave the rest.

I may not be in tune with someone’s particular style of beekeeping, but that won’t stop me from learning something really cool I hadn’t known before hand. Don’t poo-poo everything a particular group practices; rather take what you can use towards your own practice.  We all entered beekeeping because of a great love for a small creature that can do the most amazing things!

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The bee yard

My point is, do what you feel is best for your hives. Don’t worry about what another type of beekeeper may think about how you keep your hives. Your bees are the only barometer you need to evaluate your success. They really don’t care how the beekeeper down the street is managing their hives. The bees do not convene secretly between the hedge rows swapping beekeeper stories. Never feel bad about the decisions you make for your girls, and if you ever find yourself being scolded for keeping bees your way — .gently remind your fellow beekeeper that you’re following your flow!


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Life In The Colorado Mountains

 

Mountain Life

We have lived full time in the Sangre de Cristo mountains at 9,800’ elevation for twenty years this month. In those twenty years many things have changed and some things have pretty much remained the same. What has changed is that we are twenty years older than we were when we first became full time residents. What has not changed is that we still do many of the same tasks that we had to do initially like property maintenance and cutting, splitting and stacking 9-12 cords of firewood for our long winters. We still heat our cabin with a wood stove but that too may change as we are looking at more efficient and easier methods of heat since cutting that much firewood year after year is getting harder. An inescapable conclusion is that the time went by very quickly.

Mountain Life With Canines

Even though we live remotely we currently have our three German Shepherd Dogs to keep us constant company. Our 14 year old girl just passed away and we miss her terribly. We do not deny our fur family anything and in fact they are spoiled rotten. Three of our dogs have passed away over the twenty years but all have had long very healthy lives. They have developed various minor maladies over the years but by working with our veterinarian closely they have not been slowed down because of any medical condition. What has not changed over the twenty years is the consistent level to which we pamper our fur family members. We have several games we play with them to keep them alert and challenged. They in turn alert us when animals or intruders come near the house.

Avoiding Canine Gastric Problems

Our fur family has their own elevated dining table (where they have their own space for their three meals each day. We divide their daily food requirement into three meals as we want to avoid the possibility of stomach torsion. That is a condition that needs very quick veterinary care and we live an hours drive from the clinic. We don’t know of any studies that would indicate one or two large meals per day could cause stomach torsion but we discussed same with our veterinarian who agreed three meals spread out over the day is a good precaution. After our fur family eat they immediately go to get a large drink of water. Since most of their food is kibble we have seen how it swells up in size and don’t want to risk a potentially fatal condition. We also have two who gobble down their food quickly so we feed them with slow eat bowls and the third is already a nice slow eater.  

canine feeding table

Time And Tide Wait On No One

My Air Force roommate used to say frequently that time and tide waited on no one. I’m sure it is not an original saying but it is true and 20 years for us has passed quickly. What has not changed for us is that time definitely continues to move on and 20 years later when we look back we realize just how fast.  In that time we have slowed down and have to work harder to perform tasks that we used to do without much effort. When we take on the physically demanding chores on our homestead we don’t complete them nearly as fast or easily as we used to. In fact if a casual observer would watch us working they could perceive that we were having a grunt and groaning competition. The final result is that we get the job done as we always have but without a doubt it requires different tactics, techniques, more time and more effort.

Mountain Life Can Be Tough

Carol and I were recently discussing all those individuals that in the past twenty years have moved to our area and then have left for various reasons. There is less than a handful of people left from the twenty years we have lived in this community because most have moved away or passed away. A full time lifestyle in the mountains is not an easy lifestyle which is reflected by those no longer here. People have come to try it and then for various reasons leave for city life or less strenuous living. We seem to be the anomaly for sustaining a long permanent full time mountain residency. Even though the weather is often harsh and living our lifestyle can be physically demanding we have enjoyed every minute of our life here in the mountains.

Alternative Entertainment

While we lack the amenities of  city life we have the wild animals and challenges of the four seasons to keep us entertained and occupied. In our twenty years of living here we have seen (some up close and personal) mountain lion, bobcat, lynx, wolves, bear, deer, elk and a host of smaller animals. Our canine fur family is probably the most entertaining component that we have experienced and every day they seem to do something that has us smiling or laughing out loud. I can’t imagine life like ours without our canine friends and we enjoy the regular visits of the wild animals. I would recommend that anyone living full time in the mountains seriously consider having one or more canines to provide companionship, protection and entertainment for the long winters and semi isolation periods.

Canines Are Part Of The Experience

In summary our twenty years of being full time residents in the mountains has been highly rewarding but demanding. The stories we have with the wild animals that share the mountain with us are priceless. Reflecting back on the last twenty years reveals that maintaining a mountain lifestyle is strenuous, hard work, and clearly different than most other lifestyle choices. Our canine family friends are not just part of our lifestyle but integral to our happiness.  What has not changed is that we still have clean air to breath, pure water from our well and enough exercise to keep us healthy. Life in the mountains is good but it's not for everyone according to our experience and recollections. On reflection we would not change our life here for any other lifestyle.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their fur family and mountain living go to their blog at: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com


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How to React to a Working Livestock-Guardian Dog

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Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) are one of the most effective means of predator control. This very old method of protecting sheep, goats, or cattle is once again essential to coexisting with predators on our landscape. LGDs live full time with their animals and make independent decisions about potential threats to their charges. With their increasing use on private and public land, encounters between these working dogs and humans are occurring more often. Occasionally these encounters cause issues, especially between recreationalists and ranchers.

Owners of LGDs want you to be safe, but we all need to behave appropriately around these serious working dogs. Knowing how to react is essential — whether you are hiking on shared public recreation and grazing land or even when visiting a farm with a LGD.

LGDs are naturally and defensively protective and they take their job seriously. They primarily work by warning off threats and that might include you. If you are at a distance from a flock, the LGDs may calmly stand up and watch you as you pass by - perhaps coming slightly closely to observe you. If the dogs believe their animals are threatened, they will respond in a series of graduated steps - barking, bluffing, and charging. Most LGDs are discerning about true threats, but some dogs proceed through these steps quite rapidly. These threatening actions deter almost all large predators so that actual physical encounters are uncommon.

Visiting a Farm

If you are visiting a farm or passing by on a road, you may see an LGD behind a fence with his stock. The dog will likely bark and may rush up to the fence, especially if you have a companion dog with you.

Don’t attempt to reach through the fence, pet, or feed the dogs. LGDs are naturally aloof to people they do not know and they do not want to make friends with you. Their owners strongly prefer that people not feed their dogs. Ignore the dog and continue on with your business.

 Don’t throw things at the dogs or verbally harass them in a threatening manner. This is also important if you have a working LGD in your neighborhood. Antagonizing or yelling at working or barking LGDs will not make them stop.

Absolutely don’t open gates or enter the area without the owners’ presence and permission.

Look for signs announcing the presence of an LGD at work.

If you drive up to a house or barn and a dog comes up to your car, wait for the owner to control the dog or introduce you.

Avoid bringing your pet dogs to a farm with a working LGD. Do not let a pet dog out of your vehicle without permission. 

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Recreation on Public Land

Hiking, biking, trail riding, hunting, fishing, or camping on open or public land may result in an encounter. LGDs on western grazing lands may be more on edge in areas of ongoing and active predator pressure on their flocks.

On public land, always look for informative signs that LGDs are present with grazing flocks or herds before entering a trail. Also check informative websites (BLM, US Forest Service, etc) for current maps where flocks or herds and LGDs may be found. At times, areas may be closed to recreation due to their presence.

If you encounter moving or trailing sheep, don’t attempt to walk or bike through them. Wait quietly at a distance until they completely pass by.

If you encounter a grazing flock or herd, you might not see LGDs at first. Wait a few minutes to allow any dogs to notice you if they are present.

If you observe LGDs with their flock, do not approach the animals or the LGDs. Your goal is to disturb the dogs and grazing animals as little as possible. In all cases, stay at a distance and alter your path to move widely around the flock or herd and not through them. Never make sudden threatening moves towards the animals or the dogs.

If the LGDs approach you or bark - keep calm, do not run, and do not harass the dogs. Stop walking and give the dogs time to see that you are not a threat. Avoid eye contact and speak softly to the dogs if they come near. Some dogs may respond to a command to “go back to the sheep.” Do not wave a hiking stick at the dogs, throw objects, or yell at them. The dogs may return to their flock after a short time. They might follow you at a distance or remain alert until you leave the grazing area of their animals.

If you are uncertain, anxious, or the LGD remains upset or blocks your progress, walk back the way you came.

Do not pet or feed unusually friendly LGDs as this will encourage them to confront other people in search of a handout or attention. This may provoke escalating events.

It is definitely not advisable to take a companion dog into an active grazing area. LGDs are always more disturbed by hikers with dogs, as they rightly see the dogs as a threat to their animals. Dogs are the second largest threat to livestock after coyotes. If you have a pet dog with you, keep it on a short leash, and never allow it to chase sheep or other livestock. If your dog is attacked, it is more prudent to drop your leash to prevent injury to yourself.

Grazers who use LGDs on public land often expose and socialize their dogs to all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, and bicycles so that they are seen as non-threatening. Nonetheless, because they are fast moving and silent, bicycles often surprise LGDs. Never ride through a group of animals. Disismount from your bike, speak calmly to the dogs so that they recognize you as a person, and walk your bike. Keep it between you and the dogs with their flock. Retreat if the dog remains upset or blocks your path.

Occasionally, you may encounter a LGD far from his flock. Do not attempt to rescue it. At times, LGDs patrol out and around their flock or herd.

In the extremely rare case of an aggressive LGD, pepper or bear spray is an appropriate defense.

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Coexistence with Predators

Supporting the use of nonlethal predator control requires us all to learn new skills, whether you are a livestock owner or a visitor to a farm or rangeland. Respecting the valuable work of these dogs and knowing how to behave appropriately will benefit everyone.

Photo and LGD Sign Credit: Kangal Dogs: Sister Antonia, Arizona; Ultimate Guard Dog Sign for sale here; Maremma and Sarplaninac Dogs:  Jacqueline Zakharia, Australia; ASDI sign available here.

With more than 35 years of hands-on LGD experience, Jan Dohner writes for Mother Earth News and Storey Publishing. She is the author of Farm Dogs, The Encyclopedia of Animal Predators, and Livestock Guardians. For more information visit JanDohner.comRead all of Jan's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Chicken Behavioral Problems

 

Predators, pests and diseases are not the only challenges a backyard flock owner will have to deal with. Sometimes the problems are originated in the flock itself, and solving them involves lots of creativity, ingenuity and even diplomacy.

Here are some examples of chicken behavioral issues we have dealt with over the years:

Egg-pecking and egg eating. Few things are more annoying than walking into your coop with the expectation of gathering some beautiful fresh eggs, only to encounter a spectacle of some piled-up shells and chickens with egg yolk on their beaks. Being omnivores, chickens love a nice fresh egg as much as we do, and once they get into the habit of eating their own eggs, it may be hard to cure.

This may sound obvious, but nice padded nesting-boxes are the first step in preventing cracked and broken eggs, which are a lot more likely to be eaten. Also make sure your chickens’ diet has plenty of calcium for strong shells.

Make a point of surveying your coop for eggs starting early in the morning, and every hour or so, until all eggs are laid and collected. The quicker you remove the eggs, and the more consistent you are about it, the sooner your chickens will lose the habit of eating them. I have found this method to be the most simple and effective in stopping egg-pecking practice, but it does take a few days of thorough commitment.

Placing dummy eggs in your coop may help deter the chickens as well, since pecking plastic gets old pretty soon. Some chicken keepers, for an extra measure, have even used hollowed empty egg shells filled with mustard or hot pepper to teach their birds a sharp lesson, but I personally have never tried this.

If there is one persistent egg-pecker in your flock, sometimes you will have no choice but to cull her (whether this means the stew pot or just giving her away to a petting zoo or something). Watch carefully and see which chicken it is, and once you are certain, remove her.

Aggression toward humans. In most cases, aggressive birds are roosters and, far from comical, this can actually turn pretty serious, especially if you have small children. Such behavior should be nipped in the bud; don’t ever let a rooster gain over you.

Chickens are birds with a strong hierarchical order, and often the rooster will view you and your family as fellow flock members, and try to challenge you for the position of the alpha rooster. Don’t let such a challenge go unmet; the first act of aggression on a rooster’s part should be answered, and promptly (broomsticks and water jets are useful here). Another effective treatment is taking a firm hold of a rooster and keeping him down until he is properly subdued. A persistently aggressive rooster, however, may be more trouble than he’s worth; some people have been dealing with aggressive roosters for ages, or else gave up on keeping a male in the flock entirely, due to the belief that “all roosters are aggressive”. This is totally untrue; rooster behavior depends very much on breed, temperament and early upbringing. We currently keep Brahma roosters, which have been hand-raised are very nice and friendly. Bottom line: if your rooster is too much trouble, replace him. You will most likely fare better.

Aggression toward other birds. As I have said before, chickens have a strong hierarchy, and the establishing of their pecking order involves a lot of, well, pecking. There are some limits to what is reasonable, however. We draw the line when we see blood, or when we notice a bird that is persistently bullied up to the point of being denied access to food, water and shelter.

Plentiful food and space can potentially solve a big part of excessive pecking, as the birds won’t have to compete for resources, and hens that are weaker in the hierarchy can simply walk away to a quiet corner where they won’t be bothered. Another method is to temporarily isolate the strongest-pecking chicken, and re-introduce her a few days later, which will shuffle the pecking order somewhat. If there is one bird that is persistently mean and aggressive, however, sometimes you will find that culling is your most reasonable option.

Allowances can sometimes be made for special circumstances; we once had two hens go broody and hatch chicks at once, and when of the chicks accidentally wandered away from his mother and to the other hen, she pecked him to death. As sad as that episode was, it served us to learn that some mother hens are very strongly protective of their chicks, and should be separated from the rest of the flock until their young ones are a little older.

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Homesteading & Working in Hot Weather Safety Tips

When we moved to Idaho, we had no idea that it could reach 105 degrees on our property. As we are trying to build a house, we have no choice but to frequently work through the heat of the day. We thought we’d share some of our best safety tips for working in the heat and hot weather.

1. Set up a shade canopy.

The first summer on our property we had absolutely no shade. Whether we were working on food preservation, splitting firewood or working on our diy hot tub, we were in full-sun. All day long. This year, we smartened up a bit. Jesse already had a 10×10 shade canopy, so we set it up!

We also purchased a larger 10×20 canopy for the extra shade. Guests love it when they’re over for a visit. Now, we can mill lumber with our portable sawmill or even fine-tune our solar power setup, knowing we have a shady spot to retreat to!

2. Reduce heat by setting up a misting system.

In addition to the canopy, a tip for working in the sun is to try setting up a mist cooling system to keep the heat at bay. We were able to build our system for $15 or so from a local garden store. While this obviously doesn’t cool down the temperature of the air, it can help to moisten your skin and cool you down by evaporating.

You’d be amazed how a little mist to the face boosts morale on a hot summer day!

3. Get to know the shade schedule on your property or work site.

For us, we have a lot of projects to do all around the property, so it pays to know what will be in the shade and when! When we were finishing up our off grid water system, there were portions to do at the bottom of the hill (sunny in the day) and top of the hill (shaded most of the day)… so we chose to work in the shade, but never stopped working!

Work smarter to avoid heat exhaustion.

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4. Wear clothing that’s suitable for hot weather.

This is something we’re passionate about – wearing the right clothing for working in the heat. Chose clothing that’s lightweight, wicking, light in color and even has long sleeves to protect your skin from the sun.

No longer do we shop at Goodwill - we invest in our clothing because we know that clothing can make or break us. We now see clothing as a tool that helps us do our job better, not something that holds us back.

5. Try products to stay cool in the heat.

There are various products on the market to help you stay cool in the heat. The first one we are trying is a cooling bandana - this is a bead-filled bandana that swells when placed in water. The bandana retains moisture and stays cool for quite some time. Great to place on the head or neck.

The second item we’re trying is a “Chilly Pad”. This is a pad you can soak that retains moisture for hours, and as it evaporates, it has a cooling effect. This is also great to drape over your neck and it stays refreshingly cool for hours.

6. Avoid working in the heat of the day all-together. Try to find indoor activities.

Easier said than done when trying to build a house as we are, but use a free project management software to organize our lives. We have task lists for “evening work” and “heat of day work." We recently got an RV air conditioner and let’s just say it’s really upped our productivity.

For us, there’s ALWAYS work to be done whether it’s inside or outside work, so when the heat is really unbearable, or we’re not under a strict deadline, we try to take advantage of air conditioning!

7. Hydrate days in advance.

It's a no-brainer to stay hydrated when you're working in the heat. However, not everyone knows that to be adequately hydrated, you must drink plenty of water days before you'll need it! We try to drink copious amounts of water maybe three days before we'll be working in the sun.

Also, be sure to have water next to where you're working. If water is near you, you're more likely to drink it!

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If all else fails, throw in the towel to have some fun!

As a plan B (or C), find some water to play in! In all honesty, very few of us have the luxury to do this whenever we want which is why we created this video and blog post!

Stay tuned as we work through the heat to begin the construction of our home… should start the excavation within 1-2 weeks! Are you as excited as we are?!

Alyssa and her husband moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where they are building a timber frame home and homestead from scratch. Follow their many DIY projects including milling their own lumber, building their own hot tub and making awesome things with reclaimed building materials. Find Alyssa on their blog, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View her other MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Weeds

A little rain, a little sun, and poof, the weeds are up!

I know that it’s said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but I would like to add another item to that list:  weeds. 

Even if you live in a concrete jungle, weeds are going to find a crack somewhere.  They’re in your lawn, in the flower bed, creeping along the pathways, and especially…in your garden.  Turn your eye away for a moment or two, and there they are.  Add a little rain and a little sun, and they’re out with a vengeance. 

The weed seeds “float through the air with the greatest of ease,” come in on the compost, and creep their way in from the edges.  They tangle and smother and outproduce the plants I’d like to see growing.  And they are quite proud to reach heights taller than myself, spewing about their seeds for even more weeding fun for next year.

I must admit that weeding is one of my least favorite farm activities, possibly because it never seems to be done until you finally just give up or snow flies.  Over the years, we’ve utilized old hay or plastic mulch to help smother out the invaders, but some crops still need the exposed soil, like picky carrots or ambitious radishes.

Today’s weeding project involved reclaiming two beds in the high tunnel that had sported early crop radishes and spinach (sewn in March), now all picked over and bolting, along with a chorus of weeds that had come to join in.  We’d weeded the bed before planting, weeded it at least once before harvest…and sure shootin’ you couldn’t tell now!  As I knelt in the walkways, some of the weeds and flowering radishes waved over the top of my head!

But the tomato plants started in the aquaponics greenhouse were desperate for the soil, so it was time for the motley green mess to go.  Rip, rip, rip, amidst the disgruntled ants and spiders, hauling away their egg sacks in my wake.  An occasional confused earthworm would pop outs its pointy head, then quickly disappear into the earthy depths. 

A host of tiny, rust-colored butterflies flitted about, landing on me, the weeds, the bucket, the ground, curious and completely silent.  The breeze blew just enough to keep off the mosquitoes until the bitter end, and the plastic overhead kept me dry from the on-again, off-again rain showers mixed with warming sun that passed by, the gray-bellied clouds rumbling to themselves.

And as I knelt in the soil, pulling away and hauling bins of the refuse off to the eagerly munching pigs, I thought that weeds really do have some important life lessons for us…even if they are incredibly annoying and time-consuming.

Weeds remind us of purpose. If the garden plants grew as well and as fast as the weeds did, there would be no need for a gardener.  But then, where would the pleasures of planting and harvesting be?

Weeds remind us to be attentive. Put it off, and the mess just gets worse and harder to make right.

Weeds remind us to be thorough. Many of our interns over the years thought that weeding was just about getting the green part off.  Oh no!  If you don’t get the roots, they’ll be back three times worse.

Weeds remind us to be discerning. A baby spinach can look remarkably like grass.  Pay attention while weeding and know your species at all ages and stages or you’ll weed out your crop too.

Weeds remind us of goals. Even if you don’t like weeding (like me), you won’t get that tasty strawberry or beautiful broccoli without going through this process.

Weeds remind us to take it slow. If you hurry through weeding, you’ll surely be back sooner than you’d like.  Use this time to think on things and enjoy the day as much as possible.

Weeds remind us that everything has its place. Some things are a weed in one spot and an enjoyable flower in another!  It’s about orchestrating who goes where for the best balance.

Weeds remind us of the satisfaction of accomplishment. Even though my back and knees and hands and shoulders may be sore and aching at the end of a stint of weeding, I can look back and see the cleared space and almost hear the garden plants sighing in relief.

Weeding reminds us of the satisfaction of labor. If I’m frustrated about something, weeding can be a therapeutic way of getting out that negative energy.  Can’t you hear the weeds scream when you pull them?

Weeding reminds us to get out in nature. If I hadn’t been weeding, would those cute, tiny butterflies have landed on my knee and investigated my finger?  Would I have seen the double rainbow after the storm shower came through?

Weeding reminds us that rewards don’t come easy. As much as we’d like to think we deserve a great garden, we still have to work for it.  But, in the end, the harvest is that much more satisfactory for having been won.

Weeding reminds us that gardening is not for wimps. Labor of love is an understatement!  Going to the grocery store is a cakewalk compared with gardening.  But I must say there’s nothing quite like eating something you grew yourself.

And so, with the sun setting in tones of gold, I hauled out the last bin of weeds from the high tunnel and tried to stretch out my back.  The irrigation is running, and tomorrow we can lay out the plastic mulch and plant those tomatoes.  I can almost taste them already!   See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com


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