LIFE GOES ON

It has been a wet year. Lots of rain in spells, and we are having one now. All day yesterday, through the night, and still this morning, and forecasts for at least two more days of rain. Good for crops in the ground that are not in low-lying areas; trouble with grass and weeds trying to take over afterwards. It’s easy to understand why so many farmers have turned to plastic-culture (covering the ground with black plastic and inserting plants in holes poked through), and using drip irrigation to water when needed. It is an effective system for growing food, while saving labor and money.

For us the method is too costly in spite of it’s labor-saving qualities. Too costly to the environment when the massive swaths of used plastic are disposed as waste in the landfills, and too costly to the soil organisms that contribute to the strength and viability of the food we rely on as medicine.

We are ramping up our efforts to work in harmony with the natural forces and agencies – the soil food web, native pollinators, organic fertilizers, cover crops and crop rotations, and proven varieties of heirloom crops – to produce the strongest food possible. We are also making a renewed effort to save more of our own seeds.

When the corona virus epidemic emerged this spring, I was shocked that the seed houses we have used for almost 20 years closed down (it turned out to be temporary and they reopened after a couple of months). It was an important lesson for me, and I received it this time. I’m putting in place the understanding of seed saving, and the facilities to do it well. An added bonus of leaving the plants in the field to bloom and produce seeds has been an increase in native pollinators, and the joy of watching the antics of a flock of red finches eating the seeds. Interesting to note that they preferred the turnip and mustard seeds over those of the various kales. Now that these domestic seeds are gone, they will have to resort back to the seeds of wild grasses and herbs for food.

All the rain has been a boon to the mints this year. Each variety is bountiful – tall, green, fragrant spires after its own kind. Apple, spearmint, chocolate, peppermint, mojito, orange, and pineapple all in abundance. Not to mention the seemingly omnipresent lemon balm – a cousin with powerful brain protective powers. Some of each will be harvested and preserved through drying for teas, and mint syrup for other uses.

Quite a few bunnies around, but nothing like last year when they were almost underfoot. Considering their numbers, they did not do much damage, preferring the tender lettuces and chards to the kales and cabbages. On Saturday I saw a mother rabbit defending her nest and young from a flock of crows – surrounded but holding her ground. The crows flew away as I walked up, but she sat there -still and quiet in plain sight- as I walked past. I have seen crows kill a young baby rabbit, all alone, by pecking it to death.

I worked in the muscadine vineyard on Sunday afternoon, mowing between the rows of vines, pulling the new limbs off the main trunk, and trimming the dogbane, wild rose, and asparagus ferns underneath the canopy. This is the contribution of the wind and the birds, and just part of the work of growing grapes. Unlike 2018, I did a careful job of pruning this year, and the vines look great. Limiting production through pruning benefits the vines and improves the quality of the grapes. Each year as I prune, I see the remnants of the tiny, neatly constructed nests of the tiny Coopers Sparrow, tucked into tight forks near the center of the vines for food and protection.

Life goes on, and I give thanks for the privilege of working in this beautiful place – a steward to care for a legacy that belongs to the future.

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