Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Throwback Thursday: Kick Off.

Posted on | October 30, 2014 | No Comments

With frost in the forecast for this weekend, I headed down to the garden for some clean-up of the summer veggies and to put down floating row covers for the fall crops.  Sheets would be used to cover the most prolific tomato plants as well as some of the eggplant and peppers.  Plus, I was hoping to save the only 2 vines that survived in the pumpkin patch, especially this snake gourd.


Imagine my surprise when I found my asparagus plants flourishing among the Johnson grass and honeysuckle on the garden fence.

I carefully pulled out the riffraff to expose the plants.  Weeding asparagus is fairly easy because they have a unique fern-like foliage….

and distinctive roots.  Although the roots should actually be underneath the soil instead of exposed on the surface like mine.

I planted my asparagus crowns too shallowly last spring.  And I failed to “properly prepare the bed” by ensuring it was free of weed seeds or other roots.  None of which I knew I was supposed to do because I put in the asparagus before the farming kick off in April.

Around here, kick off is the annual Farm Tour in April.  On Saturday of the tour, the kids and I volunteer at a friend’s farm, signing in guests, directing traffic, and hauling Simon and Isaac (the Shetland sheep) along for petting.  In return for our volunteer work, we get to tour as many other participating farms as we want for free on Sunday.

That’s when I pick up tons of handy gardening tips for me and nifty farm construction projects for The Other Half.  I covet my neighbor’s livestock (oooh, alapcas and donkeys and mini-Zebus!) and chuckle quietly at the mistakes some are making that I’ve already survived (no, chicken wire does not keep out predators).  I commiserate with those who are repairing old barns and making do with fences that were already in place for 10 years when they bought the place and try to smile politely at the people with barns full of hot water, bleachable concrete slabs, and mechanized gates on timers because they “decided to build it right the first time.”

Too bad some of those farm tour tips came a little too late.  Like the planting instructions I picked up for asparagus.

I managed to salvage the asparagus bed.  Some careful weeding and a side dressing of compost fixed it right up.

But it might have been easier if I’d planted them correctly  from the start.  If the kick off had come just a little bit earlier….

The Kick Off.

Farmers tend to live freestyle.  We’re used to thinking outside of the box because the box is never big enough or strong enough to hold all the chicks, goats, lambs, tomato slips, seed potatoes, or blueberry bushes that we have planned for the farm in a particular year.  Around here the annual Farm Tour is the best place to find out what local farmers are doing to break new ground, explore new ideas, and push the limits of their boxes.  In suitable fashion, we arrived to volunteer at our friend’s farm with a truck bed full of kids and sheep in a portable pen created out of spare cattle panels and bungee cords.

I’m not actually sure if it’s legal to travel this way on the roads.  You’d think with all those car seat requirements, the law wouldn’t approve of children traveling in the back of a truck bed assigned to keep the sheep from jumping out.  But I’m not about to ask at the local DMV.  Better just to keep to the backroads.

The kids were in charge of sign-in and hand sanitizing instructions (because kids who didn’t grow up dropping their pacifiers in the barn and then putting it back in their mouth can actually get sick from petting farm animals), while Simon and Isaac greeted the visitors.

In slow moments during the tour, I eyeballed the fiber goodies on the deck….

while recommitting myself to my spinning endeavors.  As soon as the temperatures warm up, I find myself putting down the carders and the knitting needles in lieu of other activities.  Once the evenings are chilly and the mornings are frigid I start thinking of all the wool in the craft closet.  And all the knitted gifts I wanted to make for Christmas.  Except now I have just a few months to wash it, card it, spin it, and knit it.  Why do I do that?  Why???

While I pondered the existential dilemmas of fleece, the kids kept themselves busy with other activities.

Masking tape bowling.  With Little acting as goal in place of pins.

Bows and arrows.

And, um,…this….

When the tour finished for the day, we checked out the baby bunnies for ourselves….

petted the Angora goat kids….

and rounded up some lambs that got separated from their moms in the all the hoopla.  By “separated” I mean the lambs could see the pasture that their moms were in and could easily fit through the field fence to reach them.  After all, they got “separated” by squeezing out through that same fence.  But for several hours the lambs had been running around frantically and bawling desperately because they couldn’t figure out how to get back in.  Because they’re lambs.  Which means they are sheep.  Which means they do “cute” a whole lot better than “smart.”

The next day we met up with a friend and her kids to tour some of the other farms.  Driving from farm to farm can be tedious as they can be located a good distance apart.  Letting the kids have friends along keeps the whining to a minimum.  Or at least gives me my own friend to whine to about the kids’ whining.  Which seems fair.

The usual suspects were all present and accounted for at local farms.

Chickens….

goats…

chickens and goats…..

pigs….

and cows.

There was the norm (like escaping goat kids)….

and the novel (like sitting pigs).

Big found a tree you could climb inside….

I found a blacksmith shop where The Other Half could learn to make things for the farm….

and even my friend and I got in on the fun.

It’s easy to be happy in April.  When the chickens are laying again, it’s still too early for squash bugs in the garden, and the kids aren’t out of school yet.

At the last farm we toured they were growing herbs for tea.  There, among the chamomile and mint, was a bed of asparagus that looked just like this:

Since I had just planted some asparagus crowns in March, I asked how their harvest was going.

The farmer shrugged.

“Well, they’re only a few years old and we didn’t pretreat the bed for weed seeds so that’s why the plants are getting crowded out by weeds.  But we trenched them a good 8″ down and planted them 2′ apart to leave room for the roots to expand.  So as long as we stay on top of the weeds we’ll continue to get a better crop each year.”

Oh.

My friend and I looked at each other.  She had planted asparagus earlier that spring, too.

“Did you dig a trench for your asparagus?”  I asked.

She shook her head.

“How about pretreat for weeds?”

She shook her head again.

“Leave room for expansion?”

To that she replied with a question of her own.

“Did you even know they needed room to expand their roots?”  she asked me.

“No,” I said sadly.  “I kind of just turned over the soil with a shovel, planted all those crowns right next to each, and then put the soil back on top”

“Me, too,”  she agreed.

Which is why we’re friends.

And why the Farm Tour should be in March instead of April.  To keep some of us from getting off to a bad start and kicking off ahead of time.  Sorry, asparagus.  Better luck next year.

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