Last month, my closet pyromaniac husband gleefully eliminated a long standing task on our farm to-do list: burn the brush piles. These weren’t your average “let’s have a bonfire” brush piles; the previous owner stock piled wood and brush from job sites over a period of years, building the larger one to over eight feet tall and forty feet in diameter. I was determined to somehow recycle the material as desperately needed organic matter in the garden and orchard, but we couldn’t find any viable options. Chippers are expensive to buy or rent, and the time required was out of the question. Most of the larger pieces were rotten and no use for our wood stove. The only bio char set up I knew would have been as equally time intensive (since then I learned how to burn a brush pile in certain ways to glean bio-char and we will be doing this with the remaining piles ) Mr. Pyro patiently waited for me to give in to the burn option.
Recently a young woman whom I greatly respect wrote to me in frustration saying, “I would love to respond in obedience to God’s call on my life- if only I had any idea what the heck it was!” I understand her angst, as I also spent too many years struggling with this sidetrack. Don’t misunderstand me- I believe the will of God is of utmost importance, but many times religion has muddied the matter beyond recognition and left many of us wallowing in despair and confusion, missing the simple and powerful truth in front of us. Religion taught me (directly and indirectly) that God’s will involved behavior above the heart and location above presence.
Our Creator cleverly set the universe in motion incorporating natural laws that mirror spiritual truths. This fuels my fascination with gardening. My heart comprehends the necessity of painful pruning in my life after I’ve seriously stressed over chopping off perfectly healthy branches and then witnessed the increased fruit a few months later. I never appreciated rain until I spent six months of drought hauling water in five gallon buckets; hundreds of hours warring on my hands and knees with weeds convinced me to keep my heart clean of “little sins” that can quickly spread and take over, and my delight over a free load of manure (God even redeems crap) is probably embarrassing to my children. Pruning, rain, weeding, compost-these garden practicalities enlighten my heart to deeper truths.
In this case, the “thing” was a goat. Every backyard farmer is familiar with this slippery slope; for me it began with thirty adorable baby chicks. Eighteen months later I’m feeding three dogs, geese, turkeys, ducks and now, goats.
We’re busy wrapping up summer on the farm and I’m feeling reflective as I clean out last season’s old growth, making room for new crops. The garden and orchard took a beating this year; between fungus, bunnies, bugs, Bermuda grass, a hungry escapee goat, ignorance, a couple of flash floods and intense windstorms we didn’t have the harvest we had hoped for. Most of the growth we experienced was in our hearts. But I’m grateful for all we learned and experienced this season, and like any true gardener, I’m already busy dreaming up next year’s botanical adventures
Well, it was another bust season for Thirsty Goose Farm, at least in the way of gardening. Through a series of disasters and mistakes completely different from last year’s misfortunes, we would starve to death if not for the fact other farmers actually grow food. My vineyard and beekeeping mentor busted out in belly laughter when I gave him this year’s synopsis; squash bugs annihilated the squash, wind storms knocked out the corn, birds chomped the grapes, June bugs chawed the fruit trees, a flash flood swept in just as tomatoes were ripening and split them all open, Peter rabbit mowed down hundreds of peanut and sweet potato plants and grasshoppers finished off the rest. (We had a great green bean crop but lost them all when the freezer died.) This tragedy of a farm grows my awe and respect for farmers- so I guess I can honestly say we did manage to grow something (besides an amazing crop of Bermuda grass).
Last Friday my car died in the middle of a four lane highway. I raced from work to get the the chiropractor’s office after a week of misery and not sleeping well; earlier that week I was forced to reschedule two appointments because of working late and child’s needs usurping mine, so I was desperate to get there. Also, the previous week my farm truck died so we gutted the van in order to haul trash and buy feed, but on our way out the driveway the exhaust pipe fell off and I had to drive around sounding like a space shuttle taking off. Stranded in the middle of very busy highway, I was unable to hold back the hot tears of (physical) pain and frustration.
Some call it Bermuda grass, I call it my undoing. Bermuda is the “straw” that broke this camel’s back. I can’t carry anymore. I have been accused of being over dramatic and giving up too easily, so I will try to condense the story in a few paragraphs so you can understand my reality.
Squash bugs are my new nemesis. Here I thought the challenge of gardening in SC would be developing the hard clay soil. Boy was I wrong! Soil development was a simple matter of labor; hundreds of wheelbarrows of compost and mulch, countless trips carrying five gallon buckets full of stinky compost tea, research and creative collection of natural soil components to correct the deficiencies- this all proved to be easy compared to combating squash bugs.
Last week my vineyard mentor sent me pictures of his summer grapevine pruning and prompted me to do the same. I was reminded to look at my vineyard with a farmer’s eye. A farmer is not impressed with huge, winding green vines dancing all over the place; she recognizes that all the excess greenery is stealing energy from the grapes. It’s critical to train the plant in a way that maximizes fruit production and also allows sunshine to reach the berries and adequate air flow to prevent mold and disease.