Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 2 on the Farm

I would like to keep this record of my apprentice as complete as possible, meaning as many days as I can bear to take the time to write something. Inevitably, of course, because of time constraints and other commitments, as well as general fatigue and/or apathy, there are going to be many days when I don’t write anything. But many days, if not most (I’m only 2 days in; I can afford to be optimistic) I’d like to at least take some sort of basic accounting of what I did that day and what I learned, both for my own records and also to give other folks an idea of how I spend my time.

So today…

I started out by helping with a few basic tractor maintenance projects. Again with the little old seeding tractor, the ‘G’, which as far as I can tell was made perhaps 50 years ago. An ingenious, and surpisingly simple, machine. Anyway, we started by checking the tire pressure and filling up the tires to the appropriate amount (12 rear, 15 front). Then we tried to locate all the ‘grease points’ (or grease ‘nipples’) on the machine and pump them full of…grease. Most of these are located at a place where the hydraulic systems drive metal against metal and thus need to be well lubricated. Then I was tasked with a largely fruitless effort to replace the grease nipple at a spot where it had disappeared, but the replacement parts did not thread properly, and I suspect that the threading on the tractor was shot. Anyway, some kind of jerry-rigged option seemed acceptable and we went with that.

Next we removed the hydraulic tubing from a large tractor attachment called a disc harrower, which breaks up the soil into finer bits after the initial plowing. As some of the bolts were rusted shut against each other, this took quite a bit of elbow grease, and resulted in a lot of actual grease spraying out onto my jeans.

After that I got a brief lesson in the initial plowing of a field, with one of the bigger tractors which I have not learned to drive yet. In order to avoid wasted time circling and backing up, to get as much of the field plowed as possible, and to avoid running the tires over the soil too much it takes a bit of thought and planning to get your plowing pattern down so that you can do it smoothly and efficiently without freaking out. So I got a quick lesson and then watched my new housemate Susan do a long circuit around fields 5-8, driving the large, sharp wedges into the soil to turn it over.

Next up I went back to the greenhouse area where we were working on setting up the cold frames. Joe, a local fellow who works on the farm, and I worked to install some brackets to hold some short lengths of rebar that would in turn hold the ends of semi-rigid black tubing that would provide the structure for the plastic sheeting to go over. When that was done, a volunteer class from a local school put out trays of onion seedlings into the frames and then covered them up with the plastic.

Then lunch!

After lunch, I spent the rest of the day on some greenhouse work. Making tray labels (‘4/14 Bright Lights’ – a variety of chard that we were seeding into trays), filling up plastic trays with soil, thinning out trays of lettuce and transplanting some of the excess plants into new trays, and ending the day seeding the ‘bright lights’ chard.

Also, a snapshot of what is already going on in the fields (it’s not as if the farm was idle before I arrived):
There are garlic shoots coming up that were planted in the fall
There is an over-winter crop of spinach coming up again, which will not be used commercially but that we are eating – it is delicious and wonderfully fleshy.
The strawberry plants have been uncovered (they had a heavy layer of straw on them during the winter).
The first planting of peas are sending up shoots.

Actually, there are too many things already happening for me to list them all, or to remember them all. The greenhouse is already a hothouse (pardon me) of activity.

By the way, thinning a tray of lettuce and hoping to transplant them into another tray is a very delicate business! Trying to ease the excess plants (after germination and some root growth we really want only one plant per cell so that they can really thrive) out with their roots intact, and then to put them into another cell of soil, with the roots covered, is a task that I don’t think I really have the grasp of yet. But I understand that I will have some more practice. In the meantime, I have made a mental note of where the trays that I worked on are now located and will be very curious to see how those little plants fare, whether they will sprout a backbone and stand up straight, seeking the sun or if the will shrivel and fall against the dirt. Over and over again, as I gently pulled the little plants up, I would feel the little snap as the main root stem broke. Tricky, tricky. But maybe these plants are hardier than I think…I don’t really know anything at this point.

Anyway, there’s my second day. A nice, varied mix of activities and a gorgeous day of sun with almost no wind. And a short day again, 8 am to 3:30 again. I will be in for a rude awakening the first cold, rainy, windy day working 6-5.

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