Monday, September 5, 2011

A Long Overdue Post

Well now. How long has it been? Over a year? Damn, that’s terrible!

Did I really not post any harvest pictures? Or say anything about it?

So what happened? Well, at this point, I’m sure no one’s wondering. But I do feel like I owe an explanation, and a recap of what did actually happen.

The why is easy, I got a second job to help pay for a really expensive, emergency home repair (a new roof). Plus I was selling a bunch of stuff on eBay, so I was really working two-and-a-half jobs. I kept up with the field as best as I could, but in the end, somethings had to get neglected and the wheat was one of them. Unfortunately my family life was another of them, but that is more in the present than it was (at least in the front of my mind) last summer/fall.

But I quit that job back in June of 2011, and after a long vacation to Europe (including some medieval farming related stops) and some time off to rest and much time spent finishing my roleplaying game (I really do have a bad habit of biting off more than I can chew!), I finally have time to get back to my wheat field.

What happened? The bald spot continued to stay bald. I didn’t have the time to properly weed, and the ivy, THE DAMN IVY, got into the field and took over. It didn’t look too bad at a casual glance -- it didn’t seem to be hurting the wheat, strangling it or dragging it down, but when it came to harvesting, the ivy was so intertwined and wrapped around the individual stalks that you had to pull the stalks out of the icy one at a time.

Harvesting in the ivy free portions went well. I used an electric hedge trimmer as my scythe, and it worked quite well, though it was hard on my arm, using one hand to grab a clump of wheat and the other hand to hold the heavy trimmer and bring it under the clump. But I got help from my wonderful wife and had a good time doing it.

A few days later I bound the stalks into sheaves and stacked them out to age, dry and harden in the sun. But maybe I waited to late in the season, or maybe it was just a wet season, because a day later it started raining. We moved the sheaves into the shed (actually my daughter did it, on her own initiative, even though she hates the whole garden/wheat field. Thanks again Becca!), but it never got warm again that year, and the grains quickly became speckled with black mold.

Perhaps if I’d paid more attention to it, spent more time fussing and watching it, it wouldn’t have come to that, but there it is. I was disappointed, but not beaten, and told myself I would try again.

By Spring, we had mice living in the sheaves and when we drug the wheat back out into the field, we disturbed the mouse nest and killed a bunch of newborns. It was actually very sad.

And so there the field sat. The ivy grew. The dandelions grew. But mostly the buttercups grew. I still had fantasies of planting a new crop, but I was exhausted, the family problems were erupting and I just didn’t have the time or energy. Everyone once in a while I would buy a book, or read some webpages, but that was about it.

From one of those pages, I did learn that Washington State considers the European Buttercup to be one of the 10 most dangerous invasive, non-native species of plants. They are very fast spreading, nearly impossible to kill and the worst thing to do with them is to till them under, either mechanically or by hand, because every little bit of one can regrow itself into a brand new plant. And guess what I had done...

But finally, I got some time. I had also been re-inspired my my visit to the Ullandhaug Iron Age Farm in Norway (more on that another time) and really wanted to get some grain going.

So I started pulling those weeds. Hard back-breaking work. Grab handfuls of leafy greens and yank until you can see the ground. Then scrape your fingertips along the ground, trying to get under those ivy and buttercup creepers. Then pull -- not with your arms, because your handful has enough resistance that you need your legs. Repeat. Over and over again. I figure it took about 16 hours all told for my 750 sq. feet.

And then I cheated. I got some Roundup and sprayed it. Actually I sprayed it as I went, so now the early portions are very vegetation clear and the recently cleared parts still have green shoots poking out of the ground. I’ll go after them more as the days go on. Put here’s a picture of how things looked yesterday, when I finished the “weeding”.

The today, partially because it sounded like fun, partially because I really want to kill those bastards, I went out and bought one of those propane-powered, weed-killing flamethrowers. It wasn’t hard, though once again there was a lot of using a heavy implement one-handed, but I’m not convinced how well it worked. Plus, I was pretty paranoid about setting the yard or the fence on fire. According to the websites I’ve read, you don’t actually have to burn the weeds to a crisp, you just have to get the 500,000 BTU exhaust over the weed to scald it, and that will kill it. So we’ll see how it looks in a few days. Here’s a pic of the field after the torching.

And I smell like I’ve been roasting marshmallows in a brush fire.

More about my plans and the next steps in a future (yes there will be a future) post.

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