Friday, May 9, 2008

The Farm Report

So this week because of a glitch in the ordering process, there has been no market, which has meant that Daniel and I have been in the fields (and tunnels) together all day everyday, weeding, planting, and mulching. How lovely, we thought. Outside together, chatting about our experiences in Europe thus far, making plans for our big move to California. Enjoying the sun and the beautiful country side side by side.

Again, our romantic visions have been met with a big dose of reality. This kind of farming is hard, hard work. We have spent the last four days literally bent over, squatting, or on our hands and knees. We are unable to talk as we work, too exhausted and focused on our task, we listen to the portable radio that our kind host Damien has provided. We wake up each morning sore in places where we didn't even know muscles existed. Daniel, the night owl, complains if I'm not ready to wash up and get in bed by 10:30, and I am gobbling up more food at lunch and dinner than I would have imagined my stomach could handle.

On Tuesday we spent almost the entire day weeding a young crop of carrots. There were three long beds of them and we worked on either side, meeting each other in the middle. The work is satisfying in that the weeds make a nice popping sound as you pull them from the earth and you can see discernible progress as the bed goes from a sea of green to nice neat rows of carrot plants. However, negotiating how to position one's body to attain maximum comfort without damaging the crops or sacraficing good weed pulling leverage is incredibly difficult.

Regular breaks were absolutely necessary. But don't let the smile fool you. When I happened upon Daniel here, he was lying on his back looking as beat as I felt.

The next day we had a bit more variety. First we planted more carrots and some spinach. To do so, Daniel , using a big stick, carved shallow straight lines into pre-existing beds and then we scattered seed into the lines, before covering them up using the back of a rake. This work was again pain-staking (more bending over and squatting), but it was surpsisingly delicate, as one has to be careful not to put too much seed in one place. Daniel compared it to seasoning food, and he was right. You take a tiny pinch of seeds and move along the row. After a full morning of work, we were quite proud, but upon examining our progress, all we had to show for it was some brown dirt.

That afternoon was spent on Jerusalem artichokes. It was hot because we were under the sun (don't worry parents, we slathered on sunscreen and wore hats). First we weeded them - more hard work. Daniel was especially upset because he'd developed a hands and knees method that had been working well for him, but this ground was too rocky to utilize it. But by this point we were old hand at weeding, and got through the beds in a few hours, leaving only lovely rows of Jerusalem artichokes.

But then came the second part of Damien's instructions. We'd been told to put the giant leaves hacked off from the rhubarb we've been harvesting all around the artichoke plants to try to prevent new weeds from growing. Easy right?

Well not exactly. The leaves had been sitting on moist ground in the sun for days and some for weeks. They were slug-ridden and fetid, and handling them was literally the grossest thing I've ever done.

I almost threw up about a dozen times. Well perhaps that's an exaggeration, but the combination of the smell and the constant up close and personal interaction with the world's largest, slimiest slugs wasn't good for the weak Katie constitution. Finally we had the mulch laid out, and we were rewarded with a lovely Irish style barbecue.

Then yesterday back to weeding carrots. This time though we were in the big tunnel working on the carrots that will be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks. "Weeding carrots again? Piece of cake. We can do it with our eyes closed," we thought. Silly Americans.

Although Daniel had done some light weeding of these carrots last week, the beds were a jungle. In order to get to the actual rows of carrots, we had to weed the paths between the beds because they were so overgrown. There are several sorts of weeds that seemed to be putting down roots. Each has its own method to try to maintain sovereignty in the tunnel, stealing nutrients from the poor carrots. The stinging nettles are sharp and almost shock one's skin as you try to pull them out, so we wore gloves throughout the process. I even kept my sweat shirt on to protect my arms even though the tunnel functions as a greenhouse, making it about 20 degrees hotter (that's Fahrenheit mind you) inside than it is out in the breezy Irish air.

Other weeds that made regular appearances in the beds were various sorts of vines that wrap their ways through the plants, making it difficult to find their roots and thereby preventing them from regrowing. The most devious, however, are these buggers with big, flat leaves. You try to pull them out close to the root, but they're quite slippery and break easily, and if you break them at just the wrong place, they ooze a kind of slime, making them even more slippery and thus impossible to extricate. They are true evil and seem to do a lot of damage to the carrots.

This was definitely our most difficult day I'd say. But it was ultimately pretty satisfying - we developed different techniques for battling the different weeds. And each time you managed to win one of these battles, the victory was sweet.

And I know it sounds like I'm complaining about all of the hard work, but I think we're both enjoying ourselves a lot. The area is beautiful and our hosts are wonderful. Last night I was in charge of dinner, so I made spaghetti with meat sauce and my mom's Teddy's apple cake. We all sat around talking and drinking wine for several hours, and it was lovely.

Besides, although I still think there is this romanticizing of the farmer's life that many people fall prey to (ourselves included), I do think it's really useful to get a better understanding of where are food comes from and how it ideally might be grown. I have so much respect for how difficult organic farming is now, and why the products are a bit more expensive. Still, I'd be lying if during a few difficult struggles yesterday I didn't secretly dream of a little chemical weed killer...

1 comment:

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