So, it’s been a busy week. The chicken coop is clean and airing out. The first batch of Sussex chicks are off to a new home in Buckingham County. Crop Failure – the Sussex hen, finally decided life was glorious after all. (I think it was the jar of baby food peas I forced down her that finally convinced her there were just too many good things to eat and she was wasting time hanging out in Ophelia’s stall.) Her buddy, Gimp, came up to the barn yesterday limping. She had managed to wrap her name tag around her foot instead of her ankle. Imagine having your palm folded in half and wired that way and then having to walk on it. That was Gimp’s situation. I reset the name band and left her in the barn with Crop Failure. This morning, both were out and about free ranging around the barn. So this evening, Eric and I returned them to the flock. I have some week old chicks brooding happily in the barn and another batch set to hatch this coming Thursday through Saturday. Egg production is down a little in the laying flock since they are no longer under lights, but I’m getting a lot less little eggs. And while she won’t stay out all night, Moose is spending more and more of each night outside running off all manner of dragons and other beasties. She may yet become the livestock guardian that I need. The chicken situation seems to have stabilized . . . for the time being.
I planted the asparagus yesterday and Michael planted the cardoon and artichokes. Being perennials, we put all that in the orchards. I also learned to appreciate the beauty of a collinear hoe. With its sharp, narrow lightweight blade and long handle, it scuffles easily right under the soil surface, slicing off most weed starts, with no bending over at all. With this little beauty, you stand completely upright. It even does a great job on Bermuda grass if you don’t give the grass too much of a head start. And the Bermuda grass has started. In the couple of weeks since I tilled the garden and raked up the beds, the Bermuda has emerged again as a blush of green peach fuzz. I hoed it out of three beds and laid silver metallic mulch on two rows in which I will be planting broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
I plan to put as much of the garden as I can under the mulch. It’s black on the underside and nothing should grow underneath it. Its silver topside is supposed to do a couple of things: First, the light reflecting on the underside of the leaves is supposed to confuse the bugs that like to lay eggs on the underside of leaves, reducing pest pressure on the plants. The reflected light coming up off the ground is also supposed to increase yield. We will see. I will be happy if it stops the Bermuda grass.
There are tractor pulled implements that will shape your beds to your desired width, lay your irrigation and your mulch and then lift it all back up after harvest. Such things are pricey and I really don’t want my big heavy tractor in the garden anyway. So all bed shaping is done by hand, as is the laying of the irrigation and the mulch. The mulch was a bit of a challenge. It is four feet wide and comes on a roll that weighs about 30 pounds. It has the feel of a heavy duty plastic kitchen wrap and once pulled off the roll, it fancies itself a kite at the slightest puff of wind.
A big, heavy, expensive mulch layer unrolls the mulch as you drive your tractor down the row and buries the edges under the dirt. Wind is not an issue with a mechanical layer. My solution was several days in the thinking. It’s not pretty, but it got the job done. Two hay bales, the handle of a garden rake and a wheelbarrow full of moldy hay. The garden rake and hay bales serve as the mulch dispenser. I just grabbed the end and walked down the row with it to the waiting wheelbarrow of hay. Then holding the mulch down with my foot, I dropped enough hay on it to hold it in place and then repeated the foot-hay routine all the way down both sides of the row. When I ran out of hay, I’d dash off to the hay barn for a refill and hope the breeze didn’t rearrange everything while I was gone.
It really wasn’t that difficult, but planting into silver mulch is going to be a real head banger and will definitely require some serious sunglasses and aspirin. It’s really, really bright and I fully expect aliens to land in the pasture and cuss me out for flashing signals at them.