Sylvan loves Winnie the Pooh. Partly this is because the old school Disney version is one of only two full length movies he owns (the other is the 1954 live action Peter Pan–our poor kids are going to have a serious pop culture handicap at this rate). As a result he has watched Winnie the Pooh so many times that he can basically quote it start to finish. So it was no surprise when our recent blustery weather inspired him to run around the house telling everyone that, as in Winnie the Pooh, it was “Windsday” and laughing at his own joke.
I did not find the weather nearly so amusing. After a three year veggie hiatus, in which bad weather did not bother me (most of the time), I’m back in the vegetable game, and I’m once again tracking the weather forecast the way politicians watch their poll numbers. Wind is unsettling. The unpredictability of the gusts leaves me permanently on edge, bracing for the next blast. I get jumpy, anxious, grumpy. At night I lie in bed, listening to the windowsills rattling and wondering what disaster we’ll find in the morning.
While I was more than able to imagine abundant windy catastrophes, I was somehow blind to the incompatibility of my to-do list and the weather. A few short days after our new apprentice, Jesse, had arrived, I asked him to meet me by the veggie field for one quick task before lunch. I’d been reading about a new weed suppression technique, occultation, and I wanted to give it a shot. With occultation, the farmer prepares the bed for planting and then covers it with barrier that transmits water but not light. Weed seeds germinate in the warm, wet darkness beneath, only to promptly die from lack of light. When the cover is removed in advance of planting, the field will be (in theory) relatively weed free with a minimum of tillage. My initial experiments with it had worked well, and I was ready to try it on a farm scale.
I had purchased an enormously heavy roll of 15 foot wide landscaping fabric for this new endeavor, and as the wind whipped my hair into my eyes, Jesse and I began rolling out the fabric. Every 5 to 10 feet we threw sandbags on the fabric to hold it down. By the end of the 200 foot bed, we were panting from the effort, but feeling good. Then it got interesting. The fabric was folded in half for easier transit, and we needed to spread it out to it’s full 15 foot width. We attached the fabric to the ground with 6 inch long agricultural staples, hammered in, and we did our best to pull it tight from side to side. As we moved down the row, opening the fabric up and spreading it wide, the wind began to form a sail ahead of us. Rather than getting easier, it seemed to be becoming more and more difficult, so I had the bright idea of cutting off the far end, which was still attached to the roll. It soon became apparent that I would need to park myself on the end, while Jesse worked his way toward me with the staples. The wind picked up. Right about then, Rich our other employee, noticed the signs of struggle coming from the field and ran to help. He and Jesse fought their way toward me, and it looked like me might force the fabric into submission. And then one enormously strong gust grabbed us all and sent the three of us quite literally parasailing across the field. I was on my stomach, skimming above the cover crop stubble, holding on for dear life and thinking “this would be fun if I had any idea how to stop”. Jesse and Rich, more vertical, were lifted balloon-like from their posts. It was at that point that we decided that Open Book Farm did not like the black magic of occultation, at least not that day. Once back on the ground, we scrambled to ball the fabric up, piling as many sandbags atop it as we could find. We left it, a big plastic mountain of defeat, and headed inside for a late lunch.
The next week the wind let up slightly, at least in the mornings, and I hatched a plan to make my beds for onions and potatoes. I grow both crops on beds that have been covered with a different sort of plastic, which I lay with a special implement attached to the back of the tractor. It always takes a few beds to get all the wheels and levers adjusted properly each spring, and this year was no exception. I hopped on and off for the first few passes, doing my best to get the edges covered in dirt and the plastic laid tight across the bed. All in all, I was happy with the resulting beds–they were long and straight and looked, I thought, pretty good. We would need to mulch the pathways that afternoon, I reasoned, before the evening rains that had been forecasted. I went inside to check on the kids and prep lunch.
I was feeling happy to have accomplished so much so early, so I asked Sylvan if he wanted to take a walk to the greenhouse to check on his tomato plant. We then moseyed over to the onion beds, where I expected to give Sylvan a lesson in onion farming. To my horror, I instead found one bed flapping in the wind, the edge unraveling from it’s soil cover like a sweater being unknit. “Help me, Sylvan!” I cried, and grabbed the nearest edge. I crawled my way along the bed, reburying the plastic and doing my best to sound upbeat. Sylvan, meanwhile, decided that he did not like the wind. “I don’t want to blow away like Piglet mommy” he sobbed, following me and stomping on the dirt as instructed. Once again, I called all hands on deck. Jesse and I worked toward one another from opposite ends, while Andrew rushed Sylvan back to the warmth and unwindiness of grandma. Of course, just as we neared the middle, the next bed over began to whip about, unraveling with the same speed as the first. “We’ve got to mulch it NOW” I yelled. Once the edges of the beds were covered by hay mulch in the pathways, the beds would be safe.
For a moment, I considered abandoning disaster bed # 2. But I knew that trying to drive the tractor in precisely the same tracks would be difficult, if not impossible, so I gritted my teeth and started reburying the second bed. While I attempted to save the bed, Andrew, Rich, and Jesse began unrolling round bales of hay down the aisles. Some of the mulch blew off as soon as it landed, but I figured that the addition of several thousand pounds of organic matter had to be helpful, right? Round bales weigh around 500 pounds each, so it takes at least two people to move one, especially going uphill (which of course we were). Slowly, the beds began to disappear under a fluffy hay snow, and I began to breath again. Lunch was even more delayed that day, and I promised not to undertake any more pre-lunch plastic projects until the wind let up.