It's L.T.'s fault. L.T. is the Guyana-born physician-turned-farmer whose Community Supported Agriculture farm we have been members of these past few years. To hear most people tell it, L.T. is non-traditional. To hear him tell it, it would be hard to get more traditional than the farming practices he employs. Instead of tilling up a plot of ground, he digs narrow trenches in the style of his ancestors, leaving the spaces between them unharmed. The turf-covered paths make it easier to work the vegetable plants sown in the trenches, and keep the soil from eroding. The grass -- along with other miscellaneous flowers planted nearby -- fix nitrogen naturally in the soil, and provide vegetative alternatives to insects. As L.T. puts it, "If the only thing bugs have available is what you are hoping to harvest, you are going to lose." So, generously providing "bug distractions and alternatives" is key.
The trenches, in addition to disrupting as little of the soil as possible, also make weeding simpler and more concise, and provides frugal stewardship of moisture. True, heavy rains in the early stages of growth find the trenches vulnerable sloughs; but everything, I am discovering about farming, involves some kind of risk. If it isn't flood, it's drought. If it isn't excessive heat, it is a freakish frost. If it isn't fungus, it's predatory bugs. If... You get the idea.
The problem, of course, is digging the trenches. It's not quite as miserable as it seems, but only by degree. My intrepid 8" Honda power tiller accomplishes much of the work, chugging and ripping along. But after six or eight passes along the 29' width, you have to stop and remove the loosened turf and soil. It is always demoralizing how little depth is accomplished after so much effort -- and the goal is to excavate down below the root line, six or so inches. The removal process is aided this year by a prehistoric-looking implement brought back from Central America for me as a gift by the church mission team last spring. Called an "acedong", it resembles a wide hoe on the equivalent of an ax handle. Slightly angled and sharp, the acedong turns out to be the perfect width for the trenches and both accelerates the turf removal with its sharp edge and neatly scoops the loosened soil almost shovel-like. None of this is accomplished, of course, without some stooping and forceful swinging; and it's always a race to see if the tiller or I will run out of gas first.
The good news is that all this labor is an investment in the future. Minor reworking should be all that's required in subsequent years -- plus soil health management and species rotation. And reduced weeding will be added reward. In the meantime, it is glacially slow work. Today, then -- not quite half finished with this great earth-moving expedition -- finds me doubly grateful.
- God has seen fit to grant us extra weeks of spring in which to get this preliminary work accomplished.
- It rained hard through the night, leaving the garden too muddy this morning to work in.