Thursday, May 6, 2010
first day on the job
6:30 AM and we were out on the chilly morning fields, realigning the irrigation pipes, aka 'pipe change'. They aren't heavy, it just takes some logic to move them on the field while sidestepping the sprouts and logic to piece them together properly. It's a fun group activity nonetheless, as the farm crew was all hands on deck.
On our truck ride to the next mission we spotted horned owl in a tree...THEN saw a bull snake trying to swim to safety out of the canal. It couldn't gain friction on the cement, so a couple brave souls grabbed it out with a couple of plastic fence posts. Bull snakes aren't harmful to humans, and in fact eat rattlesnakes, so we want to keep them around. What a jungle around here!!
The next mission was moving the cow fences. The cows are moved to a fresh pasture every morning. When I first imagined how we would be herding cows, I thought it would be like the wild west movies and I could be the cowgirl, riding the horse into the sunset...while herding the cows, of course. When I realized that there weren't horses here, I thought, perhaps we pushed them? or rang a cowbell? Is that what cowbells are for? Nope...I was way off. So the cows are pretty well done grazing a field within a day before they get hungry again. And once they get hungry they moo, and when they are hungry and see us farmers, they really moo! We don't even need to really call them, they all just bolt down the field to us and wait for the gates to open to the new field. The fence is just a line of electric wire that we string up and move. And the cows are so well trained that they won't go within a foot of the wires. When they first gallup into the greener pasture, they go to town! Their tongues hit the tallest grasses first, so they devour that, then they'll start eating the other types of plants - clover, alfalfa, dandelions, etc.
Apparently the soil here in Colorado is terrible, so grazing cows like this really helps the land. The cows are like lawn mowers, clipping the grass and making it grow to be a stronger plant (as long as the cows move daily, otherwise they'll eat too much of the grass and it won't have enough energy to grow back as quickly). They also leave their lovely manure evenly scattered around the field, providing nutrients, as well as providing a means of moving grass seeds from one field to another without the farmer having to replant seeds. We're mocking nature moving grassfed cows this way...funny how nature works so well, huh?
After lunch I worked with the garden manager in the greenhouse, transplanting tomato plants into larger containers. Some of their leaves were curled and dried, others were turning yellow or purple. This could be from the cooler weather, or from nutrient deficiency. Either way, I know my tomato plants back home had looked a little sickly like this too but i'm not sure I had ever fully saved them. So I hope I was the right person for this job!! However, I learned that the key to transplanting the tomato is to nip off the first set of the leaves (the seed leaves) then turn the plant on its side, bend the stem upward, then replant, making sure to bury the entire stem up to the first leaf node. The roots seem to grow sideways but then they don't run out of room at the bottom of the container. The soil we transplanted with was just store bought soil mixed with a bit of worm castings. And best of all, no chemicals!! The tomatoes will stay in the greenhouse since the weather here is chilly.
Even with 300+ days of sunshine it's actually still pretty cold - and makes for a short growing season. How can so many people here be organic then, I wonder?? Perhaps I should have stayed in the midwest where the topsoil is forever deep and where there are day-long thunderstorms! While Chicago's been in the 70's for the past week, it's been 50's here - and it looked like there would be huge storm this afternoon but it barely sprinkled. hha. Yup, and the biggest shock of all...the Chicago girl was even prepped for the temps with rain boots, carhart sweatshirt, and raincoat...and comes with camping experience! Chicago, you can thank me later for giving you a good name...