Sunday, June 21, 2009


Under normal circumstances, we don't spend much of our time across the creek in the so called "River Field." Most of the crops in the River Field are low maintenance storage crops: potatoes, winter squash, cabbage, carrots. Our hope is that we can do our bed prep and planting in a day for most things, come out maybe once more to take off row cover or weed, and not have to check in on our plants again until harvest. Plenty of other things on the near side of the river keep us busy trellising tomatoes, weeding, or harvesting for weekly distribution. Lately, however, the river field has been the busiest spot on the farm and the site of a great deal of entering and exiting of life.

First, the potato beetles arrived. The inaptly named Colorado potato beetle (actually an invasive exotic from Mexico) is a major pest in New England. Potato beetles go through two full life cycles every year before burrowing into the soil for a long winter's nap. Along the way, they eat every green potato-looking leaf they can find. Whether they arrive is never a question, the only uncertainty is when. This year, whether due to lingering cool, damp weather, an overabundance of beneficial ladybugs, or good farming last year, the potato beetles were a full 2 weeks later than usual. This beetle-free window allowed our plants to grow big and strong, strength that they will need in the coming weeks. But, as we knew would happen eventually, the beetles finally emerged. And thus we added a new task to our daily repertoire--scouting for and squishing potato beetles.

In truth, I actually kind of enjoy the process. We walk slowing through the rows, scanning the leaves intently for the coppery color of adults or the smaller red-thoraxed enstars (babies). When we find one, we stop, squish it crunchily, and then examine all neighboring plants for additional enstars or the neon orange eggs on the undersides of leaves. There is something meditative about the narrowed focus and the slow walk, even if having bug guts on your fingers seems rather un-Buddhist.

Playing beetle Terminator is not the only allure of the river field, however. We've also been checking each day on a killdeer nest hidden in the middle of one bed of potatoes. We first noticed the well camouflaged eggs from the mother bird's frantic display. With their shrill call, killdeer always sound a bit panicky, but as we ventured near to her nest, the mother amped up the drama with pitiful calls and a Tony-winning performance as an injured bird. Finally, one day last week, Don called us all over to observe the new hatchlings, which froze like little fluffy stones in their nest as they sensed our presence. Mama, of course, would have none of it, and was doing everything in her power to distract these bipedal beasts from her brand new hatchlings. Within a day, she had taught her young ones how to run, and by the next beetle scouting mission, they were already racing around the field on toothpick legs.

And now, even more new life has entered the picture. Last weekend, our two beef cows, Lucy and Lukey, birthed two gorgeous bull calves. We named the first almost albino calf Albert, and his young brown speckled cousin Rusty. For the first few days of life, calves are less skittish than usual and mama cows for some reason permit humans near their babies. Taking advantage of our brief window of compliance, we shanghaied both calves this morning and quickly "elastrated" them by slipping rubber bands around their testicles and thereby bloodlessly castrating them. They'll sing a lovely soprano now, we hope.

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