Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Best Man is a Horse

Well. It has been a busy spring. Standing on the site of the greenhouse at the beginning of April, I felt a little bit crazy. What kind of mad hubris would make me believe that I could do so much in so little time: build a greenhouse, assist with a massive home renovation, build a CSA from the ground up, and nurse my little plantlings up from the frozen ground? Perhaps if we'd planted potatoes a little bit sooner I would have known that everything would be alright.

Brendan and Katia have always grown a lot of potatoes. They store well, they sell well, and Brendan could eat them just about every day, so potatoes have become the default field crop of choice at Misty Brook Farm. Whereas my field plan called for 50 feet of turnips or 200 of peas, I had purchased enough seed potatoes to plant almost a quarter acre. Planting so many taters by hand would take an eternity, but because Brendan and Katia are the proud owners of an ancient (but operational!) potato planter, I decided to continue the trend. Jason had gotten the little Ford tractor that pulls the planter up and running last week, so we made plans to plant the potatoes on Saturday.

Potato planting is a family activity,” Katia informed us as we began. Three-year-old Alister hunkered down in crib atop the planter, Katia took the wheel, and Brendan sat at attention on the back, loading the planter with potatoes as Katia drove down the bed. Andrew and I sat in the shade, cutting the seed potatoes into smaller chunks—any decently sized piece with an eye will produce a plant and an abundance of new tubers. It all seemed very festive (not to mention fast), and I made a mental note to start scanning the agricultural classifieds for any more potato planters that might come up for sale.

Then, two rows into it, having planted perhaps 25 pounds of the 300 we had, the tire blew out. And the rim snapped. The tractor limped to the edge of the field and died. All of the other tractors were too large to sub in for the job, and I mentally prepared for the Herculean task of planting the potatoes by hand: measuring beds, digging trenches, planting 275 pounds of potatoes. Katia, thankfully, had other ideas. “I could go put the gluesticks on the forecart...” she began. I tried to imagine how gluesticks might help the situation, and what role a forecart would play in that solution. Then I remembered: the horses. Best Man and Tina, Katia's working Morgans, are trained to pull a forecart and help with raking hay. Up to this point, they had been background creatures in the blur of my spring. I didn't have to feed them, and with hay-making not yet begun I had yet to see them in action.

I rode with Katia back to the house to fetch the trusty steads. The equipage of horse-powered farming is to tractor implements as trains are to cars—there is something indescribably classy in the buckles and leather and bridles and bits. The muscles in their flanks flex as they shift their weight from foot to foot; they smell of horse-hair and pasture rather than diesel fuel. I stood by, admiring them and wishing that I knew anything about horses, though alas I do not.

Katia drove the horses up to the farm and we finished the job. There was a great deal of stopping and starting—the horses went too fast for me to keep the potato planter loaded, so I was forever calling them to a halt, restocking, and then taking off for another ten bumpy feet. Best Man found the whole process frustratingly slow, but he did his best to adhere to the program. In the end, the potatoes got planted. They took up more space than I had planned, but I had no complaints.

This has been my season: harried, crazy, full of problems and equally full of make-shift, last minute, utterly wonderful solutions. I'm learning. The plants are growing. And now I need to weed...


Anonymous said...

The Morgan horse is the best!!
Hope you get to know the horses better when hay time comes. They will love you a little more when your carrots are ready. MOM

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