Autumn Descends

September 30, 2015
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Autumn settles on Longfield


Merriweather Lewis wrote on his 30th birthday that he felt empty and bereft of accomplishment. That was well after he and the Corps of Discovery had made their amazing journey across the continent. Turning 30 can be tough. But surveying the dawn of autumn this morning, I am encouraged.

Walking among the plants today did bring back to me why one might become disheartened. A blackberry field is as full of pitfalls and peril as John Bunyan’s Vanity Fair. The first I came upon was a flagged plant that we are monitoring for a nasty little bacterial infection that can alter the DNA of the plant and require burning of said plant and sterilization of the soil around it if confirmed.

It is easy when confronted with peril in the morning to despair, and I have had my share of those mornings when it seems no good can come from this day. The next peril on my journey around the field was the site of a repelled intruder. The mole came under the wire webbing but was repulsed before he got to the delicious blackberry plant roots. Catching a mole like this feels a bit like Gandalf standing on the Bridge and shouting to the Balrog “You Shall Not Pass.” We farmers carry strange notions about our work.

Much of farming involves the ability to weigh life in the balance and decide what must live and what must die. Bindweed and crabgrass must die in a blackberry planting and our applications of soap and vinegar seem to be holding it at bay while the sorghum in the aisles is growing tall and shading out any weeds that might try to grow there.

Despite a good deal of peril and death, there is much to hope for as the season changes. The beautiful rains of the season have the field moisture at about 70% capacity as measured by our wonderful little tensiometer, and the understory of perennial grass which will replace the sorghum in the aisles is sprouting nicely. Last of all Nick and Alex got the patch trained up and looking rather lovely from its state of overgrowth last week. So despite all the woes attendant upon the children of men I feel some good may come of it all.

Beer Stein and hatHope can change rather quickly into celebration. Thus as harvest is waning and winter begins to loom, mark your calendars for the annual OKTOBERFEST here at Elderslie on October the 24th from 4- 10pm. This is a family gathering with food, beer, a live band and group dances. If you also sometimes feel the pangs of peril sapping life’s hope, join in the fun and celebrate the bounty of our Creator and the hope of another season. Tickets will be available on the Elderslie website October 7th.

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July 20, 2015

July 20, 2015
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It is late July, and while much of the summer is already memory, much remains only hope. The blackberries are post-harvest and the tomatoes are just beginning. It is midsummer in an agricultural state.

Wednesday morning last week I received our foliar analysis giving a clear picture of our fertility situation in the bramble. After two years of low harvests in the blackberries I was eager for 2016 to see the return of the walls of fruit that I well remember from years gone by.

Like Tolkien’s Aragon shouting at the Orc masses about to conquer Helm’s Deep that “dawn is ever the hope of men” farmers stand on the brink of low years, survey their losses and stand defiant to declare “next year is ever our hope.” I could feel that sentiment rising in me all day on Wednesday last as I gathered sulfate of potash, kelp, hydrolized fish, and other nutritional elements.

The end of the day saw the fertigation mixing pump slowly injecting nutrients into the drip lines and sending them out to minister to the bulk soil deficiencies of the plants. After dinner near dark saw me filling our Italian-made sprayer with 35 gallons of water and metering in hydrolized fish, seaweed, potassium, Neem oil, Bacillus thuringensus, and a foliar iron supplement. All geared to satisfy some need to boost the health of the bramble and try to encourage the plants to stay the course and be ready for winter.

Darkness is when the stomata on the leaves relax and nutrients are most able to transfer from a sprayed particulate into the leaf tissue, so in the stillness of the twilight I arrived ready to deliver life to the blackberry plants and death to caterpillars (Bacillus) and infant stage bugs (Neem oil) as we press towards the fruiting year of 2016. The sprayer was carefully calibrated for speed and pressure so that an equal amount of nutrient and material is delivered to the whole bramble; linger too long and you could overdose, too little and it is not worth the time.

7-16-2015 Cima at workRow by row with the heavy rush of the air blast sprayer behind I traveled with the adrenaline thrill of risk known by farmers as they put memories of loss behind them and look forward to next year. Kipling’s words were in my mind “If you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss…” Travelling through a bramble in the half light with the mist swirling around me and the heavy smell of atomized fish slipping around the mask and reminding me of oysters I was overwhelmed with a pride to be even a small member of the band of men who strive to grow crops.

Then Dad called. The toilets in the big house were clogged. I jumped off the tractor and ran in to help dad wage war using plumbing snake, gloves, and headlamps, chasing a clog through the extensive bowels of the house until 10:30 pm. After a triumphant moment when the pipe finally cleared and all was well, I got back to spraying and finished up by 11 pm and got to bed.

Lying in bed I was very thankful for hope; it sustains, it drives, and in times when it seems that we must be overrun, it gives the strength to rally and contend once more in the dark of night waiting for the dawn.

George Elder

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