Third Year Summary -2013
It’s coming to the end of my three year training period at North Slope Farm. The years have passed in the blink of an eye but the amount of personal growth and knowledge I’ve experienced and gained will stick with me for a lifetime. Organic farming is a trade that is simultaneously coherent and chaotic, exhausting and rewarding, liberating and nerve wracking, but overall it’s just pretty darn fun. Few other jobs allow one to be outside enjoying the blue sky and bright sunshine; to make one’s own decisions about what needs to get done and when; or to see the final result (perhaps a shiny, colorful bunch of Swiss Chard) of hard work, all while helping the greater community and by practicing environmental sustainability. Training here over the years has begun to give me an understanding of how to balance the fun, the practical and chaotic nature of working and managing a farm. All potentially confusing tasks are broken down in to easily manageable elements: administration, infrastructure, compost, equipment, crop care, planting, greenhouse, marketing, harvesting and handling. And our years are structured such that we can get the most out of our experiences. My first year here was a whirlwind of information since trainees are made to engage with small tasks in all of these elements in order to be able to pick which one to focus on during the second and third years. The second year I had I focused on greenhouse duties. For the third year, I chose to focus on equipment, not as a manager, but because they were frightening during my second year, and I needed more practice with them.
To allow me to get more aquatinted with the equipment, Mike often gave me the tasks of stale seed-bedding the Big Garden Beds, mowing and weed-whacking the sides of the BGBs, mowing the perimeter of the deer fences that surround our fields and then weed-whacking around the wooden fence posts, mowing the trails in “backyard” area and finally by occasionally assigning me to some light tractor work.
The two tasks I’m going to focus on describing are stale seed-bedding and mowing the perimeters of the fences. These are repetitive tasks for almost the entire growing season.
First on the docket is stale seed-bedding the Big Garden Beds. A good explanation of a stale seed bed can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stale_seed_bed
In order to prep the bed, we mow off the sides and then existing crop on the top using the Billy Goat, our walk-behind mower, and the weed-whacker:
Then we till the remains on the top of the bed using the rototiller:
The result looks something like this:
(*Note: This is a picture of field beds, but the top of the Big Garden Beds looks like that after rototilling.)
The next task was mowing the perimeter of the fence with the Kubota and scalping the posts with the weed-whacker.
(*Note: as the Flicker page says, this particular area of the fence is also mowed for water management)
I’ve found that any sort of mowing with the Kubota, Billy Goat or weed-whacker is accompanied by a complex set of instructions due to hazard avoidance and removal, making sure the grass-blower is facing the right direction (grass clippings can damage crops, or mowing through a build-up of clippings can cause equipment damage), and general efficiency of movement. So, I’m not going into full detail about the riding patterns needed to complete the perimeters with the Kubota, but just note that getting lost is easy (especially in the “backyard” areas), double-mowing and getting stuck in the mud and running over branches is easy when attention is lost.
Of course, there’s always a word of safety and caution before working with machines. Always know what safety measures are in place for the equipment that’s being used. It may be needed in an emergency or it may be engaged by previous user upon shutdown and maybe the reason for a machine not starting. Remember to check all fluid levels (gas level and fuel type, oil, hydraulic fluid, etc.) and to grease any joints that need it. Since each piece of equipment is unique, it’s best to check the corresponding manual (which means keep the manual) if something isn’t working, or turning on, or if you can’t remember what type of fuel or oil to use. Finally, always use headphones, protective eye-wear, heavy-duty pants and at the very least, sturdy shoes. Overall, the experience I’ve had with machinery this year has made me a lot more comfortable operating them.The mystique and fear have almost vanished, and now I just need to keep practicing in order to be able to work with them intuitively.