cucumbers and chemicals

Tuesday, July 3:

In the Roman calendar, the feast of Thomas, Apostle.  Also the birthday of an uncle in Hawaii.    Appropriately hot, with a gullywasher about two-thirty that unloaded a quarter of an inch of rain in less than a quarter of an hour and removed another layer of slag from the lane; hopefully what landed on the pasture stayed there.  The short rains of the last few days are encouraging, but still the ground is too hard for step-in posts, especially the fifty new ones from Kencove, the cleats of which are all slipping.

Last week we attended the Eastern Ohio Grazing Council’s June pasture walk on a family farm in Columbiana county.  These events never fail to be interesting, enjoyable, and informative, and this one was no exception.  We had the reassurance of seeing that our host, an experienced grazier with seventy-four years of family history on this farm, was looking at pastures just as dry as ours and just about as short on forage.

Misery, we suppose, loves company.

Especially smart company; it makes us feel smart by association.  This family farm combines cow-calf pairs with finishing and selling freezer beef, and side efforts in pastured broilers and laying hens.  The neat dovetailing of operations on such a place provides not only a  mark for the less experienced to shoot at, but assurance that a process that sometimes looks almost hopelessly messy should, at some point in time, have a coordinate future.  Picture forty-some acres of pasture, networked with black one-inch 16 psi plastic waterline, with take-offs every so often for ease of placing water tanks in a new spot every time.  Short electric fence posts with a curl at the top – known to the cognoscenti as “pigtails” — to hold the single strand of orange polytape which encloses a herd of over forty cow-calf pairs, mostly Angus, black and red.  In the movable chicken run, forty feet in diameter, eighty-five hens scratch and peck around a henhouse that was once a small house trailer, but now contains nesting boxes and roosts.  And in a Salatin-style tractor seventy-five heritage breed broilers eat out of feeders made of roof guttering and scrap wood.  We feel right at home; this is on a larger scale than the Sow’s Ear, but in other ways very similar.

This year the cucumber beetles are out in droves.  These are the little yellow-striped flying bugs that crawl on the undersides of the leaves of your cucurbits.  They transmit a disease that makes your plants wilt and die, and we don’t know a cure in the organic spectrum so we are losing some of our most vigorous plants to it.  Sometimes our optimism takes a blow right on the solar plexus, and this is one of those times.  We look with envy at the lush green gardens of our chemical-pest-control friends.  Why must we be so determined to avoid what they are so comfortable using?  We guess the answer is in our feeling that if we can’t garden without the scientists at Ortho taking a hand in it, we aren’t really gardeners at all.  If we must have ADM holding our hand that we may induce the natural world to give us food, we are merely children following the rules of a game controlled by big business, and we lose interest.

It seems a cheap trick to tweak the natural world with a big dose of something out of a chemical laboratory.   Sort of like those athletes with gigantic muscles and world records to their credit who turn out to be on steroids.

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