Thursday, July 6, 2017

Berries are in, weeds are cut

It is July 4th today as I write this, and it is hot! As we celebrate Independence Day, plants are celebrating the return of long days and ruthless sunshine. As my life cycles through its work rhythms, it is always interesting to return to a patch of vegetables that I have left for a week and see its progress. 

Sometimes it can feel as if crops explode overnight, but what is more often the case is that the gardener has had so many other things to do, while the plant has but one job, that the plant’s slow and steady growth has gone unnoticed. These surprises are often pleasant, but there can certainly be bad surprises as well. A crop that has been infested by bugs, a crop that hasn’t grown to adequate size, or sometimes even a crop planted accidentally in a bed that was already seeded. At the farm I work for, all of these surprises have already happened this year at least once, and in fact we just harvested a bed of mature bok choy that had baby spinach plants peeking up from underneath them, trying to assert their rightful ownership of the bed. 

Ripe raspberries!

Luckily, in the Learning Garden, most of the surprises have been good this year!The raspberries have made a full appearance, and the canes are laden with fruits! The way that some of the plants are already getting yellow leaves may speak to a number of factors. For one, they are the older canes, and therefore the ones that bore the most fruit. They also may be experiencing some nutrient deficiencies – I saw a neighbor’s raspberry trellis the other day out on the sidewalk, and his plants were six feet tall, luscious green, and laden with berries. This is possible for the learning garden too, but soil amendments will have to be made before next year in order to coax that kind of growth out of the crop.

The blueberries are so close!

The blueberries are tantalizingly close to ripeness as well. Some blueberries have even started to turn purple, and the birds can’t wait any longer! One bush specifically has become a favorite snack for some of the local birds on campus, and I even debated throwing some aesthetically unpleasing netting over the bushes to horde the crop for our human mouths, but ultimately decided to strike a truce with the birds. So much of the food we grow in this country goes to waste, whether it is left in the field, spoils while waiting to be sold, or composted off of someone’s unfinished plate, I figure if the birds can glean a meal or two off of our hard work, at least it isn’t completely wasted!

The birds are already enjoying the blueberries!

Another way that rhythms are present in the upkeep of a farm or garden is in weed control. Ask any farmer what some of their biggest expenses are, and rest assured that weed control is on their top 10. The simple fact of the matter is that weeds are plants, and plants grow. Some do better than others in different soil types and climate conditions, but in a fertile place like the Pacific Northwest, there are a ridiculous number of different weeds, there is plenty of natural irrigation, and during the summer they need to be dealt with consistently. 

The garden before....
Today at my job on the farm, my boss spent most of his day mowing in crops that were past their prime, mowing down weeds on the roads, and redefining the edges of the fields. While this work can seem tedious, and it is regarded by many gardeners as a bane to their existence, effective weed control can help crops get the sunlight, water and nutrients they need and prevent weeds from reproducing. 

...and the garden after!

Additionally, it tailors the space to human needs. On a farm, we need to be able to keep track of different crops, see what is growing, and not have our sight blocked by walls of weeds. If we just let the weeds grow, not only would vegetables not grow properly, we wouldn’t be able to tell what was growing in which row without getting on our hands and knees and parting the curtain of weeds. In the Learning Garden, though it is much smaller than the farm I work for, weed control provides an aesthetic value as well as making it more navigable for passersby. With a weed whacker and a few hours, the space is looking nice, and ready to accommodate any curious individuals that may wander through looking for a berry snack!

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