Leaving the Edges Wild

Past couple of days, the farmer to the north of us has been burning down fencerows. He dropped by a week or so ago to talk about the boundary we share. He wanted to clear it out so the branches wouldn’t knock the lights off his tractors, and so he could squeeze another four rows of corn in that field. He said I could go ahead and cut any firewood I wanted. Said it would be good to clear out all those trash trees.

I said he was welcome to cut back the branches, but if it was all the same to him, I’d like to keep the trees and brush and such. I’m sure he thought I was a loon, but he said okay.

I know the conventional wisdom says to squeeze out as much yield as you can, to plow from fencerow to fencerow. There’s not much room for unkempt places in the conventional wisdom. But I prefer to leave the edges wild.

It’s not only that organic practices require I maintain a thirty-foot buffer zone between my farm and any non-organic agriculture. Or that old fencerows acting as windbreaks help protect the soil from erosion. Or that the native plants that grow up in them attract beneficial insect predators and pollinators, as well as provide habitat for all sorts of wildlife.

The real reason is that I just like the look of them, trash trees, weeds, and all. There’s always something interesting to see in them. The one out back has a tangle of an old barbed-wire fence running through part of it, some of the posts still upright. An apple tree stands in it, grown up, I like to imagine, from what was left of some old farmer’s lunch. And all through it the trout lilies, with their dappled, dagger-shaped leaves and drooping yellow heads, are coming into bloom.

So, sure, I appreciate a well-ordered field’s soothing geometry, but those wild places hold secrets with a beauty all their own. I intend to keep mine.

Slow Spring

At long last, it seems like spring might arrive after all. Here at the farm, only the largest or most protected snow banks persist, and the robins are poking around the thawed and muddy earth. A couple of weeks ago around dusk I heard the sharp trill of the first red-winged blackbird of the season, and this weekend I saw that the daffodils planted along the foundation on the east side of the house have begun to push through the soil.  But it has been a slow start to the season, for sure, and the forecasters have predicted a wet, cold spring ahead of us.

So I’m betting that my carefully choreographed farm plan is going to be thrown off schedule almost immediately. Right now, there is a good deal of standing water in the field, which is not atypical but certainly gives me pause. If over the next month the soil doesn’t dry out enough, I will be late in getting my primary tillage done, which will delay the first plantings, which will delay the first harvest, and so on down through the line.

Which is how it goes, sometimes, and I can’t do much about the weather. I am, however, beginning to suspect that some of my drainage problems in the field are a result of its past history of conventional farming, especially the soil compaction that occurs when large implements and tractor-trailers are driven back and forth across the fields at harvest time. And soil compaction is something I can correct. One of the ongoing jobs for this year, and for many years following, will be returning the soil to good health. The soil’s problems didn’t happen overnight, and I can’t correct them overnight, as much as I would like to. So yet again this farm places me in a posture of expectant waiting, which is to say, of hope.