Monday, 31 May 2010

There's digging and there's Digging

We hired a digger driver to come and level a spoil heap on Milkweed Farm. I contemplated hiring a 1.5 tonne digger and doing the work myself but I know that my digger driving skills are well below average. With a small machine and a semi-skilled driver, the job could take a week. With Aaron and his ability to use a digger that borders on artistry, and an 8.5 tonne machine, it would take a day. It was an easy decision to make.

Our acre of spoil with a tremendous crop of nettles

Aaron had polio as a child and walks with the aid of sticks, but it doesn't stop him driving his tractor towing this monstrous digger down tiny back lanes, getting it loaded and unloaded, and manoeuvring it like the choreographer of a ballet. He's very good at what he does and he just gets on with it - that's my highest praise for anyone. I watched him, trying to pick up tips that could improve my own driving, watched how he started the task, how he separated the top soil and sub soil. It's not a skill you can pick up by watching. It takes hours of practice. You really do have to BE the machine. Zen and the Art of the Swing Shovel.

Separating top soil and subsoil

Aaron gamely offered to let me take her for a spin (quite literally as the machine can pivot 360 degrees on top of its tracks). I moved some of the silt out of the pond. He was right that the larger machine is easier to manoeuvre than the smaller ones, but I still need a lot more practice.

Where's the cup holder in this thing?

I should take this opportunity to thank my dad who is the reason I even know how to drive the digger. Even before I was legally allowed to drive, Dad drummed it into me that I should learn to drive as many different vehicles as possible. He said you never know when you'll need to drive a stick shift, or tow a trailer, but you can be damn sure the skill will come in handy. Dad was right.

Only last Tuesday when we needed to drive all those pheasant chickens to the game farmer, no one else felt comfortable driving the large rental van. I knew I could do it. When underkeeper Pete and I picked up the van, the man at the rental place looked surprised when I took the keys from him. Pete told me afterwards that the man whispered to him "Are you sure she can drive a big van like that?" Yes I can, thanks to Dad.

While Aaron worked on the field, I went home and worked on my vegetable patch. I can drive a spade like a pro. I still had one small patch to turn over. At least Aaron doesn't have to contend with chickens investigating every shovelful of turned earth. If you've ever dug with free range chickens around, you know what I mean.

"Hey lady - Are you gonna eat that?"

They are in real danger of being decapitated, but they're fearless. Maybe they don't get enough of an adrenaline rush dodging cars in the road. Maybe it's all part of the Extreme Chicken Biathalon.

I've packed up my crow trapping now, but I'm still running fen traps on squirrels. But it's not just squirrels I'm catching -

Rats. In the mornings there is usually a rat in the trap. During the day it's squirrels. The farmer will be happy as I'm catching them near his animal feed bins.

We only have a few more days of collecting eggs in the pheasant pens. The pheasant hens can't wait either. Some of them are hyper-maternal and have started attacking us when we collect their eggs.

Check out the posture - head down, wings out, tail splayed to look as big and menacing as possible. They also hiss and charge at you. I always explain that we're going to take good care of their eggs, in case they understand on some level. That one doesn't seem to.

Eggs are out this week, which means it's on to bitting pheasant chicks. That's for the next post. From my window, I can see Mike putting the straining wire and netting on my Keep Out Chickens! cage, so I'd better go and give him a hand.


Paula said...

Don't you just love blowing someone's chauvinist mind by being able to do something that's usually in the male provinces? I do. Good for you.

That was one fat rat, by the way.

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - I most certainly do. And I get equally frustrated having to deal with it. My inner Andrea Dworkin gets pretty riled up some days.

The rats around here are all too well fed! Good luck with your raccoon problem. They're much smarter than rats or squirrels.

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

Is it stinging nettles? I love them and they are so super good for you. We sell stinging nettle for $16 dollars a pound to restaurants. If I had a crop of stinging nettles like that I would be a rich farmer (relatively speaking). Lucky girl. Girls who drive machinery are the best! I just wrote a post about my tractor.

Jennifer Montero said...

HKS - In fact they're certified organic stinging nettles! I would gladly send them all to you. I'm amazed at the market for nettles in US.

Perhaps we haven't got the culinary foresight to put them to good use yet. The UK tends to be a good few years behind the US with food trends. I'm afraid I simply dug them back into the soil to return the fertility.

I would love to sell them as a crop. Most farmers here view them as a pernicious weed. Only poultry really eat nettles, and usually only as a tonic for an ailment.

Paula said...

Hey- the French make a fermentation of nettles with rain water called a 'purin' that get diluted and dumped at the roots, or diluted further and used as a foliar spray. I saw it on a PBS gardening show, and then found this site that had directions:

They are also great for throwing in your compost pile. Evidently they're good at pulling various minerals and nutrients out of the soil and making them more bio-available to plants. I actually bought myself some stinging nettles seed to sow this fall. And comfrey- that's another good fertilizer plant.

This is all besides the good things they do for your body. The sting is also supposed to be good for relieving arthritis pain.