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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Challenges for Brain and Brawn

This farming enterprise is nearly as much a philosophical and intellectual undertaking as a practical one.

To wit, is this cottontail rabbit a varmint? Yes, when it's in the garden, eating the little shoots and sprouts before the plants can establish, long before they produce any food for our household. This is not a hobby – we intend to support ourselves on this bit of land to the extent possible. Fences are expensive, .22 shells are not. So far we are trying to talk the rabbits out of eating from the gardens. Blood meal spread around the perimeter is sometimes effective, so perhaps we'll try that. (Ah, but where did the blood meal come from? It's a fractal pattern of consequences and responsibilities.)

The professional advice is unambiguous and unsentimental – the most effective control of rabbits is by hunting and trapping. Alan's research indicates that cottontails live only about a year before succumbing to the many diseases and predators that threaten them, so is being shot any different from an adult rabbit's perspective than being eaten by a coyote or owl? But there are lots of them. Say we determined the rabbits in the gardens had to be killed. If we talk ourselves into eating those varmints with food value, we might be eating rabbit every fortnight, maybe every week. Only one way to find out...

Update from BenSyl via Facebook: "Maybe the rabbits in your area are smarter, stronger or more persistent than those here, but we find that a simple, cheap fence of 12" chicken wire suffices to keep them out almost entirely. Of course, it does nothing to discourage the deer!"

Yes, the deer may be facing electricity.

Soil erosion has been a serious problem on this farm historically, and some major civil engineering works have been installed across the decades to control it, but there are still some significant problem areas. This photo shows the head of a gully that has advanced right up to the property line, and the overgrazed cattle pasture on the other side that is contributing to the problem. Water exerts an inexorable force and about the only way to deal with it in a situation like this is to spread it, infiltrate it, expend its energy, or install very expensive hardened structures. It's a difficult, long-term situation.

After many hours of shoveling over several days, we've moved those 16 tons of beach sand down the slope. The algae shown here is far less evident this morning after spraying yesterday.

The west vegetable garden consisted of garden rows between wide strips of turf, but the turf spreads, requires mowing, and consumes a lot of water. We have a large supply of moving boxes that I'm recycling as mulch to kill the grass. The cardboard is weighted with compost and this fall or next spring when it's all sufficiently disintegrated we'll till it under. The garden soil has been neglected in recent years, is heavy with clay, and needs a lot of help to improve its tilth.

An old concord grape vine frames cattle grazing in a neighbor's wooded pasture just across the north fence line.

Derith visited last evening and on our walk after dinner we surprised a coyote as it emerged from the woods onto the lane about a hundred feet ahead of us. It looked sleek and well-fed.

Flickers and woodpeckers! Fireflies! Strawberries! Bats!

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