Gardening with the Gods

It’s been just over a month since we finished grazing the pigs in the garden area and I can’t believe the change it’s undergone. Last year’s garden was quite a success and I’m excited to be undertaking a little vegetable production this year in my spare time. All the interns have been a great help in planting, mulching and watering when the spring rains are absent.

The garden as it stood in early March just before the pigs grazed through. Death and rebirth.

Not the same exact angle but still pretty incredible. We planted annual rye grass for Ella and RJ’s wedding in June,
potatoes and broccoli in the corners and onions/carrots/radishes along the edge. Instead of rows we’ve decided to plant in little circular pods throughout the garden plot.

But the real hard workers are the pigs. Those little guys sure can work the soil and it’s a labor of love. I grazed them over last year’s garden for about two weeks and I captured it with a little timelapse video. It’s nothing special but it’s fun to watch…

It’s incredible to watch them as they munch down the old cabbage and onions — they pull and tear the roots and break up the soil with those incredible snouts. They’ll inevitably find some black walnuts to munch on and plenty of earthworms. Happy pigs make a happy garden. Sure, we may lose some organic material along the way but the pigs enjoy a veggie smorgasbord while taking care of our dirty work and we’d like to think they thank us for that.

But where the pigs’ work ends, ours begins. Lately, we’ve been doing our best to carve out chunks of time between collecting eggs and milking cows to plant the early season stuff — potatoes, onions, carrots, radish, cabbage, broccoli, peas, and of course, kale.
Intern Alex Prediger weeds the potato/broccoli bed on a gorgeous day. We were lucky enough to receive a bunch of broccoli starts from our friends at Horton Road Organics.
Transplanted cabbage under a bed of fresh mulch.
After some much needed renovation work and a little sheet mulching, the little greenhouse on the property is ready to house our tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and (eventually) melons. 
This patchwork greenhouse is made out of straw bales and rotting 2x4s, but strength isn’t the only measure of character. RJ and I framed some windows in it with lumber milled from the property and it may even have doors soon! 
The tomatoes, sweet potato and peppers inside don’t seem to mind a little breeze. I can’t wait to seem them turn this little house green

The onion bed with little baby carrots just popping up. We planted radish as a marker crop but it basically became sacrificial food for the cucumber beetles. Radish fans are sparse on the farm so the jokes on you beetles!
Growing food is a vital necessity for life. We owe more than just full stomachs to our ancestors who learned to work in accordance with the dynamics of nature, to put down their spears and pick up the spade.  While some folks may point to agriculture as the progenitor for great imperfections in our modern world, I disagree. 
In the mythologies of the world, the act of growing food from seed is a deeply symbolic endeavor that unites the duality of life and death — every year in the garden death nourishes life. Last year’s broccoli stalks and cabbage leaves release their energy into the soil for the coming fall harvest. We bury seeds like loved ones and care for their graves with a religious vigor. 
I love the ancient symbology of growing food. I wish our culture was still inspired by the simplicity of life the way our ancestors were. The plants and animals were our brothers and sisters — the mountains and rivers the source of our nourishment.  
But all things must pass. In his great book Eaarth, Bill McKibben argues that this planet is so thoroughly altered from it’s origin, one can hardly call it by the same name. I suppose that’s true. There’s no senses wallowing in nostalgic grief for a time and place forgotten, but in this chaotic, contemporary world man has few sanctuaries left to relish his role in nature. The garden is the great microcosm of the universe where all things intersect and man stands in the center. Perhaps that’s why growing good tomatoes makes you feel like a god…

Spring Has Sprung

“Behold, my brothers, the spring has come;
The Earth has received the embraces of the sun
And we shall soon see the results of that love!

Every seed is awakened and so has all animal life.
It it through this mysterious power that we too have our being
And therefore yield to our neighbors,
Especially our animal neighbors,
With the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.”
-Sitting Bull

This little guy is no more than a few days old. His mother is glad to be out of the barn where they spend the latter part of their pregnancy eating grass hay.

Holy Cow it’s almost April! Time flies when the company you keep don’t carry watches. The grass is green, the sky is blue and that means one thing — it’s calving season here on the Deck Family Farm. We’ve had our hands more than full getting acquainted with all the new faces popping up around the farm and I’d like to introduce you to some of them.
Farm intern Lisa Beneman and I just took this calf out of the barn (pictured behind Lisa) where he was born so we can tag and band him. 

Looks like this little guy was born just a few hours ago. His curly calf-fro lets us know his breed is Galloway and Angus — all our calves are sired by heritage Galloway bulls.  The Galloway’s thick, coarse coat  helps shed the Oregon rain and keep them warm through the winter. Galloway cattle are the heirloom tomatoes of beef — top notch grazers that tend to be less picky than other breeds of cattle, they take up to 32 months to finish but they have excellent flavor and great marbling. As a heritage breed, they are one of the more ancient breeds — their name is derived from the Province of Galloway, a region in Scotland where they were a popular breed from at least the 16th century.

William McCombie — a pioneer Scottish breeder and a delightful old chap said, “The Galloway undoubtedly has many great qualifications. On poor land they are unrivaled, on land so poor our Aberdeens could not subsist upon it. There is no other breed worth more by the pound weight than a first-class Galloway.” Jolly good. 

In a matter of moments, the happy calf is reunited with momma.

Watching them buck and run when they hit what we call the “Maternity Field” is gosh darn adorable.

Just because we feed them everyday, doesn’t mean they trust us.  J11 peeks out from the safety of his mom’s udder.

It’s always nice to see the farm creatures co-mingling on a foggy Oregon morning.

The sun rises on the “Maternity Field” 
Jack is pretty cute I guess. He nurses from his mother AND gets a few bottles a day. Spoiled for sure.

Roro loves the bottle 

Spring is an inspiring season on the farm. New life is springing up everywhere as the winter frost loosens its grip and the sun peaks its timid smile around the clouds. Immersing myself in the calving process is not unlike watching the early season daffodils bloom in the morning sun, only daffodils don’t have yellow diarrhea or fight over bottles like they’re in Thunderdome.

The Deck farm is teeming with life and it imbues the air with an unmistakable energy that glorifies the beauty of the present. Like every moment, every calf is a gift unto us, milk slobber and all, and I feel blessed to be able to watch life in all forms, nurture and grow.