Perennials, Take Two

Here’s a sure-fire sign of spring—the chickens are back in the field. Steve is relieved, having towed the coops down the muddy back road and come fairly close to sliding into a ditch. Judy is anxious, given that a late-winter snowfall could still throw a big wrench into chicken chores. The chickens, as best I can tell, are unimpressed. They went from pecking bare dirt up at the Tin House to pecking bare dirt out in the fields. Truth be told, we could have given them better forage—there are several fields where winter peas are peeping up, and the girls would love to tear into that. But they’re here to work, just like all us, and right now we need them to work their magic in the soon-to-be-kale beds. As recently as four months ago, these beds were full of carrots, so there was no chance to get a cover crop planted. So yes, the chickens may be grumbling now, but they’ll be fine—in two weeks, they’ll literally be moving on to greener pastures.

The weather has been mild enough to induce thoughts of early seeding. That said, we know the value of playing it safe. Even if the air is warm, the soil is still cold, and it would only take a few twenty-degree nights to bring us back to February. So to keep busy while we wait for spring to truly arrive, we attend to the perennials—pruning the berries, cleaning up the herb beds, etc. I’m excited to get at it, and I haven’t been this excited in years. Perennials are an important feature of most diversified farms, but for us they’ve had a somewhat tortured history. Back in 2007, when the farm was a blank slate, Dan and I happily devoted entire fields to berries, asparagus, and rhubarb, so eager were we to get ourselves established. But we planted more than we could care for, and it wasn’t long before weeds, shade, and drainage issues overwhelmed us. After feeling sheepish about it for several years, I decided to start over, reasoning it was better than continuing to limp along. In the fall of 2017, we began prepping new blueberry beds, adding woodchips and sulfur to achieve the right soil acidity. We’d hoped to plant new bushes last spring, but when the pH was still too high, we decided to hold off another year. Now we’re ready to plant. It’ll be three to five years before we get a harvest, so in the meantime, we’ll continue caring for our original bushes in the berry field.