The Long Field, Part 2

By Tom Read

Here’s how the Long Field looked last week at about 4:30 in the afternoon. The fence is complete, and most of the plowing is done, too.

Back in May I wrote about a field revival project we have underway here at Slow Farm on Texada Island, and now I’d like to report on our progress.

Since my posting titled The Long Field, Part 1 on May 25, we’ve built a deer fence using a combination of local cedar fence posts and imported fence wire (see photo). This sounds easy, but it required about two months of intermittent but laborious effort.  There’s nothing particularly special about this fence — except that I’m very proud of it because the posts are firmly planted and the wire actually got stretched quite tight and evenly thanks to lots of good teamwork and careful use of the winch on our quad. So far, it works!

Next, our plan to use pigs for cultivation of this field got dropped, because we realized it wouldn’t work. The pigs came to us in May as little “weaners,” and would not have been able to accomplish much useful rooting until they grew a lot bigger. Now that they actually are capable of vigorous rooting, it’s already mid-September and much too late to have much impact before a) the pigs get slaughtered, and b) the fast-approaching rainy season would turn the field into an erosion-prone mud pit.

So we needed another way to cultivate the field. Our solution is known as a “walking tractor,” which can provide power for several types of farm implements. Our walking tractor has a rotary plow attachment, which is a true wonder for breaking new ground without leaving a plow-pan or wrenching my arm and back muscles. It can also cut through 2” thick roots and dislodge basketball-sized rocks with nary a hiccup. And it easily turns under tall grass without getting wound up in the long stems. Yes, it runs on gasoline, but for now that is a compromise we will have to accept if we want to make this field productive again.

Bear in mind that the old field we’re reviving hasn’t been used for agriculture in several decades, so to bring it back into production is like breaking new ground. The plow not only turned up uncountable rocks and roots, but we also found many human artifacts. These included chunks of steel probably from abandoned trucks or logging equipment, broken bottles, strands of barbed wire, a few shotgun shell casings (the old brass kind) and — very appropriately — a massive horseshoe (see photo below) that likely belonged to a draft horse or mule.

This one gave a mighty “clank” when our plow churned it out of the ground. Artifacts like this draft-horse shoe tell a story of farming with horses rather than machines. For scale, that’s my hand in the picture.

All of this debris had to be removed from the field by hand. Thus we’ve laboured over this ground quite a few times now to get it plowed and picked clean in time for a fall planting of “coastal pasture mix.” That’s a combination of grasses and legumes that should prevent undue erosion this winter while turning the field into a prime pasture by next spring in time for our future swine adventure, which involves heritage grazing pigs.

As for the buckwheat that we had hoped to plant in this field, it will have to wait for spring, too. Buckwheat doesn’t overwinter well here on the coast, so we’re planning a spring planting, in a different field. That’s a different story, which we’ll relate at some future date.

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