I finally got going around noon today. Was a bit too shaky to risk doing much before then. I ran up town this morning and got a smoothie, one of the coffee frappe ones. Caffein is probably not advised, but now and again one of those frozen coffees is pretty darn good and it does provide a boost. Stopped at the neighbors to say hello as it had been quite a while since we had visited. We jaw jacked for an hour or so while sitting at the table in the garage and watching new belts, a coolant hose and pieces of exhuast get put on an older pickup truck. Kids ran about and the dog wandered in as we talked about everything and nothing.
The matriarch of the family showed up just as I was about to leave. I stayed and talked with Connie for another fifteen minutes or so. Connie was a close friend of my aunt Nola and had the misfortune of being the one who found Nola when Nola died. It was pretty hard on Connie I think. A short time later she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to deal with that as well. She came through with flying colors, thankfully. Connie is as tough as she is gentle and strong in her faith too. I recall her and Dad sitting and discussing theology. They were good friends. And Connie is about as kind as one can be. When Connie shows up I take the time to talk to her. It makes me feel good. She is that kind of lady.
…and to work, finally..
Saying my goodbyes, I headed back down the quarter mile stretch of road that separates my farm from these folks place. My coffee long since gone, I went to the milk house and had a sip of water, then changed clothes, loaded myself up with sun screen that claims it is 70 against sunburn, grabbed a large brimmed hat, my sun glasses, two bottles of gatoraid and headed over to the shed where the 674 was parked. I ran through the pre-checks and noted that a bit of engine oil and some coolant would be advisable. Then drove over to the shop and topped everything off.
It was getting hot as I headed out to field 12 which is on the NE side of the farm and covers about 12 acres. On the way I noticed field 9 had some pretty good sized patches of Canadian thistles in it, so I figured I might as well start there and work my way back to field 12, hoping I would hold up physically to handling both fields. It does not sound like much but 20 some acres is a lot to cover even on a tractor with a six foot mower. You can’t just drop the mower and start going. We want to avoid disturbing anything as much as possible. There is a lot of wild life in these fields…and I mean a lot!
Canadian thistles grow in ever expanding patches because they propagate two ways: By root and by seed. They are a noxious plant, taking over complete fields if not attacked, and even then very hard to get rid of. This time of the year they start to bloom. That makes it easy to spot them as they appear as a purple-ish cloud floating in the green sky of other plants. I don’t think Jimmy Hendricks had these in mind when he wrote one of his signature songs though. This purple haze is noxious, and it needs to be eradicated. There are plenty of purple hazy clouds yet to disperse, but I am tired now. Maybe more purple haze this evening…
Ostensibly, Conservation Reserve Program(CRP) is intended to provide nesting and feeding ground for birds. And it does. But that is not all it does of course. Today I saw two spotted fawns who jumped up and ran as I passed by with the tractor. A brown thrush had built a nest suspended about four feet from the ground by having been built such that it attached to four large plant stalks. It was built like a four point hammock with each point attached to the stem of a single plant. I passed by with my tractor tire just inches from the nest and when she flew I saw her. I got away as fast as I could having avoided the plants with the nest. The nest is fine and she returned shortly after I got fifty or so feet away. I wish that I had my camera along but that was a close call and I regret having to go into the fields like that. But the thistles will completely take over if I don’t hold them back now.
Care must be taken…
There is a method I worked out which allows me to mow the thistles down and do as little other damage as possible. Took me a while and some experimentation to get it down, and it was worth while. I noticed there was a lot less peripheral mowing when I started using my new method. That is good. The idea is to disturb as little as possible while still attacking the invasive species. I can’t even count the kinds of animals, feathered, furred and scaled, that I saw not to mention the variety of flora in the fields. They are doing very well except for where there are thistles. Even in those damned thistles there is a lot of life! I hate having to disturb it, but it has to be done.
The method is very simple: Find the longest straight path through the patch and bisect the patch along that line. Then follow the outline of the patch making certain to trace along it far enough out to get the young thistles that tend to be smaller and hard to see. Then simply continue to expand from the center of the patch until reaching the outline. This provides a place to turn around (the outer enclosing edge) and an efficient path to getting the whole patch without much peripheral damage.
It would seem like this would be an easy job: One sits on a tractor with a mower behind it and find thistle patches an mows them down. No big deal. But it is work! The sun is hot, the tractor is hot and noisy, and one has to watch what is going on. The average height of the plants growing in these fields is between four and five feet. There is a natural gap between the fender and the back of the engine compartment on a utility tractor like I have. This gap is where one boards the tractor and at the bottom of the gap is where one places ones feet. In tall weeds and grass, that gap acts as a funnel and one gets ones legs and feet slapped up pretty good. When what is hitting ones legs is thistles, it hurts!
Additionally, one does not just drop the mower and drive about. It is only the thistles that need to be cut, so one has to adjust the mower from full up to down a lot. The adjustment lever is stiff and takes some effort to move. Do that enough and one gets tired. And one always has to watch where one is going. That requires focus. Stay good and focused for a few hours and it wears one out.
To see, to hear, to ….
But gosh! The beauty out there! It is simply indescribable. And I am not a good enough photographer to capture it either which is unfortunate. But just seeing it, being in it, smelling it, and when the tractor is not screaming at 90 decibles, hearing it! What an amazing mosaic of sensory overload!