We planted oats on a long-fallow patch this spring. The neighbor was kind enough to plow the sod, then I tilled it and used a simple shoulder-slung broadcaster to spread the seeds. Didn’t have a cultipacker so I settled for dragging the whole works with a bedspring hooked behind an ATV. The oats came up great, and it was a pleasure to gaze at them all summer, especially when they began to head out – such a soothing color, that milky green. They’re golden now, and yesterday I started harvesting them.
The oats themselves aren’t our prime objective. We’re going to try to flail as many of them as we can, but our primary purpose was to plant a cover crop, and our secondary purpose was to grow our own straw, as my wife uses piles of it for mulching the garden. We plan to run the straw through the chicken coop so the chickens can eat the remaining oats and also clean up the weed seeds so they don’t wind up in the garden.
Yesterday I cut several swaths with a scythe. Today I pitchforked all the cut oats (and weeds – quite a bit of ragweed and lambsquarter) into the pickup and then forked them all into a section of our old granary. Then I spent another two hours with the scythe, cutting down a pretty big size patch for tomorrow or Saturday morning.
All the while I was swinging that scythe today I was thinking about people like Joel Salatin and Gene Logsdon and this fellow and the depth of their commitment to the fundamentals of living wisely with the land. I am not an expert, I am not a farmer, I am not breaking any new ground. My efforts are half-baked at best. And frankly, if it wasn’t for my wife, this year would have been an unmitigated disaster. I’m a guy who quite by tangent and accident has found a way to support himself by writing, yapping, and occasionally singing. If I had to live off the land, I’d lose the land. But as I whacked away at those oats, not really knowing what I would do with them (Will the weeds be too green and cause mold? Will the chickens really peck out the weed seeds? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy straw?), it was simply good to be close to the earth, to feel the sweat roll, and to look at my wife (just upslope, digging potatoes), and then look further up at the flag pole in the yard and know that we have been given a bounty here that goes beyond whatever winds up in the granary. Freedom, a patch of land, intimate witness to the growing of crops and food.
This post is going six directions and hardly a complete thought to be found. Ruminating more than writing. This is why I do a lot of revision before I let them put the typing between cover stock.
But I’m glad we planted them oats.
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