Mowed the berry field this weekend (with the help of my lovely wife). Things were starting to look a little rough out there. Still a lot of work within the rows. Nutsedge is bad, bad stuff. We'll work on that next. Then mulch. Then winter.

You are not your story

Okay, so I'm not as Zen as I'd like to be. Had a bit of an existential crisis recently. Even on a multi-crop multi-species quasi-organic/chemical nightmare farm with a side gig building fence things get a little confusing sometimes. [that was a joke by the way] I guess sometimes you just wonder how it's all going to turn out. You know... ALL of it. That's a tough question for someone that's not prepared and I just wasn't feeling it this week.

However, one of the random things I have on my iPod, which I generally listen to in random mode (I guess I like surprises), is a talk by Eckhart Tolle. He's a bit nasal and a bit wheezy, but does a good job of explaining basic Buddhist principles in a way that allows you to apply them to your life without feeling that you need to shave your head, don an orange robe and commune with butterflies. One of the tracks from his speech came up while I was driving home today, and it really resonated with me. Here are a couple quotes:

- You are not your personal history. You are not your story.

- No matter what has happened to you in the past, it has brought you to this moment. Now.

Brain sugar for the over-think-things crowd, of which I am an occasional member. The phrase that really hit me was "You are not your story." I get a little frantic sometimes running all over the place trying to create the Karl story. But I'm not the Karl story. Just Karl is fine. It is okay to slow down. The story writes itself. Enjoy the moment you are in now. Not bad advice.

Tea speak

Although my neighbors are all barbarians,
And you, you are a thousand miles away,
There are always two cups on my table.

- Tang Dynasty

Lots of mulch in 110 cubic yards

That's our new 30 mpg 4 cylinder Ford Ranger in the foreground.

The mulch is for the blueberry plants. They love organic matter and that's what mulch is good at providing. Also keeps the roots moist and cool. This is fresh pine bark mulch. You can also get it aged, but this is... cheaper. We're going to go around and put a few shovelfuls of mulch around each plant. Hopefully this load will be enough. First we've got to take care of our horrible nutsedge problem. Officially the world's most annoying weed. Hard to kill without killing everything else. We should have mulched just after planting, but you know how things go... We get busy sometimes.

Armyworms bad

We were attacked recently by armyworms (spodoptera frugiperda so I can sound smart). The "worm" is actually a caterpillar. The moths they come from migrate each year from Central and South America. The worms can't survive even a mild winter. They usually appear in the fall, but on occasion have shown up earlier.

Armyworms can eat an entire pasture in a very short amount of time. Sometimes this seems to happen almost overnight. This is because it is the large older worms that cause the most damage. So you might have a field full of little armyworms and not even know it. But right under your nose they're getting bigger every day. I guess once they hit that critical mass it's byebye pasture hello ugly brown mess. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

There's not really much you can do about it. If you catch them in time you can kill them with some pesticides. Otherwise just relish in the early winter color of your field... or front lawn. That's right. They'll eat your pretty front lawn. Be wary. Be very wary.

The armyworm cometh!

Walt speak

I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete. The earth remains jagged or broken only to him or her who remains jagged or broken.

- Walt Whitman

Tree prep

We cut timber on our property nearly two years ago. Unfortunately, the weather was too dry to plant last fall/winter. It's a good thing we didn't because I doubt many trees would have made it through this summer. But we had the land prepped for planting last year and we have to do some more work now so that hopefully we can plant this fall. Not enough moisture in the ground yet.

Prep, in this case, means having the cut over area sprayed with a long lasting hardwood and grass herbicide. After timber is cut all those old tree stumps want to sprout and any dormant seeds decide to wake up. We create a void, nature fills it. This spray is necessary so that the pine trees will not have competition for water or light as they struggle to get going. It's not a process that I'm particularly fond of, but if you want a good stand of pine trees some chemicals are going to have to get involved. Spray now and spray in five or six years. After that the pine trees are well established and their crowns are above the fray.

Planting pine trees is a good example of thinking long term. There will not be significant income from a pine plantation for about fifteen years. There are some small cuttings before then, but not much. We are using every modern means available to us to speed up the process. Our plan is to plant containerized trees this fall at a 10 ft by 12 ft spacing. This is a much wider spacing than has been traditionally recommended, but research by Eric Taylor at Texas A&M has shown that trees planted in this manner mature faster. They simply have less side to side competition and thus grow thicker quicker than trees planted close together. Planting in the fall is also not traditionally recommended. Most people plant in January or February. However, again, research has shown that fall planted trees grow faster than winter planted trees. They have more time to develop their root system before the harsh days of summer arrive. Less stress equals faster growth.

But if you are going to plant at such a wide spacing and at a warmer time of year you had better be sure that your trees are going to live. Less trees planted means less eggs in your one basket. Break a few eggs and their may be no omelette! Which leads us to containerized seedlings. These are pine seedlings that are grow in little pots instead of in a nursery bed and pulled out as bare root for planting. When the containerized trees are planted there is less disturbance and the roots are less likely to dry out. Again, less stress equals faster growth and better survivability.

We might even fertilize our pine trees at some point. Fertilizer does tend to make things grow, despite the fact that this is virtually unheard of in Southern pine plantations. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Tell me what the price of oil in China will be and I'll tell you what our pine fertilization program will look like.

Modern methods can sometimes be good things. I'm not offering apologies for farmers that act modern and simply use synthetic fertilizer and a varied chemical bath to pump as much corn out of the ground as they can each year, but that kind of thinking is hardly modern anyway. I would advocate agriculture that employs some of the soil building methodologies of organic farming along with a little synthetic fertilizer at the proper time to boost the harvest. We just can't continue to taken from the Earth without putting something back. And there was much more than Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium there to begin with.

One other thing we did differently for this planting was our method of clearing the land for planting. After a clear-cut there is a lot of left over "waste." There are stumps and treetops and branches everywhere. Plenty of firewood if you have time to cut it. Ordinarily either all this material is burned, or a bulldozer is brought in and pushes it into big windrows. Both of these methods leave very little organic matter on the soil surface. Thus there is little left to protect the soil from drying out and little left to break down and feed the new trees. There is a fairly new method available for site preparation called mulching. A skidder is brought in with a huge cylinder mounted on the front. There are carbide teeth on the cylinder and when it spins it shreds everything in its path, even whole tree stumps. This leaves a thick layer of mulch on the ground. Just like mulching your flower beds, but on a much larger scale. You dig a hole in the mulch, stick in your containerized seedling, walk ten feet and plant the next one. Then you hope for rain.