So far this year, we’ve been on our game. In contrast to our first two seasons, we are doing all of our field prep — which includes broadforking to loosen up and aerate the soil; hoeing to kill or set back the new green weeds; and raking, to smooth out and clear off beds for direct seeding – prior to tarping (occulting) for a few weeks. This way, all of our soil disturbance is carried out first, bringing the new weed seeds to the surface air to germinate, and be baked and killed beneath the stifling heat and darkness underneath the black tarp. We then pull the tarp, plant into a clean bed, and our seeds have a jump on all others. We even have pre-made, easily movable rock bags to weigh down the tarps.
But it’s been a windy spring. Day after day, we broadforked, raked and hoed as the wicked wind pierced us and the occasional snow whipped our faces. Day after day, our plot tarps lifted, bulged, and blew all to hell, leaving wide open patches on our plots, and all but undermining our occultation practice. Morning after morning, I’d walk our production area, adjust rock bags and replace tarps. Morning after morning, I’d arrive and they’d be blown to hell again.
Thursday I decided to take care of the problem. I arrived early and opened up the granary, finding our trusty Gator with its ignition removed and wires hanging. Hmm. I grabbed a wheelbarrow instead, and the rest of our unfilled rock bags, and walked down the hill. There, I loaded up empty bags with rocks, and pushed a heavy load back up the hill to Field 1, where we’d need them. By the time I got there, I was winded and my legs were burning. By the time I got my second load up, I decided to do some work in Field 2 instead, at the bottom of the hill. I grabbed a sip of coffee and thought about things a little bit.
Just then, a black Subaru pulled into the driveway. It was my neighbor Gracia, who has just moved to town from a farm of her own, and had agreed to come out to help. Having never worked with her yet, I wasn’t sure how she’d take to our thankless task. She was down, thankfully, and obviously knew a thing or two about working.
So, for the next three hours we rock dogged. Filling rock bags from the pile; carting them to the plots. Wheelbarrow after shaky wheelbarrow. Pulling tarps and adjusting the existing bags. Walked through every open plot, gathering stones in the wheelbarrow; lifting every rock bag; opening and bulking up those made too lightly. Walking back around and tying every bag shut. We chatted as we worked, and had a good time as our backs and wrists became sore. We finished Field 2, and looked with pride at the clean, level tarps, and bulky bags. It was work well-done.
Gracia headed out, and I moved on to Field 0, and then Field 1: picking rocks from the field; filling the wheelbarrow; walking around and bulking up every single bag. Bag after bag; rock after rock. Ed joined me in the afternoon and we rock dogged together. At the end of it all, every one of our 300ish rock bags were handled, filled, bulked up, and placed, and every one of our 10 tarps was securely lain upon the earth it needed to cover. I stood and stretched my back. Whew… Won’t be having to rock dog again for a while.
See, I’ve been rock dogging for a long time. When I was 12 or 13, I got my first paid job picking stones on my neighbor Dick’s farm. My brothers and I, along with a couple hired guys, would trudge along beside a slowly crawling tractor and dump trailer, picking huge stones from the fields and hoisting them into the trailer. Wanting to show off my strength, I worked pretty damn hard for those $5/hour that he paid. I’ll never forget my first paycheck: $52 and some change. Previously only privy to allowances and meager chore earnings, I was absolutely flabbergasted. $52 was real money, and I had no mental framework for how a person could ever spend such a sum. I think I probably put it into savings or something stupid like that. I haven’t stopped working since.
As an adult, though, I try not to rock dog too terrible much if I can avoid it, and Thursday was a pretty good fill. Friday, however, I found myself roaring down the road in our F-350 farm truck with Ed and a load of… rocks. We got them out to the farm and grabbed some shovels and rakes. I’d pull up to troubled spots on the driveway, and hoist shovelful after shovelful of the gravel out the back of the truck, where he’d rake the potholes into smoothness. It wasn’t a bad job, but quite a lot of rocks for one week. We finished it up in short order. Yep. Glad that’s done. No more rocks for me.
Saturday morning, however, found me in the newly-ignitioned Gator with a heavy load of huge… rocks. Having wanted to rescue our neglected strawberries for some time now, I gathered up some long skinny tarps by the long stretch of perennially-weedy berries. I picked the large, woody weeds, and dragged out my first tarp. Now how to hold it in place? No more rock bags; only rocks.
I’ll be honest; I underestimated the gravity of this one. Load after Gator-load of rocks. Rocks, rocks, rocks. After two loads, Ed foolishly wandered up to my working area, and I roped him in. Once again, just me, Ed and a pile of rocks. Rocks from the tree line; rocks from the pig pasture; rocks from next to the barn; rocks from the field. At some point, he came back from a break, as I unloaded more rocks. “Polly says we’re ridiculous.”
“For trucking all these rocks around.”
I looked down the long endless stretch of tarped, rocked strawberries. “Well dude, I think she’s right.”
But we did it. All of our tarps employed, and most of the 300’ of strawberries well-tarped. And so many goddamn rocks. I placed my last rock. Ed looked at me. “Wanna grab some logs for the middle of the tarps?”
“No, I replied simply, “I gotta grab Ella and get going.”
But Ed and I communicate on multiple levels, and what I really said was,
“Do I look like a goddamn wood dog to you?”