This week we are wrapping up the first session of our Summer CSA and preparing for the second to begin. Things are growing fast in the garden and loving the daily showers we’ve been getting. We know summer has finally set in because all our broccoli is bolting in the heat, creating a row of lovely flowering shoots with delicate yellow petals.
We harvested our first potato plant on Monday and found 10 little Yukon Golds strewn about in the soil! We are anxious to pull up the rest because it is so much fun, but we’ve been advised that potatoes store better in the dirt than anywhere else. For this reason, we’ll probably keep them in the ground and harvest only as needed each week for our CSA.
The past couple weeks, I have been thrilled to welcome some new volunteers to the garden who hope to become involved on a consistent basis this summer. I’ve really enjoyed sharing the garden with them and I’ve been reminded of what a special place the Morven Kitchen Garden is to work. The small-scale organic vegetable farm is inherently a very pleasant environment because of the diversity of crops grown and tasks performed from day to day. And although the wildlife that intrudes and surrounds us is sometimes unwelcome, its presence is an indication of the health of our Morven ecosystem.
Perhaps no one can better express the beauty of man’s interaction with nature than the beloved farmer, author, and lecturer Wendell Berry. Here is an excerpt from “Getting Along with Nature” in his book Home Economics that perfectly conveys the joy of encountering wildlife on the small-scale farm.
“At the end of July 1981, while I was using a team of horses to mow a small triangular hillside pasture that is bordered on two sides by trees, I was suddenly aware of wings close below me. It was a young red-tailed hawk, who flew up into a walnut tree. I mowed on to the turn and stopped the team. The hawk glided to the ground not twenty feet away. I got off the mower, stood and watched, even spoke, and the hawk showed no fear. I could see every feather distinctly, claw and beak and eye, the creamy down of the breast. Only when I took a step toward him, separating myself from the team and mower, did he fly. While I mowed three or four rounds, he stayed near, perched on a trees or standing erect and watchful on the ground. Once, when I stopped to watch him, he was clearly watching me, stooping to see under the leaves that screened me from him. Again, when I could not find him, I stooped, saying to myself, “This is what he did to look at me,” and as I did so I saw him looking at me.
Why had he come? To catch mice? Had he seen me scare one out of the grass? Or was it curiosity?
A human, of course, cannot speak with authority of the motives of hawks. I am aware of the possibility of explaining the episode merely by the hawk’s youth and inexperience. And yet it does not happen often or dependably that one is approached so closely by a hawk of any age. I feel safe in making a couple assumptions. The first is that the hawk came because of the conjunction of the small pasture and its wooded borders, of open hunting ground and the security of trees. This is the phenomenon of edge or margin that we know to be one of the powerful attractions of a diversified landscape, both in wildlife and to humans. The human eye itself seems drawn to such margins, hungering for the difference made in the countryside by a hedgy fencerow, a stream, or a grove of trees. And we know that these margins are biologically rich, the meeting of two kinds of habitats. But another difference also is important here: the difference between a large pasture and a small one, or, to use Wes Jackson’s terms, the difference between a field and a patch. The pasture I was mowing was a patch- small, intimate, nowhere distant from its edges.
My second assumption is that the hawk was emboldened to come so near because, though he obviously recognized me as a man, I was there with the team of horses, with whom he familiarly and confidently shared the world.
I am saying, in other words, that this little visit between the hawk and me happened because the kind and scale of my farm, my way of farming, and my technology allowed it to happen. If I had been driving a tractor in a hundred-acre cornfield, it would not have happened.
In some circles I would certainly be asked if one can or should be serious about such an encounter, if it has any value. And though I cannot produce hard evidence, I would unhesitatingly answer yes. Such encounters involve another margin- the one between domesticity and wilderness- that attracts us irresistibly; they are among the best rewards of outdoor work and among the reasons for loving to farm. When the scale of farming grows so great and obtrusive as to forbid them, the life of farming is impoverished.
But perhaps we can find hard evidence of a sort when we consider that all of us- the hawk, the horses, and I- were all there for our benefit and, to some extent, for our mutual benefit: the horses live from pasture and maintain it with their work, grazing, and manure; the team and I furnish hunting ground for the hawk; the hawk serves us by controlling the field-mouse population.
The meeting of the human and the natural estates, the domestic and the wild, occur invisibly, of course, in any well-farmed field. The wilderness of a healthy soil, too complex for human comprehension, can yet be husbanded, can benefit from human care, and can deliver incalculable benefits in return. Mutuality of interest and reward is a possibility that can reach to any city backyard, garden, and park, but in any place under human dominance- which is, now, virtually everyplace- it is a possibility that is both natural and cultural. If humans want wilderness to be possible, then they have to make it possible. If balance is the ruling principle and a stable balance the goal, then, for humans attaining this goal requires a consciously chosen and deliberately made partnership with nature.”
Our garden “patch” at sunrise
Last week’s CSA harvest
Isabel & the MKG Team