Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wire cages and tales of caution

Fruit Guantanamo

A couple of years ago, when we put in our 30 berry plants and 15 fruit trees, we decided to construct chicken-wire cages to go into the ground around the plants to protect the roots from gophers.  It made planting a lot more difficult (especially making sure the dirt was packed firmly with no air pockets as we filled in our holes) but seemed a prudent insurance policy against vermin.

One of our original raspberry cuttings never sprouted, so last year I pulled it out (along with its wire cage) and re-planted the hole with a new raspberry bush -- no wire cage this time.  Since gophers had left all the plants alone for a year, I figured we'd been too paranoid about the whole wire cages thing.

And then two days ago I spotted gopher mounds in the pasture.  All the plants were fine -- except -- you guessed it, that one raspberry bush which did not have a cage around it.  It was dead and withered. When I dug about a foot away from it, I clearly found the underground gopher hole that had allowed the little critter to tunnel in and eat the root system of the bush -- enough to kill it from the ground up.

This is a common theme of farming, where you begin cautiously, have success, and let down your guard a little, or sometimes a lot.  It happens with livestock, it happens with canning, and it happens with vegetable growing.  Oh, you're supposed to rotate your crops every year?  But you've grown tomatoes in the same spot for three years with no problems!  So you plant in the same spot, one more year, and find you're devastated with soil-borne disease this time around.  Sterilizing the Mason jars before canning?  Well, you used to, but over the years you kind of stopped doing it....and then one of your jars pops open in your pantry because it's become so ripe with bacteria it de-pressurizes itself.

It's an almost-guaranteed human behavior.  We get away with letting our guard down until one day, it finally catches up with us. 

The best farmers only have to learn the hard lessons once, or not at all.  The truly excellent ones can learn from others' bad and good experiences without having to experience things for themselves.  You know, kind of like the hot stove analogy.  They see someone else get burned and don't touch the thing.

Terrible farmers have to learn their lessons again and again as each season presents its classic difficulties:  the fox in the henhouse, the grubs in the planter beds, or the gophers in the raspberries.  It's Groundhog Day, and sometimes with actual groundhogs. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.  But perhaps another definition is when you tamper with proven success by slacking off and expecting all will be well.

Next spring we will be expanding our berry bushes and you can bet there will be wire cages around everything -- maybe double wire cages, and perhaps even sentries with shotguns in perimeter towers.  (OK probably not that last one.) 

The point is, while I can't always help when mistakes get made, I sure as hell can make sure they don't happen twice.


  1. So true! Plan for the expected prepare for the unexpected.

    1. You are so right, because the unexpected always seems to happen, Meredith, lol!

  2. Ahh you're so right. In any pursuit, spending time and money on infrastructure and organization is simply not fun. I think about this a lot with cooking equipment. In the past year following my decision to no longer cater, I've been investing a lot in highest quality cookware. And learning how to clean it and care for it--with my eye on longevity, not ease. This has meant a lot more time standing by the sink scrubbing furiously with a towel. But I finish and it all still looks brand new.
    You and I each stopped reading another blog that was under the guise of homesteading. It became much more about reckless whims than actual maintenance and quality.
    Such a smart idea to have started the fruit with protection from day one. Mindful prevention and caution help eliminate foolish mistakes! Maybe that's why my sad garden needs a total overhaul.

    1. I know if you eventually overhaul your garden you will build based on your knowledge and experience, which is why it will be successful, just like you're doing now with your well-thought-out cookware purchases. You know it pays to buy stuff that will last! And building a homestead is the same's about planning, learning, and taking things slowly, never starting one new task before you have your current one mastered. There are always new mistakes to be made, but that diminishes with time, as you learn from the ones you've made. That's how its been for me, anyway, and I suspect you'll be the same.