Friday, June 12, 2009


An early morning mist fills the low spots in our fields. A blackbird glistens in the sunlight, just above the mist, the bright red and yellow bars gleaming on its wing. Dave cut 8 rows of alfalfa yesterday afternoon. Some places in the field, the alfalfa plants were up to my hips when I walked through. Other places, the fuzzy heads of the seeding dandelions were taller than the alfalfa. Every where, a mist of fluffy white dandelion seeds followed the tractor.

I like to see the windrows of hay drying, partly because it means haying has actually begun, but mostly because then our neighbors can no longer see the dandelions and thistles in the fields, and the thistles won’t be going to seed. The first time Dave took me to meet his grandparents and their dairy farm, back in 1968, we spent Sunday afternoon driving the country roads. Grandma and Grandpa commented on every field we passed. “Harold got his oats in late, Barry’s rows are straight as a ruler, old man Edson’s fields are full of weeds.”

I’m afraid they would be condemning our fields if they had driven by on Sunday. It isn’t that we aren’t aware of the weeds; we’ve struggled against them for years. We keep trying to move toward more organic production, but until we can get our weeds under control, we have no hope. I actually don’t mind many of the weeds. The mustard flowers are a beautiful yellow. The catchfly flowers stands up above the alfalfa on graceful stems and I always enjoy pulling the flowers apart to find the fat, round balls of white seeds hidden within them. I love the dainty light pink fleabane. If I ignore the dandelions and the thistles, I can think of our fields as mixed alfalfa fields, not a monoculture of alfalfa. But I realize that that isn’t the way things are supposed to be.

We’ve spread various forms of fertilizer from the Farmers Elevator over the years, but that type of fertilizer is ethereal, here today and gone by next season. We really need to be adding more substantial fertility to our fields. Last year, Dave began spreading the manure from the barn and a season’s worth of compost on the fields. The difference in the alfalfa was amazing. The field under the manure was a deep rich green with few weeds visible; the section nearby with no manure was a mass of dandelion heads with little or no alfalfa. We should be spreading manure, but fifty sheep don’t produce anywhere near enough manure to fertilize forty acres. We are looking for an outside source of manure to use this year.

We have always felt that not tilling our fields every three or four years protected our top soil, kept it from blowing away in the winter or washing away during a wet spring. But weeds are the down side of that decision. We are reluctant to use herbicides; so we have weedy fields. Maybe a sustainable field of alfalfa isn’t weedless. The sheep don’t mind eating mustard or catchfly. They even eat the thistles baled into their winter feed. But the dandelions are driving me to distraction. Where we have dandelions, we have very little alfalfa. The plants are short, their leaves are small and there aren’t very many plants per square foot. Baling those sections of field feels futile because we get so few bales per acre.

So we will study more about sustainable farming; we will try to find an outside source of manure; and we will probably end up replanting one of our fields in an attempt to get rid of the dandelions. But for today, Dave will continue cutting alfalfa and niece Aubrey and I will continue repairing hay wagons. And tomorrow, or the next day, we will begin baling.


  1. Beautiful photograph and words. Maybe spreading my yard with manure would help with the creeping charlie???

  2. I love the photo too. Each plant species goal is to survive. Nature loves diversity. Maybe that's why the best yielding hay I ever had was a mixture of alfalfa, red clover, aslike clover, timothy, orchid grass and maybe more. Maybe the key is to not fight nature but compromise. Just rambling thoughts.