It is late July, and while much of the summer is already a memory, much remains only hope. The blackberries are post-harvest and the tomatoes are just beginning. It is midsummer in an agricultural state.
Wednesday morning last week I received our foliar analysis giving a clear picture of our fertility situation in the bramble. After two years of low harvests in the blackberries, I was eager for 2016 to see the return of the walls of fruit that I well remember from years gone by.
Like Tolkien’s Aragon shouting at the Orc masses about to conquer Helm’s Deep that “dawn is ever the hope of men” farmers stand on the brink of low years, survey their losses, and stand defiant to declare “next year is ever our hope.” I could feel that sentiment rising in me all day on Wednesday last as I gathered sulfate of potash, kelp, hydrolyzed fish, and other nutritional elements.
The end of the day saw the fertigation mixing pump slowly injecting nutrients into the drip lines and sending them out to minister to the bulk soil deficiencies of the plants. After dinner near dark saw me filling our Italian-made sprayer with 35 gallons of water and metering in hydrolyzed fish, seaweed, potassium, Neem oil, Bacillus thuringensus, and a foliar iron supplement. All geared to satisfy some need to boost the health of the bramble and try to encourage the plants to stay the course and be ready for winter.
Darkness is when the stomata on the leaves relax and nutrients are most able to transfer from a sprayed particulate into the leaf tissue, so in the stillness of the twilight I arrived ready to deliver life to the blackberry plants and death to caterpillars (Bacillus) and infant stage bugs (Neem oil) as we press towards the fruiting year of 2016. The sprayer was carefully calibrated for speed and pressure so that an equal amount of nutrients and material is delivered to the whole bramble; linger too long and you could overdose, too little and it is not worth the time.
Row by row with the heavy rush of the air blast sprayer behind I traveled with the adrenaline thrill of risk known by farmers as they put memories of loss behind them and look forward to next year. Kipling’s words were in my mind “If you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss…” Travelling through a bramble in the half light with the mist swirling around me and the heavy smell of atomized fish slipping around the mask and reminding me of oysters I was overwhelmed with pride to be even a small member of the band of men who strive to grow crops.
Then Dad called. The toilets in the big house were clogged. I jumped off the tractor and ran in to help dad wage war using a plumbing snake, gloves, and headlamps, chasing a clog through the extensive bowels of the house until 10:30 pm. After a triumphant moment when the pipe finally cleared and all was well, I got back to spraying and finished up by 11 pm and got to bed.
Lying in bed I was very thankful for hope; it sustains, it drives, and in times when it seems that we must be overrun, it gives the strength to rally and contend once more in the dark of night waiting for the dawn.