Saturday, May 30, 2009

Franklin's Folly

On May 22nd, the turkeys arrived! Ordering the hatchery's choice of heritage turkeys, we received 38 healthy poults that all appear to be Blue Slates. When they arrived at the dawn of their third day, some even had the tips of their primary feathers emerging.

So far, the turkeys are my favorite. They're so much calmer and quieter than the chickens, which are still running and screaming from me when I enter their enclosure. Turkeys have a reputation as being rather dumb youngsters. Sometimes, apparently, some fail to begin to eat and drink and die shortly thereafter. Legend also has it that young turkeys will drown if placed outside too early and it rains, looking skyward with their mouths agape. But after watching these little guys for only a week now - and talking with Jen, John, Mary and Scott - I've been thinking about how this so-called stupidity of turkeys might actually be the first stage of intelligence. Compared to chickens, whose consumptive instincts are seemingly stronger from the outset, turkeys must be shown where and how to eat and drink. They need to be imprinted upon, in other words, and this may be an early point of differentiation for learning and adaptation. Just some beginning thoughts.

But one of the other reasons I so like the turkeys is their symbolic connections to our national identity. As John reminded me, Ben Franklin supported the idea of the turkey - over that of the Bald Eagle - for the national bird. As the story goes, during the Revolutionary War a regiment of soldiers flew the Bald Eagle insignia Congress eventually adopted as the national seal, but drew it so badly that it looked like a turkey. Franklin used this likeness to compare the two birds, lamenting the ultimate choice in a letter to his daughter from Paris in 1784:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country...

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America....He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Plus, you can eat turkeys. And they have really cool heads.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ecotone 1

from Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez:

"The area where two or more distinct habitats adjoin is called an ecotone. Because it is a border zone where multiple sets of resources and opportunities become available, an ecotone tends to support greater biological diversity than either of the systems it mediates between. Delineating an ecotone, however, can be problematic. Like habitats and ecosystems, ecotones are not self-defining, as, for example, individual species are. They are human constructs, which derive their shape and character from the qualities their observers find most salient. Much depends on scale. The zone of contact where the praries of the Great Plains meet the first foothill trees of the Rockies is an ecotone. At such a broad, regional scale, a woodland savanna might be described as ecotonal between the dense forests of the mountainas and the grasslands of the plains. Closer up, however, the savanna's edge, where trees and grassland meet, constitutes another ecotone. Other transition zones emerge as one reduces the scale further: at the scale of a beetle, the border between the edge of a clump of bunchgrass and the moat of soil and other plants around it is also an ecotone. In scientific terms one might say that the world is composed of gradients with relative discontinuities. Put simply: things change nearly everywhere, and so nearly every place is the edge of something and shares the qualities of an ecotone."
- William DeBuys

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Living with Pigs

Almost a week ago I went to Dover, TN and picked up two Red Wattle gilts (that's a female piglet) from Jan Black at Black Acres Farms. Their names are Ruby and Sadie, and Ozark has become completely enamoured with them both. Every morning at sunrise, he stands at the window looking out toward their pen, and when he's able he runs right over and hangs out next to their pen pretty much all day.

The Red Wattle is a heritage breed of hog, and is listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as being in critical condition. According to one source, as late as 2000, there were only 600 of these hogs left living in the U.S. We plan to get a boar in the future and start a small breeding program for Red Wattles (only the second in TN) and get some pastured pork in the process. Interestingly, the Red Wattle produces a very lean red pork (i.e., the color of pork before industrial agriculture made it into "the other white meat") that is listed in the SlowFood Ark of Taste for the gustatory pleasures it affords.

Chicken or Egg?

So after many long years of waiting, I finally have been acquired by a flock of chickens! Arriving on May 4th from Cackle Hatchery in Missouri, there are three breeds of this original installment of the Ecotone Flerd: Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Barred Rocks. So far, we've only lost three, and the Barred Rocks are by far the most aggressive foragers. I ordered from the hatchery 75 chicks, and when Jen and I moved them to their secondary brooder on Tuesday night, I counted 153! That means they sent me over twice the number of birds I ordered! I was intending to augment the flock with some white and blue egg layers later in the summer, but I don't know now. We'll see. Here are some photos.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Let's Go Gardening...

Here are some photos of the garden from its beginning at Hawkins Street to its planting at Ecotone. So far, there are six varieties of tomatoes - including my favorite, Cherokee Purples - peppers, eggplants, broccoli, greens, kale, carrots, and several varieties of lettuce.

In this garden, we're experimenting with no-till practices. It's really very simple and is supposed to be considerably less labor intensive. Relying on Lee Reich's Weedless Gardening, first we clip the grass as close to the ground as possible. Then we put either cardboard or at least six layers of newspaper (at this point I would only recommend the former), wet it, and place two-year old compost sufficient to support the seedlings. If starting from seed, less soil is necessary. Finally, and following the notion that bare soil is unhappy soil, we've mulched the beds with straw. These steps are necessary only in the first year. We'll see. But the idea is that the cardboard completely blocks the sunlight the grass and weeds need to grow up in the bed, while simultaneously being permeable enough for the roots of the vegetables to grow down into the undisturbed ecosystem of the top soil.

The boss of the garden is Bear, a chocolate lab we adopted a few weeks ago from Cunningham, TN. Every night, Bear is ceremonially ensconced in the garden on the hypothesis that he might serve the same function as an expensive, unsightly, and probably ineffective deer fence. The idea came to me while working in the garden and hearing our neighbor's chained up pit bull bark senselessly into the afternoon. What if that dog had a job, I thought? If he were chained up at the corner of the garden, would a deer dare venture into vicinity? To be sure, this would depend on how how hungry she is; but given the fact that Frank Krantz is feeding them down in the holler, perhaps there's easier food there. The only other issue with dogs in the garden, of course, is their disappointing ignorance of the boundaries of beds. To address this, we've put surveyor stakes with white string (but now we also have bright orange) strung between them. I've seen Bear and Ozark running at top speed playing and vere off to avoid it. So far so good, but we've also yet to encounter hot dogs and cool soil during the dog days of summer.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Home Place

Jen Cartwright & C.J. Sentell
6806 Clarksville Highway
Joelton, Tennessee 37080
Jen bought this place from Thomas Lewis of Hendersonville, Tennessee on March 6, 2009, and we finally made it home at the beginning of May. Thomas was born and raised here, his family owning it and living here for the last 75 years or so. Formerly a much larger parcel of land, the Lewis' slowly sold various pieces extending down Harper Road over the years, leaving the homestead and acreage for which we have become stewards.

The house next door used to be a dairy dip restaurant, which several people remember with fondness, and now Kim, Matt, and their family live there. Matt is a seasoned roofer at 24 and an urban transplant from East Nashville; Kim hails from Portland, TN and is the primary caretaker of Matt's mother (recovering from a recent stroke) and two sons. Across the street is a well-known local watering hole, with pool and poker tables aplenty. The neighbor sharing the longest property line, Frank Krantz, arrived after the Lewis family but before the opening of the bar. A widower and father of three, we met Frank one afternoon while he was "dry land fishing" - or Morel mushroom hunting - which he's been cultivating in the gully between our places for over 60 years. He and his good buddy - also known as some of the best homemade wine makers on the ridge - left the hillside that day with two plastic grocery sacks full of mushrooms. Frank also feeds the deer and wild turkeys, and has attracted a large flock of the latter that numbers well over 100 birds. He lets friends selectively harvest from this bounty, and is the closest to Thoreau's wild farmer I have met.

Situated between Clarksville Pike, Harper Road, and I-24, the property consists of 11.59 acres zoned rural for agricultural use on the northern boundary of Davidson County. With ample pasture, mature forests, and an active watershed feeding a deep pond hidden in a hollow, there are several distinct habitats for wildlife and wild lives.

is the name it has suggested to us. Technically the term belongs to ecology, and designates a transitional area between two or more distinct ecological communities. Like the science, the word is relatively young - gaining widespread usage only after the turn of the last century - and derives from two much older Greek words, oikos and tonos. A home, domicile, or place of dwelling, the oikos was the foundation for politics and the organizing principle for economics; it was the place through which they became possible, and so the source for developing means appropriate to its various ends. Tonos, on the other hand, was a word born of sound, and referred to the tension or stretching of voice or music - think tone and tonality - whose trajectories form the borderlines between poles of opposition.