From GENE LOGSDON
Over the years, gardening and farming have taught me to be pessimistic. I’m the guy who invariably says, when a really nice day arrives, “we’ll pay for it.” We are not in control. How often I have seen two farmers do the same thing but on different days. One makes a profit and the other doesn’t. The one is considered smart and the other not so smart when much of the time it’s pure luck.
So when nature allows me to look smart, I play the part with gusto while I can. Tomorrow it might all blow up in my face. At the moment I am basking in the sunshine of having put one over on my archenemy, chickweed. No significant event here, but satisfying nonetheless.
Optimists should love chickweed. It has many quasi advantages. If I had a washout I’d seed it to chickweed and stop the erosion in two years even if it were big enough to swallow a school bus. To the optimist there is no better winter cover crop than chickweed and if you are very clever, you can sometime use it for pasture here in our godforsaken cold northern winters. Also, it makes a decent salad and an effective salve for skin rashes.
So why do I hate the stuff? It’s taking over our garden, that’s why. Unlike good, honest weeds, it will grow whenever the temperature gets much above freezing and so luxuriates when the ground is too wet to cultivate with anything except maybe dynamite. I know gardeners who are otherwise mild, patient and forgiving enough to endure even jayhawker politicians, but who have finally resorted to flamethrowers to annihilate the weed. Doesn’t work very well however. Even the fires of hell could annihilate only what grows above ground and so after flaming, chickweed comes right back, maybe even faster in spring because the heat warms the ground up quicker.
This spring on the first day dry enough to hoe, I attacked the carpet of chickweed. I do mean carpet because it was so dense the hoe just bounced off. When I tried to rake the stuff, or slide the shovel under it, it remained immutably earthbound. Rototilling was out of the question. What I needed was a big tractor and a disk heavy enough to cut up old Sears Roebuck catalogues. I did learn however that I could skim under the chickweed carpet with a very sharp hoe and rip off pieces. If I worked hard, I could clear a section of garden about ten feet by ten feet in, oh, say three hours. At that rate, by the time I got a garden plot cleared for the tiller, the first ten feet of it would be growing back again.
So anyway, while I was cussing the chickweed, another calamity befell us. A fox decided that it liked the taste of hen better than mouse. This happens every spring. I think the foxes are feeding their young because the rest of the year they don’t bother us. So I have to keep the hens penned up. I do not want to keep the hens penned up. My business plan states very clearly that my hens will graze the meadow and woods around them without benefit of purchased feeds.
From its name, I assumed that chickweed would taste delightful to chicks. So I scraped up a bucket full of the stuff and took it to the hens. Sure enough. After eyeing it querulously for a minute or two, they started pecking away.
So through March and early April, when the soil surface was not too soaked with rain, I scraped off buckets of the weed to feed my “pasture-raised” eight hens, along with an ear of corn or two every day. Then something even more unexpectedly delightful occurred. I noticed that the bit of soil and roots that came up with the chickweed was full of earthworms. My hens were getting a well-rounded, natural diet. They kept laying their usual number of eggs even though penned up. Aren’t I the genius?