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Waltham Fields Community Farm (incorporated as Community Farms Outreach, Inc.) is a nonprofit farming organization focusing on sustainable food production, fresh food assistance, and on-farm education. For more information about Waltham Fields check out our website!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Notes From the Field - The Trickster

The coyote is the trickster king.  He makes a scene to attract your attention to one direction and while you are looking that way, he plays a trick behind your back. 

Some of you may remember the terrible woodchuck problems we used to have here on the farm.  The forest that lines three sides of the farm fields, while beautiful and filled with diverse wildlife, was also home to one of the largest, boldest, and most well-fed populations of groundhogs I have ever come across. These things were mammoth, fertile, and hungry.  They laid waste to plantings of broccoli, munched their way down rows of lettuce, chomped our melons and tomatoes, dug under fences, laughed at scarecrows, and thwarted every attempt to distract or dissuade them from the fields. The only solution to our woodchuck problem that worked even temporarily involved scouting the field edges in February armed with marking flags, a shovel, a lighter, and a bag of giant smoke bombs to take out the groundhogs in their winter dens. This was not our favorite job. It also seemed like even if we did manage to empty a burrow, a new resident would move in shortly as the surviving woodchuck families expanded in late spring.  It was a constant headache, and worse, a real issue for the productivity of the farm.   

One beautiful year, the woodchucks abruptly disappeared. In their place, we saw the tracks of a new farm resident: as big as a large dog, leaving a trail of dug-up burrrows and scattered fur and bones. Coyotes had returned to the urban wilds of Waltham, and while our apparently inexhaustible vole population continued to thrive with a new predator in town, the woodchucks were suddenly a thing of the past. The coyotes ranged over the green space from the Lyman Estate to the Beaver Brook Reservation. We were delighted. 

In the very dry season of 2010, something began eating our watermelons. At first, it looked like the melons had just been turned over by a curious paw; then teeth and claw marks appeared. Before long, the just-ripe melons were gnawed open, seeds and juice spilling out, cantaloupes and watermelons alike made unharvestable. Though it seemed impossible, there was no mistaking the distinctive shape of the canine tooth imprints in the rind. Coyote, always a trickster, had shape-shifted from a helper to a hindrance.   

The melon crop was almost a total loss in 2010 because of the thirsty coyotes.  2011, despite the fact that we put up an electric fence, sprinkled the melons with cayenne, and literally camped out on the farm, was not much better. Last season, we moved the melon crop to the Gateways field in Weston, where it grew unmolested by coyotes.  For a moment, at least, our relationship with the trickster was a truce.

Last week, after two weeks with a threat of heavy rain every day in the forecast, the weather turned hot and steamy. It quickly became clear that, despite our feeling like it had rained every day for the past two weeks, and despite our making rain plans every day for the past two weeks, it had not, in fact, really rained much at all. Although June was a rainy month overall, by the time the heat hit in early July, the soil was dry and we were unprepared, distracted by the coyote forecast, worrying about late blight and rainy day activities instead of irrigation and hot-weather plant care. The crops were as surprised as we were.  We ran drip irrigation.  We moved aluminum overhead pipe to water thirsty kale and collards, bulbing onions, wilty lettuce and delicate transplants which gained a couple of hours from a little water from the transplanter but needed a major infusion by the end of each day.  We tied tomatoes up, dripping with sweat and unconcerned about late blight, which does not thrive in hot weather.  We transplanted cucumbers, squash, lettuce and fall kale.  We drank gallons of electrolyte beverages of every description. We killed weeds and they stayed dead in the heat.  Slowly, we cleared our heads of the rain clouds that the trickster forecast had brought and focused on the real season at hand:  the hot one.   

It was good growing weather for eggplant and peppers, tomatoes and melons and beans. We all made it through the hot weather, tired but unscathed. We got a lot of work done while it was not raining. We remembered the old saying "be careful what you wish for."  And late last week, we saw a big mother coyote walk along the edges of the field, stopping to look at us every once in awhile, her tongue lolling out of her mouth as she panted in the heat. She looked strong and healthy, with a shiny coat and very white teeth.  She paused at the treeline, looking behind her. We followed her glance to a movement in the grass-- a smaller coyote, with huge ears and paws, trotted behind her, pausing to sniff and scratch and explore.  The trickster's legacy continues on the farm.  Now if only the coyotes would eat up some of those bunnies...  
Enjoy the harvest,
Amanda, for the farm crew

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