I like to be neat.
At least I want to be neat.
But one look in my workshop, or office or even my truck would indicate otherwise.
I’m actually messy – with occasional bursts of neatness.
This is also true out on the farm. While the basic form of a fruit orchard is neat & orderly – rows of trees evenly spaced in a grid pattern – things can get messy from there pretty quick! A few too many weeds, grass a little high, a broken branch here, a tree missing there … and the neatness is gone.
However, in spring all eyes are on the blossoms, so it’s hardly noticed.
Sometimes the weeds are beautiful too!
The ripening fruit grabs our attention in the summer.
And in fall, the coloured leaves make everything look great.
But at this time of year, with no blossoms, or fruit, or even leaves to distract the eye, things are looking a tad messy out in the orchards.
Actually they are messy by design (mostly)!
The weeds in the tree row for example.
A few extra herbicide applications in the late summer & fall would have easily eliminated them, leaving the soil weed-free and very neat & clean-looking. But leaving the ground without any covering could mean damage to the tree roots if the winter is very cold. I compare it to us going to bed without blankets on a cold night. Better to have some lingering weeds to help protect the soil & the tree roots. The weeds also collect & hold the fallen leaves which add more protection. Besides, do we really want to use extra herbicide?
Perhaps I could have mowed the grass once more this fall. Short, evenly cut grass looks so much neater. But again, we wanted to catch the leaves and keep them from blowing away. As the leaves break down they add organic matter to the orchard floor and improve the soil.
In fact we add a lot of extra leaves each fall. A friend of ours in the lawn care business brings us all the leaves he collects. Throughout the summer we get all his grass clippings too. Then we buy many loads of manure.
These are all spread throughout the fruit orchards & on the land where we grew vegetables. Our soil fertility is improved by adding all this organic matter. Better soil in turn feeds the trees & vegetables making tastier & healthier crops. Good soil is also able to hold moisture better – especially important during a dry summer. Because our orchards are in permanent sod & not cultivated, all this stuff is spread on the surface & looks messy until it decomposes and disappears into the ground.
On the open ground, we lightly work it in which speeds up the process.
We use a lot of mulch on our farm – for many of these same reasons. Mulch – either straw or hay depending on availability – prevents weeds from growing thus reducing or eliminating our use of herbicides. Mulch keeps the moisture in the soil longer, an important consideration since we cannot irrigate our crops.
As the mulch breaks down it becomes part of the soil. Of course mulch is not neat – neither when we spread it nor as it decomposes and gets thinner & some weeds begin to sprout …
With the advent of winter there will be time to clean my workshop, my office & even my truck, and they will look neat & tidy – for a while.
But the orchards go into winter looking messy, and that’s okay with me.
Neatness counts … for what?