Catching some rays. Photo by Ben.

by Ben

Howdy y’all. Ben here, once again sending in a report from our quaint little ecovillage, where the soil conditions are soup-tastic. After experiencing five or six different types of precipitant over the past week, the ground has taken on a texture similar to a lot of the food I get at potluck here. Similar mouthfeel, less tasty though, and arguably less nutritious; though I have been putting a fair bit of work in over these past years to raise the nutrient profile of our soils.

Not unlike my two year old, our land is experiencing a condition known as soggy bottom. Out further afield, away from human and animal disturbance, the soils appear firm, sheathed in tall grass thatch, but beneath the surface it’s nothing but waterlogged, geologic Jell-O.

In performance of my daily routine I attempt to step as lightly as I can upon our delicate pastures and footpaths, but the hundred-or-so-odd chickens, and accompanying goats, ducks, donkey, pigs and dogs cannot contain their locomotion to the least impactful cadence. This is the hunger gap time when the grain and hay we’ve been feeding since December no longer satiates their wild appetites, but the temperature and hours of sunlight have yet to provide green, nutritional fodder.

Here and there I spy a clump of green in the sea of brown and grey vegetation, and so do the chickens, often spreading out in search of Spring’s verdant tonics. I have eaten small bites of chickweed and peppergrass, cold, gritty, and satisfying, but this has done nothing except awaken my deep hungriness for living green food. In days to come I’m sure more and more opportunities for grazing will arrive for me and my animal friends, like wintercress and nettles.

As the springtime groggily arises out of the murky slush mud of winter, and vernal sunlight pushes against the long deep nights, there are occasional signs of the change in seasons, when there isn’t snow dumping. Maybe two weeks back there were vast skeins of snow geese circling in confusion, unsure of how far north or south they wanted to be. On the nights warm enough for my water to remain liquid I can hear the song of spring peepers emanating from the ponds and draws. Robins probe the sod for earthworms and scrap with each other for territory. I got my first tick of the season, which I believed to be the first tick, until I received a couple of other reports from neighbors. That being said, based on where I found my tick, in context with how long that region has been covered up in long underwear, I might have just discovered what was the last tick of last year. If folks wanna compete with me in regards to parasite load, they are always welcome to try.

One of the things that’s got me wallering in the muck is this year’s highly anticipated goat kidding season. I’ve lost a fair bit of sleep, none of which is making its way back, checking up on baby goats and expectant nannies. So far, there’s nine new kids, which is rare. There are two babies in particular who need extra attention and help in feeding. Someone needs to walk down to the barn every four hours or so to perform what’s become something of a ritualized act of kneeling in the mud, retrieving the fragile kids, pushing through the horde of weather-weary goats, getting one of them onto the milking stanchion, and getting the babies to nurse. The real runty one, Ed, the one who was born in a rainstorm and found his way into the pig pen almost immediately, has a poor sucking reflex, though he’s getting better at it, having built up his strength by living in a cardboard box next to the wood stove. I’ve always sworn up and down that we’d never keep weak goat kids in the house. Strong ones neither. This is the second year in a row, but luckily Ed now lives with the other goats. He just has to wear a sweater for awhile until he becomes acclimated to living outside.

In spite of our lack of edible greenery, the egg market around here is about as saturated as the soil. My resolution for 2018, other than being slightly above mediocre in all I do, is better record keeping. Yesterday we collected 79 eggs from our flock. According to my records, we got zero eggs two months ago. It’s a nice change in production, especially since this is basically my only paid job, but being a poor huckster capitalist tests the limits of how much I can promote this, my life’s work. I often find myself in the difficult position of having to balance slinging my wares with embarrassing myself trying to push eggs on my neighbors, most of whom are set at the moment. In a future where energy, climate, and food all become insecure, I imagine people will become more accustomed to eating only what is locally, seasonally available. Like some chickweed from Nathan’s backyard. In the meantime I will continue to preserve the eggs I can’t sell, in the root cellar, sealed in lard or waterglass, pickled, stuck in a hole, whatever. I’ve been making a lot of mayonnaise, which like most American food, is way too oil-intensive. Still, I like me a mayonnaise sandwich. If worst comes to worst, I can feed them to the pigs and dogs, but not before I attempt to dehydrate some first.

Other food is on its way. We’ve milked a couple of the engorged nannies and are pleasantly surprised with how rich and sweet the milk of our Nigerian dwarf goats tastes. It has snowed twice since I put fava beans in. I’ve been dividing and transplanting walking onions and nettles. I even pruned my fruit trees for the first time, which unfortunately means I’m going to have to do this every year. It is satisfying to watch the landscape. I’ve been manipulating mature slowly into something more fertile and productive than what it was previously. Another resolution of mine for the year is to be better at managing my manure. By which I mean, the manure of the livestock. I do fine with my own already. That’s where my real riches are. So while my children don’t have much of a financial inheritance, I do think they’ll have ample soil to grow food in, which carries a significant value in my mind, not to mention my belly.

Well, I see sunlight peering in at me through the window, which is my cue to get out of this musty office and go waller around in the mud for awhile. It could be a good day to stick some elder cuttings in the ground, or spread mulch in the barnyard, or lob extra eggs at the steadily-multiplying sparrow colony starting up under my eaves. There’s rotten boards to kick around, manure to manage, and buckets of food scraps to flop out towards the pigs. There’s probably even a few flies that need swatting at my place. And while three months from now I may be hoping for steady rains, what I want for right now is sun and wind, because for the first time this year, I’m all set on water.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and educational nonprofit outside Rutledge, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Public tours are offered April – October on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month. In the meantime you can find out more about us by checking out our website, www.dancingrabbit.org, calling the office at (660) 883-5511, or emailing us at dancingrabbit@ic.org.