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A Near Catastrophe

A farm in the spring is a busy place. I haven’t had much time in the past few months to write much of anything because the whole crew has been scrambling to keep up with all the projects that seem to be piling up in front of our eyes. We also had a major setback when Farmer Jake, our illustrious intern, broke his wrist while playing basketball a few weeks ago. He has been relegated to working in the office and the farmstore, his left arm firmly wrapped in a bright pink hard cast. His absence from the more physically demanding chores has left Walker and Jamie and me with a lot more on our plates than we had anticipated what with apple spraying, taking care of the U-pick berries, maintaining a mowing schedule, feeding and moving the animals, fixing fences, harvesting asparagus and mushrooms, attending farmers markets…

The problem is that there is no end to the chores you haven’t done on the farm, so making time to write can be difficult. There’s always something else that seems more pressing or has more time sensitive consequences than posting on the blog. Considering all that, I’m going to take satisfaction in the small number of posts I have made and, once again, resolve to be more diligent in the future.

What else can I tell you about the past few weeks? We…well, I… did have a near catastrophe with the apple sprayer that scared the wits out of me and very nearly caused a major setback in our attempt at holistic orcharding.

I had been spraying the trees with Kaolin Clay all morning and the tractor and sprayer looked like they’d gotten coated with powdered sugar. The clay is meant to deter the curculio beetle, a pest that lays eggs in the developing fruitlets and can destroy and apple crop without proper attention and management. The clay is ground microfine and when it is applied liberally to the apple trees, flakes off on the beetles and inhibits them from completing their reproductive activity.

When I had finished spraying and cleaned out the spray tank, I headed back up the mountain to park the 300 gallon sprayer in the shed. What I didn’t realize was that I hadn’t completely secured the sprayer hitch to the ball on the back of the tractor. While there was spray in the tank, the weight kept the whole thing from bouncing off but now that it was empty, the contraption balanced precariously on its one set of wheels and was only resting lightly on the tractor ball. As I pulled onto sugar hollow I noticed that a black Lexus was coming around the curve behind me but I didn’t give it a second thought. A slight bump in the road made the tractor seat bounce but then I heard a snap and saw the sprayer handle and connection lines tear from their mount on the tractor beside me. I spun in my seat only to see the oddly shaped machine careening back down the road and gaining speed as it went. The driver of the Lexus seemed oblivious for a moment that the vehicle in front of him was headed straight for the recently waxed hood of his sedan. Or maybe he was just inclined to play a one sided game of chicken. I waved wildly at him and tried to shout over the thrum of the tractor. Finally he  broke out of his momentary stupor and swerved into the other lane. He sped around the whole scene and, without so much as a “ Looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you”, ran the stop sign at the top of the hill as if he couldn’t wait to get the heck out of Fairview.

The sprayer didn’t make the curve in the road but instead went straight over the edge of the road, down a steep bank, through a barbed wire fence, and crashed into a rhododendron bush. I pulled the tractor off the road and ran down the barn, legs shaking slightly, to get help.

Walker, Jamie, and I were able to pull the sprayer back onto the road and found that, through some miracle, it hadn’t been damaged beyond reckoning. Only the handle, which extends from the spray tank to the tractor, and the odd little platform on the back of the sprayer had gotten mangled. Everything else was more or less untouched by the accident. I kicked myself thoroughly for not correctly securing the hitch, but I guess sometimes those kinds of mistakes are good. I will never, never pull out without checking and rechecking that connection again. Ever. I suppose it was just lucky that the Lexus driver didn’t play his game of chicken for one second longer, and that the rhododendron bush stopped the sprayer from crashing all the way down the hill, and that the odd little platform on the back that acted like a rear bumper. Oh yes, I’m counting my blessings on this one.