Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It's A Hard Life

Not a crisis.  Not a tragedy.  Not on the scale of personal loss or disaster.  Nothing like that.

But still,  a day at work that would lower your shoulders with the realization that every day is not onward and upward; every day is not progress.

We work pretty hard at the greenhouse to minimize the amount of pesticide we use; spraying isn't inexpensive.  There's equipment to maintain, equipment to purchase, the cost of the chemicals themselves, and the time and effort of spraying itself.  Spraying has to be done after hours, when no one is watering, no one is picking orders, no one is transplanting, and no one is shopping.  Pesticides come out of your hide, your time. Customers don't love chemicals...but they don't want insects either.

There is also an unavoidable feeling of failure and guilt.  And grumpiness.  And anger.  Even after close observation, and good habits like cleaning up greenhouses and mop up of weeds, still....there are bugs.  There is disease.  There are cloudy cool days...the weather warms and April brings insects.  These are our plants, our spread, our work of art, our production, our crazy quilt.  A level of mortality is to be expected.  But me against the bugs: why? Are there not sufficient barriers already?  Is there not all the world outside to munch on?

It's April and a young man's fancy turns to....swine.  Aaron's 4-H project arrived: six little piggies curled up in their hut next to the #15 greenhouse.  Aaron dons his knee high rubber boots these days and chores after he gets off the bus at the farm.  Like many kids, this bunch has a pecking order and it became apparent the littlest gilt was getting picked on with a chewed tail and torn ears. One morning last week Matt decided she would need to get away in order to survive.  Soon she had her own crate of pallets on the graveled floor of the number 9 greenhouse surrounded by straw bedding and fiber pots of flowers that smelled remarkably like her previous piggy surroundings (these fiber pots are 'green' all over constructed of, among other natural substances...poop. Smells like it, too, after watering....)  In the warm sunny environment, we hoped she would gain strength and eventually rejoin her companions.  

But...several days later, this little pig had a bigger problem.  Sometime during the night, the farm dogs had broken into the greenhouse and  gotten between the slats of the pallets to injure her further.  The jury is still out, but Aaron may only have five pigs for his project, not six.


Is it Aaron's fault?  Certainly not.  These are pigs that get personal attention...names even.  This is a nature problem, not a nurture shortage.  This is pigs being pigs.  

And why did Bernice, Ikey, and Lucy suddenly go berserk and tear into the greenhouse after it had been a pigpen for 5 days undisturbed?  This is Lucy, who will barely stir from the middle of the road when I drive up in the morning.  Bernice, whose blood used to lead her to tree coons in the power lines, but now is hobbled by the same creaks and groans all creatures of a certain age suffer.  And Ikey, not convinced he is a dog at all after being the original third member of the Schlueter family, preceding Aaron, Lizzie, and Josh.

They are loving companions and fixtures of the farm. But they are mere dogs being dogs.

When this is your day to day life, you accept these setbacks, these minor tragedies, these ongoing reminders of an imperfect world.  You don't like them; you curse the needless destruction and waste and ugliness and are liable to lash out in frustration, like Matt did: "Why can't they just leave it alone!  Its just a pig; why can't it just live?"

It's a good object lesson for anyone outside of agriculture, this intersection of uncontrolled nature and civilization.  Despite our best efforts, despite our intensive care, bad things happen under our stewardship.  Bugs suck on plants and we have to use chemicals to save them; pigs chew on other pigs because they can; loving family pets revert to their wild side, base and cruel in our view, but  nothing if not natural.  We humans are not the perps, the reason, the cause; and often, even though we wish we could be, we cannot be the cure.  

It's just a hard life.


  1. This week was an excellent example that animals are just that. Big pigs pick on little pigs. Dogs pick on little pigs. 9 year old boys get the joke...long before they even know there is someone out there somewhere that thinks differently.

  2. An important lesson to learn...one can only do one's very best to care for the creatures that are one's responsibility....whether those things are flowers or pigs. So much outside of one's control! And one bad outcome just means you have to keep trying....and in the case of bugs...trying and trying again!