Farm Life: Dirty Days

Hello Farmgirl friends! I hope your summers are going well. I’m getting married this coming Sunday…it has arrived so quickly! This is a great respite from the planning, list making, and overall excited anticipation of our “Big Day.” While I’ve spent much of the last few months with contacting vendors, searching for flower girl dresses and selecting our favorite dance songs, I have also spent a good amount of time in the fields of Sun Circle Farm.

Freshly weeded onions!  Only took about 12 hours of woman work...Yay for organic farming!

Freshly weeded onions, fennel and and head lettuce! Only took about 12 hours of woman work…Yay for organic farming!

Baby Chard ready to planted in the field.

Baby Chard ready to planted in the field.

One of the more “girly” wedding preparation activities I recently did was to get a manicure and pedicure with one of my good friends. As a farmer, this was one of the more embarrassing things I’ve ever done! The night before, my co-worker and I had spent the evening in one of the tomato houses on the farm stringing up and removing suckers from the plants. Do you sucker your tomatoes? It is a necessity in Alaska for both determinate and indeterminate varieties. Our season is just too short to allow any growth that isn’t off of the main stem of the plants. Have you ever worked with more than one hundred tomato plants? If you have, you know that they leave an amazingly resilient dark greenish brown stain on your hands and yellow dust on all of your arm hairs. Even after scrubbing my hands and taking a shower, the creases in my palms were stained. On top of that, I had also sliced my left pointer finger while harvesting the never ending spinach sowing that had exploded with huge, succulent greenery after the recent cycle of rain and warm sun. Needless to say, my mani and pedi took twice as long as the woman next to me. However, I did really enjoy the pampering!

Post-tomato work hands.  Ripe for the manicuring.

Post-tomato work hands. Ripe for the manicuring.

View from the tomato house--post lightning storm  (rare in Alaska).

View from the tomato house–post lightning storm (rare in Alaska).

While a decade of calluses were being expertly sloughed off my dirty feet, I reflected back on the last few weeks and one thing came to mind: “good thing I’m a dirtbag!” Dirtbag has several definitions, but I tend to refer to the rock climber/camper/outdoor person definition. It applies to people who follow their passions, often eschewing social norms such as certain aspects of personal hygiene. For example (here’s where I make one of my embarrassing confessions), I am perfectly content not bathing for extended periods of time. I have absolutely zero issues getting into a clean bed with dirty feet. Sometimes I don’t brush my hair for more than a week at a time (and my hair starts to dread after a couple of days). I have been known to “smell test” clothing to assess if it’s okay to wear in public (visible dirt is okay, body odor is not). I actually feel kind of cool going to the grocery store or other places with a dirty face and muddy pants. It shows I do real work, right? I try to tell myself that, but most times I fall back on: is this what adults do?

Dirty Farmgirl after a day of pulling old cutting greens, feeding pigs, amending new beds, and harvesting for a local restaurant.

Dirty Farmgirl after a day of pulling old cutting greens, feeding pigs, amending new beds, and harvesting for a local restaurant.

Growing up, one of my best friend’s mothers was both an obsessive compulsive germaphobe clean-freak (to the point where we couldn’t sit on grass) and an avid gardener—even working in a greenhouse. To this day, I do not know how she managed these conflicting aspects of her life. I find that my tolerance of being dirty has served me well as both a mother of young children and a toiler of the soil. The former tend to be sticky much of the time while the latter leads to soil, amendments, pieces of plants and all around “dirty” things working their ways into hands, shoes, hair and bras. Sometimes, after a long day of working, with the awareness that I will be back in the field in ten hours (this actually doesn’t happen much with my current schedule), a shower seems futile and like a waste of precious time that could be spent sleeping, eating or slugging water. I must add that it it also helps that I work on a fully organic, non-chemical using farm. If I were to be applying pesticides and chemical fertilizers, cleanliness would take on a whole new meaning!

The Soil Blocking process--First, fill soil blocker with very damp (almost dripping) potting soil.  Press into the blocks firmly.

The Soil Blocking process–First, fill soil blocker with very damp (almost dripping) potting soil. Press into the blocks firmly.

Nearly filled trays of soil blocks.  It takes some simple algebra/geometry to get them filled in correctly and efficiently!  And as you can see, once in awhile a block falls out because it didn't get tamped down enough.

Nearly filled trays of soil blocks. It takes some simple algebra/geometry to get them filled in correctly and efficiently! And as you can see, once in awhile a block falls out because it didn’t get tamped down enough. Seeds are dropped in the little dibble marks.  It takes a few days for germination, depending on what was sown.

Future head lettuce.  Maybe our last tray for the season?

Head lettuce seedlings in soil blocks. One of our last trays for the season? No chemicals on these babies!

That makes me pause, though—if we were to use chemicals to control weeds and pests and to encourage vegetable growth, then maybe I wouldn’t get so dirty? Our dirtiest days are weeding days because a lot of soil comes up with some of the more prevalent weeds…like chickweed! I know, I know, it’s nature’s super food and an amazing addition to anyone’s natural medicine repertoire…but we have enough chickweed at the farm to feed a small army. We all get burnt out on it by late May. Most of what we pull gets fed to the pigs, but we have to throw it over the four to five foot fence to get it to them—hence how soil and plant parts find themselves all over our bodies! A pesky insect or loose hair on the face leads to dirt smudged faces and any moisture at all leads to mud covered feet and legs because we spend so much time kneeling to harvest and weed. Ah! The dirty life :). Our micro biomes must be well stocked or something along those lines…

CSA delivery for the week that I was "in charge"

CSA share for the week that I was “in charge”

I am not farming this week, because we are in Minnesota finalizing some wedding plans. As we forge ahead (with hands still slightly stained five days after handling those tomatoes), I am appreciative of the pampering, salon appointments, and overall cleanliness I get to experience as a bride-to-be. However, I’m excited to get my hands and feet dirty! I’m even a bit excited to discover bits of weeds that end up in my undergarments…

Obligatory adorable farm baby photo.  Dirt is good for them!

Obligatory adorable farm baby photo. Dirt is good for them!

How about you? Do you tolerate (or even enjoy!) the dirt, sweat and soil that comes along with working the land?

Until next time Farmgirl friends,

Sending peace and love from MN,

Alex, the (clean for now) Rural Farmgirl

Leave a comment 22 Comments

  1. calle says:

    A woman after my own heart. Didn’t know any other women did the clothing smell test? Bahahahaha

    We are now into cutting stumps down and drilling holes to rot out the trunk roots.

    Problem is it is now headed up to near 109 F and higher. I got a canopy out to cover us, as it is dangerous heat that can kill.

    We will drink, and splash ourselves with cold water and take breaks.
    I do try to clean up for errands as they treat you better. And wet paint in the hair is a mess.

    Well dirty nails are not that bad, microbes in the soil help to keep us mentally well.
    Hope to see some wedding pictures, and the hubs is out working those fields.

    I have to mulch as weed pulling is not my friend.
    Best

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      109F–woof! That sounds miserable, I hope find a way to stay cool and safe in those temps! Clothing smell test forever!

  2. Krista says:

    How exciting to have your wedding just a couple days away! I hope it turns out the way you always dreamed of. Can’t wait to see pictures.

    I tolerate dirt but I do not enjoy being dirty. When my hands or body get dirty when I’m in the garden I am just fine, but I need to wash my hands and change my clothes when I come inside. Over the years I have become a little less of a clean freak and my garden has helped with that. As for my oldest son, he can’t stand being dirty, sticky, etc. I had always dreamed of having that wonderful picture of your naked baby covered in spaghetti but I never got that picture. He will not eat with his fingers or hands. Simply won’t touch it. He has to eat with a fork. I’m hoping my second boy will be different. Who knows, he may change over the years.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Oh! I love the idea of your neat little boy. Sometimes I wish my kids were a little more clean a lot less sticky, but it generally works out for us to be on the dirty side! My kids have turned out to be so different from each other–it’s almost like they are different people :), I hope you get your sticky spaghetti covered little boy photo, too!

  3. Denise Ross says:

    OH Alex, how exciting your getting married this weekend. I hope your day is so special and you all enjoy it.
    Lov getting my hands dirty when I do my container gardening, though it can prove a problem for me when I go to work and can’t get the stains off my fingers and hands, despite the extra scrubbing. I do wear gloves sometimes, but they are cotton and the dirt goes through anyways.
    Gorgeous pic of your girls, love they’re outside in the dirt. I struggle to get my son outside now, not much for him to do in our yard, I rent and am not allowed to dig a garden though I planted some of my plants in the garden that was here already. The rest I do in containers, slowly learning as I go. It’s winter, so only my snow peas and spring onions are doing much right now, but hope to do more when I warms up a bit more.
    Look forward to seeing some of your wedding photos.

  4. Joanne Luthman says:

    Congratulations! And best wishes!

  5. Marilyn says:

    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. Looking forward to some pictures.
    Marilyn

  6. Holly Mawby says:

    Absolutely! I sometimes where the same clothes for four or five days because they’re dirty and going to get dirtier! I sit on my bum when I weed and dirt gets inside, outside, everywhere! And don’t get me started on socks – not amount of bleach in the world is ever going to get my socks clean. I too do the smell test and dirt in my fingernails is a seasonal cycle – May to October – they’re clean Nov. to April. Same goes for my house (With the exception of the bathroom and kitchen – I have to have those clean)- I tell people, “I can’t have a clean garden and a clean house at the same time, so I only clean the house in months that have an ‘R’ in them; and September only because the ‘R’ comes at the end and that’s when I start cleaning!

  7. Joan says:

    I love the soil, eat all BUT I require a wash -off, if even from an outside water source. I got used to a ‘wash-off’ as a kid (more than 70 years ago) after “farming”, still love the getting wet. Best wishes to you and your family. God bless.

  8. Debbie says:

    Congratulations, Alex! I meant to comment on your announcement posting and never quite got to it. Why? I was most likely playing in the dirt. Wishing you a fabulous wedding day and many happy years together and Mr. and Mrs. Love the photo of the girls… adorable as always!
    Love,
    Beach Farmgirl, Deb ( aka earth pig, as my hubby lovingly calls me)

  9. Joanna K Fedewa says:

    I heard that the valley got a thunder storm! Would you believe it didnt make it out to Big Lake? I kept hoping it would! I love thunder storms and was rather looking forward to it! Oh well maybe I will get it next time!
    While I dont really like to get dirty, I do tend to wear the same clothes all the time though and I do have to smell test those clothes! But hey we live in Alaska! I like to think its perfectly acceptable to wear the same clothes more than once right? as long as they dont smell?
    I was going to ask you, how do you keep the moose out of your plants and vegetables? We’re thinking about trying to do a garden of sorts next year. And are getting ideas for how to keep the animals out of it. That might be hard to do though with where live! So any ideas would be welcomed!

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      The thunderstorm was AMAZING. Lots of lightning right above the farm while we worked on the tomatoes. As for moose–we have a giant fence (8+ feet) around the property with an electric wire running along the top. One of my farmer friends has a wholly electric fence. it is 8-10 feet tall with electric wire running every 18 inches from bottom to top. It is strung along T-posts placed about every twelve feet. It runs mainly off of solar power. Mostly works like a charm. Moose seem to get through any fence at least once a season…then they do their thing of taking one big bite out of every cabbage they can find. It’s a lovely salad bar to them!

  10. Karen Pennebaker says:

    I pulled weeds, cut lettuce and purslane for a salad, and picked green beans this evening before fixing dinner for my grandson and myself…dirt is all part of gardening, for sure – I don’t have any problems with dirt… I have 3 sons and 6 grandchildren…I’ve seen plenty of dirt!! I live on a dirt road, so my truck is always dirty…no way out of it!!

    Congratulations on your wedding! Are your girls going to be the flower girls??

  11. Joy Pascarella says:

    Dirty girl here too! It’s been so hot and humid that the sweat on top of the dirt requires me to shower. Just clean undies are all I change. The pants can stand on their own as long as they are not too gamey. Shirts are always sniffed. I have GOOD clothes when I leave the house for knitting group,or store but the minute I get home, back into my grubby clothes and even an apron to collect eggs from the chickens.

  12. Diane Van Horn says:

    I must confess, I too am a dirtbag!

  13. Dori Troutman says:

    Super excited about your wedding Alex!! It will be so much fun to see pictures!! :-)

    You are one of the hardest working farm girls I know! Loved all your pictures.

    Have a wonderful day Sunday. I’ll be thinking about you.

    xoxo

    – Dori –

  14. Marlene Capelle says:

    \How do you know what clean is if you don’t get dirty? Nothing like dancing toes in wet mud.

  15. Marlene Capelle says:

    Oh, and congratulations. Live long and prosper.

  16. Susabelle says:

    I am a fat woman who works hard, and I enjoy my showers. They take 7 minutes, and I feel so much better afterwards. It is just in me to do this. I get itchy and have very oily skin and hair, and I really don’t like to be smelly either. As a fat woman, that is a natural side effect of the extra weight. So I’m careful to clean up when I’m done.

    That being said, I have gone into stores dirty, but only in the country where everyone else is also dirty. I will say my hands are ALWAYS clean and that I garden 95% of the time with gloves on because those danged cuts take too long to heal and are painful.

    But I have to ask…why is weed pulling the only thing the organic farm is using to fight weeds? I have always used pulling as a last resort. I cover cover cover…either mulch or newspaper or cardboard. The only weeding I ever need to do is very close to the plant, and those are easy. When my mom and I ran our CSA, we weeded, yes, but it was the LAST thing we did after deploying other methods (newspaper and cardboard were our go-to most of the time).

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Hi Susabelle! I totally understand bathing after working–I sometimes wish I had that need, but it just doesn’t bother me! As far as weeding vs. mulching we have a few reasons: for one, we do have some major slug problems in AK and most mulching techniques tend to be good habitats for slugs. And then we have wind–lots and lots of wind. We’ve tried newspaper, cardboard and straw mulch but it turns into a huge mess and doesn’t stay put. We use IRT plastic on some crops, but the weeds still grow under them–it is mostly used to warm the soil. I guess gardening fabric could be used for some of the longer season crops but that would be a lot of waste at the end of the season as it’s hard to reuse it. We will try that next year for our peas, because they are a disaster! We do have several acres in production but we don’t have a large tractor to put down row cover and it would be a lot of purchased mulch to apply (and we’d have to purchase USDA organic certified–if that’s available up here I’m sure it’s cost prohibitive). So, I guess we’re stuck with weeding. The pigs and other livestock like the fruits of our labor and we get some good personal time with the plants, so those are pluses! Weeding has been a large part of my job on every production farm I’ve worked on. I think it’s awesome that mulching worked for you! It’s an amazing tool when it can be utilized.

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