Matfield Green - Our first years

Monday, April 03, 2006

Controlled burn

It's been a busy few days at Camp Bunkhouse. On Friday Jess Dean tilled the garden. Thanks to his efforts, the soil is dense but workable, so this afternoon I took a mid-day break from the office, gathered up tilling fork, rake and seeder, plus a bag full of seeds, and headed down to the garden. A couple of hours later I was breathing a sigh of full of relief knowing that spring would not, in fact, pass me by. I've taken that necessary step of getting the first seeds into the ground: snap peas, shelling peas, lettuce, arugula, corn salad, basil, parsely, dill and oregano. The garden-season, long and lovely, has begun.

I'm especially excited about the lettuce and basil seeds, which I'd saved from last year's garden. Some of the lettuce is from a third generation of saving.

On Sunday I transplanted a few tomato planats, moving them out to the coldframe to make more room under the growlamp for melons and hot peppers.

On Saturday evening Bill and Pat and I burned a small patch of prairie between the Bunkhouse and the corral, a particularly delicate area to burn since it contains our propane tank.

Armed with our tools: Pat carried propane torch and garden house, Bill had the garden rake and I strapped on the 4-gallon sprayer backpack full of water. The wind was blowing but in the perfect direction, from the southeast, away from the road and away from the bunkhouse. It was twilight, soon to be dark - not a problem given all the light we'd soon be generating.

The first step with a controlled burn is to light a backfire, into the wind, which you control carefully with rake, hose and sprayer, burning a swath around anything you wish to protect. In this case the corral, the outhouse, and, especially, that propane tank. I experienced a moment of panic feeling the fire racing toward the corral, pinning me against the fenceposts. I was not in danger - I could easily jump the fence and run for cover, but I was worried about the corral itself lighting fire. I sprayed and Bill "raked fire" until the corral was out of danger. No harm done. However, we agreed that next time the wise thing to do would be to mow an inner circle around those structures we are protecting, then back-burn, and then finally light the headfire.

A headfire in action with a medium-strength wind blowing in the perfect direction is a sight to behold. We lit the fire at the south end of the area we were burning and just sat back and watched it flame, knowing that we'd secured our assetts with the backburn. Off it roared, consuming the old growth and making room for the new tender shoots of healthy grass and wildflowers.

There's poetry in that.


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