AgriCulture: It’s The Little Things

It’s the little things that get you. The pebble in your shoe. The thorn under your fingernail. The sentence in that document you missed on first reading that changes the meaning of everything.

On those nights when I awake and sleeplessly review in my mind the long list of things I should have but have not done, it’s often the smallest, least consequential ones that loom largest. I know they are inconsequential because in the morning, when I think back, my reaction is usually “why bother?” But when the spirits of the night take charge, those little unfulfilled responsibilities represent just how overwhelming things seem. If I can’t even get those little things done, is not the boat of my life in danger of sinking?

It seems fitting, then, that as I have increasingly been concerned about incursions of wildlife on the farm, it is the smallest of creatures that have preoccupied me the most: the now pervasive, uninvited tick.

Farms are fundamentally about humans cultivating and promoting some forms of life (livestock, crops, beneficial insects) and trying to exclude others (wildlife, invasive weeds, harmful insects). We try to erect barriers between the good and the bad with fences, nets, ground cloths and sometimes with other forms of life (guard dogs, plants that repel insects). The Canada geese who were nesting on the island in my pond, who persistently chased off a fox hunting for food for her young, were a repeller species. Since the geese successfully hatched six goslings (see photo) and moved on, I have seen the fox kits playing on the wood chip pile just outside my back fence, while the vixen herself has been wandering inside that fence line. I fear for my chickens.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is goslings.jpg

To be sure, I also fear potential incursions of other large animals. A few weeks ago, Eric, while walking Lillie in the cemetery, encountered what he believes was a wolf. Later that same day, driving about 15 miles east of here, a young black bear crossed the road in front of us. If such wildlife are increasingly prevalent in the region and decreasingly afraid of interactions with humans, surely it will not be long before such invaders seeking food on the farm.

But the ticks are here already. For my first 19 years here I had little interaction with them. While my late partner, Peter, endured several tick bites and at least two bouts with Lyme disease, I never to my knowledge suffered a bite. The last two years has been a different story entirely. I repeatedly find ticks on my body, often well entrenched in the process of biting me and sucking my blood, painful to pull off. How could I have gone so long without a bite and then suddenly seem to get one every few weeks?

My friend Steve is convinced that a regional tick population explosion explains my newly bite prone existence. I have tended instead to attribute it to age-related changes in my body chemistry that must be attracting the ticks more strongly now. I have no evidence for this theory (says Steve: “Is there anything you’re not desperate to blame yourself for?”) but maybe it’s part of the spirit of our time that I still find it a plausible explanation.

We’ve discussed this a lot of late because Steve is convinced that tick borne disease is about to explode as our next public health crisis. Steve was bitten on one of his recent visits here, which led him to start the usual recommended short course of prophylactic doxycycline. He also sent his tick into a non-profit organization called TickReport (https://www.tickreport.com/), the motto of which is “A Piece of Data is Peace of Mind.” For $100 they sent him back overnight a beautiful picture of his tick (see above), and a combined DNA/RNA report for various pathogens. For $50, you can get a DNA report alone. Steve’s tick, like about half of all ticks captured in New York State, was positive for Lyme disease, and it led Steve’s doctor to extend his antibiotic treatment.

When I recently got my fifth tick bite of 2021, on my thigh, I was pretty sure that the tick hadn’t gotten its mouth under my skin for long enough to transmit disease. Too embarrassed to email my doctor for a prescription two weeks after the last one, I pulled the tick off, put the tick in a zip lock bag, and sent if off to a free testing facility at the Thangamani Lab at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse (www.nyticks.org). I did not get back a pretty picture, but within a week I did get the happy result that my I. Scapularis female tick was negative for disease causing pathogens.

My results came with the disclaimer that “This tick testing program is meant only for academic / research purposes, and should not be considered as a diagnostic tool or as a basis on which to make health care decisions.” It would be nice, I thought, if you could get these results fast enough to make treatment decisions, in a manner easy and cheap enough be used by the entire population. It might even help avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics, which we know is also a great public health concern as it enables development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Even more effective for public health would to reduce the number of bites and the number of biting ticks that carry disease. All my friends are offering various techniques (tuck pants in socks, spray your clothing). My friend George, having attended a seminar on tick-borne disease at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies (www. caryinstitute.org), has been recommending I throw my clothes in the dryer at the end of the day because heat kills ticks. As with the other exciting health news of our time, in which COVID-19 transmission is being reduced through vaccination, the folks at Cary are studying ways to reduce the number of ticks infected with Lyme through treating the mice on which they live (tickproject.org).

Maybe I’m right to focus on the little things when I’m up in the middle of the night. Viruses, bacteria, spittle and ticks — it does seem it’s the little things that get you.

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK

Rhubarb, $4/lb
Mint, $1/bunch

Anxious for a way to feature the early spring garden for a visiting vegetarian friend last night, I gathered my fattest purple asparagus, to be baked in socca (a chickpea cake) topped with chives. I cut the leaves that have been reappearing off least year’s collard stalks, to be sauteed on the side. And then took a look at what I had most plentifully, rhubarb and mint. I could have done a dessert, but instead thought “why not a chutney?” I winged it. I simmered three rhubarb stalks in about 4 tablespoons of white wine and half a cup of sugar until the the rhubarb was barely beyond the crunchy stage. I chopped it up with a couple of scallions, a handful of mint, and a handful of parsley. I mixed it all together with a dash of salt, a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate molasses diluted in water, and a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar. Voila, a delicious chutney. Try it yourself.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK

Rhubarb $4 a lb.

Mint $1 a bunch

Sorrel, $3 a bag

Cheese pumpkins, $1/lb

Garlic chives, $1/bunch (flat leafed)

EGGS: production has doubled, feel free to order, $5/doz

FRESH HORSERADISH, $3/lb

MEATS:

CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. These freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. $6/lb, frozen. Separately, bags of chicken livers, also $6/lb.
pineapple

FARM PICKUPS:

Email us your order at farm@turkanafarms.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.



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