The other day, Jacqueline, Drew, and I were putting up trellises for the new raspberry field. We had set out five nicely curved rows of about 100 feet each. The curves reflect the Japanese “hide and reveal” design concept (miegakure): to make experience of the field more interesting by hiding pieces, inviting the viewer in to discover what lies behind. But this story is not about design; it's about skills.
For our trellises in Needham, we stretched wires between the posts and tightened them with turnbuckles. The result was somewhat mediocre even for the short row distances we had there. We just could not quite get the wires stretched tight enough. Besides, turnbuckles are pricey. A search online revealed you can also buy wire tensioners and gripples. Also pricey ($2 each), and, like turnbuckles, requiring a gripple purchase for every single wire you put up. Me: mentally doing a calculation of all the wires we are going to put up in the next two years and coming up with a lot. The ads say the gripples save you money, but at $2 a pop, I can invest a minute or two for an alternative approach.
So, the web search continued. Sure enough, arising from deep down in the bowels of the internet, comes another Way in the form of a YouTube video posted by Tim Thompson, Master of Wire Knots from Australia. This Way requires a so-called chain grab puller, but aside from that just wire and skills to tie wire knots – no gizmos, gripples or buckles. Once I discovered this little nook in the YouTube world, of course a whole community emerged, all building on and communicating with each other. Ah, the beauty of the Hobby Internet! After looking at the YouTube videos several times, I decided we could learn this – we could replace gizmos with knot making skills.
The grab puller is quite medieval looking with a big chain and long handles – at the Greenfield Farmers Coop they told me nobody had asked for one in the past 30 years – but it’s pretty cheap (under 50 bucks) and indestructible. With a little practice, Drew and I learned to get the thing on the wires, tie knots, and tighten the wires – to a level 100 percent better than the turnbuckles ever could. It was fun too. Especially figuring out how to make the knots better looking and neater. Now, with the puller stored in the barn, we are freed from ever buying wire-tightening gizmos again, and will always have nice, taught wires on all of our trellises. In its own small way, this is immensely satisfying and empowering.
This anecdotal little experience led to a broader reflection on skills and gizmos. An emerging thread on this farm appears to be the search for simple but effective, low-tech approaches to tasks. Often, these solutions require a skill, even if it is an incredibly simple skill. We hauled all the wood chips from a big pile to the berry rows this past summer instead of using a tractor with a bucket. Effective shoveling of wood chips requires being handy with a shovel – believe it or not, a skill. We built hoop houses and barns out of raw materials instead of buying a kit – requiring a whole array of skills. We improve our fields by rotating sheep over them instead of mowing and buying fertilizer – that requires sheep care and electric fence moving skills. People back in the old days had an incredible inventory of such handy skills and that’s how they managed to live without supermarkets, hair dressers, shopping malls, and gizmos.
We may not end up replacing all modern tools and gizmos on Big Foot Food Forest, but it is comforting to know that learning to do things with our bodies and our minds – skills – can free us from a certain amount of that stuff while providing enjoyment, independence, and empowerment.