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Spring Equinox

Spring has sprung, and farm life is busy. It has been busy for a while, really, with calving season now almost finished. It has been a good season, with only three losses so far and well over a hundred calves born. One mama who had twins last year– and nursed both– did it again! We are quite proud of that mama!

Two donkeys, mother and daughter, joined us in January for coyote control. We have them in with the mama cows, in pastures on opposite ends of the farm.

Cocoa, the mama donkey

Cocoa, the mama donkey

The mamas and babies don’t seem to notice the new guardians. They were very curious, however, about me in the farm truck:

Sniff, sniff... got any hay in there?

Sniff, sniff… got any hay in there?

Mamaaaa...

Mamaaaa…

Today I planted the hellebores I bought yesterday, and potted the lemon balm and rosemary so I can bring it inside until well past the last frost.

 

rosemary and lemon balm

rosemary and lemon balm

This afternoon was gorgeous, bright and cool, but this weekend promises more freezing temperatures and possible snow. Seriously? Snow?

spring sky

spring sky

apricot blossoms

apricot blossoms

our wild yard (mint family)

our wild yard (mint family)

 

sunset over the shed

sunset over the shed

Whatever the weather, happy spring!

 

Julia Swancy:

For those of us who farm, this is hardly news, but I find some solace in seeing the numbers verify my subjective experience. We were so very, very fortunate last year.

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance News Service:

By Justin Gillis / The New York Times

The numbers are in: 2012, the year of a surreal March heat wave, a severe drought in the corn belt and a massive storm that caused broad devastation in the mid-Atlantic states, turns out to have been the hottest year ever recorded in the contiguous United States.

How hot was it? The temperature differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree, but last year blew away the previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit.

If that does not sound sufficiently impressive, consider that 34,008 new daily high records were set at weather stations across the country, compared with only 6,664 new record lows, according to a count maintained by the Weather Channel meteorologist Guy Walton, using federal temperature records.

That ratio, which was roughly in balance as recently as the 1970s, has been out of whack…

View original 502 more words

My mother is a quilter, as was her mother before her. Some time ago she showed me this book, The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt by Laurie Aaron Hird. The subtitle reads, “Letters from 1920s farm wives and the 111 blocks they inspired.” Hird shares the story of the contest offered in January 1922 by a women’s magazine of the day, The Farmer’s Wife. Apparently times haven’t changed much, as there was a perception in the city of the drudgery of farm life, especially for the women. Thus the magazine endeavored to dispel said perception by offering cash prizes for letters from readers answering the question: would you want your daughter to marry a farmer? The responses (over 7,000!) were overwhelmingly positive, with 94 percent answering yes. With these letters for inspiration Hird designed 111 blocks, 6 x 6 inches, representing various aspects of the life of a farmer’s wife. My mother is also a retired history teacher, so her interest in this project was no surprise to me. However, I am of a preoccupied nature and luckily missed a very obvious point, which I discovered Christmas eve at my parents’ house when we exchanged gifts. I am also a farmer’s wife, and that quilt was made for me.

Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt by Jennie Johnson

Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt by Jennie Johnson

Incidentally, those pillowcases were also made by my mother, gifts from a previous Christmas. Our bed is queen sized, so she added to the border to make it a bit wider; this is the first quilt we’ve had that truly fits the bed when turned the right way. She attached a handwritten tag naming the giver and receiver, the date, and the details of having 111 blocks and over 2500 pieces. The fabrics are all reproduction vintage patterns, such that a 1920s farm wife could have had access to similar fabric. I love the colors, the small blocks, and the symbolism of each one. She also gave me her marked-up copy of the book, knowing I would want to study it to memorize the meaning of each block. Some I find easier to visualize than others, with names like maple leaf and hovering hawks, corn and beans and kitchen firebox. Others are more abstract: friendship, four winds, homeward bound, silver lane. All are so beautiful, and I feel so blessed to sleep under this. Thanks, Mom. Merry Christmas.

The Solstice Returns

We welcome winter this morning after a night of blistering winds and a high for today of 44 degrees which has already passed. Outside the blindingly bright sun belies the frigid temperature as we begin our return toward longer days once again. As high cirrus clouds sail across an icy blue sky I find it hard to believe that today is this blog’s one year anniversary. Although life has had its twists and turns (as it always does), and I have not met my goal for the number of posts over the course of the year that I had hoped to achieve (as I never could), I did at least carry on. Sometimes that is the best we can do.

Last month we finally put Lumpy down, the mama with the swollen jaw who lost her calf last year. The swelling never responded to any treatments and had finally gotten so big that she could no longer eat. Still it was hard to accept; I suppose culls always are. You just can’t help wondering if you did everything you could. In better news, we bought two new bulls at the last sale to increase the genetic diversity of the herd. We have been feeding hay on a daily basis for some time now, the grass in the pastures dying off a little early from the dry fall it seemed. Winter wheat has been planted and now struggles to come up. All the mamas-to-be have been sorted into pastures near the house and barns for the upcoming birthing season. I hope to bring two donkeys onto the farm before birthing begins to help keep the coyotes at bay. Driving on nearby roads I see other herds with some new babies already, brown, white and black packages of bovine adorableness. Although I appreciate the black Angus breed for what it literally brings to the table, at times I wish we had a little more diversity in the field, if only for visual interest…

My middle child is pestering me for her garden gloves. Soon we’ll bundle up and head outside to set out a few pansies around the blueberry bushes. I am tempted to postpone this task because of the wind; our Christmas lights clattering wildly against our front windows scold and warn like crows taking flight. I know myself, however, and one postponement will lead to another and another. Eventually the pansies will not forgive me, and then I will not forgive myself for not just planting the stupid things. So, out into the ripping wind I go. It isn’t that many pansies.

pansies waiting

pansies waiting

Happy Solstice everyone!

Samhain

Happy Halloween! The final harvest is upon us. We woke to our first frost this morning, glad to cross picking peppers off our list of things to do. Brad’s milling corn, in red, white, and yellow, and his red and yellow popcorn fill bins, dump trucks and combines, thousands of gleaming pounds of kernels waiting. Hay bales stacked three tall fill the hay barn, calves graze apart from their mamas, and mamas graze fresh fields not yet worn down from their plodding hoofsteps, gestating.

playing in the corn bay

I used to think that all farms always have All The Things that a farm might produce, but in truth this is our first year growing pumpkins of the variety and quantity that I have always coveted. Thanks to the squash bugs our plants produced mere fractions of what we expected from all these varieties, but we did grow several large Lumina pumpkins, and this makes me happy. As none of our Howden pumpkins (the standard “jack-o-lantern” type) made so much as one, all our lanterns this year we carved from Luminas:

This pumpkin has white skin and pale flesh, with size comparable to a typical jack-o-lantern, perhaps rounder, and smoother. We also have a smattering of pie pumpkins.

Lumina pumpkin, carved

pie pumpkins and Luminas

 

Now that frost has struck we can stop wondering what else we’re going to get from the field. Winter wheat now waits in the wings for another rain to ready the fields for planting. Almost back into calving season…

So It Goes…

Rain and damp continue to keep us out of the last seventy-five acres of corn. Nearly forty trucks have come and gone, the fields studded with fractured and moldy stalks to show what grew before.

post harvest

 

The signs were right for weaning recently so we separated the most stressed mamas from their calves, across a fence from each other. This “fence line weaning” reduces stress on both mama and calf. I came home late to hear a great deal of complaining from those fields the day they were separated, but by the next evening all was nearly quiet. We’ve moved herds around and weaned another group while waiting for the corn to dry out again.

newly weaned calf

 

With drought damaging the grass over the summer, we started using hay a good bit earlier this year. The Bermuda patch is all baled up and ready for the shed.

bermuda bales

A cold front came through yesterday, making it finally feel like October. We loaded another truck this morning and hope to finish picking here soon, so the harvesters can go start picking on the family farm down the road. Then it’s fence repairs, picking beans, and waiting for calving to begin in a few months…

 

One Less Rooster Soup

It’s what was for dinner… all our currently mature birds were raised for meat and are long overdue for butchering. The most aggressive, a Dominicker who had chased and pecked at the five-year-old, attacked the three-year-old and secured his appointment with the machete. Soup or stew is about all these birds are good for, as we’ve let them get too old and tough for much else, but the soup is delicious and deeply nourishing. Sea salt, vinegar, onion, garlic, peppers, potatoes, a bit of basil, and a long simmer. Yum.

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