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Archive for May, 2012

much more moisture today

As I write this, long after I should be in bed, wind blows tricycles and scooters across our porch and the farm gets hammered with rain again. The gutter that leaks above the front porch dumps continuously in a loud and constant splatter on the concrete porch floor. The chickens huddle against the house and cluck nervously, while the humans inside cluck just as nervously, wondering what we will find in the morning.

This morning, still clear and hot, found me contending with grass, poke, and pigweed in one of the raised beds behind the house:

raised bed this morning, before weeding

The frequent whims of my youngest two, ever urgent and dire, provided all the sunscreen I needed, as they interrupted me regularly for a glass of water, an apple, a lift down from the top of my car (“Then why did you climb up here?”) or a peace treaty. My gloves caked with mud, I pulled out clump after clump of grass, beating it against the side of the bed or against the soil in the bed to leave behind as much of that hard-earned earth as possible before tossing the undesirables aside. The pigweed’s thorns pierced my fingers through my gloves leaving multiple tender spots. Grass smothered all the Cherokee red lettuce; roots twined together had to be teased apart and the lettuce replanted, with many casualties. I shifted my angle to the sun throughout the morning as each side of me in turn let me know the rays were getting too intense. By morning’s end a fine brownish black dusting covered me head to toe and I had only finished one bed.

finished weeding, with nasturtiums in the foreground and gourds and luffas in the back; Cherokee red lettuce in the middle may or may not recover

I learned the trick of using a tomato cage on its side from my Aunt Camille; if you’ve never tried it, it’s quite clever for vining plants such as cucumbers, squash, luffas, gourds, and others. Keeping them off the ground helps them stay dry, avoiding rotten spots and reducing stress from fungi. It may also help with pests, depending on what type and how you manage them; it certainly makes tending the plants easier as well.

Now the storm appears to have passed and I am tired and sore. The dog has stopped trying to break and enter (he is afraid of thunder). Time to call this day done and rest for the next one.

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hot, dry afternoon

Memorial Day Weekend (in the US) kicks off the season of all things outdoors, with grilling and family time and fireworks and suitably hot temperatures. Time whirls past and my head spins from the speed. Three more weeks remain before the summer solstice, which of course is hardly a double-blink. But I will insist nonetheless, against the voices of advertisers everywhere, that it is not summer yet… 

lavender with white-tailed dragonfly

lace cap hydrangea

late lettuces by the front porch

nasturtiums and iris

chamomile

perusing the fenceline

getting bigger

front walk

 

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We were the first in the county to get our corn planted. When Brad told me this I asked, “Is it a race? Are we winning?” But perish the thought, as the grasses have grown so tall all around that our electric fences are nearly useless; the mamas and especially the babies have been going whither they will, and delighting in the fresh new growth of Zea mays. The drone of the weedeater clearing the fence lines has accompanied the birds for a week now, and we moved one of the breeding herds to different pasture away from the corn so they wouldn’t be so tempted.

Meanwhile, heavy rains hammered the farm three days in a row, and the veggie patch has yet to dry out. The tomatoes and peppers are suffering, cows have been in and out trampling transplants and eating tomato plants, and the whole patch looks to be a pitiful mess. And, lest there be any area untouched, we’ve lost even more of our chickens thanks in part to having no time to fence them in because of the cows running amok. Let no one tell you farmers aren’t gamblers. This gambler is discouraged and awaiting the locusts…

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Ferdinand, one of our three black Angus bulls, is almost five years old. For those who are cattle-familiar, I don’t need to tell you that he is a bit on the large side. When the vet visited last summer to check last year’s calves we weighed our bulls as well, out of curiosity. The other two were large at around a ton apiece, but Ferdinand here was over 2400 pounds. He got slightly stuck in the chute and there was a moment of wondering whether he would take it with him. And yes, he does love flowers.

Through the winter the three bulls were together in the large pasture behind the house. Each would wander off into a different corner, then when they would all find each other again they would repeat their process of determining who was in charge. More than once I watched the two “little” ones try to take on Ferdinand together, all their heads pushing together, their bodies in a Y formation. Ferdinand would surely and very steadily plod forward, pushing both bulls backwards until they gave up. I wish I had thought to film them.

Ferdinand’s sheer size made me nervous when we first moved here, but as I watched him ignoring absolutely every living thing passing by (including a coyote) I realized he could not be bothered by something so small as me, even when clattering past with my own noisy offspring in the double stroller. Earlier in the year, before his lady friends had joined him in his pasture, he would lumber up to the fenceline right behind the house and bellow at me. He was most definitely complaining, perhaps for lack of company, as he is now too busy to bother me anymore. He walks slowly, somewhat stiff-legged, perusing the fresh new growth for a snack or a meal. What a creature to build from grasses!

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I knew this phrase as a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but it was not until last year that I gained first-hand experience of its origins. Pa Ingalls wasn’t using diesel-driven tractors and rakes, certainly, but haying bears the same urgency it always has: get it up before the rain, or risk losing a portion of next winter’s feed.

front yard baled

This small pasture had already been knocked down last week, but the risk of rain was finally upon us yesterday, so brother-in-law Drew dragged the rake over it all to fluff it, then Brad finished up behind him with the baler. The kids went out to climb and play haybale tag only to be chased indoors after just a few minutes by the rainstorm that blew in.

running in

Brad and Max also managed to start setting out tomatoes in the veggie patch, following the rows created by planting the sweet corn. They didn’t get far before getting caught in the downpour, but it is at least a beginning.

tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, waiting on the porch

Max went to the patch this afternoon to check the plug trays left behind yesterday and found several cows; fence repair is now next on the agenda, before we set anything else out and absolutely before the corn starts coming up. With the fence wiring grounded out in several places the new calves are learning to come and go as they please instead of learning to avoid the fence like their mamas. They’ll be surprised (dare I say shocked?) after it’s all fixed and carrying the proper amount of current again. I’ll just have to hope it doesn’t take too long to sort it all out. You just never know what’s going to come up.

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Julia Child rose, very fragrant and a prolific bloomer

May is already upon us, and the fertility of earth swells forth everywhere. Calico blankets of white clover, buttercup and hop clover soften field road edges, their honey-like fragrance enticing local pollinators. Spiky wands of milk thistle wave their pink poufs high above the grasses they punctuate. The heifers have been inseminated and the bulls bellow and whistle, claiming their respective herds. Spreaders trundled back and forth all through April, feeding the soil that feeds the grass that feeds the cows, and we’ve baled the first field of hay from this year’s growth. Nightshades and peppers grow strong in the hoop house, and corn planting has begun, with the planters now resting mid-field, awaiting the next rain.

when there's rain...

This has been a month of tragedies and triumphs. My first order of chicks got lost in the mail, arriving a few days too late and putting a damper on everyone’s expectations. The unceremonious roadside disposal of thirty-five dead chicks reminded me of the indifference of experience. I was raised to not spend much time grieving over animals; I wonder if I am too cold, too detached. It is what is, however, and arguing with reality wastes precious time and energy; so, onward. The hatchery sent me a replacement order the following week and while the survival rate was not stellar we now have two crested girls that we’ll keep for layers and twenty boys. (Apologies for their blurriness, they wouldn’t sit still for anything!)

"heavies" from McMurray Hatchery

In better news, Brad found one more calf in the field, at least two weeks old, born after the mamas and babies had been sorted into separate pastures for breeding. Thus we have one bull from this year’s birthings, a mother to identify and extra attention to pay in a few months when we’ll need to separate him from the others.

The calves nearest the house have a particular disregard for the electric fence, browsing the field roads and the yard many mornings:

just another pretty face

mmm, figs

in the clover (and perhaps the blackberry canes)

the grass is greener over here

My raised beds are built, filled, and planted; seeds sprout in flats, and we’ve begun preparing the field that will be the veggie patch. If all goes well (this is also the season of tractor repair as things break or malfunction periodically) Brad will put the sweet corn in the patch today, while I am once again headed for market this afternoon, with eggs, cornmeal, grits, and polenta. Happy Beltane!

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