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Another spring brings wildflowers and black flies, more work and visitors, nesting birds and hungry woodchucks. The slow time and our annual meeting are behind us. Necessary work-pulling weeds and cutting firewood, planting seeds and mending fences-provides an antidote to news-induced despair. Autocrats swagger, wealth gaps widen, and migrants flee but find no refuge. But light grows, thrushes sing, trees leaf out, tadpoles emerge from jelly eggs. We thank the Creator for life that thrives in spite of heedless greed, and we invite others to come enjoy what can’t be bought nor sold.
During school vacation week in April, Joanna again organized ScreenFree activities at the farm and in the wider community. Five children and eight adults, all new to the farm, came for a sunset nature walk and stayed to observe woodcocks displaying at dusk. They were attentive, walked the trails without tiring or complaining, asked questions and took brochures. Nobody came to help with work on the afternoon scheduled for volunteers to help with garden or trails. (article continues after photos)
Last year during ScreenFree week we held a ‘barn dance’ in Richland at the suggestion of Sarah VanNorstrand who calls contradances and is on our Board of Directors. She is interested in promoting small community dances and noticed the old school building that houses the Halfshire in Richland. They didn’t charge us rent for the use of the space, Sarah volunteered to call, and Eileen Kalfass and Zeke Smukler to play fiddle and guitar, while Zach played banjo. Only about a dozen people came but they enjoyed dancing and live music so we tried again. Don Hughes on keyboard joined Eileen and Zach this year. With better publicity, more than 55 people came, filling the space cleared for dancing. I was pleased to see people of all ages dancing and laughing together without any stimulant other than the music, especially after Joanna had reported after her last community task force meeting that some attenders blamed rising drug use on ‘kids having nothing to do’ in this area. (article continues after pictures)
May 10th, Joanna and I took feathers and skulls, salamanders and a frog, pond water with its tiny critters, wooden toys and farm photos to the library in Pulaski. The new librarian had invited us for the second in a Discover and Learn series. I was wishing I was back at the farm getting some work done because nobody had shown up. Then a father with two young boys returning books and came over to see what we had brought. He told us that they were neighbors who had moved in around the corner on route 22 and often passed the farm. The boys were interested in the live critters and able to identify many of the skulls and feathers. One kept trying until he was able to place all the round blocks without tipping the crocodile and spilling them. I hope if it ever stops raining, they’ll come walk our trails and find salamanders under rocks and maybe take some plants or even help in the gardens. (article continues below pictures)
This spring I’ve shared divisions of perennial herbs and flowers and hope they flourish wherever they’re planted. Zach has pulled the ‘chariot’ he built last year so visitors who couldn’t walk so far could go see the trillium and the pasture pond. I hope people will keep finding this a place of peace, a respite from distractions and consumerism, a point of contact with creation and their Creator. –by Lorraine
Farm Update (written May 13) by Joanna
I used to imagine that learning how to farm was a clear and linear process in which more and more questions were answered by experience and the way to grow food well in a particular place became ever clearer. It hasn’t been quite that simple. The place remains the same, but the climate and the creatures we’re working with keep changing.
This has been another cold spring like last year’s, but while last year turned dry as soon as we were able to start planting, this year has stayed very wet. The pastures are lush and lovely, but often the goats stay inside because of hard rain (or go out and eat the soaking grass and pick up more worms). The eggplant, pepper and tomato seedlings in the greenhouse are growing slowly in the gray weather, though their color is healthy and they’re compact and sturdy. I’ve already set out chard, kale and onions, all of which are staying healthy without watering but growing rather slowly. I didn’t get peas in until mid-April, and they took their time growing after that—they’re still only about three inches high, though they’re thick and dark green. Potatoes went in at the beginning of May; their shoots still haven’t emerged, but that may be just as well since the temperatures are still quite low. Lettuce and spinach are also progressing slowly, though we’re still getting salad greens from plants in pots started in the greenhouse. We just had our first asparagus to eat on Mother’s Day, and the rhubarb began a little before that. Our shiitake logs, which thrive in the damp weather, have been producing mushrooms since mid-April. The lateness of our spring harvests is made easier by the abundance of last year’s storage crops. We had potatoes, carrots and parsnips from the wellhouse/root cellar and garlic and onions from cool dry storage to use and give away into May.
On April 28 our new goat Nan gave birth to twin kids, a buckling and a doeling. The buckling never figured out how to suckle; our attempts to help him, and then to warm him up, failed, and he died at just over a day old. But the doeling, Honey, is thriving, learning to hop and to graze. Nan doesn’t milk well through the winter, so we plan to sell her, along with Honey, to the Amish neighbor whose buck fathered Honey. We’re hoping to get another doe from the same farm that sold us our doe Amada, who is still producing plenty of milk after kidding in spring 2018.
Last fall our rabbit breedings didn’t produce any kits, and I was afraid I might have overfed the does to the point where they couldn’t conceive. I watched their weights through the winter and we bred them again this spring. The first two breedings produced nothing, and we thought we might need to stop raising rabbits, or to get rid of our stock and start over. Then on April 15 our young doe Kittery gave birth to seven kits. The week after that one of her sisters had six kits, and then their mother, our oldest doe, whose first breeding this spring had failed, had six. We’re guessing that our buck went heat-sterile last August when the nights stayed warm, but now he’s viable again. By the time Kittery’s young were ready to start eating solid food we had enough grass and legumes to cut for them.
We’re also enjoying the harvests that come by grace, without our work and worrying. The cool gray weather has slowed the development of the fiddleheads and wild leek greens and allowed us to enjoy eating them over an unusually long season. And just last week when I walked in the woods with a friend we spotted many shiitake mushrooms growing from stumps that we’d inoculated nine years ago and given up on perhaps five years ago. We should keep getting harvests for some years now, if we pay attention and notice when they’re ready.
I’m still trying to learn how to grow things well in our changing seasons, and also how to cultivate patience, attention and gratitude. That process is not linear either, but it can be satisfying.
Our maple sugar season this year was short, but we still got enough. The first run of the year in late February ended with a cold snap and very high winds so the sap got frozen into the buckets for a couple of weeks. A few lids and buckets blew away but all were eventually found as the snow melted. Overall we made about 9 gallons of syrup from 39 taps. I was talking to one of our Amish neighbors this spring about how to get the taps clean inside and he suggested boiling them, which I will try.
Due to the long cold winter we burned all of the wood in the main shed and in the extra stack in the new building, and by now we have burned most of what had been meant for summer wood. I was able to go to the woods during several days in March, with a sled to carry the chain saw and such, while the snow was frozen hard on top. This let me cut most of the firewood I was planning to bring in this spring, except what was under the snow. Once the snow melted and we got some dry weather I went out with the tractor and only had to do a little bit of cutting and to load the wood. This saved a lot of time and I got the main shed and the extra area filled in April. There is some wood that I cut that I have not been able to collect since the ground is still too wet. I will use it to fill the auxiliary shed where we keep summer wood, which will be empty soon. We are lucky to have a good supply of wood available, especially when the weather and thus the amount of wood needed is so variable from year to year.
The boiler damper motor died in April and we ordered a new one. During the 4 or 5 days before delivery I had to manually open or close the damper on the back of the boiler each time it turned on or off. This was a bit inconvenient but at least we were still able to use the boiler, and it would have been much worse if it had happened during the winter.
In late April I ordered the materials for the front side of the roof of the barn in which we live. I had hoped to start on this job at the beginning of May, but we are two weeks in and it has been raining almost every day. Last year I did the back side and it took about 6 weeks with some interruptions for weather and other work, and I expect the front to take slightly longer, once I get started. The kitchen alterations I wrote about in the last newsletter got done, and came out pretty well. It’s nice to have the dishwasher out of there, and to have more functional cabinets and drawers.
Last summer while mowing the fields I broke the knife in the haybine. The machine is about 50 years old, so breakdowns are to be expected. We just bought a new knife which will be an improvement over the old one since it has sickle sections that are bolted on instead of riveted. This will make it much easier to replace broken sections, but it meant a bit more work to make the conversion. I am hoping that mowing will be more trouble-free this year.
The chickens didn’t go out from their winter coop till April this year because of the continuing bad weather, and at first they were getting out from their movable yard. At my mother’s suggestion I added some heavy wire mesh to the bottom of the yard which prevents them from scratching up the dirt and digging holes, and now they are staying in better. They have been laying very well this spring, since they are just a year or so old. At the time of this writing we have just gotten our piglet for the year and it seems very robust and healthy. We are having three days of rainy weather with highs in the 40s, but the pig seems to be doing okay so far and once it warms up I am sure it will be happier. Last week I went to town in the car one day and that evening I noticed oil drips on the road leading into our driveway. There was no oil trail going out, so the car must have sprung the leak while I was in town. I found that the external filter for the transmission oil had rusted through, so the next day I rode my bicycle into town in a downpour and got a new filter and some more oil. With my poncho I was able to stay relatively dry and luckily the repair was easy. The people who were bringing our piglet to the rendezvous in Barnes Corners were kind enough to postpone the trip by a day, since I found the leak the night before I was supposed to meet them in the morning. It was one of those incidents that is a bit inconvenient but could easily have been much worse if the oil leak had begun when we were on our way to get the piglet.
We’ve had so much rain that the brooks are still full in the middle of May. Blooms have held longer in the cool weather. The black flies are out and the mosquitos will be as soon as it warms up, but they should be kept in check by the bats we see flying at dusk, the swallows that have finally returned, and the frogs that are loud in this wet spring. I enjoy early morning birdsong with the migrants back setting up territory, but have missed the calls of the barred owls this spring.
Two college students are scheduled to volunteer, one in July and one in August. Local volunteers and gleaners who would pick what we can’t use and take it for themselves or to share would be welcome.