we give thanks

We give thanks that, last week, with the help of four Franciscans, one of the boys living away and two nieces, we got two of the three yearling steers and four hogs cut, wrapped and in the freezer.  The bacon isn’t brined yet, and I won’t render lard until Advent is over and I can make doughnuts at the same time, but the bulk of the job is done.  Just a few more seasonal chores — ten, or maybe twenty — and we can turn our winter focus to Shakespeare, clay, and our book, for which we now have a publisher — and for that let us greatly give thanks!

Natural systems have a lot of backup plans, but not a great deal of forgiveness.  If I slip on the verge of a steep cliff, someone else will have to do my share of the evening milking; but the local buzzards will have a good dinner.

When we culled chickens three weeks ago we had to move about one hundred fifty pounds of onions out of the cave in order to get at the mechanical picker (chicken plucker).  We hung those onions in the summer kitchen — temporarily, we thought.  Two weeks later, going in there to mix grain for the hens, I found the onions still hanging, frozen solid.

Deep chagrin and self-recrimination.

All was not lost.  The girls and I spent two afternoons peeling and chopping over one hundred pounds of onions which would have stored just fine for months in the dry cave but were now destined for the pig pens unless we could get them all in the freezer (our dehydrator is much too small for that many onions).  Now the freezers smell faintly of onion but our winter’s supply of alliums is safe.  We remember laughing at the story of another gardening family who, two years running, left the potato harvest spread on the front porch until a freeze destroyed them, but we will laugh at such stories no more.



The early cold spell caught us by surprise.  Nine degrees fahrenheit on 18 November is on the chilly side; a week of low temperatures is unusual.  God knows what the winter will be like; we don’t.  The turnips are still in the ground, and there are pintos still to be pulled before really cold weather makes the bean pods split and curl, dropping the beans we want for winter soups and refrieds where they will do no good.  We are supposed to see some warmer weather over the next week, and we will have to scramble.

The six-months heifer with the cough is recovered now.  We put her in a quiet pen with green grass, a straw-lined loose box, and no competition, and within a few days the spring was back in her step.  We’ll take her back to the dry cows’ paddock as soon as we fix the tailgate on the pickup truck.

Finally, the last of the heifers is bred.  She was standing last night, and again this morning she stood to be mounted (and mounted, and mounted); we had fetched the nitrogen tank from our most helpful and obliging friends the Powleys, so we were able to get her done this morning at five-thirty.  Tonight she went back in with the dry cows and steers who are out on the north pasture, leaving the front pasture, which is a more convenient distance from the dairy, for the lactating cows.  Whether she settles to the breeding or not is irrelevant, since she is only a yearling; if she doesn’t take this year, she gets another chance in 2015.   For the rest of the herd, pregnancy check day is a week away.  Any of the older animals not gravid will get one more chance — a trip to the Powleys’ Hereford bull — and if that doesn’t settle them, they’re history.  We’re short of beef anyway.

In a house with no screens except those on our laptops, Bobby Mcferrin singing the itsy bitsy spider on utube brings everything to a screeching halt while five assorted people stand behind papa’s chair and laugh.  Butter making is forgotten; the fruitless search for a small yellow ship under the cabinet piano becomes less angst-ridden.  Latin translation gives way to Bobby M. and an audience singing the Ave Maria.  Beautiful man.

In a spirit of great daring — or foolhardiness — we gave an interview to a local newspaper.  May God have mercy on our souls.  The conviction that real food is worth taking risks for fueled our intrepidity.

Today’s farm tour was much less stressful; the proprietors of Penn Forest Cemetery are adding a farm component to their green (read: ecologically sound) cemetery, and are interested in how rotational grazing can fit into the operation.  Take a look at their web-site; here is woodland interment without toxic embalming fluids or concrete vaults.  We spent several pleasant hours walking the pastures with Pete and Nancy, showing them our natural water systems and demonstrating rotational grazing patterns for our sheep and cows.


The garlic is in the ground, thank God.


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