the fall rush

Fall was invented so we’d be glad to see winter — just like human beings gestate for nine months so mom is willing to go through anything to get her body back.  Right now we are so busy that if we didn’t have to sleep we wouldn’t.  There are crops to harvest, gardens to be put to bed, winter beds to cover, some still to plant, garlic to put in the ground for next year, piglets to prepare for, the ram to move in with the ewes, heats to watch to make sure all the cows are bred, feeder hogs to fatten for November butchering, steers to fatten on the best grass for December butchering, fifty new chickens (the gift of our beloved Sisters of Reparation) to move into the barn — and the list goes on and on.  The moon is waxing in its second quarter, and before it is full we need to have many of these chores checked off the list; and the new milk room has yet to be painted and floored.

This time of year the pigs are eating the best of the best.  Tall  green stalks of corn with the ears still on, sweet corn after our neighbors had all they wanted for the freezer.  Green tomatoes, and red, squishy overripe ones.  Mangels thinned from the winter fodder patch, many of them over a pound, or two, or three.  Beans planted for nitrogen after the potatoes were harvested,  then cut while the pods are still green.  We take some beans for canning — forty quarts or so, so far — but the majority are like the green sweet corn, planned excess to feed the animals.  Milk, buttermilk, and whey from the dairy, where we are making something in the neighborhood of twenty-five pounds of cheese a week right now — and it will be that much again when the calves are weaned.

Today we cut the winter squash and set it out on dry grass to cure.  The meteorological forecast is for warmer, drier weather for a bit, so we hope to have a week to get it all into the barn and the dry cave.  We speculate that the two-hundred eighty-some squash — butternut, blonde pumpkins and cushaw — weigh in the neighborhood of nine hundred or a thousand pounds — the cushaw especially being about twenty pounds average.  The best will store for our table, and the monastery table, but the pigs will get all that threatens not to keep.

late summer

Mad as March hares around here.  The run-in shed is ready for winter, but the ram pump will have to wait until next summer.  God help us when cold weather comes, but if we survived last winter we can this.

Our presentations at the Mother Earth News fair in Seven Springs, PA, were very well received; we taught a session on making artisan-quality bread with home-ground meal, and another on small-scale rotational grazing for beginners.  We also met with the publishers who are looking at our book; we hope to be able to announce a contract one day soon.

The mangel-wurzels have given us at least six hundred pounds in thinnings, and will give us well over a ton of fodder for the pigs when we harvest this October.  The legumes planted for nitrogen and pig fodder are already feeding six pigs half their daily rations; after Thanksgiving there will only be Porca and He-man and their new litter to feed.  Turnips and heirloom corn are growing now for winter food as well.

The cows are drowning us in milk; we now have shares available by contract.  If you are looking for raw milk in east central Ohio, check out Two Sisters Creamery for more information

common ground

We will be presenting again at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA.  This year we demonstrate methods of using coarse home ground wheat in home baking; we’ll also demonstrate small-scale rotational grazing with portable electric fence.  So many people in one place, of widely varied viewpoints and backgrounds, united in an interest in sustainable land use and low-impact living, is an exhilarating experience; here, Zendik and Baptist, liberal and conservative, feminist and Catholic, find common ground.


Baking day.  Sixteen pounds of dough for loaves, ditto for rolls, and crust for eight pizzas, means a substantial amount of bread, and should last us about a week and a half.  The last of the peaches were picked and frozen, and the garlic we set on screens in the summer kitchen to dry, are being tied in bunches and hung up high under the roof over the stone fireplace where we grill steaks.  In the woodshed, the onions from one of the three onion beds are drying on boards set across two sawhorses, four double rows of three-inch bulbs.  They will not be dry enough to braid before we harvest the other two onion beds, so we will have to overflow into the garage and dry onions there, too.  Food is everywhere; some, like the tomatoes, still growing; some, the late green beans, for instance, just getting their legs under them.  A great deal of food is running around in the back pasture, or grunting in the styes under the barn.  But the tide is beginning to come in.

Sunday, August 10, 2014:

This time of year there are thousands of things to write about and no time to write them in.

The Joe Pye weed is frothing over in all the ditches, huge cauliflower-heads of mauve on six-foot burgundy stems, with whorls of lanceolate leaves from the ground up.  Chickory still hangs blossoms the color of heaven at the edge of the road, and Queen Anne’s lace is so thick over the pastures they look frosted.  But the first golden rod is in a tumbler in the middle of the kitchen table, so we know summer is on a limited tether.

The mangel-wurzels (real word, we kid you not) were thinned twice early on to give them room for expansion; they are supposed to be able to grow as big as twenty pounds.  Nevertheless, the rows are crowded, and we decided to thin them once more.  At least, we decided to see what would happen if we did, but we hedged our bets by only thinning alternate rows, leaving the remaining rows to do what they would.  “Thinning” may not be the mot just — we are harvesting large mangels, one-half pound or more, mostly, and leaving more mangels, large and small, to grow as much as they will before frost threatens.  We straddle the odd-numbered rows, pushing the harvested roots, candy-apple red, into woven feed sacks so we can carry them home to the sow and boar.  A full sack weighs somewhere between thirty and forty pounds, we guess, the leaves taking up a lot of the room.

We just finished row eleven of fifteen — that is, the sixth row to be thinned of eight — and we have harvested somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty to twenty-five sacks of mangels, or about eight or nine hundred pounds.  We feed them at the rate of a sack a day, with corn or milk or both for the second feeding.  In October we will pull all the mangels, top them, and pile them on the big barn floor, tarped against frost and wandering sheep.  Comparing the weights of the mangels from thinned rows against those from rows unthinned should give us some idea of which ultimately produces more.  Leaving aside the food value of the tops, which the pigs will appreciate, there should be well over a ton of mangels to feed the hogs, that is to say, eighty to one-hundred twenty days’ worth of pig roots — Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise.  That’s a substantial amount of pig food.  And we haven’t even begun to estimate the turnip crop.

Friday, August 1, 2014:

Sweetheart is a first calf heifer, meaning she’s only calved once.  She’s half Jersey, half Freisian, a large-boned black-on-white girl with an upside-down heart on her left side, hence her name.  The boys, it must be allowed, said the upside-down heart looked like something else and wanted to adjust her name accordingly, especially when she was a young heifer, resisting the rope strenuously and dragging whomever sought to lead her backward through a thorn bush.

She calved in early July, a dark brown bull calf, three-quarters Jersey, and began coming up to the barn to be milked.  It was then we noticed that her hooves were considerably overgrown:  long, turned up at the ends, and with the outer toe curving in over the inner.  As she was at that time a kicker — sometimes the milker, sometimes the bucket — we were not sanguine about our chances of picking up those feet and clipping off the excess hoof without shedding some blood — our own, in all likelihood.   We pondered and delayed, partly because we don’t personally know anyone local who trims cow hoofs, and partly because it wasn’t going to make sense to have such a person come for just a single cow.  It would be more practical to wait until all the cows had calved, then have the trimmer in and get everyone who needed a pedicure done at once.  You don’t want to have cows trimmed in late pregnancy, at least not the way it is done these days:  on a turning table where the cow is flipped over on her side.  With three stomachs and a calf inside there, things can slip around and end up where you don’t want them.

While we were still pondering/procrastinating, an interesting thing occurred:  Sweetheart came in one day with almost perfect feet, just a little overhang left on one foot that was trying to crack off.  In a day or so it had cleaned itself up, and there she was with the prettiest black forty-five degree hoofs you would care to see.  Now what was that all about?  Did her hoofs grow out while she was pregnant (the way my hair does), then trim up when she was carrying less weight?  Was the difference seasonal?  We don’ t know, but it falls into a well-used category of farm wisdom:  sometimes doing nothing fixes the problem.


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