Thursday, July 10, 2014:
Three times we planted the field corn. Three times it germinated and got a couple of inches tall, then disappeared, or at least thinned down by half or two-thirds. We’d go out one morning and our nice even corn patch would be a mangy mess, so uneven that we just plowed and replanted. More corn would come up, and then the same thing would happen again.
It was crows doing the damage. The rams had, to be completely accurate, done their share of mowing the first planting, leaving aside the kinked, wiry field peas and nibbling the whorled corn leaves down to the quick, but they only had a day in there, because we moved them to a distant pasture when we saw what they were doing. And it wasn’t deer, because deer would have left tracks in the soft earth between the rows. No, it was crows, maybe even just one crow, that made the wreck. Striding along between the bright green rows of seedling plants he would pull them up, one by one, and eat the sweet, germinated seed at the bottom of the shoot. Sometimes if the ground was hard he would get just shoot, no seed, and drop it in disgust.
We caught him at it one morning when we went down to see a calving cow. A solitary black form, very quiet at the bottom of the garden, not getting up as we approached until we were very near, then lifting himself just over the beehives and settling in an oak at the edge of the woods. We loaded a shotgun with bird shot but the corn got too big to pull and he didn’t come back. Two-thirds of the field is bare. We sowed medium red clover between the rows to cover the pinky-orange soil and enrich it for the next crop, a late fall green manure of daikon radishes, Canada peas and annual rye.
Thursday, July 10, 2014:
Sunday, June 29, 2014 (nighttime):
The past three weeks have been very warm, up near ninety during the day, and the south wall of the dry cellar, unprotected as yet by ivy or overhang, is soaking up lots of solar energy. This is fine for the day lilies planted along the wall, but not so good for the cheese cave built into the back of the dry cellar. The thermometer in the cave has been creeping up from the forties (in April), to the fifties (May and early June), and a week ago it had gotten up into the low sixties – time to move the cheeses into the dairy cooler. This is okay as far as aging the cheeses goes – they are meant to be eaten young – but not so good for the cooler, which easily gets crowded. Eight five-pound cheeses take up a lot of room.
This afternoon we cut into the oldest cheese, to fill the gap between Sunday breakfast – always a big meal – and Sunday dinner, a late meal beside the fishpond. It was a three-month-old Appalachia, a thermophilic hard cheese, which we had wrapped, for purposes of experiment, with muslin and coated with lard. It was an interesting mottled orange on the outside, with spots of olive green and chartreuse, not all of which peeled off with the muslin. We tried the first bit with the rind and decided this cheese needed to be pared (just a little earthy, it was); but the inner cheese is outstanding. And the pigs will love the rinds.
We love cheese. And pigs. They go together.
Sunday, June 29, 2014:
A week of contrasts. Three mechanical breakdowns left hay in the field and two tractors out of commission, but there are two new calves in the pasture. We hate machinery, but we love calves. One bull, one heifer. The bull is out of Sweetheart, who deserves a name with other implications – Shaitan or Jezebel, many of us think, would be more appropriate – and we are just as glad not to have to make up our minds about a heifer with such parentage. The heifer is Baby Belle’s, and she really is a sweetheart; we will like having a daughter of hers around. Two more calves due in the next two weeks, but may the gods consign all possessed machinery to the smelter.
The grass is overmature, and we are looking for advice about grass management for milk production. There is a man in PA we intend to call.
Sunday, June 15, 2014:
There is only one hive left in the home yard right now, the others being up behind the garden at the monastery. Yesterday that last hive threw a swarm, which, after forming a vortex over the bonfire pit and buzzing like a dynamo for twenty minutes or so, obliged us by coalescing in a dwarf apple tree on the front lawn, where a step ladder, a hive body baited with comb smeared with cappings and a frame of brood taken from the home hive, and a smoker enabled us to catch them again. Normally, we like to work bees in broad daylight, preferably with a bright sun shining and all the field bees out where they belong, in the field; but we were busy all afternoon, and it was dark when we took them up to the monastery. Our plan was to unite the three thousand or so itinerant worker bees with the lesser of the two colonies up there and let the queens duke it out.
For two hours that day we had worked the swarm with bare head, face, hands – arms, even – without a sting. Not so now. The intrepid bee-handler stepping confidently forward into the glare of the truck headlights wore no protective gear. All that was needed was to pop the covers, super and queen excluder off the south hive, lay a single sheet of newspaper over the exposed hive box, and mount the second box, the one containing the swarm, over the paper. Then, on with the excluder, super and covers, center them, and away we go. Piece of cake.
Only, with the quiet ‘pop’ of the propolis seal when the hive tool levered up the super, the colony came to life, sizzling like a frying pan full of bacon. It was dark, remember, and we couldn’t see the bees. We pried up the shallow box, which my appropriately hatted and veiled co-worker removed, and began levering off the metal grid of the queen excluder, when the night was suddenly full of bees. You know, they don’t even need to sting you, the buzzing is enough when it’s against your face, or your wrist, or your midriff. In about five seconds there were bees in my shirt, tazering my arms, and working their way into my hair. I took off into the night at a high rate of speed, shucking clothes as I ran, and brought up at the blueberry patch, minus most of my wardrobe, madly combing bees out of my hair with my fingers. My reading glasses were a casualty, trampled in the melee.
Shawn, the prudenty veiled, finished that hive transfer alone, calmly, and unstung.
Thursday, June 12, 2014:
The garden is looking its most ravishing best, thanks to plenty of rain, moderate temperatures, and steady maintenance. Check in out in August, it will probably look like heck. Three plantings of potatoes are off and running, the mangel-wurzels, having been thinned twice, make a lemony-green ruffle over fifteen rows, and the winter squash is starting to vine. The corn, on the other hand, has been ravaged by deer, escaped Katahdins, and crows, and had to be replanted, following the silver-green lines of the field peas to keep the rows straight. The black oil sunflowers are about eight inches high, and we hope great things for them.
All over the monastery pastures the clover, crimson and dwarf white, is dazzling with blossom, but – this should worry you – there are no bees. None, except for a few bumble bees, and only a few. Without bees many plants have no pollinators. We carried two of our home hives up last night and put their stands on the west side of the garden, backing the woods and facing east. May they thrive and throw swarms.
There is a lost fawn in the clearing by North Creek making alien noises. I wonder what has become of its mother.
Saturday, June 7, 2014:
It is dark, but the men aren’t yet home from the hayfield; there is rain predicted for tomorrow, and they will work until dew settling on the cut grass makes it too damp to bale. I am stuck at home baking the week’s bread, started before we knew we would be able to take up that hay. There is a gibbous moon with a pink spark – Mars? – at two o’clock, and in the pasture across the valley the fireflies come and go with short, sharp sparks, not like the long, lazy blinking of later summer. It is getting cool.
The ram lambs were separated from the ewes today, and the night is punctuated with high-pitched, staccato bleats.
Monday, May 26, 2014:
Judith, the new heifer calf, is the subject of jealousy among the three lactating cows, with SugarPlum by far the most aggressive of the mothers-elect, shoving her body between Delphi and the baby when the calf wants to nurse. We have seen the little one on all three of the cows, but she does seem to spend the most time with her real mother, which is good: only Delphi can give her colostrum, a calf’s first food, nutrition and immunities and emetic all in one.
Cutting a locust tree up on the hill we remembered all the reasons for carefully calculating where it will drop. This one was dead, the few branches at the top looking corky and rotten, and we decided – incorrectly – that they would give way when they hit the neighboring beech tree, in the branches of which the tree was embraced. Not so. An hour with a come-along left a zig-zag of deep grooves in the rich forest mould, and the seventy-foot tree still snagged in the top of its neighbor. Time was getting on for milking when with a last two or three cranks on the winch the trunk, high up where it was most narrow and decayed, sagged, groaned, and with a rush like water over a precipice, snapped and fell. The sound was, as we have heard it described somewhere, “disastrous.” We cut two eight foot posts from the widest part, for the gate to the pig pen, and one fourteen footer for the run-in shed. The rest is fence posts, and, probably, firewood.