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.
When August arrives it hits like an express train; suddenly everything needs to be done at once. Corn needs to be picked, blanched and frozen; peaches need to be canned; fifty Cornish Rock crosses are ready to make the great Transition. Milk is coming into the house at the rate of between fifteen and twenty gallons a DAY, and if it weren’t for the calves and pigs we would be drowning.
Today was a typical day, or rather on the relaxed side: all we did was make a five-pound Appalachia (hard cheese) and some butter, freeze corn, pick blueberries, milk twice, move the cows’ paddock twice, thin mangels to feed the pigs, run into town for a couple of hours, cook and clean up after three meals, find housing for two turkey poults that came in from the pasture in somebody’s pocket, work on our various computer jobs, finish the wire in the windows of the hen coupe, pick seven gallons of green beans, process loads of laundry, do lots of dishes over and above the ones for meals, …I’m running out of ideas even though I’m sure I haven’t exhausted the day.
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.
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.