Tuesday, August 9: Actually, first there’s yesterday. It was like all the rest of the days since June, hot and muggy and rainless, or nearly so. Shawn and S-5 rigged the small sump pump in a barrel set in North creek, and pumped water onto the garden. They set up a sprinkler, and the spray arched onto the squash and carrots, but the squash is beyond help, and all we can think of to do now is to get a heat gun or flame thrower and have a huge squash bug massacre. The beetles have infested the squash and pumpkins so thoroughly that each step we take in the squash patch initiates a wave of creeping grey or black bugs ahead of our feet. They are so thick they are overflowing the patch, and edging into the corn and tomatoes, where they may not do any harm, but then again, who knows what they may do? Our detestation of the squash bug is like our loathing for maggots and cat feces and sin.
The pumpkins and winter squash are beyond saving; some may have matured sufficiently to store – maybe, but it’s dreadfully early, only August! – much of it may be used gradually over the next couple of months, cooked as a summer squash, which is good, and anyway the squash bugs have obliterated the zucchinni, too. Any ripe pumpkins may be cooked and the meat pureed and frozen, or canned. A garden is never a complete loss, and for whatever fails there is something else which may have a good year, and provide for the fall and winter to come. The last planting of beans is popping right up, and despite the ones the grasshoppers are eating, look like making four respectable long rows which should provide us with a good lot of beans to can in September and October.
Knock on wood.
We bought in the one-by for the loft floor, S-3 declining the suggestion that the men might mill it themselves. Time was his argument, but who knows what they are really thinking? The two hours round trip were made after lunch, and before dinner the flooring was half laid. Half the onions drying on a tarp on the garage floor were braided and weighed yesterday; today the rest of the floor and the rest of the onions were alike dealt with. One hundred pounds of onions, and if they keep well that will last us some eight months or so. Their storage quality will be noted along with the harvested weight, so we will know how many pounds of sets to plant next year. With the loft floor finished, the boys framed out the south wall, bracing it with diagonal two-by-fours which will come out tomorrow when they frame the east and west walls.
It is good to see the summer’s projects nearing a point where they may be neatly concluded for a season, because when September arrives, S-2 and S-3 will be back at the University, and the others will have at least to think of taking up their books again. In all honesty, we seldom really buckle down to our homeschooling until most of the major harvest work – hay, and tomatoes, and apples, and corn – are more or less wound up; but the math books at least will come down off the shelf, and latin or Spanish lessons resume. Music, increasingly, is self-motivated, and need not be assisted by discipline; the sound of guitar and mandolin, violin and banjo, comes warm through the wall between bedroom and boys’ den.
At Dale’s suggestion we got a last-minute date at the butcher for the largest of last year’s steers, half of which will be his, the other half for us. This one to the butcher; but as a first attempt at hanging a large carcase in the summer, the black ram with the largest horns was iced down this morning, and tomorrow he will take his place as chops and lamb sausage in the freezer. His beautiful, curly fleece was spread out on the garage floor next to the tarp with the drying onions when we went out this morning; S-3 is to tan it for Dale, who intends it to be the centerpiece of his lamb display at the festival this fall, with brochures and photographs advertising his excellent Navajo-Churros.
Our friend Mary is disgusted by this bloody carnivorism; it is a fact that our best defense of eating meat is pragmatism, a form of argument we would not readily admit in moral issues. But as graziers and students of the decline of our topsoil, we believe that herds are the energy driving the improvement of sod, and these, without adequate predation, would soon reverse any improvements they made to the ground cover by overgrazing. We, fortunate people, are the predators. Hamburgivores. Mary at any rate likes our green beans.
After the dispatching of the black ram, most of the work force went up to the TOR’s to finish digging the potatoes. The ground was only slightly softened by last night’s rain – less than an inch fell in our valley – but it was sufficient to make the job of turning up potatoes with a garden fork a little bit easier. The results of this labor are now spread on the garage floor to cure, some eight hundred pounds, perhaps. With what we have already put in storage, this will make a thousand pounds or so, only a little more than half what we grew last year on less ground. The weather is partly responsible for the smaller crop, we guess, and the ground, some of it beginning to be exhausted after three years in potatoes, some of it sod only turned this year and not really friable yet. Many causes are probably always just unknowns to the gardener; he is accustomed to take the good with the bad, making the best of whatever offers each year. We will sow a cover of buckwheat on the now-unoccupied earth, and turn it under in late fall; next year our enlarged potato patch will be divided into three sections, and soy beans or some other legume will be grown as a green manure on the land three times cropped with potatoes.
The sky was limpid at sunset; now rain makes a tinny rhythm on the porch roof, most beautiful music to our ears.