Wednesday, March 21:
The unseasonably warm weather has us out in the garden every available minute, hauling compost, raking raised beds, and starting early lettuce and spinach. Given the heat, I only hope it doesn’t bolt immediately. The hoop houses are open day and night to keep them from overheating, and the low tunnels have their covers off entirely. All the fruit trees are getting ready to blossom, which will mean disaster if we get another freeze. The pond peepers, which usually sing only at night, are so confused that they shrill all day, a buzz almost like that of a locust, making this early heat wave even more surreal. Only the asparagus, living as it does ‘way down where the soil is still cool, is far enough from the sun that it is still in dormancy.
The greenhouse, I need hardly say, is hot as Tophet. On Monday we started the tomatoes and peppers in four inch pots and a sterile mix of vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss. They will like the heat, but the six pots of onion seedlings may find it too warm. We don’t want the squash and melons to get root-bound, so we usually don’t start them until the end of March, but it we knew the weather was going to stay warm we would get them in, too.
Baby Belle should be calving soon, exactly how soon we don’t know. We fidget and twiddle our thumbs. We sigh and turn over out-of-date magazines in the waiting room. We want to get on with it. For one thing, when Belle calves we will go fetch some baby bulls, and Mom will be done with cheese making for a while, because when there are calves to feed, what’s left is only just enough milk for the table. There’s not the glut we have right now with the warm weather increasing Isabel’s production, so that Mom has four and a half gallons a day to find a use for.
In addition to the usual eight-to-ten pounds of butter, two gallons of yogurt, four or so pounds of mozzarella, and all the cream you can think of a use for, this time of year we make two or three four-pound hard cheeses a week, and the dairy refrigerator is getting crowded. I think there are eight cheeses in there right now – paisano, Appalachia, Belle, and the gouda we are testing – and there’s another Appalachia in the press. These will last us a couple of months, beginning around the end of April, as they ripen; then in June, when the grass is abundant and the calves are weaned (and, incidentally, the garden is in, the first hay cut, and there will be some breathing space), we will start another round of cheese-making to provide our fall and winter cheeses.