new calves and snap peas

Tuesday, June 5:

Last Wednesday, after long anticipation, Baby graced us with a bull calf which the little girls have named Ferdinand.  His auburn hair and orangey-pink skin he inherits from his Red Angus sire; even more evident is the difference in body conformation between him and his barn mates, two little Jersey bulls which we picked up on Saturday to share the bounty of Baby’s colostrum.  We like our Jersey beef, and with the price for newborn Jersey calves so low – from free to around thirty dollars, as compared to one hundred to two fifty for a Holstein or beef breed calf – they are unquestionably the cheapest thing going; on the other hand, the beef breeds are ‘way ahead in packing on the pounds.  Dairy animals are bred to put milk in the bucket; the beef breeds are blocky, stocky, squared-off animals, reminding us who live in the Ohio valley of nothing more than of the local football heroes.  The lighter-weight, smaller carcass Jerseys are a good fit for our land, where slow-draining shale results in permanent soft spots in the steep pastures.  Heavy beef animals would pug and gouge turf where Jerseys can browse without doing damage.

In farming, we are unlearning the American certainty that every question has a one-size-fits-all answer.

After May weather in the nineties, June has hovered around fifty-five or sixty, surprising tomatoes which had jumped confidently to their second tie-up.  Some are even sporting yellow blossom, but are no doubt having second thoughts about it.  The heat wave has broken too late to save the lettuce from bolting, however, and although we eat a big salad every night much of the lettuce left in the garden will be bitter before we can use it.  For the gardener with pigs, however, nothing is lost; the gone-to-seed lettuce will be pulled and fed root and all to the pigs, who will benefit from the minerals in the soil still clinging to the roots.

The snap peas are producing, and those peas not eaten raw by people walking past the pea trellis are steamed and served with butter, salt and pepper.  Which reminds us how freeing it is to eat seasonally appropriate vegetables, and limit our preserving to a few staple items:  salsa and marinara sauce come to mind.  Peas are a good illustration of the seasonal dietary principle.  We grow from twenty to forty row-feet of peas to bear during the few weeks when our weather favors green peas.  This vegetable is a favorite at our table, and when we began gardening seriously we devoted four times as much space to them, freezing whatever we didn’t eat fresh to extend the season.  In years when the peas didn’t make – one out of three, perhaps – this was garden space tied up and no longer available for other vegetables; and even in years when the peas outdid themselves we were disappointed with the ones we froze, finding them a poor second best to their fresh, crisp brethren.  Now we just grow what we can eat fresh, and when the season plays out, rejoice in the next seasonal specialty the garden offers.

Corn is eight inches tall and thriving; beans are popping up, sporting two green triangular leaves like mouse ears.  Strawberries, except the late-bearing varieties, went into early dormancy with the ninety-something degree weather.  Peach trees are so heavy with fruit some of the branches are sagging badly.  Two inches of blessed rain last week has given a boost to the pasture, where Isabel and Baby browse in clover up to their knees, at least in places, but more rain is still needed.  All the seedlings are in except a few annual flowers we have been procrastinating about.

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