Archive for August, 2012

Wednesday, August 29:

   The moon is a day from the full, rising just as the sun is setting; in our valley, closed to the west, dropping down to the Beautiful river in the east, darkness never fell, the yard, scattered with toys, passing without margin from the dim of dusk into the clarity of moonlight on a perfectly cloudless night.  Walking down with a late bucket of whey and buttermilk for the six new piglets in the big barn our shadows lay on the lane hard-edged like cardboard cutouts.

The piglets, forgotten on this market day until thoughts of tomorrow’s chores remind us of our dependents, are still awake.  They stampede through their bedding after the manner of shoppers at a Christmas sale, straw flying up in the wake of tiny, tiptoed hooves like pink high-heeled slippers.  They come immediately when their trough is filled, burying whiskered chins in creamy tart dairy waste, all but one small guy with a black spot on his ear who, in his haste, climbs into the trough entirely.  He falls twice on the slippery bottom and then, resigning himself, drinks recumbent, whey laving his sides.  Pighood is to be capable of entire contentment on earth.

The old rat terrier in the box on the porch is almost stone blind.  Only the shadow of an object in bright sunlight, when it falls across his eyes, evokes any response, and he ducks when the children are playing Frisbee nearby.  Objects left lying on the porch cause him to stumble, and he comes down reluctantly to his food, it being against house rules to feed an animal on the porch – clandestine treats fed by hand to the patriarch in his box do not count.  Sometimes he forgets he is blind and follows a boy to his work in the garage, settling down in some safe place under a workbench or a market stall.  When later he tries to return to the  porch he runs smack into the car some careless person has left in his way, smack into it with a bump on his black nose, and then must sniff his way gradually around the obstacle and in through the gate.  We are reminded of Jaques:  “ . . . sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything.”

He receives the most solicitous good care, and no one passes without a kind word for him.  Steak scraps still taste good, and he seems pretty happy.

We are experimenting with the local farmers market.  S-5 has designed and built two ingenious stands, rather like a baker’s rack but with rows of pegs in place of the upper shelves.  On our first foray into the farmers market we took our braided garlic and sold little, but could have sold those market stands ten times over.  Last week, being in less of a hurry, we took other produce – tomatoes, onions, lettuce – and made a small but pleasing profit, and today, having remembered the things which last week were forgotten, we made more.  This, with just that portion of garden overage which might more easily have been fed to the pigs; but we are offended to see our carefully-raised produce gobbled by undiscerning palates, so we devote our afternoon to the farmers market, and are happy to be rewarded by other people’s enthusiasm for fine food, and the small amounts of cash which add up surprisingly.

Tomorrow begins our series of seminars entitled Ecological Stewardship:  Practical Farm Science 101.  We are energized; making and canning salsa, and the mysteries of butter making, are on tomorrow’s agenda.

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Monday, August 27:

I weighed the big copra onions today; seven or eight braids total about seventy pounds.  If they keep, and they are supposed to keep but theory is one thing and reality may be another, they will go a long way toward providing our year’s onions.  There are another forty pounds or so of smaller onions, which will be used up quickly in our canning projects, as they are more likely to spoil than the pretty ones.

The grapes ripen piecemeal, and we hold them in the refrigerator until we have a gallon or so to make jam with.  Two batches so far add a rich dark purple to the gold of peach preserves and ruddy brown of apple butter on the jam shelf.  Strawberries will not add their brilliant red to the palette until late fall, when other jobs are done and we can take time to make jam of the quarts and quarts of strawberries we froze in May and June.

Right now is time to set out the cabbages that we planted a month ago in small boxes of starting mix (equal parts sifted peat moss, vermiculite, and builders sand), then pricked into flats filled with earth and compost.  Our potting soil isn’t sterilized – you don’t know what a bad smell is until you have tried sterilizing potting soil in the oven – so weeds spring up with the cabbages, also tomato seeds invading from somewhere or other.  When we set out the young plants, sturdy and well-grown, we nip off the weeds with our fingernails.  The new cabbage beds have been heavily composted, and now we water the plants generously and send bad karma to all grasshoppers and garden-invading chickens.  Not too confident that our metaphysical assault covers the issue, we also spread rolls of old chicken wire over the beds to deter the barn fowl.

Winter carrots will go in as fast as we can prepare the beds, but spinach must wait until September.

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Sunday, August 26:

Three days of rain on the second cutting of hay has taken a lot of the good out of it, but at least it is baled and in the loft.  Three hundred bales in nothing to the big guys but to the family scale farm it may be half the winter’s fodder, and we are grateful to have it.  The loft of the big barn is almost full, and there may be fifty or sixty bales in the calf barn as well.

The three young steers – about four weeks old now – are frisky as kittens and filling out nicely, although dairy calves are never stocky animals.  We remember the first few years we were raising bull calves and lost so many, and think with complacency that our baby bulls do pretty well these days; it has been a long time since we lost one.  Fast on the heels of that thought is the knowledge that luck, as much as good culture, probably has a lot to do with it.

Forty quarts of tomato sauce, rich with oregano and garlic, weigh the basement shelves, and twenty quarts of salsa; four gallons of dill pickles almost ready to eat, and jars and jars of peach jam and apple butter.  And we are just getting started:  more apples will be coming in almost immediately, we need at least three times as much salsa as we have, and the hens must be culled and those not laying put up in wide-mouth quarts for pot pie and chicken soup.

Our experience confirms the wisdom of our gardening books that onions grown in well-composted garden soil will grow round and fat; lean soil produces flat cippolino onions.  The same bag of sets, some planted in the “big” garden, at home, and some in the bigger garden at the monastery, produced large, fat, glossy round onions in the home soil; at the Franciscans’, where the soil has raised two years’ of potatoes, the onions are small, flat, and more likely to spoil.  Most of the onions, the best ones, are hanging in braids from the lowest shelf in the pantry; questionable ones are sorted out to be chopped for salsa and sauce, and small ones will be hung in mesh bags alongside the braids.

Other vegetables, however, prefer the new soil of the bigger garden.  In the home gardens, where tomatoes have grown for sixteen years, septoria leaf spot is slowly mummifying the vines, but at the monastery the two or three dozen tomato plants are stout and thickly leaved, and producing beautiful beefsteak tomatoes for our bacon sandwiches.  The pumpkins and winter squash are unbothered by insect pests, not to mention marauding chickens.  And in both gardens the heirloom Golden Bantam corn has outproduced the hybrid sweet corn many times over, growing to ten feet even without rain, whereas the hybrid corn, stunted by the unfavorable conditions, reached only four or five feet, its ears tiny, many incompletely pollinated.

And the recent rains, not heavy enough to fill the pond, but enough so a person can drive in a step-in post without too much effort, have made the pastures thick and green as spring.

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still here

Sunday, August 19:

A bald eagle under the bluffs on the river.

Green praying mantis nymphs striding up a daughter’s arm with martial glances to right and left.

Four deer eating windfall apples under the tree at the top of the pasture, surrounded by late daisies.

Ten Sussex chicks behind the bales of first cutting hay in the calf barn.

Braids of garlic hanging from raffia bows under the eaves of the porch.


Just in case we wonder why we are still here, still doing this.

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Saturday, August 18:

What we are here – here on this website – to do is to catalogue, for the benefit of the similarly-inclined, just how attainable is a family-scale farm, that few acres which, tended by those who live on them, will produce almost unbelievable amounts of food, enough to feed all the people, and all the animals, whose efforts make that farm happen.  Summer is the most astonishing evidence of that attainability.

This is most certainly the time of year when we do the most and can say the least about it; there is no time.

Most of the corn has been eaten or frozen.  Every few days means another ten or fifteen gallons of tomatoes to sauce and can.  The apples at the monastery must be picked this week, or they will begin falling and bruising.  Green beans are on the menu every night, and we can only be glad to see the last cucumber vines succumbing to wilt, as we have eaten and pickled about all we can stand.

Seasonal eating means delighting in it, depending upon it, and getting tired of it, in quick succession.

Everyone is presently at home, and, the sky being open and dry, the men took the second cutting of hay from the meadows today.  There were three of them in the field from breakfast until dinner, and afterward, while some were doing the milking, others went back to the field to cut the last swathes.  If the weather holds we will be baling on Monday or Tuesday.

The freezer and the shelves in the basement must attest to the persistence of our efforts, they and the growing number of cheeses waxed and aging in the dairy refrigerator until we can build a rodent-proof cool box for the cave, as we call the dirt-floored cellar under the new part of the house.   In the best of all possible worlds we would not presently be making cheeses during this so-busy gardening season, but when the last pig went into the freezer we had to choose between making cheese with the extra four of five gallons of milk a day, or pouring it on the compost heaps.  The decision did not require much thought.  There are two young parmesans in the refrigerator, two colbys drying, and a third colby in the press.

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Wednesday, August 8:

Feast of St. Dominic, Dominican St. Dominic, rosary St. Dominic.  The Franciscans at the monastery chanted the parts of the mass.

This is the wrong time of year to be without several pigs.  We are swamped with pig food – milk and whey, as usual, but in addition buckets of corn cobs with sweet corn clinging, gallon after gallon of tomato seed and pulp and skin, apple peels and apple cores and the scrapings from the kettle of apple butter; peach skins (but not the pits) and the brown parts cut out where the big black ants climbed the trees and mined the sweet fruit; leftover potatoes and pasta from a fete at the monastery when we have eaten all we can; ends of loaves quick to mold in the moist summer heat.  We are down to a single gilt in the pig pen in the big barn, and still a week to go before we can take delivery of the half-dozen twenty-pound piglets we are expecting.  One pig can only eat just so much, and the swill is backing up.  We make a note for next year to the effect that July and August shall not find us in a depleted state pig-wise.

The pig that last went to the butcher – we usually slaughter our own, but not when we sell them – was beautifully large and healthy, with just that layer of fat which makes for tasty chops and crisp bacon.  She hung at two-hundred twenty pounds, larger than a market pig, and the pork freezer is full again; we had BLT’s for lunch to celebrate.  The profit on the half sold covered the cost of the entire animal, purchase, feed, and slaughter, so that we enjoy our pork for the cost of our labor.  As it should be.  The family-scale farm should not be without a pig or several.

The clear open sky of the past few nights means that we that we have gotten out of bed into air drained of heat by deep space, but by three in the afternoon the window above the kitchen sink pants hot breaths off the roof of the greenhouse.  This is trying when the house is already thick with steam from the blanching of bushels of corn for freezing, and the scalding of peaches and tomatoes .  Two or three bushels of peaches have been jammed or frozen; pounds and pounds of corn – okay, about twelve pounds of corn cut from the cob – are in the freezer; and maybe three dozen quarts of thick tomato sauce rich with garlic, onion and oregano mark the turn of the tide on our basement shelves where empty jars set upside down had nearly replaced all the full jars we put away last summer and fall.  Work is backed up so far that we make plans to keep working late into the night, but by nine o’clock our aching feet and tired muscles change our minds for us.  The laundry that has gotten so backed up can stay backed up; we are going to put up our feet and rest.

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