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.