Saturday, March 2:
We took Poppy back up to the monastery after her pregnancy check, and shifted the young animals around to the west side of the soccer field. They are making good use of the stockpiled forage and their condition is much better than that of the milk cows, who are on hay, demonstrating the superior food value of standing fodder. Grass that is cut, cured, baled, and moved (several times) cannot compare with mature grass that has been frost-cured standing in the field. In the cutting there is loss of nutrients; in curing, there is further loss every time the grass is wet and dried again, as with heavy dew or rain; in baling there is much shattering of leaf and resultant reduction of food value, and the tight packing of hay in bales encourages mold and consequent loss of quality; more leaf is lost every time the hay is moved. Seeing the difference in condition of our various animals brings home these facts in a way that merely reading or hearing them cannot.
This is wet season, the late winter winding down into early spring, longer days loosening the hold of the frost in the earth. The barnyard is a sea of mud and muck in which you may lose a boot if you don’t take care. Rain and snow make a pond in every hoof mark, all running together and running over and seeping in where not wanted, under the door of the dairy, under the wall of the lounging stall, into the holes in old chore boots. This is the time to visit a farm if you want never, never to be tempted to live on one. The compost bins, sodden with a winter of snow and sleet, full of stall sweepings and undigested orange peel and coffee grounds, bleed peaty brown water with a sour smell. Where the winter cabbages were abandoned to the snow when we took their covers to protect a row of carrots, now rot sodden, limp bouquets of bleached cabbage leaves, answering unequivocally the question we asked when we chose to leave them in the garden, rather than feeding them in December to the pigs: are cabbages winter-hardy on this stretch of the Beautiful river? The perennial borders hang in dejected clumps of black sage leaves and leafless catmint and only the hopeful or inquisitive can find the blunt tips of daffodils pushing aside clumps of frost-heaved mould.
The stores of plant food, for animals and for humans, are growing thin. In the basement the rows of full jars which weighed down the shelves in November — tomato sauce and salsa, green beans, sauerkraut, jams, chicken, pickles — are giving way to rows of jars upside down, clean and empty, awaiting next summer for fulfillment. The root cellar holds only seed potatoes now, and for the first time in several years we are reduced to buying potatoes; we plan an even larger potato patch and vow it will never happen again. In the cave the last of the winter squash and pumpkins are breaking out in spots like a rash; we will eat what we can before they spoil, and feed the rest to the pigs. Braids of garlic festoon the kitchen and storage room, but the there are no more onions. God willing, this year five hundred row feet of copras and yellow Spanish onions, assiduously weeded, should yield the three hundred pounds of onions we eat in a year. Even in the freezer, where there are still ample quantities of sliced pie apples, you must dig for the frozen corn and okra and bell peppers which are growing scarce. Of meat, however, there is a generous plenty, and the garden tunnels are still full of carrots and salad greens.