onions and pastures

Wednesday, April 24:

   Rainy today and cooler this evening.  We are grateful for the moisture, and for the roof water in the tanks.  The black-faced Jersey, Poppy, is bagging up; her rear elevation discloses an udder in which the vertical folds of a dry cow are giving way to a well-filled-out bag. It doesn’t look as if labor were immanent, but at two a.m., when one of us comes home from an hour of worship before the Blessed Sacrament, we will run up the hill and just make sure she isn’t in trouble.

   Shawn’s father used to say that his last good night’s sleep was the night before he bought the farm.

   Finally, the onions are up.  Sowing onions from seed directly in the garden is a dicey business, as they depend upon moisture in the ground for their germination; but starting them in pots indoors and transplanting them has been indifferently successful for us.  The tiny little green hairs that are seedling onions have a surprising resilience, but their miniscule root systems can only draw water from a small area, and the disturbance of soil caused by transplanting leaves air pockets that can dry out roots in no time.  Seed sown directly and well-tamped into damp soil should have a fair chance to avoid this difficulty.

   Last year we put out over five hundred row feet of onion seedlings which had gotten off to a good start in the greenhouse; in about three weeks the numbers were reduced by almost half.  We filled in the gaps with onion sets, watered them with the creek hose through a long dry spell in May, June, and half of July, and in August we harvested about one hundred fifty pounds of beautiful round, firm, yellow-skinned storage onions.  We hung them in braids in the cool room and ate them through January, losing very few to spoilage although sets are said to store less well than onions grown from seedlings.

   This year we will try again to grow our onions from seed purchased from Berlin Seed and Southern Exposure.  Direct-sown onions are planted thickly; when we thin we’ll take up the seedlings gently and hold them in a pan of manure tea until we can transplant them to other garden beds.  We calculate that we need at least three hundred pounds of onions for the year, so if anything happens to these seedlings we will have to go buy sets again.  We are not fond of spending money on things we can grow ourselves, and we don’t like eating things grown with chemicals.

   This week we had pity on the two milking Jerseys which were nearly dislocating their necks straining under the wire for any possible blade of grass within reach.  The barnyard, an acknowledged sacrifice paddock — meaning we know the animals are going to trample the ground mercilessly, drop too much fertility in this one place, and graze any green thing to extinction — looks as pale and spiky as a new Marine’s haircut, and the cows have been wearing a path around the perimeter.  In addition, from the barnyard the cows can see and hear the eight-week steers which are let out onto the lane during the day to graze on new forage, and the intensity of their interest in the little animals made us wonder about the security of our fence.   The little calves were fascinated too, and spent a good deal of time sidled up to the fence looking helpless and appealing.  Better for everyone that we turn the cows onto largeish paddocks at the bottom of the pasture where the grass comes on the earliest and grows the thickest, and let them get their tonic that way.  It’s too early for proper mob grazing – for that the grasses should be mature – but it won’t be long before we can take the cows up to the monastery and turn them in on those pastures, giving our home forages time to mature again before the sheep are put out in May.

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