late summer sky

Wednesday, August 14:

   The lactating cows are moving north across the hermitage pasture, last grazed in June.  The grass has had seventy days’ rest, and is tall and lush, full of purple clover tops and not too heavy on iron weed and Queen Anne’s lace.  Mornings and evenings after milking, the cows are put onto about twelve hundred square feet (thirty foot by forty foot) of new forage; they will only be on it twelve hours, grazing, fertilizing, and stomping every square foot of the paddock.  Then they will move to the next paddock.  This is considered heavy use, but the long rest between grazings means all the forage has plenty of time to regrow.

   Poppy and Sugarplum are each putting about three gallons in the bucket every day, with just two pounds of grain per milking to make them stand still while they are squeezed.  That translates to about one dollar and twenty cents of grain for three gallons of milk, or forty cents a gallon.  If we could not give them grain they would learn to live with it, or rather without it, but in fly season we are in favor of milking contented cows – they are less likely to upset the bucket.  Up to a quart of each gallon is thick yellow cream (Poppy’s milk is richest), and we make butter every other day.  What we don’t use immediately is frozen for later use, but we use a lot of butter.

   This morning we formed three teams and dug potatoes for an hour, one man digging and a child picking up potatoes.  (Mom was one of the ‘men’.)  The newest section of the garden, at the south end, was all sod potatoes, and some of the plants were so puny there was hardly more potato in the ground than we had put down to begin with.  In other places an individual plant might yield as much as five or six large potatoes.  The rule of thumb when saving seed is “the best plants in the worst soil”, so we saved these in a separate bucket to plant next year.  We got about three hundred pounds in the hour we were digging; then it was lunch time.

   This time of year we have to fit in planting fall crops while we are still very much in the middle of managing the summer ones, so after we picked tomatoes, peppers, okra and a few onions the marauding chickens had scratched out – this time of year Mom wonders why we have chickens – and made stroganoff (ground beef, onions, garlic, sour cream), mashed potatoes, cucumber and onion salad, carrot salad, and tomato marinade for dinner, we went back out to haul compost, turn raised beds, and sow fall carrots.  We spread fence wire over the beds when we were finished to keep the dogs and chickens out; they have already torn out many feet of the late summer beans.

   The two supers of honey were extracted in the summer kitchen, but we had to wait until evening so the bees wouldn’t know; they always want to make the thing into a party.  I think there will be about six gallons of honey.  When we were done we had to take a shower, since our extractor, when it is operating, covers anyone within a yard of it with a spray of fine honey filaments.  It’s like being caught in a cotton candy machine.

   Five shooting stars while we milked Monday morning reminded us how far the summer has progressed; we seldom remember to watch for the Pleiades until it is too late.  Shawn would point out that this was just one more reason for me to rejoice that I have been moved to the five thirty a.m. milking team.

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