farming, Uncategorized

Summer Solstice

I got to spend the longest day of the year in the garden – we finally got the tiller up and running (I learned all about what ethanol gas does to a carburetor), and I got
all the rows churned up before several days of rain. Sadie came out and helped me; we thinned the okra, hoed weeds, and picked a full row of beets. My hands are still stained that deep purple color, and I don’t mind a bit.

She canned a small batch and they turned out amazing. She also made a beet green salad, with plenty of scraps left over for the chickens. This is the first year we have grown beets and sweet potatoes, so far so good. We also canned our first run of strawberry jam, which is a labor of love. Each year, I sort of forget how much work canning is – especially jam. It is hot, sticky, syrupy sweet work with a reward that more than makes up for the hours standing and sweating over the red stove eyes.

But as Sadie always tells me, it’s a way of life. And I remember that each year we have to can. While we hoard mason jars all year long, I convince myself it will be worth it. But in the middle of winter, when the wind is blowing and the snow is falling, it’s nice to pop the thin lid on that mason jar and spread that sweet strawberry jam all over toast or a biscuit. It’s like a little piece of summer in a jar, and you get to enjoy it right then and there.

Right now, the garden is in that awkward, teenager stage. Plants are growing and the weeds are too, but other than the beets, nothing else has any yields. I spent one afternoon tilling up the two rows where the beets were and planting Hickory King corn. With all this rain, I am fairly confident that there will be bright green shoots poking through that freshly turned soil in no time.

Other than that, I am not planting anything else. We don’t have anymore tiny sprouts, but we don’t have any veggies yet either. Which is fine with me because there is plenty else to do. In the summertime, the honey-do list is 5 miles long, and grows everyday. I tell myself I sort of just have to surrender to the fact that I won’t get it all done, ever. Summer on the farm is an amazing mix of sweating in the garden, enjoying fresh veggies, endless afternoons of mowing, and those long summer nights where the sun seems to hang right above the mountain ridge.

I love how the golden hour stretches out as long as the shadows behind the trees, wrapping all that green growth in a beautiful, evening light. When it finally slips beyond the horizon, the lightning bugs begin their slow dance across the fields. The birds finally go to bed, while at the creek the crickets and frogs begin their symphony. On some nights, when everything is finally fed and watered and put away, we sneak out on the front porch and watch the sky go from golden yellow to velvety blue. The stars appear, one by one, as tiny pricks of silver that hang unfathomable heights above my little world.

For all the we pour into our garden, it certainly is a peaceful place. In the early mornings, before the sun begins beating down, the dogs and cats will saunter out there with us and lay in the shade between the dewy rows. Sadie and I will pull stray weeds, check the squash and zucchini blossoms, and talk about how each year we plant more than we probably should. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I am already so excited to taste the first of the cucumbers and tomatoes. With the way things look now, that day should be right around the corner.

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farming, Uncategorized

Spring Planting

I bought some dormant rose bushes today – Sadie loves knockout roses, but a full-size rose bush is about $20.00 a pop. I went straight back to the clearance wrack, they had these little root balls wrapped in paper and plastic, with trimmed rose bush stalks peeking out of the top. The branches were covered in a think layer of wax, which helps keep the plant from blossoming too soon. I have been wanting a few roses to plant next to the shop since around Christmas, but Lowe’s didn’t start stocking them until a few weeks ago.

So I brought home 5 little baby dormant rose bushes, get this, they were only $5.00 a piece! Sadie likes to watch plants grow any way. I dug 5 little holes by the shop and spent way too long looking for small rocks to make a bed, and voila. A successfully executed project in less than half a day. I have not gotten mulch yet for them, that may have to wait until next month.

Unfortunately, Sadie and I do not spend a lot of time or resources on these type of ‘beautification’ projects. What I mean is, typically what we do from day-to-day is either playing catch up, making sure everyone is fed and watered, the firewood is dry, or the bills are paid, before we fall into bed and call it. It’s not a bad thing, I think we have come quite a long way since I have moved here. But it’s just where we are right now – so it’s nice to be able to spend a little time investing in something that will be really beautiful next year.

A few weeks ago, we prettied up the barn lot entrance, which Sadie had been wanting to do for a long time. We have a big, red gate leading to the barn and the pasture, so we framed it with lumber and it spruced it right up. Almost like something out of Kentucky. We were pleased as punch. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d have roses at the entrance of that too, although the horses might be tempted to reach through and have a taste-test.

Spring is coming to the farm, slowly but surely. The grass is poking through the clay, buds are appearing on all the ends of the trees, and just yesterday, I saw a few iris stalks coming up from outside my bedroom window. Tonight and tomorrow will be cold though, but at least the days are getting longer. I only have one big brush pile left to burn, the other two sites have been raked and combed over for nails. It’s amazing how many nails that old barn left behind. We still have several large logs up there from the post-Christmas work day, but I’ll borrow a tractor to push them all together so they can smolder down.

On Friday, Sadie and I went up to White’s Hardware and got 25 pounds of potatoes, our onion sets, bush beans and a few ounces of beets. Once we get the garden spot re-tilled, we will start those on the lower end. I walked over it today, all the dark, soft dirt is just waiting to be dug up.

Several months ago we raked bags and bags of leaves over it, which are mostly mulch by now. Pretty soon it will be time to turn the earth, and till, and plant, and pull weeds, then pull more. Before I know it there will be fresh veggies on every available table and counter space in the house, and mason jars taking up the rest. But not quite yet. For now, it’s nice to watch the world wake up from winter as it does best – nice and slow, with a new surprise to look forward to every morning.

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fall, farming, Uncategorized

Sick Day

Well I’m still here, it’s been so long I’m not even sure where I left off. But I’m sick today, home with some kind of sinus thing. It’s just after one and I am already done with it. I’m in bed with two cats, Zoe is sleeping on the couch, and from the windows I can see the birds at the feeder and the studs grazing in the field.

Sadie let the chickens out this morning, the ducks waddled right over and are enjoying the weeds right outside. It wouldn’t be so bad, but all I can think about is the mowing I want to do, the cleaning I probably should be doing, and all the much more fun activities that are outside.

Thinking back, I haven’t been sick in about a year. I think there’s something to say for fresh county air, sleeping like a baby, and a diet of mostly home-grown veggies. (I spent so much time planting them, of course I’m going to eat them). Maybe I can catch up on some reading. It is rather overcast today, I’m trying to trick myself into thinking there’s nothing else I could be doing.

Speaking of veggies, the garden is about completely done for the year. It goes so fast I can hardly believe it. We need to dig a few potatoes, pick a few more peppers, and it’s a wrap. Honestly I can’t believe it’s over. You don’t realize how much time you spend in the garden until you don’t need to, then all of a sudden Sadie and I have a nice dinner, watch some Olympics, and sit on the front porch until the moon comes up.

Fall is on it’s way, you can feel it in the air. I’m not ready for the leaves to fall yet, but if I have learned anything from living on a far, it’s that there is a season for everything. You can’t have one without the other, it’s a balance. I will miss time in the garden though, it is ready to be mowed again and left to rest. That’s what Fall is, a time for rest. Sadie and I will have more time to ride, which we really haven’t done in ages. And I miss that too.

But for now, all the critters are showing me the best way to get better, and I think that includes a nice long cat nap.

 

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farming, Uncategorized

In the Garden

We had quite the storm Thursday night, one of the worst since I have been here. It woke me up around 3, I could hear the wind driving the rain against the window, and the lightning almost looked like a strobe. When the sun finally came up, some of my pepper plants were almost lying flat on the ground. Several stalks of corn had tipped over, so did the squash and zucchini plants. Their leaves are so big now, I’m a little surprised the roots held.

But we definitely needed the rain. The next morning it was cool and breezy, such a wonderful break from the humidity. The ground was still wet, I went out into the garden and poked around, piling dirt back around roots and stalks. We have a few baby green tomatoes, but not much else yet. Once it starts, it will be a stream of veggies all summer.

Next year, I’d like to plant several rows of field corn for the pigs. Even now, I think they will get much of what Sadie and I can’t eat in time. They have already doubled in size, and have appetites like you wouldn’t believe. Well, maybe you can. There’s a reason they say ‘eat like a pig’ !

When I got home from work yesterday I let the hens out, it was still warm by 5:30 but they had been up since Wednesday. I threw some young apples to the pullets and the pigs, they are too tart for me to eat, Sadie calls them “jaw lockin'” and she’s exactly right. Casey and Abbie kept me company in the yard and I couldn’t help but go back to the garden.

It is much easier to pull weeds when the ground is soft, I worked between the rows for a while, tying a few tomato stalks as I went. The garden is such a peaceful place, it’s a wonderful way to let your mind go, to unwind and focus on what your hands are doing. I know you can get everything at the store, and it is definitely easier. But there’s something magical about growing and tending your own.

I would be lying if I said our home-grown veggies tasted the same as something organic from somewhere else. They taste way better. They taste like all the cool mornings, hot days, rainy nights and long evenings spent between the rows. The bugs, the dirt, the weeds and thorns. They taste like sweat and mountain air, crisp and fresh with maybe a little grit somewhere in there.

It’s a piece of you, it’s planning and planting seeds smaller than a breath mint, then taking care that they have sun, water, fertilizer and enough space to grow. And boy will they grow! The corn has reached beyond my height, and the beans have already climbed the string we tied over them. The roots go deep, and the stalks grow high. Then one day you look out and there’s a tomato, a pepper, a cucumber, ready to be picked, washed and eaten. It’s amazing, absolutely unfathomable.

Did I mention it’s also delicious? We will can tomatoes, green beans, the zucchini, the okra and corn we will freeze, the potatoes will be cooked and eaten in every way imaginable, the squash will go over pasta and in casserole. The cucumbers will go into salads, and into jars to become pickles. The peppers I slice and eat, but some may make it to pizza or chicken salad. I can hardly wait – I’m making myself hungry thinking about it.
Part of me gets so excited, I want to till up the whole front yard and sow seed, to move the horses and have an entire pasture of corn to run through, to listen to in the wind. We’re not quite there yet, but maybe one day. And I know those crops will taste as good as our little garden will. Little seedlings we can watch grow until they are ready to be picked and eaten. And every night, walking back to the house with tomato juice running down my chin and my arms full of hickory king corn.

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farming, Uncategorized

A Good Kitty

Sadie and I stayed up a little later than we wanted to going over the Verizon and the Direct TV bill. It was a little depressing, we called it quits without really deciding anything and I’m all ready for bed. I was just about to turn off the lamp when little white kitty jumped up on my bed. She crawled on my chest, purring, and kept head-butting me in the chin.

Over and over she kept butting my chin, as if she was saying “stop worrying about bills, pay attention to me, I’m cute. Stop worrying.” I started scratching her ears and petting her from head to tail, she eventually started to settle down and start kneading on my hair. Just like her mama.

I know cats can’t talk, but that’s the message I was getting. At least, it was a message I needed to get. I love all our critters, the hairy, slobbery, squawking and squealing ones. From Tug to my tiniest pullet, I wouldn’t trade a single one. They are what makes this life so special. What makes me occasionally jump out of bed in the mornings. I say occasionally because the majority of the time, it’s for coffee. And then to see the animals.

Lately I’ve been spending the evenings in the garden, partially to avoid the heat, and partially because I love watching how long it takes for the sun to completely disappear. The shadows get longer, and the mountain ridge shines in gold. Each leaf framed in an orange glow that slowly slips into evening. The sky goes from red, to pink, to soft purples, then eventually everything melts into that velvety dark blue, flecked with silvery stars.

I like listening to the birds get quiet while the crickets awaken. The lightning bugs come out, one by one, dancing above the fields and through the trees. It feels a bit like a fairy tale, with dirt under my nails and the smell of the tomatoes in the air. It’s absolutely intoxicating. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked down from the chicken coop, or crossed the street to go check the horses, I’ll get this feeling in my chest when I think I live here.

There are days when I can’t get enough of it. When I watch the sun disappear, then I want to pull it back up – not all the way, just until about 7:30pm, so I can experience it again. The slowing down, the calm, the quiet of the frogs and the crickets singing everything to sleep.

The other day I was in the barn lot moving hay, all sweaty and busy, I came out of the barn for some reason and something caught my eye – the sun was setting and sending golden beams out through the clouds. I shut the gate and hopped on the ATV, driving across the road to take it all in. Jimmy had finished raking hay that day, some of the round bales were sitting in the field, but most of it was lying in rows, waiting to be baled. The smell was almost overwhelming, strong like fresh cut grass, but sweet like hay, the best combination of both.

I sat right down and watched the sun set over the river, in it’s golds and bright pinks and deep blues. It was absolutely stunning. And I made a mental note to make time to do that more often, to stop and look up, and watch what’s happening.

White kitty just curled up on my leg, I think she’s hinting that she’s ready for sleep. Zoe’s stretched out under my bed, one of her favorite places, and I just heard her give one of those deep sighs. It’s time for bed. But I might just creep outside, one last time, to see the lightning bugs and feel the cool night air. To smell the tomatoes and feel the soft tilled garden dirt beneath my hands and feet.

 

 

 

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farming, hay, Uncategorized

One Potato, Two Potato

   
 Sadie was off work today, when I got home she had the shop door up and was messing around doing something I couldn’t wait to get into. I changed my britches, let the chickens out to pick and met her in the shop with a bucket of eggs.
“Show me how to work this tiller,” she said, dusting the hay off the bright orange machine we hadn’t used since last year.
With a full gas tank, the choke in the right position and the tines up, we couldn’t get it to start. We rolled the tiller down to the garden spot that Winston had dragged for us and Sadie called Joe Romine.
On her way home that day, Sadie bought a 50 pound grass sack full of potato sets. Her plan, before it got dark, was to till the spot, cut the eyes up and spread them over the soft earth, push them into the ground then cover it with straw.
Without the tiller, we were more than behind. Joe came right over and cleaned the fuel valve. Apparently, leaving gasoline in the tank then not using it for 9 months is bad for the engine. With a rusty can of starter fluid and a tiny gold safety pin, Joe had it purring like a kitten. Sadie took it for a few rows then I followed. We thanked Joe and as soon as he turned the corner, I popped the left tire. Casey and Zoe took off and I realized I hadn’t eaten dinner. Sometimes on the farm you make plans, and nothing goes accordingly. 
Sadie said “Aw leave it!” and we started on the potatoes. We each sat over a 5 gallon bucket with a knife. The sets were already getting soft, roots had begun sprouting over several places. She showed me how to cut the potato so each piece had an eye on it, then we dropped them in the bucket.
The birds were still singing, and a good breeze was coming up over the front yard. It was perfect planting weather.
Typically, you want to sow your sets in early to mid-March, but we were only a few weeks off and it has been cool in the evenings. Sadie assured me that they would be fine. Once the buckets were full, and the grass sack empty, we carried the loot down to the garden spot and started slinging them out.
Let me tell you, just standing next to the spot, it smelled like the richest earth on the planet. Fresh tilled garden and cut potatoes – there is nothing quite like it.
Instead of walking over the potatoes to bury them in the soft earth, Sadie went and got the 4-wheeler and drove over them.
About that time, Uncle Rick came by and helped me haul hay up from the barn. We cut the strings and scattered the flakes over the sunk potatoes. As the sun reached the horizon, I drove over the hay a few times to settle it in and we leaned on his truck to admire our work.
After a while, I took the 4-wheeler down the road and found Casey trotting along. I chased her back to the house and went up the hill to find Zoe. Sure enough, she was on our neighbors front porch. He was skinning fish, surrounded by cats, and let me take home a bag. I told him I would bring him some potatoes whenever they were ready.
I put the cold bag of fish under my leg and Zoe hopped in my lap and we drove home. Rick offered us some shavings for the onion sets we plan to sow, we swapped stories over Sadie’s soup beans until after 9. I was tired, but it was that good tired, when your body tells you the day is done, your hands have fresh earth on them and your socks are full of hay.
We said goodnight to Rick, I put the chickens up and the 4-wheeler away, walking down the hill with the bucket of eggs. It was a full day, a wonderful day, and I’m thankful to be on the farm. I’m counting the days until that beautiful tilled field starts sprouting green.

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farming, Uncategorized

Lookin’ Greens and Cookin’ Beans


I found this in my Drafts section from about 3 months ago, enjoy!

Considering that every day since June 4th has been bananas, we did not plant a patch of greens this year. Sadie got some from a distant cousin and she decided to show me how to “Look ’em” before we cook ’em.

She dumped half the bag into the sink with some salt and we swirled them around like witches over a cauldron. Or washing clothes without a washing machine. Greens are usually a mixture of kale, mustard, turnip and collards, leaves pulled at the stem in sizes between my thumb and my hand. We rinsed each leaf and checked both sides for bugs, then put them in a big boiling pot of water (cauldron) with salt, butter, vinegar and I’m not sure what else. We made 3 batches total. The leaves wilt after being boiled, the whole thing looks like a load of spinach. All those leaves ended up filling 2 zip-lock bags, which we dated and stuck in the freezer.

Then she showed me how to look over beans, soup beans, before you cook them with a big, fat slice of fat back. Sometimes bad beans get in the bunch, or even the occasional rock. “You don’t want to crunch down on one of those,” she tells me, pouring some of the brown beans onto a plate, then pushing the good ones into the pot of water. We go on to make corn bread too, and I set the zucchini relish out that we canned earlier in the summer.

Sadie stirred bacon grease, more salt, and some vinegar into the last batch of greens, we served it up for supper with the corn bread, soup beans and creamed potatoes. It was delicious. Maybe because they were fresh out of someone else’s garden, or because it took so long to make half a plate full, but those were the best greens I’ve ever had.

While the greens were cooking, Sadie turned me loose. I changed into the usual and strode outside with a book and an apple. I caught Tug and gave him a quick brush, unlocked the tack room and found the saddle bags. We used them a lot for rides with James, filling them with snacks, drinks, even toilet paper. Since I don’t have a truck or a trailer yet, I can really only ride around the house. But this felt like a special occasion; the sun was heading towards the horizon, the sky was blue with big, puffy clouds, and the leaves were all in their full colors.

I found the lunge-rope, the very very long one, and put it in the bags too. After closing the gate, I swung into the saddle and we were off. The road to the big field and my favorite barn has woods on the right and our pasture on the left. It smelled like leaves everywhere. Tug walked at an easy pace, ears forward, and soon we reached the field. Turning off the road, I jogged him up the gentle slope to the crown of the hill. With the road and the barn behind us, we had the perfect view of the sunset between the valley. To the right is the road to town behind a row of trees, and to the left, a huge mountain dome. It’s almost perfectly round, stands half covered by trees, and half by grass. Just next to that is the Bays Mountain ridge, the one I can see from my bedroom window.

I loosened the girth on the saddle and put the lunge rope on Tug’s halter. We split the apple and I settled in the grass with my book. After looking around, he realized we weren’t going anywhere and he started to eat. Jeff Case, who owns the field, is a good friend of ours. They use the 60-something acres to cut hay, the last cut was just a few weeks ago, so the grass is green and thick and has grown back to about 8 inches long. Perfect for me to lay in and Tug to snack on.

After a while, the neighbors hound dogs came to investigate. There are 2 big bloodhounds, 3 beagles, a basset hound and a little old terrier. Since we weren’t rabbits or squirrels, they loped off down the valley to the hill, the terrier quickly falling behind, and the basset hound didn’t even go at all. He sniffed the air and whined, waiting for his pack to return. I got lost in my book and the sound of Tug happily munching until I heard the dogs baying. They found something to track, I could see them like little brown ants on the side of the green mountain. Oh to be a dog with the freedom to follow your nose.

Since I was looking around, I noticed a dark gray cloud heading our way. Sure enough, a few rain drops started to fall on the open pages of my book and I decided to pack it in. After putting everything back in the saddle bags, Tug and I started down the hill back to the road. And that was when the downpour hit. Tug didn’t care at all, he was happy to stay and eat grass or go home and eat grain. We jogged back down the road, I unlocked the gate, and we headed for the barn.

There is nothing like being in the barn when it rains. The drops on the tin roof sound like music, the wind whips up and smells fresh and clean, the warm hay and dry dirt on the ground make it cozy. I put the tack away and unpacked the saddle bags, brushing Tug again and giving him dinner. I leaned against the tack room and opened my book again, although it was getting dark fast. I didn’t see why I couldn’t at least finish the chapter.

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