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Archive for June, 2011

Walden.1

Thoreau was right, you know.

A man (or woman) shouldn’t own a farm. It can feel like a burden, a cross to bear. It’s a job that requires another job to keep it going. This time last year I was ready to move to the greener grass on the other side of the fence in town where life would be simple. I could go to the grocery store every day, go to a movie every night, walk to the farmers’ market, ride my bike to work, sleep in on a rainy Saturday.

Instead we spent a week in Wyoming where it was 40 degrees at night. It helped and I survived the rest of summer.

This summer I have fared better. I’ve found a better balance. I go into town two or three times a week for yoga and I get together with friends for knitting talk and coffee on Saturday mornings.

I’ve taken the task of weeding the garden and broken it into weedable chunks – an hour here, an hour there. My garden will never make Martha Stewart Living, but I canned 24 pints of bread of butter pickles from the cucumbers I picked and there’s a promise of more.

I’m letting the calves take all of the evening milk – nursing the cows dry. It’s kept the milk levels in the fridge manageable and I’ve been able to make butter and yogurt every week.

We’ll see how town looks at the end of today when I’ve spent 8 hours on a tractor cutting the hay that didn’t get cut before the rains came and John had to leave town. The heat index is to top out at 107. I’ve got the water jug at the ready and a cowboy hat by the door. If the redtails, swallows and the crippled coyote who often comes out to hunt for rats come out, I doubt I’ll give my friends, tucked into comfortably into houses where the AC blasts, a second thought.

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We went to see Midnight in Paris last night. Because of the choring schedule, we went to the 8:30 p.m. show and there weren’t many other folks there. It was a great little movie, made even more fun by the fact that I’ve been reading The Paris Wife, followed by The Greater Journey and bookended with Ernest Hemingway’s very own A Moveable Feast. I’ve been longing to find my own artists’ community, and if you’ll believe the literature, the only place to do that is in Europe.

It was pitch black when we got home and we followed a path from the gate to the garden. Just north of the garden we were treated to a scene from our very own Midnight in the Midwest. The fireflies were intense. It was surreal and spectacular.

Who needs the city of lights.

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The Ford Jubilee is the old workhorse we use to rake hay.

It is 96 degrees outside (weatherunderground reports it feels like 106), but John and I are busy preparing for winter. John spent Saturday and Sunday cutting hay. This morning I raked the upper field and John followed with the square baler and quickly baled 250 bales we’ll toss into the loft later this evening. Right now he’s out with the round baler finishing up the field. Tomorrow we’ll do the same with the lower field.

I love cutting, raking, and baling hay.

The mower conditioner kicks up bugs and you are often followed by swallows who fill the air with maneuvers usually seen in a fighter pilot movie. We let that downed hay dry for 48 hours before we move in with the rake.

The rake is a seemingly simple machine that makes a snick, snick, snick noise as it twists the cut hay over on itself and fluffs it into big windrows to dry. When you’re done, it’s like looking at acres of chenille while redtail hawks fly overhead.

When I was a child I called fields filled with square bales “farmers’ cemeteries” because the evenly spaced bales looked like tombstones.

Now they are a sign of an impending winter. Hard to imagine right now in early June. But I get the greatest feeling from knowing those bales are stacked in the loft, waiting for winter.

All year we have prepared these fields for this moment. In late summer and fall we stockpiled the grass, turning the cows in on the hay fields right before winter settled in for good. The cows grazed and simultaneously fertilized those fields. The cows were moved, the fields rested. They rested all winter and all spring and now they have made enough grass once again to bale for hay. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a second cutting later this summer.

Those hay bales will feed the horses, Jersey steers and pregnant dairy cows all winter.

Let it snow.

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She’s in

Julia now leads like a dream. She’s slow, but steady. She no longer needs the nose tongs, she no longer balks, she steps quietly into the stanchion, slips her head into the gate and starts chowing down.

It feels like a miracle.

Even more miraculous is that she accidentally kicked the bucket over this morning. Her first time. It makes a terrific noise – stainless steel banging around on concrete. Julia tested the head catch once, then calmed right down and waited.

While I was sorry to lose the milk, I was glad to see her reaction.

I have a friend who has a small dairy north of us. He milks Holsteins. Says he won’t work with Jerseys.

I wonder why?

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Unawares

The first of the garden's harvest.

This morning I padded out to the garden while the calves were nursing their moms. The sun wasn’t fully out and it was hot and still. I stood quietly by the last row of tomatoes, now staked to a 16’ cattle panel. Not two feet my from face a female cardinal perched on the top of the panel and let out a quick trill. Moments later a male landed even closer. He turned his head to look at her, then turned his head and looked at me. I swear, he said, “Oh my!” and off they both flew.

It’s amazing what you can see even in dim light if you stand perfectly still.

The garden is coming along beautifully, though so are the weeds. I picked my first zucchini today – a globular variety called Piccolo that I got from Territorial Seed. For dinner we had a meal made up of ingredients off our farm – rib-eye steaks, fresh asparagus, and zucchini pancakes.

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