Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Year in Pictures

We are celebrating a year on the farm. There are too many memories to share here, but being in a reflective mood, I thought I would post a smattering of events, both large and small, from the year gone by.

This was found stuffed in the bottom of a WWII era rifle magazine, which was in turn inside a case of ammunition.

The dogs. Need I say more?

Trappings of the previous owner's life, discarded

The shell of this house we now call home

Our celebratory purge and bonfire on the winter solstice

Planning our houses for all of January while the snow blew sideways

The largest farm purchase to date, with the exception of the farm itself

Apple trees were planted and watered

Cows with their calves

Garth, drinking water from a Roman looking vessel in the garden

The bull arrived

The hens, abundantly satisfied with their lives

Creatively moving the timber frames into the barn for the winter

The calves having a love affair with their new favorite treat, kale


Friday, October 22, 2010

The bunker silo

This is the new frontier. You are looking at the site of the former bunker silo. At one time it was around 50 feet of silage covered in plastic, held down by tires and retained by walls on two sides. When the cows left and the goats came the bunker silo moonlit as a dump. Now the goats have gone and we have arrived, abhorring dumps and loving clean pastures. We hired people to excavate the foundations of the houses we are building and were amazed to watch the ease with which their machines moved massive amounts of dirt, so we asked them to bulldoze the bunker silo for us. What they unearthed is not pretty.

I may have mentioned the prevalence of bones and trash among the few deposits of gold we found here - aged goat manure teeming with scraps of metal, plastic bags and bailing twine, bones of all kinds and even needles and animal medications. Well, here we discovered the mother lode of contaminants. The old scraps of plastic were dwarfed by large torn tarps and giant balls of twine. I found glass bottles of insulin along side 1/2 gallon containers of ice cream, broken glass and worn out tires. There were large pieces of twisted metal as though someone blew up a car. The most distressing and ungodly finds were the piles of packaged meat. They had been rotting anaerobically for who knows how long. Some of them were torn open revealing swaths of grey and sulphur colored ooze amidst the bones. It smelled as you would expect it to. The irony was that their safe handling instruction labels were still quite legible.

That is one of the packages of meat on the left, above the triangular rock.

This tarp exhibits the lethargy and pathos that only some rubbish can. It feels good to make progress here. We are finding what was lost, namely beautiful and rich soils under years of neglect and disinterest. One day, we might even turn our cows out onto it, feeling confident they won't ingest something that could prove fatal. For now, we'll keep our gloves on and keep at it.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Oh What a Beautiful Morning!

Having been away from the farm for several weeks, being back these past few days has made me appreciate what a beautiful spot this is. I especially love the morning light, and have a few pictures to share. One morning this week, I looked out the kitchen window to see a beautiful rainbow to the west. It looks like it ends right where our waterfall is!


Sunday, October 10, 2010


The garden has been feeling and looking its age. The tomatoes plants were no longer ripening their fruit. They were sizing them up only to split them before they took on their color. I was pulling hard on the roots of a cherry tomato that had grown over a large mass of basil and the heavy smells from each of them was enough to make me think twice about what I was doing. How can this be bad if it still smells so good? But they had clearly had enough, so I continued. The beans were scaly and brittle. We began ripping those out about a week ago and planting rye grass as our winter cover.

In watching this season pass into the next we have all received a new surge of fervor about enlarging the garden and have dug more than six new beds for a spring planting. After turning a little manure into the beds we had planted this year, I am impressed with how far the soil has come. It is absolute bliss. My shovel just sinks into the dirt and what I turn over is not sewn tightly together with gnarly roots. It falls to pieces with even a mild suggestion. What will it be like in two years? Five?

The winter squash plants were the only things I was still attached to. They are an heirloom squash called 'Sweet Meat' rumored to be long keeping. To keep them the full six months after harvest they need to ripen fully on the vine. We read that they cannot ripen with temperatures below 50 and the thermometer has been hovering there on the warmer days despite my fond encouragement. We picked the first of these in September to measure its progress. It weighed 14 pounds and was a pale yellow inside. We waited at least three weeks before trying another. The second one weighed in at 25 pounds and was deeper orange, but still not where we hoped it would be. The forecast began calling for a frost followed by four days with lows in the 40s and highs in the upper 60s. I really wanted those extra four days, but they changed their tune yesterday and began predicting a widespread freeze with a low hitting 31 between 4:00 and 8:00 am. We decided to pick half the squash and leave the rest to ripen without competition. At 10:15 pm last night Garth checked the temperature. It was 30 with a clear sky. We had to go for the rest. With a headlamp and the tractor Edmund went up the to garden and we followed. We hunted through the crunchy foliage for the rest of the squash and loaded them into the bucket of the tractor. The ground sparkled with frost.

The thermometer read 22 degrees this morning. The squash plant itself looked like the wicked witch of the west in her post melt phase. I am grateful Garth had the thought to look at the temperature last night.

You are meant to cure them for two weeks inside at a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees. Our house is a solid 52 degrees most days, so no luck for them there, but at least we have them in now. The one we opened a week ago is quite good. We have incorporated it into every meal apart from breakfast and we still have one half of it untouched. If you visit us this winter I am sure you'll have some if all goes well.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010


A few months ago a young forest management specialist stopped by to offer us his services. We declined, but it was a pleasant day, and Ed and I stood in the driveway talking to him for a while. Eventually the conversation moved from proper timber harvest techniques to our plans for the farm.

"You guys have a tractor?" he asked.

"Yeah," said Ed.

"What kind?"

"A Kubota."

"Oh, wrong color!"

His John Deere cap announced where his allegiances lay, and the phrase he used referred to the distinct hues the major tractor companies use to distinguish their products from one another. There is Kubota orange, Ford/New Holland blue, Case/IH red, and of course John Deere green.

But the more I look at modern tractors, the more I am struck by how much, at least around the base of the loader, these proud colors are obscured by the warning labels that are pasted everywhere, like an overseas letter posted with the remainder of twenty different rolls of stamps.

This warns that leaving the engine in gear will not stop the tractor from rolling - the parking brake must be engaged. I met someone who had this happen, and his tractor went through a fence and ended up in a gully.

This is an obvious liability thing. The step is broad, almost a platform, and the fender has this great handle so perfectly placed that it invites having a friend or sibling ride along.

These warn of hitting electric lines with the loader, of dropping a load back onto the driver, and of rolling the tractor. I recently read that rolling tractors is still the leading cause of accidental death among farmers, despite state subsidized programs to retrofit old machines with rollover protection systems.

This one strikes me as counterproductive. I hope my tractor always starts, but if it doesn't some morning I will now be tempted to go online to find out how to short across the starter terminals.

The first two warnings - don't carry people in the bucket, and take pains to not get crushed by the bucket - are fairly commonsensical, though they are notable for their creative use of the hapless silhouette warning label man. The third label is terrifying. Perhaps it is well known in certain circles that hydraulic hoses can leak with such force that they can inject fluid deep enough into flesh to cause gangrene, but it was news to me.

This is the ultimate tractor warning label, in that it is both obvious and foreign; it is obvious that an exposed drive shaft spinning at 540 RPM and powered by a 70 horsepower diesel engine should be treated with care, but it is foreign in that almost all such blatantly dangerous situations have been removed from American life. It also has warning label silhouette man meet his most gruesome end.

As a novice to farming, these slight dangers have been among the most interesting aspects. It is not just a matter of whether I am foolish enough to drive my tractor, bucket upraised, into overhead power lines. In college all I had to worry about was crossing the street. Since then my riskiest activity has been driving. (And my car doesn't have a loader on it, so I couldn't hit the overhead lines if I wanted to.) But this morning our bull fell behind the cows, and when he saw them eating in the new break of pasture he got excited and galloped the last twenty yards. I could only stand and watch and wonder what I would do if he ever ran at me.

Unfortunately, he doesn't have any labels at all on him.