My first full day on the farm was a proper introduction to life here. I was sound asleep no later than 10pm the night before and I was awake and ready to go as daylight snuck in through my windows. Strangely, my windows do not look directly outside, rather they look into the greenhouse, which shares the south facing side of the house. And so my morning view is a touch greener than most this time of year. With the creaky sound of movement in the house I knew it was time to get going.
Mornings for me usually start with food, and this farm is no exception, but humans don’t get first dibs. Tony and I set out for the morning chores and we where to try something new this morning. They have been weening the spring caves from last year and they have been completely separated from their mothers for over a month now. This morning we were going to try putting them out to pasture, but separated from their mothers since they would gladly go straight back to nursing them. It sort of felt like a bovine version of potty training. But first we had to get the hay.
And who’d-a-thought hay was so heavy. It’s just dry grass after all. The first thing I figured out was that there are an infinite number of kinds of hay. Depending on when you cut it, if the pasture had been cut before…etc. We have two kinds, first cut and second cut. The first cut is much heartier, heavier and grassier. After the hay has been cut the the legumes (alfalfa and clover in our case) bounces back much quicker than the grasses. And so the second cut of hay is much richer in nitrogen (protein for the animals) and much leafier and lighter to throw around.
We needed seven bales of hay. Five for the thirteen full grown cows, and two more for the heifers. But first we had to throw down some bales from the mow (pronounced like now). There’s nothing like working up a sweat before breakfast.
I didn’t know what to expect from breakfast, but it was just what one would suspect: hearty. We don’t drink much coffee in this house, but we do use the coffee grinder in the morning. To augment our daily rations of morning fiber and protein we add ground nuts to our oatmeal and raisins, and there wasn’t much left in the pot when we were done with it.
After breakfast Fran and I set off to fix an unfortunate, accidental plowing of a circle in the middle of the pasture just to the north of the barn. The plow had turned over an almost perfect circle of sod that needed to be put back in its place before the sun dried out and killed the roots of the sod. So we spent over two hours on our hands and knees playing sod tetris, except that we knew all the pieces would never fit. Nevertheless, we filled the time with talk of the garden, seeds and even the grass in front of us as I began to learn to identify the different types of clovers, grasses and alfalfa. By the end there was little left to show for our time except a faint circle where there once had been a dark one.
Then Tony began some plowing in a plot to the north of where I was working, where we will most likely be planting some corn this year. The plowing was going just fine until he hit an unexpected speed bump in the form of a large glacially deposited boulder. So I grabbed a shovel and a pry-bar and went to work.
The soil around here is a clayey to very clayey loam and that means that if there is moisture in the soil, which is all the time in the spring, that clay holds on to stones and especially big boulders really well. So to even have a chance of getting a chain around this thing I had to dig down from its icebergesque tip until I had a hole about six feet wide and two feet deep with a large boulder in the middle. All the while Tony kept plowing away.
Then, after it seemed like china was closer than the bottom of this stone, the diameter began to shrink and we found a good purchase point for the chain and began to yank it out of the hole with the horses. The next trick was to roll it over onto the stone boat (the metal sled used for dragging heavy things around like boulders). Considering Tony and I could not budge the rock even between the two of us using the pry-bar, it was a lucky roll when the horses flipped the rock onto the sled and off it went to add to the “natural yard decorations” around the property.
After lunch it was time to get things moving in the greenhouse. Fran has been busy for the last month or so getting seeds germinated, pricking out the seedlings and preparing a few lucky plants for the hoop house. Our job today was to prick out around five hundred pepper plants and get them into individual soil blocks so they will be ready for the hoop house in a couple months.
Never a dull moment with Fran in the greenhouse, we chatted about seed germination, climate and soil preferences of various vegetable varieties, and seed saving politics as our hands worked the bundles of green sprouts into personalized soil homes for each one. We plucked and pushed, and watered and soiled until Tony called us up for dinner and another feast for hungry stomachs was waiting. This time it was a smoked ham roasted on top of a potpourri of root vegetables including beets, parsnips, and rutabagas, with some onions and potatoes.
Today is Sunday and it was a day of rest, which included some germination of a number of tomatoe varieties and plenty of relaxing and reading. And tomorrow I start my first full week here with many things in store.