When the Weather Starts to Warm

This winter has been brutally cold so far this year.  This past weekend the temperature rose to the mid to upper 30’s and it felt like spring was on its way.  It was the kind of weather when staying indoors is not an option and Bill decided it was time to cut trees.

Saturday’s tree is along the ridge going down to the back forty.  The trees there have always been too close together and because they are on the east side of the garden and quite tall they shade the southern half of the tilled area until almost noon.  There is a tree that we will keep for it’s shade and I will just plan the garden accordingly but this will begin to bring earlier sunshine where it’s needed.

The first thing done when felling trees is to look it over to make sure you have a good idea where it it will fall.  This tree only had limbs on one side of it and was leaning over the bank so it was not difficult to discern where it would go.  Bill made the first cuts on the side the tree would fall then sawed the other side as you can see in the video.

The next phase is to cut the limbs off of the tree

IMG_0099Once that was finished we use the logging winch on the back of the tractor to bring the log up to the spot where we will chunk it up and split it for firewood later.

Okay, originally I thought that this was a really pricey add on to the tractor but after about a month of tractor ownership you realize if you are going to use the bucket for anything you need weight in the back of the tractor.  If you are going to work in wet, muddy areas you probably are going to need to winch yourself out at some point. If you are going to cut down large trees using a winch becomes a safety issue at times. It turns out that what I thought was a pricey toy really is a workhorse and we have never looked back.  As you can see from the last video it has made Bill’s life a lot easier.

Helping Hands

131102 Wood (1)It must look as though all we do is cut, split and stack wood by the numerous posts about it here.  This time of year that does seem to be the case.  I have to tell you though that this is one chore that I kind of like doing.  It is the one thing we do as a little community for the most part.  This weekend we went to sister Sue’s to move some of a huge locust tree that came down at the end of the summer.  The tree guys cut it up in place and hauled away the sticks and branches (the worst part of the job).  They cut the wood to length but it needed to be moved and split.  The morning began with the tractor ride to her house, Bill followed with the splitter.  A friend arrived shortly after we did and then Sue’s daughter and her husband.

The tree was at the back side of her house so Bill, Rob and Chuck all loaded the bucket of the tractor and the bed of a pick up with multiple loads and brought it to the door of the barn where we had set up the splitter.  Sue has a door in the floor of the barn and we split and tossed it through the door into the lower level.  This is really an excellent set up.  It keeps the wood out of the weather and is attached to the house so in those howling snow storms she just has to walk down the stairs to get her wood.  Not ideal going up and down the stairs but much better than keeping it under a tarp in a field somewhere.

Sue and I split the smaller pieces but a lot of it was huge.  The splitter can be used horizontally or vertically.  The vertical position allows you the ability to split any size diameter wood (you just have to be able to move it around).  One large chunk was split into 30 plus pieces – Sue counted. Moving and splitting went on for four hours or so – 3 tanks of gas is how we measure.  The wall of wood was a little intimidating initially, they were bringing it up faster than we were ever going to split it. Bill figures they will get 5 cord or more from that one tree.

This kind of work is fun, especially when you have a group of people working towards that common goal.  It’s nice to work with people that have experience, a lot can be done without a lot of instruction.  Time can be spent working and laughing.  And if you’re with my sister you can bet you will be taking stock of what kinds of mosses are growing on any given piece of wood – I did see her set a piece or two aside for closer inspection later.

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Days of Grace

131013 Wood (4)We are into what many people refer to as “days of grace”.  This, for us, is after the gardens are done, the canning is finished (for the most part) and we are seriously thinking about winter.  It’s the time between the leaves falling and the snow flying.

With that in mind we brought wood in over the weekend with the help of Amanda and Yusuf.  We had to move most of what was left from last year out of the way because it is very dry and bring in what we have been cutting and splitting over the past few months.  This is when the tractor really comes in handy.  The bucket can be loaded and driven right into the shed.  The wood is unloaded and stacked at waist height, it cuts down on the bending over which can really save your back.

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The project lasted through the weekend, we figure we put in about 4 and a half cord with a little over a cord left from last season.  I can’t tell you what a relief it is when that project is over.  It’s one of those never-ending things.  The seasons are dictated by cutting, splitting and stacking wood.  Trees will come down this winter with the brush stacked for burning.  The burn season starts in January and runs until May.  We usually cut and split throughout the year when the weather permits – it’s not something you want to do in summer heat.  With any luck it spends the summer drying out a bit.  In the fall it comes in.  It will continue to dry until it gets burned.

Other projects on our list are re-glazing windows.  Tightening things up in the house.  We are considering a small wood stove for the kitchen in the ell but we will have to see what the next few weeks bring.  A little more insulation in the attic over the kitchen would probably go a long way toward keeping it warmer.

131013 Wood (2)The one other vital thing to do is put the electric blankets on the beds upstairs.  There has never been any heat up there (except the bathroom) so if we don’t want to sleep under 10 pounds of quilts electricity must be used.  There is nothing better than getting into a nice warm bed in the dead of winter.

This time of year always has an anticipatory air to it.  There’s pressure put on whatever time you have.  Once the temperature plummets, the snow is on the ground and the wind is blowing the mood changes.  We are doing things indoors.  We spend more down time.  This is when my time is spent on handwork.  There are so many crafts that I do in cooler weather because they are just too hot to do any other time of the year.  I will be finishing up a couple of hooking projects and I will be weaving.  Yes . . . lots and lots of weaving.




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In reading a blog I read daily called Sheepy Hollow Farm I was taken to a site called Farmher.  This is a website documenting women farmers in the U.S. and the photographs are stunning.  It got me to thinking about last weekend.

My sister had a pile of wood in her driveway that needed to be split so last Sunday Bill filled the splitter with gas, hooked it up to the tractor and sent me on my way.  I have to admit I love driving the tractor – especially to other people’s houses.  I love the open feeling as you are driving down the road, the way the tractor sounds.

On the way I passed the home of a classmate of mine (there were only 4 of us total until high school).  He was mowing his lawn and I could see on his face that look of bewilderment – “What is she doing towing a splitter down the road with a tractor?”

When I got to Sue’s we unhooked the splitter leaving it near the pile of wood.  We then proceeded across the field to pick up three large pieces of an apple tree trunk.  They filled the bucket.  After dumping them in the pile of wood we started splitting, each taking a turn at running the splitter or bringing the wood over to be split – both throwing the wood into the pile needing to be stacked.  We were about halfway through the pile when my classmate, his wife and daughter walked by with their dog.  We gave a wave but continued on our quest to finish before we ran out of gas (both us and the splitter).  I said they must be wondering about those crazy sisters doing that kind of work.

That’s what I was thinking as I perused the photography of Farmher.  I saw a woman tilling her garden, out with a chainsaw.  I saw them milking goats, feeding chickens, tending gardens and thought this has been me for a good part of my life in one way or another.  In centuries past the woman did a very large part of the farming along with her husband.  They were a team.  The men did the heavy work, the women made sure they were fed and warm.  They all worked hard.  I come from a line of small farmers, it seems to me that this is the way life really should be.  Bringing forth your sustenance from the land that is yours, tending your field and flock.  Knowing that the work you put in keeps your family happy and whole.

Family Affair

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The wood still needs to be cut and split and we had some help on Sunday.  Daughter Amanda, her boyfriend Yusuf and sister Sue all were all there.  I can’t tell you how much you can get done with helping hands.  The saying “many hands make light work” really rang true.

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Each person had their own job, depending upon their skill level with pieces of equipment.  Well, everyone can use the splitter but not everyone can wield a chainsaw (that’s the piece of equipment I stay away from).

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Chester just likes to be in the thick of things.  He’s not afraid of the noise of the equipment or tractor (although he stays away from the chainsaw as well).  The splitter is a real godsend to people our age or anyone for that matter.  The pieces of wood that were dispatched were large, some 25 to 30 inches across.  If they weren’t full of knots they were spit with ease.

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The wood we split Sunday was ash and cherry.  I love splitting ash, it’s beautiful and splits easily.  Cherry on the other hand . . .

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By the time we were done we had a wall of wood over 25 feet long and 5 feet high.  All in all a great days work.

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Of course this was happening all day with anyone that was near him.   Chester had a good day too.


Heath Fair

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The Fair started for me Thursday evening when I dropped off my blanket and rug at the exhibition hall.  There were helpers everywhere and you could feel the excitement building.  They have this fair down to a science.  I was given labels that were already printed with my name and category, I attached the labels to the corner of my goods with the name hidden and handed them off to one of the many workers with the checkered aprons walking around the hall.  Then the waiting began.

For me part of the anticipation is not knowing what your competition is.  How many people weave and put their work in a small country fair? I know many people hook rugs but are there any around here that do?  Are they willing to haul them to a fair for a ribbon and maximum premium of $3.00?

Sister Sue and I made our way over about 10 AM Saturday.  The fairgrounds were bustling with activity.  We toured the sheep barn and the poultry/rabbit building.

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We ran into our friend Russell who told me he only won second place on the rocking horse he had made for his grandson. (The only category it fit into was Craft Other – I’m glad I wasn’t judging that one). After catching up with them for a bit we went to the Exhibition Hall to see how I did.  It took me a minute to figure out where the textiles were.  I was also amazed at how many people brought things to the fair.

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Blue Ribbon for my rug but the only other competition on this was a really beautiful woven rag rug.  Again, another difficult judging situation.

130817 Heath Fair (6)Then a blue ribbon for the blanket – woohoo!  There was a lot of weaving in the fair this year which actually surprised me.  Who knew I was surrounded by weavers and didn’t know it?  There’s another reason to compete at the fair – you get to know the competition and they are just like you.

Once we left the exhibition hall we made our way down the food lane and picked up some fried dough with Maple Cream from Hager’s Farm for breakfast (it’s sort of like a pancake right?).  With food in hand we watched the herding exhibition – with ducks.

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Then it was on to the main reason I was at the fair so early – Horse Draw.  I always plan my fair visits around this event.  The animals are stunningly beautiful and you can watch them doing what they are trained to do.

130817 Heath Fair (7)You also get to see the teamsters in action.

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These horses are very similar to dogs (except in size).  They are bred to pull, they have a job.  It’s the trainers job to teach them how to do it.  There are a lot of differences in how these horse’s people work with them and that’s the difference in how well they pull.  Early on in the draw you have a sense of who will win just by how they are handled by their drivers.

The competition was light in the 3,000 pound category.  There were 5 teams competing, 3 of the teams were from the same farm. There were 2 other fairs this weekend with horse draw competitions.

Honestly, one of the best parts of this event is sitting in the stand with all of the other interested parties.  This is redneck farmers at its best.  Horse people are an interesting lot (and sometimes a little scary to look at).  They joked about small wagers on a particular team.  Arguments ensued over who knows what and people were generous in their knowledge of the sport.  One explained in detail how the draw was measured and how the timing of each pull was handled.

130817 Heath Fair (2)Then there were also teamsters helping out teamsters if someone was short for a particular pull (competitors, helping competitors).  It’s all about the horses you see (at least to them).  They apparently don’t know that we’ve figured out that it’s their work, their temperament that is really what makes their team perform at their best.

When the pull was over we went home.  I returned later with the family – they wanted fair food for supper.  We watched a little of the truck pull before calling it a day.  The crowd was enormous – a sea of camouflage and dirty ball caps.  For a people watcher this was gold.

For me the fair concluded last evening when I picked up my entries and winnings.  I’ve concluded that the only way to see the fair is to compete in it.  You have skin in the game and every one around you knows it.  Now to start working on next years entries.

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Changing of Seasons

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There comes a time every summer when you feel it, you know fall is just around the corner.  The leaves on the ash trees are beginning to turn, the maples are taking on that olive tone.  We are fortunate to be experiencing beautiful weather right now – cool and clear.  With the realization that the seasons are beginning to change also comes a little panic feeling about what needs to be done before winter gets here.  On the top of the list is cutting and splitting wood.

The weather was just amazing and we have been taking Mondays off in lieu of a week’s vacation, the idea being that we would take the boat to the lake for a little R&R.  Winter is calling though and our shed has a limited supply of wood stored.  The house would be quite frigid in January if we couldn’t at least put a fire in the big fireplace in the living room.  Instead of boating yesterday Bill and I cut and split about a cord of cherry and ash that was sitting in the back forty.  It’s work, but it’s satisfying seeing cord wood in a nice stacked row drying out.  Having a splitter makes it possible for us to do the work, if we had to use a splitting maul and ax I’m afraid we would have to hire a much younger man to do the job.

It took us only 3 to 4 hours to cut and split what we did.  When we came up to make dinner I was concerned with just how achy I was and thought about getting out of bed this morning.  You know that feeling when muscles are screaming as you put your feet to the floor?  Or going down the stairs heading for that first cup of coffee?  I was pleasantly surprised this morning.  I felt good, like I’d done an honest day’s work.  I told Bill I could do that everyday (it’s nice working hard and having something to show for it).  Now we will see if it hits me tomorrow, sometimes it takes a day.

Rain, Rain, Rain

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This photo says it all.  I wear these crocs when I work in the garden in the summer.  They are easy to slip on, hose off.  After working yesterday I hosed them off as usual and left them on the patio to dry.  They may have dried but it started raining in the late afternoon and continued off and on through the night.  The forecast for today – rain.

I managed to get half of the garden weeded but really need to get out there again and finish before the weeds take over.

All this rain has wreaked havoc for farmers of every variety over the whole of New England this year.  It’s been one of those years where you think you have the right combo of things to plant because they have grown so well in the past only to find no matter how many times you plant the seeds the conditions won’t allow them to germinate.  I’ve planted beets twice so far this year and have had one sprout.  It’s not a matter of bad seed either.  I’ve planted two varieties, new seed.  I will plant them one more time, if they grow great, if not I wait until next year. My carrots are sparse, but the rhutabagas are fine.  The potatoes are finally going after a very slow start. They are also sprouting all over the garden – apparently I didn’t dig up everything last year.  They’ve survived tillage 3 times so I guess I will just hill them where they are.

The beans are a bit disappointing as well, they have had a tough time starting.  There will be a few more seeds planted there as well.  Although my tomatoes had a rough start they are looking pretty good at the moment.  I need to tie them up for the second time this week.  Onions and garlic are very happy.  There are blossoms on my cucumber starts but I’ve come to realize that I don’t plant enough to really put up so they will probably be eaten fresh and I will have to visit the local farmstands to make pickles. My long pie pumpkins look great, they are one of my favorite varieties and they are great keepers.

The potted flowers have never been happier.  Every summer for the past few years I’ve had to have someone water them on the days when I’m not here.  No problem this year.

One of the biggest problems that has occurred this year is with haying.  It’s has rained every day for weeks, for hay you need at least a couple of dry days (dry, not exorbitantly humid like it has been).  With the weather pattern that we’ve been in the hay has been in the field too long so the quality of the feed suffers.  I’m not sure what the answer is here.  There may be more steers going to the auction in the fall because there won’t be the hay to feed them through the winter.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Farming is such a difficult way of life.  You are dealing with the unknown on a daily basis.  Each week the weather is bad you adjust your expectations for the off season.  This is something that hasn’t changed since the dawn of agriculture but each year when it happens to me it is deeply personal.

When the Weather is Bad

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Garden in August 2009


A couple of weeks ago I was reading the blogs of young farmers across Ohio, New York and Vermont lamenting the loss of their crops due to an unexpected frost.  They had started all of their long growth veggie plants indoors, nurtured them, fussed over them, dreamed about their potential.  The weather warmed a couple of weeks early and in the eagerness that befalls us all when we think spring is here they transplanted everything into their newly tilled beds.  They were watered in, possibly staked up, fussed over some more.  The following week we had 3 days of below freezing weather – all of their sprouts were lost.  That’s a true hit for a small farmer.  You try to do everything right, avoid starts coming in from some other state or parts unknown.  You want to know how they were cared for, no one will love your little plants the way you do.

A similar thing is happening to me right now.  We’ve had very rainy, cold weather for the past week and a half.  Yes, right after I transplanted my starts and put my seeds in the ground.  I waited, I always do.  The official Memorial Day weekend this year fell on May 25 and 26 this year.  Too early to plant I said to myself, I’ve been burned before and the soil temp wasn’t high enough to germinate seeds.  I waited another week.  The weather wasn’t great but between a couple of rainy afternoons I got everything into the ground.  The following week was hot as blazes, it felt like late July.  Things were looking good.  The waiting is the most difficult for me.

It turned fairly cool a little over a week ago and it’s been raining a lot.  The sump for the cellar was running non stop last night as it does when the water table is extremely high – not a good sign.  I woke up this morning to a temperature of 48 degrees.  The rain had stopped right before dawn and I walked the garden with the dogs.  Beans and corn are up for the most part, rhutabagas as well.  Radishes, onions and all of the tomatoes look okay for now.  No potatoes yet which isn’t what I’d like to see and the Long Pie Pumpkins will probably have to be replanted.  I take heart in the fact that it’s still early enough to get a harvest from those things I have to replant but I’m also just waiting for signs of blight on my tomatoes, they’d rather have it sunny and warm you understand.

If I had to survive on the things I grow myself I would be scared right now.  There are so many crop issues that this weather has effected.  Things are slow to grow.  The fields are so wet that haying will have to wait (with a little prayer that it won’t rain like this for a while). Some times it’s difficult to put yourself into the shoes of your ancestors, so many of mine were farmers.  How must they have felt has they stood in the middle of their corn field with the plants 2 to 3 inches tall and fully a third of said field under water?  We take for granted that someone else is growing our food for us, they are the ones taking the risks.  We complain if the price of things go up or if fresh veggies are more difficult to come by but think about if food production was your whole life.

I’m convinced the day will come when a very large percentage of what I eat I will have to grow myself or in cooperation with my neighbors.  I garden because I love it but I also know that you can’t just decide one year that you are going to grow your own food.  In New England (and probably everywhere else) each growing season is different.  Every year I learn something new because I have to deal with some problem from the weather or pests.  You learn, you grow, you change.  The variety of food I grow is different from what I grew 10 years ago.  Part of that is that my garden has expanded over the years, part of it is there are things that just don’t do well in my particular spot.  Each year I try something new to see how it goes.  There are winners and losers.  I’m hoping that things warm up and dry out a little now or we will see what really survives in an adverse weather year. I’m also praying for a little more patience, things have a way of working out.

Pear Blossoms

IMG_20130511_104220I wait eagerly for this each year.  The pear tree blossoming in the back forty.  It is always so beautiful, this year more so because I finally got down there to prune it.  Bill and I drove the tractor down next to the tree and took turns lifting each other in the bucket at different angles to cut off the suckers.  This tree has never been pruned and was rather overrun.  I used the lopping shears and he used his smallest chain saw.  It was more than a little scary being 15+ feet off of the ground and moving into a tree.  I think Bill’s ride was probably a little scarier since I don’t drive the tractor that often.  My ride was fairly smooth backwards and forwards, up and down.  Bill’s on the other hand . . . let’s just say next time he’ll probably opt for a ladder.  At Old Sturbridge Village they always said to prune your fruit trees so a cat tossed into it wouldn’t hit any branches.  Fruit trees like a lot of air.  With any luck we will have more than the one pear we got last year.  The spring has been more “normal” this year with a more gradual warmup so the blossoms didn’t come out too early.  As long as we get some pollinators out there we should be okay.

The patches of what looks like white in the field are bluets.  We always put off mowing the field until these have gone by, the patches get bigger every year.  They are like clouds in the grass.

It’s a drizzly, rainy day today but everything is looking wonderfully green and lush.  Something about it just soothes the soul after such a long, cold winter.