End of Season

150830 Morning Mist

The summer season is winding down.  With all of the pressure to prepare for winter it is still my favorite time of year.  Maybe it’s that sense of urgency, the knowledge that every single day will have to be packed full of projects because that cold, snowy weather is right around the corner.

It’s so subtle, it sneaks up on you really.  Mid August you begin to notice it getting darker so much earlier and the day doesn’t begin with the sunrise until after 5:00 AM.  The birdsong is changing.  The insects you encounter are different as well.  You’re listening to crickets, huge grasshoppers leap in front of you on that afternoon walk about.  Huge caterpillars are making themselves known with their size and color.

The leaves are changing to my favorite palette.  Gone are the bright, cheery greens of spring, the steadfast greens of summer. Now comes the olives, golds and rusts.

The photo above shows the reality of my vegetable garden.  It was so beautifully taken care of until August when I went on a week-long vacation.  It got away from me and at this point there’s no going back.  It hasn’t stopped producing.  The blogs I read show immaculately kept gardens but in the back of my mind this is how I imagine they really are.  The realities of doing anything agriculturally – especially by yourself – is that things are not as tidy as you wish them to be.  So you pick your battles.

The fall party this year has turned into a family baby shower.  I will be holding my first grand baby in my arms around the beginning of November.  The grounds will be as tidy as they can be – Bill takes great pride in his lawn.  The messiness of the chickens and that overgrown garden will be here in all of their glory as well as a building flattened and not yet moved and a back forty full of goldenrod taller than I am.

But you know.  The goldenrod is in full bloom and it is the loveliest shade of yellow.

This Ain’t Right



My dogs are spoiled rotten.  They are total indoor slugs that I indulge.  Here’s the thing, they were bred to be that way.  My dogs are house pets, not working animals.  There’s a huge difference.

A particularly alarming event has been unfolding in New York state over the past couple of weeks and I think everyone needs to know about it whether you have animals of any kind or not.  Something is happening all over this country that threatens everything I think is right about small scale farming and I am at a loss.

Jon Katz just posted Gofundme – Save West Wind Acres from an Orwellian Nightmare.  They are going through something I can’t even imagine, yet in following this I realize that it can happen to every single one of us that has animals of any kind.

This winter has been brutal – snow, wind, bitter cold.  My dogs spent most of it by a fire in the wood stove.  I can’t say the same for my chickens and a good deal of worry went into how they were fairing in that coop in the cold.  Their water was heated.  The coop was situated in a place to catch what little winter sun we had and it was up against the east side of our house to cut down on the wind that would hit their building.  Their bedding was deep.  I was fortunate and the only casualties were a number of eggs frozen solid that weren’t collected in a timely manner.  If I’m honest there might have been a couple of combs that had a little frostbite.

I grew up with a menagerie of farm animals – horses, cows, goats, a couple of sheep, chickens.  We took good care of our animals.  They had shelter available to them at all times.  They had good pasture, they had fresh water but they had a choice of where they stayed no matter what the weather was.  I remember seeing the horses standing just on the other side of the fence (quite a ways from their shelter) on a cold, cold day with freezing rain.  There backs were covered with sleet and there were icicles hanging from their chins.  Did they know they could go inside out of the weather?  Of course they did.  Would they?  Not on your life.  I think they were afraid they would miss something if they weren’t overlooking the backyard.

We seem to be experiencing a loss of freedom at a rate I can’t begin to understand.  Someone can file a complaint about their perception of something happening in my backyard and I can be arrested, brought to court or fined.  What ever happened to trust in personal responsibility?  I live with small farmers all around me.  I would be the last person to file a complaint based on something I see as I’m driving or walking by a place.  I never before thought about what it meant to live in a world where a person’s ignorance regarding nature, farming, food production, gardening was so extreme that they presume they know better and need to call the “authorities” to rescue whatever I’m raising.

We are being regulated to death.  I’d like to be able to take responsibility for my own well being.  If I go to a workshop at someone’s house I’ll risk illness by drinking their well water.  I’d like to take the risk in eating that whoopie pie baked in someones home kitchen and brought to the school bake sale.  While I’m at it I will be also eating those dill pickles that aunt Bertha made with very little processing.  I’ll eat that tomato or potato or cucumber right from the garden, just wiping the dirt off on my jeans.  I want my cheese made with raw milk, thank you.  If I get sick the only one I have to blame is myself.  I’ll take my own risks as mundane as they seem.  I really take offense at someone telling me what I can and can’t do.  Wow, aren’t there a lot of you out there that are with me on this?  Do you feel like things have been taken too far?  Are people soooooo stupid that they have to be forced into eating and doing only the things that someone tells them are safe?

Read Jon’s article and if so moved send a few dollars to the West Wind Acres funding request.  Honestly, if I could have been at the courthouse today I would have.  Thousands of others should have been too.  There are things that should just be left alone – good people doing good things is one of them.



Another One Bites the Dust

Middletown Hill Rd

The road in front of the house in Rowe was lined with trees for hundreds of years – hundreds.  These stately sugar maples provided shade from the western sun in the summer keeping the house quite cool.  They provided places for hammocks and swings and places for children to climb.  Big birds also nested and fed themselves from those trees – pileated woodpeckers and barred owls plus all of the usual smaller birds and squirrels. When you looked out of the upstairs bedrooms you felt as though you were in a treehouse.  It was a great view.

It’s been 10 or 15 years since the last one came down in front of the house.  The rooms upstairs are hot in the summer.  There are a lot of trees across the road but they are all beginning to go as well.  Early this morning another was cut down.  It needed to come down, there were very few branches that had leaves any more.  One of its neighbors had fallen not more than 6 months ago.

The video doesn’t do the act of cutting down a tree this size justice.  The snap and shudder, the crashing to the ground, the silence.  The house shook like witnessing a small explosion.

There are trees all around that I want to cut down, to improve the view or let more sun into my garden.  Those decisions don’t come lightly though.  I always consider what will be lost with the removal of any tree, also what will be gained.  When it’s weighed out the decision is made.  Some take very little consideration but others, the maples, are more difficult to cut down.  They are beautiful in every season, they are strong, stately.  They belong.

There is one such maple along the side of the garden.  It’s grown quite large over the past 10 years my garden has been in that spot and now shades a good part of it for most of the morning.  The vegetables aren’t fond of that much shade.  We have cut everything around it and in doing so it has thrived.  That wasn’t the intention, it was on the list to go.

After watching the old maple go down today I’ve decided I will move a good deal of my garden this year.  I want it to stand there shading the yard for a good long time to come.  A place for the orioles and bluebird to perch on the way to the feeder and bird bath.  Barred owls perch there at night and talk to their mates and chicks.  Those are things I’m not willing to give up and it really is an easy decision.

What We’re Called to Do

140521 Back FortyWhen I was 18 people told me that I needed a plan, a plan for my life.  My friends went off to college, confident in the choices they had made for their life’s work – nuclear engineer, mechanical engineer, music education, nursing.  I had taken business courses in high school knowing that I wouldn’t be going to college – wasn’t in the cards for this girl.  This was back in the day where if you knew how to type, take dictation and do rudimentary bookkeeping you could land a pretty good job. Yes, I’m really dating myself here.

Although I took and kept an office job for a few years I knew that it was not what I wanted to do.  Little did I realize that taking that path initially I would always be working in an office in one capacity or another for a good deal of my life.  I’m an excellent multi-tasker and can be pretty well-organized.  I manage my time well if I have to.

I went to school for photography when I was 22 and again was told I needed a plan for my life.  “Your days are numbered” said to me by my teacher and mentor still whispers in the back of my brain on many occasions.  Good words, words that really should be heeded.

Fast forward 35 years and I have to say I’m just beginning to formulate what it is I should be doing.  Honestly, I may never truly know but I think you have to look at your history, your ancestry, your genetics. I come from a long, long line of farming and textiles, both of which require good problem solving capabilities. (Although I sometimes think the biggest problem I have is figuring out what it is I want to do).

I think many people (especially in recent years) choose a career based on their likes and capabilities.  Some are blessed with extraordinary gifts and are pushed or sent in a certain direction.  Somewhere along the way I believe everyone undergoes a “crisis of faith” so to speak.  That moment (or moments) when we wonder just what the heck were we thinking.  Upon reflection we either realize that what we are doing is the only thing we should be or know in our hearts it’s time to get out.  Taking action is the next big step and that always contains the fear that you are not listening close enough.  You just have to leap.

My move to Rowe permanently was really precipitated by finance but the reality is that this is what I really should be doing.  It allows me to create on many different levels and that is who I am intrinsically.  To sit in an office, no matter who’s it was, was killing me.  I thought it then, I know it now. I’ve had the slate of Fort Pelham Farm for a few years but now I have the time to form it into a thing of beauty both physically and spiritually.

Following in the footsteps of those I knew and loved makes what I’m doing special to me. I am learning to live much the way my ancestors have.  Growing my own food, weaving my own cloth, knitting my own sweaters. We all create our own happiness minute by minute and I’ve been given a new opportunity. People shake their heads and wonder, at least those in the urban area I just left.  I’m certain the tide is shifting where some will understand but you should know I have never, ever done what people expected me to do.  I’d rather have them watch and be amused.

Planning that Garden Years in Advance

131013 Garlic Planting


Sunday morning I was able to till the soil on the south side of the garage and plant my garlic. This was pretty much my entire crop from this year. It’s a hard necked variety called Music that performed very well. When all was said and done I planted 70 bulbs. Next year we should have enough to eat for the winter and spring plus the same amount to plant the following year.

Gardening is such a long term process. You always have to think years down the line and plan, plan, plan. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” is every farmer’s adage so we plan for the unexpected as well.

My garden has begun to expand with more permanent plantings. Raspberries and asparagus are the newest members. Blueberries, rhubarb and pears have been there awhile. I still have another year before I will be eating the asparagus but once the patch comes in it will be amazing. My raspberries have had two years of not doing so well and I am beginning to think I should move them to another spot, maybe in the back forty. They will have just as much sun but the soil won’t dry out as much. It’s worth a shot, they certainly aren’t happy where they are.

Growing your own food is both wonderful and anxiety producing. You worry about your plants. You wonder if your timing is right for planting, for harvesting.  Every year is different. I used to think that once I had 10 years under my belt I would be able to relax but that is not the case. Too warm, too cold, too wet, too dry, sheesh. I keep records from year to year – garden layout, planting time, harvest time. I review it during the winter and try to plan but you never know. So all we can do is hope for the best.


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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.

Good Food


My kids call me the doomer.  I try to tell them that I just like to be prepared.  I never want to worry about where my next meal is coming from.  In doing so I have learned to garden in good weather and bad.  This year is one of those years where some things are doing much better than expected while others are an unmitigated disaster.  Every year I seem to say to Bill, “If we had to survive on this year’s garden we would starve to death by February”.  Even though I’m getting better at my gardening and adding more and more perennial beds and plants to the ever changing array of food that I grow I know that it would never be enough for a family to survive on until the next crop comes in.

The main reason I really grow a garden is there is nothing like the taste of a warm cucumber just picked, or that summer tomato.  The real revelation came to me when I grew potatoes for the first time a couple of years ago.  Potatoes freshly dug scream “POTATO” when you eat them.  Something happens to produce the minute it is harvested – the taste begins to wane. There are only two things I grow that improve once picked – pears and long pie pumpkins.

Last weekend we made a spectacular meal of things we have grown (or in the case of the steak watched grow).  These are the meals that are memorable, the ones I like to share with friends and family.  I want them to know their food can be so much better. There is such satisfaction in knowing you started the seeds and nurtured your food.  That there are no chemicals involved in any of the food we ate.  The beef was fed grass and hay from one property, no hormones, antibiotics.  It grew up in fresh air and sunshine.  It tastes like BEEF, not the homogenized red meat you find wrapped in plastic and styrofoam at the grocery store.  There is a huge difference.

The garden surplus I will continue to can to use in the winter months.  Peaches and apricots are next on the list and I will continue with tomatoes.  Even with processing the taste of  home canned fruit of any kind is a revelation in the winter.  The first bite brings you back to summer.  That is what makes all the work of preserving your harvest in the summer worthwhile.

Rain, Rain, Rain

130701 Crocs


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.

Beginning in Earnest

130526 (2) Garden PlanYesterday in the cold, rainy, windy weather I went through my seeds and actually drew up the garden plan.  It had been in my head for  a while just finally put pen to paper.  Today I plant the crowns and bulbs, put up the bean teepee and get out the seed potatoes.  Last night it was cold by any standard but the forecast for the rest of the week is warm and sunny.  By the 31st I should be able to put my seeds in the ground if the forecast holds true.  All of my seed comes from High Mowing Seeds in Vermont.  They are organic, non-GMO and many are open pollinated.  Honestly the best seed I have ever used.

I had taken all of my annuals in pots into the shed on Friday night, this morning I will go see how my lonely little eggplant fared. I will be mixing beans on the poles this year, I’ve planted just a green bean in the past couple of years but I really have missed the scarlet runners – and I’m assuming so have the birds.  I will also plant sunflowers in the corners with the popcorn.  I’m kind of taking for granted the popcorn will end up being fodder for raccoons but you never know.  This variety is Tom Thumb and only grows to a maximum height of 3 feet, I’m more than a little excited about this experiment.

We have a guy in Enfield we refer to as the flower gypsy.  He’s a wholesaler who has a van and goes from shop to shop selling cut flowers – this time of year annual pots and vegetables.  He comes around every other week or so with what he figures will sell for the season.  During the winter it’s always long stem roses from Ecuador.  Easter it’s lilies, cut flowers for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the shop the other day to four pepper plants and four tomatoes.  Bill always buys me flowers but apparently he’s been listening and bought food.  Hehehe, excellent, my plan is working, one person at a time.