Finishing

It was after 10 when the moon rose, illuminating long rows of hay bales stretching across a field alongside a quiet country road. And me, stacking the bales in the bed of my truck, country music coming softly from the radio into a night air dominated by the songs of ten thousand crickets.

Around 11, the hay was in barn. Not yet in the loft–its ultimate destination–but close enough at the end of a long day. Time then to shower away the itchiness and settle down for a few minutes, with a book and a glass of wine.

 

They’re Everywhere

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When I left home for college in 1978 I had never seen a deer in this community. I suppose there may have been a few around, but they were extremely rare.

Nowadays I see them everyday. They’re a major nuisance to gardeners, to say the least.

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The amount of wildlife here now compared to when I was growing up here is remarkable. Wild turkey were very rare then. Now they’re common. There were no coyotes, bears, herons, geese, or eagles. Now they’re fairly common too.

In my first 18 years here I only saw one hawk. Now I see them daily.

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This big one watched while I bush hogged field, so he could swoop down and grab any unfortunate critter who made a run for it.

Even the wildlife that we did have then is more common now. In the last week I’ve discovered a rabbit in our garage, and one in our hoop house. We used to have to flush them with rabbit dogs.

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A bunny watching me do chores

Squirrels used to run and hide when a human approached. Now they just watch us pass, entirely unconcerned.

We had possums and coons back then, but not nearly as many as we have now.

So why is wildlife so much more abundant now? I suspect it’s partly because there is far less hunting now. It’s also possible that they’re retreating here from areas being developed. A big reason, I believe, is that the environment is less toxic now than it was then.

Whatever the reason, these days, they’re everywhere.

Squash and Onions

Yesterday I spent our 4th of July holiday as I have for the past few years–harvesting onions. We have a beautiful bumper crop this year, the best we’ve ever grown I think. Maybe, for once, we won’t run out before next 4th of July.

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Most of the day was spent with the onions, but I also picked green beans, blueberries, zucchini and squash. I enjoy celebrating that kind of independence.

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We grow yellow squash, but only because we’re market gardeners. We’ve grown lots of different varieties over the years, but if we were only growing for ourselves we’d grow nothing but Zephyr. It’s the tenderest and tastiest squash we’ve eaten. And beautiful, to boot. Highly recommended.

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To my American friends, a belated happy Independence Day! And to all, I hope you had an enjoyable day yesterday, whether you celebrated a holiday or not.

 

 

Putting Up Food

We practice seasonal eating, meaning we orient our meal planning around what’s in season at the time. For example, last night for supper we had a stir fry, made from the last of this years Chinese cabbage and the first of this years garlic, squash, peppers and onions. Cherie has discovered some great new recipes lately, using Google to find new ways to combine what we have. Last week she made Swiss chard and zucchini enchiladas that were amazing. She also made a great dish from squash and kale.

With food coming in year-round here, we could eat fresh without ever having to rely on stored food. But of course there are going to be times in the winter when we want tomato sauce, or asparagus soup, or zucchini bread. Et cetera.

So we can, freeze, dehydrate, and pickle. We also cure and store potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic and onions. Even when we’re not eating fresh from the garden, the great majority of what we’re eating is always from this farm.

Of course putting up food in the summer is just one major task to add to already impossibly long list of things to do. It is very difficult to keep up with nature this time of year. Right now it feels like we desperately need to put up squash and wild blackberries, for example. I worry that unless we make the time to do that, they’ll be gone and we won’t have any for the winter.

And that brings me to what I expect is a very common homesteader mistake: putting up too much food. We do it every year. When the gardens are cranking out more than a family can reasonably eat, it’s only natural to start preserving it for later. It’s important, however, to take stock of what not only what you have, but what you need.

I’ve been bringing in green beans lately and Cherie feels the pressure to put some up. But the other day she told me that we still haven’t finished eating the ones she froze two years ago! Likewise blackberries. I worry that the window will close on them, but Cherie points out that we still have blackberries left from last year.

But it just feels wrong not to save what we can’t eat fresh. Oh well, it’s a nice problem to have I reckon.

As a reminder, for any interested I now have a new blog focused on local history. You can find it HERE.

 

 

Time for Nightshades

Now that the brassicas have mostly all bitten the dust, this is the time of year when the nightshades step to the front.

We’re harvesting beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes.

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The Italian variety isn’t ready yet, but we’re enjoying delicious Japanese eggplant.

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Still waiting on the bell peppers, but we’re picking our yellow banana peppers.

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I am SO ready for the first of (hopefully) hundreds of tomato sandwiches. Looks like we have about another week to go.

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Romas

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Johnny’s hoop house variety

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German Johnson

It’s a great time of year for seasonal eating. Last night we enjoyed a delicious Tuscan soup, made with freshly picked shiitake mushrooms and right-from-the-garden squash and eggplant.

On an entirely different subject, I invite you all to visit my new blog Small Enough for a Story, which will focus on local history (broadly defined). It is a work in progress.

Sweet Potato Change of Plans and a Drone Visitor

It has rained almost six inches here over the past two weeks, beginning the day I picked up the 650 sweet potato slips I’d ordered from a local nursery. All that rain made it impossible to work the soil, so most of those slips are now in a bucket, destined for the compost pile. Most, but not all. Changing plans, I planted as many as possible in the raised beds where the lettuce and tatsoi had been. I had intended to plant carrots there for the fall, but will have to shift those plans around too. Instead of hundreds of sweet potato plants in the garden, now we’ll have hundreds more purple hull pea plants instead.

There I at least two lessons in this I reckon. First, when weather fouls up your planting plans, try to shift things around and make the best of it. Second, it’s better to start your own slips (as we used to do) so that you have the flexibility to draw them just before planting.

Yesterday morning at dawn we had a film crew on the farm, working on a project for our local hospital.

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I’ve often thought that if I ever saw a drone flying around this place, I’d shoot it. Instead, when it finally happened, the drone shot me.

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The reaction of the animals was interesting. At first the goats ran away and hid on the other side of the barn, cautiously approaching once their curiosity overtook their fear.  The chickens stayed in their coop the whole time, presumably taking the thing to be a strange new bird of prey. A young buck deer watched us from a safe distance, seemingly fascinated.

Red Hill

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Patrick Henry, the American patriot and first governor of post-colonial Virginia, is buried about 40 miles from here on his plantation called Red Hill. It’s a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place.

The farm, over 500 acres, lies upon the Staunton River, near present-day Brookneal. In Gov. Henry’s time the tobacco and other crops raised there were loaded onto batteaux and transported down river.

Patrick Henry’s home, typical of Virginia plantation homes of that era, was a simple three-room, one and half story structure. The two rooms on the ground floor served as a bedroom and a parlor. The loft above was additional sleeping space. During the time Patrick Henry lived here, the house accommodated between nine and eleven family members. Bathrooms and kitchens were separate structures in those days.

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The plantation’s outbuildings included curing barns, a blacksmith’s shop, Patrick Henry’s law office, a kitchen, a carriage house, and cabins for the 69 slaves who lived there. One of the two-room slave cabins has been reproduced on the site, using original materials.

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When I was in elementary school we were required to memorize part of his famous 1775 speech at the Virginia Convention. I can still recite it by heart:

Gentlemen may cry, “Peace! Peace!” — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

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