Our Potato Year

We’ve finished getting up our potatoes and they’re curing in our basement. It’s been an unusual year for potatoes here.

We plant a large garden of potatoes every year. In the past we’ve planted several varieties, but this year we decided to grow only Yukon Golds, our favorites.

As I’ve mentioned before, around here “regular” potatoes (as opposed to sweet potatoes) are called “Irish potatoes.” But because we drop r’s in our accent, I was a grown man before I knew that’s what they were called. I always knew them as “ash” potatoes.

I got ours into the ground on March 25, just a few days past the traditional planting date here.

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March 25. Getting started.

Strangely, in half of the garden we had the prettiest potato plants we’ve ever grown, while in the other half they didn’t come up at all. So I plowed up the failures and planted again.

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April 26. Replanting the eastern half of the garden.

And again, they didn’t come up. I have no idea why.

But the half-garden that did produce did extremely well. And curiously, we had virtually no potato bugs this year. That’s never happened before. And last year was the worst infestation we’ve ever had. Go figure.

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May 11. Beautiful bug-free plants, but only in half the garden

I’ve always planted potatoes the same way–make a trench with a potato plow, drop the seed potatoes in, then pull the dirt from one side of the trench over the potatoes. Then, once the plants are about a foot tall, I pull over the dirt from the other side. Later I hill them up. All of this is done by hand and it’s a lot of work.

But this year I tried an experiment. In one row I didn’t use the plow. Instead I rototilled the soil,then made a bed, as I would do for planting transplants. Then I just stuck the seed potato down into the soil–no trenching, no pulling soil, no hilling. The potatoes I planted this way performed as well or better than those planted in my usual way–and it saved me a lot of labor. Next year I plan to plant them all that way.

So we had a mysterious total failure in half the garden, an amazing absence of the dreaded Colorado potato beetle, and a successful experiment in search of a new planting method.

And, best of all, plenty of delicious homegrown potatoes.

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Friends

We’re back from our annual weekend camping trip at the Wild Goose Festival, both refreshed and exhausted.

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The view from our campsite

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Tent sweet tent

 

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As always, we enjoyed good music and inspiring speakers. Perhaps best of all, we made new friends and we were able to renew and cultivate old friendships we’ve made over the years.

I reckon I can grumble about technology as well as anyone. But, grumblings aside, I’m grateful to live in our ever-shrinking world. Thanks to blogs, Facebook and the like, we’re able to stay connected with friends from around the country and the world. I’m enriched by those connections. The internet enabled us to discover this festival and it enables us to keep in touch with friends we only see in person a few days each year. As far as I’m concerned, that’s entirely a good thing.

Of course our on-line world allows us to develop relationships that don’t require any personal contact. I consider many of you friends, despite the fact that we’ve never met in person and probably never will.

One such friend is Laura Shea of Applewood Farm. I’ve never met Laura, but I’ve long been a fan. She writes beautifully and has a wonderful blog (HERE). She has the rare gift for making posts interesting, informative and witty. I learn from her, and she makes me laugh.

Laura has been on my mind a lot lately. When I read her latest blog post, a month and half ago now, my heart sank.

As a testimony to the awesomeness of Laura and her family, they were able to very quickly raise the money needed for her surgery. The bits of news I’ve seen about her progress are good and encouraging. My hope is that she is on her way to a full recovery, and a healthy and happy future. And of course I hope we’ll be enjoying posts from Applewood Farm again soon.

I don’t have any profound conclusion to offer. I’d prefer a world in which no one hurts. I even choose to believe that kind of world is our destiny. But in the meantime, I call it a good thing that we live in a time when we can share the joys, and the pains, of friends we may never meet in person.

 

 

Eating Well

This is a great time of year for seasonal eating. We’re enjoying things like…

Wild blackberry cobbler

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Kale and white bean stew

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Silky zucchini soup

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The pizza on our weekly “pizza night” featured fresh shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, onions and peppers.

As I was harvesting potatoes, seeing them made me so hungry that I had to come in and cook some. I fried them with onions and peppers. It had been a long time since I’d had any potatoes. They were just as delicious as I remembered them to be.

And to my great delight I had my first tomato sandwich of the year–the first of hundreds to come.

One of the very best things about this life is the great food it gives us. And summer is the best time of all.

A Great Time of Year

This is the season when the farm becomes wild and unruly, despite our laughable attempts to keep control. It’s impossible to keep up with nature this time of year. She is determined to turn our gardens into jungles.

But along with the relentless weeds and grass, we’re blessed with an avalanche of food.

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It’s a great time of year, weeds and all.

I’m very grateful for the community we have here. I appreciate all the excellent comments lately and I’m sorry I’ve been delinquent in responding to them. Thoughtful comments deserve thoughtful replies. So I’ve been waiting till I have a little more time. Soon.

We’re leaving Thursday for our annual long weekend at the Wild Goose Festival. Like every other year, I feel a little uneasy about being away from the farm for four days. And like every other year, I’m sure the farm will manage just fine without me.

For you fellow Wild Goosers who may be interested, I’ll be speaking on Creation Care and Responsible Meat Consumption on Sunday morning at 9:30. Looking forward to reconnecting with everyone!

Chickens and Eggs

Predators took about 2/3 of our chickens this spring. A hawk killed at least one, as did a possum. But most, we think, were killed by coyotes. Thankfully things seemed to have settled down now and we haven’t had any losses in the last month.

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This small flock of Dominiques stays inside net fencing and we move them around to help rehab gardens. Here I’m using them to help shield our sweet potatoes from deer. We didn’t lose any of them.

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Our main flock free-ranges. Their freedom leaves them more vulnerable to predators.

Sadly, the victims included Little Richard and Jerry Lee, both of the roosters in our primary flock. They’d been here their whole lives and we were sort of fond of them.

So when we bought some replacement pullets from a nearby farm, we added a rooster chick as well. He’s growing and is now at that clumsy not-a-chick-and-not-yet-a-rooster stage. I still haven’t heard him crow.

Cherie named the new guy Jon Bon Jovi. At first I objected, arguing that Bon Jovi just isn’t as cool as Little Richard and Jerry Lee. Bon Jovi is plenty cool, she insisted. And she’s right. Cool enough at least to have a White Flint rooster named after him. May he live long and prosper.

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The young Bon Jovi. 

Predators weren’t the only thing that thinned our layers this spring. There was another reason and the fault is mostly mine.

Hens love to eat eggs. If you drop one and break it they’ll attack and devour it with gusto. Of course it’s rare to drop an egg, so that isn’t much of a problem. But every now and then an enterprising hen will discover how to break eggs with her beak. And that is decidedly a significant problem. Aside from losing the eggs, the broken eggs make a nasty mess in the nesting boxes, making the remaining eggs harder to clean and generally making egg-gathering an unpleasant experience.

We had an egg-eater this spring. It’s a real problem when you can’t figure out who the guilty party is. In this case, fortunately I was able to catch her in the act and I banished her to our brooder coop, intending to send her off to freezer camp when I had the time.

That being a chore I really hate, I kept finding reasons to put it off. After a few weeks in timeout she hadn’t broken any of her eggs, so I persuaded myself that she’d been cured and I released her back into the flock.

That was a big mistake.

The worst thing about egg-eaters is that they teach the other hens to do it too. Soon nesting boxes were being spoiled with broken eggs again, and I couldn’t identify the hen (in hindsight I wish I had marked her in some way). And the worst-case scenario unfolded. Soon other chickens began breaking and eating eggs too. I had to start surveilling the coop and culling out the offenders. Eventually I caught eight in the act. They all had to go.

Had I acted responsibly when the problem first began we would have lost only one hen.

Likely those of you who raise chickens already know this, but for anyone who is just starting out and who hasn’t had to deal with egg-eaters yet, take my advice: show them no mercy. When you identify the guilty chicken purge her immediately. Don’t be fooled into thinking they’ve changed their ways.

Taking Pictures

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Hummingbirds at sunset

I took this on my mama’s front porch, at sunset a couple of weeks ago. I really like the picture. A lucky shot.

I recently read that more photographs will be taken this year than in all other years before this one combined. It’s amazing what cheap digital cameras embedded in our “phones” has enabled.

I remember the days when you had to buy film, which wasn’t cheap, then send it off to be developed after you’d taken the pictures, which also wasn’t cheap. And you never knew if the pictures were going to “come out” or not. I can recall many disappointments.

Maybe we overdo it now. But I for one am glad for the technology that allows us to take so many pictures, and to do it so inexpensively.

I enjoy noodling around with my phone/camera, capturing images from around the farm. I post them occasionally on Instagram, so follow me there if you’re interested.

I never would’ve gotten that hummingbird shot in the good old days. I took a lot of photos in order to get it (all in less than 30 seconds). And I didn’t have to buy any film or pay anyone to develop it. Here’s a few of the outtakes.

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Returning to our Roots

I typed up a lengthy post in which I offered my theory for the Trump and Brexit phenomena. Then I deleted it. I have lots of thoughts on that subject, and plenty of concerns and unanswered questions. But in the end I figured this probably isn’t the place for them. So I’m ramble in a different direction instead.

As we see the working class rebelling, believing (with good reason) that the political establishments don’t care about them or their concerns, it’s easy to become distressed. My sympathies and ultimate loyalties are with the good, honest, hard-working people from whom I came. While I’m pleased to see them standing up to the establishment that has abandoned them, it pains me to see them turning to demagoguery instead. But we’ve endured much worse than this. It will pass.

I suppose one could reasonably conclude that working class people—that is, people who aren’t highly educated and whose labor is usually (and usually falsely) called “unskilled,”—have no future now. The days when an honest hard-working man without a college education could support his family with a 40-hour/week job seem to be things of the past. Nowadays even with both spouses working full-time it’s hard to make ends meet. There seem to be fewer and fewer decent blue collar jobs, and it’s hard to imagine those jobs ever coming back, regardless of what an ambitious politician might say. And the robotics revolution that is beginning now will probably make the job losses caused globalism seem minor by comparison.

What industrialism has done to the working class is exactly what agrarians have been predicting for a century. We have been chewed up and spit out. Once it became more profitable to find cheap labor elsewhere, we were tossed aside. And now that robotics and automation are rapidly making human labor unnecessary and unprofitable, the newly emerging middle classes around the world are about to discover how expendable they are as well.

So is there a future for the so-called “working class?” (I really dislike that term, by the way. But I can’t think of a better one.) How will people who aren’t cut out for college, and whose skill lies in working with their hands, support themselves? Are they destined to join the permanent underclass and become perpetual wards of the state? Can’t we do better than that?

I think so.

Maybe we need to start reversing the rural to urban exodus of the past 100 years. Maybe we need to quit trusting in factories, corporations and governments, and return instead to our agrarian roots.

We live in an amazing time. There has never been a better time to be alive, and human progress is occurring now at an almost unbelievable pace. There are great opportunities these days for those with the skills and desire to contribute to the technological revolution that is occurring, and we definitely need good people of good character to participate, so it isn’t left entirely to the greedy and amoral. But for those of us who value physical labor (and who don’t have an aptitude for anything else), maybe we should look to the past to see our future. As thousands of generations before us have done, maybe we should tend the land, grow our own food, live modestly, trade with our neighbors, and build resilient communities.

Of course it won’t be easy, but as Wendell Berry put it when making this case over 45 years ago, we can never have a better economy unless we allow ourselves to consider alternatives to the one we have. If that be called tilting at windmills, so be it. Let’s start tilting.

After all, is there a better alternative?