State of the Farm: Fall, 2018

(Picture from here.)

Man, it’s been a while.

Yes, I’m alive. Yes, I still do this. But it’s been a crazy busy summer and I’ve had some shoulder issues that make sitting and writing difficult. Consequently, I’ve been giving my own fiction priority.

But it’s getting better.

It was a very, very strange summer for the farm, too.

Things looked pretty good back in May. Good, warm weather. Bees out—mostly. They missed the Cornelian Cherries. The CC’s came out in a cold late April and the little guys just weren’t up for it. Maybe next year.

Not much in the way of caterpillars. Everything got pollinated. Fruit was set and *BAM!* Three weeks of cold, wet weather.

Up here we have two tree diseases we have to deal with: black knot and cedar apple rust.

Since we have two cedar trees, we have a cedar apple rust reservoir. Since I really like those trees—they remind me of Missouri—the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. It doesn’t help that sometime about forty years ago planting cedar trees was very common. I have no idea why. There is a grove of them in the nearby state park. Several houses have little lines of them in the front of the house. They don’t seem to propagate up here and now all those groves and lines are dying and being hauled out. It doesn’t help that they are not so fashionable now. But I take care of mine.

Every year we have a little apple rust on the apple trees. Nothing major. But *this* year, the stuff went nuts: all of the lower leaves were covered with weeping sores. Really ghastly stuff. And, lo and behold, *this* year is when we get apples. A real crop for the first time in twenty years. Yay.

In previous years, black knot hasn’t been much of a problem for the crop but did major damage to the plum trees. Then the three weeks of rain. Every plum showed new black knot and even the nearby apricot got it. I didn’t even know that was possible.

We’d had enough. We had a prune plum that seemed to be the main reservoir that had already infected the pluot next to it. We ripped out both of them. Then, we went through the remaining plums and cut off all of the black knot branches and burned them. We sprayed a relatively mild fungicide over the remainder. This winter it’s dormant spray: a fungicide so arcane and powerful it will kill the tree if it wasn’t already asleep. Go team.

In the spring, Wendy hatched about twenty five eggs. When the weather warmed up we brought them out into the chicken house. They’re fun to watch. Our dog, Penny, thought so, too. She’s only eleven pounds but turned out to be more than a match for a half dozen chicks. We were all pretty sour about that. Wendy didn’t say much but I think the dog was lucky to live. A few more eggs to hatch.

It warmed up in June and we started getting peppers and tomatoes. I kept a close eye on the fruit trees. I put deer cages around several young ones and they survived the winter fairly well. The ones that I didn’t protect were severely eaten. More deer cages in production. One nectarine died mysteriously: came out in leaf and blossom and went suddenly brown. No evidence of disease. We’re still looking at it.

Peaches came in well. We have about forty pounds in the freezer. The apples came in at about sixty pounds. They look horrible: knobby and discolored with a black fungus pattern. We waited for a bit to figure out what to do about the apples.

Then, in record heat in August and early September followed by *more* cold rain.

We harvested the garden. We tried a blue corn we got at the Topsfield Fair last year but it didn’t do well. Back to Bloody Butcher next year. I always get a kick watching people slow down to look at the eleven foot plants.

The grapes did very well. I got about fifty pounds from the Concords alone. Froze them. Thawed them and now I have seven gallons of Concord wine cooking in the kitchen. I make a good Concord wine. The batch I made up last year turned into Concord wine dry champagne. Very, very good. My fundamental rule for all things that come from the earth: everything is (or can be) alcohol.

Then, there were all those apples.

A couple of years ago I built a solar dehydrator but it actually requires the sun and we weren’t getting much. I’d follow my go to rule and turn them into alcohol but apple wine and Wendy don’t get along well. I broke down and bought a new dehydrator. Which I really, really like. In addition, I had a Victorio apple peeler I had from God knows where. I clamped that puppy down and started making spiral cut apples which I then turned into rings. This appliance is fast. I blew through fifteen pounds of apples in less than 15 minutes. It took longer to place the rings in the dehydrator trays than it did to make them. It works on potatoes, too.

Wendy pointed out that the Victorio had a specific thickness that was nice for eating but less nice for cooking. She felt that dehydrated cooking apples needed to be thicker.

Now the leaves are falling fast. The only outdoor fruit left are the persimmons—which make a terrific wine, by the way. Tastes like brandy. Everything is alcohol.

We have some plum trees to replace the ones we pulled out. We’ll be planting them as soon as they go dormant and hope for the best. In the greenhouse bananas are coming in. The Ponderosa lemons are huge. The papayas are doing well. We might have a couple of pineapples by spring.

The roosters are pretty big now. When eleven roosters start to form a choir it’s time to have them… taken care of. We’re keeping a few of the females and selling the rest. We should be good for eggs this winter.

It’s been an odd year. But these days with global warming they’re all odd. Little is dependable.

That said and all complaining aside, we have wood for the wood stove, fruit and wine in the cellar, chicken in the freezer, fish and fruit in the greenhouse.

Life is good.

Addendum:

When I wrote the above we had something like twenty-five chickens: eleven roosters, five hens and the remainder hens we were going to sell. The idea was to end up with 1 rooster and five hens.

We split the group up so that the chickens that were not destined to stay in the main chicken house and the ones we were going to keep in the spare chicken yard—where we keep chickens that don’t fit for one reason or another into the main yard.

Then, in the night, something got into the spare chicken yard and killed. Every. Last. One.

We think it might have been a fisher cat.

I take solace that since the fisher is somewhat endangered that, like Matthew Broderick said in Godzilla, we fed it.

So, now we still have the roosters—who are slated for delivery into the next karmic zone in the next week or so—and the hens we had decided we didn’t particularly want. Which are now our egg layers for the winter.

*sigh*

Life is still good. It’s just confusing.

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State of the Farm: Fall, 2018 — 4 Comments

  1. Steven, your year reminds me just how hard our ancestors had it, and why hunger was their worst enemy. Sympathies on losing the hens you wanted. Hope the survivors turn out to be good ones.

    Would apple cider work for you guys, or are they the wrong varieties for cider–sweet or hard? I’m guessing it’s not the wine yeast that bothers Wendy, so cider form might not help.

  2. It was hard cider that gave Wendy the headaches. There’s an odd problem I read about long ago from apple jack– which, it turns out, was impossible for me to find on google anymore– called apple jitters. Hard cider was freeze distilled and the resulting apple jack was comparable to brandy. But if you drank too much of it you got a palsy. Some of this was attributed to methanol which was usually discarded in steam distillation but remains in freeze distillation.

    I suspect there are other products from apple fermentation that also caused it– substances to which Wendy has a sensitivity. She has no problems with other fruit wines.

    • The only brand of applejack I know of now is Lairds, which I can find in local stores in NYC when I need to refill. I like to cook pork with a few dollops of it.

      What a shame about the chickens! First the dog then the bandit. I never had occasion to try my dachshunds near chicks, but they were a terror to voles.

      Better luck next year!