State of the Farm, Fall 2020

As far as we are concerned, summer 2020 pretty much sucked.

We had a pretty severe drought. That was problem enough in the best of years. It put an enormous stress on our fruit trees as well as on the animals living in the surrounding forest. We’ve had a cherry tree on the corner of one of the espaliers since we built it. This year it bloomed and looked very nice and then promptly died in July. I haven’t had the heart to cut it out yet. I will, of course. And seal it so that it doesn’t crack. Then, maybe I’ll make something of it. But I’ll miss that tree.

We had one final plum of the original five plums we planted back when we started this project. The others all succumbed to black knot. But this one was far enough away that I had hopes that it would escape that fate. It didn’t. We had to cut it down, too.

We did get more apples this year than any previous year. That has been the gift that keeps on giving. I plan on harvesting the apples on one corner tree today. The Granny Smith apples aren’t ready yet– that tree has been trying my patience for a decade. This last winter I trimmed it severely. I’d think that paid off but the other apples also did well. Go figure.

We had a good peach harvest– a couple of the young trees produced a few tasty fruit. The old standard produced its yearly bushel. Peach trees are supposed to last only a few years but that one has been going strong since 1994.

Good yield on the Cornelian Cherries.

This is all of the stuff that we’d have to discuss in normal times.

But these aren’t normal times.

Wendy figured out this might be coming back in mid-January. (A tip to people out there. Marry smarter than you are. I did and it has never been anything but a blessing.) She had been following the news out of Wuhan for a few weeks. Her Ph.D. in biochemistry and microbiology didn’t hurt, of course. When we went to Arisia, we attended a panel with the head epidemiologist for the State of Massachusetts and other like-qualified individuals. They talked about various things. In the Q&A, Wendy asked about the Wuhan corona virus. They all had this deer-in-the-headlights look.

She took this as a sign of Things to Come and we were apocalypti-shopping before February. We started our lock down with 150 pounds of flour in the basement and the freezer filled with meat and other things.

Which brings us to the problem of harvest. Usually, we freeze most of the harvest. This year we don’t have the room. Instead, we canned the Cornelian Cherries and dried most everything else. But now it’s time for the grapes. I’ve held off as long as I can and they have to be harvested today. My standard plan is to take the grapes, bag them up and freeze them. Then, later in the fall when it’s cooler, I thaw the grapes and make the wine. The freezing frees up (IMHO) more flavor. Also, since I have to heat the grapes to thaw them, I can use any grapes that dried out. The water fills them out and they have more flavor. Otherwise, it’s like putting grape-nuts into the wind.

Not this year. This year I have to process this directly. Which is an incredible pain.

It helps a little bit that the Concord grapes were severely overgrown and I cut them back, hard. Which means I don’t have much in the way of harvest this year. Most times this would be bad. This year it’s good.

It also doesn’t help that the whole world is in the crapper. It seems like I’m walking around with a constant base level of depression. Wendy agrees. That slows us down. I’m working but it sometimes seems that’s all I’m doing. Other things don’t get finished, get done slowly or don’t get started.

The garden properly got a little out of our control this  year because of this. We got some basil and tomatoes and the squash harvest was good. Excellent beans. But the gem corn didn’t work out. Nor did the cucumbers and other things.

As I said: 2020 sucked.

That said, there was a bit of brightness.

Back in the 80s I built a little cabin in Vermont. We’ve been going up there ever since. But in the last few years, between troubles at home, health issues and work, it got away from me. I pretty much gave up on it and we were looking to sell it.

Ben, my son, really likes the place. He has gone up several times this year both to quarantine himself when necessary and to get away from his folks. Lock down has its cost.

While he was up there he did some clearing. He returned and urged me and Wendy to go up and clear the place. The field that immediately surrounded the cabin had become forest.

So we went up there with chain saw and shears and cleared off the trees in the acre or so immediately surrounding the cabin. A neighbor of our (big shout out to Fred for this) came over with his tractor and mowed down the remainder. Where before there had been close forest, now there was an open field. Where before the air did not move through the close trees, now the wind blew over us.

It was like a load lifting from my heart. Suddenly, I could see the sky again. And the northern Vermont night sky is something to see.

2020 hasn’t been all bad.




State of the Farm, Fall 2020 — 1 Comment

  1. A woodworking friend of mine is learning to make spoons and spurtles and spatulas and such out of other people’s cut-down backyard trees. There are several lovely books currently on Amazon that he showed me and (he says but I haven’t looked them up yet) even a few websites of people who have been doing this for years. And at least one guy I’ve seen (on a PBS show called A Craftsman’s Legacy) lists not only cherry but plum wood, so you can see this as a viable possibility. Might this be a good use for your own trees, as a way to remember them kindly on a daily basis?