28 Apr Spring on the Farm: Flowers and Snakes

Earlier this week, I was working on the third floor of our old farm house, while my plumber was working in the basement. He phoned me and said, “You might want to come down here.”

“Is there a problem?” I asked.

“Two snakes.” He sounded agitated. “One must be five feet long!”

“I’ll be right there,” I said.

One of our black snakes

After we started working on the farm, over a year ago, we discovered that our old house held a lot of snakes. Not that we saw a lot of snakes. You won’t. Snakes are sneaky. However, we did see a lot of snake skins in all parts of the house–in closets, in rafters, in crawl spaces. And, yes, sometimes we found a snake, usually in the basement.

On this occasion, by the time I got to the basement, one of the snakes had disappeared into the underside of the living room fireplace. “I heard something behind me!” the plumber said. The other, larger snake was headed into the foundation sill on the opposite side of the basement. He was four feet, not five. A black snake. They’re the most numerous on farms. I’m a big fan because they keep the mice and rats down. Need I say that we have NO mice in the house?

Jill is not a fan of black snakes. They’re big and ugly, she says. Now, when she has to go into the basement, she claps her hands and calls, “Okay, snakes, time to move!”

To pick up a snake, just grab it (gently) behind the head. That way it won’t bite. Black snakes will bite if provoked. You won’t die. When I set my big guy down outside, he took a strike at me–just setting me straight. Today I got snake repellent. It’s a natural product that will encourage them to stay out of our basement. In an old house like this, they live in the stone foundation, actually in the rock crevices directly underneath the wood sill of the house.

So, the snakes are officially out of hibernation. And so are the plants: everything is in flower. The prettiest right now is our huge cherry tree, raining pink petals.

Jill has planted 150 seedlings in plastic Solo cups to start our garden. The cups are arrayed in our sunny foyer. I know nearly nothing about gardening and so this was the first lesson: to do it right, apparently, you start the seedlings yourself, let them get healthy in a safe and sunny place, then you plant them in your garden. Or you can simply go to the local garden store and buy each plant for about $3.

Our garden is a big project: we’re clearing about a third of an acre and will put in raised beds. At first, it sounded easy but, as with all DIY projects, it isn’t as easy at it seems. We’re going to need tons of dirt to fill those beds, for instance. We have a few tons piled here and there. But dirt’s not enough. The soil has to be amended. I’ll cover this in another post. So much to learn.

Speaking of which: this weekend we drove to Pennsylvania, our favorite go-to place for antiques and farm salvage. We bought a big gate from a young farmer who is specializing in mushrooms and hydroponic lettuce on the farm that has belonged to his family for four generations. Check him out here:  Village Crest Farm. To do hydroponics right, you have to raise fish at the same time. The fish poop in the water fertilizes the garden. It looked complicated but Scott, the farmer, seemed to have it down. Growing the mushrooms is altogether different. They start in plastic bags and I can’t begin to tell you all that is involved. We got a sample to take home. The mushrooms–fried in butter–were amazing.