30 Oct Our Fifth Fall on the Farm

Lately, Jill and I have been canning apples and tomatoes and drying herbs, the house redolent with savory aromas. Nothing like the wafting scents of warming rosemary and boiling apples. Our apples didn’t come up this year; neither did the cherries. Hard to say why. Too much rain, then too little? Sometimes a fruit tree will hold back for reasons all its own.   

            We ended up going to Eva’s orchard nearby. Eva’s in her seventies and has been running a popular roadside stand for years. She’s got 30 acres and grown children to help with the harvest. We bought a bushel of apples from her for canning. We were really late getting our garden in this year. That’s why our tomatoes are still coming up. Peppers too. Even rogue kale. I’ve promised Jill we’ll do better next year. It’s been tough this year because Jill was overworked at her job, putting in late hours, and I couldn’t keep up with the property due to other projects.

            I spent all of August and a good part of September picking weeds that had overtaken all of the flower beds: waist-high weeds. We now have about 15 flower beds, in addition to the 20-tree orchard and our ¼ acre kitchen garden. You can’t ignore such cultivation for long. That’s this year’s lesson. For example, it took me the better part of a day to clear out our biggest flower bed. You can’t whack the weeds; you’ve got to get them up by the roots. Handwork. I can’t tell you how many dump-runs I made to the local landfill, my pickup heaped with weeds.

              But, my goodness, the property looks lovely when the weeds are under control. So I’ve vowed to stay on top of this task. Everything else must come second to maintaining what we’ve started. With the cold weather coming on, I’ve had to put many projects on hold. I was expecting to finish the Hen House Cottage by this time but have been diverted to the farmhouse, where I’m installing new electricity in what will soon be our library. This includes in-wall fans to circulate heat from the wood-burning stove that will be the centerpiece of that library. That stove is going to cut our devastating heating bill, we hope. Our old farmhouse isn’t insulated and its aged windows hemorrhage heat. Yet another project to get to.

            As fate, luck, or happenstance would have it, I’ve become my department’s chair this–my last–year on the job. I was expecting to keep a low profile and all but disappear as a faculty member but that’s not going to happen now, obviously. Jill has started her private practice as a therapist/counselor, so we’re managing that transition. This will give her more flexibility and time to focus on the farm. The difficulty in starting your own practice is not only the obvious stuff, like renting an office, buying insurance, etc., but also getting approved to take insurance from all of the major carriers–a process that takes months.

            Every Saturday I get help from my two, long-time stone workers, Jesús and José. Brothers, they work well together and can do just about anything. Right now, they’re building a large store room in our former dairy: it will hold all of our excess furniture and auction finds, which we sell on Craigslist and elsewhere. The dairy, adjacent to our small stable, is one of the neediest areas of the farm. Next year we’ll finish its renovation by placing our handicap bathroom there–part of a much larger renovation plan that will transform the adjacent building into a way-cool space that will have a deck and a view of the rear of the property. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

            As soon as the rain ceases, I’ve got to put out all manner of discouragements to keep the deer from eating down our cultivars. Trees, once their bottom branches are about four feet high, are safe from deer. But deer can browse bushes and flowers down to stubble in a single night. Two-three years of growth gone. Just like that. Funny thing is, one reason there are so many weeds in the world: deer won’t touch them.