“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 14, 2015

(Began to write this on March 8, then continued through the week, mostly unedited)

Today marks daylight savings time and it is barely two weeks until the first day of spring – the spring equinox, when the earth is basically straight towards the sun and the time of day and night are approximately the same. From then on the days will grow longer until the “first day of summer” or the summer solstice, when the earth is tilted as far forward as it will, and then the days begin to shorten as it leans back away from the sun. We are told hat daylight savings time gives us an extra hour of daylight. Daylight savings time has nothing to do with the length of the day, although it might seem that way due to the shift in hours. DST only gives us a sense of control. All for nothing.

With the coming of spring come a lot of thoughts.

This has been a tough winter season with record cold temperatures and the continuance of higher that average precipitation. The ground began to get saturated back in November and is still waterlogged. With the coming of spring and warmer temperatures, the trees and grasses and other plants will begin taking up this extra moisture, and along with evaporation, the soils will become workable again. For that we still need to endure what is historically a rainy March.

The cold wasn’t a big deal, at least for me. It does make taking care of the animals and  doing other outside responsibilities more challenging at times, but it doesn’t really change much. Banging ice out of buckets is the biggest challenge, and the animals do require more feed and hay to keep warm. Its just more trips to the pens and barns, but it’s also an excuse to spend more time with the animals!

The worst that happened this winter was Pat’s diagnosis of DSLD – degenerative suspensory ligament disease. I described it in the last post so I don’t need to go into details again, except to say that so far all the  treatments, hoof trimming, and extra care has proven successful. Pat is moving considerably well and he doesn’t seem in pain. He spends most of the day on his feet, rather than laying down. Through January, he had to lie down for an hour for each hour he was up, but now he only lies down occasionally which is more  normal. Some days are not as good as others, but these “off” days are not as often. With growing improvement and stability, our hopes are growing that he will be pasture sound and enjoy quality of life for a long time to come.

For a time, I thought my three hives would survive the winter, yet it didn’t quite work out that way. One hive died off early in January before things got harsh – I think the bees just left at the last minute. The hive was full of bees and honey stores in late December. When I took apart the dead hive, the honey was all there but there were only a few hundred dead bees. I have no clue what happened to the thousands that were there weeks before it collapsed. Something made them leave.

The other hive I lost was very recently. It was a weaker hive and I didn’t think it had a chance to get through the winter in the first place, but since it was still going in mid February, my hopes were high that it could. A week after checking on it and feeling pretty confident, I found it dead. I think when we had a warm day that week, the ball disbanded and the bees spread through the hive. We then got an arctic blast and the bees, separated, didn’t get back into a cluster in time to keep themselves warm, so froze. I think this because of the weather, and when I cleaned out the dead hive, dead bees were on every frame, scattered randomly, rather than in a cluster.

I have one hive left…and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will get through the next few weeks. I checked it today and it looked ok, but I have learned that appearances don’t always translate well, especially with honey bees.

Lately I have been seeing bald eagles over the farm and gliding to the north over the Tuckahoe River. They have been too far away or circling too high for my lens to get a good shot, but there is no mistaking the wing silhouette and the flash of white head and tail. Last year the state confirmed a nesting site a mile from here and maybe the two great birds that I am seeing almost daily is that breeding pair.

There has also been a Coopers Hawk hunting along the wood lines along the farm borders for the past few months. The other day I was lucky enough to see the hawk waiting on a low branch for a mouse to pass underneath, and then rocket downward, talons stretched, to take it. The hawk took a few seconds to clutch it tightly and then took off to a tall red pine further back in the wood lot to eat. There have also been red tails and sharp shinned hawks around, but as of yet I have only seen them passing over, but not stopping by to hunt here.

I think that this coming weekend I will begin planting cool weather crops in the hoop house – arugula, radishes, lettuces, and maybe some early kale. For me, putting my hands in the soil for the first time in the new year is the first sign of the coming spring and the solstice...dst really means nothing to me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 27, 2015

Prayers for Patrick…

It’s been a solemn here at the farm, and to say we that are heart broken doesn’t even begin to describe our emotions. Recently, Pat went lame, and since has been diagnosed with DSLD - an incurable, inherited, disease of certain horse breeds that causes the breakdown of tendons and ligaments throughout the entire body, showing first as hind or front leg lameness. Unfortunately, it is not a survivable disease, but in some cases, it can be managed for a long time. Each horse is different, and some live on for days or months, while others can hold on comfortably for years.

In Pat’s case, our veterinarian decided to forgo western medicine and began treating his whole body rather than the just the pain– she feels that managing the pain with drugs does not help the body fight the disease, but if she treats the body so that it fights the disease, that in itself will relieve the pain and allow him a longer, comfortable life. With this in mind, she immediately put him on gut buffers, nutrients, etc, and a rice bran/ linseed meal feed mix (she plans to add canola to it soon) - no grain, no sugar, no meds. She also started chiropractic sessions and is working with our farrier on his hooves to move his toes back. She also recommended giving him as much turnout as possible, saying that “movement is life”.

Because there is no cure, what we are working for is to keep him moving and out of pain for as long as possible. Our hopes for him are optimistic but guarded…he has been doing well since the treatment plan started (with the understanding that the damage already done can’t be repaired), yet there is no way of knowing if, or how long, this might continue. We have made the decision that we won’t let him suffer, live without dignity, or without quality of life. Sadly, we know that we will have to act on this decision some time in the future. With DSLD, all time is borrowed. All time is a gift.

Many of you may know Pat from visits to the farm, through the blog, or from posts I’ve made on face book. Pat has always been the horse our friends are drawn to first when they come to see the farm. He has always been the most outgoing, laid back, and friendliest. Some of you may have had the chance to ride him. Some of you may have even gotten ‘lipped” by Pat, as he has always greeted people by working his lips across their hand to say “hello”…and if you were brave enough to lean in with your lips, you most likely got kissed. Even now, I can lean in and get a kiss anytime, every time.

It doesn’t seem possible that this horse, who is the leader of our small herd, the youngest, and the gentlest, could be struck so hard and so fast. It doesn’t seem fair at all. It is said that everything happens for a reason…and I have to believe that it is true, even if I don’t see it or understand it now.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014

For this last post of 2014 I came up with the idea to post one picture that I took during each month of this year. These twelve (of over 4,300!) aren’t necessarily the best shots (technically or artistically) that I took this year, but these are ones that stuck with me for one reason or another - mostly because they defined a moment that was in some way special to me, like of Louie standing in the rain looking as if he ruled the world on that day, or the frog that was swimming in the pool with my cousin Sara, or taking an afternoon walk with my wife down the railroad tracks leading out of Tuckahoe-  these photographs are all of moments that I was caught up in, rather than ones I was chasing after. 

(Ps. Clicking on the photo will enlarge it )













I wish you all a Happy and Healthy 2015! 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November 9, 2014

When we first moved out to the farm we’d see deer in the back field along the woods line almost daily. It was so common that I began to give them names based on some characteristic so that I could tell which herd had come. There were about three small herds that would come through, each here a few days, then moving on. A few days after a herd left, another would show. Once in a while we spotted a buck among the does, but not very often; never a trophy – usually a button buck up to a four point, and once, a decent sized six point.

They never became a problem. They stayed out of the hay shelter and the garden / CSA field. Mostly they stayed along the edges and grazed the grasses. Sometimes at night they’d come up to the house and nibble down some hosta plants, but it didn’t bother us much. Growing up on a hillside above a small town, the deer reminded me of the ones that came into our backyard in the early foggy morning. As I was getting ready for school, I’d watch from the kitchen window as they nibbled away at our peach trees. That sentimentality was still with me.

And then, without any apparent reason, they all disappeared. At first we thought the hunters may have scattered them, and because in the woods behind us, poaching is common, maybe they either were thinned out or scared out permanently. It is not uncommon to hear gun shots year long, mostly in the mornings and early evenings. A few times over the years our local town “newspaper” carried a story about different families that never go to the grocery store, but grow and hunt their own. I knew one of the families, and their freezer wasn’t very big. It all added up to everyone but the authorities….we always laughed it off.

One evening at an event, I was sitting with a local, seasoned hunter/ trapper who knew the wooded area behind our farm and I told him that for years now I have hardly ever seen a deer, and the herds have disappeared. He told me it wasn’t hunting or poaching, but a virus, which later I found to be called epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which was killing off many of the deer in our area. The state had confirmed a localized outbreak in Tuckahoe, and since there are no curative measures, it would have to run its course. He assured me that the deer population would rebuild itself over the years, and the grocery stores would not be so crowded.

This spring the deer came back. We first noticed a doe and two spotted fawns in the little field off to the side of our house, and not long after, another few does and fawns joined them. Ever since, we have seen this herd almost daily either in the back field, the back yard, or the field beside our place. Over the summer the fawns out grew their spots and their coats turned bronze, and now to winter grey. We also noticed that one of the deer in the group was a young, skittish button buck.

On the east side of the back field there is a fenced in area where I once grew strawberries, but is now taken over with white clover. I never mowed it down, but let it grow high. The deer easily jump the fence and I often see them in there grazing the clover in the late afternoon and early evening.

But this new herd, unlike those that came years ago, found my garden and CSA field too tempting. Late at night they have jumped that fence too, and the past month they have eaten two rows of strawberries, the tomatillo plants, and have left the pepper plants leafless – empty green sticks pointing to the sky. Luckily it is at the seasons end, and I can handle the losses. I covered the strawberry plants for the winter (a few weeks early)  to protect what is left of them. Over the winter and before next spring, I will need to figure out a way to keep the deer out, as I am afraid they will leave me with nothing left to sell. I am not sure if a higher fence will do. I rather doubt it, as they can jump almost anything, even from the standing position. They can go straight up and fly forward seemingly without hesitation or any extra effort.

All in all, and even though they are beginning to cause me some trouble (this morning they were eating the last of the leaves from my apple trees!), it’s good to see them around again. It’s not a good feeling when any kind of wildlife disappears.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 12, 2014

I took this picture a little while ago and have since watched these same chickens follow Lou through the pasture almost every day, circling his head, sometimes staying close on his blind side, and snatching bugs that are stirred from the grass as he sweeps his mouth side to side, tearing off the green blades.

At first I thought the chickens, being so small compared to Lou, were a bit daring to be near him. Only weighing a few pounds, unseen on his left side, and simply one step away from eleven hundred pounds, they were taking a chance. Now I am not so sure.

Lou doesn’t mind the chickens coming near him like Pats or Zips do. Zips especially will lower his nose to their level and chase them, as if he’s the ball and the chickens are the pins - we call it chicken bowling. On the other hand, Pat will stomp a foot a few times to warn them not to come near. It’s as if these two are protecting their territory and are never in the mood to “share the grass”. Lou doesn’t care how close they come to him and maybe there is good reason.

I think that the chickens offer Lou some protection on his blind side. If something were to come up on his left, the chickens would most likely alert him naturally by scattering or clucking. We don’t have horse predators here, but Zips and Pats sometime like to chase Lou for fun since he’s older and half sighted, making him the beta of the herd. I don’t doubt that Lou has learned that when the chickens start to scramble, one of the other horses, or maybe something else, is coming up on his blind side.

On the other hand, I think that the chickens have come to trust Lou, sensing he isn’t likely to stomp at them or take up chicken bowling, and besides scattering bugs, Lou is a shield and shelter from scavenging hawks looking for easy pickings.

Thinking of it in these terms, I discarded the idea that their relationship is a coincidence. I am beginning to think of it as a natural relationship benefiting them all, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Friday, September 5, 2014

August 5, 2014

The dryer broke the other day and it’s so old that the repairman said the parts have been discontinued, but he’d see if he could locate them through his contacts and over the internet. Meanwhile we will not have a clothes dryer for the time being, and most likely we will need a new one. It can only break so many times, and there are only so many parts left out there in the ether.

So this morning as the sun was pushing up above the trees I was out hanging wash on a clothesline. It brought back memories of when my mom had an elaborate umbrella clothes line contraption that consisted of a pole with rows of lines between arms that reached out from the top center. My mom could turn it so that she never had to move, bringing the next set of empty lines to her.  It worked out well, especially for a family of six.

Our line is a bit simpler – a poly coated green line stretched between two trees, about 25’ long. We are only two people, so we don’t really need a whole lot more. And to be honest, I don’t know if they still make the umbrella like contraptions anymore. One thing I did notice was that the wooden clothespins we just bought were made of less wood and lighter springs than my mom’s of years ago. Back then hers were made to last; these clothes pins, after two days, are popping apart and also don’t have the spring power to clamp things down! Oh well. I should know by know that in America cheap is the quality people want.

While I was hanging up the bath towels, socks, shirts, etc I was reminded of a poem I once read years ago about how one could tell what kind of sex life a person had by the type and colour of underwear they hung on the line…it wasn’t a “dirty” poem, but one of  descriptive observation. Actually it was sort of deep. There were a lot of metaphors throughout the poem, but that’s not where I am going to go with this.

I think that if the poet had looked at our clothes line she wouldn’t have found much inspiration, and I sorta laughed to myself. I think if we did have hammocks and thongs and things we wouldn’t put them on the line for everyone to see anyway…I guess she was seeing an extroverts wash when the words came to her!

About the only thing one can tell about our wash is that fashion isn’t a big deal to us, and that we don’t much dress to go anywhere. Except for a few colourful pairs of socks, we just have plain stuff, most of it farm and animal stained, thread bare because we do not throw anything away until our underwear shows. I should say until our plain underwear shows!

So I am thinking that what we need to do is to hit the dollar store and buy the most bizarre and colorful underwear we can find and just hang it out there with a riding crop for the nosey world to see!  That will give the neighbors and visitors something to wonder about for a while…or the two of us 50 something’s may get a poem of our own. Or at least some funny looks!