Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Typical Day on the Farm

Wow! It has been a while since I had time to post anything. Since I am always telling people how busy I am, I thought I would take you through a typical (no "wildfires" that need putting out, in other words) day of my life at the Farm this time of year.

5:30 Get up-Some days this is easy and some days it is really hard. Usually it depends ono what I did the day before and if there are any "kinks" I need to work out before I get out of bed.

5:40 Take Maggie out before she has a conniption fit. She begins whining around 5a.m. and escalates her volume until you would swear Beverly Sills is in the kitchen singing the aria from Aida.

5:55 Back inside. Put kettle on for breakfast. Breakfast usually consists of oatmeal, a fresh egg that I got from under one of the hens the day before. I make tea for me and coffee for the Farmer. Some days it is a bagel and cheese, no time for preparing much else this time of year.

6:00 Feed and water the outside dogs. Put a load of clothes in the washer while I wait for the kettle to boil. The Farmer has to take Jack (his dog) out. He won't listen to me so I am relieved of that duty. The other JRTS are outside in the summer, so I don't have to take all 6 out. That is only in the wintertime.

6-6:30 Doing the breakfast thing. Cleaning up dishes, etc.

6:30 - 7:00 Personal know what I mean...showers, toothbrushing, emails, etc. Also, do a couple of quick chores like put away the load of laundry that was washed, dried and folded the day before.

7:00 - 7:45 Time to feed and water chickens. We have the hens and the henhouse, which is where I start. Then I head next door to feed the little chicks who are presently housed at the parent's house because their chick pen is better than ours. It is totally predator proof and my 50 or so Delaware chicks need to be safe!!! I play with them a little bit and let them out into their chick corral so they can run around and take dustbaths, etc. They are still babies and need protection from hawks, racoons, coyotes, possums, stray dogs, etc. so they are kind of incarcerated at this time of their lives.

8:00- Head out to the field. Stop and play with the puppies for a few minutes before I start watering. I will start at one end of the field or the other and water row by row. This is necessary because different plants need different watering methods (some are on soaker hoses, some on irrigation ditches, etc.) and I have to tend to each plot as I go. The potatoes have to be handwatered row by row, for example, and that alone will take more than an hour. I will not finish watering in the 3-4 hours of the morning. After hoses, etc. are set I will weed, pick, plant, check and remove insects, monitor seedlings, etc. while each plot is watered. While I am watering, the Farmer will be doing the heavier labor, like shoveling and placing mulch on tomatoes, tractor work, building trellises for plants, etc.

(IF it is a picking day, the entire routine changes. When a picking day is coming up, I feed and water the chickens an extra portion the night before so they can wait until after I pick to be fed and watered again...confused yet?)

Picking day schedule:

6-7:00 Pretty much the same every day

7:00-Noon I will start picking around 7:00 am before it is too hot to wilt the veggies in the field. I only have a few hours of opportunity to pick certain things because once they warm up and start to look wilty, there is no point picking because they will stay wilty.

Since I am the only picker it will take me the better part of the morning to finish everything. Spinach and leaf lettuces are actually picked mostly one leaf at a time. Other greens, likewise but if they are bigger, it is a bit easier. Green beans take forever to pick. Root veggies are probably the easiest to pick but they have to have the dirt/mud (if they were watered recently) rinsed off. Okra is the worst thing in the garden to pick and melons are really easy because you can see them readily and don't have to seach for them but they are heavy. Picking grape tomatoes is my absolute favorite because for every four I pick, I usually eat one. The Farmer says I eat up all the profit, but too bad, so sad...I love those little 'maters! Squash and eggplant are pretty easy to pick but, like okra, the leaves have bristles that make you itch and the eggplant have big thorns on the calyx that will stick you if you grab one at the wrong place.

Anything that needs to be hydrocooled will be flushed with cold water in the field (this used water is applied back into the garden). The water from our well is about 48 degrees and is perfect for hydrating and cooling down veggies, which is a bit of a preservation method. The water is only on the produce long enough to reduce the temps. Once they are cooled, they are placed in a shaded area or in the cooler (which is a converted refridgerator) until ready to pack for CSA or the market.

Once everything is picked, cooled and prepped, there are a couple more steps to be done. While none of our produce is washed and ready to use, roots crops, gritty greans, etc. all have to be "prepped" by extra rinsing, etc. but you have to be careful not to over do it. Then after all that is done everything has to be weighed, measured, divided and packed so it can be delivered but I do that a little later in the day.

Noon-1pm Lunch/heat break. Prepare lunch, eat lunch, clean up from lunch. Throw washed clothes in dryer (the clothesline pole broke this winter and haven't had the time to put up a new one yet or I would be hanging them out). Sometimes we have lunch next door with the parents or we go check on them during the lunch hour.

1pm -4pm Back outside by this time. On cooler days, this is the time the plant shed would be watered, okra thinned and weeded, moving soaker hoses around the garden to where ever they are needed next....this is not that much fun. Moving a mud covered wet soaker hose that is 100+ feet long around the garden is like wrestling with a really limp anaconda that occasionally wakes up and wriggles just enough to get mud all over you. Soaker hoses are alive....

Continue with watering.

Check on the dogs and cats again to make sure they have plenty of clean, cool water. Likewise I check on the big chickens. The chicks have a watering system that I don't have to worry about too much during the day. On scorching days, we take this time to run errands, do any grocery shopping, go to the bank, etc., or do anything we need to do that can be done inside or off the Farm. If it is not too hot, we are back outside watering, etc. again.

4pm-6pm Dinner hour. Take another shower because by now I am covered with dirt, sweat and possibly poison ivy. Try to do more laundry if need be, do a couple of household chores. Read the mail (snail mail) if there is any. Make the dinner, eat the dinner, clean up from the dinner.

6pm-7pm Big chickens into the henhouse and locked up for the night (predators again, you know). Fresh water if necessary. They have a huge feeder that holds 50 lbs of food at time, so I only have to fill that about every 2-3 days, depending on how hungry they are. And yet, I routinely life 50 lb. sacks of feed. Go back to feed, water and bed down the chicks for the night. This is the time I let them out into their "playpan" to take their dustbath, peck at bugs and just hang out with me. These are some people friendly chickens by the time they are grown. We have a portable puppy pen that I have attached to the front of their pen and I open the doors and let them out for a while, supervised by me for about an hour. And yes, they play, mostly play fighting between the little roosters, but it is definitely fun time. All of their feed pans, waterers, etc. have to be washed down because they like to get on top of everything and of course, they poop on stuff. Yuck.

7PM-Dark-thirty Once the sun has set behind the trees and the biggest garden plot is in the shade we are out once more. Planting transplants is usually done now so that the seedlings will not have to endure the heat of the day. Transplant shock is a killer and this reduces it greatly.
Any new seedlings planted will also be watered, so again, the cooler temps of the evening will enhance their survival rate. Any seeds are also planted at this time of day and watered in for the same reason. If the soil temps get over 100 degrees, most seeds just sit in the ground and never germinate which wastes time, effort and money, so we are very careful to do what we can
to assure successful plantings. In this incredible heat we have been having over the last few summers and are looking at yet again this summer it is an almost constant struggle to keep things going. Even with the new well we put in and having a constant source of water now, that is sometimes only a bandaid. If the ambient air temp is over 95 there is not much you can do for somethings.

If delivery is coming up the next day, th is also the time I usually try to pack up my CSA shares for delivery or as much as I can. I get all my stuff ready at this time so I can work for a couple of hours while it is cool on delivery day mornings and then I will be ready to head out around 9-10 am, so I can miss the traffic. On delivery days I usually work around the Farm for a couple of hours, do my deliveries which takes about 8 hours and come home and do my evening farm chores, like chicken patrol, dogs, etc.

Dark-thirty-Feed the dogs, cats and everything else that gets fed at night. I feed at night because of insects during the day and also the animals don't want to eat much when it is hot.
Play with the dogs for a while. Pet the cats and play with the kittens. Check the locks on the chicken pens one last time.

10pm-My work day is finally almost over. Take another shower and put on some clean clothes that haven't been worked. Maybe have a snack. Sit down in the recliner and fall asleep before the chair gets warm. Wake back up in time to see the last 30 seconds of whatever television program(if the tv is even on) I missed the first 55 minutes and 30 seconds of.

11pm-Time for long last...maybe. The inside dogs are taken in and out several times during the course of each day, so they are ready for their final outing right before bed. They have to go out on leashes at this time of night because there are predators, etc. out at night and running up on a racoon or coyote in the dark could be disastrous for a small dog like Maggie. Jack could probably take a coon or possum, etc. but not a coyote. They are huge, by the way, and we have them all over out here. You can hear them howling down the holler at night in the summer and it is like being in a B cowboy movie. They are actually probably about a mile or two away but it sounds like they are down behind the barn. The closest I have seen one was on the next road over from us, but it was in broad daylight in the middle of the day. He ran across the road and stopped right on the centerline and just looked at me. He was HUGE, too, bigger than a German Shepherd, if you have never seen one. What a gorgeous animal!

After taking the dogs out for half an hour and walking all around out back, I am wide awake again, especially since I took that nap. Now I will have trouble falling asleep for a while. I might read, type blog entries, etc. until I get sleepy again.

12am I am now asleep hopefully. And I will be up at 6am to start all over again.

What I outlined there is a typical day, with no emergencies that need tending to, no drama, just routine. Just a simple day on the Farm. For those of you who think farm life is one idyllic moment after another, it isn't. And while it is hard work much of the time, that work is on my schedule. It feels good to work outside, although it feels better some days than others. There is tremendous satisfaction in what I do and peace in the doing of it. There is also constant joy, whether it be in seeing the plants you nutured for so long finally come to fruition or from watching a couple of chicks scratching in the dirt while their momma watches over them. There is a profundity to living this close to the land that has deepened my understanding of myself and the world around me. I love my life and I wouldn't trade it.