Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 7-23

even the sunrise looks hot
I really thought I could do it.

I thought I could tell you about the week on the hill without any difficulties. I was going to show you the green beans we canned last week. I would tell you that we were successful in hauling the lambs up the Valley to the processor’s. And, how we got the potatoes planted despite the fact that the excessive heat caused some of them to rot before we got them in the ground.
potato sprouts look like some sort of alien creatures

if you had any doubts
rotten potatoes are gross!
(believe me, rotten potatoes are truly disgusting)
tilling before the rain
it was DRY!
I was going to tell you that we finally got RAIN! Okay, we got hail, too…but, I was going to be positive.

we got an INCH of rain!

we need to be more specific in our prayers...
NO hail!

Despite the inch of rain, we did not have to delay planting the potatoes. You can't even tell there was an inch of rain less than 24 hours earlier.
ready to plant 'taters

plowing the trenches

potatoes in the ground

rows and rows of 'taters

hilled potatoes

I was going to tell you that it looks like I may have finally gotten the two little lambs on the road to recovery and growth. Then there was a great Market day
at opening bell
...this was gone by the end of the morning
…and the Boss got to meet a couple of his long-time cyber-friends in person. (that’s always cool)

 It was great to meet Sammy and Ken. (And Robin, who missed being in the photo)

...and thanks for the help, y’all!


I can’t.

When I realized that I just couldn’t write about the week without confronting a loss that took me by surprise with its intensity, I almost didn’t write at all. I closed the computer and walked away, emotions churning.

Loss is part and parcel of farm life. For that matter, it’s just part of life.

Surely it couldn’t be that hard to get beyond this.

But, I honestly didn’t expect to get knocked down by the loss of a dog.

Yeah, a dog.

An old dog.

An old farm dog that we knew had limited time on this earth anyway.

But, when I returned from the Market and realized that she would never greet me at the gate again...I wouldn’t get to giggle at her clamoring out from under the porch to nose my hand and force me to pet her…when I encountered one of life’s more aggravating/hurtful experiences (again) and knew that going to the barn to cry or cuss wouldn’t grant me any comfort since my furry companion wouldn’t be there, that’s when it hit me. 

She was really gone.

Maybe it seems silly to cry over a dog. An old farm dog. Maybe you think a “real farmer” wouldn’t care. (I can assure you that is NOT the case) But, for years now I had come to count on her steady presence.

She was part of our life…almost a part of the landscape. Everything seems weird and out of sorts and just plain sad. Even Gus and the barn kitties seem to notice her absence.
Gus and Tess hanging out under the farm truck
(they're not usually friendly at all)

Ellie Mae joined the farm team 12-09

Ellie Mae joined the farm team in December of 2009, and I think we formed a bond that very first night.

We had locked her in the barn to acclimate. When I went down in the middle of the night to let her out to relieve herself, she was nowhere to be found.

I panicked. She didn’t know her name, she was in unfamiliar surroundings, it was dark and I figured my chances of finding her were slim at best.

I whisper-screamed her name, hoping against hope…

Wraith-like, she appeared from the darkness, nosing my palm to make me pet the top of her head.

After that, she followed me everywhere.

She seemed to sense when she was needed…although sometimes her own “neediness” and her propensity to eat flower pots was aggravating.   She eventually outgrew the flower-pot eating and I finally taught her that barn cats were not evil. However, to her dying day the whole “nose in the palm” was a thing. (a somewhat annoying thing)

She kept vigilant watch over the farm and did her fair share to rid the place of ‘possums, groundhogs and rabbits. She took on a skunk more than once and attempted to do battle with raccoons. Nothing came up the lane without her sounding an alert. She worried over the littlest lambs and had the whole guardian thing down-pat. During lambing season, she would appear out of the darkness and accompany me to the barn, staying nearby the entire time I was outside.
she was a great rat hunter!
she did her best to train "the next generation"

When Life’s trials got a little much and I headed to the barn for some solitude and a good cry, she would sit next to me, her head in my lap, allowing the hot tears to fall into her woolly fur. And, she seemed to know to give me space when the frustrations required flinging buckets and epithets, but she would return to nuzzle without judgement or recrimination when I regained some sense of calm.

But, like I said, we knew her days were numbered. The giant breeds only live so long. And, she developed some health issues that couldn’t be corrected. The vet told us back in December that it was probably “a matter of time”. Our instructions were to keep her comfortable. Most days she seemed fine, cavorting with Gus and keeping the farm under her watchful eye. It was easy to forget there was any issue.
she trained Gus pretty well

Wednesday, it became clear that the end was near. And, by Thursday she was gone.

I guess I should be glad that she didn’t seem to suffer. I guess I should just pull myself together. 

There are far too many things demanding my attention to be side-lined by sadness…particularly over a dog.

I really don’t know how to end this one…

So, I will just leave it here.

Thanks for reading.

I hope I haven’t bummed you out.

Next week…next week I hope to be able to give you an upbeat post about a lot of successes here on the hill. (heck, one positive thing would be good…)

In the meantime, 

I truly hope you have a Happy Sunday!

Thanks for stopping by. Come “visit” again real soon.

Here’s a link so you can make a “virtual visit” to the Staunton Farmers’ Market.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 7-16

neighbor's steers deal with the weather..
It’s been daggone hot lately.

I realize this is no real news. 

by standing in the creek

It’s JULY. 

In a Southern State. 
It's hot and hazy
the light is harsh
the grass is dry
it's July in VA!

We should be used to this even though the heat has been extreme with no relief in sight. But, we haven’t even had the record-setting temperatures that we have elsewhere, so I guess we shouldn’t complain. However, coupled with the fact that we haven’t seen any measurable rain in weeks...well, the weather is rapidly becoming a story in and of itself.

It has certainly affected life on the hill this week. And, it’s getting to the point where every conversation elsewhere starts with “get any rain this week?”  That can be a tricky question. If you’ve received rain and you know that your fellow conversationalist has not, you feel bad. It sounds braggartly to claim the life-giving moisture when you know the rest of the county is parched. On the other hand, if you haven’t gotten any rain and you’re watching the crops wither and the animals suffer, you really don’t want to hear about the beautiful showers that someone else has been getting all week. It seems impossible to be jealous of rain, but I can assure you it happens. Particularly in Ag country. But, without talking about the weather, we’ve run out of topics for safe conversation.

Now that we’ve established the fact that it has been hot, (and dry) the stage has been set for telling you just what actually happened around here this week. 

No doubt about it...
there is a fox out back!
(the blue thing is the hoophouse)

After years of hard use, a much-needed repair job
Don't know what this thing is? (me, either)

bush-hogging the middle garden
We're finally going to get the 'taters planted!

It was another “week of the broiler” and we were hoping for a better experience than last time.

ready to haul the broilers

...and so it begins

 (if you don’t this) Processing went off without a hitch and we moved on to other things. We got the entire batch done and in the cooler in less than four hours. Not bad for two old folks.
I think this one's having a "bad hair day"!

Okay, guys...the point of the FIELD pen is to eat grass and get a little exercise...
not just sit there in a big heap

Tuesday, we moved the mid-sized broilers to the field pen. During the move, one chick got a cut on her back. (when I put them in the boxes to move, I sat another bird on top of her...and broilers have sharp toenails) During the summer, open wounds present the perfect opportunity for flystrike. Flystrike is not only gross and disgusting, it can be deadly, so we try to prevent it at all costs. Since it can be next to impossible to bandage livestock, particularly chickens, we use a spray application. Unfortunately, this particular can seemed to take on a mind of its own and spray out everywhere. Thankfully I got some on the chicken! But, I ended up looking like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. I can now personally attest to the fact that this stuff stands up to water (and scrubbing). And, I need to buy a new can...
That certainly didn't go like I intended!

The Boss headed out to a DR appointment while I tackled the zucchini picking and hauled plants to the hoophouse. His appointment granted some peace of mind with the doc saying he thought the problem was easily treated silent reflux. Our friends Joseph and Eva over at  Rockbridge Cider will be happy to know that this doctor is actually prescribing cider vinegar to his patients. That should be good for business!

At the Boss’ prompting, I headed out to see the doc myself. That pain in my neck is back. It now affects my fingers and my head, making it miserable to pick for Market. Besides, we needed some chicken feed, so I could just head over to the Urgent Care in the Draft.

I had tried calling the Spine Clinic. They said I needed to see my family doctor. But, they couldn’t see me until October. Urgent Care could see me, they agreed I had a problem. They even gave it a name.  cervical radiculopathy (a pinched nerve, pain in the neck...see? I told you) . But, they can’t order tests or do anything further. I really needed to follow up with the family doctor. (round and round we go) So, they put me in a soft cervical collar, gave me a prescription for pain, got me a different appointment date and sent me on my way. End of story. Well...not exactly.

When I got home, it was well past choretime. I could see the Boss out feeding the sheep, so I figured I would get started on supper so things wouldn’t be too off-schedule. (I do hate when supper is late)
Maybe it was because I was hot and getting “hangry”. Maybe I was stressed and trying to hurry. Maybe it was wearing that collar...I really don’t know how it happened, but I sliced the end of my thumb. Never one to do things halfway, I laid that thing wide opened.  It was like a geyser. Blood went everywhere (no, not in my supper prep)  I stanched the flow with hydrogen peroxide and a huge wad of toilet paper. You can imagine the Boss’ face when he came in and was faced with the sight of a neck brace and my bloody thumb...(and I’d been fine when I left just a couple of hours prior!)

Long story short, we got the mess cleaned up and supper served with no further incidents. Although, I am beginning to think I shouldn’t slice cabbage with that big white knife anymore. I ended up with stitches in my foot one other time. Did you read this? And, maybe I shouldn’t have worked so hard to get that aerosol bandage stuff off my hand earlier in the day.
not as bad as I thought
(still have tp and cabbage on my hand at this point)

But the story doesn’t end there. The pain medication made my tachycardia act up again. The cardio doc said “no” on continuing the pain medication. That was okay by me. The feeling that my heart is coming out of my chest is not a pleasant one! (however, relief from the neck pain sure would have been nice) And, since it’s about a million degrees and I work outside, that cervical collar only lasted about a day before I decided that completely melting wasn’t a good look on me either. (the doctor wasn’t fully convinced it would solve anything anyway) So, I’m back to square one with my neck. Well, not exactly. They did make that appointment for me. I only have to wait until August now... But, that is sooner than October, and I’ve made it this long so I won’t complain (too much) and, I will be thankful that I cut my left thumb and not my right. Because while it still hurts, at least I’m not fully incapacitated during summer harvest. Now, that would have been bad!

There's plenty to harvest...

cucumber trellis

ripe tomatoes!
it won't be long until the butternut squash are ready!

As the week (and the heat) continued, we got a call from the Post Office. A phonecall that starts out “uh...Miz Womack? Uh...your chicks are here...and...uh...there are some dead ones in the box...uh, I don’t know what you’d want to do about that...” simply cannot be good. It was with much trepidation that I set off to pick up the chicks. And, I guess it says something about me that when I opened the box (inside the Post Office this time) and found 10 dead chicks, I was just relieved that it wasn’t as bad as last time. And, I said so out loud. I didn’t even call the hatchery, I just emailed. We will just make do with a smaller batch of chicks this time. And, pray for cooler weather next month. The survivors are hale and hearty and already growing rapidly.

aren't they cute?
they made themselves a little nest

After watching storm clouds gather and then dissipate repeatedly, it looked like we were finally going to get our turn for some precipitation. Oh, we got some precipitation all right! A half-inch of rain came down in little more than half an hour. The rain was great. The intensity was not. As the Boss did chores, he did a little crop checking. He had just tied up the tomato plants, so they fared well. The broccoli and squash plants had been tossed around a bit, but would be fine. The corn...well, the corn was another story.

It has been a couple of years since we grew sweet corn. I guess I had forgotten the reasons why we stopped. Everyone loves sweet corn. And, I do mean EVERYONE. "Bambi", "Thumper", greedy groundhogs and errant raccoons...all the varmints try to eat it. So, it demands a fair amount of diligence to protect the crop from all those hungry mouths. And, then, there is the weather. While the rain is a blessing, the wind that comes along with it can be a curse. Particularly in the case of sweet corn. Sweet corn isn’t as sturdy as field corn (field corn is a completely different crop used for animal feed, food products and ethanol) The storm flattened our sweet corn crop. (although not as bad as I have seen)

flattened corn

it's really flat!

But, we couldn’t leave it that way. Corn isn’t meant to grow sideways. It’s a matter of physics. The corn tassel drops its pollen down on the silks of the cobs and pollinating the seeds inside, creating...corn on the cob. Vertical growth is a necessity. Not only was the corn flattened, but the rain had come down so hard and fast that everything was a mushy, mucky mess, so we couldn’t go into the corn patch and stand all the corn back up again without doing even more damage. In the past, we have gone through the garden and stood the stalks back up again. By stepping firmly on either side, you can give the plants enough stability to stand proud once more. (until another storm) This is time consuming and doesn’t always work, but at least we know we did all we could. But, we weren’t going to have time to get to it until after Market. 

Thankfully, this variety of corn is a little more sturdy and hardy than the type we’ve grown in the past. Left to its own devices, it returned to an upright position without human intervention!  We can strike that job from the to-do list and get on to something else. Like snapping those beans left over from Market for canning. (looks like we will spend the afternoon on the front porch, putting up beans for winter)
standing corn 7-15

I'm pretty sure it grew overnight!

Speaking of the Market, it was a crazy, busy day downtown. The past couple of weeks have seen huge numbers of folks visiting Staunton and the surrounding area, this results in great sales totals and very few leftovers. (and two tired old farmers)

lots of goodies for Market

lots of vendors at Market
(this is part of the second row)

looking down the sidewalk before opening
sorry, no pics of all the people...
we were TOO busy!
Wait! here are some of the people who made the Market a special place on Saturday.

So, here’s to a little rest and relaxation. (and bean canning)

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 
May the upcoming week be cool...
"cool as the center seed of a cucumber"!
(to borrow a line from Andy Griffith)

Thanks for stopping by. Come “visit” us again real soon!

 Did you see my post yesterday?  It's been TWENTY years since we settled on the hill. Read THIS.

You really need to see the Boss' Market shots from this week. Check them out HERE.