Spring has arrived and in the words of one of my favourite and darkest authors, “Every man and every living creature has a sacred right to the gladness of springtime.” – Leo Tolstoy
Spring never arrives in just one day or even a week, Spring is a slow, unfolding time of the year-the cold shoulder season between Fall and Flowering trees. Spring is a time for Joy and Hope. It is snowing as I write this and yet I can sense a subtle shift in activity. Here on my farm there remains lots of snow, eventually it will melt and feed my gardens. But for the first time in months I can see patches of earth and the birds have found them too. The turkeys are happily searching for insects and strutting their stuff.
There are harbingers of Spring and spotting the first robin is one. I can hear migrating geese in the skies and I hope they have not arrived too early where the chance of snow is still very real.
This has been another hard winter but there are things to be thankful for. There was not as much snow as last year- I know because I can see the traffic lights. I was reminded again that I should follow fellow farmer’s advice and buy a generator. Last weekend when my bread had proofed and it was ready to hit the oven, the power went off – so much for perfect timing. My strategy to save the bread was to keep punching the loaves down and guess what? after 7 hours with no electricity the bread was delicious! I thought I was going to have to try baking bread on my barbeque. Somehow as a chef, I know that I could find that on the internet, but I had no internet. On the bright side I was very glad that I had a land-line. Time for me to think about getting a generator- but the “pioneer woman” in me loves to meet the challenge of surviving a black out so I gathered my coal oil lanterns and candles and the very modern flashlights. The best part of this story is that I was
expecting overnight visitors – Yes they did come even when warned that there was no electricity or water. Something I have noticed since moving out the country is that when visitors come for a visit it’s usually for the weekend. That makes lots more work for me, but playing cards late into the night and having a leisurely breakfast makes it all worthwhile.
This winter the wildlife had an easier time. I can tell because my wild turkey flock has swollen from 30 to 60 strong. I measure my Spring by my turkeys’ behavior. They are my constant companions and the flocks are an endless source of entertainment. I watched them come and go all winter and marveled at their perseverance. From my kitchen windows I could see these enormous birds disappear into the snow and thought about how easy it would be for a predator to catch them.
Everyone who visited me all winter long got a real thrill observing the wild turkey circus and more than a few of my weekend guests wanted a taste.
Speaking of which I bought a wild turkey crossing sign to warn drivers and to inadvertently alert hunters. I am sure the local transportation bureau will not let me put them up. Too many rules!! I bought a farm so that I could do what I wanted!
I noticed that wild turkeys fly more in the winter –
because they have to. When the snow is so deep it is the only way to get out of the snow that ensnares
them. I watch each day as their behavior changes; the males get more aggressive, the grandiose displaying has begun and females are indifferent at best. These galliforms no longer arrive by the
dozens and I am seeing more and more small groups and singletons. The crows have arrived in force and are giving the turkeys a run for their money. Do I need to mention the cacophony of bird sound that wakes me each morning? – Male turkeys calling incessantly and the murder of crows want to make sure I get up early to feed them.
Of course we all know that Spring is the season for “twitterpating” and my farm is hot bed of mammalian activity – even the raccoons are up and visiting my feeders at night. I spotted the albino racoon last night eating some corn in the dark. Now the first chipmunks are out and I think they came out too early, as they have to make burrows and tunnels through the snow. I am finally able to see the snow on the pond starting to melt and no longer have to be beating down dangerous icicles from my roof.
I love spring but at it’s beginning it is very messy
with all the snow melting and exposing a winter’s worth of debris. I have found a few lost gardening tools. This is the time in between snow boots and rubber boots. I am wearing my Hunter boots with a warm inner liner because it can still get very frosty. The last hopes of Nordic skiing have faded away but there is still plenty of snow. No more sounds of skidoos filling the air and potholes are popping up all over the country road that I take to town.
As Tolstoy said” Spring is a time of Plans and Projects”Yes Spring is chore time on the farm as I put away the snowshoes and ski- wear. I look wistfully at my ski goggles and regret that I did not have the chance to ski while in Colorado- they weather was too bad to make it up into the mountains and the avalanches got in the way. I have been faithfully tending the goldfish that I brought in from the ice and cold last fall and I am looking forward to placing them back in the pond. One hint- 30 gold fish make a lot of mess. Cleaning the tank is an every day chore. I am also greatly anticipating finding out if the fish that refused to be caught in the fall survived the winter. A local garden store owner told me that they can be revived if frozen solid but can die if someone begins to hit the snow- the sound waves kill them. Local lore? Perhaps. But I have gone ice fishing and watched as perch froze with wide-open mouths as I tossed them out of the hut. Later in the car the perch started to defrost and move. Once home my youngest daughter decided to make the bathtub a makeshift aquarium.
I am looking ahead to the real Spring and must go through this muddy and cold season in between. Get out the mats to catch the mud! I am happy that I am now able to get to my compost heap again. The animals have really enjoyed having access to it on my front porch. Today I brushed off the enormous amount of sunflower seed shells from my patio. I learned a new trick, I place an entire bag of oiled seeds in a large plastic container and the animals and birds eat it right out of there and all the shells stay contained and don’t litter the patio. Yes the wild turkeys are very comfortable coming up onto my patios and even knocking on my window.
Last night I made roasted root vegetables that I had grown last summer and they were delicious. Food prices have gone up so much, even for staples. I cant tell you how much satisfaction you get from eating something you planted over 6 months ago. There’s something in me that always wanted to live on a farm to grow vegetables and fruits to preserve them and then to use them in the winter. When I was a young girl my favorite book or rather a series of books was called Little House on the Prairie. Needless to say I don’t live on the prairie but I do live on the farm. I read about how they would preserve vegetables and fruits and how they would slaughter the pig, there are no pigs being slaughtered on my farm but the idea of the farm life style totally fascinated me.
When you do live on a farm and it starts to snow and it snows and snows for days and days sometimes it isn’t always easy to get out to go to
grocery shop. I found myself ploughed in many times and I also found my car and even my truck stuck in the snow banks. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared and to stock up on food and supplies when you do have the chance. That was the principal about why Farm wives always stocked up when food was hard if not impossible to find or the food prices were exorbitant. Just good old plain sense that I use today.
I decided to start taking up bread making, again. I’ve often made bread in the past but this time it has sort of rhythm that really appeals to me. I put away the bread machine and started to make bread from scratch. To me, it is like kitchen yoga, very soothing. You must be patient as it has several steps before it’s completed. The real bonus is that when it comes out of that oven that homemade bread is most delicious foods that ever touched my lips- besides lobster. We ate fresh bread with my damson plum and apricot preserves every morning.
Winter is a real back to basics as we instinctively reach out for ways to comfort ourselves. That can be with food, a hobby; (I started doing puzzles again, they are much harder now and the pieces are so tiny) or by sitting in a comfy chair in front of your fire and reading. I also spent the winter working on my Farmhouse cookbook and collecting the material has brought back many memories. Looking over my mother’s recipes made me miss her so much. Looking back at my lifetime in the kitchen was very wistful. But I will admit I have lots of recipes to
share, I have spent 50 years collecting and perfecting those recipes. Now to get the book finished!
I actually held a cooking class on bread this winter. The students that attended were eager to go home and try to make this very simple but scrumptious bread. As I write this I am proofing some buns that I started this morning proofing it in front the fire. Now, I’m going to brush them with butter and sprinkle them with herbs and Parmesan cheese and put them in the oven for dinner tonight. On a farm it’s important to multitask but I know how important that is if you’re living in the city as well. Welcome to the new frantic reality.
There’s something about the rhythm of life on a
farm that is so different from the city. The stresses and worries are different, so too are the joys. My most stressful times on the farm are getting the plants in on time, making sure they are weeded and fed and then its Harvest Time. It is my most rewarding and delicious time, but boy is it hard work and you are on a time clock. You have to get to that food when it is ready- no dallying aloud.
Here on my farm, where I grow food I’m at the mercy of the elements and most of my day is spent trying to work around the weather or the beasts that are determined to eat all of my crops. Those “critters” may range from the smallest tiniest of aphids to the deer that love my fruit. and critters in every size in between.
All my life I would eavesdrop and hear farmers talk at the markets and feed stores and I was envious. I wanted to have their worries, farm life worries.I clearly glamorized the occupation. And as the old saying goes- be careful about what you wish for. There are times now when I have those worries, now I don’t want them. I wonder how I will be able to go on. How can I stay here and live
on his farm if I can’t find a way to make an income? How can I fix what can’t be fixed in my barn? How can I find someone local was willing to do it? After being defrauded last summer of over $25,000, my outbuilding barely stands as the roof is about to collapse and my insurance company is now telling me that I have to tear down both my outbuilding and my barn. The barn looks perfectly fine to me except for the insulation that the resident raccoons slept in over the winter. They gave me only 30 days to tear both buildings down or “repair” them.I say
to myself almost every single small town farm I have ever seen is dilapidated. Then I ask God Why My Barn?
There are so many lessons that we continue to
learn and that is one of the great reasons I love living on a farm. I have always respected and revered farmers and now I know why. I feel the same way about calling yourself a farmer somewhat like people calling themselves chef. You have to earn it. You do not graduate from Culinary School as a Chef- you need to earn that title through toil. I do not consider myself a farmer because I own a farm- I am a mere apprentice with most of the toil ahead. It is a combination of knowing what to do, doing it and then adapting. Being a farmer is a conversation with nature that at times can turn into an argument.
Living off the land and truly loving the whole process is what brought me to farm living in the first place. I must admit it I have not been successful in earning a living on my small farm. It is a very difficult, if not impossible thing to do. But I remain hopeful as I seek out new ways to make an income. Or may I put that differently”Discovering ways to not lose money. For instance,I decided to concentrate on a few crops and I will buy the rest from local farmers, they need support. I have also decided to use raised beds this year. That really makes the most sense to me because for three years I haven’t been able to tame the weeds they always win. Even when I rototill the plots for five or six times by the end of the summer it seems the weeds are taller than any other vegetable plants including the corn! Even when I used straw as mulch it was an endless battle and guess who lost?
So I start this Spring with a different strategy and I’ve read that it takes almost a decade before a farmer really understands their land and their relationship to their land. I recall watching PBS documentary about young farmers successes and failures and something really touched my heart because the young female farmer remarked, “you might only have 30 gardens and you.” I do hope and pray that I have many more than that, but in my age I have to be realistic. I will admit that it is becoming tougher and tougher to do all the farm chores that I once was able to do even just a few years ago. This winter I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, which really struck a blow at me. I have spent a large part of my working life as a chef, where your physical prowess was a huge component of your success. Having that
strength diminished really made me sad. Perhaps I won’t be dangling from dog strangling vines or fighting weeds and I certainly won’t be planting 200 cherry tomato plants this year. That was backbreaking work.
What I like about winter is that it gives you a time to reflect back on the Summer and think and dream forward to the Spring so I thank you winter but I God bless spring.
Many people don’t like the long cold Canadian winters. People can’t stand the constant work of
ploughing out from the snow, or from being locked inside because of bad weather or from constantly having to fuel the fire. I spend most of winter in an incessant battle of staying warm. I do have a wood burning stove and it’s a full time job keeping it’s insatiable maw fed. Furthermore, I have a big old farmhouse and it has electrical heating. Believe it or not my heating bill for one month was almost $900. That makes Winter seem rather harsh and makes me welcome Spring even more. Lower energy costs make me one happy farmer. There is something about getting through those cold dark days and starting fresh and looking forward to Spring and Summer that is very rewarding and is very much a part of my cycle of life. I’m sure I could never live somewhere where it was warm 12 months of the year like most Canadians I miss my seasons too much.
With the help of a partner and my children I’ve managed to get through the winter. I look forward to Easter coming up next week to see what that Easter Bunny brings me. He seems to forgotten me for the last 10 years. Bad Easter bunny as I see you eating my lettuces. Where is my chocolate?
Happy Spring everyone embrace this beautiful season that promises hope and Genesis. I am looking forward to my snowdrops peeking out.