gooseberries and currants, both red and black, are astonishingly
prolific this year. I’ve never seen anything like it. The original
gooseberry bushes that I thought two years ago were near death are now
heavily laden. Enough to make their branches drop to the ground. If I
can summon up the ambition, I’ll clear, once more, the dirt around them
and root some of the branches that have bent themselves to the earth.
New bushes. A future. The spring rains contributed to this most welcome
abundance, however, I do think the heavy application of manure over the
last couple of years are doing their work. Most of the bushes have had
a five gallon bucket of well rotted manure spread around them at least
two if not three years in a row. Rides are quite shallowly rooted and a
normal amount of another from snow and rain is enough to wash the
nutrients of the compost into them.
I’ve wanted to sell black currants for quite some time. Their yield this season was even more astonishing than the gooseberries. It has taken quite some time for me to learn how to manage the ribe family. Several black currant bushes I bought some years ago from a commercial nursery grew erratically. In other words, two didn’t grow at all, didn’t die but didn’t grow, remaining only about a foot high, almost hidden, when I didn’t weed by the tall grass that also loved the abundance of manure in which that group was planted. I nearly gave up on them when suddenly I was rewarded after having circled them with waste from the goat barn. Big, bushy and prolific bushes.
Pruning has never been my thing because I’ve never understood how to do it. Oh, my little intensely packed fifteen dollar ribes book does show how they should be trimmed. Each year. But I’m never confident if I’ll do the right thing. So I don’t. One of this year’s rewards has been that it is some of those old branches that probably should have shown up in the kindling basket are among those that are the most heavily laden. And those are also the ones I shall pin to the ground, put a stone and some dirt on the junction (I choose a spot in the branch, the branch that has a leaf node) and root it for the beginning of next year’s bushes. Things were too busy here for me to have the time to try to sell any berries this year, but I did approach Annuto’s in Oneonta who bought a few quarts “just to see how they went.” (The red currants sold. The gooseberries and black currants didn’t). If there is an abundance next year similar to the one this year, I‘ll make more of an effort to sell them.
After a season that produced no apples whatsoever the Sops-of-wine and the Fameuse Snow Apple trees my mother bought me the year I moved here are also heavily laden. July usually produces that first show on my huge, ancient Pound Sweet tree. It is comprised of two that have grown together at their bases. My favorite for applesauce. They are big green apples, faintly lemon flavored and produce light fluffy applesauce that I sometimes cook with butter. But my mother’s two trees produce the best eating apples on the farm and have never before developed this well so early in the year. I am so glad to have the root cellar with its beautifully built shelves on which to store apples.
I am standing in the first days of August. My favorite month. And am beset with misgivings. The sheep have never looked better at this time of year. Some seem to be bagging, although that is hard to believe. There never are lambs born in August. Three look fat enough to be pregnant. That too is hard to believe. My two young rams seem interested in breeding the ewes, but I haven’t seen any of the rams cover anyone as yet. They start to rut when the nights are chilly, which they have been. I’m hoping against hope that there shall be December lambs this year. The chickens are laying prolifically even though three in the portable coop are molting. The goldenrod along the road is in bloom. And that gave me pause. Winter shall be upon us. August is the month when I begin to put up food for the coming year. My daughter just sent me green walnuts today to make green walnut liquor, something very nice to have to sip by the fire, November afternoons. The two worst winters of my life have just passed. Their shadow lingers on. All I can think is I don’t want to live through anything like that again. I can’t. I can’t.
I do best here managing small details rather than trying to accomplish a large task all at once. A row of miniature farm animal figures are lined up on three of the window sashes in the dining room where I now sit. A rocking chair that suffered horribly when a winter was beyond my control reminds me it can be revived as it sits patiently in front of me. I am tempted sorely to jump up and scrub it down to be stained and varnished once more. It is not on the list. Nor were the toy animals now lined up - cows, a bear, two geese, some goats, on the middle bars of the windows. But it always seems that it is the big things that shout the loudest at me. Demand. Reproach. Indite. And never descend to try to entice or cajole me. Not that I’d always listen.
Sometimes I have a day I call a lost day during which it is apparent that I won’t get anything that is serious done except the bare minimum for my farm. And so on those days I choose to do something, anything that is not necessarily on the list, but that will be interpreted as an accomplishment later. Something. I’ll say, “I’m so glad I did that.” Such as reporting the sage I bought, over crowded, jammed into a plastic container from a supermarket. And so, the now three pots of that pretty green sage sit lined up on a window sill in the dining room. And I can now go out on the road to admire the effort of having painted still one more gate in the South Pasture. Somehow that took me to the portable chicken coop and then onto the cow path to see if there are any chokecherries yet. There are! Somehow I’ve remembered to carry freezer bags in a pocket. A single tree by the cow path well has more than enough to last me a winter. Choke cherry jelly and choke cherry syrup. The birds got to the pin cherries before they even thought of ripening. I need them with which to make wild cherry cough syrup, but the tree is too tall for me to even consider netting.
Some of the eighty or so cookbooks I own have very old recipes for putting up food for the winter. Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Florence White, and Lady Fettiplace come to mind representing England, and Madeleine Kamman accompanied by Elizabeth David, once again, represent France. One or another of them recommended using green apples as a source of pectin. I’m going to try it with the red sumac that I hope is being picked for me today. I’ve never made the famous elderberry and sumac jelly, preferring jams to jellies, however, today’s effort shall star the summer. I’ve also a recipe for red pepper and red currant jelly that might please my son.
Wild thyme has moved up the valley in abundance. It was only three or four years ago that I discovered one circular patch of it in the sheep meadow across the brook. It has now crossed the brook to the near side to inhabit, lightly, but it is making its presence known, two more pastures. I love the smell. It reminds me of France for some reason I don’t understand, never having been in France in the summer, only late autumn, winter and early spring. Camomile is also making its presence felt underfoot. Bunches are drying in the dining room, hanging on some nails on a very pretty piece of molding that someone lay before me hung. Jars of green walnut liquor and pickled cherries still line up on some shelves I had built there. Last year’s work. Neither time nor inclination invited the jars to be opened last winter. Their contents are still edible. Perhaps they shall be served this year.
The gold finches are singing. They fly with grace around the magenta thistles that are infiltrating the pastures. They use the down from the faded flowers to line their nests. I remember the first time one of the thistles appeared on my hillside. I wanted to pick it to take to the house. The magenta of its color has always pleased my eye. They are now growing everywhere. In the beginning when they first invaded the pasture I’d take a hoe to them, mornings, a package of salt in my pocket to sprinkle on their cut stems. Eventually I realized some of the sheep loved eating their spiney buds. Just as some of us like hot pepper or ginger. In September, when they have shriveled into brown, dead seeming stems, clover has grown up at their bases. A special treat, thick and lush, for the sheep. Needless to say, I don’t kill them anymore.
Gradually I am remembering once more why I came here. At the same time a little voice is asking me why. Fat sheep are grazing in the pasture. There shall be hay this autumn, and the lower level of the barn is clean. The young rams are beginning to show interest in the ewes. The goats look good as well. One is fat enough to give the impression she is bred. The Cochin chickens now average nine eggs a day from ten pullets. The pasture chickens are dong well, also. There is enough wood in the wood room to carry me through January. Unlike last year, the year of the empty wood room and only wet wood being delivered. Things look promising. But winter hangs heavily in the air.
P.S. Providence, five ewe sheep delivered a very nice set of twins. Ewes, thank goodness so there isn’t an issue of selling them. One is a good size. The other is small. It is the little one who keeps getting in trouble. They are tame and let me hold them. We now number an even 100 head on this farm. We’ll see what the next few days brings.
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