i finished seeding the bulk of the garden.
i recognize that this planting thing — especially so late in the spring game and with no transplanting/seedlings whatsoever — is a total gamble. and there’s already something so unlikely seeming about the whole ‘potatoes from a potato’ or ‘beet from a little seed nugget’ thing (for me anyways).
what’s been really eye-opening about it all though (and joyful despite the toddler pulling out my hair as i try to back carry him down the rows, or as i barrel towards him as he stomps all over the freshly planted beds) is how this work is exactly the opposite of the bulk of the jobs i’d been doing for the past yea long. instead of having to remind myself to focus, to concentrate, to stay on task, i get irritated when i’m interrupted, when i have to stop mid seed packet or mid row. while it’s still multi-task heavy work (i still can’t really wrap my head around the multidimensionality of successive plantings, crop rotation, and companion planting), it doesn’t scatter or bewilder the way the constant clicking back and forth between tabs and browsers and email accounts does.
despite the exhaustion, i may feel healthier yet.
p. interrupts me with : « do we want to get a kilogram of cheese salt? it’s not iodized! »
and i wonder : in who’s life have i landed, pray tell?
In the hopes of offsetting as many of our everyday costs of living as posible, I have dubbed this « The Year of the Great Offset » (because a capitalized title gives every frugal challenge its element of excitement and fun). It became clear early on that planting a huge vegetable garden would be the bread and butter of my summer work. I read a fair amount, bought a great notepad, and planned a little but it was clear to me that I had no idea how to crack the code that would allow me to know what kind of square footage I’d need to grow a year’s worth of vegetable food stuffs for me and mine. So we just went with « BIG ».
Maybe too big.
But subdiving any large surface makes it manageable so I paced my walking paths, a nice 12 inches on 42 inch rows.
And it still looks like I might be in way over my head but as I was out there yesterday, pacing and measuring, I told myself that I would sure get a kick out of seeing what a total garden newbie manages to pull off in a growing season with unlimited land (of unknown quality but pretty convincingly sandy loam-ish to the untrained eye), that gets 8+ hours of direct sunlight, an exuberant seed purchase, and a desire to learn the ropes and to figure stuff out. So voilà : it’ll all be good fun regardless.
Plus I get to discover things like this when I’m out there digging and weeding and seeding : a piece of jaw ! (I suspect of a barn cat/kitten). I’ll spare you the dead baby bird photo, yesterday’s garden find.
And today was a brave kind of a day so I decided that the time had come for me to learn to milk our dairy cow, whom we named Ursula Franklin. More physically and socially awkward than I had anticipated (perhaps in part because I am a nursing mother) but she was so patient with my all-thumbs-ness.
I also went to try to find the kink in one of the electric fences.
My first time walking alone in the fields amidst these forty-five lovely creatures. They have a real presence and remarkably soulful eyes. But a small crew of them were totally hanging out at the fence I needed to get to and I chickened out. There’s « holding your space » with the animals, which I now manage just fine (mostly), but trying to encroach on their space, as they’re chomping on fresh grass to boot, wasn’t going to happen today. Maybe another day. Or maybe I can call this what it is : letting fellow creatures eat in peace just the way I like to.
Intermediate steps keep popping up but hopefully tomorrow is seeding day. May the child’s nap be long.
Eating our very own yoghurt (made with milk from our beloved dairy cow) for the first time this morning : a highlight.
Burning all of the « Hi, we’re you new farm neighbours » cookies we meant to give out to folks on our road : a disappointment.
Kiddo and I are under the weather. Just enough for him to sleep super poorly, which means just enough for us both to be sleep deprived and pretty grumpy throughout the day. I don’t know if it’s the move and transition, but he’s in a pretty intense « MAMAN! » phase right now. Being on child care and homebound for the bulk of the day these past few days is making it challenging for me to feel settled in, to feel like a co-farmer, to feel like anything but a full time stay-at-home-mom (and for the record, I have nothing against stay-at-home-parenting, but I know it’s work that I couldn’t sustainably or happily do myself).
Both P. and I are struggling with our division of labour, trying to figure out how to structure our workdays without it all falling down very traditional gendered lines. I unfortunately don’t know how to work the tractor, and am not yet comfortable working with livestock. I’ll learn these things, but right now there are 45 cows on pasture with 10 calves, the Jersey and her twins are in need of a move onto grass as well and the 40 yearlings (that are going to be the CSA beef this fall), are being trucked over sometime this week. Fertilizers need to be spread before fencing goes up and fencing needs to go up asap. Which leaves laundry and food and kid and cleaning on my plate, malgré nous. Sub-optimal.
We took a half day off yesterday and drove the four kilometres to town to check it out, walk around, see the sights and the people. It’s the sort of thing that leaves me feeling a bit desolate. The last time I had to make a new home and to craft a new feeling of community, it was in Halifax and it was clearer to me how to tackle the task. The cafés, the dancing, the bike culture. Not so clear here. We did find the schools though and there were some pretty solid play structures there, albeit for the slightly older crowd. But he’ll grow into them.
Entre temps, I’m just trying to remember our medium to longer term goals for this place : to both be farming (if we so choose), and to live with other farm families on this land — making the community building piece a bit more manageable. And that lack of sleep makes even the most resilient of people quite cloudy headed and miserable.
One of the cows has been wailing for the past day and this morning, upon counting the calves, P. realized that hers was missing, and that she’s been in a panic trying to call her back to her side. Born three weeks ago, the little one hasn’t been seen for the past day or two.
Her cry is a pretty heartwrenching sound. I don’t really know much about calves, cows or (let’s be honest) animal husbandry, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t anything I can do to make sure this calf makes it back to her mum. I worry we won’t see her again. And while I’m reminding myself daily not to anthropomorphize the cattle — not to attribute human personality or emotions to them (i.e. the cow isn’t bored, she doesn’t need my entertainment as she chews cud in the field) — hearing a mother cry for her calf (as I watch my child scamper about the mud puddles) is pretty hard to bear.
And there are the economics of it. As we grow our herd this spring, these calves are next year’s income for us. In all of my urban work experience, I can’t really think of a parallel for this kind of precarity, this kind of loss — save for maybe botching a grant application that you were counting on to fund next summer’s programming. But there are always other grants. No calf will just wander onto our fields to make up for this loss (if it is a loss — I don’t want to rule out the possibility that the little trickster isn’t just grazing and prancing happily a few fields away).
We’re dependent on the weather, on the rains and the rays to grow our pastures, to grow the cows and their calves. And we’re at the mercy of these cows staying within our fences and being in good health. There’s an awful lot that’s out of our hands here.
A man stopped by a few days ago to ask if we had calves for sale. I told him we didn’t, that we were growing our herd and that these animals would be grazed until next fall. I hate to be distrustful, but it’s an unhappy coincidence. I wish he had been looking fo rabbit or lamb so that I wouldn’t be thinking about it.
We don’t know our neighbours yet, save for one. Our best security is knowing who’s around, and fostering good relations so that they’ll care about us and our ability to sustain our livelihoods here. In the meantime, we’re feeling a bit deflated and sad.
And we’re hoping the calf will turn up safe and sound.
We moved onto the farm three days ago. I am writing from a house that’s nestled between a highway, a barn and some mountains. The pastures are greening, the birds chirping, the cars zipping past, and the former owner is still hanging around, using our tractor to move farm implements in some master plan that we have yet to grasp. We are simultaneously peeling off old yellowed wallpaper, replacing drywall in the kitchen, trying to find the source of a leak with the inherited washing machine, pounding fence posts and installing fence lines to move the cattle off the conventional mucky paddock they’ve been on since they arrived here a month ago, finding a veterinarian to figure out what’s wrong with our feverish Jersey dairy cow, and taking care of a curious toddler in a space that is not childproofed in the least.
In the same way that I had a hard time conceptualizing what forty-two tonnes of sulphur looked like prior to seeing the delivery of fertilizers that came yesterday, I still don’t fully grasp the extent of the work that lays ahead. It is endless. It is overwhelming. Empowering too to think that Paul and I can make this place our farm home, we can set it up as we please, and decide for ourselves the makeup of our days. But it is still so so much to take in.
And then there’s the lost feeling of home and rootedness. The not knowing how to carve out a space here. These feelings of being quite lost and scattered amidst the overwork, the sharp edges of exhaustion, and this rural newness.
But I am grateful for the strolls through the fields as we install insulators for the electrical fencing. I am grateful for a partner with more know-how than I realized. Grateful for the remarkable friend who came and so generously stayed with us for two whole weeks to work, to keep us company and to keep us sane. Grateful for this child who’s so eager to get his rubber boots on to go look at the calves and push his little red wagon around. And at this point, I’m just trying to focus on the ‘adventure’ quality of all of this. Despite the blood, sweat and tears.
Here’s to hitting the ground running, and to starting a farm in May.