Farming is hard. From the time Mr. Linton and I started this experiment (ooh, here's the first dispatch from the Would-Be Farm), we expected challenges. We welcomed challenges. Neural plasticity, baby!
And sure enough, we learned some new stuff. We knew that rust never sleeps, but we found out that weeds will pull all-nighters all summer long in the interest of world domination. Looking at you, burdock.
We discovered that even with zillions of established apple trees on the property, it's hard to get them to bear fruit larger than a golf ball. If the frost doesn't nip the bud, or caterpillars devour the leaves, or porcupine eat whole branches, well, then it's some other bug, some other mammal, some other weather phenomenon.
And we have stuck by our decision to avoid toxic chemicals, regardless the wormy little apples.
So when we have success, it seems the sweeter, and also, paradoxically, the fruits do not seem to be from our labors. Instead, it's as if they show up as serendipity. A gift from the farm.
We put seedlings into the ground. Three or four years on, we see the first production of plums.
Also, this year's single pear (yes: one fruit from the whole five trees), which has not been raided by raccoons yet. Does it count as work if we planted it so many years ago?
Currents, aronia, and honey berries produced well this summer. For what it's worth. Tart, tart, and tarter.
We have not, as my genteel mother-in-law puts it, developed a taste for them yet.
Pro grower's tip: if the description in the nursery catalogue suggests that a fruit is used in jam or compote, beware.
Tomatoes and garlic and potatoes are standouts again this year. Likewise those leggy volunteer cousins: fennel and dill, one bronze, the other pale green, popping up everywhere.
I picked a bumper crop of blackberries (was it the extra rain? it's a continual mystery why some years do and others don't) but after the first disappointing pie––So seedy! So very seedy!––I set my sights on a cordial. I muddled pint after pint into mason jars of moonshine, which now lurk, dark and powerful, like untested ordnance, in the fridge.
At this end of the summer, I tend to wander moodily around with a basket, swatting mosquitoes, marveling.
It's a numbers game: we planted more than 25 modern apple trees, and only 5 are currently alive. And we have yet to see a single apple from those trees.
We put in 20 hazelbert whips and though a dozen died for being planted in the wrong place, 30+ hazel shrubs flourish now. The eight elderberries I bought and nurtured over the past decade have yet to survive a third year, but the two newest? This year -- THIS YEAR! -- I will foil the deer.
The six basket willow are growing by leaps and bounds, and have doubled in number. Of the five hackberry, I know for sure three are still living. The other two might possibly have slunk into the night. It's easy to find them in the spring, but once summer gushes forth––!
The abundance of uncultivated food astonishes me. Things we never did a lick of work to encourage. Nanny berries and hickory nuts, big puffball mushrooms and black walnuts, not to mention, though I do, the free-range non-vegan options. So many good fishes! And ruffled grouse bursting from the underbrush would be happy, I can see in their ruthless dinosaur eyes, to dine on me in the rather likely event that they SUCCEED in startling me to death.
And then there are chickadees, who chatter when the birdseed is running low. One or two of these lillies of the field are especially bold. They barely need coaxing to land on my hand, where they look me in the eye and take their time picking a seed.
I've really done nothing to earn chickadees. But I'm grateful that the Farm has provided them too.
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