Just a bit of farming being done here in our neck of the woods as we await spring and the melting of snow. Yes, we have begun sowing seeds and working out in the greenhouse, but it will be a while before the first patch of earth is turned over or we see real evidence of spring ephemerals pushing up through the ground. In the meantime, I am re-reading a favorite book of mine, A Long Deep Furrow, Three Centuries Of Farming In New England by Howard S Russell. It is an extraordinary and well-documented account of New England’s farming history, best described by Mark Lapping who wrote this in the forward:
” A Long Deep Furrow will be of interest to readers and students of New England history and life, agriculture, environmental studies, and rural affairs and developments. I know of few books which so successfully integrate the elements of biogeography with socioeconomic and cultural patterns within the context of agriculture as a way of life and livelihood. Most of all, the book is a testament to the Yankees who farm the sides of mountains, take gambles on weather and markets like a pack of riverboat cardsharps, and who consistently fly in the face of the “conventional wisdom” which says there is no New England agriculture”.
Aside from this book being a fascinating look into the very beginnings of agriculture and farming in New England, it is especially endearing to me because the diary of my own ancestor, Thomas Minor, was used as a reference.
If you are looking for something to sink your gardening/farming minds into while we await spring and a new season of growth, consider A Long Deep Furrow , I think you’ll like it!
There is still snow on the ground (you think?). Our nights are still rather cold. Daytime temperatures are vacillating between giving into spring and keeping a determined hold on winter. Fickle.
I feel anxious during the month of March. On one hand, we are kept at bay from the chores we know are creeping upon us, the cold and snow make many advances impossible.Yet, still, we have to stay in step with time, moving forward regardless of weather variables. Peppers, leeks, onions, herbs, and eggplant need to be sown early in order to have a long growing season out in front of them. We stoke the wood fire, then run out to make sure the greenhouse is not getting too warm. We make another pot of soup using the stored winter squash but crave fresh greens. Long johns? No long johns? Pull the taps on the maple trees or leave them for another week or so? Like I said, this all makes me anxious. One foot is still firmly planted in winter and the other is stretching out looking for the warm, squishy ground of spring. I like my months to be well defined, and yet, I should know by now, the month of March doesn’t play very fair. March is fickle. March is indecisive. March is wishy washy. I have no choice but to muddle through. Today we worked again in the greenhouse potting up some Hepaticas, Shortia uniflora, and Erythronium japonicum. They had been putting on too much growth in their winter storage and so we decided to pot them up. There are others of these same plants, tucked undercover and still dormant, showing no signs of growth.They will remain until the snow is gone and we uncover the nursery rows for the season.
In the meantime, I will work through my restlessness and be grateful for all the good and wonderful things that make up our days….a little of this and a little of that among the tug of seasons.
I once owned, back in the day when draft horses stood in our fields with the sheep, a nice old cream delivery sleigh. When I sold the last horse, the sleigh went as well. It was a beauty. Green with gold painted detail work. The drafts were meant for work, pulling the hay rake or hauling out logs, and these were some of the chores I used them for. However, when there was good snow, out came the sleigh and in we all piled…kids, friends, and neighbors. Boy was that fun! The sleigh was built as a pung with a set of both front and back runners. Just thinking about it makes me want to consider another horse…hmmm? So, here is a poem by Kate Barnes celebrating the days when sleighs and buggies traveled these roads. (The buggy in the photo is from my Mom’s family. They owned a small grocery and this is how they made their deliveries). The Buggies
“When I first began to practice,”
said the veterinary, giving a shot
to the new foal, “ this countryside
was full of old carriages. The barns
all had some. You could buy
a good top buggy for ten dollars. But now
a lot of the barns have fallen down
Those old farmers
used to hang their good buggies from the rafters,
safe and out of the way. And some people
went on using them a long time.
one place in Warren, “he said, putting iodine
on the umbilicus, watched anxiously
by the mare with her flickering eyes, “ they had
this perfect drop- front phaeton. The top
was always up, the seat was plum-colored wool
with a cloth cover over it. Beautiful.
The old lady wouldn’t go to church
in anything else.
But now that I think of it,
she must have gone too, the last time I was by there
the barn roof was down.
nice, those old things-
well made, you know.
They could stand up to a lot.”
into his white truck and drove away,
rattling down the lane. Behind, in the stall,
the mare nickered once as her foal began to nurse
and was silent.
The cold March evening
was darkening toward night, the patterns
of old snow made stripes in the dusk, the stars
were slowly coming out but the lake
at the bottom of the hill went on picking up
the last daylight. Its surface glowed
softly as if it were lighted
from below, as if a distant sun were submerged there
under the ice, still shining, alive, and warm.
Have we had a few days of really, really cold temperatures lately? Brrr and yes, but the sun is high and strong and the very near future promises much warmer weather. Yeeha! So, we’ll march on through the month readying ourselves for what’s to come…..sowing seeds, turning over soil, boiling sap into maple syrup goodness.I’m not going to squander a minute of March. Before long we’ll be doing that “sun up til sun down” thing we do every year. I’m using these last days of winter (yes, soon to be spring) to finish all the wool spinning and dyeing, all the knitting and felting, all the rummaging through boxes of family papers, all the reading (thank you Rick H. for the package of books you sent!!) I can muster before it’s too late. This past weekend both Liberty Tool Company and Liberty Graphics opened their doors for another season. This is great for all those who travel to Maine looking for something special to bring home…like a smoothing plane, or a mortising chisel, or a really nice locally printed tee-shirt. For us locals, we wait all winter for the village to show signs of life again. After a winter of staying close to home, gathering at Liberty Graphics for a cup of coffee and a good chat is a sure sign of revitalization.
Even our chickens seem to have a pep in their step, grooming the landscape for spring morsels. Deep snow and cold temperatures keep them close to the coop until the bare ground starts appearing. Then the door is flung open and out they come, busy the rest of the day rototilling through the gardens and the woods.
Enjoy your days, peek out into the gardens, tip your face to the sun….spring’s a comin!