I spend a great deal of time observing. Being able to recognize subtle changes is immensely important as a farmer. Something as inauspicious as a ewe standing off to herself may indicate sickness. A brown spot on the leaf of a tomato plant may foretell the beginning stages of blight or may indicate a mineral deficiency. Farmers of old created sayings to help them navigate the natural world in the absence of Google, plant specialists, and organic growing guides. A lot of that passed-on knowledge has been lost. A lot of what we do on our farm is try to reclaim some of that knowledge, holding on to it as long as we can. Sometimes it seems that is the most important thing, to hold on.
This time of the year, the garden is in full throttle. We preserving what we can, sell a bit to others, and plan for the inevitable onset of fall. Somehow, just these few tasks takes up most of our time. Everything seems both ridiculously fast and terribly slow; tomato after tomato comes off the vine, while conditions conducive to baling hay are dubious any given day. It becomes difficult to plan the to-do list on most days. One adjusts based on the availability of resources. What HAS to be done today? What can wait until tomorrow? These guiding questions force us to both live in the moment and plan for what will be needed months from now.
Of course, a lot of the ebb and flow of farm days seems mysterious, if not bucolic, to many non-farming people. Tedium replaces novelty after milking every day for weeks. Vine ripened tomatoes are a sweet blessing at the beginning of the season, but counters overflowing with them translates into counters seemingly overrun with tomatoes in various stages of processing, sinks filled to overflowing with the accessories of canning. Beautiful shelves lined with jars of home-canned sauce, pickles, and beans represents countless hours of repetition, solitude, and hard work.
While much of the work of late summer is relegated to the garden and kitchen, the livestock are busy with the business of grazing. The sheep, shorn in early spring, resemble grubs as they move across the fields. This is a potentially dangerous time of the year for them. Aside from the ever-present danger of coyotes and feral dogs, parasites thrive in hot, humid weather. Sheep on pasture must be checked periodically to ensure they are not overburdened with parasites. Lambs are especially vulnerable to them, having not built a tolerance to them yet. Every day our mornings break with a thick fog that only releases its hold after several hours, and every day I observe the sheep to make sure none of them is too thin, not eating, or otherwise showing signs of ill health. Despite the challenges, I take time to notice the beauty in every daybreak, and there’s nothing like watching the sheep and cows graze, enshrouded in clouds each morning.
As the day moves on, it is hard not to notice that the trajectory of the sun over the pastures has changed. The shadows over the garden are longer in the evening and linger later in the morning. Even though it is early August, the chlorophyll in the trees are releasing their hold; the greens have lost their depth. Gone is the shiny, brilliant kelley green of spring; in its place is a dull, lusterless hue. Soon enough even that green will give way to the brilliant colors of fall. We will be grateful for the changes but sad to see the green go. Winter was long last year.