Could Be Worse

It’s fifteen below this morning on our little patch of prairie. I’ve taken to making a morning weather report on my Facebook page which is followed up by, “it could be worse.”

And, it could be. The winds are unusually calm right now, which means there’s no measurable wind chill. On the prairie, lack of wind always seems a little bit eerie, and one tends to stop in one’s tracks to listen and inspect the treetops and grasses for movement and wonder what’s coming.

“It’s quiet! Too quiet.”

Our winter visitors, a cloud of slate-colored juncos, is unphased by the bitter cold–they are busily crowding the feeders before the later-rising bluejays and woodpeckers muscle in on the food supply. Juncos go even farther north in the summer, and it’s pleasing to imagine that this, for them, is a warm winter hideaway.

My pullets are not as pleased with the white stuff, and have decided that the farthest they need to roam is the snow-free ramp that leads out to their run. A couple of weeks ago they were up at the crack of dawn making runs at the fences, clambering up over the top of the coop and into the woods, and exploring the wide world outside their generously-proportioned pen. Now, I wait ’til mid-morning to open the little door, and from the back deck can see them peeking out, looking suspiciously at the white-encrusted world, and going back in.

Done are the days of merrily scratching through the compost pile–they’ve been getting little treats inside the coop lately–a pie plate of leftover brown rice, the shell of a spaghetti squash–things that don’t make too much of a mess in their winter quarters.

The coop is unheated, though I do have a warmer to keep their drinking fountain from freezing. So far, they seem fine with the arrangement–their insulated house faces south and is well-protected from winds. Last spring, I mortared every crack of daylight in the stone foundation to protect from drafts and predators, so it’s actually kind of nice to hang out in there with my girls on a bright, bitterly cold day–it’s not warm, but it’s not brutal, either, which is the Minnesota winter measure of what can be borne with a reasonable amount of cheer and what is just plain miserable and OK to complain about with noncommittal phrases like, “cold enough for ya?”

Well, you know, it could be worse.

Floods R Us

Well, last night’s projected heavy rain didn’t materialize in this immediate area.

Or if it did, it’s hard to tell because I seem to recall only one semi-dry moment this season–when I decided to dig the new potatoes and figured out that just because it looked kinda dry on the surface didn’t mean I wouldn’t be excavating mudballs that I’d have to squish to find out if they were potatoes or just glops of saturated soil.

Heading out to the farm this morning to harvest for CSA deliveries, I met a dense wall of fog in the valley that allowed just enough visibility to see that the Vermillion River is out of its banks again at the first bridge on North University Road.  I had never seen that happen before this year.  So far this season, I’ve seen it twice.

August 3--Vermillion River at the first bridge on North University Road, looking north

I read last night that at the crest of this latest round of flooding, 25,000 acres of farmland between Davis and Vermillion will be inundated.

The corn is pulling its leaves in and starting to yellow–not the “late-summer-ripe-corn yellow,” but the “please-give-my-roots-some-oxygen yellow.”  You can tell where the edge of the flooding is by the fact that the corn in those margins is still a deep green.

The gardens are starting to show extreme moisture stress–in that everything that isn’t actively growing is starting to mold.  Anything with a hole or insect damage of any kind is simply rotting.  I spent part of my harvest time this morning disposing of anything with a fuzzy white sheen.

I did still manage to get a good harvest for today’s deliveries: summer squash and peppers, tomatoes and onions, cucumbers, basil and sweet corn.

The corn is from our neighbor’s acre-sized patch–she came outside when I pulled in the yard to tell me (again) to take as much as I want–to thank me for picking it (waste not-want not) as I was thanking her for sharing it, then ran back in the house to escape the mosquitoes.

I was wearing my headnet, of course.  I have not been on the farm without it for three months now.

At this point, the pickings are gleanings and secondary ears–there’s still a fair amount of corn out there, but it won’t be worth eating in another week.  So, I picked enough for all my members to have a dozen ears, and somehow managed to end up with a dozen extra for us.

I might go out and get a couple dozen more to go with those and do another round of canning–H has been sick for a couple of days, so he’s not really in the mood to eat more of it.  And no, it wasn’t the corn that made him ill, but getting ill in the temporal vicinity of eating so much corn has killed his appetite for it.

At any rate, the neighbor has a better view of the valley at her place (if the view can at this point be described as “better”), so I snapped a couple images of the perspective from there.

The river is supposed to rise a couple more feet before it starts to subside.  I was disappointed earlier this year that I never managed to get my kayak out in the flooded fields, but it looks like I’ll have another chance.

On my way back into town, I stopped to take the image at the top of this post, and saw our other neighbor (whose family members are almost all “conventional” farmers in this area) drive by.  She gave a friendly wave, then indicated the river, threw her hands up, and shook her head sadly as she headed past and into town.

Five Inches?

Or maybe closer to six?

I put this harvest bucket out on my side walkway last night (dry and empty).  This morning, after seeing the tongue of water in my basement (which NEVER happens except with a truly big “gully-washer”), I walked out and thought–hmm, maybe three inches?

And then I measured.

It is hard to get an accurate reading in my home neighborhood because of all the trees.  But this was a damn big rain.

By the way, the most accurate pronunciation of the above-quoted term is actually, gully-wahrshur.  Ya know, in case you need to pass as a local. 😉

A River Runs Through It

For readers outside Southeastern South Dakota, I’m going to assume you haven’t heard about our early June weather woes.  The farm has been barely navigable for the past week and a half–and I say navigable because that’s pretty much how it feels after all this rain.

Last night I was out in the gardens and this blinding golden orb suddenly appeared in the sky.  I thought maybe it was the end of days, but H calmly reminded me that’s what the sun looks like.

I don’t have all the summer crops in, but I haven’t been able to do much but pull a few weeds by hand and mope about the hot pepper plants that are still sitting out front of my house and the winter squash and melon seed still sitting in the packets.

The salad mix is done for, but I haven’t been able to mow and till it–I’ve got a few beds of incredibly luxurious buckwheat cover crop that really need turning under, too.  And the weeds?

Can we not talk about that?  I had a farm tour scheduled a couple of weekends ago but that didn’t fly due to scheduling conflicts.  The gardens looked really nice then.  I’m guessing it will be another month before I’ll get back to that state.

At least the summer crops that I have gotten in look good.  The spring cabbage does, too.

I harvested these for the CSA today, and I pulled a not-so-nice one for us last night.  We usually eat the ugly produce, the gleanings, and the leftovers from market and over-harvest–which is generally plenty for our small household.

So while this majestic cabbage above is what my members got today, what’s in the tub was for us last night:

Actually, my CSA members got some of the ugly white turnips, too.  They’re ugly because my row cover didn’t come in until about a month and a half after I ordered it, and it was too late for these poor little roots.

At least they’re still really succulent (all that rain) and tasty–best-tasting turnips I’ve grown in a long time.  Too bad they look like hell.

The cabbage above was a casualty of a marauding deer who tore through the top of a row cover and ate the tip of the vegetable.  They don’t usually do that, and the fact that this one did makes me think perhaps I ought to eat her before she tries it again.  But the season for spring cabbages is not the season for venison.

Adding the the mess right now, the mulberries are starting to ripen.  We have both kinds–the regular black ones and the white ones as well.

Ripe mulberries fall off the trees.  And birds eat them, too, and then do what birds do.  The white ones aren’t so bad, I guess.  They just weigh down the row covers and sprout more mulberry trees.  The black ones do the same, plus they stain everything they touch.

Because we have mulberry trees all around the garden area, we have fallen mulberries all over the garden area.  When it’s dry, they’re annoying, but when it’s wet, they make a sloppy mulberry-mud soup.  Yum.

We are slowly removing some of the most annoying trees and branches, but there are quite a lot of them, and some of them are doing double duty as field snack provider and shed stabilizer.

Considering the bloom of mosquitoes we’ll be getting in the next few days after all this moisture, we need at least to keep the trees to hold up the shed to provide the swallows access to their nests, so they’ll stick around and help with insect control.

It’s all feeling a bit ramshackle right now what with the mud and wet and weeds and mulberries, but once July hits we’ll probably be crying for water and cursing that bright golden orb in the sky.  Once we start to remember what it is.