In life there are things that are hard and there are things that are free . And many times those go together. It seems like if you want quality in any form you either work for it yourself or you pay someone else to. If you needed a tree cut down, say, you could get a saw, some friends, and figure out how to keep it from falling on your house (maybe quality doesn't apply here). Or, you could write a check to your local arbor folk and say, "Hm, tree work is easy!" Well, this is the case most of the time. We can't do everything (though some on this farm certainly try). However, there are things we can work for that are cheap and completely worth the work. And, being on a farm full of fruit trees, jam making is one of them.
It was hard to believe the day when our boss told us our assignment was to pick cherries. Gladly. So after picking two baskets-full we headed inside his house for a jam canning demonstration. The pace with him is always on overdrive so within minutes we were washing the cherries and sending them through an antique pitter clamped to the table. Once that was done we were putting those 8 cups of cherries and a bit of calcium water into a large saucepan. Although the pot with the cherries was huge, it was dwarfed by the dinosaur pot next to it which was taking its sweet time coming to a boil. Once the cherries came to a boil we added a mixture of sugar and pectin bit by bit until it was completely dissolved and brought the whole thing back to a boil. By this time the T-Rex pot with the jars inside was boiling and we let them sit for a while. The lids were placed in a pan of recently boiling water with the burner off. Then we were ready for the real action. Six hands, three feet of counter top space, eight hot jars, and a lot of shuffling back and forth. While one person was pouring jam into the jars, another was wiping the edges and putting on the lids. The last person was taking the filled jars and putting them back in the hot water. Those boiled for 13 minutes and there we had it- eight jars of sour cherry jam. And a lot of dishes to wash- but hey, what are interns for?
Last night we decided to make some of our own. Just as frantic, though less organized (and sans pitter) we managed 4 half pint jars and 3 quarter-pint jars (there must be a conversion for that). And...a lot of dishes once again. We need our own interns. The jam is delicious though and quite stunningly red. Beautiful stuff that came from right down the hill.
Josh (I cut his hair)
So with a much effort but little cash we managed to make something that's maybe $4 a jar in the store. Not bad. Can't complain about another PB&J. Now we just need those peanut plants to start producing, then it's definitely Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
Here's a quick look at a series of events leading to a busted water bottle. It's funny really. Plus, the bottle was free so things could be worse.
Here's a menagerie of photos from this past week. The first is a picture of a loaf of whole wheat bread I baked. If you'd like the recipe let me know because it really works. I actually just got it off the back of the flour package. The next 4 pictures are from a hike up Buffalo Mountain just after it rained. We decided not to let the rain defeat us this time and it paid off. At the top, clouds flew all around us and we could see for miles and miles. The last four pictures are from our visit to our friend Ann's house. She has a fantastic garden and lives on a land trust that has a nice little river flowing through. She also has a charismatic cat as you can see.
Ask any farmer or person with farm experience their thoughts about hay baling and they'll likely reply: "Terrible, worst thing ever, avoid." That's certainly what we heard at least in the days leading up to the event. The thing about hay is that it will always have to be baled and picked up on a hot, dry, sunny day. Otherwise it won't dry out and will mold before it can be used. So today was that hot sunny day that we were looking for. While most of the time-intensive work is done by one person on the tractor, it's the rounding up of the bales and stacking that is most loathed. That's what we did today. At this farm we don't have animals to feed so we use the hay mainly for mulching and killing weeds. A fun fact: hay comes from grasses while straw comes from grains. Straw is the by product after the grain has been removed. That is what strawbale houses are made of. We use hay here because it grows all over the open fields.
Here's how the process goes. Tall grass is mowed down in all the fields, grass is left to dry out, hay is then tetted to fluff it up and dry it out more, it is then raked into continuous lines, the baler is put on which sucks in hay and spits out bales all over the fields. Then comes the crew: one person drives slowly while others grab the bales and stack them on the trailer. This is interspersed with trips to the barn to unload the bales and stack them again. Overall we loaded and unloaded 5 times to pick up 245 bales, all in two hours. Hay has a mysterious way of getting everywhere and there's no worse time for that than when you're sweating and sticky. It will go down your shirt, your pants, socks, get in your gloves, your hair. It's relentless. But, this is nothing a little swimming can't fix. After baling, Josh and I jumped into the big pond to cool off and it was certainly cool. The massive lily take-over meant we had to swim through a patch of it but once past we were in open water. We didn't last long though. It gets deep very quickly and the exhaustion from the week magnified with every tread of water. It was worth it anyway and the sun did a good job of drying us off.
Broccoli in our garden
In other news, we finally planted our personal apprentice garden! Could have planned it a little better though. We have 8 tomato plants, 8 peanut plants, and 10 watermelons. Since these take up the majority of the plot, we're either going to be entirely overwhelmed or supremely disappointed. We have, however, thrown in a variety of other vegetables including bell peppers, herbs, broccoli, lettuce, beets, and brussel sprouts. Anything else we will get from the CSA's surplus. Not too worried about starving. We also threw in some beneficial flowers for fun: marigolds and sweet alyssums which bring in good insects to eat the bad insects. We've also heard marigolds repel rabbits. Keeping our fingers crossed. Off to slumber.
It's been a quick couple of weeks. June already! The madness of May, with all the harvesting and distribution, made it fly by in a snap. We've been mighty busy and it's really starting to weigh down on us- or a better way to say it: challenge us. We're surviving though and enjoying what we have here. As hard as it is, physical labor is tremendously satisfying. When your muscles ache, your feet throb, and your lungs heave, you know you're really doing something. I was worried I wouldn't be able to do it but in truth, people can do a lot more than they think they can. Exhaustion is a side effect yes, but the sense of accomplishment is greater, or at least equal. It's a direct relationship. Now, I say this but I'll admit I do like those rainy days where we do some light cleaning in the barn or work of similar intensity. Can't refuse a bit of rest.
Loving on the Cherries
The past few weeks involved many things that signify the growing presence of summer. First of all: the fruit share. Because Polly was able to sell enough fruit shares through the CSA, she received 2 free shares- one for her and one for us. I can't say how much we were looking forward to that. When I, and probably most people, think of a farm, I think of vegetables, green leaves, and the need for cooking. I know first hand that's not necessarily true, fruit is a big part of farming too. It just takes longer and the anticipation just seems so great. I've always been a fruit person and always will be a fruit person (which probably follows the reigns of my sweet tooth). Sometimes it's hard to understand that a raw plant product could be so glorious straight off the stem but that's the case with the 5 pounds of cherries we received in an unassuming paper bag last week. While some are better than others, it's the experience that really matters- and how far you can spit the seed. Further along in the summer are apples and peaches. Things are looking up!
A blocked view of the arbor
Along the same theme of signs of summer: the arbor project for the blueberry bushes. Birds have been a problem for the past several years, feasting on the berries and probably getting stomach aches- stomach aches meant for us! I guess they're fruit lovers too. This year we're trying to change that issue by building an arbor. And, this involved more skills! Really tiring skills. If you've ever dug post holes you'll know what I mean. And if you've ever dug post holes, realized you needed more posts, then went into the forest, chainsawed a few locusts and carried them out one by one, then you'll really know what I mean. My arms were sore for 4 days. If anything, this entire experience has taught me how much people can do for themselves in a reasonable amount of time. They just can't expect to be awake much past 10pm each night. Anyway, the arbor looks good in its own quirky little way and we're thinking it will work.
Lily, the ancient one- 20 years old
In other news, my mother came to visit for five days. A strong woman, she worked along side us the entire time- shoveling, planting, weeding, row-covering, and conversing. Everyone who's been to college knows a visit from a parent means great things in terms of the contents of one's refrigerator. And, despite working just as hard as anyone, she washed our dishes and cooked on occasion too! It's hard to say whose vacation it actually was. A marvelous time indeed. The weather was cooperative as well, showing her a range of conditions from hot and humid, dry and cool, and a big, spectacular thunder storm. In fact, a bolt of lightning struck just a few hundred feet from our cabin with a blinding flash and a deafening crack. That's plenty of entertainment for me. No need for more of that sort of thing, though I do love me a good thunder storm.
In conclusion, exhaustion. Goodnight.
I apprenticed on a farm in southwest Virginia from April-October 2010. This blog contains all the anecdotes and observations from that adventure.
See more of my photos here