It would be impossible to sum up a season in just a few words, but given that I’ve not written here for months I find myself trying to do just that. Of course that is partly why I haven’t written in months because every time I try to encapsulate our life neatly, succinctly, I come up with nothing. But then who has a neat life? Certainly not me.
So I’ll probably write about different aspects of the last few months as I write about what is happening now and in future posts, but for now I suppose the easiest way to summarise our season so far is intense. The weather, the work, the projects…it’s all been very intense. Here in Eastern Ontario we’ve experience a severe drought this summer, leading to challenges we’ve not faced before. From crispy pasture that doesn’t feed our cows to deciding which plants to water and which will have to fend for themselves. Suffice to say a lot of our grass is looking the worse for wear.
This year reminds me a lot of 2011. That was the year we built the house and there was a drought/heatwave that year too; but really it’s the work and intensity of focus needed that feels the same. This year we have had to decide whether to scale the farm back to allow our current infrastructure to be enough, or to restructure to allow for future expansion. We chose the latter, to the surprise of no one who has ever met either of us. But this year we decided to get smart about it, we planned carefully, took a deep breath and gave all our money to people with diggers and trucks full of gravel. Not what most people choose to spend their savings on, but then conforming to the norm is really not our strong suit.
I will try to write more about the details of our restructure another time, but the brief list is that we’ve drained the cow field and created a safe concrete pad for them and us to work on, we’ve built new pig barns for safer farrowing of piglets, we’ve added a new gilt pig, we’ve gravelled the garden, extended the driveway, cleared out building debris and made a new garden where only crap stood before. We’ve also done the usual fencing, moving and feeding of animals as well as the plethora of other chores that go along with the farm. And I promise I wasn’t being sarcastic when I said that is the brief list, it really has been a bit bonkers.
When I say ‘we’ of course, I mean mostly Stephen when it comes to the building and infrastructure parts. We plan and organise together, but when it comes to putting nails in things or moving tonnes of gravel (not a metaphor) by hand in the boiling sun of a heatwave, I can take no credit. Stephen is the engine that powers the farm and I’ve never seen him work harder than he has this year. My job is basically to do everything else and stop him from falling over from heat exhaustion. Or regular exhaustion. Both are entirely possible.
This summer has felt to me like pushing against a really big boulder until it shifts a few feet. On the surface the changes may not seem huge to the casual bystander, but to us they are massive. To walk across a field without being calf deep in mud after a rainstorm is practically miraculous. To have a purpose built barn where little pigs can be born brings us nothing but joy. The work has been hard and seemed endless at times, but this work will lay a foundation that the next 5 years will be built upon. It will allow us to add more cows, breed more pigs and do a better job of it while we’re about it. It’s not sexy but to us it’s the most important work we could have done.
While Stephen was building farm infrastructure I made a garden. I sowed, hoed and weeded my way through the spring and summer and now we are starting to bring in buckets of produce that must be canned, dried, bagged and stored. It can seem a bit endless at times, but I am anticipating the joy of pulling frozen vegetables out of the freezer mid winter or the sharp tang of currant jam while the snow falls. It’s what keeps me going when my feet, back and every other muscle I have hurts, complains and generally acts like a big baby. It’s work I could avoid, yet it’s work that needs doing. Perhaps I can sum it up by saying I don’t always enjoy canning but I enjoy having canned.
Yesterday, while I picked tomatoes, the boys picked marrows (overgrown zucchini) from the summer squash bed. They were delighted with themselves and generally acted as though they had discovered buried treasure with each one. They stacked them like logs and said things like “Look at this badboy!” whenever they dragged another hugely striped squash out onto the gravel that now surrounds the beds so neatly. Many of the squash will go to feeding animals, giving pigs and chickens a welcome treat. But the real gift is when I remember sitting on the front step with the seed packet in my hand wondering if it was a bit late to get them started, I decided not and in they went. A few months, some weeding, watering and loving care later and there is a pile of 16 marrows basking in the sunshine. I don’t know if that’s a metaphor for something or not, but it seems like a very good use of my time.
This week I’ve processed a couple of buckets of tomatoes (9 jars in the pantry thank you) and our second bucket of elderberries from the trees we planted 3 years ago. Last year I got a small jar of berries, this year it’s been 2 buckets full. They are currently drying in my new (to me) snazzy dehydrator that I bought from a very nice lady earlier in the year. I was nervous about such a big purchase but even Stephen has commented on how much it is being used. Sage and calendula, mint, lemon balm, berries and leaves have all found their way onto those screens and into jars. My pantry is slowly beginning to fill again, with food and medicine from our own gardens, from the land around us; we are doing our best to make the most of what we have and build what needs to be built.
It hasn’t been the season I had imagined it would be, it hasn’t been what I expected. But I think it’s been what it had to be, a foundation year that will allow us to build a future. In the meantime I’m enjoying the chance to breath again now that the hottest of the weather has broken and I’m trying to make sure that every day isn’t too full as we enjoy that last weeks of a long hot summer. I think it will be one we remember for a good while.