Sunday, March 22, 2009

Today's Feast and Some Thoughts on Farming

St. Isidore the Farmer

Prayer to St. Isidore

O tiller of the soil, dear St. Isidore, it is said that while you labored in the field, "your hand was on the plow but your heart was ever blessed with the thought of God." Now that you are with our Lord in Heaven, ask Him to give us the grace to become accustomed to offer our daily toil to Him; ask Him to bless our land and our home and our harvest; ask Him to bless us in time and in eternity. Amen.

100 Things We Learned the Hard Way

The Farming Edition
Let it be known...

We are hobby farmers, at best. We've never made any money with our operation, but we have raised a menagerie of different farm animals and had gardens of varying sizes over the last twenty years. In that time, with the help of good St. Isidore, we've enriched our diets with healthful homeraised food and stock, we've strengthened our bodies, deepened our tans, and we've learned a few things.

Such as:

81. Not everyone can grow everything. We can't grow peach trees out here on the high prairie; it's not possible. And, no matter how hard I try, I can't grow the big beautiful aloe vera plant that I envy at my friend's house. Yes, I know, everyone should be able to grow aloe veras, but I can't. It's ok. I accept it as a personal weakness.

82. Carrots really do Love Tomatoes and Roses really do Love Garlic. We've used companion planting for most of our gardening lives and can vouch for its effectiveness. There really are lots of benefits, but one of the best little tricks we've found is to plant dill just out of reach of your tomato plants. Hornworms can't resist dill and will hang out in its branches instead of on the tomatoes. There should be something like dill that would work the same way for door-to-door solicitors.

83. Let your chickens into the garden to clear out the bugs before and after planting, but don't trust them when there's anything growing there. Chickens will eat anything. Seriously. They are pigs.

84. On the subject of pigs, let me just say this: Pigs are stupid. I dont' care what they say about pigs being intelligent. Those trick pigs you see on the Animal Channel -- it's all done with mirrors. Trust me. They're stupid. Pigs will eat concrete. Pigs will roll over their own suckling offspring. Pigs will go everywhere you don't want them and will not go where you do want them. Pigs have small eyes and dirty noses and they stink. Pigs are good for bacon and little else. (Sorry, Miss Piggy. And sorry, Cathy... My mind is made up on this one.)

85. Cows are very interesting, very social, but very frustrating animals. Our first cow experience was with a beautiful black angus that we got for a deal as a bucket calf and raised up to its full half-ton adulthood. She had the most beautiful almond-shaped, shining black eyes, and long lashes. Her coat was black velvet. We named her Victoria. And we loved her; she was like a big dog and loved to follow us around, which was great until she grew up. After her babyhood was over, Victoria had to leave the companionable confines of the corral and moved out to the front-ten pasture, where the children didn't come to visit her as often. So, she solved that problem by jumping over the fence to come play with them. Not a good thing. She ate my plants and stepped on the children's feet. It's a miracle nobody got broken toes. Or worse!

After she ate the salad garden and started in on the lilacs, we added a fourth wire on the barbed-wire fence, but she jumped that, too. Her back hooves didn't even touch the top wire as she sailed over it. She trotted up and down the driveway, she nibbled my rose bushes down to a nub, and one day, while exploring the back thirty acres, she caught wind of the cattle at a neighboring ranch and went a-visiting. This changed Victoria's life. No longer did she think she was just another child of the family; she knew she was a cow, and she wanted to be where she could hobnob with her own kind. She had stumbled upon her niche and was a happy cow.

We didn't know where she was, though, and were worried that she might be holding up traffic somewhere, so we sent out the search parties. Eventually we found her, apologized to our neighbor, and drove over with the truck and trailer to haul her back.

But, now that she knew where the real action was, she was a determined woman ( I mean heifer), and she wasted no time. She jumped the fence again. We hauled her back again. We gave her a stern warning, too, but that same afternoon, she jumped over again, snorting over her shoulder at us as she hightailed it east once more. We had too many small children at that time to electrify the fence and we'd already topped our fenceposts. Short of tethering her, there was nothing else we could do. We knew we were beat -- so we sold her to our neighbor. It was for the best. You have to imagine there was no way her original purpose in our life (namely to stock our freezer) was going to be accomplished, anyway. You can't eat steak that used to be named Victoria.

86. Absolutely nothing takes the place of a good farm dog. What they do can't be taught or trained, it's an instinct that's honed with time and experience. Seriously, I believe they're a gift from God, born to watch over a farmer and his interests.

A good one:

* knows the difference between the meter man and an intruder; he might bark to announce the first, but will corner the second before he gets into the barnyard.
* chases the rabbits out of the gardens but doesn't eat the chickens.
* lets the children hang all over him, but knows the difference between a real threat to the children and an uncle just tousling with them.
* does his duty (iykwim) well outside of daily foot traffic.
* fetches a ball or a stick for everyone's entertainment.
* waits at the top of the driveway for the family to come home from outings and walks the car up to the house to greet everyone.
* doesn't dig holes or chew hoses or wander off-property because he's too busy taking care of his farm.
* loves and obeys unquestioningly.

(This describes Anthony, the dear farm dog that Bella is replacing. Bella is about half way to living up to his high standards. But she's only a year old. We know she'll be awesome as time goes on.)

87. Farm cats are essential, too, but you can't get too attached to them. They disappear and noone ever knows what happens to them. We do name our barn cats, and are sad when they vanish, but it doesn't devastate us. We accept that they've either adopted a new farm to work for or have contributed to the nutrition of a neighborhood fox or coyote. It's the natural cycle of life. I know there are animal lovers out there who would blanche at the mortality rate of these cats, and would think country folks are cruel and heartless in our acceptance of it. But, there it is. Farm cats are here to keep the mice and snakes down and they do a wonderful job of it. We make sure they are fed, watered, and cared for, but they're not pets; they're independent contractors who work a risky job with good benefits but no insurance.

88. Almost anything on a farm can be fixed with wire and bolt cutters. Or duct tape.

89. Unless you are very firm, if you live on more than five acres, you'll find yourself storing the extra boats, RVs, cars, cats, and dogs of half the people you know.

90. Farming is all about dirt. Dirt and mud. Dirt and mud and thousands of little bits of hay. Make that millions of bits of hay. This is how it has always been and how it will always be. (You didn't just hear that sigh, did you?)


Anne said...

Lisa, cows are so funny! They do things like that..They are so smart! Have you ever seen a cow give birth? Truely amazing..Just like a woman...Mary and I knew exactly where she was in her labor because we'd been there..
Companion planting...Going to do that this year..Beans and peas with corn for sure..Not sure what else yet..On my list to research..
Cats. Mary just lost another one..No idea where she went, or if she became part of the food chain..

Kim H. said...

Okay, that was a wonderful post -- so full of interesting tidpits. I've never heard of the companion gardening thing -- that's just because I live under a rock -- but I'm SO CHECKING IT OUT!!!

And in surburia you can pretty much fix anything with duct tape too! West Virginia chrome as we like to call it.


MightyMom said...

I need the patron saint of sewing dresses to come and tap me on the shoulder....or upside the head so I can get this Easter dress done BEFORE Easter!! Otherwise I'm gonna be wearing JEANS to my confirmation/first communion!!!!

ps, do you grow cucumbers and make pickles? I have great memories of Grandma doing that. my stepmom still uses her recipe! mmm mmmm good!

Heather Jaracz said...

Wow! I'm not sure how you keep your composure when a cow eats all your landscaping! We're getting 2 beehives and 2 pigs this spring (first time for both), we're planning a bigger garden this year, and by the way our fourth baby is due in May! I'll sure have some fun stories to share! Thanks for the post, I love your blog. St. Isadore, pray for us!

Bia said...

two thoughts:

1. i think you don't like pigs
2. you had a nursery rhyme cow . . . you know, the one that jumped over the moon!

okay, a third thought:
3. i always admire people who can grow a garden and raise animals . . . i am clueless on both