Your Favorite Farm Or Garden Job?



That’s an easy one for me— burning off the asparagus patch in the early spring. Just something about lighting up the new growing year. After so long staring out the windows at one snowfall after another, we can finally go outdoors and not have the wind freeze our faces. And it takes a bit of knowhow. We wait for the perfect morning. There needs to be a slight breeze, enough to blow the fire briskly over the bed, but not brisk enough to blow sparks into the woods. The dead asparagus stems need to be dry enough to burn readily and completely. We light the dead foliage at one end of the patch and carry burning stems with forks, dribbling fire down the row. Something satisfying about how the fire does all the work while we lean on our forks, or sit in lawn chairs, keeping watchful eyes so no little errant flame sneaks out into the leaves and dead grass bordering the patch. And there are no bugs. The result is not only that many asparagus beetle eggs are destroyed, but the fire leaves a nice black covering on the patch to soak up sunlight warmth and make the new shoots come up a little quicker.

My next favorite job is frost seeding red clover with a hand-cranked seeder slung over my shoulder. Folklore says to sow clover on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, which is usually about the right time here in northern Ohio. The clover seeds fall into the little crevices of frozen surface and when the soil thaws, it flows just a tiny bit over the seeds. I specify red clover because in my experience, it sprouts from frost seeding better than other legumes. For the perfect morning for sowing, the air should be still because wind might blow the seed beyond the swath I am presently planting. Invariably, cardinals have taken up their spring song and their music accompanies me as I stride back and forth across the field at a measured pace. Sometimes it seems like I am marching in time with their melodies. Like burning off the asparagus patch, the work inspires joy because it heralds the coming of spring.

Another favorite job is working ground with tractor and disk ahead of corn planting. Driving in this situation doesn’t require much attention. If I inadvertently weave a little off course and go over a bit of the same soil twice or miss a bit, doesn’t matter. I can always get the missed places later. My eyes more often are focused on possibly finding a flint arrowhead on the ground surface. I can let my mind wander far and wide. The woodlots on the horizon, now tender green with new growth, look so heavenly and I imagine morel mushrooms there, just waiting for me to find them. The beauty of the landscape often inspires me to sing. The tractor’s noise blots out the jagged edges of my voice and to my ears I sound quite operatic.

Our whole family likes to sing on the tractor when we think no one can hear us. Mom’s favorite story was about how she was blasting away while she was plowing one day. She noticed that Ade and Raymond, brothers who farmed next to us, had stopped work and were leaning on the fence between their land and ours, watching her intently. She thought it was her singing that was mystifying them and, embarrassed, she stopped abruptly. But they kept on watching her. She reached the end of the field and as she turned, she realized that she had lost the plow back a ways. It had hit a rock and automatically come uncoupled from the tractor, probably right at a dramatic crescendo in her performance so captivating to her that she did not notice. Ade and Raymond were practically dancing a jig, laughing, as she retrieved the plow.

Another favorite job for me is splitting firewood, but only under the proper circumstances. It has to be a warmish day in late fall or late winter (no snow). And the wood has to be chunks that part easily with an eight pound splitting maul. Right now, we have plenty of dead white ash trees from the ash borer and the ones that had grown to about a 15 inch diameter among the bigger trees are straight and tall and limbless. No knots. After they are cut into proper lengths for stove wood, makes me feel like a superman to smack these chunks in half with one blow and then whacking each half in two with two more swings. Three whacks equal four pieces. Then I rest and study the woods for nuthatches, squirrels, or deer. Once I saw a mink in broad daylight. Then three more whacks equals four more pieces. I stack them. Stacked wood is more soothing to look at than money in the bank. Then I rest again. Twenty four whacks later and I have enough wood to heat the house for a whole day. And what’s this? A honeybee, taking advantage of the thawing warmth, alights on a nearby maple oozing sap from a scrape, and enjoys a sip. Must be time for me to go to the house for a sip myself.


Very nice Jan!
I fantasize about getting together with the local Amish, an entire platoon (40 men) going from farm to farm, scything fields, raking, and piling loose hay into barns.
When the work is done, everyone sits down for a meal together. Real community builder.
Beginning to think I was born in the wrong century eh?

But I have gotten 90 days of my bagged hay to feed them!

Having maintained an acre of hay by scythe, I’m impressed!

I fantasized about marketing it to horse owners: “Hand-cut hay for the pampered pet!” But my goats ate it all before I could try that.

I have your book Small-Scale Grain Raising. There is a picture (I am assuming you) scything wheat.
I said to myself,
“I can do that!”
And so I did! I bought a scythe with a grass blade (actually I have a medium and large grass blades and a short brush blade), a whetstone, even the tree stump mounted anvil and hammer to peen the blade.
So, making hay is one of my favorite jobs! The rhythm of swinging the scythe, sharpening the blade, raking the hay into windrows, and turning them over.
The bagging of the hay into old used feed bags is the one part I am not crazy about.
But when I see the grass has that blueish green tint, and rustles as I bag it, I get a sense of satisfaction and pride.
I need 400 55lbs square bales to get all my livestock through the winter. Cannot do it all using just a scythe and manpower. But I have gotten 90 days of my bagged hay to feed them! Not bad for one guy with a scythe, a rake and 3 days! And I think my hay is a lot better quality then the stuff I buy or see going down the road. Hay making seems to have become a lost art.
My Amish neighbors think I am nutz. That is ok, I dont mind! 😉

Think back to when you first bought your place did you keep doing everything just like the previous owner?

You’re right, of course.

Our present situation had been gussied up by a developer for a weekend place for city folk to have a few horses and such. We took down several thousand dollars worth of 2×6 horse fence and replaced it with page wire deer fence. The 2×6 lumber became trusses for a new outbuilding, greenhouse ends, and greenhouse table legs.

But you can’t eat fences. I’ve had people tell me we should get rid of the dozen or so 135-year-old pear trees that the first settler in the valley thoughtfully provided us. The “country weekend retreat” developer we bought from cut the feeder roots on four of them, putting in a poorly-sited driveway, a rock wall, and lawn irrigation, and those four trees are now dying on one side, which will soon spread to the rest of the tree once fungus and insects move in.

But we and our goats and chickens got over a thousand pounds of pears off the survivors, and we took in over a thousand dollars from pear butter and pear-jalapeño preserves last year, and we’ve got fifty gallons of perry aging.

I don’t think I have the moral right to kill a fruit tree over twice as old as I am. As Tim said, “Shaking my head” in disbelief.

There are things you change, and things you’re foolish to change. Humanity doesn’t have a good track record with figuring out the difference.

On my place the barn was bulldozed so long ago that when I tried to find the farm on areoll photos, there was just the small block house and the photographer thought it was part of the neighboring farm.No tile drainage,fences fallen down and where trees and fences were bulldozed the pile still standing.Most farms in this country were not a part of anything until the goverment drew up deeds and territories and sold or gave the land to settlers.I dont think all of it was parts of bigger farms. Although in recent years small farms became parts of big farms and now are going back the other way.But I agree on the suburbanites especially . Their homes were once the frontage of fields and some bought the whole field Due to wanting privacy or local land constraints. THose here were to try to slow down the rapid development.

Think back to when you first bought your place did you keep doing everything just like the previous
owner? We all have our own dreams and ways of doing things.The people that have moved into my area in the last 20 years are always the first to complain about a piece of land being broke up into lots but they never consider that the place they live was once a bigger piece of land too.

New owners often like to show off their new found power by doing the dumbest shit ever! I remember in Countryside magazine years ago J.D. Belanger sold his farm for a smaller place and talked about seeing the new owner ripping out fruit trees and fences so it could be one large field.I hate going out to the township where i once lived and seeing where the picturesc farm I once worked on sprouting mc mansions like so may plastic toad stools. I farm where i first learned of Louis Bromfield and Malabar Farm and became so intrigued by it that I ended up going there on my old 1977 Honda 750 motorcycle two years in a row on my vacation from the farm i was working on . I would like to get some pawpaw trees from the woods i used to pick them from sometime. All the building have been bulldozed and houses with the soul of a Holiday Inn fill the fields where we once raised the 1973 indiana state fair Aberdeen Angus bull and baled tons of hay. Even worse than that is the loss of the people who lived and worked there. I miss them most of all.Hap,George,Howard and Troy. RIP

Kills me that the new owner of our home farm tore out most of the fences and bulldozed the concrete feeding floor,metal corn crib and my old pull together hog building. Shaking my head.

We sold a place where we had painstakingly built brush berms and inoculated them with oyster mushroom spore. I proudly told the realtor that there would be a cash crop soon!

After the sale, the realtor called and asked if I’d be willing to meet the new owner and tell them about fruit trees and other perennials and garden beds and such.

“How’r the mushrooms doing?” I asked. “Oh, that?” the new owner pointed to a big pile of smouldering ash — he had hired a bobcat and pushed them all up into a pile and torched them!

I agree.We had two kinds of fence on our place. Standard woven wire attached to 3-3+1/2 inch cedar posts painted white and a 5 board fence with 2 boards on the bottom then a big X ,and then another top board.Dont know if i have any pics but the fences really made the place a show place. Plus it was nice to not have to worry about sheep and pigs getting out.I had 3 pigs who would get out. follow the same path to where the old fence was down and would come back up the drive leaning against each other like 3 drunks coming home from a night on the town.Nothing like a well made fence to keep you from having to worry about loose animals.Why anyone would tear out a fence and not replace it to me is ludicris . Good fences make good neighbors and more importantly a good safe sound sleep at nights.Unless you have coon hunters in your area . Then I always had to keep fence repair tools and fence at hand.Kills me that the new owner of our home farm tore out most of the fences and bulldozed the concrete feeding floor,metal corn crib and my old pull together hog building. Shaking my head.

Believe it or not, the most satisfying job I have on my farm is building fence. Most jobs on the farm are repetitive. Every day, every week, every season, every year you end up doing the same thing. You can get a feeling of accomplishment, but you just have to do it all over again later, and again, and again. A well-engineered fence, taut and straight, is a beautiful thing, as pleasing to the eye (to me) as a suspension bridge or a Frank Lloyd Wright building. For another type of fence, nothing adds appeal to a homestead as a nicely weathered 4-plank wood fence, curving up the drive and following the rise and fall of the ground. It puts the builders imprimatur on the land without offending the eye. And if well-built, I don’t have to build another one for 20 years!

@ dancinghairwoman: Yep, it seems there was always a never ending pile of stuff to burn at the end of each and every season. Fall is my favorite time of year, but it is always too short. I also love winter because it’s lazier and quieter. I’m so tired of noise pollution now that we don’t live on the ranch anymore but live in a semi-large city. Lately there have been planes and helicopters flying all over the place and we can hear gunfire from the rifle range just over the hill from our home. We have a large national guard unit here and also an airbase about 8 miles outside of town, so we have no shortage of idiocy going on all the time. Seems all these folks know how to do is waste bullets and fuel. To what purpose? They’d accomplish a lot more for mankind if they’d use their energy to produce decent food and properly raised animals than practicing how to kill their fellow man. Ah well, I guess peace would be too boring for them.

Reminiscing about childhood chores and activities has been interesting. Thank you, Gene, for providing the opportunity to share our memories.

Gene, This reminds me of that old book by Gene Stratton-Porter – Laddie. In fact, much of what she writes in this book (some of her others are a little out there) is reminiscent of your writing. Thanks for continuing to keep us posted on your world

I know what you mean. Watching the corn go thru the picker up the elevator and into the wagon. I had one david bradley wagon with a fold down bed that when from being a sort of gravity bed to a hay wagon., But my favorite was my grandfathers dearborn wagon with a home made bed on it 7×14 on the inside,Red running gear and bed with green wooden sides on it.With fresh picked ear corn was beautiful. But so was shoveling or dumping the corn into an elevator or directly into a crib.Watching the pile of ear corn growing in the wooden or metal crib.But my favorite part is when i used my granfathers red and green wagon to open up a field ban hand. I might only cover the floor a few ears deep all around except for the pile in the middle,but that beautiful wagon with that ear corn in it to me gave me more satisfaction than money in the bank would. To me ,it made me feel more secure than money even though it was only a few bushels of corn and not worth much money. I used to raise pigs and hope to go back to it in the future too.

There are many favorites for a person who loves the outdoors, but for me, in our land of very cold and snowy winters, is when I finish stacking and covering next winter’s firewood. Only then can I concern myself fully to the garden and all that spring has to be done. When I was working, it was always a series of scattered efforts to cover all that needed to be done in the spring, but since I have been retired I have found joy in tackling one specific task at a time, seeing it to completion and moving to the next. I guess that the greatest gift is time to do what needs to be done and to do it correctly.

Sundancer, we burn in the fall too! Fall is my favorite time of year. Harvesting the last of the garden and putting it to bed….pure heaven.
Every time we burn I think it will be the last time. We scrounge up every last piece of burnable material on the place. It never ceases to amaze me how it accumulates for the next time.
The only difference between our spring and fall burning is our choice of beverage….in the fall we go for the schnapps and brandy! lol

So enjoyable to read about all your lives and loves. Thanks for sharing everybody. Gene, this has to be one of my favorite posts. Thanks and Happy Spring!

I can’t hardly pick one thing. Watching the lovage come back, putting sawdust down the garden paths… seeing volunteers come up from last year’s crop… the first wren scolding my cat who’s wandering around and rolling in the catnip plants and getting ‘kitty stoned’… reading Gene L’s posts about spring 🙂 Thanks again.

Like Tim, I love almost everything (although hauling hay might not make it on my favorites list any more now that I’m closer to 70 than 60) but birthing time is probably my top favorite: calves, colts, lambs, piglets, chicks and the various wildlings. And while it’s not technically a ranch chore, keeping an eye out for the first of whatever wildflowers. Right now, the small Mariposa lilies are blooming — the little purple/white and yellow ones affectionately known as pussy ears — and the wild lilac is just about to pop. A little farther down the hill it’s the wild onion and garlic, hyacinths and larkspur (my favorite color in a wildflower, that deep midnight blue/purple).

My favorite springtime chore or job is whatever needs doing next. But imprinting foals is about the most fun that comes to mind. Cradling and whispering whoa when they relax to the embrace. Dancing dose e doe, pulling their little chins toward me and pushing the butts away. They remember it for life.

You’re right nothing cuter than a baby goat,I’ve had about 30 does kid in the last 2 weeks so I have lots of entertainment.One of the neatest things is how the kids will all hang around
with the Great Pyrenees guard dog thats in their field.

No doubt: kidding season! Something about seeing new life plop into the world, drying them off, helping them find the teat, even occasionally bottle feeding when the dam is not producing or has some mishap.

We’ve got one in the “boingy stage” right now — after about a week and a half, they seem to develop springs in their legs and are ADORABLE!

Watching the cows frolick in the new pasture after a winter cooped up in the loafing barn. Tails and hoofs in the air like teenagers for awhile, then settling down to munching grass. The return of the barn swallows, on or about April 20th.
Cutting selected trees for lumber and firewood for the future.
Working the garden for the first time.
Watching the new calves running.
Driving Case tractors and defying the manufacturers of new machinery much access to my hard earned money.

Picking corn in the fall, watching the yellow ears going up the picker elevator into the gravity box. Cleaning the pig pens, lots of messy shovel work but a sense of acomplishment when the pens are clean and pigs rebeded. Playing midwife to the cows when they calve, a real sense of joy when the little bugger shakes its head and takes a breath.

Very picturesque! I quite enjoying harrowing a freshly disced field. Still early enough in the season the bugs aren’t out in force, the pull is an easy one for my team of mules who think we’re out for a stroll rather than a day of work, and it’s a quiet time to watch and listen to the world around me.

Y’all made me think some more on my favorite chore. I like it all from spreading manure.plowing,discing,planting,rotary hoeing,cultivating and picking or combining.I loved doing it on my farm for myself. Bouncing over dead furrows,etc in a 155 hp tractor or trying to cultivate with those huge front tires was a night mare.between that and falling from a ladder is why my bad is so bad now. Mowing hay,raking and baling with my wd allis and D 17 allis is pretty enjoyable. I still think sometime down the road after I have the D17 rebuilt i am going to custom fit a cab on it. Nothing like baling hay miles from home and a sudden summer pop up shower drench you.But planting the garden,pruning the orchard,Letting lambs out with the ewes on pasture. First bluegill of the year or bream to those down south.In my later years i’ve learn to appreciate morel mushrooms fried in butter, so i hunt a small patch i know of.Sometimes just walking over the fields and getting equipment ready to go.Now there is trees blooming, i need to find a good spray for the orchard. I missed the first one because i couldnt find the stuff we used to use on it. Planting flowers for my mom and for sister who lives next door.Selecting which varieties to plant.I’ll have to go with 1. plowing 2. planting 3. picking ear corn. I would have went with picking ear corn but by then i have an idea of how the crop and the year is going to turn out. Plowing and planting the future is still in front of me. Getting older ,55, and closer to my own harvest there can be something depressing in knowing my own in growing near and wondering how many more i’ll have. But plowing and planting I’m back to being a kid again who can still walk more than 75 feet at a time and can stilll run.

Favorite job is raking hay with my old David Brown 780 tractor hooked to the New Holland side delivery rake.The tractor has a canopy on it so I’m in the shade,and like disking, raking
doesn’t require a whole lot of attention so there is plenty of time to enjoy the mountains around here and watch the Barn Swallows that come and follow me as I kick up grasshoppers and other insects for them to eat.Fellows that have these new wheel rakes that have to be run in high gear to work miss out on a whole lot of interesting things,except the groundhog holes of course(LOL).

Growing spring potatoes in north Florida we finished harvesting in June and planted a sorghum sudangrass hybrid as a cover crop. In September that riot of 10 ft tall growth had to be knocked down. For the first ten years I farmed that was pure hell. Driving an open platform tractor you where exposed to sweltering heat, itching chaff, and bugs. Having an assassin bug stab your neck will get your attention. In 1981 we got a John Deere 4440 with a cab. Chopping down cover crop than became my favorite thing. After two months of working under the barn in the summer heat I got to spend two weeks in cool comfort leaving flat open ground dreaming of big profits with the next crop.

My second most fun thing was leveling fields with a laser guided blade. After 17 years of spinning through boggy low spots we bought a precision leveling system. Pulling a blade full of soil with a pawing four wheel drive tractor and then watching as the blade lifted itself up dropping its load in a hated low spot was endlessly mesmerizing.

@ dancinghairwoman: I agree with your musings except this sounds like our fall activity rather than spring. Yes, kids and grandbabies will share all kinds of stuff they would normally not otherwise say, and they do the cutest things – all the while the adults are sitting there thinking they should be writing this stuff down! As for a nip of smooth whiskey, you’re sure right about that! I like a splash of Bushmills Irish Whiskey (none smoother, IMPO) in my coffee cup when the coffee is almost gone (more fun that way!) and I also like a splash of Red Stag Black Cherry Kentucky Bourbon (Jim Beam makes it) in my coffee cup. We do this rarely, however, and most of the time I don’t even like hard liquor but it sure helps warm the soul on a frosty autumn evening, even if we are sitting by a roaring fire!

My favorite fall activity was whitewashing gramma’s root cellar. When we were done, it was sparkling clean, the shelves were dust free and ready for next year’s canned stuff. I also remember my gramma shoving us kids down into that cellar when a tornado was on the way, which happened several times during my youth, while she still lived on the ranch. She and my Mom always had a huge garden and I can still smell, in that root cellar, the earthy scent of potatoes & dirt in huge burlap bags and the floor piled high with pumpkins and squash of every make and model. Something today’s kids won’t ever have a chance to know about, and isn’t it sad? My oldest granddaughter (she’s 7) said “oh gramma, pumpkins don’t smell like anything” and I said they sure used to. I think unless you’re using heirloom seeds, today’s pumpkins probably don’t have anything but a chemical smell. That’s what they get to remember. How awful.

Gene, you know how to hit the heart of a farmer. All your best chores seem to involve enjoying the outdoors.
My favorite is burning the limbs and yard debri that has accumulated over the winter from wind storms. We have some horrific winds through our little part of the country. It makes a mess and after a day of pruning and repairing the damage we have a pile of good burning material. We haul out the yard table and set it with the potato salad, made that morning just for this purpose and the brots and settle in for an evening of burning.
We share memories when the coals are glowing and talk about the day, the past and the future. Kids say the most marvelous things around a fire. They’ll share secrets you’d never hear otherwise.
Then later while the kids are roasting marshmellows and making s’mores the adults enjoy a little nip of smooth whiskey.

Pruning the orchard is my favorite springtime task. I like the orderliness of lopping all the watersprouts off and the “clean shaven” look of the trees when they’re done. The next favorite is mowing the orchard when the trees are in bloom. The smell of cut grass and rosy odor of apple blossoms is heaven. No wonder Michigan made it their state flower.

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