All the delightful responses to my column the week before last about favorite farm and garden chores reflected a fact about farming that needs to be repeated over and over again. Producing food is not a job or a business but a calling. Only some of us are attracted to it. Only some of us can really enjoy the physical work involved. From now on when I hear how I romanticize farming too much and don’t tell readers how difficult farm work can be, I will just show them your responses. For us, repulsive is commuting through traffic jams and sitting in offices all day. Even hauling manure is better than that.
Several of you, particularly Jim Henslee said every farm activity, as it comes along through the year, is your favorite. Rick Presley likes to prune orchards. Raking hay is Gary Burnett’s favorite. One of mine too. Dancinghairwoman likes to burn brush in the spring. Me too again. Brian L likes to harrow a freshly disked field, another of my favorites. Amos Turtle likes watching the yellow ears of corn being carried by the elevator chain on the picker up into the gravity box. Reminds me of a story. A neighbor once confessed to me that the first time he harvested corn with a picker-sheller and watched the golden grain funnel effortlessly into the combine bin, he broke out crying, remembering the grueling work of harvesting corn by hand. I guess I would have to say that my worst job was hearting out a big field of corn in August and husking it in January, but when I did only a few acres this way, in the fall, the work was quite satisfying, especially when the kids and grandkids came to help. Hotrodinwi’s favorite farm activity is watching the cows frolic in the pasture the first time they are let out in the spring after being penned in the barn all winter. That is an extremely pleasurable time for every farmer. Marsha aka Homegrown is always pleased to see vegetables from last year volunteer in spring. We have a lettuce doing that this year, especially mysterious because it volunteered last year out of nowhere. We don’t know what variety it is, if any. Beth Greenwood enjoys keeping an eye out in spring for the wildflowers as they first come into bloom. This is one of our special pleasures too, starting as early as February with snowdrops and winter aconite and then proceeding, one after another from Grecian windflower, crocuses, daffodils, grape hyacinth, hepatica, bloodroot, purple cress, rue anemone, spring beauties, purple. white and yellow violets, cut-leaf toothwort, white and red trilliums, Jacob’s ladder, trout lilies, tiger lilies, waterleaf, forget-me-nots, bluebells, wild geranium, Deptford pink, and fortunately for all of you, I can’t remember the names of quite a few more so I have to quit showing off.
I must confess I don’t know anything about imprinting foals, Jason Rutledge’s favorite activity. Clue me in, Jason. I don’t know much about leveling land with a laser guided blade, daddio7’s favorite either. Chris likes to put up new fence. I like to admire new fence but not too keen about building it. Finishing and covering next winter’s supply of stove wood is Jerry Pituch’s favorite chore, also extremely gratifying to me. But I know boys who grew up having to spend cold days cutting wood, who hate the job. I think it might come down to having a kind father or a cruel one bossing the job.
The general joy that shows through all the responses is so encouraging to me as I try to convince people that farming really is fun for some of us, at least more fun than any other line of work. Brian’s declaration that making hay by hand, cutting it with a scythe, raking and drying it in small amounts is indeed amazing. I have done it as he describes and it is hard, sweaty work. I never got the hang of it with the scythe, Brian, but cutting stiff-stalked dry wheat was easy enough. I think that making very high quality legume hay is the secret to successful, small scale farming because that kind of hay is the perfect food for all farm animals and costs little to produce if done as you do it. Even chickens thrive on good clover hay and need little or no other kind of feed except grazing. But I finally had to start cutting hay with a sickle bar mower and then a rotary mower. Actually, small amounts can be done with a lawn mower. Raking by hand, even with just a lawn rake, is slow but doable and the gentleness keeps the precious leaves on the stems. Over the years, one learns little tricks and details no one seems to know, which adds to the fun. For instance, ladino clover though it does not produce as much as red clover or alfalfa, is fine-stemmed and dries fast and the entire stem is good hay. Sometimes you can make it the same day you cut it and very few of the nutrients leach away. Little things like that, which non-farmers and beginning farmers might not appreciate, make the hard work enjoyable. But I don’t know how to convince people who don’t seem to have a calling for it, how deeply satisfying it can be when you bring together various natural activities and turn a piece of land into a wonderfully artful and sustainable place to live.