For the past 23 years, our farm dogs have been Labrador Retrievers. First was Spike, a black lab, who was such a hit with our Christmas tree customers that many said they actually came back year after year to visit Spike and the Christmas tree was a bonus. After Spike, Buddy, our chocolate lab, came into our life. In his early years he was everyone’s dog, riding in the trucks, supervising the work in the shop, lounging on the apron of the shop at the first hint of spring, and nudging hands onto his head for ear rubs. As he got older he preferred the shade of the porch or, even better, the air conditioning vent in the summer. After 13 ½ years, we had to say goodbye to him. A year later, we were missing that special companionship that a dog provides. Our life changed when we brought home a squirmy little puppy in December.
Nellie when she first came home….she’s much larger now!
Little Nellie is beautiful bundle of energy. She is a yellow lab, a visual reminder that she will have her own distinctive personality, separate from Spike and Buddy. It has been over 14 years since we last dealt with a puppy. We are once again surprised at her razor sharp baby teeth, her curious nature, and the amount of time and energy it takes to raise a puppy. Nellie has been with us for a little over two months now. At this point, her favorite activity is counter surfing. Sometimes I wonder if she is asking, “What is this word ‘off’ and why do you like it so much?” In many ways, she is much like an overtired, obstinate two year old with a huge reserve of persistence. We work to keep her occupied with training, chew toys, and frequent naps.
Despite the change in our carefree lifestyle, Nellie has wormed her way into our hearts. When she’s tired, her favorite place to sleep is with her head on our feet. We’re not sure if this is a lab thing, or if she is channeling Buddy. We like to think he is giving her tips on how to be the perfect puppy for his ‘people.’ I just wish he’d tell her to stop chewing my slippers, and jumping up!
I woke this week to the promise of spring. Despite the frost on the grass, it looked like spring. With blue skies, sun warming my office it also feels like spring.
My yard is also buying into this vision of spring with crocuses popping through in my flower beds and some anxious perennials putting up tender green sprouts. I’d like to tell them to wait; Mother Nature is just playing with you. The forecast for next week is possible snow! My wiser perennials are still tucked safely in the ground waiting for the real spring to arrive.
Since it is still February, I know this is simply a spring tease, something Mother Nature likes to do to remind farmers that spring work is not far behind. If this beautiful weather lasts a week or so, farmers will be gazing longingly at their fields. Some may take the bait and try to work ground. They will most likely regret it, especially if they are in a tractor that is mired in mud. The time that it will take to wait for the ground to settle up and dry enough to release the tractor will be excruciating. If the tractor is near the road where everyone can see it, it’s even worse. Having your misery announces to the world is never fun.
The tractors, cultivator, drill, and sprayer have all been serviced and adjusted, ready for work. They sit in the sheds and grass longing to head out and get some real work done. But, like the farmer, they need to wait. Timing is critical to crops, and sometimes waiting for the right time isn’t easy, but it will always pay off.
So, to my farmer and all those others who see the potential of spring. Wait… wait until the time is right. Your loved ones don’t want to deal with a cranky farmer whose tractor is held prisoner by a field.
Harvesting wheat on the Homeplace.
Today was the last day of an unusual harvest. We have never been completely done with harvest by August 21. Most years we start our 5-6 week harvest around August 10th. This year we began harvesting winter peas on July 23rd. Despite the early start and just four weeks of harvest, it seemed to drag on this year. According to the calendar, we are nowhere near time to finish harvest. Somehow, the fact that we were rolling through the fields didn’t register in our brains. It still felt like we should have a long way to go before we finished.
All of our combines working together during wheat harvest.
The exceptionally hot June and July with little to no rain meant our spring crops didn’t have the moisture they needed to produce average yields. The lack of June rains also reduced our fall wheat yield. Since we have been farming for 40 years, we understand the rhythm of farming. Some years are wonderful, some are not. We have seen fluctuations like this in the past. One year will be a drought and the next will bring too much rain. We’ll just have to wait and see what the next year brings.
The end of harvest signals the beginning of a new crop year. We had one employee out working ground to prepare it for fall seeding right after the field was harvested. This forward looking attitude helps us keep the fluctuations of yield and market prices in perspective. If nothing else, most farmers are an optimistic bunch. They are always looking forward to the next crop year, its potential, and how to best use their resources to deliver the best crop possible given the conditions that Mother Nature provides.
The conversation around our field dinner last night revolved around plans for fall seeding and, ideas for different crops. As the combines head back to the shop, the attention has already shifted to the new year.
Getting ready to head back to the shop after harvesting the last field of the year.
Every year in February we get a few weeks of beautiful weather. This year the crocuses are blooming, the sun is shining, and the temperatures are pleasant. The problem with all of this is that it is the end of February. So despite the fact that many of the area farmers have kicked their preparations for spring work into high gear, I’m not convinced that spring is here.
I don’t think there has been a year when we haven’t had some type of variation of this pattern. A week ago we had dreary skies and fog. This past week it was all sunshine and great walking temperatures. Usually when we experience weather like this, one person in this house is convinced we are going to have an early spring. I am not that person. It is understandable; after all, farmers don’t like to be cooped up in the house. They like to be in the field doing ‘real work.’ The fact that we have been doing farm related book work for the past three months, somehow doesn’t count as ‘real work.’ Heck, he’s a farmer, he likes to get his hands (and clothes) dirty! And if he’s not dirty, he’s not working.
Most of our machinery is ready for spring work. While this is good, it also plays into the delusion that spring work …COULD START AT ANY MINUTE!!! Never mind that the fields are saturated, and that all of the field roads are impassable. Anyone who ventures out in the field now won’t get very far before sinking to the axels in mud. You Tube is full of pictures of those who simply couldn’t wait until the fields were dry. While they are entertaining to look at, it is not fun for those involved. Having a tractor or sprayer in the mud tends to turn otherwise agreeable farmers into grumpy farmers.
The general rule of thumb that I was taught when I moved to the farm was that any spring work that is completed before Easter will have to be done over. This year Easter is on April 5th. April 5th is also our 40th wedding anniversary. The year we got married, one of Bruce’s uncles and several of the neighboring farmers assured me that there was no way they would be at the wedding. Spring work would be in full swing and they just couldn’t travel across the state during a work season. Well, on April 5th, 1975 they were all sitting in a church 300 miles from the farms and didn’t actually get into the fields until the last week of April that year. So much for early springs!
Now, I’d be the first to admit that I could be wrong. Every now and then Mother Nature throws us a curve ball. I think she just likes to remind everyone that she’s actually in charge…those on the east coast who are digging their way out of five feet of snow can probably attest to this fact. So, who knows, maybe we will be done with spring work before May.
View from the Homeplace touches on a variety of topics including writing for children, country and farm life, and some musings about life in general along the way. Pull up a chair, grab your cup of tea or coffee and join me
Sunrise on the farm