22nd July 2018
After a slow and cold April, suddenly the warmth came and the snow was gone in just a couple of weeks. We got a great start to the year with a warm and dry spring which meant ploughing and sowing went fast, with virtually no interruptions by the rain.
But what started off as a blessing, soon turned into a curse. We found ourselves wondering when the rain would come. Fortunately we still had the stream so could water continuously with an automatic water sprinkler. This was a life-saver for the garden and the grain fields, but the hayfield was not so lucky. With so little rain, the grass was barely growing, but we always thought to ourselves “the rain must come soon!”.
Well, May turned to June and June turned to July and not only did the grass barely grow, but in some places dried up completely. We have had little more than one day of rain each month, for the whole spring and summer. Nothing but hot sun. Up until a few weeks ago we could still rely on the stream for watering the garden, but now it is virtually dry, with just a few small pools that seem to fill up from the ground. Now, for the first time, water has become a limited resource, and the word drought fallen into daily use.
On the bright side:
- The garden has grown SO fast and germination was almost perfect. We have eaten tomatoes almost every day for the last few weeks (from only two plants!) and everything is going to be ready early. The berries are almost ripe now which is record early for us. In a bad summer we have not picked them until September!
- We changed the roof of our house, so it was great to have dry weather! We also took the opportunity while we had no roof to fill the loft with sawdust for insulation.
- This year we are only milking Audhumbla, so there is not so much pressure to process vast quantities of milk. We will sell Hornfagr hopefully, as a milking cow, before the end of the summer. Audhumbla will have to be slaughtered since we have had alot of problems with mastitis, and her mothering instincts are questionable.
- Haymaking is going at record speed! Partly because the grass is so thin and short of corse, but also because the weather has been excellent for drying hay. We usually use a lot of time on building hayracks and hanging up the grass, but this year we have dried virtually everything on the ground. This also means we have been able to manage with less help, where we would have otherwise struggled.
- Fortunately for us, we had already decided give up the cows. That means we only need about one third of the hay we would need if we wanted to keep them through the winter. So what would otherwise have been a huge crisis, may have very little impact on us. We should still have enough hay to feed the sheep and the horse.
The biggest problem we have now is that we are running out of pasture for the animals. Where we have cut hay, and where they have grazed the grass is just not growing back as it normally would. Instead it’s becoming crispy underfoot. Without rain, soon there will be nothing for them to eat. We will not have enough hay for the winter if we have to start feeding it before October, so we would rather have to send the cows away early and maybe butcher some of the sheep too. Farmers all over northern Europe are also suffering from drought, so there won’t be any possibility to buy hay.
We hope that since we will be finished with haymaking soon we can harvest and dry leaves from the trees, as we have done once before, which will be a valuable extra food source for the animals.
Otherwise, we are happy to see everything ripening early, and hope to finish most of the harvest work before the end of September, when we are expecting our first baby! I consider myself very lucky that I work at home, since it means I can have a more natural slowing down through my pregnancy. And of corse, my belly feels most at home in the garden, with the swelling pumpkins.
Not long after my last entry, the well dried up. Suddenly our only water supply was two tiny pools in the dried-up stream bed. Many times a day I climbed the steep path and siphoned off the precious water, which within minutes was gone. Every time I felt a profound unease as the hose slurped it’s final gulp, leaving nothing but wet rocks. Fortunately it was enough to see us through, but it meant alot of time spent carrying water to the animals and filling up barrels and buckets. Most of the barrels stood in the the farmyard all summer. I dared not use our precious reserves…I dreaded the stream drying up completely and feared for how we would get water for our animals. We watered the garden only with waste water from the house. The soil was bone dry until 15cm down, so the shallow rooted plants like onions really suffered, where most other things seemed to manage.
At the beginning of August the curse was lifted. Two days of heavy rain and the stream was flowing again! Never have I been so happy to hear the sound of running water. The weather has cooled considerably, and it seems to rain every day now. In the mornings there is the delicious smell and golden light of Autumn. Paradoxically, we have never had such lush pasture at this time of year! It is such a relief to see green fields again, but the drought still haunts us like a ghost. The empty well and the scorched patches on the fields are hard to overlook.
15th October 2018
On the 5th October our baby girl was born at Lillehammer hospital. I had planned a home-birth, but things went a different way. We brought her home three days later. It was the most beautiful sunny day with the trees in their full autumn glory. With her she has brought whole new dimensions to our lives: of joy, fear, and cuteness. (I thought cats were the cutest until I met my daughter).
20th October 2018
Sitting here on the brink of winter the drought seems like distant memory. But it certainly won’t be easy to forget. I fear for the future of food production when summers like these can become more frequent. And I worry that many people do not understand just how dependant we all are on agriculture, and thus on the climate. We may need many more wake up calls like these.
The grain harvest was a disaster. The top field was especially thin, and we got maybe one quarter of the normal harvest. The bottom field was not hit quite so hard, since it’s position means it holds moisture a bit better. We may have even got less oats than we sowed, but we won’t know for sure until we have threshed and weighed it. The barley was not that bad, but still a disastrous harvest. If we had actually been dependant on the grain we grow, I’m sure we would be starving by the new year. But of corse we have the luxury of buying food in the supermarkets when our harvest is poor. The upside of it all was that the harvest was extremely early, so we actually got all the grain in before the end of August. (Usually we’re lucky to finish by October.)
In many ways the drought saved us alot of time: it was perfect hay drying weather so we managed to dry almost everything on the ground, thus we finished haymaking considerably early. That meant we had time to harvest and dry leaves for the animals as a food supplement for the winter (lauving). We brought down all the firewood we need for the coming year, fixed various fences. We harvested and stored all the root veg, and we are now finished digging potatoes.
Its been a great year for the vegetable garden. It’s amazing to see what a difference some warm weather can make- everything just grew that much faster and bigger. We had a bumper crop of peas, courgette, carrots, swede, sprouting broccoli…Plenty of cabbage, brussel sprouts, parsnips, beetroot… I also grew cauliflower for the first time with success and it was a great year for seedsaving too, since everything ripened early and dried perfectly on the plant. I’ve saved seed from four different types of pea, calendula, parsnip, nasturtium and poppies.
In the beginning of September we sent our our two cows Hornfagr and Audhumbla plus Stutsi the calf to the slaughterhouse. We both had a bad conscience sending them there, but we couldnt sell them, and there’s no way we could have slaughtered them ourselves and proccessed all that meat. (BIG animals!) We have never had to send any of our animals to the slaughterhouse before, and hopefully never will again! We would have preferred to sell them as milking cows but Audhumbla had chronic mastitis and we didn’t find a buyer for Hornfagr. It was so sad to make that decision, I felt like I was betraying them, but we just couldn’t continue the way things were: It was far too much milk, too much work and such a huge time sink. (See my last post) As I mentioned above, we wouldn’t have had enough hay to feed them through the winter anyway. Their time had come. We are still using homemade butter, yoghurt and milk- we froze enough for several months!
With the cows gone, we had plently of pasture for the sheep and the horse. We had nine lambs this year, which we slaughtered here on the farm at the end of October. Now the freezer is full of the best meat in the world, and we have fenalår and pinnekjøtt hanging to dry. Slaughtering is always sad, but we take comfort that our sheep have good, free lives, and swift, stress-free deaths. They spend the summer months roaming free in the surrounding forest and pastures, coming home roughly once a week (usually on sunday!) to make a noise and hang out in the farmyard. In the winter the sheep are often outdoors, but have a cosy home in the barn when the winter is too tough, even for them.
Next year I look forward to focusing more on the garden, and I also plan to finally set up a greenhouse! Most of all I look forward to watching my daughter grow up here and run wild like the stream.