9th October 2014
I finally find time to catch up with my blog, as we find ourselves plunged into autumn. Harvest has been and gone, and im afraid i have failed to share with you the crown of the year. We started cutting grains in August, not so long after my last post actually, which i somehow forgot to publish until now! We started with the barley, as it ripens first, and had a good team of 4 or 5, each with a sickle. We even had a couple of locals come to show us how they used to do it here, though they were only very young when harvesting became mechanised, they could still just about remember. We made a tie band with a handful of straw, and used this to tie each sheave. Then the sheaves were impaled on poles to help them dry, and protect them from rain. The weather was simply perfect- beautiful golden sunshine almost every day, and progress was fast. We had a couple of competitions too, which was really fun and also sped things up considerably. We held a grain cutting championship, with a prize for the one who can cut the most in 2 hours. I was up first against a polish woofer and we were fairly evenly matched. After two hours of cutting barley he had done 26 sheaves and I 28, with a lead of 15kilos. We cut over 200 kilos combined! I was confident of my victory, maybe a little too confident, as i met my match in the finals against my partner, cutting oats in a 45 minute showdown, where he cut over one hundred kilos. He won freedom from washing up for one week. Well, as is fast becoming my motto, there’s always next year!
After the grains were cut, we started on the potatoes, which were dug, sorted and packed in big wooden boxes in the cellar of our house. They lie there now in the darkness, awaiting consumption. Then came the turnips of which we have far more than we could ever eat, so we have one huge box in the cellar and the rest packed into ruined hay in another cellar under the carpenter shack. It wil be a good supplement for the animals in the winter. With all the root vegetables apart from potatoes, we pack them between layers of damp moss, and they can keep fresh in this way until next summer. Next to the turnips, the carrots were the most abundant, with some real monsters dug up! We also have peas that we are trying to dry indoors now, as the weather has turned really wet. It has become impossible to finish drying the grains outside, so we have taken it all into the barn, and put the poles over beams anywhere we could, in the hope that it will finish drying indoors.
On the seedsaving front, i have successfully saved masses of turnip seed as well as spinach and snow peas and the carrot seed is still not ready. These vegetable are partcularly easy to save seed from, and you can easily get enough for more than one year, so i would strongly recommend it!
The first frost has been, it bit my pumpkins (all two of them) so we had to eat them immediately. They were spaghetti pumpkins, so i baked them in the oven and we ate them with homemade pesto made from parsley, garlic, olive oil and ground roasted pumpkin seeds. It was so good! Next year i hope to grow many more, by planting them out earlier with heaps of manure, and making sure to water them more regularly.
We have eight sheep now, an old norwegian breed ‘villsau’. There is one ram and seven ewes. They are very small, and incredibly fast, and far more intelligent than modern sheep, who are bred to be fat and docile. We tried to herd them into another enclosure the other day, and it was….well it was like a wild sheep chase! They seem to recognise no boundaries and can move so nimbly over our steep rock piles that it was quite a job to round them up. When we did finally get them in there, they were out again the next day. We want to try and tame them but the problem is they are not interested in any of the treats we have to offer! I think this is a project for the winter.
After many months we have finally inseminated our heifer Audhumbla. Several times we missed the signs that she was on heat so we had to wait until the next time, but this time we watched really carefully and waited until she was exactly ready before bringing her up to the farmyard. And that was when she seized her chance- and ran away! (again) It was the stupidest mistake- forgetting that the front gate was open, that cost us a whole morning and almost lost us the opportunity to inseminate her. She ran all the way to the bottom of the hill and managed to get through the fence, walk into a neighbouring farm and break into their field to join the other cows (where she proceeded to mount them.) Luckily the farmer allowed us to round them up and bring them inside where we could separate her from the rest. Then it was just the problem of how to get her up the hill. She was furious and horny and it took us until lunch to get her back up to the farm. The inseminator arrived just half an hour later. Fingers crossed that it was successful.
We now have running water in the house! It’s such luxury to be able to just turn on a tap. Something i have never fully appreciated until now. After a winter of carrying all our water, it’s wonderful to think we won’t have to do that anymore. Though it is a little sad too, as it was nice to go to the stream, and to see the tiny sparkling ice crystals. And to see the lynx tracks in the snow. And to feel the forest watching you as you trudge back to the house, the darkness at your back. But that was winter. Here’s some more from autumn:
We have bought some young fruit trees, plums, apple and pears which we will plant in the spring, so they have a chance to adjust before next winter. We are thinking about over wintering them indoors somewhere possibly in the manure cellar, where we can bury their feet to keep the roots from freezing, but where they can acclimatise to the cold. Until we get fruit from them (which will be several years from now) we are able to pick apples from a place down in the valley, where they have more than they need. We dry most of them and make some jam too.
We have started reducing the rabbit populations, which is a nice way of saying we have started butchering them. I have skinned and gutted three in total now, so its getting easier every time. The first took a very long time, because i was so scared of doing it wrong, and in some strange way, scared of hurting it! Now my perception has changed and i see it more as food than as a dead animal. I also find it fascinating, to see the inner workings of the body. Though i think i am still not able to kill them myself. We will have to start on the roosters soon too. We can’t keep them all over winter, as we have limited food and space and of corse they are not producing anything (unless we eat them, which we will.) We are still waiting for our young hens to start laying. I saw one of them lay a soft egg and another hen ate it immediately!
So now, with harvest over, our attention turns from the fields to the farm, where there is much to do before winter. My partner is working on a new floor in the cool room- the old one was rotten and we had to rip it out anyway, to do the plumbing. I am starting to clear up around the farm- getting rid of old junk and tidying up in the barn. The wwoofers are working on a rabbit-proof fence, for next year when we will have the rabbits with the chickens outside. Two days ago it was one year since i first stepped foot on this farm! It’s gone SO fast and much has changed, it has been an incredible year in many ways. I’ve worked and lived with over 20 people, who have come and gone as quick as the seasons, all leaving their mark on the farm. At times it has been a real challenge, to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing- i’ve never really been in a position where i can (legitimately) tell others what to do, and it’s so much harder than i thought! The work too is very full on, especially over the spring and summer, and we have worked almost everyday for the whole time i’ve lived here. More than once i have broken down in tears with exhaustion and frustration, when it all got too much. But when i look at what we have done, i wouldn’t have it any other way. When we sat down to dinner yesterday, and feasted on roasted rabbit and homegrown vegetables, i felt so deeply content, and proud of everything i had done to create this meal. From sowing carrots, to feeding the rabbits every morning and evening, to washing the potatoes and picking herbs to season the meat. This is what our life is about.