There’s Always Next Year!

Reader Contribution by Tracy Houpt
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It’s mid-August here at Adventure Farm, hot and humid, but fall is in the air. The big yellow school bus turns the S-curve every weekday morning now. The minutes of daylight are gradually decreasing, and the slant of the sun seems a little different. Pretty soon the older chickens will be going through their fall molt. The young ones won’t have to re-grow their feathers this year, so when they start laying eggs in a month or so, they should carry us through the winter with a steady supply. We need to spend some Saturdays culling the older hens and making broth for the freezer. They’ve all had happy lives here, having the run of the woods, pasture, and barn every day. I’ve enjoyed observing their routines and trying to find their hidden stashes of eggs among the hay bales.

It’s a good time to take stock of what has been accomplished so far this year. What successes have you had? What failures have taught you new things? By way of confession, my garden was almost a total bust. The relentless spring rains and a bout of illness sidetracked my good intentions. My heirloom tomatoes didn’t make it. I picked one handful of black cherry ones last week, all the more delicious because there were so few of them. The rain drowned out the beets, and my much-longed-for sweet fall squash plants died before they bloomed. I still have a bit of last year’s pulp in the freezer for some of those muffins I love so much, and I’m thankful to have several quarts of canned tomatoes and a few jars of dill pickles – all from last year – on shelves in the basement. It’s always wise to put away the bounty of good years, to hedge against the bad times. “There’s always next year” is my favorite gardening adage; come to think of it, I use it for my fave baseball team, too. (Go, Reds!)

Even my “washout” garden yielded some surprises, though. I found a few cucumbers under the weedy overgrowth last week, and froze several batches of chopped cukes in goat milk for future batches of “Lemony Cucumber” soap. We enjoyed one large and tasty batch of fresh green beans recently, and I put a few quart bags of them in the freezer. I’ll probably get enough creamy Ireland Creek Annie cooking beans for one batch with ham, cooked on the woodstove on a cold winter day (my mouth is watering already). I’m hoping for enough ground cherries to make more of that good chai jam. The apple harvest from our old tree promises to be pretty good, so I anticipate freezing applesauce, apple butter and apple crisp filling.

To satisfy our craving for the fresh organic produce we didn’t grow this year, we head into town on Saturdays to browse the Fisher family’s beautiful selections at their roadside stand. Vegetables, potatoes, melons, tomatoes, flower bouquets … I know how hard they work to grow it all, so I gladly part with egg or soap money to buy from them. I’m glad they are there each week!

I think I’m going to scale back a bit on the gardening front next year. We hope to build some square and rectangular wooden frames to better delineate planting areas, so that as weeds come up I have more defined areas to tackle, a little at a time. The paths can be more defined that way, too, covered with cardboard and a layer of goat barn hay. My goal is to get the frames and paths finished this fall. A layer of goat barn cleanings on each bed will nourish the soil beneath, and hopefully prevent some of the thousands of weed seeds from sprouting. And there will be thousands of those!

So what can we celebrate this August? At our place, the list looks like this:

1. We have a much-needed new roof and brick chimney on the old farmhouse.

2. We successfully raised 29 chicks this summer.

3. The winter wood pile is growing.

4. The goat kids born and bottlefed here seem to be thriving.

5. Since April, I have settled into a good milking routine with my first dairy goat.

6. I’ve learned to make goat milk ricotta cheese.

7. I’ve learned to make goat milk soap, and I’m building a customer base. Hmmm, sounds like this is our “year of the goat”!

Until my next post, take a few minutes to celebrate your accomplishments. Write them down and pat yourself on the back. As for things to improve upon … there’s always next year!

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