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The Yellow Barn


Snow Custard

Sarah JoplinThey say that tastes and smells are evocative of early memories. That was certainly the case when I was inspired to make a recipe from my childhood.

Snowy, Mid-Missouri winters in the 1970s often stretched from December through March or April.  In our “neighborhood”, which consisted of 5 farms spread over nearly 500 acres, families came together and devoted entire days to sledding down the steep hill which connected our homesteads. Such occasions would culminate at a neighbor’s kitchen table with steaming hot chocolate shared in high spirits.  Other neighborly happenings were more somber and occurred when someone slid off the ice-rink-like roads into a ditch and needed to be rescued with a tractor or when pipes froze and whoever still had running water would share their good fortune.

I didn’t know then that snow could be an ingredient. At 5 years old, I rarely concerned myself with cooking at all unless Mom engaged me in kitchen tasks, asking that I mix a bowl or stir a simmering pot while she fed our wood-cook stove. One snow-day, home from school as I hovered around her, she showed me how to knead Irish Soda bread and braid Challa strands into their traditional loaf shapes prior to baking. Other times when she enlisted my help, we made egg noodles from scratch to complete her signature chicken soup.  With her kind gestures and loving ways, my mother taught me some of the most vital ingredients for the recipe of a contented life—humor, gratitude, and patience.

One wintry day, as fresh snow accumulated on already-fallen mounds and drifts and I made a snowman in the yard, Mom got a gleam in her eye and said that we were going to make something special. Then she did an odd thing, getting two bowls and directing me outside to do as she did, scooping fresh snow into her bowl. “No yellow snow”, she chuckled, as our dog poked around nearby! I happily followed instruction, filling my bowl and trotting back inside behind Mom. I remember the house was warm from wood-heat and smelled of sweet vanilla. Once in the kitchen, Mom showed me the custard that she had lovingly concocted made with sugar, eggs from our hens and milk from our neighbor’s cow. In turn, I proudly held up my bowl of snow. She nodded approvingly and told me to set it outside by the front door, nestled in the snow next to hers. Now was the time for patience, as we waited for the mixture to cool. All the while I salivated in anticipation. To pass the time and expedite the process, she brought the custard pot outside and nested it in the snow. We both delighted in making snow angels to pass the time. Finally, Mom did a surprising thing; she fetched the bowls of snow, returned to the kitchen and invited me to help mix the two ingredients together. I squealed with pleasure, thrilled by the novelty, eager for the treat. And in that first bite of snow custard, I could taste the mellow flavors of country living and the secret ingredient of love.

Mom’s Snow Custard Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Milk
  • 2 fresh eggs
  • 2/3 cups of sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 6 cups Fresh Snow

Directions

snow custard

1. Combine milk, sugar, and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Whisk eggs together and then add to the aforementioned mixture over medium heat.

3. Beat mixture while cooking over medium heat. Heat until mixture starts to rise. DO NOT let boil.

4. Scoop fresh snow into a mixing bowl.

mixing snow custard

5. Once liquid mixture is ENTIRELY cooled (you can leave covered in snow to cool), pour mixture over snow and mix thoroughly.

finished custard

6. Serve immediately and Enjoy this rare treat!

 


Photo credit: Copyright Sarah Joplin

Eureka! Success with Fallowing, Raised Beds & Fall Gardening

Success with raised beds in the garden

If you haven’t tried fallowing your garden, using raised garden beds or planting a fall garden, I’m here to make an introduction and to sing their praises. After 15 years of gardening, it was a great joy to employ these methods which yielded numerous benefits. Mind you, these are not new techniques, they’re just new to me. If you’ve been contemplating these approaches, I’m here to cheer you on to go for it! They really work!

Life had other plans for me that prevented me from putting in my annual veggie garden the last two growing seasons, so I used that time to solarize my garden plot and let it fallow. Such old-fashioned methods of leaving the soil mulched, growing a cover crop for green manure or even covering it with plastic are believed to be more natural ways of improving the soil without the use of chemicals. Nutrients can be replenished and soil balance restored when production crops aren’t grown and harvested. Solarizing fallow ground also kills insect eggs and larvae, breaking pest life cycles. Though we introduced raised beds this year, we also reserved sections of the garden for direct-sowing in-ground. Yields were plentiful while bugs were minimal. Glory be!

Fallow garden

Poor soil has been an inherent part of gardening here in the clay of Mid-Missouri. Building the soil has taken time, strategy, ongoing effort and patience.  After years of discussion and contemplation, my boyfriend constructed 12 3’x5’x18” raised beds, laying them out in three rows of four boxes separated by 3’ paths in between. It was refreshing to have control over the soil composition in the beds. We dug out the 8”-10” of “good soil” we’ve built that was about to be covered by pathways and shoveled it into the beds, thus creating sunken walkways around the boxes which were then filled with fast draining creek gravel bringing the top of the paths back to their original level. No longer would the flash floods of spring and summer drown our plants; raised beds alleviate root rot as they provide improved drainage. The individual boxes make managing specific soil amendments easier, too. You can acidify, deep mulch, or fertilize each bed individually. We topped each box with a partial bag of commercial garden soil whereas next year we’ll incorporate the compost/chicken manure blend we started this year. Not only does my back thank me for not having to stoop as far to tend all the various aspects of the garden but I even found that elevated boxes seem to deter some crawling insects.

Raised beds get underway

Unfortunately, soil quality has only been one of my challenges. Another formidable foe is weeds. I’ll disclaim here that I’m not known for doing things the easy way. My garden method has long  been direct seed planting or seedling transplanting into bare ground. This is followed by mulching little by little with grass mulch as I intersperse mowing the lawn with mulching and sowing more seeds or starts. This process takes time in my 32’x75’ garden often resulting in the bare ground sprouting with weeds before I can get to hoeing the rows, planting and mulching. Weeding thus becomes my first task in spring and the race continues all season long with the weeds inevitably outpacing me. Our permanent raised beds created a new infrastructure (and paradigm) with drainage walkways in between which we covered with professional landscape cloth and topped with ½”, river-tumbled pea-gravel to reduce all of that area that has historically been a perpetual battleground with weeds. My garden now looks and feels like a nursery! Weeding in the beds themselves was virtually non-existent. Now, I can actually focus on the plants I’ve chosen to grow rather than on all of the weed volunteers that have gobbled up disproportionate amounts of my time in the garden.

Landscape cloth covered with rock minimizes weeding

Though I’ve long wanted to try a fall garden, planting a garden in the height of summer was not  my intention this year. Let’s just say that it took some time to construct our new raised beds. My seed starts (and I) were patient. Finally, on July 1, I transplanted my starts into the new beds and watched them grow and flourish. It was amazing that I had cucumbers about the same time as fellow gardeners who had planted months earlier. The primary challenge I found to the raised garden achieving its growth potential in the heat of summer was the obvious: water. Blessedly, we had generous seasonal rains to keep the plants growing steadily. Next year we’ll use a drip system to keep water flowing as needed. Another risk facing a fall garden (and gardener) is an early frost; you have to hope for a long growing season in order for plants to reach their full harvest potential. It could have been my imagination, but I found my late-summer harvest yield seemingly had a stronger, certainly more robust flavor to the fruit and vegetables. Whereas you can always taste the soil and the sunshine in fresh produce, this yield also had an infusion of dense flavor unique to the end of the season. Harvest is easier on your back with raised beds though I’ll admit a little more frenzied as the threat of frost loomed. We did end up harvesting tomatoes green and hanging them to ripen, a method I found to work quite well as long as you have ample room to store these clusters while they take their time to ripen. At the rate they are going, I’ll have ripe fruit into mid-November. What a treat! Canning season has been extended with the fall garden but I’m thankful to take full advantage of the bumper crop. Plans for next year are already germinating in my mind.

Since so much of gardening seems to be learned the hard way, it is nice to share success when you manage to achieve it. Eureka! is the theme for my garden this year with positive discoveries made from fallowing, expanding into raised beds, and mixing it up with a bountiful fall garden. I wish you well on your own journey of discovery in the garden.

Sticker Shock for the Home Flock

Feeding & watering in the chicken run 

Chickens have been on the agenda for some time and with the pandemic posing risk to our food supply, it seemed the perfect opportunity to venture into animal husbandry. With factory farms producing most of our meat supply, we’ve long been interested in raising our own chicken while investigating what it would take to become a small, local meat producer and/or develop farm-to-table relationships with a sustainable number of restaurants. To that end, our foray into chicken raising had an eye toward commercial production. This approach factored into our cost and admittedly there are corner-cutting and budget saving options we did not explore and economies of scale that would help but our finding was this: it turns out you don’t save money raising your own chickens! In fact, our costs calculated out to be a shock: almost $5/pound. With an average bird at 5 pounds and our per pound cost at $4.89, that put our birds at around $25/each. An important note is that that figure doesn’t include our labor. It does underscore the value of what you pay for chicken at the grocery store!

Research indicated that the Cornish Cross chicken is THE meat bird, hands down. They are bred to grow at an astonishing rate and to yield large breasts. Since the 1950s, these birds have been singled out as our national meat source in commercial production.  We were interested in investigating heritage breeds as well and opted for the Silver Laced Wyandotte which is touted as a dual-purpose egg layer and meat bird. They also had the added characteristics of being strikingly handsome and good natured.

Coop set-up at 2 weeks

Living in Missouri, we opted to patronize Cackle Hatchery and hoped to be able to pick up our chicks in person, but Covid-19 had other ideas. Instead, we received the most amazing package in the mail: a cardboard crate of 51 day-old chicks. It was unseasonably cold that mid-April day so we’d set up our brooder inside the (somewhat) climate-controlled shop. In hindsight, this wasn’t necessary as heat lamps and huddling suffice to maintain their body heat. What we found was that these spring chickens are reasonably hearty other than their risk of contracting Coccidiosis. The Wyandottes had been inoculated but we opted to feed the Cornish Cross with medicated feed. This method proved faulty when we lost 7 birds in 10 days and had to augment their water with Amprolium to fend off the disease. Luckily it didn’t wipe out the entire flock.

Cornish Cross & Silver Laced Wyandottes

Things proceeded fairly steadily once the death toll stabilized. A routine of feeding high protein chick starter/grower crumble a couple of times a day while replenishing and freshening water set in. We augmented their water with powdered vitamin supplements and raw cider vinegar to boost overall health. In addition to the crumble, we fed cracked corn, ground flax (for its high omega content) and the requisite kitchen scraps as well as hand-gathered pink and white clover. My boyfriend teased me about how I brought the chickens flowers every day. Feeding and watering were punctuated with changing the bedding in the brooder, then in the coop and finally in both the coop and the run. This was our first experience with the rhythm and rigor of raising animals. It’s not the most difficult work but it is also not lenient. Truth be told, I’m more of a gardener than a farmer and I learned quickly that chickens aren’t vegetables; sleeping in is a thing of the past knowing that you have hungry mouths to feed. Monitoring their body temperature until they begin to get their feathers and then providing constant and appropriate amounts of food and water become a driving force in the day. Making sure they are safe in the coop at night is critical so that predators don’t make off with birds or damage the infrastructure trying.

It’s amazing how fast the Cornish Cross grew in comparison to the Wyandottes: at least 2-3 times the rate. This may have had to do with their gluttony. Whereas the Wyandottes were entirely feathered out and had proportionate overall body growth, the Cornish Cross were still getting their feathers when we butchered them at 8 weeks and underwent multiple growth spurts during which they seemingly doubled in a week’s time. To go from a couple of ounces when hatched to 3-5 pounds at 8 weeks and 5-7 pounds at 10 weeks (dressed), the birds seemed more to inflate than gain weight.

As the time approached to harvest the first batch of birds, we sketched out our processing methods, rounded up materials, purchased equipment and determined a division of labor. It would be my first experience butchering animals. Being a carnivore and wanting to raise our own food, it seemed important to participate in the full circle of life of these animals. The process is not for the faint of heart or those with a weak stomach but it is necessary if you want to eat chicken. Having the birds processed commercially is an option but it adds cost and removes the self-sufficiency aspect. Instead of skinning the birds, we bought a scalder and plucker, both which we found well worth the investment. We were most concerned about sanitization and decided to take two additional steps in an attempt to minimize the introduction of pathogens. First was dipping the birds in a bleach bucket after they bled out and before placing them in the plucker and second was adding salt to the ice water bath which chilled them prior to vacuum sealing. Multiple fans to keep flies off of the butchering block station were also employed.

Butchering station set-up

Our 33 birds (harvested in two batches two weeks apart) yielded 167.75 pounds of meat. Some of the project cost was capitalized and included the purchase of the chicks, feed, Amprolium, pine chips and straw bales, vitamin supplements, vinegar, disinfectant, ice, salt and propane while other project costs were amortized. Other costs were amortized and included heat lamp and bulb, feeders and waterers in several sizes, disinfectant sprayer to clean between bedding changes, scalder, plucker, restraining cone, deep freeze, vacuum sealer and, of course, the materials and labor to build the coop and the run.

Even if we didn’t save a dime for our efforts and faced sticker shock in the process, we believe that our chickens taste a whole lot better than the store-bought birds. We’re on the fence about going into the chicken business but the experience was a valuable, hands-on education in the matter. We’ll see how things go with the layers and where the journey leads us.

New Life to the Old Barn: Reviving the Heart of the Farm

barns 

Nothing embodies a farm like a barn. If you ask anyone from school age to old age to conjure a visual of a farm, I’ll bet the vast majority of these mind’s-eye images have a red barn featured prominently. Maybe it has a silo or a cupola; it might be two stories with doors aloft to load hay bales; it may have a lean-to with farm equipment sheltered underneath. There is likely a fenced-in barnyard for livestock. I’m not implying that many farms don’t have barns, in fact our barn was so far in disrepair and unsuitable for our intended purposes that we may as well not have had one at all. 

But it turns out that barns are important if not vital to most farm operations. Providing a place to maintain and repair equipment, fabricate parts if necessary, build with wood or metal, store tools, feed and/or house livestock; the barn is not only iconic, it is the hub of farm activity. Ours was dark, damp, spider and critter-infested, increasingly dilapidated and in dire need of repair.

barn-interior

Convention said tear it down and put up a modern metal pole barn. Our neighbor who instead helped with salvaging the original structure aptly deemed the project “straight lines on a crooked barn”. Even my cousin, a contractor said that a refurbishment “couldn’t be done”. But it is (getting) done, it’s just taken years of patience and tenacity in equal parts. It’s been repurposed and renovated a little at a time as the structural bones and spirit of the old barn have been incorporated into a new incarnation of the building. At last, I’m here to report and celebrate our first year with our barn back in use and proclaim that it’s a whole new world!

The biggest benefit is ease of function. We opted to build our chicken coop and run right onto the barn so that we didn’t add more outbuildings to the property. The barn is now flanked with the chicken housing on one side and a lean-to buttressing the other. This spring we are raising Cornish-Cross chickens to provide our own meat and processed the chickens under the lean-to where water and electricity were at hand.

barn

Efficiency and morale have skyrocketed with the function of the barn.  Machinery has been overhauled and repaired, workbenches built to house saws, planers, routers, anvils and drill presses. Equipment used instead of buried away God-knows-where. The space is organized and bright whereas countless many hours were previously spent finding the tool much less fixing the problem. Long-envisioned raised beds have been built for the vegetable garden, flower planters have been fabricated. With the strong heartbeat of the farm pumping, we are propelled ahead with gardening, landscaping, investigating niche crop farming and on to the next phase of the repurposed building- the studio loft. Cabinetry and furniture for upstairs will be constructed downstairs. 

Machinery, equipment and tools have a place to live sheltered from the elements and free of risk of ruin from nests, hives, burrows and clods being built in them. Birds, wasps and flies don’t assault us anymore which used to be commonplace in the old chicken coop we used as a work shed. There are spaces dedicated to construction materials, metal and wood work, fasteners, even household storage (which was admittedly a big motivation for the renovation) instead of hodgepodge here and there.  Inventory can be taken at a glance instead of on a treasure hunt through multiple spaces.

before-after-barn 

We wonder how we got along for so long without this critical functional space. The truth is, we didn’t. Projects were deferred and progress lagged. We’re finding that a working barn is synonymous with and supports thriving on the farm. We celebrate the productivity and a balance of form and function.

Living Well by Making Do

Shop-bench-from-cast-off-wood
Photo by Sarah Joplin

Long before the saying “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” came into being, there was a common phrase which simply said: “Make do.” It goes hand in hand with “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and implies making use of what you have on-hand, items and materials you have readily available. Making do with what you have to accomplish a given task has been the prevalent approach for eons. Now we “up-cycle” as a work-around when really we are finding an item with which we can make do, using something we already have rather than feeling compelled to buy the “right” item for the job. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. And making do is an essential, if unspoken part of self-sufficiency not to mention a great way to employ creativity and ingenuity.

It’s gratifying not only to find a way to achieve your end by employing, reusing or repurposing an item but it is also a joy to utilize long-neglected things that still have perfect utility which you’ve either saved for a rainy day or long forgotten.

For instance, we’ve been renovating our antiquated barn for several years and have saved stacks and piles of wood cut-offs from various parts of the re-construction. These include odd shaped and sized 2x4s and other dimensional lumber, scraps of OSB board, and nail-ridden old-growth oak and walnut used to build the barn in the first place. The construction crew wanted to burn or trash these remnants but my boyfriend insisted on keeping them. It turns out they come in handy for all sorts of projects! When it came time to build out his shop, many of these cast-offs made perfect small shelves, drawer bottoms and sides, and bench materials. Instead of wasting this perfectly usable wood, we saved money, made space and had JUST the right pieces for a variety of applications.

Repurposed-wood-from-a-single-tree
Photo by Sarah Joplin

Similarly, we got chickens and made do with our old barnyard watering trough as a brooder for the chicks. The same lumber cut-offs make perfect “risers” to lift waterers and feeders as the chicks grow. In fact, much of the lumber also came in handy to build a divider in the coop separating the roosting area from the supply area.

Another example of the frugality and practicality of making do came when my boyfriend was in need of substantial lumber material for his woodworking bench. Instead of paying a premium for such wood, he scrounged up stray lumber laying around in an old shed. It took hours to plane, chisel and band saw some of the pieces into straight and square bench legs but the end result is not only handsome but he made use of what would be expensive materials that were lying there to rot! It turns out the four legs were all cut from an individual tree; you could see how all of the rings aligned into growth rings as if premium wood from custom milling.

Seeds-started-in-recycled-containers
Photo by Sarah Joplin

When I took to gardening with gusto, I was looking for containers to start seeds. Not being able to resist some of the annuals in the garden centers, I purchased some 6-packs. Once the starts were transplanted, the containers made great vessels to start my own seed and it got me thinking about what people do to recycle these. Come to find out, Lowe’s had a program where people can give or take these plastic containers, so I was able to acquire a good number. I’ve now used these over 7 growing seasons! Of course, egg cartons can also be made into seed flats as just about any plastic vessel can become part of a container garden. Another way to make do in the garden is to propagate your plants using your existing “stock”. Many perennials transplant well when you dig a small portion of them to plant elsewhere. Others thrive after cuttings have been rooted and allowed to establish before transplanting. You can also collect your own seed at the end of the season and re-seed the next spring.

Perspective is so important when approaching a subject. We are fortunate to have abundant (actually invasive) Eastern Redcedar on the property, so we have taken to cutting and chipping the trees to yield copious amounts of mulch (and push back the onslaught). And though the rocky hillsides can be difficult to landscape and thin soil horizons challenging for planting, they do yield generous amounts of valuable decorative rocks for making stone walls and walkways as well as edging specimen plants, shrubs and trees. 

It turns out we can get by and even make out pretty well when we take a fresh look at the materials we have available and envision how we can make do with them.

Old-fashioned Reminders Brought Home by COVID-19

plants. 

As many in our nation and around the world face unprecedented challenges which understandably bring about fears of the unknown, some notions still commonplace in the country that are often considered old-fashioned seem worth revisiting as possible mitigation to some of these hardships and angst and as valuable reminders moving forward.

Keep a stocked pantry

This is a practical reality for many who live in a rural setting and a good idea for one and all. When stores aren’t nearby it becomes habit to keep enough staples on hand to last a little while. Growing and/or canning your own food also affords availability to fresh produce and the ability to preserve it yourself.

Take a breath and slow down.

Patience is still a virtue and can be trying, especially when times are hard. Keep breathing; the only constant is change so this, too, shall pass. Life in the country is not centered on convenience or speed, so patience is required. We live on gravel roads where travel is slow and sometimes precarious; rural living puts us a distance from towns making access to commercial goods a little more involved. We don’t have the fastest internet, nor FedEx delivery service. Inherently, we operate a little slower than our urban counterparts and expect things to take longer. This is no time to be in a hurry but then again, when is?

 You are not anonymous or alone

It is easy to feel anonymous in a concrete jungle in a sea of humanity, but remember that you are not an island; you are not alone.  Many people are getting to know their neighbors now that they are home from work with some time on their hands. Enjoy building these new connections.  In the country, you are outdoors as a way of life, so you naturally tend to see your neighbors. A spirit of collaboration still exists in rural communities where mechanical projects that require many hands on deck (think barn raising) still occur and where community hubs still include widespread churchgoing (complete with picnics and sewing circles), little league games, hunting and fishing seasons, and where large family gatherings are still commonplace. Meet your neighbors. Respect boundaries, but check in with them. Find out what you have in common.

Spend time outdoors

Get some fresh air. Many urbanites rarely touch the ground. The vast majority of their time is spent indoors. From their houses or apartments they walk out through their garages or directly onto sidewalks, climb into cars or buses and exit out onto parking lots or paved streets and proceed to work in buildings. The recommended social distancing practices to avoid contraction of the COVID-19 virus encourage outdoor activity either alone or in small groups. Take advantage and get some grass under your feet. Maybe it’ll become a new habit.

Treasure seeds

seeds

Grow something, if not from seed then from seedling or start. Not everyone has space or resources for a large garden which provides access to fresh food. Nearly everyone, though, has the ability to grow a container garden, even on a windowsill or patio. Gardening has multi-fold benefits including exercise (depending on how much you do-weeding, transplanting, bending, lifting, stretching), providing a sense of empowerment, exposing you to sunshine and ultimately providing something healthy to eat.

Partake of old-fashioned pleasures

When was the last time you played a board game? Went for a walk? Literally stopped to smell the flowers? Read a book? Did something creative? Played an instrument? Tackled one of those D-I-Y projects that sounded interesting? There are many “old fashioned”, low-tech, slow-down activities that we forego in favor of stimulation and consumption in the modern world. We do a lot of shopping and not as much creating. We do a lot of talking, chatting, texting, messaging, tweeting, emailing and less meaningful face-to-face conversation. We take less time to be quiet and listen to nature, to reflect and be in tune with the natural rhythms of seasons, even determining the time of day based on position of the sun rather than digital numbers on our smartphones. It sounds cliché, but there is value in remembering to take pleasure in the simple things. As we are learning, the more complex “things” and activities are not always an option.

Exercise community-mindedness

Replacing-the-barn-roof

Thankfully, this comes naturally to some, whether in a rural or urban setting. Much of urban life goes on with the individual relatively isolated, anonymous. It is easy to put your ear buds in and go through a day in your private bubble. This is not so in the country. Even though we live physically apart, we are more interconnected and rely more heavily on one another. Join a club. Volunteer. Find a civic organization and get involved. We all have a lot to offer and everyone benefits from good citizenship.

The list goes on to include home cooking, “waste not, want not”, bartering and exercising common sense. For some of us living in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic may not be quite as much of a hardship because of the very nature of our way of life. Some of the resources many lack in cities are necessities in the country; some of the hardships people will endure are already commonplace to us; some of the behaviors necessary to combat the virus are just business as usual in rural America.

Country Turns of Phrase

Heyday- really hay season

Given that I’ve long been a writer and interested in language, it’s little wonder that when we moved to the country I was struck by how many turns of phrase originate from rural living and in turn intrigued or amused at the context of their origins. According to vocabulary.com, the expression “turn of phrase” itself was first used in 1779 by Benjamin Franklin referencing how words could be “turned”, like wood on a lathe, in order to craft their unique meaning.  Following are some of the phrases that have struck me along with an abbreviated Merriam Webster (or comparable) reference and their corresponding country context. As for me, I’ll take the country any day but keep my mind open to many perspectives as I listen and learn.

Heyday

Merriam Webster states “a period of prosperity or vigor” while those of us in the country know that it is more of a season than a day. We struggle to find the right stretch of dry weather long enough to cut, wind-row, bale and haul in the season’s yield. Often, unexpected rainfall (a shower or a deluge) will foil one or more of these steps and lessen the quality of the hay or ruin it entirely. Of course, you also have to account for some of your machinery breaking down in the process. It’s tricky business and an art more than a science; some might say it’s mostly luck. We all agree, though, when the hay is baled and put up for the season, it’s time to celebrate!

Tough Row to Hoe

Grammarist.com indicates this to mean a “large, challenging task” while for those gardeners among us, this expression conjures rocks, roots and dirt clods situated along the line you choose for establishing a planting row. Such terrain humbles us and can be infuriating not to mention physically draining and daunting.

Going to Town

When you live deep in the country, often on gravel roads, sometimes off the grid, mostly off the land and definitely off the beaten path, days can stretch on when you don’t get in the car to go anywhere. Everything you need is right there on your property, in your pantry or root cellar, in your meat locker or library. Country living tends to be more self-sufficient than urban life so actually venturing off the homestead and into town gets to be a big deal. There’s always an important motive for your trip so you rise to the occasion and as James Rogers in his “Dictonary of Cliches” (Ballantine Books) would say, you go with gusto.

Growing Like a Weed

Merriam Webster indicates “growing very quickly” for this turn of phrase. Again, for those who garden, our experience of the growing behavior of weeds is quite a phenomenon. Weeds can double overnight and their growth is exponential the larger they get. Weeds can grow in the most prohibitive places and under the most impossible conditions. Drought? No problem. Clay? Not an issue. Drowning rain? No trouble. Weeds exhibit extraordinary tolerance, vigor and adaptability in their growth. It seems all we need do is turn our backs and weeds flourish.  We can only dream that our prize plants would grow so well.

A Breath of Fresh Air

  Part of the reason people choose to live in the country is for the air quality; most rural people spend a lot of time outside and enjoy the fresh air and quiet of the country. Fresh air is a vital component to living on the land. Urbanites, on the other hand, use this phrase to mean that something or someone is refreshing, new, different or exciting (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, Cambridge University Press), as if it is a rarity or anomaly. Once again, the rift between urban and rural is crystal clear.

Top Notch

 My boyfriend and a neighbor were recently using a farm jack to repair a tractor fender. They wrangled the jack every which way, raised the front end loader bucket and lowered it and repositioned the jack in hopes of getting enough torque to repair the spot. Each time, they’d crank the jack all the way up and try to crank it back down, but they were at the top notch, the most leverage, the best they could do. Where the Oxford dictionary claims top notch to be the best quality, first-class or excellent, in the country, the top notch is often a physical point with implications on the working function of the apparatus which houses the notches. It’s true that you often can’t go any higher, but in the practical world, that is not always a good thing!

From the Ground Up

When people talk about their ground in the country, they are referring to their land or their soil, even the terrain of their homesteads. If you are building from the ground up in a rural setting, you may be starting with soil improvements, you may have to deal with earthmoving, in any case with very foundational components including dirt.  City dwellers have a more sanitized meaning for this turn of phrase. Their ground is often paved and infrastructure further along, so they are working with the building blocks of, say, growing a business. Frames of reference vary wildly between the more feral nature of country folk and a more domesticated urban understanding.

The next time you are listening to someone speak, stop to listen more keenly and note the underlying foundations of various turns of phrase. You’ll be surprised at the breadth of experience we draw on in our day-to-day language and how indicative it is of our roots and perspectives.

country-wisdom-know-how

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Reminiscent in both spirit and design of the beloved Whole Earth Catalog, Country Wisdom & Know-How is an unprecedented collection of information on nearly 200 individual topics of country and self-sustainable living. Compiled from the information in Storey Publishing's landmark series of "Country Wisdom Bulletins," this book is the most thorough and reliable volume of its kind. This title is available at our store or by calling 866-803-7096.







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Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

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