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Berry Picking and Wool Gathering

Why is it that blueberries ripen during the hottest and most humid days of summer? This evening will find me balancing precariously on a step ladder, leaning over and reaching for the biggest and plumpest berries that always seem to grow just out of reach at the top of the bush. We had an afternoon shower today and that cooled us off to a balmy 90 degrees but it also shot the humidity level even higher. Honestly, I look out the window and I start sweating. Anyhow, back to my story of how miserable it will be out there. If it were just the heat and humidity, that would be enough, but the sweat will drench my clothes and sting my eyes. It is a constant battle against the gnats, flies, and ants. But once these berries start to ripen, they will continue to ripen at such a pace that you have to pick them every day. Also, if you miss a day you may be sure that the birds (who love blueberries) will not.

Berry Picking

We currently have 18 young bushes on our farm and have plans to add even more. We will hire out help to pick these bushes when they mature and we will sell these berries along with our other farm products, but for our own personal stash of blueberries, I pick 3 bushes at my parent’s farm. One of the bushes is old and massive. From this bush alone I pick enough berries to fill our freezer and last my wife and I (we make smoothies with them for breakfast) for an entire year. I also gather a lot of wool from these bushes.

Wool Gather: verb: indulge in aimless thoughts and daydreams.

As hot and miserable as it might be outside, my mind soon begins to “gather wool” as my fingers deftly pluck the hanging berries and drop them into my bucket. Time passes quickly when you begin to “gather wool” and before you know it, your bucket is full. What kind of wool do I gather? Whatever kind pleases me. I may recount a childhood adventure, I may think of a long lost friend, I may even revisit Christmases of yesteryear while the sweat drips from my brow. I look forward to my berry picking. It makes me stop and pause from my busy routine. It gives me a chance to remember, reflect. It gives me an opportunity to recall some long forgotten memory that warms my heart and makes me smile. I like picking berries. And gathering wool.

Gathering Wool

My thoughts ran a wool-gathering. ~ Miguel de Cervantes

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The Lost Art of Porch Sitting

Front Porch

Porch-sitting has become a lost art, an obsolete social platform that has taken a back seat to smart phones, laptops, and computers.  Young folks do not even call their friends anymore – they text them!  Skype, Zoom, and WebEx have taken the place of real-life, face-to-face meetings and get-togethers.  And whenever people do get together, they interact on a superficial level.  Don’t believe me?  The next time you are in a restaurant and you see a group of people together, take a moment and observe them; most are on their phones and totally disengaged from present company.    Maybe this is the silver lining behind this COVID19 cloud that has darkened our nation, our very planet even?  Maybe this is a crisis that will tear our attention away from these electronic devices and dial our focus in on our family, friends, and loved ones?

My parents came from a time that was pre-smart phone and pre-computer.  I remember those times myself and I am only 58.  Back in those days, if you wanted to find out how your neighbor was doing you had two options – call them up on a dial-up land-line phone or travel to their home to visit with them.  Often these visits would take place on a big open porch, where the adults could sit in the shade while watching the kids play in the yard.  “Dropping in” on someone was not an intrusion – it was a pleasant surprise and visits could last for hours. 

I remember my grandparents’ home so fondly and the Sunday get-together we’d have there when I was a child.  After a big meal (which always included fried chicken) everyone would migrate to the front porch.  The porch itself was deep and high with metal awnings that shaded it from the noon-day sun.  It wrapped around the front of the house and down the side towards the kitchen.  There was a wide assortment of chairs, rockers, and glider swings to choose from.  Once people settled in, they often sat in silent appreciation of the food and admiration of a peaceful afternoon.  It was a comfortable silence.  Soon, however, someone would ask about a neighbor, or comment on the weather, or mention how well their tomatoes were doing.  The conversation would ebb and flow among the adults on the porch while the children climbed high into the tops of the magnolias on the front lawn.  There was a sense of… contentment. 

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with society today?  Maybe we have lost our sense of contentment?  Maybe, when this virus has passed, we need to gather with loved ones on our porches and just…  be there with one another. 

Happy is said to be the family which can eat onions together. They are, for the time being, separate from the world, and have a harmony of aspiration. ~Charles Dudley Warner

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Joy of Spring





Peach Blossoms on the Farm

Lawns get cut
for their first
trim
Green grass
glistens
with morning dew
Birdies chirp
songs of
sunshine delight
Daffodils and tulips
dance in the breeze
Dogs go for
longer walks
Everyone and everything loves
the joy of spring
~Wendy Schreiner

Springtime is my favorite time of the year, especially on the farm. It also happens to be one of the busiest times of the year. We made it through out first year of selling eggs and through trial and error we have learned from our mistakes and made adjustments and still have a few adjustments to make. What has that to do with springtime? With the longer and warmer days, our hens are beginning to lay again. I need to get things ready to begin selling our eggs and there is much to do.

Last year, we sold out every week on the Clemson Area Food Exchange. That’s not saying a lot, because we started off with only 25 hens. This year we are expanding and I need to order 50 more chicks so they will be laying by August. I will keep the 25 I have for another year and then sell them while they are still laying.

Also, last year, we moved from mobile enclosures to permanent enclosures. I believe hens require 108 square feet per bird to be considered pastured hens, but we have well over double that and I plan to add even more. I’m also moving away from the 3′ electric netting and installing 4′ plastic landscape/builder netting. It will cut my fencing costs by almost 75% and the extra foot of height will help keep a few Houdini hens within the enclosure with the rest of the flock.

Other changes for this year:

  • Expanding the enclosure to encompass a spring. This will give the flock a steady supply of fresh, cool water in the hot summer months.
  • Swapping the individual plastic nesting boxes with a large metal Best-Nest roll-out box. This nesting unit will accommodate up to 45 hens and it prevents them from eating their eggs. It also keeps the eggs cleaner so that they require less scrubbing when washed.
  • Get the farm delivery truck ready. This is a bright red 1965 Chevy pickup. Great advertisement.

We are still planning on raising some broilers this spring too. We don’t have our processing building setup yet, but we are working on it. Until then, our broilers will be processed and stored here in our home. Just as we did with the layers, we are going to start slow with the broilers and will probably only raise about 25 this first go around.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ~Margaret Atwood

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Ready or Not, Here I Come!

Today I was listening to the radio (country station, of course) and I heard an old Alabama song called “Mountain Music”. One of the lines in the song goes like this…

Climb a long tall hick’ry. Bend it over, skinnin’ cats.

That got me wondering, “how many people know what that line means?” Probably not very many people under the age of 50 have ever skinned a cat. And that got me thinking about all of the games boys and girls played when I was a kid. Games like Freeze Tag, Red Light – Green Light, Mother May I, Simon Says, Red Rover, Hide and Go Seek, Roll the Bat, Dodge Ball, Shooting Marbles, Jacks, Hop Scotch, Jump Rope, Musical Chairs, Crack the Whip. The list goes on! Do kids in this day and age even know how to play and interact with other kids without some kind of electronic device?

Shooting Marbles

Well, I’ve skinned a few cats in my childhood. To skin a cat, you go out into the woods (usually exploring) and you find a tall, slender hickory tree. It has to be a skinny sapling for this to work, but you shinny (for all you folks north of the Mason-Dixon that means “climb”) up the trunk of that tree as high as you can go. If you make it to the top, you might have to sway back and forth to get the tree to bend, but when it does bend, you hang on tight and ride it safely (usually) all the way to the ground. That is called Skinnin’ the Cat.

Cracking the Whip

Remember any of these phrases from your childhood?

Tag, you’re it!
Unh-unh, I’m on base.
One, two, three, get off my father’s apple tree!

Suzy, take three baby steps.
Mother, may I?
Yes, you may.

Simon says, take three giant leaps.

Red rover, red rover, send Mikey right over.

Red Light! Green Light!

Now, put up your smart phone and turn off your computer. I’ll count to ten and you go hide.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Ready or not, here I come!

Hide and Seek

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. ” ~George Bernard Shaw

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Merry May, Magnolias, and Memories

May is my favorite month of the entire year. Everything is fresh, new, and green. The days are warm, but not hot, and the nights are cool and pleasant. My favorite flowers bloom in May too. One of those is the magnolia tree. Is there anything prettier, anything more aromatic, anything more southern than a stately magnolia in full flower?

Magnolia Tree Flower

My grandparents had magnolias in their front yard and I spent many happy hours of my childhood playing in the shade of those trees and climbing high among the branches. I also used to make Indian headdresses with the leaves and that is what I am going to share with you here.

First, collect several green leaves from the branches and several dry leaves from the ground.

Dry Leaf – Green Leaf

Next, snap the stems off the dry leaves. Discard the leaves and hang onto the stems.

Snap the Stems Off the Dry Leaves

Use the stems from the dry leaves to pin the green leaves end-to-end.

Rear View – Front View

Continue to pin the leaves together until they form a circle that can fit around your head.

Headband

For the last step, pin a couple of leaves to the finished headband for feathers.

Feathers

Now all I need are some poke berries or charcoal for warpaint and I’m all set to scalp a few cowboys.

Fierce Apache Warrior

Melody sure makes a pretty red-headed Indian.

Pocahontas

[Childhood is a paper boat borne along by a lazy breeze on a summer day.]