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The skies above Listening Stones Farm have been filled with murmurations of blackbirds and cries of waterfowl on the wing. The cacophony in the slough just east of us is louder than a Friday night frat party, though it starts before dawn instead of finishing just then. Every so often amidst the hundreds of geese honking their hearts out comes the cartoonish quacking of one indignant duck.

Winter “as we know it” did in fact end on March 6th, as Paul Huttner bravely predicted. What has come between then and now wavers between something approaching summer (75 degrees a week ago) and an unwelcome flashback (high of 34 today, with s-n-o-w predicted for late afternoon). I put peas in the ground March 16th, but I doubt they’ll poke their tender tendrils into the open before the end of the month.

All this seasonal ping-pong has led to constant task-switching around the farm, as we attempt to match up what needs to get done with what the weather is doing, and is projected to do in the next few hours and days. Onions, leeks and celery are up and growing in the house, and peppers and eggplant are seeded in their germination flat, warm and cozy on top of a heat mat. I’ll check through the seed supply for something more to start today (not tomatoes…not yet).

We spent Friday morning, which dawned clear, calm, and slighty moist, pulling and burning brush on the south lawn as fast as we could, knowing the wind would come up in the early afternoon hours. We stopped adding branches at noon, but I still had to douse, and douse, and douse again to get the pile safely under control as the breezes started to build an hour later. It made the low 60’s early that afternoon, but the wind that came up soon swung around to the north, and before nightfall it was back down into the 30’s. Cue unhooking and draining of all the hose I’d used earlier, so it wouldn’t freeze in the night.

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Calm weather and close containment are key when you’re burning in an open area.

Last weekend, on a gorgeous 65-degree Saturday, John and I cleaned out the extremely deep litter of the chicken coop. I’d assembled a 5x5x5 bin the night before, using scavenged u-posts and woven wire from around the farm, and by the time the coop was empty, the bin was full to mounding and overflowing, and we were both exhausted. The next morning I moistened the whole thing, inserting a watering wand with the rose taken off into the center of the pile.

By Sunday night, it was steaming like crazy, and it was still steaming (though more subtly) this morning–almost a full week later. I added another wheelbarrow-full of rakings from the ground around the bin, and even with that, the level has sunk down below the top of the wire enclosure. I would love to stick my 18″ probe compost thermometer in there if I could find it, but I did find a bunch of other stuff I’d lost while looking for it!

Vega inspects the coop compost

Vega inspects the coop compost

Along with finding things I wasn’t looking for, the other thing weather ping-pong does is kick my farm-induced ADD into high gear. I don’t know if it’s a diagnosable illness, but it can work to advantage if you let it. There is just so much to be done that it’s hard to waste a day even if you only accomplish part of each of the fifteen tasks that you had on your list.

That was yesterday, when I hauled the tractor battery out of the basement where it has lived since the night of our first snowstorm last November. I opened the goat barn (a process in itself, as the doors are rickety), opened the tractor hood, and connected it. No luck. So, I pulled the battery, hauled it back to the mudroom, and hooked it up to the charger. Ten percent. OK, I’ve got time to run eggs to the co-op and take the dogs for a walk. Twenty-seven percent. Well, I can finish pruning the apple trees, and while I’m at it, that branch on the black walnut tree that snatches off my hat every time I walk under it. Forty-one percent. Huh, I can pick eggs and move that pile of rotten wood and branches by the chicken coop. Sixty percent. Hmm. I’ll re-walk the areas I intend to mow and look for potential obstacles.

Seventy-two percent! I’m going for it! I pulled the battery off the charger, hauled it back to the barn, wired it up, and backed right out–knocking over an enormous pile of bamboo stakes in the process. Ahh, well. I’ll pick those up later. Off we go, down the yard to mow that snarly old raspberry patch! And now to the sunflower and broom corn stalks in the lower…uh-oh, too wet! Almost stuck! Back up to high ground to tackle the tall grass by the crab apple trees!

I was making good progress when the Very Bad Sound came. The Very Bad Sound is known to anyone who owns an old farmstead with lots of tall grass and grove areas in which one hundred years of previous owners have tossed various things they had no use for. Or, maybe they just set the thing there fifty years ago and wandered off in a fit of farm-induced ADD, and they forgot about it, or they couldn’t find it (kind of like my compost thermometer). By the time I got the PTO switch flipped and the tractor shut down, I had a long section of heavy-gauge wire wrapped around two out of three of the mower blades. I should add it was the two out of three mower blades that were hardest to reach.

So! Guess I’ll let that sit until John gets home and tells me where the jack is hiding! Off to turn under the winter rye cover crop in the raised beds!

Joe Pye chews on a raspberry stalk while I turn the winter rye cover crop.

Joe Pye chews on a chunk of raspberry cane while I turn the winter rye cover crop.

I eventually got impatient with waiting for John, and propped up the mower deck with broken pieces of pavers in order to reach underneath. Another half an hour rolling around on the ground on alternating sides of the tractor and the wire was out (I made a special trip to stow it where it can do no more harm) and I was back mowing stalks in a small area where the grove meets the prairie, and which has a particularly nice stand of nettles. They’re already poking up, so now it’ll be easier to get back in there and harvest wild spring greens.

But today…well, spring greens harvesting is not in the cards Mother Nature is dealing. After a morning where the skies did not seem big enough to contain the geese in them–a morning of stowing tools, tarping equipment and re-securing the barn doors–we’ve ping-ponged back into winter with the swirl of airborne waterfowl replaced by swirling snowflakes.


Time to settle my farm-induced ADD inside for the afternoon. I might try looking again for that compost thermometer. Who knows what I’ll find instead!


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