This was another busy week on the farm, but we are starting to get into the rhythm of the harvest season and the chaos is finally subsiding. Hay season came right at the beginning of the CSA, but the market van also broke down, along with the storage cooler, not to mention the chickens tearing through the seeding greenhouse and roosting in the house. We are all (jokingly) glad that Mercury has come out of retrograde and things are mostly in order. The CSA season is running smoothly, Ken just got a new market van, they hired someone to build a walk-in cooler starting Monday, the chickens are now roosting in the barn, and, perhaps most importantly, we finished haying. On Tuesday, the last 6 wagonloads made it up to the second floor for a grand total of 1400 bales of first cut hay. This is much more than they have ever done before, and will likely last them the whole winter and then some.
We did quite a lot of harvesting this week, for the CSA on Monday and Tuesday, for the Belfast market Wednesday and Thursday, and for the Orono Market Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, aside from routine animal and greenhouse chores, we picked strawberries all day! We picked 24 quarts for the Belfast Co-op and then about 150 for the two markets. We harvested 60 beautiful bunches of beets that contained red, golden, and chioggia. On Thursday, we pulled all of the row cover off the squash, beans, and brassicas in Field 1 and the tomatoes, peppers, and flowers in Field 2. It was so exciting to see all that green where there has only been white for weeks. There are the beginnings of summer squash and tomatoes on the vines and many of the flowers are starting to bloom.
On Tuesday, I stayed down at the house for the CSA pickup. The share this week included a 1/2 lb bag of mesclun mix, a 1/2 lb bag of either arugula or spinach, a bunch of radishes, a bunch of either chard or kale, 2 Chinese cabbages, a bunch of either cilantro or dill, 10 garlic scapes, and a quart of u-pick strawberries. Shareholders also had the option of buying additional quarts of u-pick berries for $3.50. Considering we have been selling berries at market for around $6.50/qt and it only takes about 5 minutes to pick a quart, that’s a pretty good deal.
On Friday, I got a chance to cultivate with the horses. The squash are planted every other row, so Ken wanted to come in and knock down all of the extra rows so that the weeds germinating in those rows would be exposed and dry out. I drove Pete and Jewel on either side of the extra row while Ken held the walk-behind cultivator in the row. The cultivator is made up of two handles connected to 5 spades whose width can be adjusted. Ken pushed down so that the spades cut through a few inches of soil while also keeping it center on the row. My job was to keep the horses walking in the furrows as much as possible.
On Friday, Adrienne and Mica went to market and Brian, Graham, Ken, and I planted most of the rest of the winter squash, and then shoveled the row cover over it as Hurricane Arthur soaked through our clothes. Needless to say, 4th of July fireworks were canceled. Brian and I went to the contra dance in Belfast instead. It was a blast!
Saturday morning, we tried to prune the tomatoes in the hoophouse, but they were still too wet and we didn’t want to spread leaf blight. There was visibly a small amount of leaf blight on a few plants, so we didn’t want to be throwing around lots of wet plant debris and spreading the disease around. Instead we restaked the peas that had blown over in the storm, trellised cucumbers, and painted the farm stand sign that will go in along the road.
This week, while moving the sheep to a new paddock, I learned how to use a scythe to cut a path for the fence so that the tall grass won’t ground out the electricity. When we arrived in May, some of the pastures had grass about a foot tall, but now many of the pastures have grass up to my shoulders, and there is at least one spot on the farm with grass towering above my head. The scythe we are using was made for Ken’s height, so it was a bit awkward to use, but overall it is an extremely elegant tool. It is lightweight, slender, and sharp, and I soon got into the rhythm of the repetitive swing back, swing forward motion. Most of the power comes from the momentum generating in swiveling at the hips. The blade is held at a constant parallel angle to the ground and you swing to the right, then swing back forward and the blade glides through the grass, leaving it neatly on the ground. I did get pretty exhausted and sweaty, but it was much more satisfying than pushing along to the loud, angry grind of a lawn mower. I used the energy that I got from eating vegetables cultivated by horses who, in turn, derive their energy from the grasses, to maintain the sheep pasture. The sheep get the easy end of the whole deal.
Feeling this connection to manual grass cutting made me think about all of the people throughout time and around the globe who have cut grasses using their own muscles, and I wanted to know more about this history. As it turns out, the scythe was invented by the Scythians, an equestrian tribe inhabiting the Eurasian steppes during the Iron Age. They most likely starting using scythes to cut grass for hay and harvest hemp around 500 BCE and the tool made its way into the Roman Empire and was commonplace by about the 13th century CE. Before the scythe, most grass cutting was done using the sickle, which was first made from wood, bone, or clay with inset flint, then wooden handles with bronze blades, and finally iron blades. The advantage of the scythe over the sickle is that it allows the used to stand upright rather than stooping. In the 16th century CE, the addition of a cradle to catch grain made it possible to harvest grains with a scythe. Now there are many different regional styles of blade, snath (long wooden handle), and grips (smaller handles for holding the snath). European scythe blades are extremely thin, curved in 3 dimensions, and made of hand-forged steel. This style of scythe has become the most widely used throughout the world because it is the most lightweight relative to its power, but also because its manufacture remained localized and rural within Eastern European mill towns (mostly in Austria) while the English scythe was made in urban factories with terrible working conditions. Scythe forger’s unions banded together and overthrew the scythe company owners in the 1850’s and the market was turned over to Austria.