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Fluffy, Fat, and Full: Late Summer Update

Fluffy, fat, and full: that’s your sheep update for the quarter. The girls are putting on the wool and stuffing every blade of grass and forb into their mouths. An afternoon nap in the sun and another romp in the weeds before I call them in with the shake of the cracked corn. The other night I ran out of corn and Roxy death-stared me from the corner of the barn, her yellow tag hanging like a big gold earring. She’s a tough girl and she wanted me to know she’d be beating me up at the earliest opportunity. A night later, I tossed their little nightcap of corn in the buckets and all was well with the flock, though Roxy still gives me the eye and some exaggerated nose flares. She's the boss.

The endless war with thistle and dock continues. We kept it grazed down all summer, then the last gasp of sunshine called all the spiky purple flowers forth. And now the sheep have lots new jewelry. Thistle earrings and thistle nose rings and thistle hairclips and thistle necklaces. Thistle rhinestones and thistle ankle bracelets. Every night I go into the barn and help the sheep get ready for bed. We take our supplements (salt, mineral, and baking soda) and wash our faces. I catch each one and pluck thistles until she can’t stand me anymore. Then on to the next sheep. Clover and Aster are getting big and round, starting to look like their mamas. Mittens (the white one) remains petite. She’s the prettiest sheep and is watching her figure, I think. Emelda is slowing down but still seems happy. She’s got another year in her. Ever the matriarch. Wilder is learning how to behave by sitting by the sheep in the barn when I chase them around to pick the thistles off. His herding instincts take over, though, and he barks his head off as they run laps around the stall. He'll be a farm dog someday, still a city boy. Though he may just have a crush on pretty Mittens.

Every night at dusk I chop a few pieces of elm into firewood – or I watch my axe bounce off the ridiculously tough wood and swear – then I sop up the sunset over the pine trees and newly cleared meadows. The sunsets have been wild and violent all summer (wildfires in Canada) or ethereal and bright, straight off the brush of Maxfield Parrish. Orion carries Parrish's brush every year as he climbs the horizon; the sky becomes a fantasy. If fall and winter is Parrishian, then who paints spring and summer on the farm? I daresay, it comes from the fevered mind of Hieronymus Bosch. Thousands of terrifying illogical and absurd creatures squirming, crawling, crying all over each other. Dragonflies, ticks, mosquitoes, worms, beetles, squash bugs, wolf spiders, orb weavers, creatures I can’t even name because they can only be conjured up by their creator. The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Last Judgment, Hell. The farm is just a series of triptychs: joy and pleasure above, chaos and demons below. Me in the middle navigating through it all, just trying to get the potato patch picked, the chickens fed. On the other side of every glorious sunset is a pair of dusky deer eyes, glowing in the dark along the edge of the woods.

The rain and bugs took out the squash – we got a few – but it couldn’t touch the potatoes. We topped a hundred pounds of tasty taters! I muscled them up to the barn to cure singing "It's only someone else's potatoes if you're pickin' someone else's patch," a favorite line from Neil Young. Grocery store potatoes are but cubes of watery chewy stuff. The potatoes we toss in our frying pan are POTATOES, man. The garlic is potent and pungy and fills the room with its aroma. The peppers made me realize I’ve been eating fake peppers my entire life. I've started calling the food we pluck from our garden what it's supposed to be called -- and the stuff at the grocery store is, uh, not that. The late summer raspberries are coming in -- the candy brambles continue to give. We have enough green beans in the freezer to feed both of us, and the chickens all winter (and Pip, he loves them). We have one single okra on our one happy okra plant, a fun experiment from a Double Dare You Christmas present, and I cannot wait to slice it up and toss it with garlic, peppers, and cherry tomatoes, toss in some chipotle and salt and toss it with some kinda fun seafood. Catfish, maybe? And crispy kale and carrot fries. To be enjoyed by a late summer campfire with a hoppy non-alcoholic beer.

The year’s other fun garden surprise wasn’t in the garden at all. Since I toss a little corn to the sheep every time I move them, a few stalks of corn sprung up all over the pasture. One even produced a tiny ear of corn. I accidentally damaged the stalk, so I picked the teenager corn (it’s not a baby corn anymore, but isn’t a grown up corn) and nibbled it right there in the sunset. What a special snack! I tossed the rest of the ear, still tough, into the chicken pen, where the hens chased each other around practicing their tackling skills.

The chickens are out on pasture until it snows, but they are laying off the laying of eggs. The molting has begun. They’re starting to look like little bald bums, feathers all over the place. I’m starting to eat a few less eggs so we can keep the fridge full as long as possible. The four brand spankin’ new Australorps are laying, as well as Karen, a new hen who lives with the pullets in the barn. We took Karen and another baby bird from a neighbor who needed to re-home them. Why is she named Karen, you ask? I’m told she would look in their windows disapprovingly. Well-played, Karen. She certainly is ornery, but is sweet and lets us pick her up. She lays an egg every day, it seems, and is happy as a hen in a chicken coop. Someday soon we will need to combine the two flocks, but I may just wait until winter so we can move the road trippin’ hens right into the barn. Hopefully the pullets start laying soon and the eggs pick up again into winter.

Fall is also the season of salves. Dry hands are coming, baby! We have been putting dandelion and calendula aside all season and have just made a big batch. Salves and our hand-poured candles (fall scents are coming soon!) can be found at Remick Farm Museum’s store in downtown Tamworth, as well as our farm stand. Folks have been picking up our maple syrup again, now that it’s cool and crisp out. We have plenty to sell for this festive fall season. I’m experimenting with learning how to make maple sugar – one less thing to buy at the grocery store. (Do I need to tell you that homemade maple sugar > grocery store sugar by a factor of ten thousand?) We’re also learning how to process wool and turn it into yarn. We plan to have our own wool available for sale by the holiday season.

Lots happening here on the farm as summer winds down! When things slow down, they pick right up somewhere else. There's a permaculture concept that the best growth, biodiversity, and activity in nature takes place on the edge: edge of a forest, edge of a meadow. That's where you find the blueberries, the deer, the predators, the sun and the shade. Well, we're on the edge of a season, and it's here you find me at my happiest: looking back, looking forward, working hard and hardly working. It's where the growth happens and we're excited to see where the next season takes us.


Fred Phillips
Fred Phillips
Sep 23, 2023

What a great article


Artistically said! thanks for sharing it all. I enjoy your writing. And it’s good to hear what’s going on at the farm at the other end of town, the successes and failures, which marked our summer too.

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