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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pitiful Potatoes

The extremely weird summer that is drawing to an end, with its record-breaking rainfall and cooler temperatures, has had a definite effect on the farm.
Most of our twenty-five tomato plants, which we lovingly planted and mulched with sheep manure and straw at the end of May, were waterlogged and drowned before they had a chance to grow. Last September, we were harvesting bushels of tomatoes to make into sauce. This year, I’ve collected two small bowls.
The potato bugs were out in full force this year, like nothing the Farmer had ever seen before. As soon as a plant emerged from the ground, it was set upon by the striped beetles and razed.
We tried picking the bugs off one by one, and when that didn’t work we used insecticide powder. But it was too late. Without food from the sun, the potato seedlings beneath the soil mounds didn’t stand a chance. I have been harvesting potatoes the size of marbles, and just as hard. My green-thumbed Irish grandmother keeps coming out “to see the garden”. She must have been mortified on her last visit.
We have low-lying pastures, so our hay has been growing in a foot of water throughout most of the season. We couldn’t get a tractor back there for the first cut in June. The heavy equipment would have been bogged down in the wet. Now, as I see many farmers doing their second cut, we have finally dried out enough for our first.
The sheep have been plagued by mosquitoes all summer, as a result of the abundance of rain. But they must be enjoying the cooler temperatures, because they are already coming into season – about a month and a half early. Normally, the oppressive heat of August is more conducive to lazing around under a tree than mating. Our ram typically doesn’t get into the mood until closer to Thanksgiving – usually when we are attempting to entertain relatives from the city on the back porch after a big lunch.
This year, “Rambo” has an assistant. “Rambi”, our two-year-old male, has been following his mentor around the pasture. Rambo has a blue crayon strapped to his chest, which leaves a telltale mark on every ewe he mounts. We will have to get Rambi his own crayon marker so we will know who is working harder. When the ewes are in heat, they crowd around the ram and don’t let him lounge in the shade or graze in peace until they have been serviced. It’s a tough job that normally leaves the ram exhausted – and a couple of pounds lighter – by the time all the ewes have been mated. It’s a good thing Rambo has help this year. And a bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone. The rams seem to be past their head-butting stage, as if they realize they will have to work together to get this job done.
With all of this action happening before fall, we will have lambs arriving by New Year’s Eve. The lambs born in December will no doubt have a much better chance of survival than those born in the freezing nights of February. We also lost a few lambs last year when they gorged themselves on the new spring grass before their stomachs were mature enough to handle it. By the time this next group of newborns is released from the “maternity ward” to the outdoors, there will still be snow on the ground. Hopefully, this timing will allow their delicate digestive systems to mature before the new grass comes.
I have always been a very positive person, so I am usually able to see the bright side of everything. But why did we get so much rain this summer? Australia needs it a heck of a lot more than we do.
I know that many people were rained out of their ball games and ran out of their campgrounds by mudslides this summer. But when you live on a farm, you just have to trust and believe that everything happens for a reason. Even a rainy season.

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