From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
That’s an easy one for me— burning off the asparagus patch in the early spring. Just something about lighting up the new growing year. After so long staring out the windows at one snowfall after another, we can finally go outdoors and not have the wind freeze our faces. And it takes a bit of knowhow. We wait for the perfect morning. There needs to be a slight breeze, enough to blow the fire briskly over the bed, but not brisk enough to blow sparks into the woods. The dead asparagus stems need to be dry enough to burn readily and completely. We light the dead foliage at one end of the patch and carry burning stems with forks, dribbling fire down the row. Something satisfying about how the fire does all the work while we lean on our forks, or sit in lawn chairs, keeping watchful eyes so no little errant flame sneaks out into the leaves and dead grass bordering the patch. And there are no bugs. The result is not only that many asparagus beetle eggs are destroyed, but the fire leaves a nice black covering on the patch to soak up sunlight warmth and make the new shoots come up a little quicker.
My next favorite job is frost seeding red clover with a hand-cranked seeder slung over my shoulder. Folklore says to sow clover on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, which is usually about the right time here in northern Ohio. The clover seeds fall into the little crevices of frozen surface and when the soil thaws, it flows just a tiny bit over the seeds. I specify red clover because in my experience, it sprouts from frost seeding better than other legumes. For the perfect morning for sowing, the air should be still because wind might blow the seed beyond the swath I am presently planting. Invariably, cardinals have taken up their spring song and their music accompanies me as I stride back and forth across the field at a measured pace. Sometimes it seems like I am marching in time with their melodies. Like burning off the asparagus patch, the work inspires joy because it heralds the coming of spring.
Another favorite job is working ground with tractor and disk ahead of corn planting. Driving in this situation doesn’t require much attention. If I inadvertently weave a little off course and go over a bit of the same soil twice or miss a bit, doesn’t matter. I can always get the missed places later. My eyes more often are focused on possibly finding a flint arrowhead on the ground surface. I can let my mind wander far and wide. The woodlots on the horizon, now tender green with new growth, look so heavenly and I imagine morel mushrooms there, just waiting for me to find them. The beauty of the landscape often inspires me to sing. The tractor’s noise blots out the jagged edges of my voice and to my ears I sound quite operatic.
Our whole family likes to sing on the tractor when we think no one can hear us. Mom’s favorite story was about how she was blasting away while she was plowing one day. She noticed that Ade and Raymond, brothers who farmed next to us, had stopped work and were leaning on the fence between their land and ours, watching her intently. She thought it was her singing that was mystifying them and, embarrassed, she stopped abruptly. But they kept on watching her. She reached the end of the field and as she turned, she realized that she had lost the plow back a ways. It had hit a rock and automatically come uncoupled from the tractor, probably right at a dramatic crescendo in her performance so captivating to her that she did not notice. Ade and Raymond were practically dancing a jig, laughing, as she retrieved the plow.
Another favorite job for me is splitting firewood, but only under the proper circumstances. It has to be a warmish day in late fall or late winter (no snow). And the wood has to be chunks that part easily with an eight pound splitting maul. Right now, we have plenty of dead white ash trees from the ash borer and the ones that had grown to about a 15 inch diameter among the bigger trees are straight and tall and limbless. No knots. After they are cut into proper lengths for stove wood, makes me feel like a superman to smack these chunks in half with one blow and then whacking each half in two with two more swings. Three whacks equal four pieces. Then I rest and study the woods for nuthatches, squirrels, or deer. Once I saw a mink in broad daylight. Then three more whacks equals four more pieces. I stack them. Stacked wood is more soothing to look at than money in the bank. Then I rest again. Twenty four whacks later and I have enough wood to heat the house for a whole day. And what’s this? A honeybee, taking advantage of the thawing warmth, alights on a nearby maple oozing sap from a scrape, and enjoys a sip. Must be time for me to go to the house for a sip myself.