AgriCulture: Silver Linings

In the fog of a frosty fall morning, I trudge across white crusted grass, brushing past ice-laden mugwort leaning into the path, on my way to the barn. The milkiness of the air seems replicated somehow inside my brain, as I try to break through the hangover of my COVID booster vaccination. For some reason I have reacted strongly to these shots, which makes me both lousy with malaise but happy at the silver lining that my immune system has been so effectively stimulated.

As I trudge, it occurs to me that malaise with a silver lining was a familiar theme this week. Election Day I was dismayed to see a Republican electorate so energized, and swing voters so swingable in their direction, while my beloved but politics-wearied Democrats stayed home. How could we have lost Virginia, let alone even more resoundingly the town council races here in Germantown? Could it have been massive voter fraud? The evidence of fraud was just as compelling as in Republican complaints about last year’s Presidential race (the evidence being “my side lost”). Why was nobody raising an outcry?

Bummed as I was, the results contained some silver linings for me. Yes, the election revealed that we’re still a closely divided country in which the main motivator to vote seems to be antipathy to the “other side” of the cultural divide, hardly the sign of a healthy political system. But there was no movement to, as my Washingtonian friend Arthur calls it, “Shtup the Seal.” This says to me that the public recognizes the basic integrity of our electoral process, revealing the Trumpian Big Lie for what it is. Also, that Republicans have seen themselves doing so much better with Trump off the ballot than on suggests that he is less likely to be their 2024 nominee. In the interim, the 2022 midterm elections are more likely to be defined by a booming Biden post-COVID economy than by current voter malaise. All silver linings, in my view.

These political musings that occupy my trip to the barn are displaced by an entirely different train of thought when I arrive. Though it, too, arrives at a silver lining.

The barn seems a cold and uninviting place on this miserable morning. Why? In part, because it is larger and more cavernous than its cozy predecessor, a repurposed fruit packing barn that burned in 2019. It was designed to accommodate a growing herd. I didn’t realize I would soon decide to shrink the herd down into the teens. (It’s now at 24, but three young ewes are being sold to a cheese-producing farm next week and the three young rams are going to slaughter weeks later.)

In larger part, though, the barn feels cold because of its concrete floor which I have been diligently working to uncover. All through last winter, when the sheep were being fed on hay, the barn floor became covered, perhaps 5 to 6 inches deep, with a muck consisting of bedding straw, waste hay, and sheep poop.

As the detritus congeals and decomposes, it releases heat. Indeed, sometimes when I am forking out a deep layer of muck I will find that it is smoking underneath. One has to prevent too much build up or the floor can become a fire hazard. On the other hand, a couple of inches of such matter on the floor acts as insulation from the cold concrete, soft bedding for the sheep to lie on at night, and almost as a heating system. Especially with the barn doors open to catch the south and east light, on a cold winter day the barn, filled with warm bodies of the sheep ruminating, can feel quite cozy.

Because it is hard for me to put a full or even half day aside to muck the barn, I decided this year to incorporate daily muck removal as a 10 minute add on to chores. Almost every day, I fill a wheelbarrow with muck and trundle it out to the now mountainous compost pile north of the barn. It has taken from Spring until now to finish the job.

The downside of completion of the mucking is that it has coincided with several days of somewhat below normal temperatures for this time of year, with heavy frosts four nights in row. It also coincides with the flock’s long scheduled fall shearing, which took place Wednesday morning. It strikes some people as odd to sheer sheep just now, but for their health, among other reasons, we shear twice a year. To do so now, when there’s enough time to grow a heavier insulating coat back before the really cold weather of winter, makes sense.

The shearing went smoothly, thanks to the skills of circuit riding shearer Aaron Loux and the assistance of my friend Tom, who devoted part of his day off to help bag the wool as I skirted it (i.e. removed the poopy parts). The girls looked considerably skinnier with their coats off, but also beautiful in their new coiffures.

And they have seemed unfazed by the weather. The Karakul, a breed native to Central Asian deserts, are certainly hardy enough to deal with this amount of chill, but they are also resourceful about being comfortable. It was no surprise to me when I arrived this morning to find that the they had moved out of the barn to its exterior east wall, which serves as something of a sun trap, to catch the warmth as the sun ‘s rays slowly burned off the fog.

It being the beginning of November, I’ve started feeding the sheep hay again. I’ve been spreading some straw on the concrete floor, which will mix with the waste hay and their poop to create that warm insulating barrier between them and the floor. In a few weeks the barn will again be something of an insulated nest, in which the sheep will happily loll and munch hay, and which will be a welcome destination at the end of my cold walk from the house, a refuge from wind whipping off the north field. Another silver lining.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:

There’s much less after the frost, but I harvested some stuff in advance, so there are still:

Daikon Radish, $2/each – large, great for radish salads, kimchee

Poblano peppers — great for chiles rellenos $1 each

Sweet frying peppers, also $1 each

Collard greens $3/bag

Frisee lettuce, $3/bag

Sorrel, $3 a bag

EGGS: $5/doz Production is dropping off dramatically, but there are still a few coming in, so ask

Note: next weekend there will be no bulletin, as I’m off to a wedding and a bar mitzvah, but I am here all week should you wish stuff.

FARM PICKUPS:

Email us your order at farm@turkanafarms.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.



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