Summer 2016

To make a long story short, summer 2016 was pretty darn awful.  But if you want the details

May was cold and dark and dreary.  Strong with the dark side.  Nothing much grew.  Silly me.  I didn’t plant sea weed.

June – Partly cold and partly hot.  Partly wet and partly droughty.  There’s now enough sunlight for greens, but summer things like beans, peppers and tomatoes just aren’t interested in life much.

July – Suddenly nothing but sun.  And heat.  And no rain.  And deer in the new hoophouse despite fencing.  And crows in the tomatoes.  Crows are desperate for tomatoes.  Not a ripe one to be found anywhere.  So the crows and the deer eat the green ones.  First ripe tomatoes of the season don’t show until July 9.

The following week I have to leave the farm.  My father is undergoing surgery for aortic aneurysm.  I hurriedly set up the garden irrigation on timers and head to Louisiana.  Shortly after I left, there was a failure in the irrigation controller to the garden in the reclaimed riding ring.  The new hoophouse doesn’t dry out enough to actually kill the tomatoes and the peppers, but nothing really grows much either.  And oh, yeah, that’s about the time the first serious heat of the year settled in.

When I returned from Louisiana, there’s nothing but a few dodgy beets and a wee bit of lettuce, a lot of jalapeno peppers.  And garlic that I had harvested in late May/early June and dried in the barn.  In a fit of despair, I went for a drive in the mountains of Nelson County and found myself at an orchard.  I bought a lot of peaches and some apples.  Peaches are scarce this year due to the late frost.  I managed to make a little money on reselling the fruit, but it would have been nice to make it on my own tomatoes instead.

So for the next three weeks, I played catch up.  Paperwork, pasture maintenance, bed prep for fall planting, cleaning garlic.  In the midst of this usual rigmarole, the tractor broke down at the top of the big field while I was bush hogging.  Every man I spoke to about this problem just assumed I had run out of fuel.  They didn’t believe, until they saw the fuel gauge for themselves, that, yes, there was a half tank of fuel.  It would have saved me a lot of aggravation if these gentlemen would have taken me at my word, “Plenty of fuel, but there’s a problem in the fuel line.”  I ended up using Youtube to diagnose the problem and the guy at the Kubota dealership was happy to supply a new fuel filter, printed diagram (that looked nothing like the engine in my tractor) and then provided instructions and tips for replacing said filter.  That’s all it took.  Thankfully.  I wasn’t looking forward to the bill to have the Kubota hauled to the dealership.

In addition to all the regular farm chores, I tried an experiment in fermented feed on my chickens.  That didn’t go over well.  Egg production dropped off drastically three days in.  Of course, by now it was mid August, past the solstice and chickens are prepping for winter.  The molting has begun.  Or maybe I introduced the fermented feed too quickly.

Ferment instructions:  Ultimately you will use ½ the feed you normally use, have to provide much less water.  The feed is fermented in containers appropriate to the amount of feed you are using.  (Plan on the volume of dry feed to triple in the fermentation process.  Place the feed in the container and keep covered with at least an inch of water. You want an anaerobic ferment.  No yeast.  No acetic acid.)  Ferment for 2 or 3 days and feed to your birds, saving a small of the ferment as a starter for your next batch.  I keep mine covered loosely with a lid.  Air temperature doesn’t seem to matter much as long as it is above freezing in the area where fermentation takes place.

Benefits: Cut your feed bill in half.  The fermented food contains probiotics and is predigested by the lacto bascillus in the ferment. (Occurs naturally.  No need to add an initial starter.)  Birds are able to get more nutrition from the feed.  They are healthier, have better plumage, lay more eggs, lay bigger eggs with larger yolks and stronger shells.  The flock requires less water, poops are firmer and less smelly.

Reality: While many farmers report smashing success with this practice, others have my experience.  Egg production went into immediate decline.  Of course, I went all in and probably should have introduced the ferment slowly.  It is also possible that it’s just that time of year for the molt to begin.  No time yet to go back and check records.

So here we are.  September Eve.  I’m just going to say it.  August was a shitty month.

The summer garden was a fail.  Worst growing season ever is what I’m hearing from other growers.  Hard to cover expenses with nothing to sell.

My dad’s health continued to deteriorate.  By the middle of the month, I knew time was short.  So I started shopping for a new van/delivery type vehicle.  My 18 year old Plymouth Grand Voyager made the trip from Virginia to Louisiana in July, but with 297,000 miles it had made it clear to me that it wasn’t up to another such adventure.  After two days of searching, I saw a picture of a minivan at the dealership in Farmville and that picture spoke clearly in my mind, “My name is Moira and I am the one you need.”  So I came home with Moira, a 2013 Town and Country Minivan on a Tuesday and the following morning came the call, “He’s in ICU.”

I left a few hours later, after buttoning up the farm as best I could for my husband and son to manage.  An hour and a half into my trip, my youngest son called to tell me he’d wrecked his car and was injured.  Several desperate phone calls later, the EMT’s and my neighbor were at his side and I am in a parking lot in Appomattox hyperventilating.  My dad is dying.  My son may be dying.  Which one do I pick?  How do I even make that decision?

My oldest son, the EMT, met the ambulance at the hospital. “He’s not dying.  Nothing is broken.  Go.”  And so I went.  Leaving my husband and kids to deal with this crisis on their own.

When I arrived in Louisiana, my father was in ICU to treat a raging infection of flesh eating bacteria stemming from poor care that resulted in a bedsore so bad it required surgery.  He was out of his mind.  (Or maybe not.)  Screaming, “Help me! Set me free!” Over and over again.  Honestly, I was horrified.  I treat my animals with more compassion than he had received.  I cried over him despite my nephew’s insistence that my dad didn’t need to see my tears.  I stayed with my dad, long after the family had gone home.  Long after visiting hours were over.  Telling him stories from my farm, about my new van, reminiscing about road trips we’d taken back in the 70’s.  My first RC Cola.  The first time we ever ate at an IHOP.  How cold the lakes were in Washington state.  How everyone accused me of cheating on the Louisiana history test because he taught the subject and I had scored higher than anyone ever had.   Camping on the Moselle River and him making toast in a cast iron skillet on a propane stove.  (You can make toast without a toaster? I’m convinced that’s where my willingness to step outside of the box came from.)  Funny, the things I remember.

He was a little better the next day, Friday.  On Saturday, my other nephew arrived.  He’s a highly competent ICU nurse who works at Standford in California.  He knew my dad was terminal, but how do you just let your grandfather die?  Because that was what my dad wanted.  I think I knew that when I left his beside in July.

I had been in his room in July, when the neurologist came in, poked, pinched, and prodded.  “The paralysis (from the waist down) is permanent.  This is common with aortic aneurysms.  You’ll need to start thinking about rehab and long term care.  Living at home will take a lot of rehab and special equipment.  Even then it may not be possible.”  No compassion.  Just “You’re screwed.”

My dad hadn’t been eating much since the fall on July 9th that brought him to the hospital.  And he pretty much quit eating altogether after that diagnosis.  Six weeks to starve himself to death.

On Sunday, we went to comfort care and moved him out of ICU and into a large room with unlimited visiting hours.  No more IV fluids, no more blood pressure or blood sugar medication.  We discussed the possibility of deactivating his pacemaker, but never had to go there.  On Monday, his mind was clear and he had some sense of time and some memory back.  The family spent the day gathered at his side.  He drank a coke and had some ice cream.  Then the family went home, I helped the nurses with the dressing change on his bed sore and turning him to a new position.  Then I got him another drink of coke, tucked him in, turned on a ball game and turned out the lights.  Nurses visits wore him out and he went to sleep immediately.  I settled into the couch to do some blogging while he slept.  It wasn’t long before I realized I could no longer hear him breathing.

The thing about living on a farm is you come to know what dead looks like. Chickens, ducks, rodents, ground hogs. I’ve buried a lot of dead things. I checked his pulse, felt for a breath by his nose and mouth, and put my ear to his chest even though the look of him was enough to tell the tale.  Then I got the nurse to confirm what I already knew.  Phone calls to the family.  Removing his oxygen tubes, turning off his high tech wound care bed that made so much noise, disconnecting his IV lines.  Making him presentable for my mom.

We met with the funeral director the next day and suddenly my dad was Major White again.  He was to be buried in an Air Force Blue coffin under and American flag with a bugler playing Taps and an honor guard firing three volleys.  My two oldest children arrived the next day.   My daughter was in time for the wake and my son arrived shortly afterwards.  Four hours of friends, most of whom I knew even though I haven’t lived in the area since 1981, coming to pay their respects to the man in the blue coffin.  The guy who didn’t look a bit like my dad. (So glad we had that time in the hospital to say our good byes to the man we recognized as my father.)  Funeral service the next day. In that weird sleep deprived way, I found myself wondering why do pastors have to read verses from the Bible.  I mean shouldn’t they have the ones for funerals and weddings memorized? And yep, I finally lost it when Taps sounded and the guns went off.

More days trying to straighten out my mom’s affairs and meeting with more old friends.  Then finally, after 12 days away, I was home.  When I left my farm, it had been lush and green, rippling with new grass.  When I returned, it was brown, crispy and sad.  Summer and drought made a last assault when I wasn’t looking.  My youngest son was treated and released after his accident and he has only a few scabs and a sore wrist to show for his adventure.  And no car.  He totaled his Honda Accord and is now driving George, my old mini van: egg-mobile, mom-mobile, nothing sexy about it, peeling paint, cracked windshield and marginal air conditioning.  Sucks to be him.  But then he’s also very lucky.  The engine from his Honda was in the passenger seat after the crash.

And now, I try to salvage a fall growing season.  Rumor is fall will be warm and long and dry, punctuated with a series of tropical systems interrupting the work from time to time.

September is going to be better. It has to be.

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