Seeding Rye

(In nature) The soil is always protected from the direct action of sun, rain, and wind. In this care of soil strict economy is the watchword: nothing is lost.

Sir Albert Howard in An Agricultural Testament

We had cereal rye seeded on our cornfields this week as a cover crop. The corn is starting to die and that lets sunlight reach the ground between the rows, so the rye we spread on the ground will begin to grow.

Rye is a winter annual, it will grow this fall until it freezes, then it goes dormant through the winter and resumes growing in the spring. We’ll let it grow until we’re ready to plant soybeans, then kill it.

The rye provides the benefit Sir Albert Howard mentions above in the quote; it protects the soil from washing away in the rain or blowing away in the wind.

As the rye grows it is working beneath the soil, increasing the biological life in the soil and turning water, sunlight, and the nutrients in the soil into organic matter that will feed next year’s crop.

We have Andy Ambriole use his sprayer with an air seeder on it to apply the rye. The sprayer is tall enough it can drive through the corn without doing much damage.

Gray Morning

Gray Morning

Filling Up

Filling Up

Filling the sprayer with rye seed in the gray foggy mornings we’ve been having. The long white tubes go between the corn rows, ensuring the seed gets to the ground and doesn’t get caught in the corn leaves. The tubing all runs back to a seed hopper with a blower on it that blows the seed out through the tubing. Andy said he has 1500 feet of tubing on the sprayer. It’s 90 feet wide when unfolded.

Far Away

Far Away

From a distance you can just see the roof of the sprayer over the corn.

Closer

Closer

Even Closer

Even Closer

And up close you can’t see much more than that!

Andy’s using the rye seed that we just harvested that I wrote about here.

More Rye

Harvesting Rye

By next spring we hope the field looks like this:

Coming Through the Rye

Killing Rye in the Spring

And once we kill it and plant soybeans in it, like this:

Soybeans and Rye

Soybeans Coming Up Through Rye

Now we just wait for the rye to do its work until next spring.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

Wendell Berry, X

Grape Pie

My Grandma Zumbrun used to make grape pie, so in a fit of nostalgia and grapes I made one yesterday.

Our grapevine, despite having been savaged by rabbits last produced grapes like crazy this year.

Grapevine

Grapevine

I didn’t expect to get any grapes this year because of the rabbit damage. So I didn’t prune the vines or thin the grapes. We ended up with lots and lots of little grapes.

Bowl of Little Grapes

Bowl of Little Grapes

Debbie glanced at that bowl and asked, “what are you doing with blueberries?” That’s about the size they are.

To make a grape pie you start removing the skins from the grapes. Yes, every one of this little grapes I picked up, pinched it on the end away from the stem, and if everything was right the plup and seed would pop right out.

Peeled Grapes

Peeled Grapes

This made me really wish I’d thinned the grapes so I would have had fewer big plump grapes to skin. It took me about a half hour to skin 4 cups of grapes and by the time I was done there were skins and pulp everywhere and I looked like I’d dispatched a large and very bloody creature with my bare hands.

You cook the pulp briefly and run it through a food mill to remove the seeds. Then you recombine the pulp and the skins. The skins give you the deep purple color and a lot of flavor. Your reward, I guess, for going to the work of skinning all those grapes.

Filled Pie

Filled Pie

Covered Pie

Covered Pie

Into the oven it goes and about 45 minutes later…

Baked Pie

Baked Pie

And after cooling, the splendid result.

Sliced Pie

Sliced Pie

It tastes just like you’d expect, like grape jam. It’s a lot of work, but it makes an unusual and tasty pie for a different sort of treat.

Grape Pie
For 1 8″ pie

Ingredients

About 4 cups of red grapes
Sugar
Cornstarch or flour or tapioca
Salt
Butter
Pie crust

Procedure

Prepare your favorite 2 crust recipe
Peel the grapes by pinching them at the end opposite the stem, put the seeds and pulp in one bowl and the skins in another
Bring the seeds and pulp to boil and simmer for 5 minutes
Allow to cool and then run through a food mill or colander to remove the seeds
Combine the skins and pulp (they can sit for several hours and continue to pick up flavor and color)
Heat your oven to 450
Add sugar to taste to the grapes. My grapes are very tart and I used about a cup of sugar. If your grapes are sweet you may want to add some lemon juice for tartness.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt
Add 1 to 4 tablespoons of cornstarch (or whatever thickener you like). I used about 3 tablespoons as my grapes were very juicy.
Pour grape mixture into bottom pie crust
Top with dabs of butter if you like
Cover with top crust, seal and crimp and make cuts for venting
Bake 10 minutes at 450 and then turn oven down to 350
Bake another 30 minutes or until bubbling and the crust is golden
Allow to cool several hours at least before slicing.

Tomatoes!

Tom and I went to the Clearspring Produce Auction on Thursday and in a marvel of restraint came home with only 4 1/2 bushels of tomatoes. There was a group of 5 pecks of Romas I really wanted, and a lot of 5 pecks of really nice jalapenos, and I almost bought Debbie a pallet of 60 ornamental gourds and pumpkins.

But we were good and only came home with canning tomatoes.

Canning Tomatoes

Canning Tomatoes

All that restraint went out the window when I went to the Columbia City Farmer’s Market on Saturday.

Farmer's Market Goodies

Farmer’s Market Goodies

I came home with about 4 quarts of hot peppers for hot sauce, an 8 pound head of cabbage for sauerkraut, two baby ginger roots, a loaf of Italian style bread, and two beautiful eggplants.

Today we started canning tomatoes.

The Calm Before the Storm

The Calm Before the Storm

Everything started out neat and tidy. But pretty soon we had every burner covered.

Cooking  5 Gallons of Tomatoes

Cooking 5 Gallons of Tomatoes

Two Canners and Three Pans of Tomatoes

Two Canners and Three Pans of Tomatoes

Lana threatened us with bodily harm if we cooked tomatoes in her water bath canner, so we took a picture to prove we were being good.

Proper Usage

Proper Usage

Not surprisingly, things got out of hand.

A Big Mess

A Big Mess

And at one point a cork trivet stuck to the bottom of a pan, and I put it back on the stove.

Oops

Oops

Tom and I looked at one another for bit, “what is on the bottom of that pan that’s making it smoke so?” We soon answered our own question, and in a Gordon-esque move, hurled the smoking trivet out the back door.

But by mid-afternoon most everything was done – because we ran out of jars. We still have 25 quarts of juice to process, and haven’t touched the hot peppers yet.

Bounty

Bounty

But we’re mostly done, and it sure looks pretty all cleaned up and the tomatoes in nice rows.

Pop!

Is there anything more satisfying than hearing a canning jar seal?

Pop!

Pop!

Our tomatoes have been going gangbusters this year and today I canned 16 pints of crushed tomatoes and 5 quarts of juice from just 3 vines.

The jars come out of the canner bubbling furiously. The heat is a tangible and vicious[1] thing, even the briefest touch will raise blisters on your skin. And then as the jars cool the canning lids snap down with a sharp pop.

There’s no more satisfying sound in the world. It’s not that those 16 pints of tomatoes stand between us and starvation, but it represents that. No matter what happens, when the wind blows and the snow flies this winter, we’ll be able to open a jar of tomatoes and eat.

And it represents work well done. The planning of growing food, planting the seeds, tending to them, fending off the pests, harvesting, preparing and preserving, all culminates in that “pop!” as the canning jar seals.

There’s a bit of the dilettante in this. I don’t have to do this. I won’t go hungry if I don’t do it. But I don’t let that dilute my pleasure in hearing the “pop!”


1. I kept typing “viscous” and I knew that wasn’t right but the spelling checker wasn’t any help, so I finally had to ask Debbie, “how the heck do you spell vicious?” She spelled it for me [2] and then asked, “why are you typing ‘vicious’?” I replied that I was blogging about canning, but she didn’t find that explanation helpful.

2. She’s my hero. I wish I could spell.

Catching the Rye

We grow a little of cereal rye for cover crop seed. It’s kind of like winter wheat, you plant it in the fall at the same time you’re planting wheat. But it comes ripe about 3 weeks after the winter wheat.

We harvested the rye last week.

Cutting Rye

Cutting Rye

It looks like wheat in this picture. It’s actually about 2 feet taller than wheat and has a bigger head with bigger grains.

More Rye

More Rye

Rye going into the combine.

This year we tried a couple of ‘high-management’ test strips in the rye. We use high-management practices on wheat; we spray for weeds as needed, spoon feed it nitrogen 3 or 4 or 5 different times, and apply fungicides at the precise times diseases are a threat.

It’s a lot a messing around, often when we’re trying to get other things done, but it’s the difference between 60 bushels per acre and 100 bushels per acre in wheat for us.

So we thought we’d try those same practices in rye this year. The main part of the rye field, where we just hit it with one pass of fertilizer and fungicide went 55 bushels to the acre. The high management part…

High management rye

High management rye

… went as high as 110 bushels to the acre and averaged about 95 bushels to the acre.

Like so many things, attention to the details matters.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Spenser and Owen and I went down to check out the 3 Sisters garden today. Spenser found a scent in the adjacent corn field and ran and barked for an hour or two. And now he’s very tired.

Tired Spenser

Tired Spenser

A snooze on the rug with your favorite toy at hand (or paw, as the case may be). It’s a dog’s life.

Dill Pickles

We planted 4 cucumber plants this spring. They all froze in a late frost. Then we planted 4 more. All but one of froze in an even later frost. But the one surviving vine is producing cucumbers with a vengeance. I made 5 pints of pickle relish last week and I made dill pickles today.

Ingredients

Ingredients

The dill is from our garden too, the dill plants are going great this year. There’s not a lot of cucumbers there, but it was enough to make 3 pints, a nice quantity for us.

Finished Product

Finished Product

I tried a low-temperature pasteurization technique where you process the jars for 30 minutes while holding the water temperate at 180 degrees. It’s supposed to result in a crispier pickle. I’m anxious to try some, but I always feel like I should hoard the jars until winter and eat fresh from the garden now.

Auger Go Boom

We had a storm go through last night. It didn’t seem that bad at our place, the wind blew, but we’ve had much worse.

We went over to Tri-Lakes to Portside Pizza for supper and we were surprised by how many trees and limbs were strewn everywhere.

And I was really surprised went I went over to the farm this morning.

Boom!

Boom!

Boom!!

Boom!!

Boom!!!

Boom!!!

The auger that goes from our corn dryer to the storage bin toppled in the wind. Not only that, it managed to hit the electric meter[1] dead center, smashing it.

That auger had been sitting in the same spot since 2008. We’ve had terrible storms since 2008, including the derecho of 2012.

Derecho 2012

There’s a 91 mph wind speed label right over our place on that graphic. And the auger stood just fine through that. Yet whatever went through yesterday took it down.

Fortunately we won’t be drying corn and needing this auger for at least 6 weeks, so we have plenty of time to figure out whether to repair or replace it.


1. What was really cool in all this was that we found out about it when our local electric cooperative called us to tell us something had happened to the meter. They know in real-time whether the meters are working or not.

Baling Straw

We baled straw today. Straw’s what’s leftover after you harvest wheat. We only baled a little this year. Enough for our cows and for a few neighbors. Wheat straw is rich in potash, and as my dad said to me years ago, “why would you sell straw and buy potash to replace it?”

The Hayliner

The Hayliner

We love our new, well refurbished, baler. It makes wonderfully tight and square bales. And despite its name, it works well in straw too.

Windrows

Windrows

The view out of the tractor front window. Just cruising along the windrows of straw.

Happy Loader

Happy Loader

The view out of the back window of the tractor. Tom may look like he’s doing a happy dance, but actually he saw I was taking pictures and was getting ready to flip me off.

Not What it Looks Like

Not What it Looks Like

It may look like Tom’s mooning me here, but he’s actually carefully placing the bale at the bottom of this tier. If you get that first bale out of position there’s no recovering from it and you’re going to end up with an ugly load.

There’s a Robert Frost poem [1] that contains the lines:

Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Baling is like that. We often hire high school kids to help us with baling. And some of them know how to “handle an ax.” You show them once and they understand how stack bales in the mow, or how to stack the tiers on a wagon so they’ll ride. And others never get it.

You can glance at a mow of hay, or a bale coming out of the baler, or at a wagon load, and know what sort of fellow did that work.

It’s immensely satisfying work. I just wish I was better at it, because I can look at my stacks and know I’m just adequate. Tom, on the other hand, can really stack a bale.


1. The full poem.

Two Tramps in Mud Time

Robert Frost (1934)

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of beech it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake: and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheel rut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an axhead poised aloft,
The grip on earth of outspread feet.
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the woods two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps.)
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right — agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.

Religious People

Tom and I went up to Nappanee yesterday to get a part for our auger that self-destructed during wheat harvest. I needed gas, so we swung into the first station in Nappanee.

I was surprised when I went in to get a refreshing fountain pop to hear what seemed to be Indian hip-hop music blaring. Then a young man wearing a turban and a full beard took my money. I was again surprised to see a Sikh in downtown Nappanee, but it explained the music.

We got back into the truck and waited for an Amish guy…

with a hat and a full beard

… to pass by on Highway 6 so we could continue on.

I didn’t think a thing about it, until tonight when I was relating to Debbie the amusing anecdote of a Sikh in Nappanee, and she said, “Don’t you see? The Amish guy and the Sikh are the same. They’re both following their religion.”

Huh.

I wish I was as smart as Debbie.