Jilly D.

Waiting for spring: wild winds

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on March 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm

100_1025For Sam, learning to withstand the challenges of weather means preparing for storms. Wind storms and rain in March are the norm. Wind gusts and torrential downpours are not; but have become more frequent in the past three or four years.

In the middle of a March night we will hear it rain on snow. Plop-plop on the tin roof wakes us. Rain on snow instead of snow on snow is trouble. Rain then freezes. Rain penetrates the snow and alters its consistency before freezing rock hard. The deer and cows can’t stomp down the snow and eat the green undergrowth in pastures and woodlands. The rain freezes right onto the blades of the windmill. The blades get heavier and heavier. Sometimes the windmill will freeze right up and you’ve got to wait a few days for a good sun shower.

When the winds blow at 60 m.p.h. it tests the wire cables holding the windmill aloft and grounded. Only once has the windmill atop the 80 foot tower broken under gale force winds. It required taking the tower down, taking the windmill off and replacing the blades. More than once, wind gusts have been so extreme as to jolt it into a free spin where the regulator shuts it down and stops generating power. In March last year the gusts at 85 m.p.h. finally fried the big windmill. Sam has the spare parts in the garage and will take it down during the calm days of summer to work on it and replace the generator.

Finding projects for these glum bouts of weather are needed to sublimate the desires of any normal hibernating mammal. There are lots of things to do, although most of them are not ones we look forward to doing. Procrastinating paperwork and tax preparation, for example. Oiling and seasoning all the cast iron pans and skillets, polishing the silver, sharpening the knives with a whetstone, cleaning off desks and workbenches, organizing tools and balancing the checkbook.

Sam studies the farm newspapers and magazines. March is a good time to go to auctions. Nobody else has any money to spend this time of year, and the weather is so bad nobody needs to use any equipment yet, so prices are lower.  I learned to love Saturday morning road trips to farm auction sites; preview the goods with a hot cup of coffee from the traveling food wagon. Sam is so good at finding deals because he knows he can repair anything that’s broke.

We spend time during the longest month of the year doing hands-on research related to the farm. One year we attended a regional conference of deer and elk farmers to learn more about legislative initiatives and marketing efforts to promote deer farming. Sam and I participated in a public forum held on the Ithaca College campus regarding sustainability and wind farming. Sam spoke at public hearings held at the Enfield Town Board meetings regarding the viability of a new wind farm near Buck Hill. I took a month long course offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension at the Rural-Urban Center in Montour Falls on How to Build a Sustainable Farm Business Plan. Extension Services offered a variety of workshops in March that proved useful: Marketing Local Meats, Agritourism in the Finger Lakes, Promoting Local Farmers Markets. Sam drove around to several other deer, elk and buffalo ranches in New York and Pennsylvania to learn first-hand from experienced farmers.

Despite having taken my fair share of multiple choice tests, including the SAT, ACT, and GREs, and despite having constructed more than my fair share of closed-end objective assessment tests, I worried about passing my Wildlife Rehabilitator’s License exam. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation requires a test before you are allowed to practice wildlife rehabilitation. There are no essays, so I couldn’t explain my answers. I spent hours reviewing exam questions with Sam.

“What are the most likely rabies vector species you will encounter in your work as a wildlife rehabilitator in New York State?” Sam would ask.

“Bats, raccoons,” I blurted out. This was like playing Jeopardy, but the stakes involved the welfare of wild animals.

“How long is the gestation period of rabbits?” he’d ask.

“Twenty-one days.” I knew how fast rabbits could reproduce.

“Define hypothermia. Define hyperthermia.” Sam kept quizzing me. I loved it. Even if I didn’t know all the answers, I was learning them from Sam.

100_0931The icicles begin to drip. The snow begins to melt. The waterwheel turns Po-dunk. The swish and force of water pushing steel make spring percussion.

The seed catalogs pile high. We wade through them and begin to make plans for the next growing season.

“Plant oats in the mud. Buckwheat in the dust. That’s what Uncle Donald taught me,” Sam says. Uncle Donald and Sam’s dad farmed oats and buckwheat for seed crops. During the 1950s and 1960s most of the farmland around here was used to grow seed crops. Since the 1800s when Mecklenburg and Enfield established working mills based on the power generated from waterwheels, these fields have yielded grains and produce for feed and seed. The number of seed companies dropped precipitously since the 1980s. Seed saving today is making a comeback and I harvest, dry, clean, and sort all kinds of seeds from our crops of lettuces, greens, beets, radishes, sunflowers, calendula, cilantro and basil.

Quality is like fresh oats

Quality is like fresh oats

  1. Spring on the way–ice, snow, melt, and mud. Practical problem-solving, seed-catalogs, and cooler tempers this week.Love your stories. Here, coyote tracks in the snow. I hope they go after the exploding rabbit population. Hard to garden without a guy who’s a good shot.

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