The old cat died two days before Christmas. The man reckoned that she was at least 20 years old, which is a lot of days to pad coyly along the hay stack while watching him flake alfalfa into the feed rack in the morning; to rub the rough cuffs of his Levi’s when he returned a few hours later to rake in the leavings that the calves had nudged out of reach. It was a lot of days to stretch out on a hay bale, paws curled under and tail twitching, and watch as the man fed the calves a second time in the growing shadows of late afternoon. A lot of days to stride next to him in the dark, tangling between his feet, as he raked the hay in again, a flashlight strapped to his head, light piercing the night’s obscurity.
This long-term cropping systems project is a collaborative effort between researchers, extension and farmers. Funded by the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, it explores the essential premise of organic farming, namely, the connection between healthy soil and healthy crops. Specifically, the Organic Cropping Systems (OCS) program, which includes long-term organic grain and vegetable experiments, tries to evaluate how varying intensities of cropping, cover cropping, tillage and compost affects soil quality, nutrient levels, insects, weeds, disease, yields and profitability.
When you reach for a bottle or jug of maple syrup there’s nothing quite like the price tag attached to it to make you think twice. It is worth it, no doubt, in more than one way. But if you have maples in your neck of the woods there is no reason why you can’t make it yourself. It is always best to start small with a process that is easy for you to handle and increase each year as you gain experience and confidence. There are also lots of great books out there with guidelines, facts and information of all kinds. Just don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with it. Sometimes more information isn’t more, it’s too much.
What is that mysterious magnet that keeps me happily stoking the stove and researching what farm critters will eat ticks? What type of chicken will do well against pine martins, weasels, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, occasional wolves, peregrine falcons, great horned owls, huge seagulls, snakes, cold and probably other creatures that I haven’t yet seen? I have lived on farms most of my life and as of today, January 1 of a brand new year, I have no inkling as to what lure keeps me here.