One More Year
by Alina Arnold, age 16, of Scottsville, KY
Another year has passed. A year full of learning and extremely long days. A year where I discovered what it’s like to fall exhausted into bed at night, and witnessed our family pulling together as one unit, working side by side until the work was done.
It all started when we moved here two years ago and decided to go 100% horse power and non electric (not by choice, but because the cost of electric hook up was prohibitive). We were used to working horses small scale, but complete horse power? It was a whole different approach!
“OK,” you might say, “Total horse power isn’t that bad!” No, it’s not, but running a large wholesale produce operation can be a challenge with the slower pace. On top of everything else, I had a major increase in my horse training and breaking business, maybe I should explain and go into detail…
Before we had decided to go full scale produce, we agreed on growing 1/2 acre of wheat. Dad bought a grain binder earlier, and we wanted to see how the wheat would do in our area.
During the winter of ’96, we had many family “conferences” to determine if we were indeed ready for full scale produce farming. Dad and I were ready, and eventually the rest of the family accepted the idea. Then there were the big questions: What would be the most profitable? Would we have a market?
In the end, our market turned out to be quite diversified. Living on the edge of a large horse and buggy Mennonite community, we have “peddlers” that go house to house selling produce, tools, etc. They were part of our market. Other produce went to super Wal-mart or local produce stands.
Our first step was to order and spread 28 tons of chicken litter. This is certainly a dusty, stinky job. But one that has rich rewards in the long run. This usually takes us around one week, working all day, to spread it. We use the chicken litter on the produce fields and our barnyard manure for the field corn and hay.
Soon after spreading the chicken manure, the sap started running. We found ourselves tapping the maples and gathering the sap. It was a spur of the moment decision. But one that has been enjoyed all year! This year the ratio was around 35 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup. It was considered to be a good year for our area because of the cold winter we had. Our syrup turned out a little darker than the “clear gold” from New England, but it still tastes great! We cooked it down in a large outdoor kettle over a fire, and then put it in jars and canned it.
No sooner had we finished maple syrup than a big snow hit our area. Dad and I, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity for “free fertilizer”, immediately readied the horses and started plowing. That kept us both busy for a couple weeks, as we plowed all our cover crops in, too. Of course, I could only plow in the afternoon because I was still in school. We used both a walk and riding plow, and were able to cover a lot of ground.
March rolled around and soon the days began to lengthen and warm. The disc and harrow were made ready and once again Dad and I hit the fields. First thing we did was to sow our hay with oats mixed in. Then we got the ground worked up for 25000 onion sets and 450 lbs. of Irish Potatoes.
The back breaking job of planting them was soon over and we turned our attention to planting the family garden where Mom grows lettuce, greens, salsa tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs and flowers. This is what we call our “spring garden”.
About this time, two of our Belgian mares foaled. We received 2 mare mules and all went well. Thankfully we had a small break from field work which gave the mares some time to rest, before going back at it!
By the time the first of May had arrived we were really pushing hard. First thing to be done was to plant 2,500 cantaloupe plants under plastic. This really isn’t that bad, but it is tedious. Especially for my Dad who had just broken his foot! Fortunately, since I have been my Dad’s “shadow”, I was able to do everything he would have done, plus my work.
Although I am often teased about doing so much boys work, this time I wasn’t! Besides, I am the only one who has an interest in working horses in all my sisters. At this time doing Dad’s work meant spraying all those plants with a back pack sprayer (as the foliage continued to increase we graduated to a boom sprayer) and doing all the cultivating.
After the cantaloupe were all in (we planted 1200 then waited two weeks and planted 1300) we planted 400 tomato plants, and one acre of sweet corn. Then we hurried to get out four acres of field corn in. When we were all done with that, it was time to plant the second planting of sweet corn.
Now, of course this stuff doesn’t just grow without any weeds interfering either! We hoed for 3-4 hours every morning and cultivating everything every week. We also mulched our tomatoes.
The onions were ready to be pulled now, and the strawberries were coming in fast. When they were all done with, we sold around 300 dozen onions and 500 qts. of strawberries. The strawberries did very well since the weather was so cooperative.
Now that the first two plantings of sweet corn were in and up, the third and last acre was planted. I planted this field because my Dad’s foot was still very sore. This was the first time Dad let me plant corn so I was very nervous, but my rows didn’t turn out that bad, and the corn came up very well. We also planted 300 sweet potato slips along with some peanuts for experimentation at this time.
Our first cutting of hay was ready by the end of May. Dad and I were able to get it mowed in record time with the two teams and mowers. After letting it dry for three days, we put it up. I did most of the raking this year. Since I am the official driver on the wagon, I like to make the rows in my own fashion. This year we used three abreast on the wagon. We were able to make much larger loads. Our good ‘ole hay track continues to serve us well and saves us many hours of pitching, also. My sister works in the loft directing loads, Dad puts the forks in the hay on the wagon and trips the loads, I drive the team pulling the loads up and Mom keeps us supplied with lemonade.
By this time I was also getting booked up with horses to break for riding. Between the months of April and August I had 10 horses to break. They were all halter broke when they came here. My Dad had two horses to break for harness work. Thankfully we didn’t have any serious accidents.
Well, horses or no horses, the field work was not slowing down any! The first of July found us entering the longest days imaginable, the hardest hours I’ve ever had, and work that threatened to get over our heads. The first half acre of cantaloupe came in along with the first acre of sweet corn. Then things just went crazy!! We rolled out of bed at 4:00 a.m., did the chores, got the horses harnessed, gobbled down breakfast and headed out. These days didn’t end until at least 9:00 p.m. – usually later. My sister was now enlisted to help in the fields full time and the three of us – my Dad, Sister, and I – found out what it’s like to work together until it’s done. And when all the produce was done, we found out we had picked 6000 cantaloupes, 2000 dozen ears of sweet corn in two weeks. We also had our second cutting of hay come in at the same time. How we ever got it all done is certainly beyond me.
Another very interesting thing we did in July was bind and thresh our wheat. The day we bound and shocked it was one of the hottest all summer. I started getting dizzy and had to sit down under a tree! My Dad was gone when it was time to thresh it, so I was the one elected to take it to our neighbors to get threshed. Our Mennonite neighbor had the threshing machine set up at his place, so I didn’t have to go far. Nonetheless, I was very nervous – mainly because I was the only girl there!! I survived and now we are enjoying our own fresh ground flour that we grind with our own mill.
August went by in a blur also, for although the produce was done, now canning season was in full swing! Our totals were 200 qts. of peaches, 100 qts. of grape juice, 120 qts. of corn, 80 qts. of tomatoes, 45 qts. of green beans, 100 qts. of apple sauce, 45 qts. of salsa, and 100 qts. of tomato juice.
We also dug our Irish potatoes in this month. The yield was incredible! We use a potato plow and a team to dig them then put them on the wagon.
I got the grand privilege of helping Dad with pulling the plastic out of the cantaloupe fields. This is no where near as easy as it sounds! What is involved is having a special method of flipping the plastic (which had been previously cut down the middle with a special cultivator with discs) out from the dirt covering the sides. “Easy” you might say. Wrong! It frequently rips, leaving you to burrow like a mole through rotten cantaloupe, mud, vines, and other objects, including a snake or two, to find the missing piece. A friend who happened to come at the wrong time (for him!) also got to assist in this task. By the time we went in for lunch, I fancy we looked more like some weird kin of the swine family than humans. We were covered in mud, sweat and cantaloupe. I didn’t really wonder when my Mom and Sister grabbed their noses as we entered.
We put our third cutting of hay away at the end of August. The rains had been perfect and it looked like we’d even get a fourth cutting!
During the first part of fall, we put all our cover crops in, and some new hay. We also planted wheat and oats to get threshed next year.
We dug our sweet potatoes around the end of September. The yield wasn’t that great; our guess is because the weather was a little wet, and sweet potatoes prefer drier weather.
Dad and I did some logging, too. Most of it was for firewood, but some was for the lathing on the new roof of our house. We are raising our 1/2 story to a full story – a big job, but one that is needed because the room is getting tight. Especially since Arnold #5 is on the way. We also have a lot of company.
One thing I have really enjoyed learning to do is shoe horses. My Dad has shod our horses for as long as I can remember, and so is a good teacher. I was very thankful for this knowledge one time when I was out with a horse and he threw a shoe. I was able to put it back on and not worry about the long ride home.
During the last few years, we have had three apprentices working at our farm for different periods of time. We feel that it would only be right to help others who have a yearning for country living since we have been so blessed. We have three lined up for the next year, also! This is another reason we are forced to add on to our house. All of the apprentices have been in their upper teens and have had to work right along side of us. Dad does manage to console the embarrassed guys who have to sit down in the shade when us girls are still hard at work but…
Back to the farm, though. Getting our firewood in and split is one of the last things we do before winter sets in. The other is picking corn. This is done in early October. Four acres will see us almost all the way through the year – lacking maybe two months in the summer when we feed oats. Picking feed corn is a very boring job, but is definitely not hard. It can be fun if you have a bunch of people working on it, though. This year the yield was absolutely incredible! The weather was just wet enough to really do it justice and the ears were long and full.
As the years continue to roll on, as busy as ever, I have had plenty of time for considering the pros and cons of farming. So many people have asked me why in the world I would even want to, let alone like, a farm lifestyle. It’s definitely not easy, but I guess my only answer would be that I just plain love it. No noisy things. Peace and quiet. Lots of hard work. Time with the family. Oh, and there’s stress, too! Like when everything is coming in at once and the days aren’t long enough. But there’s also a great satisfaction of making it on your own. I do understand that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Only people who are crazy like we are, who are for simplicity and hard work over convenience will enjoy it. I do!