Thursday, September 15, 2011

The World's Worst Farmer

I bought an electric pressure cooker months ago but only got the nerve to actually use it yesterday. Ever since I exploded a pressure cooker full of green beans years ago (necessitating a complete repainting of my green polkadot kitchen cabinets) I've been intimidated by these appliances. But I love chicken gizzards and the only way to cook chicken gizzards is in a pressure cooker so....I bought one.  And my gizzards turned out fine, although I had to guess on time because the cookbook that came with the pressure cooker didn't include gizzards. (Imagine that.)

Thinking about my exploded green beans got me to thinking about other failures I had as a beginning farmer. When my husband and I bought the farm at Possum Holler, he was freshly back from Vietnam with an urge to go to ground. I just wanted horses and cows and chickens and dogs and cats and rabbits and.....

Our neighbors, who were real farmers, laughed at us for calling Possom Holler a "farm". But we were armed with a book called "Five Acres and Independence" and a new subscription to Mother Earth News so we were ready to jump into self-sufficiency.

My first livestock purchase was buying my son a gold pony. This was the fulfillment of a dream, one step removed, as my entire childhood had been spent wishing for a pony. The only problem: John wanted a mini-bike instead. He ignored the pony so she spent her days breaking into my neighbor's soy bean field, eating his beans, getting me in trouble.

My husband bought me a beautiful blue merle Collie for my birthday. He'd been de-barked by his previous owner. A friend gave us six Muscovy ducks. Muscovy ducks don't make any noise when they quack.Visitors who pulled into my drive must have thought they'd gone deaf when confronted by an obviously wildly barking dog and six crazily quacking ducks....and total silence.

I bought a milk cow (after my husband forbid it) from an old farmer/preacher who said, "this 'ere ole cow is so gentle, your lil chile cud milk'er." But, after she had her calf, she wouldn't let me get anywhere close. Meanwhile her udder continued to swell until it was the size of a beanbag chair. I kept her in a 2-acre pasture that mostly consisted of a blackberry-bramble covered hill. I went to Tractor Supply and bought a lasso (discovering that new lassos are as stiff as wire). I asked my husband for help catching her. He said, "cow? what cow?'

I tracked her up the hill and down. My entire body was one long scratch. Finally, the calf collapsed in exhaustion and Mom stayed with him so I was able to snub her to a tree. I milked her on the side of the hill, bracing the bucket with my foot. As soon as I was done - oh, that lovely white foamy milk! - she aimed a wild kick. The bucket smacked me in the knee, then flew down the hill, drenching me before it went.

I limped back to the house, soaked to the skin  in milk. Jim was sitting on the porch, grinning. "Hey," he asked, "how's it going with your cow?"

Jim (a tool and die maker who did everything with precision) built a chicken park for our new chickens. It was a perfect park with every post exactly equidistant from every other post. He had just stepped back to admire his work when the the cow came racing down the hill with me, once again,  in hot pursuit. She headed directly for his new project and crashed into it. The chicken wire caught in her horns, pulling all his posts from the ground. She busted through our gate and continued down the road with the chicken park banging along behind her, heading for the highway.

I paused long enough to look at Jim, who said between clenched teeth - Get. Rid. Of. That. Fucking. Cow." So after I finally caught her, I did.

We raised a pig from a baby. His name was Chauncey. When it was time to send him to be butchered, the guys from the packing plant couldn't get him loaded in their truck. Jim got into the bed and whistled. Chauncey trotted right up the gangplank with complete trust. As the truck pulled out, Jim and I sat on our back step and bawled our eyes out, hating ourselves. When the pork came back, all nicely packaged, we sold it to a neighbor.

The first year garden was trial and error. We didn't know how many tomatoes each plant would yield so we planted 40. We could have opened a small cannery with the results. We tried giving them away but everyone in the country already has tomatoes.

We raised rabbits then discovered that neither of us could bring ourselves to butcher them. "You were a soldier, for God's sake," I told Jim.

"Exactly," he said.

He enjoyed gardening, which meant raising things instead of butchering them....and owning and operating a tractor and driving a battered old pick up truck.

In spite of our spectacular screw-ups, we loved those years on our little farm. We never got over feeling every egg we found was a small miracle. And the ones the banty hens hid from us were equally as pleasurable when they emerged from their secret nests followed by a Pied Piper-lines of downy chicks. Or when the calico cat proudly showed us her new kittens. Or when the Collie, previously a pampered showdog, could be sent to fetch the calves to the barn. The son eventually got his mini-bike and I bought myself a horse although thanks to once having been thrown and drug, I could never make myself get on him, so I walked him up and down our road. Our neighbors sent us their special molasses cookies and jars of honey and strawberry jam.

Some times things are good even when you're not very good at them.