Farm Journal: A duck would run for cover in this weather

The big Gleaner L2 combine about to start chomping down on the barley at Cayuga Pure Organics. Photo: Anne Riordan.

The big Gleaner L2 combine about to start chomping down on the barley at Cayuga Pure Organics. Photo: Anne Riordan.

This is part of a series of Farm Journals, farmers writing regularly about life on the farm, week to week, through the season. Anne Riordan is field manager at Cayuga Pure Organics outside of Ithaca. Read her first journal entry here.

Well, readers, I wish I could bring you reports and notes of jam-packed days of beautiful sunny mornings, fluffy clouds chasing each other across blue skies, the hours flying by of discing and fitting and planting and weeding and small green crops poking their heads out of peaked rust-brown rows…but alas, all I can report is that it has rained.   I don’t have crops that could peak their heads out of small rust-brown rows, because I haven’t even planted them yet. I haven’t been able to get into my fields for at least a week, and I mostly work in gravelly fields.  In one of my fields, I get to watch people who work in the gravel pit next door pile and re-pile loads of gravel all day. That should give you an idea of how rocky the fields are (which means they should drain well…)… and to give you an idea of the rain here, we’ve had 4 inches in the last 20 hours.  THIS IS RIDICULOUS!  A duck would run for cover in this weather.

What am I to do with two weeks of rain?  Sulk, that’s what. And write farm blogs about how much I dislike rain.

Anne Riordan walking through a field of white buckwheat. Photo: Sue Cosentini.

Anne Riordan walking through a field of white buckwheat. Photo: Sue Cosentini.

There really is no time as a field manager where I can say “oh, I’m pretty up to date on things, I guess I’ll quit today and start early tomorrow and just finish up what I could have finished tonight”.  You know why?  Because it will rain. And then it will rain again, and in a week when it stops raining, you’ll look back and say “Hey! Remember that day you went out to dinner instead of finishing that row of corn?  Right.  Well you’re not going to get to plant that now, are you?  That’ll teach you!  No more dinner for you.  Ever!”

Anyway, that’s enough of that whining and moaning. One thing that I really do have to internalize as a farmer is that the weather is completely out of my control and thus there is absolutely no use griping and whining about it. I might as well spend my time griping about things that I might be able to change.  I read a book at the NOFA-NY conference (every January, in Saratoga Springs – I HIGHLY recommend this conference – it is incredible amounts of fun) that detailed how it usually goes for farmers.    From Don Mitchell, the esteemed author of Living Up-Country: A Pilgrim’s Process , which I highly, highly recommend:

As thunderheads loom above raked hay, chances are the farmer is cursing his broken baler more loudly than the Source of Impending Rain. Chances are he is thumbing through some very confusing operators manual. "Needle yoke penetration". "Feeder tine timing". "Knitter brake torque adjustment".  Now who is the farmer going to blame? He KNOWS who made the baler.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that if the Source of Impending Rain turns into the Non-Stop Intensive Rain, that the farmer will continue to aimlessly curse out his baler (which no doubt is not fixed).  It just means that we need to pick our priorities in which problem we curse out first.

So, given the lack of field work being accomplished on the farm, what else have we been doing?  Fundraising! [Ed. Note: read the first journal about the fire.]

The fundraising has been going well.  For all those who have not yet visited the site, here it is! We are nowhere near our goal, but we are still getting the word out and feel very humbled and incredibly thankful for the huge amount of community support we’ve received.  There are several community events planned.

As well, I was just honored to be invited to a local film festival hosted by Emma Frisch, a local food blogger (and amazing cook, by the way) who donated the proceeds of the festival to the CPO fire fund.  The night was incredibly inspiring with tales of travel and adventure and the food was to die for. I walked away feeling like I’d been blessed with a new group of friends.  The community has blown me away with their generosity and helpfulness.

Last night, Amy (the farm office manager), my friend, Sue Cosentini, and I went to Hazelnut Kitchen, a wonderful small restaurant with an intimate, warm feel that specializes in using local products.  They had informed us (and put on their menu) that some of the proceeds from their sales that night would be donated towards the CPO fire fund as well. Again – the food was amazing, the reception wonderful, the night a blessing.  CPO is so incredibly fortunate to be in an area filled with genuinely good, generous and thoughtful people and businesses!!!

We have decided to make plans to set up a temporary beanery in the front half of our warehouse storage facility, in order to get our inventory back up to speed.  This decision was partly spurred by the fact that grain harvest is coming up quickly and, without a beanery, there will be a lot of grain (read: 90,000 lb of rye berries) with nowhere to go since it cannot be cleaned.  I harvested our 3.5 acres of winter barley in a break between rainstorms right after I wrote the first journal entry last week.

A typical page from Anne's farm journal. Photo: Anne Riordan.

A typical page from Anne's farm journal. Photo: Anne Riordan.

The field was gorgeous, all the barley drooping from the weight of the fat heads on those tiny little golden stalks.  Next year, I’ll plant it a little less thick. I planted our barley at 150#/acre this year due to my massive frustration with how wimpy the crop is in general.  It seems like any adverse weather (any lack of heat or rain where there could have been heat or rain) can ruin a barley yield, and barley doesn’t grow particularly high to begin with so the weeds always seem to have a step up on it.  So, I planted it at 150% more this year and whereas it worked admirably to keep the weeds away, the heads weren’t quite as big or fat as they had been in previous years, probably due to nutrients being stretched thin between the massive number of plants. Next year, I’ll find that happy medium and get the perfect yield! 😉   Provided, of course, that I religiously take notes of planting rates and other important facts.

Farming is very dependent on good note keeping. I’ve slowly turned into an obsessive note taker in the last year.   One thing about taking notes about your every single minute spent on farm work is that it really keeps you accountable for your time.  The entries cover every facet of my day.  There are pictures, there are epithets, there are funny stories, there are opinions I have (that really should not be shared anywhere), there are quotes from a magazine I read at 2 pm while I was having a sandwich, there are smiley and frowny faces, there are exclamation points and coffee spills and to-do lists, etc.  You'll see what I mean – check out the picture.

Bear in a snowstorm, ears in full effect. Photo: Anne Riordan.

Bear in a snowstorm, ears in full effect. Photo: Anne Riordan.

I suppose I should wrap up and head in for the night.  It’s 11:11 (make a wish!) and it’s about two hours past my bedtime.  My mother has made a surprise visit to Ithaca and tomorrow I will take her around to all my fields and show her more of the farm.  For more updates on the farm, check out our website!  We are posting much more continuously these days. As always, it’s been a pleasure and hopefully I’ll be able to regale you with more outdoor planting stories in the week to come!

I did a stop-the-rain dance tonight, and I’m fully expecting it to work.

PS – Next entry, I will introduce you to Bear.  Bear is my giant black puppy, a Black German Shepherd, 1.5 months old, and he is absolutely priceless.  He is the farm mascot, he loves children more than anything else in the world, and he is an expert groundhog warrior.

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  1. Anne–I love your journal posts here at The Dirt. Last night, after the first day of serious hay cutting in a month (about what we're running behind schedule), the chains on the cutter jumped the sprocket and after four hours of all of us trying every trick in the book with every tool ever created by the Great One Who Made Cutters and Balers to loosen, untangle or just beat the dang thing into metal pulp, we gave up and called the fix-it guy…who, bless his heart, showed up early this morning and Bill has been cutting ever since. When you're farming, you go through this daily thing of "if it rains today, maybe tomorrow it won't and will dry out enough by late in the day…and then the next I can…or, maybe we can squeak a cutting into two straight days of sun…or…" Ultimately, we figure it's more important to keep our sense of humor then to get cranky with each other and the clouds and the pesky machinery. So, yeah, I second your approach: do a stop-the-rain dance and go out for a bite to eat. Good luck with your fundraising effort.

  2. Thanks Ellen! I'm so glad you enjoy it. And yes – that most definitely is the best approach. That, and blog about it 😉