come see the fog

Saturday, January 11th
Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
Oxford, Mississippi

It stormed throughout the night, and we slept deeply, somehow comforted by the sounds of wind futilely battering the house, and rain sheeting down on the tin rooftop.

“Come see the fog,” Kristin whispered, marking the first waking moment of my day. Fog is beautiful, fog vanishes quickly; I was up, clothed, and out the door within seconds of opening my eyes to her whispered invitation.

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before the sun rose and burned it away …

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On our way back toward the house, we went through a grove of trees that, the day prior, had hosted a huge flock of some kind of chirping bird. We’d walked across the field toward it, hoping to see what it sounded like beneath such a gathering, but the swarm saw us coming and wasn’t ok with it so they flew away before we could get anywhere close.


Anyway, that was yesterday. Today, we were already in that same grove of trees when the flock came in to roost – they blanketed the tops of the tall trees, and groups took turns dropping down to the forest floor, to drink or to feed.

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It sounded amazing.

After breakfast we got to work on the raised herb beds. Three of them hadn’t been planted the previous year and had been overtaken by Bermuda grass. We had to dig up and turn over all the soil in each bed, essentially, and pull out every possible scrap of grass root – any piece left behind would likely grow right back.

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Bermuda grass is aggressive and the conditions had been awesome in the boxes – so there was an incredible amount of the tough, stalky root masses to work free from the thick soil. It required a lot of effort – there were ways we worked out to do it better and more efficiently, but no shortcuts to avoid a whole lot of digging in the dirt.

Kristin and I got through most of the first box with some help from Doug, and then Tom From the UK and Jason From Virginia joined us and the next two beds came under control in short order with all hands on deck, so we also cleaned out a bunch of dead plants from the other beds. Afterward, Doug gave me a tour of his permaculture hilltop water reservoir swales, and we all ate warmed up leftovers and freshly baked apple sauce oatmeal muffins Kristin manifested, complete with dried cranberries and banana chips.

Then it was a couple hour siesta until it was time to go to a potluck birthday party – where we ate good food, drank, got bonfired & s’morsed and birthday caked, and played or watched ping pong.

Tom From the UK, Doug, and Jason From Virginia pinging and ponging.
Tom From the UK, Doug, and Jason From Virginia pinging and ponging.

Yep – both parties we’ve been to out here have featured ping pong tables – this one was a lot more casual – just a table out in the garage that had just been given the kids for Christmas. We drank quite a bit of “wassail” – a mulled hot cider drink that everyone but me seemed to have at least heard of before, until I was woozy and sleepy and glad to agree when it was suggested we head back to the farm for the night.

Faith in the sunshine

poop ain’t shit

Friday, January 10th
Yokna Patawpha Farm
Oxford, Mississippi

Warm weather is here! Well, in the 50s – which is almost t-shirt weather to us, thanks to the cold-hardening we underwent back home in the northlands – and over the past week even here.

A new WWOOFer came to the house today: Jason From Virginia, who’s now sharing the bunkbeds in the other room with Tom From the UK.

While Jeff and Jason From Virginia started pulling tools and such out of the incredibly cluttered tool shed on the edge of the field, Kristin and I got to work moving a pallet of pelletized poop – a hefty pile of bags of chicken poop fertilizer that needed to be moved to make room for parking various farm implements. We figured out a stable way to stack them and formed a 2-person assembly line, with Kristin picking them up and handing them off to me for stacking. When the pile was all moved, we pulled up the pallets they’d been stacked on, and shoveled the fallen poop from the damaged bags up into a couple of bins.

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This whole operation was completed much more quickly than we’d expected it to be, and we set upon the shed organization project with a vengeance, pulling out every single thing, classifying them into piles, cleaning out the shed, and returning the piles to the space in an ordered manner.

Shed Before (doesn’t really show just how crazy of a pile it really was, off to the sides, but you can get an idea through the dooway in this cropped shot from a few days back):

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Shed After:

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While we worked, a few mice made a home in the pockets of Jeff’s coat, hanging from the bed of the pickup truck – and when we were done and he went to put his coat on, they came scrambling and leaping out. Widget sprang to work to do her heritage honor, and quickly caught and harried one of the furry invaders.

After a break for lunch, we planted a couple of flats of tiny kale plants (the only plants on hand deemed likely to withstand the likely return of cold arctic air).

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We worked chicken poop into the soil ahead of the planting – the same poop we’d shoveled up and recovered from that morning … which was satisfying in some small way.

Before heading back to the house to clean up, we harvested a bunch of various-colored carrots to use for upcoming meals – starting with tonight’s dinner.

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They went into a soup with beans,and Yokna-grown broccoli, sage, & rosemary.  Kristin and I stayed home rather than go to a blues show at a bar in Oxford, to relax, read, soak up the farm’s energy, work on our own seed order for Que Sehra Farm in spring, and write this post.

It’s 1:50 am, the wind is howling outside and it’s been deluging on and off in waves for two hours.

Tomorrow will be Saturday, so no field work – I think we’re going to a party at the house of a couple that Doug is friends with.

OK I finally just got tired. Good night. Love locally.

 

Sinking Spell

Thursday, January 9th
Yokna Patawpha Farm
Oxford, Mississippi

We woke up to the sound of rain on the tin roof. It sounded rainier than it was; the tin amplified the sound and magnified the impression of waterfall. After breakfast, I added more seeds to the master inventory document while Kristin sorted sweet potatoes in the greenhouse with Jeff.

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We rode down to the field in Jeff’s pickup, Kristin in shotgun and me in the bed with Tom From the UK, and Cleo bounding exuberantly alongside us the entire way, her speed and joy belying her advanced age. Then the three of us pruned a couple of hedgerows of elderberry shrubs down to about a foot in height, using big bolt-cutter-like loppers, and piled the cut branches between the bushes along the row, as the rain lightly drizzled down – not really even enough to make you feel wet, just enough to make the air misty and damp.

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Jeff went home to eat lunch, but never returned – the next day he reported that he’d had a “sinking spell” after lunch, a term I found awesomely southern … (I can’t wait ’til I have a time I just don’t really want to get out of bed and declare my first official “sinking spell.”)

So we waited til 3:00 before giving up and deciding to make a run to the Oxford “Square,” so that Tom From the UK could replenish his book supply (he’d lost his backpack on the Mega Bus, containing all his reading materials).

Doug’s girlfriend came over later than night; they went out to dinner and we ate some pasta, with added peppers from last years harvest (from Doug’s freezer, carefully de-seeded and skinned)

We slept great.

Clearing land

Wednesday, January 8th
Yokna Patawpha Farm
Oxford, Mississippi

Today it was still cold when we woke up, but it was decided that by noon the temps would be warm enough to work outdoors.

So while Kristin made grits for breakfast, I built the farm a Google Doc spreadsheet to help them keep track of how many pounds of each type of produce they harvest and sell twice a week during the growing season. While I finished that up, Kristin cleaned up a bunch and baked a cake with the apple preserves we’d brought along.

The day’s planned work was to help clear out some uniformly-planted rows of about 50 pine trees (planted by the state to grow for paper pulp), to allow that patch of land to be transformed into farm field. Doug ran the flail-mower (it’s what it sounds like: flailing, bladed chains that chew through brush) through the thorny blackberry brambles between the pine rows, clearing pathways for us to work – and to pile up downed trees.

While the undergrowth was thoroughly flailed away, I finished up the harvest spreadsheet & Kristin cleaned out the chicken’s nesting boxes.

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When I was done with the computer work I helped Kristin finish adding fresh clean hay to the nest boxes, with the sound of Jeff chainsawing down the first of the pine trees snarling across the field.

We finished up and got back in time to get gloved up and ride out to the field clearing project in the back of Doug’s pickup.

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The work was nonstop and satisfying – dragging and carrying chunks of downed pine to the woodline, and throwing them in as far as we could.

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As row after row of pines fell, the pile got deeper and deeper – and we had to hurl each chunk of tree higher and harder. The pile was soon higher than our heads, but the weight of newly-added wood compressed the existing pile of branches and made just enough space to make the addition of more trees just barely possible.

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Tom From the UK didn’t have gloves, so his palms became thickly coated in sticky pine sap. We took turns being the one who pushed the trees over as they were cut through, and grew talented at shotputting the heavy, branchless logs from the trunks, and chucking the thinner top portions like javelins.

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The weather was sunny and cool, there were no bugs, it was a beautiful contrast to the icy weather back home – and, moreso, to sitting at a desk at my old job staring into computer screens. I felt invigorated and glad to be using my body out under the sky.

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We went into a nearby town for dinner, where a musician named … crap, I forget his name. But he was a rootsy man with a guitar and a mesh trucker hat, and he played a song called “Catfish for Dinner” right after I had catfish for dinner, which I appreciated.

Then we turned in early to read and write.

– Gabe

Hibernationesque

Monday, January 6
Yokna Patawpha Bottoms Farm
Oxford, Mississippi

The cold hit hard Monday night, just as it did throughout most of the country, as a massive Arctic airmass pushed southward and stayed put. The wind howled all night long as the warm southern air was shoved down off the continent into the Gulf.

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We convinced Nathan to suit up and take a walk through the frozen morning down to the chicken coop, to gather up some eggs for breakfast. He took us through the puddled pathways through the woods – the shallow puddles were already frozen, and Nathan did his first ever “ice skating” on a natural body of water, skimming across a flooded puddle in his workboots.

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Kristin baked oatmeal apple muffins, which sustained us through a cozy afternoon in the house, laying about and becoming nearly indistinguishable from the seven dogs sprawled around us.

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Merton & Cleo: hardworking farm dogs

 

We were sedentary, but we weren’t lazy – we spent hours throughout the afternoon creating and populating a “master seed list” – a combined inventory of all the seed the farm has on hand plus all the seed and requisite info for the seeds they planned to order for spring planting (all in a convenient online spreadsheet).

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Widget assists with seed ordering
 
Jan 7
Yokna Patwapha Bottoms Farm
Oxford, Mississippi

The next morning, we scarfed down pancakes made with the single egg that the chickens had laid in the freezing cold night.

chicken in the Mississippi winter
um hey guy our drinking water is totes frozen solid … ?

 

All the puddles – even the deep ones – were now frozen over, and the well’s pressure gauge had failed in the extreme cold – springing a spraying leak.

cypress & ice - an unusual combo
cypress & ice – an unusual combo

 

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Kristin and I gleaned some freeze-softened cabbage, broccoli, and kale remnants from the field, which she turned into a tasty side salad to accompany the black beans and rice dish that Doug had been slow cooking. While she created, Doug and I drove to the Mega Bus dropoff point to pick up Tom From the UK. He was on a tour spanning from Canada to Mexico, celebrating his new Philosophy degree and using the Help-X network to find places to stay in exchange for labor.

heading back toward the farmhouse’s smokestack beacon of warmth

 

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We went to bed knowing that it was our last day of indoor hibernation – tomorrow we would let the fireplace rest, and head outside to work.

– Gabe

what will be will be