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Helen's Mulberry Lane Farm Journal

November 10, 2010.

I thought I'd take a break from writing about the reunion and post part of an e-mail that Gerald wrote to his brother on November 9, 2010. The e-mail gives a nice little vignette of life on the farm.

We've had a most agreeable fall this year. We are in some sort of drought. It started back in July, following an unusually rainy June. It cut into the corn yields pretty badly, but isn't making much difference to the farmer's now as all the crops are in. We're hoping it let's up before spring. Otherwise we have to irrigate the garden using town-of-Loda water, which is costly. We've already had to irrigate the strawberry plants much of the summer and fall, to ensure a crop next June. Anyhow, what I set out to say is that the drought has made for beautiful clear days this fall, one after another.

I work two hours outdoors each day with my surviving "crew": Rachel, Timothy, and Caleb. This keeps me in regular exercise of various sorts, and gives my brain a break. It also gives Helen a break to work at whatever she pleases indoors, without the usual constant interruption.

There always seems plenty to do on our one-and-a-quarter acres. I have a To-Do List in a computer organizer which I have been keeping for years, with all the seasonal tasks and their various due dates. We work from this list, with miscellaneous tasks thrown in as they arise. It is mostly garden work of one sort or another. Yesterday, for example, we took down three 150 foot long "tomato fences": stripped the dead vines off them, burned the vines, removed the fencing from the tee-posts, rolled up the fencing (we will roll it back out flat on the straw covering the strawberry plants once the strawberries are mulched with straw for the winter in about another three weeks, to help hold the straw in place) removed the steel braces from the ends, pulled the tee-posts (all 51 of them), moved the tee-posts to the ends of the strawberry rows for weighting down the fencing once it is rolled out over the strawed strawberry plants, then burned off the residual straw the tomato plants had been mulched with in preparation of deep fall tilling.

A point of interest was that this was the first year we have been able to pull the tee-posts out of the ground by hand with only moderate effort. Some years we have had to use a car jack to get them out. The soil shrinks as it dries, loosening its grip on the posts.

Tim and Caleb especially enjoyed the burning part. It was kind of like having a personal prairie fire for a few minutes. There was a fair wind blowing up from the south, which carried the flames nicely from south to north along the three rows. They lit the fires (each row), gathered up handfuls of straw to place on the fire for a few seconds before scooping the whole burning mass up with their hands and flinging it into the wind, thereby giving rise to half a dozen new fires along the windblown route of dropped burning straws. Then they experimented with running through the billowing smoke (and over the flaming fronts) east to west (and west to east) to see whether they could hold their breath long enough to make it to fresh air --- reporting to their "boss" how surprisingly hot the air was in the smoke... Rachel and Dad looking on in quiet amusement until the flames had finished their work --- Rachel, in resigned sisterly dignity, Dad in indulging parental caution.

Matthew continues to thrive at U of Illinois. He spends each evening at home, making the 45 minute drive into Champaign and back each day. He is a blessing.

'Beka is growing in college study skills at BJU, now regularly reporting As and Bs after some initial Cs. She, like Matthew, is devoted to the Savior. It shows, of course, in everything they do and say. We are looking forward to her being home for a brief while at Thanksgiving.

My "crew" keeps shrinking year by year. I'm not sure what I'll do for labor on the farm in another few years. Maybe we'll all have personal robots at our beck and call by then. Still, it won't be the same. I can't picture a robot cavorting over flames through billowing smoke...

Tim, Rachel and Caleb digging around the tree.
Photo by Helen Aardsma, October , 2010.

We removed two large trees from the northeast corner of our house a few weeks back. One was a white mulberry and the other a juniper. Each took several days (at two hours per day) to remove. Our method is to dig them out by the roots, so no stump is left to deal with. We first limb them, leaving the main trunk as high as we can reach by climbing, to act as a lever. We fasten a block and tackle around the trunk at the top, then to a fixed anchor somewhere down in the yard. This gives a mechanical advantage of times four by the time it is properly rigged. We then dig all around the base of the tree, removing roots as we encounter them. Once we figure enough roots have been removed, we get Matthew to pull on the block and tackle rope using his four-wheel-drive car. Usually after several false attempts, with one weak link or another giving way and needing to be fixed in our block and tackle rig, and a few more roots found and removed, the whole works eventually topples. We then cut it up and split it down to sell as firewood, and fill in the crater in the yard which removal of the root ball has left behind.

Having driven past the path of a "small" tornado through wooded acres nearby once or twice, with a whole swath of uprooted, toppled mature trees along its route, my crew and I feel we have more than a usual appreciation for the power packed by tornados. ... Still, it'll probably take a pretty firm hand on my part to keep Tim and Caleb from attempting to jump through the first one which ventures close enough.

More next time......


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