Kathleen emptied her picking basket into the 20-bushel tote box, making it almost full. "Let's leave the last two trees to use for the kitchen," she said. Knowing this meant fresh applesauce for breakfast and pies to grace the table, I quickly agreed and drove the truck back to the house. I'd deliver the tote to the press at Robert's Farm Market early in the morning on my way to school and pick up 60-some gallons of cider on the way home. Part would be distributed to friends, and the rest would be put up for later use.
With the notable exception of firewood we have yet to cut, finishing with the bulk of the apples marked the end of the year's harvest. All in all, it has been a good year. The farm has taken a lot of work, but the land has been generous to us.
Starting before spring itself, the maple season was short but intense. In one strong week we boiled enough for ourselves and friends. The sap was flowing hard, and then a two-day warm spell convinced the trees that the season should be done. A return to cold spring weather didn't get them started again.
A few weeks later we negotiated our first timber sale, saying farewell to some century-old hard maples. As part of the bargain, the logger dropped a couple of big tulip trees and skidded them out of the woods for us. As we have found time, we've been milling the logs to use for improvements to the barn and are pleased with the resulting lumber piles.
Sawyers say you harvest more lumber from a tulip tree than you can from any tree of comparable diameter. It's a matter of shape. The tulip tree grows in a cylindrical form and doesn't taper much. This quality led Thomas Jefferson to use them for the columns at Monticello, and Native Americans to select tulip logs to hollow for large canoes. It has been exciting harvesting our own lumber.
Haying season went pretty well, with no major breakdowns. We looked at the sky in the mornings and hoped for continued clear weather. None of the cuttings was rain-damaged. Soon we changed our tune and began begging the heavens for moisture as the pasture growth stood still. Luckily, we had enough hay so we could afford to let the cows graze what would have been the second and third cuttings of alfalfa.
They thrived on it, and when we marketed the calves this week they averaged 650 pounds, more than respectable for March calves. We wished we had a lot more of them; so did our buyer.
It may be unusual to think of water as a crop itself, but as the drought deepened and our shallow spring wells fell, we once again were reminded of how dependent everything is on good water. We were glad to have the pond as a backup for watering the herd through the dry days of September, before some heavy rains revived the ground water level.
This summer's garden provided mixed results. Our plastic-encircled early plot was a complete success, giving us a month's jump on the season. The sweet corn on top of the hill shriveled, but the crop down by the creek did very well. This summer's edition of Cornish Cross chickens relished the dry weather and resulted in the best crop in years. One big roaster gave us Sunday dinner and lunchtime sandwiches all week.
The wilting heat of August was hard to work in, but it rewarded us with the sweetest peaches we've ever picked. Soon after peach season we further increased our bounty of sweetness, as our family grew by the addition of one bride, this harvest aptly conducted by our eldest offspring.
Along the way through the seasons I've been lucky enough to fill these columns, gathering what the days have provided. Somehow a tomato tastes better when you share it.
So pour a glass of cider and hold it up golden in the light. Here's to the varied harvests of 2001. May we have other years as generous.