A Long Winter's Nap

Ah, December . . . that delightful month on our New Hampshire vegetable farm. The garden-free vistas are glorious, the haying-free horizons are endless, the worry-free couch and the bed are sumptuous. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve hours of sleep? It feels so good.

By now, we have finished our CSA produce distribution for the year, and we are nearly done with our Farmers' Market sales for the year. We've got little projects to do outside, from feeding the draft horses three times a day to clearing out all the frosted tomato, pepper, and basil plants from the greenhouses, from rolling up irrigation to reorganizing the tool area. But none of these are desperately urgent. (Well, feeding the horses is pretty important. They do like a timely meal.)

And, of course, there is letting our kitty in and out the front door. This is an important job, as is cleaning up the dead mice from our kitty's work in the night. In fact, the other night, there was a dead mouse on the bedroom floor, along with a dead mouse in a trap in the kitchen, and a dead rat in the trap in the living room.

Happily, my nice fellow farmer generally does the cleaning up of dead animals duty, by tossing them outside for some clever larger animal to discover. We think it might be a fox on her rounds, but it could be any number of critters looking for a nice meal. At least it feels like we are contributing to the cycle of sustenance and sustainability on the farm.

Occasionally, I pitch in to the dead rodent clean-up. For example, not long ago, I was taking wet laundry out of the washing machine, and felt something squishier than a sock. But soft and soggy, like a wet sock. I pulled it out. I looked at it, uncomprehending, for rather a long time. Yes, it was a dead mouse, in the washing machine.

“Oh!” I said. “Oh, oh, oh! I am sorry, mouse, that you had to die by washing machine! I can not imagine how this happened!”

Of course, dying by washing machine is probably not that much worse than dying by trap or by cat. Best for the humans in the household is when the cat eats the entire mouse, rather than leaving it whole and dead on the bedroom rug. But even that is better than leaving it dead in pieces on the bedroom rug. Especially when it is in the middle of the night, and it is dark, and a person is stumbling to the bathroom, and has forgotten the cat-mouse episode earlier in the night. It is rather daunting to step on a dead mouse, in one's bare feet, in the night. But it is even more daunting to step on the sticky intestines of a dead mouse.

It turns out that there is an enormous number of small critters about this year, from mice and rats and voles to squirrels and chipmunks. Apparently this is due to the heavy acorn drop last year, which prompts lots of begetting in the small animal world, and then a lot of chewing on tomatoes, zucchini, and sweet peppers in the garden. Even the hot peppers were not immune to nibbling. The chipmunks had several nice dens right in our greenhouses, and the voles simply sucked our greenhouse eggplant under the earth. The plants and fruit just disappeared.

Our kitty caught a fair number of voles and chipmunks and mice outside too, but it has all been more than a one-cat rodent control program can manage. Cats and traps and washing machines have not been enough in the house this season, either. We already have a rodent-proof storage area in our basement for potatoes, carrots, and other root crops. (Sometimes we tell our visitors that if they misbehave we'll put them in the cage in the basement. So far no one has done anything bad enough.) 

But this year, for our winter squash, which doesn't like the damp conditions of the basement for storage, we had to build another cage, out of two by fours and hardware cloth. This fine cage stands in our living room, full of wooden crates of winter squash, and a few last tomatoes on trays. As you can imagine, this is not the most beauteous element of our living room. But at least it appears to be working, especially since farmers all over the region are reporting heavy damage to winter squash, both before harvest and after harvest, in storage.

Now, you might be wondering how this all leads to the wonderful times of December on the farm. Well. Outside, and in the house, there are many creatures stirring, including the cat and the rats and the mice. But still, we rest easy, with our squash and our root crops gathered in, and nestled all snug in their cages. Why, now we have visions of feasts, rather than rages! And my fellow farmer in his kerchief, and I in my cap, can settle our brains for a long winter's nap.

 Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Dec 19 - Dec 25, 2018