Broken Down and Busted Up: The Marvelous Year of Maintenance Blues 

It seemed like such a good idea: after years of numerous big new projects, we farmers decided to proclaim this the Marvelous Year of Maintenance. Perhaps we were proclaiming it a little too loudly, because far too many things on the farm have broken down or busted up this year.

Here is a partial list:
greenhouse plastic blows off in windstorm
greenhouse heat mat thermostat goes awry, killing many seedlings
broken bed chain on spreader
busted pole on spreader
busted pole on sickle bar mower
busted pole on hay wagon
busted pole on forecart (Granted, we did run over the forecart pole with our car, which is why it busted, but never mind that.)
broken hay wagon hitch
broken driving lines

Then there was the horse fencing. The horses love being out on grass, so we never expect any pasture break-outs early on in the season. However, they also hate the bugs, and on their very buggy second evening in the field, we heard some brisk trotting down the dirt road.

Luckily, we were working in the greenhouse along that very road. My fellow shot out of the greenhouse, catapulted himself onto the eight foot high garden fence, and shouted and waved as vigorously as possible without actually falling off the fence. The horses were so startled by this shouting, thrashing farmer on the fence that they halted and milled in the road. We were able to round them up in short order, and it was so close to dark that we led them back to their winter paddock for the night.

In the morning light we searched for the break in the fence. But there was no break in the fence. This was because there was no fence. We had cleared some brush the year before, and we had forgotten that there was no longer any fence along a short stretch of the road. Sigh.

We tried several semi-fixes over the next week, such as tying an unelectrified electric line across the gap, ending in a tree. We flagged the line with highly dangerous white cloth scraps, which did not scare the horses at all, and they got out again. Finally my farmer fellow gave in and decided to put in proper new wooden posts, including a sturdy new gate post, as the old one had given up.

“How's it going?” I asked, when we came in for lunch from our respective fencing and weeding projects.

“You're going to laugh at my gate post,” he said.

My fellow was right. I did laugh. For some reason he had chosen the spindliest, crookedest post in creation for the gate post, which needs to hold some weight, and which also sets the tone for a sturdy, convincing fence.

“Why did you pick this post exactly?” I asked.

My fellow scratched his head. “I don't know exactly. I thought it might be easy to get in, it was so little. But it was really hard to get in.” He went on, “But, hey, maybe it'll be easy to get out!”

It was easy to get out, as the rocky ground hadn't allowed for much of a hole. My fellow replaced the post with a slightly sturdier one, requiring a bigger hole, and taking far more time than he had allotted in the garden's busy season. Then he put in a second post, another lengthy, rocky task. Then he tried putting in a third post. Then he gave up.

“It's solid rock,” he announced, “all the rest of the way down the line.” In a desperate attempt to finish the fencing before an entire season of gardening had passed by, he squeaked some electric fence posts into the solid rock, and strung up an impressive two lines of the same unelectrified wire along the gap.

Now it was the horses' turn to laugh, at this next suggestion of a fence. They went gaily through it. All right, said my fellow, and put up a single line of barbed wire, chest high, so as not to endanger the horses' legs, but to make a stronger, pokier suggestion of a fence. Happily, this worked.

Much later on, the horses got out again, this time in a different field. Again, we were surprised, as they had just been switched to a lush new pasture. Again, we found a stretch of no fence, which we had forgotten to repair after pulling out firewood.

This does not reflect well, I know, on either our fence-fixing or our farmer memories. But what I'm really getting at here is that all these maintenance tasks in The Marvelous Year of Maintenance were entirely unscheduled. We have an enormous list of planned maintenance chores, and we have not yet accomplished one.

Still, the Marvelous Year of Maintenance is not quite over; we have a chance even yet to get some good stuff done. But the best part, I must say, is that in all this broken down and busted up year, we are very grateful that neither the horses nor the farmers have broken down or busted up. We're not doing so badly after all.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Oct 24-Oct 31, 2018

Gee, We're Glad It's Over

December is generally a celebratory month on our New Hampshire vegetable farm. Our CSA season is officially over, our Farmers' Market season is winding down, and our time taking naps and reading by the woodstove is picking up nicely.

This year, however, it has taken us a little longer to recover. We had an excellent plan way back in February: all our new fence supplies would be delivered early in March, after the maple sap season, and before the full-on garden season. We would rapidly, happily and efficiently put up our wildlife exclusion fence, taking breaks from the possible brisk March weather by working in the heated greenhouse.

We would be finished with our big project by mid-March or so, and then we would have plenty of time to gaze gratefully at the new fence, come to us thanks to a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant. Plus we would have lots of time to plow, disc, spread compost, harrow, plant, weed, and get the vegetable distribution shed in order for the end of May, when we begin harvesting.

Yes, 'twas a lovely, laughable plan.

It turned out, despite multiple clear, firm phone calls and emails, followed by multiple pleading, begging phone calls and emails, all of which were equally ineffective, that the March fence materials did not materialize until the end of May. This had quite a decelerating effect on our plan. 

Of course, we still gazed gratefully, but now it was not at a beautifully completed fence, but at enormous piles of possible fence. The piles included: 6 locust posts, 50 cedar posts, 150 metal posts, 5 rolls of woven fencing (weighing 330 lbs each), 500 plus staples, 1000 plus fence clips, three fancy new gates, and 125 one foot long white pieces of fabric to be tied at a four foot height so that the deer would see the fence.

And two farmers, who began to believe that lying in a pile on the ground might be a fine idea indeed.

But we had a fence-completion deadline to meet, and we swung into action. We had some help, thankfully, in setting the wooden posts. Then the two of us, and our farmer daughter, scrambled from garden to fence and back again for what seemed like decades, but was merely a matter of weeks. By the time the fence was really and truly finished, in early July, everything else on the farm was really and truly in a riotous mess, and we scrambled for the whole rest of the season, trying to catch up.

Did we ever catch up? Not really. But as we raced around, we reminisced about our early years of work, with a brand new baby, a brand new team of horses, and a brand new farm.

“This summer feels a lot like then, doesn't it?” we would say to each other, and “No big projects next year, right?” As the season advanced, and the farmers grew wearier, and perhaps a mite testier, our conversations turned into “This is the worst season ever!” and “No big projects ever again! Never, ever again!”

On the brighter side of it all, at the end of the season, one of our long-time CSA members said, “This has been the best year ever!”

“Really?” we said, a little surprised, a little doubtful.

“Oh yeah! Top three anyway! Definitely top three!”

Well, gee, maybe? Amongst all the scramble, we did harvest and distribute and eat a lot of delicious fresh vegetables this season. And not a single deer ate one bite of them.

(Well, except for that brief period when the troublesome old gate was down and the fancy new gate was not yet properly mounted. We cleverly solved this deer dilemma by leaning the fancy new gate on the fancy new posts. It worked like a charm, until the fancy new gate fell on to one of the plain old farmers, which may be what started the “Never, ever again” chant.)

But even better, this big project, this fine fence, is supposed to last for thirty years, which gets the farmers up to nearly eighty years old, at which time we might consider it appropriate to hand over big projects to other fine farming folk. Thus we will be able to spend thirty years gazing gratefully at our very completed fence, and the memories of a tough season will fade into funny stories. In fact, the memories are already softening, because it is December, and the garden year is over, and we get to celebrate the the holidays, and, best of all, we have the woodstove and the couch waiting.

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Dec 20-Dec 26, 2017