25 episodes

The monthly Farmer’s Calendar from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, read by the author Tim Clark.

The Old Farmer's Almanac Farmers Calendar Tim Clark

    • Personal Journals

The monthly Farmer’s Calendar from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, read by the author Tim Clark.

    Farmer’s Calendar for September 2020

    Farmer’s Calendar for September 2020

    A reclusive neighbor sometimes asks me to tend his pair of elderly cashmere goats. Then twice a day I’ll bike his class 4 road, a single dirt track that runs through hayfields and birch groves, past boulders and ferns, and terminates in front of his remote goat barn. Far more private and wild than our roadside pastures and garden, these fields are where I’ll sometimes startle a doe that goes bounding into the bushes or hear a hermit thrush utter its haunting trill. Once, hurrying along before a thunderstorm, I passed a paw print in the mud of a low spot in the road. As I stopped and knelt beside it, I noted four toe pads. Not a coyote print, nor fox. Not in the dog family at all. No claw marks like a bear would leave, but it was big: I held my left hand out beside it, fingers spread wide—yes, as big. The Department of Fish and Wildlife insists that our state’s catamounts are extinct. Still, locals swear by their sightings, “I’m telling ya, that weren’t no bobcat.” Regardless, doubt prevails. So the next day I dragged my husband right over to the print to prove it, but the creature’s secret remains—by then, the big cat’s evidence lay under a pool of rain.

     

    Farmer’s Calendar for August 2020

    Farmer’s Calendar for August 2020

    Most of what we grew, the summer I first worked as part of a crew of farming apprentices, was annuals: carrots, lettuce, peas, watermelons—plants whose entire life span transpires within a single season. We sowed and reaped the “one-time offer” as opposed to a “lifetime guarantee.” But eventually we began to harvest something that we had not planted—garlic, whose cloves are all clones of the mother bulb. The previous year’s apprentices had left us this gift; they’d pressed those individual cloves into the soil, cloves that endured through winter, sprouted in spring, and developed into whole new garlic heads. We grabbed onto each stalk and yanked up this crop, as if taking up a baton left by the previous crew, a baton that was now ours to carry into the barn to let cure throughout the waning summer days. Before we left the farm to begin our winter jobs, we tucked hundreds of garlic cloves in the ground—something for yet another set of hands to recover. It’s been 20 growing seasons since I pawed that farm’s soil. Yet each summer I draw on the one-time memory while harvesting my garlic. For days afterward, my hands remain un-scrubbably pungent.

     

    Farmer’s Calendar for July 2020

    Farmer’s Calendar for July 2020

    A nearby farmer swears she hears field corn growing on muggy nights—says it sounds like a drawn-out squeak. In the decade I’ve lived beside 80 acres of it, I’ve never heard its rising stalks sing. Nor, during all those years, did I grow my own corn, for fear of windborne cross-pollination. Recently, the big field changed hands. Now it grows other plants. So we sowed our own kernels in hope of reaping a choir’s worth. While working on other farms, I’d harvested the ripe corn in the morning. Shuffling into its narrow forest, I towed a flimsy sack that fattened as I snapped off ears with the thickest girths. The dewy leaves scratched like a cat’s tongue, and by the time I emerged on the field’s far side dragging a bulging bag, I was scoured and damp and bearing enough corn for an orchestra. But this year I emerged from our stalks with hardly enough for our two-part harmony. I’d under-guessed its ripeness until I spotted one shucked cob dropped on the lawn. Every kernel was gouged. Inspecting the rest of the patch, I noticed that the plants were nearly earless. Robbed, all I could do was feast my eyes and imagine a moonlit raccoon’s chomping.

     

    Farmer’s Calendar for June 2020

    Farmer’s Calendar for June 2020

    How pleasing to see the grass thicken and rise until we realize that—yikes!—it’s got to be cut, a task that asks for either loud machines or diligent livestock. I’m partial to a third option: the scythe. This Old World tool looks like a musical notation that leapt out of the score, expanded in size, and, when not in service, abides in our shed beside the retired weed-whacker. I loathed that contraption with its dervish-ing string driven by the sniveling engine. Not to mention the backache that it created, along with its habit of spattering grass across my jeans. Another mowing plan involves allowing the cows and sheep out to feed on our lawn. But as they meander and munch, their work is predictably uneven. Plus they leave behind untouched patches, along with excretions. That’s when I reach for my sharpened scythe to dispatch the tall grass. In the morning when everything’s still wet with dew, I wield my scythe like a kooky broom, swinging its curved blade from side to side, as if sweeping. The undercut stems become instant fringe. So quiet: I can hear anything sing. For as long as the growing season lasts—wherever grass rises, I’ll scythe it.

    Farmer’s Calendar for May 2020

    Farmer’s Calendar for May 2020

    Months since the crickets quit, followed by a hundred nights with no terrestrial ruckus, we lie awake at night listening for that very first peep. Finally, on an evening slightly more balmy than chilly, it begins. Like the dying battery on a smoke alarm, a single chirp. Did we really hear it? Yes! A soprano note peeps again, serious and ponderous. Then it repeats its query, possibly expressing, Am I alone? For one night: It’s alone. Then: a zany mayhem, as the evening hours fill with the high-pitch cheeping of peepers. Several years ago, when our land held only a damp gulch, nothing croaked or creaked or peeped. Then an excavator clawed us a small pond, and almost overnight a boisterous amphibian orchestra commenced as dozens of frogs—wood frogs, tree frogs, northern leopard frogs, and spring peepers—announced their new residence. Is there no middle ground with these creatures? All or nothing, silence or cacophony? Case in point: Yesterday’s pond was clear; today, it’s clouded by thousands of frogs’ eggs floating in the shallows. Were we sleeping when the pond’s inhabitants released their progeny? This evidence suggests one thing: We’ll hear gulpers, croakers, and another bout of temporary soloists come next year’s unsilent spring.

    Farmer’s Calendar for April 2020

    Farmer’s Calendar for April 2020

    Growing a potato could make anyone feel like a magician—that is, after the ground thaws. Throughout the winter, a few bushels of our Corollas—the bald, soap-shape staples of our winter diet—lurk in the underground part of the house, the cellar. Each week, I descend and retrieve a shirt-hem’s worth for dinner. About the time I tire of ever tasting them again is when they’re starting to wrinkle anyway and launch spooky white shoots from their “eyes.” To ensure another cellar full of winter fare—pomme de terre, the soil’s fruit—we plant chunks of the sprouting spuds in early spring. From that buried nub a shoot will rear and spread its leaves. Then we’ll mound the soil around them. Even as they bloom, we’ll push more soil against their shoulders, as if trying to rebury them alive. By the time the Canada geese are angling in the sky, all these potato plants will have withered and died, until all that remains is a clutch of slumping stalks. “After you loosen the soil, plunge your hands in,” I once told my dirt-averse mother. She obliged, and replied, “There’s nothing here.” Then, like a girl who’d just won a prize, “Oh, look!” she exclaimed, as she exhumed an enormous tuber.

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