Mowing, cheese

I finally got up to Five Islands for the first time since orchard weekend, and found the orchard completely overgrown with shoulder-high hay, with even the older trees half-buried. The orchard grass had gone bonkers, and the clover we planted last year was rank and knee-high, even taller in the two rows of spots where we put composted manure under the pumpkin hills. It is amazing the difference that a little effort seems to make in terms of the fertility of the soil – after the initial cultivation, we applied the amount of lime, phosphate rock, and greensand indicated by the soil test, and we’ve mowed a few times a year since, but basically that’s it – some of the compost etc that we’ve spread on the trees might be diffusing out between the rows, but we haven’t otherwise fertilized or amended in the orchard. At the beginning, despite correcting the macronutrients, the stand was thin and weedy, so much of the improvement must be due to the clover and vetch that we’ve planted as cover crops, and the frequent (but not too frequent) mowings.

The weather looked good Saturday AM and deteriorating thereafter, so I got right to it – I got a trailer and the small Kubota, and scooped up a load of composted chicken manure at the old homestead. I stashed the manure by the upper cabin and hooked up the four-foot Bush Hog. Mowing in the orchard was a trip – at first it was a sea of deep grass, then on the second pass a deep tunnel, and intense clouds of pollen lifted from the grass, turning the hood of the orange tractor yellow.

I also nearly mowed down a nesting hen turkey – she’s barely visible in this photo, taken from the seat of the tractor, but I mowed within 18 inches of her and she didn’t budge. Once I saw her I gave her a wide berth, leaving her a patch of grass for privacy:

Part way through the steering got really hard to turn, and I couldn’t figure out why. I went back to the barn and greased all the zerks on the front end, topped off the oil in the front axle, and filled the steering gearbox at the base of the column, which may have been dry. After that it was improved, but maybe not perfect – need to keep an eye on it so as not to do any permanent damage.

With the mowing done, I hitched up the disk, and Joanna used it to chop up the winter rye and weeds that had grown up in the strip where I failed to grow wheat and barley last year. I also hooked up the spring-tooth chisel plow (I have been calling it a spring-tooth harrow, but in looking online, the thing we’ve got looks way gnarlier than most spring-tooth harrows) to the larger tractor, since there were still a bunch of rocks and big roots, as it had been woods just 18 months before. Between us we got things pretty well turned in and smoothed out. It had started to rain by now, so rather than make things all mucky I went back to the east side and helped Dave clean out the stacks of scrap wood in the workshop. After supper it was just misting, so I borrowed a string trimmer and beat down the remaining tall grass in the rows, finishing basically at dark.

At dinner we sampled some of the goat cheese that Emily has been making, including the first wheel of aged hard cheese that she’d made, a colby:

Here’s the stash of aging cheese in their cellar:

It was raining again in the morning, so I helped Dave some more in the shop, then Emily and I spread manure in the orchard, making about 40 mounds for squash and pumpkins. Underseeding with clover seemed to work pretty well last year, so we’ll probably do that again – it would have been better if I had gotten it together to till the soil late last summer, and plant oats/clover: the oats would have nursed the clover and then winter killed, and the clover would have a beneficial head start, since it is slow to germinate. I also repaired the gate, which I caught with the corner of the tractor bucket, like a complete moron.

I had to leave Monday morning for work, and as I was going, Emily was filtering and chilling the morning’s milk, and starting another batch of cheese – this time a gouda:


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