Autumn is here, and it's time to reflect

Autumn is here, and it's time to reflect
Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted - John Ashbery

Autumn's been in full swing here in Vermont for at least 2 or 3 weeks. It's even frosted here a few times, reminding us what's in store.

As a result, the pasture grass is wilting, and the garden's been pulled. Just like me, right now all the harvested veggies rest warmly in the kitchen, remembering summer days right outside the window.

The shorter days and cooler nights have triggered the sheep's natural cycle. They frolic in the field, playfully headbutting each other. Their breeding season approaches!

Frolicing ewes is one sign that breeding season might be approaching!

We do our annual resolutions at the end of the year in December. It always made sense to me to review the year in autumn, and come up with resolutions later.

In a way, the process of reflection that leads to resolutions is strange. We reflect on the past in the present, so that we can prepare for our future. Does this make one prone to nostalgia? In order to create goals for the future, do we need to lock ourselves into a particular mode? Further, I know what needs to be done tomorrow, but when tomorrow becomes today, things get backed up, new problems arise. I'm sure you can relate!

As always, it might be simpler to focus on practical considerations!

On the homestead, most of the work happens in the spring and summer. As autumn takes hold, all that work is fresh in mind. What worked? What failed?

The market garden was lovely this year! This is the first year I tried an arched cattle panel for squash and beans to climb, and it worked so well! I planned on trying this method several times in the past, but finally did it this year. Keeping in line with my general sense of frugality, I didn't want to go buy a new cattle panel just to experiment. However, the neighboring farm gave me 3 panels for free last fall, so I was finally afforded the occasion to test them.

The panel was arched over, held in place by 4 metal posts, two driven into the ground on each side of the arch. The center height was around 6.5 feet tall, and around 8 feet wide at the base. I'm only 5 feet 7 inches tall, so there was plenty room to walk underneath.

Harvesting beans as they hang vertically down through the panels was so much easier than picking through their foliage when they grew vertically. Also, the vines moderately shaded the ground underneath the arch. So, I might be able to grow greens in the middle of the summer, nestled below in the dappled light, without risking the plants bolting.

I only tested one panel this year, but next year I'll surely be using all three panels to grow beans and squash.

The homestead currently has two dogs (Cooper and Barbara). They are both standard poodles. Barbara has an impressive prey drive, and she's incredibly athletic. On the other hand, Cooper is most happy cuddling and eating. Having active dogs makes raising some livestock a challenge.

If you don't know, chickens have sharp, sudden movements. They can't move their eyes like we humans; instead they have to turn their head. Darting heads, flamboyant fluttering wings, strange and interesting noises. These are all things that can quickly trigger the innate hunting interest in dogs.

With that in mind, I've always been a little afraid completely free-ranging the egg-laying hens because of Barbara's dogged single-minded need to hunt small animals.

As a result, the chickens live inside a very large area enclosed by netted fencing.

However, after two years' exposure, I thought the dogs might accept the chickens as farm companions (not dinner), and decided to open the chickens' fencing to let them truly free-range.

So far, it's been completely successful! Barbara doesn't chase the chickens at all. Cooper has lunged at them a couple times, but I think that's only because he wants to get at the feed they're pecking at and not the chickens themselves.

The only downside is fewer eggs in the nesting boxes. I suspect they're hiding them elsewhere on the farm!

Free-ranging chickens, picking apart the last remnants of the garden

The quote at the beginning of the post is out of Ashbery's famous poem, Self Reflection in a Convex Mirror. I always think about that poem at this time of year, since I associate the fall with self-reflection.

In remembering the poem each year, I sort of bridge the years together. Every fall is a reflection for the season just preceding it, and yet all the preceding autumns as well!

This can make the reflection process more time consuming and holistic, but it follows the pattern of homesteading and farming too. Rarely do we as farmers and growers have single year projects, where we start and finish in a single season. We compare notes, experiment, and tinker with processes until we arrive at our current, "best effort."

Alright, sometimes we're just, "good enough," but I'm being optimistic here!