Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

A Year of Mud

Finlee the dog

The ever-present mud hasn’t slowed down our sheep dog Finlee’s enthusiasm.  Needless to say that muddy footprints have been part of the year’s adventures. 

During the dust bowl of the 1930’s, farmers talked about having dust and dirt in everything, finding its way into the house through un-seeable cracks and crevices.  Glasses had to be put away upside-down to avoid filling with silt, even in the cupboards, and a fine layer of brown everywhere made housekeeping a nightmare. 

Now, some days in August, when it’s been dry for weeks and a strong south-west wind blows, the sands and silts will kick up and drift about.  The grit gets everywhere and rumbles up skyward as cars and trucks frequent the gravel road, leaving a fine, brown dusting on all the lawn furniture and parked vehicles—a tiny taste of that earlier weather plague.

But, in your heart, you know it’s just a fluke of August.  It won’t last long.  Autumn rains are coming, and the dust will soon settle as the leaves are shaken from the trees.  But this year that dusty August never happened—instead we had a different excess.

Mud Season

Mud Season is another less-than-desirable time on the farm.  It comes in early spring, with lambing and garden work as the frosts work their way from the soil.  Snows melt and the precipitation turns to rain (and plenty of it).  Pastures flood, the creek rises alarmingly, low patches in the driveways wash out, and the oozy, gooey mud sucks at your boots, even as you walk through the grass.  Nothing dries well and molds and mildews shake off their winter drowsies and look for mischief.

Now, mud season usually lasts a month or two and then things dry out enough that the tractor can roll across the yard without leaving ruts, the driveways can get smoothed out, and the creek goes down.  But not this year.  No, this will be remembered on our farm as the YEAR of mud season.

There was rain…and then more rain.  Drizzles, gushing thunderstorms, all-day-duck-weather rain, and mist.  About every combination of possible rain (and occasional hail) set the tone spring through autumn.  First-crop hay got rained on.  Squash and cucumber seeds refused to sprout.  Tomato plants pouted in the prolonged cool weather and lack of sunshine.

My boots have had such a thorough workout, I’ve blown through a pair already this year!  No time for sneakers—they’d just get soaked, along with my wide-brimmed chore hat and garden gloves.  Everything soggy, sloppy, drippy.  Twice (well after spring thaw) the creek has been over the road.  Six inches of rain in an hour-and-a-half?  Well, that was a week ago Friday…just another day in the year of mud.

I remember watching a documentary about WWI, and one soldier’s letters home remarked that they were always fighting in the mud.  Maybe, he mused, it was the same mud, just trucked around to wherever the fighting was next. 

On the farm this year, it certainly seemed like I was contending with the same mud, relentlessly.  We went to battle with each other starting at morning chores.  Slippery mud at the doorways and by the hydrant where I filled water buckets, gloppy mud in the turkey pen that stuck to their taloned feet, oozy mud as I pulled chicken tractors forward in the pasture, slipping and falling. 

Mud on the tires, mud on the entry rug, mud under my fingernails, mud everywhere!  Try to weed the garden?  Guaranteed you’ll come out coated in mud!  The weeds might pull out easier, but your clothes will be so soaked and caked, it might take a wench to pull you out.

The slugs had a heyday, as did the ducks.  The turnips grew like crazy, as did the kale.  Frogs and toads were so prevalent on warm evenings that it was like driving an obstacle course with my utility golf cart to finish chores without creating undue carnage!  Surely, somewhere in all this moisture must be some relief to the state’s aquifers.  Lake Superior has risen to higher levels than I’ve ever seen.  Folks, it’s been a lot of water!

Not that I’m trying to complain.  It’s not a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a forest fire.  We can handle the rain.  But please, how about a break for the relentless, merciless mud?  With these fall breezes, maybe there will be a chance to enjoy a reprieve before snow flies, bringing its own new batch of late-season mud before the ground freezes, waiting to become mud again next spring.

A year of mud?  It’s not a mud slide at least, but it’s certainly been an adventure on the farm.  Oh, and that tool that went missing?  Found it in the mud yesterday.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Photo by Kara Berlage.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com


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Life with Pie

pies out of the oven

Pie is wonderful any time of the year:  savory spinach and cheese pie in late spring when spinach is bountiful, cinnamony apple pie after crisp autumn days of picking the sweet orbs from the trees.  There’s blueberry pies in August, and blackberry pies in September.  There’s great grandma’s rhubarb custard pie recipe, which you have at the ready, taste buds tingling, when the first rhubarb leaves burst through the soil in April.

But there’s something to be said about the special place pies hold this time of year.  For Thanksgiving there’s pumpkin pie and maple pecan pie—must-haves at the family feast after the turkey and homemade cranberry sauce.

We make our pumpkin pies starting with raw pumpkins grown in our garden.  I remember when Kara and I were still just kids, Mom would involve us in making pumpkin pies from scratch.

We cut the sugar pie pumpkins in half with a big kitchen knife, scooped out the seeds and stringy parts, and baked them whole in the oven.  Once cooled, the skins peel off easily, and the meaty flesh is diced and run through the trusty hand-cranked Foley Food Mill.  The last step is to drain off excess water.  Now the pumpkin is ready for freezing for later or mixing into the batter of a REAL pumpkin pie.

Did you know that most canned pumpkin is actually made from Hubbard squash?  These blue-skinned winter squashes grow to massive proportions, with thick, dry flesh.  If you’re not a fan of pumpkin pie, it’s probably because you haven’t had one that’s actually pumpkin!

We taught the trusty techniques for pumpkin roasting and processing to the culinary intern we had staying with us last year.  Even though she’d been learning the finer points of omelet making and forming bubbles from sugary mixes, what seemed like basic food skills to a homesteader had not been covered:  making jam and jelly, processing tomatoes, and making pie starting with a raw pumpkin.

This last week, we received a note from the intern triumphantly announcing she’d made pies starting from pumpkins and not a can, all by herself.  Guess where she remembered soaking in that traditional food skill?

Pies, Pies, Pies

Over the years, we’ve tried some fun and delicious pies—Colorado peach, apple cranberry, mixed berry, and chocolate pecan.  And that doesn’t even touch on the meat pies!

What to do with that leftover turkey?  Make turkey pot pie!  Or, for a more personal-sized pie-like-food, a turkey pasty.  (The food “pasty” rhymes with the word “nasty,” just to clarify).  A pasty is made in a clam-shell shape of pie crust and was traditional in mining communities. 

It was easy for the miners to hold the outer crust ring in their dirty hands and eat without needing any utensils.  When they were finished, the outer crust ring would be tossed aside, so the miner didn’t have to eat the dirt and heavy metals imparted by their working hands.  It was warm, filling, and easy to handle in the days before fast foods.

A pot pie or a pasty has just about everything you need on a cold, wintry day:  some kind of meat (beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, whatever is on hand), potatoes, carrots, onions, thyme and pepper.  And it’s all wrapped up in a neat and tasty pastry package.  Some of the really old-fashioned pasties from Cornwall were even baked with the meat and potatoes on one side and the fruit on the other, so you’d eat your way across the meal!

Or, if you’re not into pastry, there’s shepherd’s pie, which has the meat and carrots and herbs at the bottom and the potatoes all mashed and fluffy on the top.  It’s technically only shepherd’s pie when it’s made with lamb, though (that’s what shepherds tend, right?), so if you prefer yours with beef, that’s called “country pie.”

Ah, and don’t forget breakfast pie, which is typically called quiche!  All eggy and soft, it’s a great way to use up bits of vegetables, cheese, even sausage.  Quiche in the summertime never seems to last long on the brunch menu.  I often find myself saying, “Now, there’s only two pieces left of the quiche, so no fighting please.”  And it’s equally not uncommon that a party of six has to negotiate who gets those coveted final pieces.

So what is it about pie that makes it so endearing, especially when we think about the foods to make for family gatherings?  Is it the presentation?  The warm memories of having pies made at Grandma’s house?  The way the crust flakes under your fork and melts in your mouth?

They say that if you’re trying to sell your house, stick a pie in the oven during the showing.  The warm, cozy smells will fill the space, turning it from just another house to look at to feeling like a home.  All because of a pie?  It seems so!

Perhaps pie is just one of those feel-good foods, all around (unless you’re still struggling with your less-than-friendly crust recipe).  And there’s still that magical moment when that pie lands on the family gathering table, ready for slicing and serving onto little plates, dutifully passed down the long table.  It’s hard to imagine life without pie, at least now and then.

No, no, I don’t even want to try to imagine life without pie.  I like life with pie, so I’ll keep it that way. All this talk about pies makes it look like I’ll have to get into the kitchen and make one soon!  See you down on the farm sometime.

Photo by Kara Berlage.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.