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Harvest Time: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Happy summer, friends! Ted here to bring you the news from Dancing Rabbit in this week of longest days and shortest nights. Not to mention a good bit more rain and some hyper-local lightning storms here in northeast Missouri.

Andrea and Javi working on the first stage of cheese making.

We’re in the thick of the early berry harvest, plucking raspberries nearly every day, with black raspberries coming into their first flush and the later variety of raspberries coming on shortly. Prompt harvest is absolutely required in steady wet weather; those little sugar pops are as good fodder for mold as for eating when conditions are warm and steadily moist. June-bearing strawberries are tapering off but still producing, sending out copious shoots that we carefully direct toward optimal locations for next year’s bounteous crop. Elderberries are in their most extravagant bloom, each cluster looking like the best serving of whipped cream one could imagine, portending another harvest in a month or so.

I’m especially happy to have such a robust black raspberry harvest coming on, which I attribute to the mild, extremely wet weather pattern we’ve seen so far this spring and early summer. I first planted them in the garden maybe five years ago, with additions along the way. Each of the past three years or so they’ve succumbed to June dry-outs, when the weather has turned hot and dry, and the wee berries, after early promise, shriveled into hard bumps on the canes as the plants save themselves for the future instead of trying to ripen berries at the expense of their enduring health. Nature always seems to save some for later. Some hotter dry weather is starting to appear in the forecast, but for this year, later has finally come!

Soft-neck garlic is also ready to start pulling this week. We’re just a week off of the normal harvest date of July 1, but as the wet weather continues, I worry that the enveloping skins of the garlic head will keep deteriorating to where the individual cloves are exposed and they won’t keep for long. We’re still consuming the last of 2018’s garlic crop, with gleaned, peeled cloves persisting in jars in the fridge. It is hard to ignore the value of a foodstuff that one can eat, from a home-grown supply, from one year to the next without much of a break. Maintaining that supply means getting most of the garlic crop harvested and cured for the future despite the weather. The garlic harvest is a lengthy process, from harvest to pulling the best heads for seed (saved, sorted, and planted in fall), bundling, drying, sometimes braiding, and otherwise curing the garlic for long storage, steady use, and renewing the crop. I approach it eagerly each year; an anchor of our local agriculture, perennially renewed and refined in the annual passage of seasons.

It is also hard to ignore the impact of this year’s wet weather on farmers in our region. Returning home a week past with various Rabbits from Village Fire, a singing event up in Decorah, Iowa that we’d gone to, I watched the fields go by on the road and observed the effects of farming style, soil type, weather, and geographical chance on the plants growing all around us. Those lucky enough to have gotten their seed in the ground in the rare patches of favorably weather this spring have beautiful crops where they weren’t washed out of the field, but there is clearly a lot of low ground that didn’t get planted in the normal period and in some cases appears not yet to have been planted at all, perhaps a lost cause for the year. As I work, I’m finding myself thinking about crop insurance, climate change, and our government’s offers of relief to various sectors of the farm economy. It is a complex business, this global economy.

The rain washed out Land Day for our friends at Red Earth Farms on Friday, midsummer’s eve. It is the first time I can remember such an occurrence, but these things will come sooner or later in the life of a community. At the moment I hear there’s a rain date of Tuesday upcoming to engage in that celebration. I’m excited to join in, and planning to take a swim in each of the Red Earth ponds along the tour. Meanwhile, the firefly manifestation in the woods that separate our two land trusts, so epic last year, is growing evening by evening.

Cheesemaking continues down at Ironweed. With three of us on the task this year (Avi and Prairie are sharing cheese-making duties), it feels a little less burdensome to me. Amidst all the electrical storms this year, one of my primary worries is making sure the GFI outlet at my mother’s house in Rutledge, where we age most of our hard cheeses, has not tripped and stopped power to the refrigerator. In warmer weather the whey cultures that we rely on to carry the right mix of bacteria from one batch of cheese to the next can go off a bit and require re-starting from frozen culture. I’m grateful to have those resources, and I am also keen to learn, over time, what culture is native to this place, and what kind of cheese comes only from here; a life-long quest, no doubt.

Swim Team began last week in Memphis, Missouri, occupying each morning for our local swimmers. A rotation of their various parents signed up to ferry them to the pool in Memphis each weekday morning for coach Trinity Davis’s steady guidance. Under-10s had their first meet this past Saturday, and everybody else has a first this coming Wednesday. More than one morning was impacted by active rain or threatening lightning this first week, and I don’t envy the kids jumping in the cool pool in early mornings. As we plan attendance at practices and meets through the next couple months, I’m again glad to live amongst conscientious ride-share practitioners.  

My daughter Aurelia turns 13 in a week; she was born and raised here in northeast Missouri. That’s longer than I’d lived anywhere before I moved here in 2003, and I’m still very glad of our choices. Sara’s parents came for an early visit this past weekend, managing to host both a lunch-and-movie day for Aurelia and friend Zane, as well as a pontoon boat afternoon for Aurelia and friend Emma on the one good, sunny afternoon at Thousand Hills State Park, outside Kirksville, Missouri. Next week her paternal grandmother, and possibly one or more cousins and an aunt, will arrive to visit for a couple weeks. I can only say that I have deeply appreciated the support and visits of our various family members over the years, and enjoyed watching the way family and friends visiting other members (and sometimes electing to take up residence in the neighborhood) has ended up contributing to all of our lives.

In the other direction, I want to send an appreciation to our fellow communitarian, Danielle, who left on short notice last weekend to lend practical and emotional support to a family medical situation out east. She has kept us informed of the progress where she is, and also stayed present in our lives here with texts and updates. She’ll be back later this week to welcome a visit from her own mom, and the cycles continue. We’re also looking forward to a visit soon from former Rabbits and Ironweeders Stephen and Erica, with their newborn child Julian, whom we’re all impatient to meet!

Cheers to all you readers out there as you ease into summer, thunderstorms, fireflies, and whatever else the warm season may bring you. Hope to see you here at Dancing Rabbit before the summer’s end!

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