Every year brings changes down at the farm

Change is in the wind at Horsefeathers Farm as I eagerly await the day when the grass goes dormant in the hot August sun and I can get off my tired, old John Deere lawn tractor, at least for a few weeks.

For starters, there are no horses left at the farm in East Olympia; maybe I should rename it Horselessfeathers Farm.

Wild Quest D, our beloved but out-of-shape 12-year-old Arabian gelding, headed down the road in June to a horse ranch, where I’m sure he’ll receive all the attention and exercise he deserves.

With my daughter headed off to Bellingham next month to start her junior year at Western Washington University, it made no sense to keep Quest around. I don’t ride him. I just cleaned the stalls and hauled the grain and hay from Kippert’s Korner Feed to the barn.

Horse chores have been supplanted by a new set of chores – mowing pasture the horse used to graze tight to the ground. I’ve planted a flagstick in the ground to take aim at with my sand wedge while I contemplate what to do with a pasture without a horse.

I’d get a beef cow, but my arteries are too narrow to support a steady diet of red meat.

I’d get a couple of goats, but I’d have to do a slew of fence repairs to keep them from straying.

The most likely options are:

 • Keep mowing and practicing my golf swing.

 • Turn the pasture into a truck garden – marionberries or hops or …

 • Move to a place with less upkeep.

It’s amazing how the mind starts spinning with what-if scenarios when you sell the horse off your horse farm for 20 cents on the dollar.

The horse isn’t the only thing missing at the farm this summer. Most of the fruit trees and berry plants are having an unproductive year.

Two of the three Asian pear trees are barren after bountiful crops last year. The one tree with fruit has about a dozen pears. I don’t think the trees were very well-pollinated, thanks to the cold, wet spring.

The dozen blueberry bushes are a bust, with only a handful of ripe berries to show for my labors. Mummy berry disease and birds took their toll.

The apple set on my seven varieties of trees is sparse compared with recent years. Can I blame that on a poor pollination season too? The first crop of strawberries were consumed by slugs and birds, but some of the ever-bearing varieties have produced a nice, late-summer crop.

The grapes are about pea-size and appear to be in healthy numbers. The raspberry plants, which I plopped in the ground this spring, are 2 to 4 feet tall, craning their necks at the evening sun. They’re ready for a second strand of wire to keep the canes corralled.

The two marionberry plants are loaded with fruit, as are wild blackberries growing along the fence line; they have been plentiful enough to adorn a few servings of frozen yogurt.

The rhubarb plant is vigorous this year, ready for a third cutting. But wait: It’s a vegetable.

Speaking of vegetables, the warmer August weather has turned the vegetable garden into a jungle where ripe zucchinis and cucumbers hide from sight and the wide spacing between the rows no longer looks so wide.

Some of the warm-weather crops are late this year. For instance, the first planting of corn (5 feet tall) and second planting (3 feet tall) are about three weeks late. But barring a sudden end to summer, I expect corn on the dinner table in late September.

All the tomato plants are showing fruit, but they’re all just various shades of green. Here’s another crop that needs a warm last month of summer.

The green bean plants received a haircut from the deer but have bounced back nicely after I doused them with a stinky deer repellent called “Liquid Fence.”

Broccoli, carrots, peas, lettuce, beet greens, cauliflower and onions remain salad combos and stir-fry additions waiting to happen any night we want to pick them. I lost half my garlic to rot this year and need to move the plants next year to a place in the garden that drains better.

Digging potatoes, which is akin to hunting for buried treasure, is in full swing. Is there any better instant microwave side dish than diced Yukon gold potatoes sprinkled with olive oil, dill and a medley of nonsalt seasonings?

The 25 dahlia plants are another mixed bag of color and disappointment. About half of them are full-grown and producing blooms like crazy, and others look like they never recovered from late-spring slug attacks.

The harvest successes and crop failures at Horsefeathers Farm move around the vegetable patch, orchard and berry plantings from year to year, reminding me that gardening is like a lot of life’s endeavors – full of pleasant surprises, misfortune, uncertainty and joy.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444