by Paula Vogelgesang | Paula Vogelgesang is the author of the monthly column "Pennywise", and is a monthly contributor to the Farm And Livestock Directory. Email her at [email protected].  Please be sure to mention the "Farm And Livestock Directory" when you respond.

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I had the doors open to let in the fresh air and the sunshine earlier this morning though there were a few clouds floating. Of course, the cats had to come in and avail themselves of the couch–it’s a good place to sleep when it’s breezy.

The wild turkeys were doing their best to wake everyone up with their clatter down in the pine trees and out by the haystacks. The boys are chasing the girls and it sounds like a mad house over the hill, but after all its mid-April as I write this and spring has certainly sprung!  (Those early deadlines really mess up your thought processes when the publishing date is two months away; this is one of the hazards of being a ‘wanna-be’ writer.)
For the past three hours or so, I have been watching and listening to the honkings of thousands of geese headed north to nest and spend the summer raising their broods. I don’t recall ever seeing and hearing this many geese at the same time. Must have been a real good hatch last year and just a few casualties.

I’ve been working in the greenhouse this morning. Some of the little plants are not too far from getting moved into the bigger grow-up cups and I can’t wait. This means it will soon be time to plant the garden. I can’t plant the radishes just yet because we have not yet moved cows to summer pasture. In years past, I would get peas, lettuce, etc. put in the ground and those darn cows just HAD TO break down the fence and check out the newly tilled ground tromping through the rows.  So now, I just wait–less stress and the things grow just fine.
We’ve been listening to the long range weather forecasts, and I don’t like the sounds of the dreaded drought being predicted. Been there, done that and it’s not pleasant. We’ve also had reports of large (over wintered grasshoppers) along the edges of the fields and pastures and I don’t like this news at all. We have had grasshopper plagues that almost equaled those of the Dirty Thirties in past years and yes, grasshoppers do eat the clothes off of the clotheslines. They chew so many holes in the material making it look like a sieve, and cannot be worn again. They also eat the paint off of the houses, chew up the fence posts and ruin trees that took years and years to grow.  They decimated our wild fruit trees and they have never fully recovered.

Because of this and the fact that we had very little snow this winter, unlike my sister-in-law and family who lived with snow piled to the rafters and beyond!  We’ve not had much rain this spring either. I am changing things a bit for my garden and going to put down a lot of straw mulch on top of the soil to hold in what moisture we do get. The straw will rot down over the course of the summer and add some extra bonuses to the ground, which has gotten better over the years we’ve used this particular spot. It was gumbo, clay and a little sand along one edge. This is Badlands country and the deposits left eons ago are put down in strange ways. (I guess if where you live was once an ocean floor and dinosaur-like critters roamed the pastures and creeks, things are a bit different than on a mountain top!)  Now that is major climate change!

I am hoping to get my summertime chicken house moved up to the edge of the garden so the biddies can keep the hoppers away from the food I’m trying to grow. I do have snow fence around the garden itself and this lessens the chances of coyotes, skunks and other varmints from getting at my biddies while they are ‘out and about’, and they can run to their ‘house’ for shelter if a sudden heavy rainstorm or hailstorm hits.

My beloved strawberry patch is in my back yard and safe from the chickens. The patch was laid out in nice neat rows a few years back when they were first planted, but over time they have ‘runnered out’ to almost completely cover the ground and I have to watch my step as I pick the berries.

I have such fond memories as a child of being allowed to go to a neighbor’s house and spend time in her grandpa’s strawberry patch.  ‘Pops’ didn’t care how many we picked as long as we ate them. And most important of all: “Watch your feet; if you step on any berries, you can’t come back!” Sounds a bit harsh, but I can see his point. Children running through the berry patch would have demolished the fruit before they could have been picked and used. We learned to respect the work of the gardener who was in his 80’s!

Around the first of June is when I usually pick the first of the ripe strawberries. Most of these are eaten fresh once picked! I will pick every single day from June until mid-July when they will stop producing for a couple of weeks (too hot) and about the first of August they start to put on more berries and this continues until a hard freeze.

June is also when the kitchen jam production goes into overtime using the strawberries as well as other fruits.  One of our favorites is a triple-berry jam made from strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.  This year, if I get any rhubarb, I’m going to make some strawberry/rhubarb jam and see how that goes over! The filled and cooled jars are set on the pantry shelves to give as gifts or ‘just because’.

A dollop of fresh strawberry jam on homemade bread just warm from the oven is beyond description!

-Till next time, Paula