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The accidental farmer

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Lush growth surrounds fireflys barnBefore I begin today's post, I wanted to thank any of my readers who left comments last week of condolences for the family of our friend Dave. They are grateful for your messages and thoughts, comforted by the thought that now even strangers know something of the good man they had in their lives. When my brother knew he was dying he started saying, "Life is for living, and you have a lot of that left to do. " He was very firm about it that he did not want any one of us to be mired down in sadness or loss, or to leave our own living behind because of his passing. Within one hour of his passing my sister's step-daughter gave birth to a new baby boy. I remember so clearly standing in the room at the hospice with my second oldest brother. We were consoling each other at the passing of our beloved Dan when someone stepped in with news of the baby's birth. We looked into each other's tear rimmed eyes and I said to him, "Circle of life." He smiled thoughtfully, nodded and said, "Yes, circle of life." We hugged each other hard, embracing each other as well as that thought ... the circle of life. Now, we move on again as the circle of life continues rolling, spinning, rising, creating. My husband and I have been gathering wild, black raspberries from canes along the west side of our barn the last couple of weeks. About ten years ago the wild canes started appearing out there, so my husband tells me. The first two summers I was here we gathered some of the berries -- enough for snacking and having berries on cereal. I was a bit squeamish about picking them at times because the canes are all intertwined with a ton of wild grape vines and with the grape vines come many, many, many Japanese beetles. I might be a bug in my own right (you know, being "firefly" with a light up butt and all) but I have to be honest with you ... I am a bug scaredy cat. I don't mind spiders, I think of them as our Special Ops whose special mission it is to protect humans from being overrun by bugs. I warned my husband when he and I were exploring the possibility of my moving out here and marrying him that I am a bug wuss. The subject of what kinds and numbers of bugs thrive around the farm came up more than once in those early conversations. He accepted me anyway, and not once has he made fun of me or made me feel like a sissy for my squeamishness and squeals when I encounter any of the many bugs that flourish around here. The last couple of summers when we picked raspberries I was not an aggressive picker, and when we neglected to bring in the berries some days and many dried up and died on the canes, I was a wee bit relieved because of the bugs I had not had to confront. This year it is different though. As I have mentioned on previous posts this summer, I have become quite the preserve making maniac this summer -- well, for me the quantity of preserves I am making seems maniacal, although I am certain it is nothing compared to a real farming woman. For me, it is huge compared to my experience with the activity prior to the past couple of months. The raspberries are so abundant this year, and I am so much into making jam that I have been both dedicated and aggressive as a raspberry picker. Yes, there are millions of Japanese beetles out there all over the grape vines, mating and doing whatever else they do. They don't disturb the raspberries at all, they just eat the grape leaves and mate and multiply. I get out there and I pick, and pick, and pick swatting mosquitoes, squealing and hollering about and saying, "Yuk" quite often as I encounter the bugs but I keep picking. I am determined not to waste these abundant, beautiful raspberries. My husband is quite brave and goes back into the thick of them in spite of what he refers to as their prehensile thorns. We come back from our picking adventure with raspberry juice stained hands, bloodied hands and arms, mosquito bitten legs ... and our berry picking baskets are full, even brimming over. I have been able to make 18 8-ounce jars of deep, black colored raspberry preserves plus a couple of Raspberry Crumble desserts, and he has enjoyed fresh berries on cereal and still there are a ton of berries yet to pick. The flavor of the preserves is fantastic -- raspberry flavor as deep as the color is dark. These wild raspberries are dark purple, almost black -- not the red kind you find at the store. And no, they are not blackberries. They are indeed raspberries. I call us "accidental raspberry farmers". Evidently we have quite a knack for wild raspberry farming, because the wild canes are flourishing all around our property. Most of them are out by the barn, but we also have them over by our willow tree, around several other trees throughout the yard, and at each corner of the old foundation of a garage we have out back. By the willow tree we have canes that are producing beautiful honey colored raspberries that taste like wine. I am quite proud of our crop whenever we bring in our baskets full of berries, and even though the raspberries come and plant and grow themselves ... I am cool with that kind of farming. As a matter of fact, if other berries, fruits and vegetables had a similar system I think I could get into farming in a very big way. The only problem I have run into with this raspberry farming is that I appear to be allergic to them. When we are picking them I start itching, and then I start feeling prickles randomly as if I am being poked by some little raspberry fairy with a teeny, tiny sharp little bugger of a needle. Within a day of picking, if I have itchy prickles all over and have to take a strong dose of anti-histamine to get it to stop. (It is strange, writing about it I am starting to get the itchy prickles all over again, even though we have not picked raspberries since Saturday. Oh well.) Once they are cooked, of course there is no problem. So, I don't eat the fresh berries and I am going to experiment with wearing some kind of neoprene gloves or something while picking and handling them so this allergic reaction thing doesn't get progressively worse. I am bound and determined not to be discouraged by allergies when I have finally found a crop that I can "grow" in such reliable abundance. Yesterday we also went out to our friend Lora Partyka's farm and she let us pick our own blueberries. We picked four quarts worth, and we need another four quarts so I can make blueberry preserves, a Blueberry Crumble, and a couple of other things. You see, I just can not stop making preserves this summer. So far I've done strawberry, sour cherry, and raspberry and now I'm about do those blueberries. Our kitchen is beginning to fill up with beautiful jewel toned jars, just too fun. I'm going to have to knit up a lot more Jammie bags before the holidays! Notice some knitted items in my photo selection today? I have completed another Christmas Stocking design, as you can see. I am calling this one the Chimney Sock Christmas Stocking, and I hope to have the pattern available for sale in my Etsy store within a week or so. The other little item is a baby sock from a set I am designing called, "Sweet Baby". More photos will appear as I continue to develop the set, and the pattern will be available sometime in early August. Now I am off to some client related activities, as I work on designs for a couple of websites I have been contracted to create. And that circle of life just keeps on going. Bugs, rain, wild flowers, raspberry canes, Blu, the willow tree, the barn, work to do, a marriage to enjoy ... how is your circle doing today? I hope it is flourishing and glowing with a special light and vitality. ~firefly

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