[Homestead] Harvest time and homestead smells

Gene GeRue genegerue at ruralize.com
Tue Sep 28 12:56:31 EDT 2004

The Wealth of the Season

Published: September 28, 2004

The merest touch of frost the other morning brought down the potatoes in 
the lower garden. It seemed all the more surprising because the vines had 
been so rank with growth. Suddenly all the green was gone, and I could see 
the lumps where the new spuds - ready to be gathered - lay hidden under the 
straw. I began lifting potatoes. Wherever I pulled a plant, I found 
earthworms thriving in the borderland between straw and soil, writhing in 
their sudden exposure as though being threaded on a fishhook. The potatoes 
looked overexposed, too, still thin-skinned, their brilliant white flesh 
visible through their jackets.
There is really no getting used to the biological miracles on a small farm, 
the simple fecundity of the earth. A couple of months ago I scattered seed 
potatoes on raw, bare ground and buried them in old hay. The vegetation 
seemed like recompense enough, but now I have more potatoes than I know 
what to do with.
I planted a dozen Steuben bean seeds in June. Now the pods have dried on 
the plants, and my dozen seeds have been repaid 40 or 50 times over with 
new Steuben beans - white with a caramel eye - drying on the sideboard. 
Like most gardeners, we have nearly fed ourselves sick on fresh tomatoes. 
Now they march directly into the kitchen, through a food mill and into a 
pot of slowly condensing sauce, to be frozen for a winter day when fresh 
tomatoes are just a memory.
There is not a sign of stasis anywhere. The goldenrod, so vivid a couple of 
weeks ago, has faded to rust. That means the bees are tapering off, as 
well. The past couple of years have been hard on honey bees, a combination 
of mites and bitter winters, but our hive is now in its second year. On a 
warm day the air thrives with bees outside the hive entrance. A strong 
smell of wax and honey and propolis drifts out of the frames. It adds just 
the right quality of darkness and sweetness to the complicated scent of 
this place.
By now the floral traces have mostly vanished, replaced by the burlap scent 
of decay in the wild fields around us. But the strong notes are always the 
smells of manure and the animals that make it - the horses, predominantly, 
and the chickens and ducks and geese. What ties it all together is the 
smell of pig, not the toxic, scalding scent of an industrial operation, but 
the much friendlier odor of two pigs who move often to new pasture. Our 
Tamworths are nearly full grown. The barrow, especially, is as round as an 
overgrown cucumber.
I forget how complex that farm scent is when I've been in the city for a 
couple of days. But when I get home, just after dark, it hits me all over 
again. I stand in the twilight, looking out over the pasture, wondering how 
such smells - blending in the night air - can seem so vital and so welcoming.


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