Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On a warm summer’s evening

Last evening, Tanya and I walked around the yard and garden, checking on what needs weeding (the orchard and flower beds which are my chore) and what needs watering (everything soon) and what the bugs are eating (cabbages and beets, which I sprayed for Flea Beetles today). We checked to see how the fruit is coming on the trees. The cherry trees are bending to touch the ground under the weight. The apricot tree, which must be 15 meters high is loaded with apricots already the size of large grapes and the apple trees are showing the beginnings of a good crop of apples.

Gardening seems to be a full time occupation for villagers. From morning until evening, people are out planting and transplanting or grubbing with a hoe. They have huge gardens and only the plots near their homes get more than rain water, except at transplanting time. The soil around us is dark brown clay that bakes hard as a rock after a rain or a watering. The soil must be stirred with a hoe between the rows each time to keep it loose. A heavy rain just after planting can make the ground too hard for tiny sprouts to come through. Then when they are up, Flea Beetles eat the cabbages and Colorado Potato Beetles destroy the potatoes. Every gardener must have a sprayer to keep the bugs under control.

Then we sat on the front step in the cool of the evening, surrounded by the smell of our several dozen petunia plants. The evening is quiet except for the incessant barking of dogs and our friendly neighbourhood cuckoo bird that intermittently cuckoos several dozen times without stopping. At 8:00 pm the cows come home from pasture, where they have been since 6:00 am. There are about 7 or 8 cattle from around our area and 3 of them come past our house. The puppies are interested but do not bark or make any fuss. The cows are of either Russian Black and White or Red Steppe breeding. Red Steppe cows are descendants of German red cattle brought by the Mennonites to Ukraine in about 1770. The cattle are starting to flesh out after 6 weeks on grass; their hair smooth and shiny and from the looks of them are pretty good milk cows.

When the cattle are first put out to grass in the spring, they are thin enough to brand two at a time using carbon paper. And no wonder. Winter feed is cut with a scythe and carried home in sacks. Haying starting last week, to cut enough for next winter’s supply. The sacks might be carried on one’s back or on the back of a bicycle or several piled on a hand cart, but it is all hand labour. Farms may be mechanized but not the subsistence villager. Possibly that accounts for the popularity of milking goats, of which there are quite a few around here. It takes much less feed to keep a goat than a cow.

In some rural villages i.e. farther from urban centres than Marianivka, from what I have seen over the past 10 years, villagers will farm a few hectares and have horse drawn plows, mowers, rakes and wagons, but I have not seen any horses around here. Working up the gardens in early spring and late fall is done by hiring a small tractor and plow/cultivator/harrows.

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