Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stored sunshine: The way we get by up here

Here's a jar of our Juliet tomatoes, canned last fall, that I opened for breakfast this morning.

Juliets are a Roma-style plum tomato that I find hold up exceptionally well when canned, although because they're small, it's quite labor intensive to peel them. But once peeled and properly canned, it's a very great pleasure to eat them, especially when the warm days of early fall are long gone and there's four feet of snow on the ground.

I had mine with home-grown pork sausage and fresh eggs from our own hens.

This is one way we get by here in the frozen north.

Blog readers living and farming or gardening in warmer climes are probably surprised by the harshness of our winters here in Maine. It seems like every blog post for quite a while on A Great Farm Diary has been about snow.

It took me, an immigrant, a long time to get used to this. It will be daffodil time in South Wales, where my family lives, in a very few weeks. Some of the farm blogs I read from Britain are already planting seeds.

Here we're eking out the sunshine, stored or returning.

The sun is returning -- I have to keep telling myself that to believe it. All those massive mounds of snow will melt, and that water will go away, although it all seems very unlikely right now.

The returning sun is now around 30 degrees above the horizon at noon, up from 21 just a few weeks ago. By this time next month it will be 40 degrees.

The afternoons can be markedly warmer now, with the thermometer reading around freezing or just above any day the sun shines. Today is sunny, so I expect a pleasant afternoon. February sunshine is another way we get by.

The tomatoes are just one form of stored sunlight we collect around here. Hay is another, collected in square bales from fields round about, as well as oats from The County. That's what the sheep are eating. That's how they will get by until May when the grass begins to grow again.

(Aroostook County, known as The County, is where Maine grows most of its grain.)

Firewood is what was keeping us warm, more stored sunshine, but that's getting low, so we ordered and received a delivery of oil. Another form of stored sunshine. Fossilized sunshine, to be precise. It's been so long since we had a delivery -- three winters ago, in the winter of 2008-2009, to be exact -- the truck driver didn't recognize the house. His data sheet says that ours is a house with green siding. It's now cedar-shingled, the fruits of Aimee's labors over two summers.

100 gallons of oil still isn't very much. Not over three years.

I can get by, getting by on 30 gallons of oil a year.

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