Autumn Transitions

The barnyard sugar maples in their glory. Photo by Steve Barnes

“Has anyone seen the hummingbirds today?” Mom asks over a delicious breakfast of French toast, sausages, and fresh peaches. Earlier the parents had left, and each day recently more and more of the young ones have started heading south. Two days ago, four remained, but now the feeders sit idle, without a winged visitor.

The season are changing, and all the birds, plants, and animals know it. The deer are turning their coats to their winter gray color, the swans and geese are starting to migrate, the blue jays have reappeared in the yard, and the swallows have long since left. Shocks of color from the maple trees offer their fiery hues amidst the lingering greens. Certainly after the first frost, others will join them in the leaf-shedding festivities.

Our heritage kunekune pigs adore the transition to autumn, when the plethora of overgrown zucchinis and cucumbers becomes their heyday feast. After harvesting the cauliflowers, we snip off the plants and give those to the pigs as well, along with turnip tops and exhausted green bean plants. While the winter squashes are busy hurrying up ripening their fruits and the Brussels sprouts burst into their prime, many of the other crops are looking weary and worn. They’ve given it their all, and the pigs rejoice as we pull them out in a fond farewell to the bounty of summer.

The hens, ducks, and turkeys are molting—casting off their tattered feathers and growing new ones to stay warm this winter. On the other side of this annual process, they’ll look all sleek and shiny, but for now they look like a rag-tag bunch, with bare patches and feathers sticking out all cattywampus. Clouds of feathers escape from the coops as I let the birds out in the morning, and the drop in egg production signals just how demanding of a task it is to grow new feather coats.

The ever-present task of “making wood” ramps up in autumn, with cutting, splitting, and stacking to beef up the woodshed’s supply. Firewood work is an anticipatory project, as what we process now won’t be ready for another season or two, but keeping warm all winter gives us plenty of reason to refill the shed. Between storm blow-downs and retired aging trees, there always seems to be plenty of wood to go around on the farm!

Fall lambing also marks the changing season for us, with the first lamb born yesterday evening. He’s quite the little cutie, with cinnamon-colored baby wool and a white beret-like marking on the top of his head. His mother adores him, which is also wonderful! The center of the old barn is full of expectant ewes, waddling in their pregnancy wideness, so we know that their time is soon. Kara has been very busy cleaning barns and preparing all the jug pens for the rigors of lambing.

And oh, how nice it is to have a reprieve from the muggy, buggy, hot days of summer—to work in the garden without a river of sweat down your back and the cool north wind on your face. The tradeoff, of course, is the shortened day length and a nagging feeling that you’ll never get all projects done before frost or snow flies.

Autumn on the farm is infused with getting up each day and tackling what must be done next—turning those overripe tomatoes into sauce, picking the apples before the deer eat them, butchering the meat chickens to stock the freezer, coordinating making second crop hay in the available windows of non-rainy spells, or harvesting the winter squash before a big frost comes. From digging potatoes to cleaning barns and coops, there is never, ever a lack of something to do on the farm in autumn.

What marks the transition to autumn for you? What changes do you notice in your area? Are the squirrels and chipmunks extra busy preparing for winter, or the trees changing their colors? Take some time to notice and enjoy each element. See you down on the farm sometime.