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  With the fall season officially here, it’s time to say goodbye to much of the garden produce. Beets, carrots and potatoes have all been dug and are ready for winter storage. The tomato plants have produced well, but are starting to fade and the recent heavy rains have been hard on them. Only the squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes remain in the garden, as we wait until they reach full maturity.

 Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the warm sunny days and the cool crisp nights. The colorful leaves paint a wonderful picture across the trees. The fall air has a certain scent that is easy to identify, but hard to explain. Going for bike rides and running seems extra special because I know that in a few weeks, the weather will change and not be as pleasant.

 A few apples hang on the trees and we continue to harvest them as best we can before they fall to the ground. Apple pies, crisps, pancakes and applesauce dominate the menu as we try to eat them at their peak.

 Soon I’ll put away the tomato cages, haul off the excess vines and have Dale till the garden. Before too long a blanket of snow will cover the ground as it goes dormant over the winter in preparation for spring and the next garden season.

As many have heard, there is a historic rainfall event happening in southern Minnesota. I hesitate to make a guess as to what the impact will be for us farmers, but this is a blog, and I might just as well put something out there.

Harvest had begun for us, and while consuming more time than I wanted, progressing quite nicely. Even with my crop farming partner on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list for harvest due to spinal surgery, about 40% of our soybeans are harvested. I had run out of beans that were fit to harvest, and switched over to corn yesterday afternoon. I have a field of corn that saw too much water this past June and wanted to get it cleared off quickly. After 2 acres were done it started to rain, so we quit.

Well. this is what it looks like now. I have not seen water that far up on this field (farming it for 20 years). I don’t think corn is actually under water, but the short stuff that didn’t drown out in June has about a foot of water on it. What really surprised me when I got to the field was how much water was standing on the high ground, and also how many acres on this piece were standing in water.

The volume of water contained in this storm is stupendous. Just on our 480 acres of owned ground, we saw 84 million gallons of water fall in 24 hours. Each county in Minnesota has roughly 370,000 acres, so the 8 counties (area wise) hit hardest by the rain had over 500 billion gallons of water fall on it. The adjoining areas “only” got half as much rain, so over 1 trillion gallons of rain fell on southern Minnesota in the last 24 hours.

For my farm, I think there will be close to 2 weeks down time for harvest. I hope I have enough good corn to feed the pigs. This delay does give me time to catch up on the needed pig work and get some quality runs in, but I’d rather be able to harvest and get the crop in the bin. Stay tuned!

My final countdown is on for the Whistlestop 1/2 Marathon.  Nineteen days to go.  My training for this race has been rather relaxed.  I’m planning on running this race with my sister, Melissa.  I thought it would be fun to run a race side by side with someone and not be focused on my time.

Melissa is such a good sport.  She doesn’t share my passion for running, but does enjoy the benefits that come from staying in good physical shape.  We have two other friends that are going to be doing the 1/2 marathon also. 

Last year was all of our first 1/2 marathon.  We had such an enjoyable weekend.  The race was one small part of the weekend.  The Friday before the race we shopped in Bayfield and found a fabulous jewelry store.  We also visited an apple farm/winery with an old barn turned gift shop.  Being with others who were experiencing prerace jitters was helpful.  Following the race on Saturday we discovered an amazing coffee shop/ eatery called the Black Cat.  Ooh, just thinking about it gets me excited.  We sat in the Black Cat for quite some time following the race celebrating our accomplishments.  Sharing the racing experience with friends makes it all the more enjoyable.

That was the comment Dale made after Adam rounded the corner, passed the number one runner and headed towards the finish line of his Jr. High Cross Country race. He could see the determination and desire that Adam had to win this race. Standing closer to the finish line, I saw it too; Adam wasn’t going to let this one get away from him.

Cross Country season is underway and it’s been fun to cheer on the runners, no matter what their age or which race they are running. I’ve enjoyed watching the expressions on the faces of the runners, especially as they near the finish line. Last week in Montgomery, the kids had to go up a hill and then run about 60 yards to the finish line. I watched many of the runners’ faces as they went up that hill. A number of kids looked strong and determined. A few looked uncertain and there were some that looked tired. Our team has been doing more training on hills and when I watched them, I thought they looked confident that this hill was something they could run.

Dale and I both noticed how one of our 8th grade girls is running with a more confident look on her face. Last year, she ran like she wasn’t certain she could make it. But this year, even running at varsity level and a longer distance, she has the look of “I can do this”. It’s great to watch kids progress not just physically, but mentally.

Communication is both the words we say and our facial and body expressions. Running is a tough sport and when you’re using your arms and legs that leaves mainly your face to communicate how you’re feeling.  I love seeing that look in the eyes of a runner who’s determined and confident. No matter how they place, I know they’re giving it their best.

Where did the past two weeks go?!  I guess I’ve been dealing with all of the usual stuff which includes school starting, volleyball games and practice, football practice and games, play tryouts, State Fair, etc.

I’ve also been dealing with the not-so-usual stuff which includes  rats, skunk, snakes, mice and other critters.  I guess it is just part of living in the country, but it drives me crazy sometimes.

Not long ago I awoke to the sickening smell of skunk.  It was so strong I just knew a skunk had to have made its way into our house.  Well, no, not into our house, but our garage.  The skunk sprayed in our garage and on one of our vehicles.  We washed and bleached the garage floor, but that smell hangs on forever.  And we washed and rewashed our Honda Pilot, but that smell hangs on forever!

Then, not long after, while driving our Honda Pilot two of the indicator lights came on.  That’s strange.  The vehicle seemed to be running fine.  We looked under the hood and it looked like some critter was making a home in there.  A little dog food, a little critter poo, some nesting material.  We took our Pilot to our local mechanics and found out that something had chewed some wires that linked up to the indicator lights.  O.K.  Problem fixed… but no.

The other day I backed the Pilot out of the garage and Kenny asked, “What’s on the cement slab by the garage?”  It was an injured rat.  Max got his BB gun and took care of the rat.  Hmmm was all I could think.  Something’s not right.  Later that day, we backed out of the garage again, and a rat ran from under the Pilot.  Noooo, not rats, was what ran through my head this time.

We called our trusty local exterminator.  He arrived and confirmed that yes we had a family of rats living in and behind our garage.  He said not to worry that he would take care of them.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  The rats would soon be gone.  Not so fast.  We got in the Pilot to go to town for a game and the Pilot wouldn’t start.  Brandon looked under the hood, and, sure enough, there were more chewed wires.

Our local mechanics towed the Pilot to town today.  I wish this were the end of my critter stories, but I know better.

“The apples are ready”, Dale calmly proclaimed to me the other day. Every fall we make our own applesauce, but this year, the apples are about 2 weeks ahead of schedule. “Really?” was my reply as I went through the checklist in my mind of all the things I needed to get done over Labor Day weekend. Let’s see, Cross Country Ride and Tie and Potluck, laundry, cleaning, another trip to the State Fair for Brett and Adam’s presentations and project judging, a bike ride and more cleaning. Yikes, no obvious open time slot for making applesauce.

But on the farm, when the produce is ready, you make time for it. It’s probably the hunter/gatherer in us that drives us to fill our pantries and freezers before winter arrives. Our inner voice also says we need to take care of them all, no matter how much we already have. Even if our freezers and cellars are full, we try to make room for more. This summer the tomatoes came right during State Fair and even though I did my best to make soup, sauce and stewed tomatoes, I just couldn’t get them all. As I walked through the tomatoes, spotting the ones that were pass their prime, I felt bad I couldn’t get to them all. Let’s see, if I would have pulled an all-nighter, I could have made sauce and used some of these tomatoes…..

After finishing some morning bookwork, my sights were set on the apples, with my trusty helper Beth at my side. We began peeling the apples. Fortunately, I have the best Mother-in- Law in the world (Thanks Celie!) She came out and helped peel for about 1 ½ hours which really saved time. My taste tester Beth helps determine how much sugar to add. We also needed to be careful not to have the heat too high and scorch the bottom of the pot. We want nice colored applesauce, not jars with brown flecks in them. (Sounds like something a judge would say).

Three hours and three pots of cooked apples later; we’ve processed 14 quarts of applesauce, which will last us almost a year. I’ll make more applesauce later to freeze and I’ll also slice some apples and freeze them for pies and crisps for later this winter.  

So the apples called and I responded. When I put the jars in my fruit cellar and see them lined up with my peaches and tomatoes, a faint smile will come over my face. Yes, it’s hard to explain the call of the fruits and vegetables, but well-stocked stocked shelves tell me the hunter/gatherer in me did alright.