On this episode of The A Team, as Mark and Willis make their way home from New York with two mack trucks full of seed potatoes, Mark's mack suddenly loses power. There is an exit about a mile down the road, but he can't reach over 1200 rpms. And even if he makes it to the exit, Willis will have no idea that Mark is broken down. Dun, dun dun.......
I joke now, but it was no joke at the time. Two Mondays ago, as Tom and I were making our way home from a delivery in Bloomsburg in separate box trucks, I saw Tom put his turn signal on and pull into a rest area. Something had to be wrong. I parked my truck beside his and sure enough, as I approached the driver door, Tom was hurriedly trying to locate a mack garage near Ithaca on his phone. I called Mark's cell, which he doesn't always carry but thankfully had with him that day, and asked if he was alright. He was fine, but the mack he was driving that also just happened to be loaded down with 8 tons of seed potatoes, was in bad shape. What he thought was just a belt that needed replaced appeared to be much worse. He was able to pull off at an exit and park the mack safely in front of a sanitation plant. A man working at the plant spotted him and was trying to help as best he could. At this point, Tom located the number of a garage about 30 miles away. We gave Mark the information, hung up, headed home and hoped for the best.
After we pulled into the farm, I saw Tom get out of the truck and I knew immediately when I saw his face that we were going to drive to New York that evening. He said Mark was able to secure a tow truck to take him to the garage, but there was little chance the mack would be fixed by week's end. We had no guarantee that the weather would be favorable to leave the seed potatoes there, and so we would have to drive both box trucks to the garage near Ithaca that night, transfer all the seed potatoes off the mack onto the trucks, and then drive home. It was 3 pm and my father-in-law was still on the road. Wayne was away on a delivery, so it was up to Tom and I to make sure all the critters were fed and watered before we left.
We didn't get on the road until about 4:30 pm. Just as we were nearing the 220 exit, we passed Willis in the mack, who still had no idea what was going on. He would soon find out when he got home. Tom and I finally made it to the mack garage around 7 pm. The garage was closed by then, so we couldn't use their skid steer to transfer all the 50 pound bags over. We had to do it by hand. After 45 minutes of grunting, sweating, laughing and lifting, we had all 320+ bags transferred and about 120 miles ahead of us yet to drive.
I can't express the relief I felt when Mark and I were finally in the box truck together, seed potatoes in tow, ready to head home. Every year I am always tense on the day that Mark and Willis drive to New York for seed potatoes. It's about a 12 hour round trip and during this time of year, there is often still snow on the ground in upstate New York. I traveled with Mark the year we were dating, but the past two years, I stayed behind to help on the farm. Having my husband inches away from me as opposed to miles eased all the aches in my body. We had a long drive home, but we were all together! My man was safe! We would live to tell the tale. Tom drove ahead of us and we only stopped once for dinner. We barely spoke as we inhaled our food, hardly tasting it. We were all so tired, hungry and sore, but glad to be filling our bellies, even if it was with fast food. Tom gave me the pickles off of his burger and Mark nibbled at my fries. The company is really what makes the meal.
The Monday before that was not quite as eventful, but exciting nonetheless. Mark and I were sound asleep when someone banged on our front door. We both shot up and looked at the clock. It was 1:00 am. Something was wrong. We stumbled into the living room. My eyes were blurry as I went to the front door, thinking in my sleepy brain that it was our older brother Wayne. Mark was hollering at me as I flung the door open, concerned because it was a stranger. But all I could think was, "Geez, babe, it's just Wayne..." Instead, it was a man I did not recognize and the look on his face startled me, "Do you have cattle?" he asked gruffly.
"Y-yes," I stuttered.
"Well, they're out. They were along the road but now they're on the other side of the house."
"Oh my God, thank you!"
I slammed the door. Mark already had a boot on. How could our steers have possibly gotten out? During this time of the year, we have cattle in two barns. The upper barn shelters the younger steers and the lower barn is where the older steers sleep. The barns are full of wheat straw for bedding and the steers often huddle together at night. But they can also wander away from the barns, though after a while, they encounter a fence to keep them from trampling our crop fields. It didn't make sense that they broke loose in the night. It has happened before, but typically during the daylight hours when they are more active.
Mark ran out ahead of me and turned on our car. I followed suit, walking quickly but cautiously toward the other side of my brother-in-law's house. If our steers were indeed out, it was going to be very tricky to herd them back to the barns. Angus steers can be ornery and if they are in a mood, they will even kick. Mark aimed the car headlights toward the field. Sure enough, I counted six black figures. They were happily chewing at weeds and didn't seem to even notice our presence. Mark kept the car parked there and raced up on top of the hill to check and see where exactly they had escaped from and if there were any more wandering about. I stood near the side of the road to make sure they didn't begin to drift closer to it. As my eyes adjusted, I realized they were not our steers. In fact, they were not steers at all. They were heifers! And a couple of them appeared to be pregnant. I heaved a sigh of relief. Tom and Willis appeared shortly after and confirmed my observation. But whose heifers were they? We didn't know of any neighbor that owned anything other than dairy cows. As far as we knew, we were the only farm on Snydertown Road that owned Angus.
Wayne, Tom and Willis joined Mark on top of the hill. They began to position tractors and wagons on either side of the driveway up toward the barns to create a kind of barricade. We were then going to try and gently drive the cattle up toward an empty pen so we could keep them safe until the morning. I stayed with the heifers and a few times had to shoo them away from the road. They were friendly enough and a couple of them didn't protest when I scratched their heads and patted their noses.
The boys finally got everything into position, and we began the slow drive upward. The heifers moved reluctantly at first and then fell into follow-the-leader pretty quickly. We had a couple of rogue moves to contend with, but eventually we were able to coax every last one into an empty pen. They did cry a little, out of confusion, which woke up our own steers. If you lived on our farm, you didn't get very much sleep that night.
The next day, the neighbors about a mile down the road from us didn't realize their heifers were missing until about 9:00 am. They finally made their way to our farm and we filled them in on our sleepless night. They had to haul them back home in horse trailers. Hopefully they fixed whatever fence or barn door was broken. I think they were just as surprised to find their herd missing as we were to find heifers on our lawn.
The good new is, I think the cycle of maddening Mondays is finally broken (for now) because last Monday was relatively event-less for a change. This past week was fueled by the speed of spring; we planted potatoes, sweet corn, asparagus crowns and peas.. This week we will begin transplanting our early cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli starts. Our radishes and onions have a good stand thus far, and the strawberry plants are looking lush and green. Soon, the outdoor market season will begin and ready or not, summer will be upon us! But we have plenty to do until then.
The pictures in this post are a little behind-the-scenes look into the preparation before potato planting. Did you know that potatoes come from seed potatoes that look almost exactly like potatoes? When Mark and I were dating and I saw a seed potato for the first time it was the most confusing thing ever. I remember thinking, "But that's a potato. That's not a seed! A seed is an itty bitty thing." Well, the term seed potato is actually a bit misleading because it is in fact just a part of a potato that is replanted. Even though potato plants set seed, they do not grow "true to seed." In other words, potatoes don't yield the same type of plant as the parent plant. Fruit seeds are similiar, which is why many fruit trees must be grafted. So in order to get the exact variety of potato that you want, potatoes must be grown vegetatively. Because of this, it's important that the seed potatoes must be free of disease. Seed potatoes are certified by the government to be disease-free before they can be sold. Once planted, diseases can still be contracted, but knowing the product is healthy from the start gives farmers a leg-up.
As the seed potatoes tumble out of the wagon, they make their way into our seed cutting machine, which sorts the seeds according to size. Depending on how big they are, the machine will either leave them whole, cut them in half or in thirds. Finally, the seeds travel up an elevator and into another wagon. There they wait to be transferred into our potato planter and finally, into our fields! So that's potato planting 101. Make sure you watch the video because there will be a pop quiz next week...