Friday, April 30, 2010

The Now

WITNESSETH, too many seasons have passed with my nose so deep in study, research, work and the business of living that I have failed to notice the joys of each season; and

WHEREAS, we have chosen to live away from racing rats, smog, rush hours and schedules imposed by others;

THEREFORE Be It Resolved:  

That I shall take a few minutes each day to simply walk around our piece of heaven and notice and be grateful for occurrences fleeting and temporary.

"Pure sex, you pervert," says Virginia.

"What do you expect?" I say.  "It's spring!"

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bring It On, Jack Frost

People often look at, or hear about, my thriving spring garden and ask, "What if we have another frost?"  I shrug and say, "No problem, I haven't planted anything yet that isn't frost-resistant."  Nevertheless, look around this time of year and you'll see that many, if not most, gardens lie empty.  Maybe their owners don't like early veggies, haven't found the time to plant, or don't realize they've missed an opportunity.

Various plants, I understand, have different cell structures that react differently to what seems to me almost magical -- the 32-degree Fahrenheit (0-degree Centigrade) threshold that changes water to ice.  The best time where we live to plant garlic is in November, when I take cloves from the previous year's harvest, plant them 2 inches underground and cover with at least 2 inches of mulch.  The cloves usually sprout and peek above the ground before winter, then wait until early spring to take off.  As one frost after another persists, they seem to laugh as they wait for warmth to return.  Onions and chives fare well through the winter, too.

 Garlic -- Planted around Garden's Edge

Some of the beets and carrots I planted last fall didn't mature quickly enough, so when cold weather came I covered them with hay.  After our 2-month snow blanket melted, I raked off the straw.  They're thriving now, with a big head start over my spring-planted beets and carrots.

 Beets (over-wintered under hay)

Parsnips?  I've read they love to winter over.  In fact, some say that's the only way to grow them.  The dozen or so I failed to harvest last fall are enjoying the warm weather.


Over-wintered buttercrunch lettuce offers us a special treat.  Some volunteers (seeds fallen from previous crops that sprout where they fall, without human intervention) took root last fall and all through the winter struggled to stay alive.  We've been feasting on their persistence for the past month or more.

 Buttercrunch Lettuce

Testing time!  Early this morning, Jack Frost visited.  How did my garden fare?  Here's some lettuce.  Do you see the frost on the leaves, especially on the right and on the leaf edges?  (You might have to click on the picture to enlarge it.) It's warm now and doing just fine.

And here's some cauliflower. No problem.


Peas?  They LOVE frost, and snow, too.


"In fact, everything looks fine, except for this," says Virginia.

Volunteer Winter Squash

"Yep, poor thiing," I say.  "It volunteered too early, should have known better."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Traffic Jams in Arnolds Valley

Folks driving by our place often slow down.  Witty, our goat sire, might be dancing on the goats' jungle gym or the female goats and their kids might be grazing together.  Sometimes a car parks along the side of the road and the occupants walk to our fence to engage in some heavy petting, which the goats love.

Last year I was hoeing at one end of the 1/4 acre field garden while Olga, our scarecrow, stood guard at the other.  I was out of my mind as usual until I heard someone talking.  A car had stopped and the driver was talking to Olga.  He seemed pretty embarrassed when I walked over to bid him hello.

People also slow down after I install a new set of CDs to keep crows away from newly planted seeds.  Take a look.

"They're very sparkly, very sparkly, like a holiday," says Virginia.

"Yea man, unless it rains," I say.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gardening/Life 101 -- Morning Round

Do you smile the next morning
when my cup and I wander past,
squishing larvae with my fingers,
nodding at the latest casualty –
a cutwormed eggplant seems a waste
of stem and leaves, yet I measure
blackberry diameters as if all is forgiven?

--from Conversations with a Garden, an ode to my garden

The first thing I do every morning, even before helping with goat milking, is prepare a cup of apple cider vinegar tea (1 cup hot water, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey) to carry with me as I tour my garden beds. A daily tour is essential to a gardener. Five or ten minutes enable the gardener to identify what needs to be done and stay on top of invaders, disappointments and other good and bad surprises.

See the holes in the leaves of the arugula?  (Click on the picture to see them better.) Karen noticed them first a couple weeks ago.  The newer leaves seem to be fine, so I'm hopeful the cause has disappeared.  

Next, I see the same thing, holes, in the leaves of my cabbages, maybe caused by slugs.  I'll continue to watch these, too.

Nag, nag, nag.  Yes, I know I should thin my carrots...

and I really ought to Google "broccoli, premature blossoms" to see what I should do.

Cheers!  My next crop of lettuces has begun to sprout.

Now here's something I don't know how to read.  Something broke a grape leaf.  Was it the wind?

Who's been digging the potatoes?  One of our boxers, Lex or Rosie, I'd bet.

Do you see the damaged leaf on this potato plant?  A couple weeks ago frost nipped it.  The resilient potato is doing fine now.

Finally, I must check the greenhouse.  Is it time to water the tomatoes?  Do I need to move any of them away from the tendrils of the encroaching cucumber?

Gardening is like life, like business, like home. A few minutes of observation, listening, planning and prioritization can prevent wasting time on matters of little or no importance -- such as staying at a desk at the end of the day merely because the boss still sits, while the carrots need thinning.

"I think you're forgetting something," says Virginia. "Some people have real jobs. They can't afford to stroll around their yards with a cup before heading off to work."

"I bet they can afford to set aside a few minutes to get organized, just like they find time for things they really want to do," I say, "like reading the morning paper, chatting beside the coffee-maker, updating their status on Facebook, or sending an email to an old friend.  By the way, you should see my list for today: work on two updates due May 3, weed the beets, thin the carrots, water the seeds I planted yesterday, practice piano, work on a poem, call my publisher, check the greenhouse, set up the new electric fence if it's delivered, pick up a load of manure...."

"Shush, busy man," says Virginia. "You're lucky. Most of those things can wait for tomorrow."

But I have deadlines to meet, people counting on me....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gardener's Day of Rest

An inch of rain Saturday night guaranteed this gardener a day of rest on Sunday.  As soon as we finished milking, I packed our camera with two water bottles in a running belt and drove up to Arrowhead Lodge, base camp for my 18-mile trek up and down Thunder Ridge.  I started slowly, conserving energy for the upward climb.

I realize the Jefferson National Forest is your forest, too, but seeing equipment like this always turns my stomach.

See the blue kiss of death near the bottom of this tulip polar? (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

I know, it sacrifices its life so some of my compatriots can thrive, but please, timbermen, cut only what the arborist authorizes and clean up so the next time I run by I barely notice.

Mountain azaleas led me to gentler thoughts,

accompanied by soothing sounds.
According to a neighbor gardener, his father said it's time to plant corn when the leaves have climbed halfway up the mountain.  Ancient wisdom also advises, "Plant corn when oak leaves are the size of squirrels' ears."  More than halfway up the mountain I found these, so planting corn three days ago wasn't out of line.

Our farm sits way down at the end of this valley.

And here's the famous "Devil's Marbleyard" -- the white oval, like an egg, viewed between the nearby trees (click on the picture to see it better).   We've hiked to this playground of marble stones the size of trucks nearly 50 times with guests.
"Must we return to the original theme?" asks Virginia.

"ABA form," I say.  "You're a musician. You know its value.  State the theme, move on to something else, then return again.  Speech writers use it, too."

"Okay, but what's a log truck?" she says.

"I didn't see any today.  In fact, only one vehicle passed me the whole run.  Maybe like a truck made of Legos, it's a truck made of logs."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hidden Treasure

A gardener also is an excavator.  Taking over a bed from someone else offers opportunity for sleuthing and discovery.  In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox and her uncle's young gardener, Dickon, take delight when they find a rose that is "wick" and together they resurrect a hidden garden that was abandoned (and forbidden) after Mary's Aunt Lily died.  When I dug a garden in the back yard of a rental house in North Carolina, many broken glass bottles made clear that I'd discovered a trash pile.  As a result, I invested an hour of digging and sifting for each square foot of garden space -- a well-deserved break from studying my law school assignments.

"That's a break?" says Virginia.  "Most people would say you went from work to more work."

This probably illustrates why some people are suited to gardening and others aren't, which reminds me of the slogan on one of the coffee cups in our kitchen -- "Do what you like. Like what you do."

All right, some people would call the repetitive tasks of gardening "mind-numbing," but yesterday something happened that I'd bet almost everyone would find exciting.  I wish I could plan it to happen soon after someone took up a hoe for the first time.

It's the sort of thing that occurs most often when I'm digging a new garden bed, or working in a recently dug spot.  Yesterday I was hoeing the fifth-acre plot recently plowed by the fellow who cuts the hay in our field.  

Whenever I find one of these, the airplanes, cars, roads and power lines temporarily disappear.  American chestnut trees tower around the clearing I'm turning into a garden.  As I kneel to inspect the carved stone, I wonder how many thousands of years ago a native American let this piece fly from a bow and whether it struck its target.

"Cool," says Virginia. "That one's perfect.  How many others have you found?"

"A handful," I say, "counting another perfect gray stone and other broken pieces I found when I was one of Suter's Hoers, back in the late 1960s.  I uncovered 7 or 8 while digging the garden beds at this house, including one last year while some friends were visiting.  When I said, 'look what I found,' they thought I was kidding."

"I'll keep my eyes open from now on," says Virginia.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Spring Babies

Seed Song

What is inside?
Delight and...
I promise.

Nurture me and
I promise.

How about another tour of my garden, from a macro perspective? [Remember, for better views, enlarge a picture by clicking anywhere on the picture.]




Peaches (future fuzzy navels, already fuzzy)

Plums (too good to resist; see the bite?)







"I'm not sure these pictures go with that poem," says Virginia.

"Think metaphor," I say, "seeds in the sense of early life.  It's a first attempt at a poem a friend asked me to write to go with the seeds to be handed out at her daughter's wedding."

"What's for breakfast?" says Virginia.

A different kind of seed -- scrabbled eggs.