Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It’s Just That I So Thoroughly Enjoy It

There’s that moment when the fingers first hit the keyboard, the oh shit am I going to have anything at all to say? And I just start pounding on the keys and something invariably comes out.
That, as I know you’ve been wondering, is how these posts come about, and have, for oh so many years now.
Simple as that. No angst or anxiety at all. No pain. No exhaustion. Not one tiny bit. Actually, there’s tremendous trepidation as I start, but I keep on til the flow starts, and then I have a good time. It’s something that I really enjoy.
Anyway, the last few days have been gloriously warm, as if it’s been Spring for a few days.
It’s been warmer, so you’re outside without so many layers, the sun is getting higher, and the light, at times, seems more spring-like-light then winter-like-light. Everything is greening up.  These last few days have been a taste of what an April day is like
The associations I have in my head of April days are of planting greens – thousands of them. Of spreading fertilizer and raking beds. The temperature and the smells of the past few days are the same that I experience when I give the fields their first plowing of the year – something I’ve now done thirteen years in a row, The same sensations as hauling dozens of plug trays up onto the fields. Of planting out full beds of lettuce and kale and cabbage.
And for all those years I so thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. The pre-dawn starts and the after dark exhaustion. The broken equipment and the day-late-and-dollar-short-ness of it all. I enjoyed every bit of it, because I was outside as the earth was coming alive and the light was increasing.
   These are feelings that I am unable to put into words, try as I may. I have a feeling in my mind, conjured up by visions of early Spring fields, and the sights and smells of that time of year, but I am unable to find the words that may impart those same feelings in you. Images pause in my mind, anything from the angle the sun makes coming over the mountain as I plant, or the dust that kicked up from the fields when the wind blows. The green of new leaves on the locust trees, or the sight of ground beetles scurrying for cover in a plowed field. I have tried for many years to find the words to represent my farming experiences, but I cannot find the words to impart on someone the way it all made me feel. I just keep coming back to the thought that I so thoroughly enjoyed it.
    The farm is shrinking. It will play less of a role in my life from here on. It may even one day shrink itself out of existence. I don’t know. I do know that I will miss it for the way that it was, when it was early spring and I had a full two acres turned over, and plant and seeds to fill it all, and I stayed out till way past dark, covered in mud, wanting to plant out just one more tray. It was all the source of such joy, of such complete satisfaction, and I mourn its loss. I hang on to bits and pieces – the greenhouse will get up and running this year. I’ll plant out a few rows. I’ll keep it on life support.
   It’s a shadow of its former self, and I keep looking at the shadow and seeing a representation of the whole, and that floods me with many happy memories. And makes me sad.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

I’ve Fallen, And I Can’t Get Up


In case you’ve been wondering just how backwards-ass the farm is now, I present for your consideration:

   I witnessed today an unlikely sight for the last week of January, but then, nothing that this farm does surprises me anymore. Dianthus is blooming in the greenhouse. Overwintered Dianthus. They are on their second year and are in three inch pots.
   Then there is the cabbage.
   I started a half dozen flats of cabbage back in late summer, with the idea of planting them out into a fall garden. It never happened; I started working off farm, and many, many tasks fell by the wayside. There are more than a few portions of the farm that have been left to fend for themselves.
   The cabbage fended, and failed. They were left in tiny little cell trays in late August, unwatered and unloved. They remain, shriveled, almost desiccated stalks bent over and intertwined with each other amidst the dusty potting mix. They never stood a chance.
   The overwintered perennials were on outdoor tables at the time, and managed to survive with the meager rainfall. I moved a lot of them inside when it started to get cold.
   And so I have that incongruous little scene of flowering plants opening up a little bud and greeting the world, while there are snow flurries and ice storms outside. Juxtaposed against the cabbage, which should be just sprouting and starting to green up right now, but are, instead, in weather with more moisture that we know what to do with, hot, dry, fried and dried out.
   I know not how I got myself into this, nor do I know how I will extricate myself from it. I do know that it is wrong. That it violates every law of man and God. It is no way to start of the season. These harbingers of both climate change and my own neglect can whip up a curse that I will never be able to exorcize, that will not even allow me into some uneasy truce, but will spread unchecked into every corner of the farm until there is nothing left but despair, and then it will curse the despair.
   I can’t outpace or outwork or outsmart these demons. They infiltrate the greenhouse through every crack in the plastic and every rotting door frame, like frigid air in the middle of the night. They don’t fear me. They mock me. They mock my labors and they mock my efforts. They watch me charge forth undaunted into the mess, rake and broom in hand, and they laugh. They watch as I redouble my determination, and then destroy two things for every one that I repair. I pray for sunshine, and for rain. I pray for warmth, and I pray for a good harvest, and they send only ravens, perched high atop unfinished greenhouses, and laugh at me as I till the soil.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I’ve Brought the Mediterranean into My Living Room




   It’s the coldest night of the year, thus far, and a perfect time to anticipate the coming Spring. The chickweed will be blooming soon – not just the random splash of color here and there, but the consistent flowering that covers a garden plot. Likewise the dandelion – not the occasional confused little specimen along a roadway, but the early scouting parties. The troupes in a field or pasture that say: there’s enough of us now that you notice us, and get the buckets ready if you want you to make wine. 

   It’s the sprawly little rosettes that I’m waiting for: speedwells and spurges and little violets and a few I’ve never been able to identify. They seem to be what first beckons the bees out of the hives. There will be just a few violet flowers atop a handful of cold little ground dwelling rosettes, but the bees will find them and help themselves to the nectar.The winter has been warm enough – or, not cold enough – that the grass is growing. It really greens up after a heavy rain. That ain’t nothin’. Wait till Imbolg. Wait till we’re closer to summer than we are to winter, when the world starts to push everything upward and everything starts to grow and the roots hold fast to the earth. We’re close. Real close. 

   It’s like starting to push a really heavy wheelbarrow, and you lean all your weight into it, and finally it starts to budge, and you take a tentative step forward – just a few inches, a little fraction of a step – and put your foot down and strain your leg muscles and get the wheelbarrow to keep rolling but its just a bit easier, then just a bit easier still. You lean into it more and try to not let it tip over and take another little step, and finally start to sense that its moving as much from it’s own momentum as it is from your straining. That’s Imbolg.

And it can’t get here soon enough, if you ask me. These frigid nights seem to hasten it, somehow. We’ll only get a few this year that are this cold. I’ve brought a few flats into the house. It’s easier than firing up the greenhouse heaters, just to take care of a few plants that I worry about in low teens and single digits. Tarragon. Some of the smaller rosemarys and lavenders. At the last minute I got anxious about some butterfly bushes and brought a few flats of them inside. They are all on the living room floor – little potted plants with small little green needles poking out of their stems, destined for breakfast.

It’s nice having them inside. I find that I sit with a cup of tea and just gaze at them. The weeds inside the pots hold my attention as long as the herbs, though. Especially a sprawling little violet spilling out of a lavender pot. It looks like it really wants to flower. Like it knows the days are getting longer, and it knows the bees are scouting, and it’s trying to open that little bud, like it’s pushing real hard on it’s wheelbarrow.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Snow Melts and the Mess Is Revealed

From of old there are not lacking things that have attained Oneness
The sky attained Oneness and became clear
The earth attained Oneness and became calm
The fountains attained Oneness and became full 
Lao Tzu

   No, we didn’t the predicted blizzard, but we did get a thin blanket of snow over the farm. It was largely melted by the next day, and just sat in a few spots the day after that.
   It highlighted the mess.
   After a storm, all looks clean. Brand new. Tidy. Innocent.
   The snow starts to melt off the old refrigerators first. The metal soaks up the sun and warms quickly, and the farmscape is dotted with old fridges. A few old propane tanks are next. Then a wheelbarrow, followed by a few pieces of old roofing tin, lawnmower parts, fence posts and then some aluminum window frames. Plastic comes next in the periodic table. Five gallon buckets, quart and gallon pots, chicken fencing. Little trucks and rocket ships and battleships. Pieces of bird feeders and blue tarps and greenhouse film and garden hoses.
   It all looks worse to fresh eyes. The crap that had blended into the landscape stands out again, and I vow to make the time to get the farm cleaned up. Again.  The standard post snow storm resolution.
   And here it should be pointed out that the sky is always particularly bright after a storm, and the grass gets an energy boost that causes it to display a brighter shade of green. Thus all the greater is the contrast.
   (There are those who have advised me to stop trying. They claim I am fighting entropy. The attitude, however, that led me into thinking I could make a living farming is the same attitude that tells me I can defeat the laws of physics.)
   Old potting mix sacks make great garbage bags. I fill one and then another and then another. I run out of potting mix sacks and move on to produce boxes.  The mess never ends.
   And the mess is measured not only in breadth and width and deepness but also in Time. It never goes away. The farm never gets neater. Twelve years or more I’ve been here, and the place is still a mess. Oh, it’s a different mess than the one I found when I get here, but it’s the same size. So: is it the same mess?
   It’s like looking at photographs of the fields from one year to the next. Same field, covered in weeds. Different weeds, a different generation of weeds, but so what? They’re the same weeds. The same mess.
   I shall not be daunted. I just remembered there are a few more potting mix sacks behind the packing shed. If they haven’t blown away, and if they aren’t dry rotted, I’ll be able to fit all sorts of stuff inside them.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

An Open Letter to Pope Benedict

Dear Your Holiness,
Tonight, I forgive you for the way you treated Galileo.
I sit before my monitor, snow coming down, Winter Storm Watches issued and re-issued and updated, rivers rising, mercury dropping, and I’m waiting for the lights to go out.
The trees crowd the powerlines, here, and the snow can pile up on the branches and snap them off and they knock out the power. I’m up a narrow little valley, not built on seven hills, and my city is not eternal. My house was built in 1965.
Anyway, I’ve already lit my candles, so if the lights go out, I’ll at least be able to see my way to the bathroom.
It’s the candles that I’m writing about. They’re the long burning prayer candles that you get in Mexican groceries. I have six of them; two plain, two with San Martin Cabbelero, one Nativity, and one where the label is peeling off, but I like to think it’s Saint Francis. (St. Francis was always my favorite saint. I think people should be nicer to animals, don’t you?)
It does not escape me that without you, God, St Peter and all the Catholics down in Mexico who come up here and open groceries, I would not have those candles, and I would most likely spend the greater part of this evening in the dark. (Please curb your inclination to see that metaphorically; it is only to be taken for it’s literal meaning.)
So I just thought I’d drop you a line and tell you how much I appreciate the candles. Sorry I haven’t been more in touch lately. Anyway, in “light” of all of this, I guess I can forgive you for what you did to Galileo.
But could you please be a bit nicer to gay people?
Your devoted acolyte,

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Weather Vanes

  Snow due for the weekend, whereas we were in the ‘70s last weekend.
   Temperature, life, quiches. It has its ups and downs.
   I made tremendous progress in getting the greenhouse ready for use last weekend. It was sunny and bright and warm and I was able to get a lot down. The approaching weekend promises to be just as productive. It’ll be snowy and cold, and there will be little else to do. The greenhouse will at least be dry, and will be, at least, a few degrees warmer than the outside world.
   My seed order came about in much the same way. I started working on it one sunny afternoon, the warm weather helping me to imagine the feel of the garden in May, inspiring me to make the coming warm season as flowery and plant filled as possible. Seed ordering as method acting.
   I finished it off over the next few nights. It was cold and rainy and there was nothing else I could do with the time. The thought of using a miserable cold night in a productive way further inspired me. The photos in the catalogs warmed the room, and made it easier to finish the task.
   The coming season will see me working off farm every day. I’m saddened that I won’t be in the fields everyday, but heartened at the thought of a predictable income.
   The idea of starting things up for yet another year, of working hard for a full year to have nothing to show in the end, is exhausting. And the idea of doing things on a reasonable scale is refreshing and energizing.
   It will be a windy night.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

No Time Like the Present

It is with much trepidation, I assure you, that I start this post and the 2013 season with a cliché, but trepidation does not outweigh cheekiness/ennui.
The greenhouse has gone neglected these past few months, but the sun came out today and we’re entering a warm spell, so: No time like the present.
Old trays are stacked and put on their appropriate shelves. Tables are cleared. Garden hoses are coiled. It is just a start, and represents just a dent in the overall mess that is the greenhouse area, but a start is a start, and, as I say: NTLTP.
I start to plan the season, and make lists of what I’ll grow. Hence the cheekiness. This will be our most unadventurous season. This season we will grow only a few select items. Those items are the most reliable and the most       profitable for us. In some ways they are the most boring for us. The season may end up being a farming cliché, and I taunt the Gods with my meta title.
The farm is being reinvented in its most severe way yet. I’ll work off farm full time this year, and perhaps for many years into the future. I’ve come to accept that the farm, in its current model, can not provide me with even a subsistence living. I must reinvent the model or starve. We’re baring down the product list this year. I won’t even attempt to have the farm provide for all me needs. This year I only want it to break even.
This is a hard way to start the season. I’ve been avoiding these decisions for many years now. But now, even with the bright and warm orange orb shining down on me for the first time in weeks, with the catalogs sprouting in the mailbox again every day, with the greenhouse polished, I cannot fool myself into thinking that this year, it’s gonna work.
But my prose doubles back on itself again, for in its state of reduced goals, it will work. It will work for all it has to do to work is be itself – nothing grand at all. I’ll leave it at that. I sat for a moment trying to think of a clever way to close this post. But I won’t try. I feel no need to draw everything in this essay together and then end by once again saying no time like the present.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Aha! Seed Catalogs!

The 2013 harvest sits in a warehouse somewhere, in a number of small paper envelopes, waiting to be plucked up and mailed across the country to my little greenhouse.
I need only check a little box on an order form and this bounty will be sent to me, via the United States Postal Service. And the seeds will be placed into little plastic cells in sterile soiless mix, and watered, and heated, and cooled, and watered again.
The catalogs have been dripping in, one at a time, since about Thanksgiving. They stacked up on the edge of the desk until they toppled over, and then I put then in the seed cabinet. The empty seed cabinet. That will fill to bursting in a very short period of time. A small entry in a catalog changes into an envelope, and the envelope changes into a seed flat, or a dozen seed flats, and the seed flats turn into a row, or a dozen rows. And the rows are harvested and put into boxes, and the boxes fill up the back of a truck.
I’m ordering seeds based on what has done well in the past, and that judgment is based on records I kept last year. That’s when the harvest shrinks back down again, from boxes filling the back of a truck to a single cell on a spreadsheet.

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