Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Surely a Trademark in There Somewhere

When word first began to get around that I was making this surprising vocational shift, questions abounded.  Most often they were whispered to Lori or one of my kids; occasionally they made their way directly to me.  "What is the plan?  Are you hoping to make a living doing this?"  Christopher responded to one such questioner that, knowing his Dad, he wouldn't be surprised if I were to do anything from giving away anything that might grow, all the way to trademarking a particular tomato.  When he shared his answer with me, I nodded approvingly but quickly made an editorial correction.  "I love tomatoes," I agreed, "but I think there is more market room with rutabagas.  I think I'll develop and trademark my own variety of rutabaga."

Now, the truth is I'm not sure I would know a rutabaga if it fell out of tree and hit me on the head -- no small deed, given the fact that rutabagas are roots -- but I intend to change all that.  No, I don't really have in mind my own trademarked varietal, but root vegetables seem, well, at the "root" of what I am hoping to accomplish.  How much fun, then, to open my poem-of-the-day from Garrison Keillor and read about this oft-maligned and usually forgotten earth-bound varietal -- the closing lines of which wax eloquent about...

...their dug-up texture,
the hint of dirt
that couldn't be baked away,
how they left the tongue
with a rumor of something
underground and dark.

And then this final, evocative description:  of this, the almost quintessential autumn vegetable, "so reluctant to have left the ground."
"Rutabagas: A Love Poem" by James Silas Rogers, from Sundogs. © Parallel Press, 2006

Now that sounds like something worth specializing in!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Clock Ticks and the Calendar Page Turns

It is a challenging shift -- time measured by the calendar rather than the clock.  Nothing about gardening, I am concluding, happens quickly.  In a sit-com world in which every problem is resolved in half an hour, every developmental step accomplished between 30-second commercials, it is a rather nice deceleration.   Patience is the name of the game. 

This past Thursday a shipment of herb seedlings arrived and were quickly transplanted into a planter box in the greenhouse.  In the albeit few days since, I can detect no visible change in the herbs -- which given the incredible odds for wilting, "no change" represents a significant gift, indeed. There, then, sprout vanilla grass, rosemary, Vietnamese cilantro, both Mexican and Italian oregano, English lavender, Greek bay, Moroccan mint, and...dare I even admit it...strawberries.  I know, strawberries aren't herbs, but there they are.

 Prior to the herbs -- indeed one week ago today -- I planted more lettuce seedlings, plus, in a fit of naive optimism, actual seeds for spinach, mustard and arugula.  The earlier planting of lettuce has been a wonderful success (we enjoyed two salads over the weekend) so I have high expectations for the additions.  But the seeds...  Everything is an experiment at this point, so it was worth picking out a few likely options and poking them into the soil.  Seeds, after all, are relatively cheap, and what do I have but time?  All that said, the days, these days, are cool -- even in the greenhouse -- and the nights are frosty indeed.  I remember gingerly babying the seeds planted last winter in our living room with warmers and carefully adjusted light fixtures.  Surely these, in the brisk foreshadowing of winter, wouldn't stand much of a chance, grow lights and moderating space heater notwithstanding. 

But just today, after seven days of careful observation, I detect an emergent green in the potting soil where the arugula was sown.  And though I dare not disturb even a particle of perlite, when I look carefully in the spinach bin I may well glimpse a hint of green peaking through there, as well. 

Even if it is a horticulturally suspect practice, I think there is something appropriate about planting seeds at the beginning of Advent -- the season of patient waiting...and hope, even when it is utterly naive. 

Meanwhile, the clock ticks, the calendar turns, and who knows what all might grow?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sorting Out the Power Supply as the North Wind Blows

The edge on the north wind provided ample confirmation of the forecasted lows in the mid-twenties over the next few days.  The temperature drop nudged the necessity of rain barrel storage out of the "later" category into the "sooner."  Since the rain gauge, upon our return home, had indicated two inches worth of precipitation I knew the barrels would be full.  Filling every available container I could find and stowing them in the greenhouse, I emptied what remained of the water harvest and shifted the empty barrels inside the barn.  The remainder of the preparations would require more thinking.

Grow lights were already hung inside the greenhouse, and a cord to supply the power already run.  But the heater I had purchased would need longer hours than the lights if the existing winter hardy lettuce plants, the more recently transplanted lettuce plugs and the mustard, arugula and spinach seeds I had just planted -- perhaps foolishly -- were going to stand a chance.  The seeds, admittedly, are an experiment.  It's doubtful that I can coax their sprouts over the next 30-45 days, but I have been anxious to test the possibilities.  The herb plugs are scheduled to arrive later this week, and they -- with the existing lettuce -- will stand more of a chance as winter increasingly settles in. 

With two separate timers in hand, I considered the tangle of wires and their divergent needs for power.  The lights I want to come on at dusk and remain on until about 10 pm; the heater, I assumed, would initially need several hours additional.  Not knowing exactly how the greenhouse will hold its heat through the darkness, I naively hoped for the best.  Eventually, I connected the photo cell timer to the main power supply, set with the broader time span needed by the heater.  The simpler timer I connected inside the greenhouse to serve all three of the light fixtures.  At that point, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.


The "system" worked like a charm.  The greenhouse veritably glowed through its hours of extended daylight.  The heater kept the edge off the interior temperature at least until I went to bed, and had shut itself off by morning.  The only problem was that the space needed more heating than that.  The waking temperature inside the greenhouse was below freezing.  Tonight, when the low is expected to be even lower, we will not have the luxury of abbreviated hours.  The heater will have to run all night.  As for the lettuce?  It couldn't look more beautiful.  No word yet on the seeds.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Not Even Winter, and Imagining Spring

"The land is an ark, full of things waiting." (Wendell Berry, "A Wet Time,"  from the book Farming: A Handbook)

The trenches are not even dug.  The manure, though arranged, will not even be delivered until spring and only thereafter spread.  The seed catalogs are weeks, if not months, away.  I've scarcely reflected on my experiences of this summer now past -- gleaning what I might have learned.  I know, at this point, what grew and what didn't, what thrived as far foliage but not so far as fruit, but I have not scratched the surface of why.  I know that not everything need go in the ground at exactly the same time, and that there is wisdom in thoughtful patience, but I have not yet begun to think through a schema.  I possess nothing at this point but capacity, a ready space empty but anxious to be filled with experience and insight of my own but also the harvested wisdom of those who have actually done this kind of thing before. 

And yet already I am wondering about this space newly cleared behind our new home.  What does it possess and for what is it hungry?  What might it grow and at what might it turn up it's nose.  How deep are the roots of the grasses holding it in place?   And how will the deer, already common visitors to the nascent garden, take to my intent to encourage them toward other grazing?  
I only have things yet to learn about when and what, exactly where and how and why, and how long the process will take.  But already I am imaging all that this land holds in waiting -- an ark of the living and possibilities waiting to be born.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Joy of Watching it Grow

OK, so it isn't really a "crop"in the common sense of the word.  It is a flat of lettuce plants -- a dozen or so plants -- growing quietly in the greenhouse.  Thus far they are the only edible housed there, though I have additional seeds ready to start -- spinach, arugula, and another lettuce or two.  It is, to be sure, an experiment this time of year.  Will the greenhouse protect them?  Will there be adequate light?  How much extra heat will I need to provide?  Will I be able to get the door open once the snow begins to drift?  As for that latter, it could well be that the experiment has ended long before that time.  But I'm hopeful. 

We are harvesting rainwater down-spouted from the roof of the barn, and just today I filled containers with 15 gallons already collected and set them in waiting inside the greenhouse.  I am planning for vegetative thirstiness, after all -- snow or no snow -- and so far the evidence is promising.  It looks healthy, don't you think? 

Before long we will be debating the relative merits of cream-based dressing or vinegar and oil.  Or just awe-filled moments watching it grow.