Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Trail and the Smile Remain

There hasn't yet been time to walk it, but yesterday I blazed the trail completing the circle.   Our predecessors on this property had mowed a wide path north from the back yard toward the trees, forking eventually to the east and the simple fire circle long overgrown when we discovered it, and northwesterly toward the spring.  Both legs, we quickly discovered, dead-ended in the trees, either by neglect or design.  It's not that there is anything wrong with turning around and retracing steps you have just imprinted in the grass; it's just that our psyches or souls seem to prefer more orbital patterns.  We envisioned extending the northwesterly lane into an arcing reach that would eventually, and without regression, lead a nature-minded stroller back to the starting point.  

Seven months into our landed living, the dead-end remained. I would get to it I kept promising the two of us, deterred by no particular impediment save my own seemingly pathological resistance to leaving a mark of my own -- on the land, to be sure, but sometimes I think on life itself.  I dream well, but as happened that first time I climbed the ladder to the pool’s high diving board, more often than not I peer off the end into the distant and watery abyss, hesitate, and climb with a clinging shiver back down.  You would think I’d be over that at this age -- especially over an act as simple and impermanent as mowing a scenic path through a grassy field.  For whatever reason, and perhaps simply for greater importance, other projects had pushed ahead of this one in the queue -- trimming, sawing, chipping, seeding, trenching, tree-planting, bulb-planting, successively mowing.  Besides, before the path could be cut there would need to be a plan -- exactly where to bend it, between which trees to thread it, into how much of the neighboring acreage to encroach it, how artfully to shape it -- and then a survey to clear any blade-bending rocks.  

I can't account for the timing.  Indeed, there wasn't really time.  There was this single day between two trips, and rain was predicted.  There was laundry to do before repacking.  There was fresh milk to buy for Lori and a book to claim at the library.  The car needed gas, the seedlings in the greenhouse needed tending, and the sentimental ”Thousand Blossoms” asters received in the mail as a gift from Ellen’s daughter needed planting, all in addition to mowing before curtain time at the theater in the evening.   It just sort of happened.  Mowing along in the coolness of the morning, I reached the northern dead-end, and before I knew it a lusty glance to the west had escaped and the tractor followed after.  There was no scouted design nor cautionary survey, there was only the throb of the diesel engine, the whirling of the blades first high then low, uncharted grassland and my face stretched into an adventurous and satisfied smile.  

There hasn't been time to walk it, and after boarding yet another plane this morning it will yet be several days.  But the mark has been made; the trail blazed; the circle completed.  

And for reasons only the soul understands, the smile remains.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Nourishment of Neighbors

A few preliminary steps remain. There is a little more trenching to be done, but that laborious work is almost done. There is a critter fence to erect -- this is, after all, the "country" where rabbits, raccoons, skunks, coyotes and deer roam freely. And, of course, there is the actual planting -- seeds to sow and seedlings to transplant so that they can join in the adventure alongside the garlic, asparagus and two varieties of potatoes already under way. But first there is the manure. Ah, yes, the manure. Who knew -- certainly not me -- that I would find myself spending so much time thinking about manure? What kind to use (Horse? Cow? Chicken? Hog? Or even human?)? Where to get it? How to use it? How much do I use? How often to apply it? What kind of soap to use after handling? All very complicated questions. Shortly after our relocation I connected with a horse family who volunteered a pickup truck load. Horse manure, I had been told, was the most desirable. So, I took this generosity as a validating sign. Mentally checking that detail off my list I proceeded with getting unpacked, settling in, tackling winter from a different angle, ordering seeds and living on different terms. Days stretched into weeks which seeped out into months. Spring arrived, garden projects resumed; I put my head down and got to work. As the day of planting crossed over the horizon into view and began to draw nearer, a nagging question began to scratch at my sleep. "What about that manure?" The horse manure was still "on the table," so to speak; but suddenly an further thought came into view...or earshot. "What about the alpacas?" Our neighbor to the east raises alpacas. There are 30 of them meandering gracefully around the enclosures next door. Meandering, growing wool, eating and, presumably, pooping. I wonder what my neighbor does with it all, and I wonder if it is any good? As for the latter, the internet is a wonderful thing. It turns out that numerous articles confirm the relative value of my neighbor's resource. Though lower in organic content than other varieties, it is nonetheless considered a rich soil conditioner with a fair amount of nitrogen and potassium and about average levels of phosphorous. Moreover, because it is less "hot" than other manures, it is among the few -- if not the only -- that can be applied directly without a prior year's composting. In other words, "good stuff." As for the former, I called and asked. "Mostly I throw it in the ditch," he responded. "Why? Do you need some?" Indeed. I haven't quite figured out the conveyance. Perhaps I'll just push my wheelbarrow next door -- any number of times. One way or another, however, I will take advantage of the providential proximity. And, I trust, grow.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Tubers are Tunneling

Dennis leveraged an unexpected sense of urgency. We were talking about planting schedules and he asked about potatoes. "My father always planted potatoes on Good Friday," he recalled. Suddenly I felt behind. Holy Week, after all, has already shrunk to a speck in the rear-view mirrow. Until this conversation I had been feeling smugly "on calendar" -- at least the calendar I had sketched out for this first year on my own. Dennis' memory revived my own. I had heard the "Good Friday" connection before and was surprised that I had missed the moment -- never mind that I hadn't been ready, at that point, to plant anything. The pressure, however, has eased upon further reflection. Good Friday, after all, is a moving target. This year Good Friday fell on the 5th of April. In 2011 that liturgically dark day didn't arrive until April 22. Here we are today somewhere between the two. When, then, based on that rubric, are the potatoes supposed to go in the ground? Well, who knows? I decided, after careful consideration -- consulting the phase of the moon, the Farmer's Almanac, the experts around the domino table at the feed store, and, most importantly, my schedule availability between travel commitments and thunder storms -- that my Good Friday had arrived. On Wednesday, accompanied by suitable prayers, the potatoes went into the ground. French fingerling and yukon gold. Officially planted. Yesterday I left town, so it had to be the correct time. Also yesterday, Lori reported this morning, we received a half-inch of rain. Confirmation, I think, that all is right with the garden.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Their Own Terms - and Time

The Kermits have resisted peer pressure and are stirring at their own pace. When I started seeds in the greenhouse on March 1, two varieties of eggplant were among the sown: "Striped Colliope" and "Kermit." Over the ensuing weeks the Colliopes made themselves known early on; these along with the fast-starting Kohlrabi and purple cabbage, joining the eventual throng of tomatoes by sundry surnames. Eventually one, then another pepper broke through the soil; herbs added their names to the list... ...while all six of the Kermit cells in the tray remained oddly, disappointingly silent. For whatever reason - carelessness, fluidic largesse, or perhaps a gritty reluctance to give up - I have continued to include them in my daily waterings. Then, almost miraculously a couple of days ago - and perhaps a week before I start transplanting the rest of the upstarts into the garden - a lone sprout emerged; and today a couple more. Amazing. Nature is so...well...natural. Never mind what the seed package might promise. The seeds have a sense of their own.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Strangely Quiet, Wet and Still

It is a rain day -- something like I used to feel when a rare West Texas snow storm forced the cancellation of school.  It always came with mixed emotions:  a free "vacation" day, which was great and almost like an extra helping of dessert, but because typically too cold and messy to do anything outdoors, rapidly descending into boredom.  Today, while there is no likelihood of boredom, there are nonetheless similarly mixed emotions.  My confused and angry body is appreciative of the rest.  And everything struggling to eke out a growth spurt is thirsty for the rain.  But I am not finished with the site work and was hoping to get the digging completed today. 

I was almost there. 

Yesterday I scooped and re-tilled all the trenches on the newer, eastern half of the garden.  It still needs one more round.  A trump card arrived, however, the day before in the form of 50 asparagus crowns that rather quickly need to get under ground.  That portion -- near but outside the basic square -- had not yet even been started.  I had ordered the crowns in December and after following up a week ago learned that they were to be shipped this week.  At that point I still hadn't settled on a location for their bedding, nor read up on how they should be planted.  With other work pressing in on the schedule, I mentally set that learning and digging curve aside in favor of the task at hand. 

Until the box arrived on Wednesday afternoon; a box containing two bundles of roots -- Purple Passion and Jersey Supreme, 25 of each -- with a sheet of instructions calling for spacing 14"-16" apart, in trenches 6"-8" deep.  A rough calculation of mid-point spacing made my shoulders slump.  62.5-feet more trenching suddenly presented itself, with the bold and italicized proviso that all this should be completed ASAP.  By the time my energies were depleted and daylight was eroding, I had the new trenches half completed, with the original trenches still needing their final round. 

Just as predicted, we woke to thunder and lightening and moderately heavy rain.  A half-inch, although two or more inches are anticipated tonight and tomorrow and perhaps beyond.  Even with intervening sunlight, the soil will likely be too muddy to work for days.  Meanwhile I nurse naked asparagus crowns and supervise incompletion. 

At least my body is smiling.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"P-Day" Approaches, with an Assist from Kum and Go

Last year we got the cups for free, but that store manager was apparently feeling more confident in his position - or was perhaps flexing a stronger ”customer service” muscle.  Of course it could just as well have been a fluster at such an odd request. 

Having started our tomatoes from seed, the bristly stems had outgrown their starter cells and it was time to move them to taller, more capacious containers.  Steve had taught me about such progressive transference as a way of encouraging better, more extensive root development, but when we scouted the options at the store, none seemed exactly right. 

”What about those large fountain drink cups at Kum and Go?” one of us wondered aloud.  Finding merit in the idea - or perhaps absent any better idea - we pulled into the next convenience store we happened upon and asked what a sleeve of empties would cost us.  The young clerk was, of course, flummoxed.  They hadn't covered this question in her training.  They had, however, taught her to consult someone higher up.  Sizing us up and weighing our horticultural story, the manager evidently determined that we weren't likely to be lying with a real intent to use the logo-emblazoned cups for any nefarious or salacious purpose, and simply made a gift of them. 

Not so this year.  We had saved, of course, our soda fountain harvest from last year, but our needs had escalated.  We needed more; lots more.  Nine different tomato varieties were stretching out of their cubes, with varying multiples of each.  We have high aspirations for canning and consumption, so things have gotten a little out of hand in the growing department.  Duty, however, calls and so into a different Kum and Go, closer to our new home.   

As with last year, the teenage clerk didn't know what to make of our request. Like last year she summoned a higher up from the back room.  Unlike last year, however, this store manager picked up the phone and called Inventory Central or whoever makes such momentous decisions and reported back that she could sell us the empties for 20-cents apiece.  "Fine," we said, and after paying our due we exited with the requested number of sleeves, plus an extra one thrown in as an expression of managerial largesse. 

Now a few days later, with the tomato seedlings successfully relocated and waiting for a still larger "coming out," I am hurrying to finish the preparation of the garden site.  In fact, one more good day of excavation ought to do it; and then there is a manure delivery to arrange and a protective fence to erect.  And then soon -- the weather being friendly and my vertebrae holding themselves together -- "P-day" will finally arrive.  Planting Day.  Seeds, seedlings, asparagus crowns, transplants and all.