Friday, November 30, 2012

Reticently Released Into Winter's Approach

Laziness, perhaps, or wider distraction.  I could, of course, have just been lulled into complacency by the protracted mildness of the weather.  There have been cold snaps, to be sure, and yet this final day of November finds me once again coat-free -- with a string of duplicates still predicted.  Whatever the explanation, I still have not completed the winterization of the farm.  The tools are largely organized and stored.  The garden is officially put to bed, though the deer are claiming their biblical entitlement to any residual gleanings.  More than a few have arced the fence -- some clearing the clothesline strung above the fence while others show off their precision with an airborne limbo through the foot-wide space between the fence and line.  Finding one of the metal posts bent almost horizontal I wince vicariously at the thought of some poor deer's scarred undercarriage.

It's the rain barrels that are delaying me.  Two in the back near the garden; two in the front near the greenhouse.  All four have acquitted themselves well; fall rains have filled them to capacity.  They can't stay that way.  The barrels need to be emptied and brought into the barn for protection from freezing.  They are plastic, after all -- heavy and durable, but vulnerable nonetheless.  Greenhouse seedlings will need a great deal of the water through the winter and I have been filling as many gallon jugs as will fit, along with three plastic garbage barrels now swollen and lidded.  Perhaps 130 gallons of rainwater are safely gathered in.  Though the front two barrels are greatly diminished, they aren't yet empty; and the back two barrels are still holding their own.  One thing is certain:  it doesn't pay to try and move them with even a little water remaining.

Of course I can just open the faucet and let the water drain out, and ultimately some of that will be necessary.  But I'm nagged by the stewardship of it.  It feels like waste to simply have it trickle into oblivion.  There is, I am aware, something irrational in that view.  "Trickling away" is precisely what the rain intended those drops to do.  I can't shake the sense, however, that it's somehow akin to letting lettuce rot in the crisper.  It seems brazenly profligate -- especially given the volumes of rural water we purchased through the drought of summer and desperately hosed onto the thirsty plants.

Perhaps in light of that drought-stricken memory -- and having filled every container and available space -- perhaps draining the barrels into the cracks of the rain's intended destination is stewardship of a different kind.

Only briefly -- and with the best of intentions -- delayed.

Monday, November 19, 2012

For Now, There's Promise

There is something almost giddy about green sprouts.  From seeds fingered down into fresh soil only days ago, these emergent sprigs of hope and promise push aside all thought of the calamities quite potentially in front of them and concentrate imagination on their possibilities alone.  Here is abundance in miniature.  Here is lush fecundity within one's very grasp. all the naive glory of what might be, blinding any anticipatory glimpse of the fungi, the diseases, the bugs, or the simple neglect that very well could dim the glow.

Here is the new mother, brow still wet with labor's perspiration, and new father, face still contorted with cheesy/mystified grin, snuggling in their imagination into the cuddles and teacher's accolades and advanced college degrees to be earned, willfully ignorant of the colic, the broken curfews, and poor dating choices just as likely in store.

Here is the new recruit, starting eagerly to work, ready to take the world by storm -- increasing sales, expanding territory, lowering taxes, healing hurts, overcoming long odds, and bringing lasting peace to the Middle East -- without considering the break-room jealousies, the political calculations, the intransigent conflicts, the complicated human natures, and the unforeseen hurricane that sweeps away the prized project just beginning to bear fruit.

And here is the idealistic farmer who moves to his very own plot of ground and immediately orders seeds and wonders aloud what he will do with all the produce.

No, I'm not already grown cynical in this newly minted vocation.  If the harvest was smaller than imagined, there were nonetheless successes along with the failures in this first venture into the soil.  And there were joys and satisfactions infinitely more abundance.

It's just to say that "naive optimism" isn't given much room for rooting in this work, no matter how good the soil.  As with anything of consequence, bad can happen as well as good.  I understood that in my previous life; I'll eventually make room for that reality in this current one.

In the meantime, I don't take these little sprigs for granted -- nor the future I hope for them.  I'll simply do my part, as they will theirs, and together we'll take what comes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Penultimate Harvest

Penultimate Harvest by Taproot GardenPenultimate Harvest, a photo by Taproot Garden on Flickr.
The truth is that I had practically forgotten about them. Charge me with negligence if you must, but they hadn't given me much cause for titillated anticipation. I had sown the seeds in mid-May, and the several times I had "dip sticked" their progress through the summer they had demonstrated almost supernatural antipathy toward growth. More than once I had mistaken their willowy little fronds for weeds, and no doubt more than one was aborted through just such confusion. As late as August, when a young visitor accidentally uprooted one, it could have been mistaken for a jaundiced pea.

All this, plus the fact that I didn't have much invested in them besides space. I hadn't actually intended to plant carrots in the first place. The seeds were a free gift from the seed company from which I had ordered several other varietals of higher interest for this inaugural season. A bonus. An afterthought. I had committed them to the ground, and largely left them alone.

So it was that yesterday, in the course of my ongoing winterization of the garden -- dismantling fence panels, uprooting steel posts, mulching, manuring and the like -- that I happened a glance in their direction. Ready, I must admit, to have the spaces officially put to bed, I determined to dig up whatever might remain -- if anything. There were, I could see upon closer inspection, glimpses of orange peeking up above the surface; more, I soon discovered, down below. Dozens of them -- short and stumpy little Parisienne Carrots. A harvest where I least expected it.

There is probably more insight in this windfall than I really want to internalize -- my biggest harvest from my most neglected and forgotten sowing -- but I'll stew on that another time. For now, I am simply humbled and grateful for this serendipitous gift of the garden -- a penultimate harvest, as it turns out, since I did eventually leave the immature kale still giving growth their valiant effort. Maybe if I ignore them, they too will flourish and bless before winter settles in.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Onion for My Valentine

I fully recognize how tardy I am.  I should have completed this step a month ago -- or more.  But, it isn't  a perfect world, and it was only yesterday that I nestled the new seeds into the greenhouse potting soil and covered them with the Agribon row cover fabric for frost protection.  Last year I experimented with a couple of winter green varietals in the greenhouse, but the heater ran almost constantly.  Hoping to avoid those electric bills this winter, I am following the advice of one wintering gardener who argues that the second layer of frost protection provided by the fabric accomplishes the same end.  Not only is it cheaper, it seems to this aspiring conservationist to be far less wasteful.

The experiment, however, isn't electricity-free.   Root warmth is a key variable, and I recall reading a couple of years ago that mini-Christmas lights under a seeding tray will accomplish the same low-level warming as an expensive warming mat.  We have plenty of those to spare, so after a quick trip to the commercial kitchen supply store for oversized baking sheets to use as base containers, and a longer trip to the basement in search of stored strings of lights, I am in business.  The baking sheets rest on the greenhouse shelves; the lights are scattered lazily on the sheets, and the planters rest on the lips of the pans just above but touching the lights.  A wire frame conceived by a friend holds the fabric row covers over the planters.  My job is to water, wait, and hope that Mother Nature accomplishes the rest.

As for the waiting, that's no trivial matter:
Evergreen Hardy White Scallions -- 65 days
Grazia Arugula -- 50 days
Astro Arugula -- 21 days
Sorrel -- 45 days
Romaine Winter Density Lettuce -- 54 days
Winterbor Kale -- 60 days
Champion Collards -- 60 days

So, perhaps a little Arugula for Christmas, perhaps some Sorrel with which to welcome in the New Year, and then who knows?  Perhaps we'll be building salads for Valentine's Day.  Nice.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All in the Name of Public Service

Garlic Rows by Taproot Garden
Garlic Rows, a photo by Taproot Garden on Flickr.

The expression on more than a few faces betrays the opinion that I have leaned toward excess. I have planted 7 rows of garlic -- something in excess of 130 feet of cloves securely nestled in well-manured soil and a canopy of mulch. This compares with a scant 6 feet planted for the season just past.

Let me just say that it wasn't nearly enough.

Besides, in addition to its culinary assets, garlic is proving itself to be something of a wonderkin. University studies are showing the pungeant little allium to help prevent heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, boost the immune system, and prevent cancer -- all this in addition to its long established virtues in scaring off vampires. Cautious gravediggers in 18th century France crushed garlic into wine in the belief that it would protect them from the plague, and soldiers fighting in both World Wars were prescribed garlic to prevent gangrene. There is some evidence that garlic may even help prevent the common cold -- this, in addition to killing roundworms and, when applied to the skin as a gel, treating ringworm, jock itch, and athlete's foot. Given its vibrant aromatic qualities, I'm guessing that such a gel would go a long way in preventing STD's, since social interaction of all sorts would necessarily be impaired. It wouldn't surprise me if further studies reveal that inadequate garlic cultivation is, in large measure, responsible for the enduring breakdown of world peace.

So, as you can see, I am merely doing my part for the betterment of humankind and global well-being. "Alliums for all!" "Cloves for Cultural Enhancement!" "Garlic, for Goodness Sake!"

Indeed, in light of all its virtues, my 7 puny rows don't sound like nearly enough.