Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Abundance Present and Future Perfect

"Where I live, summer's keynote is abundance.  The forests fill with undergrowth, the trees with fruit, the meadows with wild flowers and grasses, the fields with wheat and corn, the gardens with zucchini, and the yards with weeds.  In contrast to the sensationalism of spring, summer is a steady state of plenty, a green and amber muchness that feeds us on more levels than we know.  Summer is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn and winter and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest."   -----From an essay by Parker Palmer, "Summer"
 Yesterday was a watershed day.  The two Red Star hens, determined since their arrival in early May to sleep by themselves in the coop annex, finally condescended to join the others in the larger and much fancier main coop.  I have no idea what finally flipped their switch, but assuming a continuing pattern it will be much easier on guest flock attendants in the future to only service the one location.  Since several of the hens prefer to lay eggs in the humbler quarters, I did open the annex this morning just to see what other behavioral patterns may be continued or retired, but hopefully we have finally become one happy poultry family -- residentially if nothing else.

And yesterday saw the first harvest of ripe tomatoes.  As if they, too, resolved that it was finally time to come home, fully a dozen announced themselves "ready."  I have no wish to denigrate the rest of the garden -- the long bean pods dangling from the vines; the potatoes and carrots and beets quietly maturing underground -- but ripened tomatoes are the garden's celebration analogous to the cacophonous burst of fireworks at the end of the 4th of July show.  Red and yellow and purple and black, they are what we have been waiting for -- longing for; hungering for -- ever since we first broke garden ground.

Tomatoes, then, meaning no offense to the continuing avalanche of cucumbers and squash and lettuce and braising greens that have sustained through the wait, along with a new handful of red okra spears and purple tomatillos, plus several Ancho chiles that hopped into the harvest hod as well. 

It is, indeed, a profligate time when, as Palmer notes, this season redeems with interest the promissory notes of the other three.  Add to the garden haul close to a dozen eggs a day from the chickens and it's harder and harder to keep up. 

And there is the grass.

And the weeds.

Only experience cautions that all the excitement is only for a time.  As if to forestall the inevitable, today I planted the seeds of the second crop -- delicata squash, butternut squash, a fresh round of kale, two different collard greens, spinach in two varieties, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, parsnips and edible pumpkins.  Sowing, to trick winter into thinking that summer is still ascendant.  It's true that I may never see the fruits of these labors.  Autumn's length is unpredictable.  An early freeze could punish my attempts at deception and burn them all back.   But in the midst of summer's abundance, hope springs eternal.

And in the meantime, we simply smile as the juice trickles off our chin.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Inconvenient Work and the Fruits of our Labor

November's graying chill seems a long time past from July's midsummer warmth and sun.  Surrounded by green tomatoes, squash blossoms, fanning leaves and towering stalks, that end-of-the-season weariness and agricultural dishevelment would scarcely be a memory were it not for the garlic.  Garlic is a crop of the will, not the heart.  At the very time of year when, after a summer and fall of answering the garden's every beck and call, one could be forgiven for wishing it to bed, garlic demands yet another sojourn with the tiller in order to beat winter's hardened earth.  You have to beat the snow or you will never find it room.

We did, of course.  Ten rows of multiple varieties.  Covered with compost and straw, they over-wintered until poking through their springtime sprouts.  By late June we were clipping the scapes, driving all their energy to the maturing bulbs, and this week the yellowing leaves signaled their time. Friday, then, after a gentle morning rain had eased the soil, we pulled.

And pulled.

Drying now in the barn, the tables full of bulbs and their secreted cloves conjure up anticipatory tastes of marinara and salsa and guacamole and who knows what other culinary delights.

In the meantime, securely protected from any ill-intended vampires who might otherwise have cast a hungry eye toward rural Warren County, I think again of the value of doing what you need to do, when you need to it, no matter how wearisome the labor might sound.  Because later on, the reward smells like heaven.  The taste of it, I have to imagine, will as well.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Broken Stems and Resolute Spirits Chastened by Mother Nature

On the way home from school one day shortly after moving to Des Moines my son was set upon by a handful of tougher classmates.  Perhaps it had to do with his accent that sounded bizarrely out of place.  Perhaps it was his clothes that reflected a different culture's sense of style.  Perhaps it had to do with his becoming a link in a chain of friendships they didn't feel he belonged.  Whatever, he arrived home late with a few bruises, some torn clothes, and a demoralized spirit.  It was heartbreaking.  The injuries were superficial, but the affront was severe.  First frightened, then angry, we quickly became over-protective -- thrashing about for some kind of bullet-proofing bubble.

Those hours came to mind Tuesday morning as Lori and I surveyed the garden following the previous afternoon's storm.  Black as night at 2 pm, the rains had hammered hard -- two inches in an hour -- the hail had peppered, and the winds -- hurricane force according to the National Weather Service -- had blown.  It was not a good combination for a garden swelling with promise and green fruit.  Walking among the rows we found broken stems, shredded leaves, scattered baby tomatoes, and once-proud stalks sadly horizontal.  It looked like a Civil War battlefield the day after combat.  Anger, heartbreak, a sense of helpless resignation, I wondered what among the carnage might revive.  That, and of course that over-protective reflex.  Having already raised a deer fence reinforced against rabbits, I couldn't help but wonder what additional precautionary measures might be available.  Perhaps some horticulture version of a bullet-proof vest.

In the end we simply got down on our knees and pulled weeds and encroaching grass.  It felt like care-taking.  It wouldn't repair any of the brokenness, but at least we could make the injured more comfortable.  That, and allow ourselves to steep in the reality that we can only do what we can do in the face of all those other eventualities about which we can finally do nothing.  As Lori likes to note, "this is, after all, nature."  Wild, capricious, sometimes-nourishing, sometimes-dismantling, always-humbling nature -- a grace and a force of which we are not in charge.