Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Let the Running Begin

Now, of course, it's crunch time.  All the anticipation, all the seed orders, all the imagining, all the seed starting in the greenhouse are all coming due at the same time.


All of sudden the yard is needing a haircut.  The flower beds have sprung a bumper crop of weeds.  Dandelions in the grass are clearly excited to welcome the spring.  Rain barrels need to be repositioned from their winter storage.  Inside the garden the grass needs to be mowed, the rows need to be tilled, the asparagus beds need to be weeded and the berry canes need to be pruned.  Already several of the seeds need to be planted and the rest of the fertilizer mixed and spread.  The straw bales -- a new experiment for gardening this year -- need to be prepped.  The new chicken gardens -- another new experiment -- need to be tilled, planted and covered with the cages we built over the winter.  The new irrigation system needs to be mapped in preparation for the new trees that will arrive and need to be planted in a few weeks.  Tomatoes growing in the greenhouse need to be transplanted into larger containers for added root development.

Just to begin the list.  Except there are problems.

Time, for one.  Travels kept us away for a week or so at an inopportune time.  Schedule conflicts have filled the days.  Now rain is preventing much access to the garden work.  Meanwhile the grass and weeds are only getting taller.

There has, in fairness, been some progress.  Five of the rain barrels are now in place and doing their job just as the rains have resumed to fill them.  We scrambled to get the kitchen garden prepped and planted yesterday on the deck, with lettuces, mustards, arugula, spinach, a dozen or so herbs along with one lone purple jalapeno plant.   The six honeyberry plants we had ordered months ago arrived just in time to be planted before our travels and are now benefiting from the rain, as are the plants and trees established last fall.  As for the yard, the mowing deck has replaced the snow blower attachment on the tractor -- no small task for a city boy -- and sits idle, but ready.

This is, I recognize, an annual panic.  And we aren't actually behind schedule.  It's not yet May, and according to the National Weather Service the average last freeze was only April 26 -- yesterday.  Average, which means we aren't completely out of the danger zone.  It only feels like we should be further along in our progress.  It will all get done, I am confident, and in adequate time for the growing season to adequately begin.

Just now, however, I am resonating with the observation of Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts to Alice in Wonderland:
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” 
So, watch out and step to the side.   We have some running to do.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Earthy Signs of Progress

The air is chilly outside, well on its way toward scraping the freezing mark as predicted later tonight. It's likely to be among the last of such mercurial dips before spring takes a firmer hold of the season, but even so it arrives well past its welcome. Already there is real damage that can be done. We'll cross our fingers on behalf of the blossoms already gracing the fruit trees out back and the forsythia spangling the side yard and meadow, and the miscellaneous buds swelling on branches around the farmstead. A commercial operation might entertain certain interventions against the cold, but ours will have to suffer through on their own, surviving...or not. This isn't business; this is nature.

Meanwhile, over the next few weeks the garden will demand increasing attention before planting and transplanting can begin in earnest -- turning and tilling, cleaning and clearing and nourishing the soil to insure the most hospitable host for seedlings and seed. Already some 2000 soil blocks are cradling germinating seeds in the greenhouse, with more to come -- those in addition to the numerous varieties that will be direct seeded in the ground as soon as it is "safe".

As if, in growth and nature, there is any such thing as "safe".

What we can do, however, is provide the best possible conditions within our control.

And so it was that, never mind the chill in the air, recent warm spells and today's early morning showers offered adequate incentive to wield the broad fork in those garden rows still encumbered with last season's detritus -- gnarly stalks from cabbage and kale, cauliflower and broccoli primarily. The funny thing is that despite the goose-pimply weather it felt good to be out there digging, a bit, and pulling. Just as anticipated, the soil was damp and workable, and the roots and stalks slid out with only occasional protest.

But what was especially satisfying was the sense of the soil itself. When we first started digging this soil almost 5 years ago it was dense, formidable, and full of clay. Over the ensuing years it has welcomed compost, manure, mulch and regular doses of home-stirred Complete Organic Fertilizer. It has been gently opened and respectfully planted. And let's be clear: it still has room for improvement. But more than once today we commented on the change. Instead of unfired pottery, it now looks like...soil. Even damp it has the capacity to crumble from one's hand instead of clumping into a stone.

But there was more than "feel." There were worms. Thousands of them. Every time we extracted a root the remaining hole was a-squiggle in retreating worms, offended by the sudden exposure.

Between the soil and the earthworms, it felt like something of a positive and encouraging report card -- maybe not yet an "A", but certainly well-above passing.

Suddenly, despite the runny nose, it wasn't that chilly after all. Somehow it felt warm all over -- and full of anticipation.