I happened along this poem recently and it sums up my philosophy of life. It certainly is the heart of the farm and the reason why I work so hard to connect children and nature. It’s everything. It’s the joy, the work, and the meaning of life. It’s everything I want for my daughter. The magic of life is in the Small Wonders of it–whether they be joyous, ordinary, or tragic.
I am thinking a lot now about the joy and sadness of every life. We have a dog, an Australian Cattle Dog, that came into our lives 2 1/2 months ago. We are his permanent foster home and he is a hospice patient. We are his family. The family he took 13 years to find. We call him Spots. I will write more about him soon.
Now, I am ending a long day of planting seeds and plants, working soil, and finding joys in all the details—from the little garter snake in the greenhouse to Spots napping in the sun, to my daughter squealing with glee as she swings so high that “it makes her tummy feel funny.” It was a perfect day. I’m bone tired and content. We had a good day. There was nothing extraordinary about it–other than its complete ordinariness.
Make the Ordinary Come Alive
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is a way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.
Last spring, we decided it was high time for Lillian to have a tree that is all hers. We planted a beautiful magnolia right in front of the house. The blossoms are as beautiful as she is. Since we are having summer weather in March, it is blooming now.
We are occupied these days with planting fall crops. As soon as a crop is in sufficient decline, we have been ripping it out to plant fall transplants or seeds. So far, I have planted Bridger onions, Lisbon bunching onions, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Napoli carrots, arugula, and various beets. There is still a lot to plant. Yesterday, Lily and the chef helped pull out spent tomato plants to make more room for seeding. She was quite proud to be pulling the vines out of the ground and then hauling them back to the brush pile. While she and dad worked on that I picked currant tomatoes and Tinsel guarded the goats while they meandered the farm. I have been sprinkling all the cole crop starts with cayenne to keep my garden rabbit, Junior, away from them. Sometimes the decisions are pretty hard to make. I know right now is prime planting time for high tunnel fall and winter crops, but I find it hard to pull out plants. As August marches on, the decisions are becoming clearer. Tomatoes have slowed greatly, but peppers and cucumbers are going strong. The Zucchino Rampicante in the high tunnel continues to produce heavily, but the one on the main garden is dying back. I wish it were the other way around.
Overall, the high tunnel has been a joy to work in and has worked miracles for the farm. I have already been hinting at where I want the chef to build the next one and he seems to be accepting the inevitability of it.
Yesterday, the sun was out and highs hovered in the 40’s. I donned a sweatshirt over my long-sleeved t, put on my heavy work gloves (my Ethel ones) and headed out for some solo work time. I love the quiet of the outdoors and the time to think and recharge. With hubby home, he and Lily were inside playing/cleaning and I could focus on the job at hand.
There is something so satisfying about putting the garden in order for a new season. I am not the kind of gardener who does all the cleanup in the fall–leaving perfectly prepared beds for spring. I’d like to be, but once things actually freeze and die, I am happy to be done with those outside beds for a while. The spent plants and seed heads make nice food and cover for birds and small mammals.
In about 3 1/2 hours I built the shelves we purchased for the high tunnel; organized tools; pulled, sorted, and stored about 50 stakes; pulled out all the dead plants; used the stirrup hoe to prep raised beds; weeded the garlic bed; and dragged all the plants and other dead plant matter to the brush pile. There are a few brush piles on the property we add to in this way each year. Instead of burning them, we leave them for wildlife. The one back by the garden offers cover to deer, snakes, turtles, and more. These natural compost piles seem to stay about the same size from year to year–our adding to them balances out with the extent to which they decompose.
And what to wondering eyes did appear–rhubarb unfurling and 3 asparagus shoots coming out of the ground. Spring has sprung from the earth.
As I worked, I gathered weeds in one basket and trash in another. I threw the weeds into the chicken yard to very thankful gals eager for their greens.
Near the end, Lily came out bundled in a coat and garden gloves. I was about to go in, but was not going to discourage her wish to help, so I spent another hour cleaning up in the orchard and helping her make a few final pruning cuts to the peach trees. At this point, the garden is in need of some raking and the raspberry plants need pruned and thinned. I still have tons of frozen raspberries in the freezer and the raspberry patch is far, far bigger than what we need. It’s time to scale back. Paco suggested that we take the thinned out plants and transplant them to the back of the property where they can be enjoyed by wildlife. Good idea! Paco is a conservationist at his core–he hates the idea of taking things out. He always hatches a transplant plot.
Today I woke up pleasantly sore and feeling very stretched out. It’s nice.
Here is a picture from 2006 of 2-year-old Lillian and a much rounder Pepita. In front, is our Forrest, who we lost in 2008. As you can see, Lillian is immune to Pepita’s generally grumpy demeanor. In the picture, Pepita is clearly just tolerating Lillian’s friendly advances.
Pepita and I visited the vet yesterday to check her blood glucose and for any signs of infection. Her sugar was 80. Perfect!! No signs of infection either. At least for now, we have found the right combination of diet and insulin to keep her feeling good. She can still be a bit wobbly and I can tell she has some days where she does not feel great, but overall she seems happy and healthy. She will be at increased risk for just about everything now. Diabetes for dogs is just like humans. She now has a weakened immune system and we are working on keeping it working as well as possible. She takes two whole food supplements targeting her immune system and a very careful diet.
She and we have adjusted to our new lives and we are cohabitating well.
Temps went over 60 today and Lily and I took advantage of the strange weather to uncover all the high tunnel beds, tear out spent crops (careful to save green plants for the chickens), seed new crops, and water. What a wonderful way to spend the last day of the year. Lillian put her new reading and writing skills to good use making markers for the new crops. We planted claytonia, Italian dandelion, radishes, carrots, kale, mache, bunching onions, onions, and shallots. We also harvested carrots by the handful, radishes, spinach, kale, and beets. The high tunnel was a glorious 72 degrees and it was wonderful to work together and get dirty. We tossed some of our carrots into the pot of corned beef and cabbage and knew it was the end of and start of a good year.
Strawberry picking time is finally here. I got 2 gallons yesterday and 1 today. I am so thankful that the strawberry harvest comes in early summer. If the blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries all came at the same time there would be no way I could keep up. Last year, I canned all the berries–turning them into jam or into strawberry sauce for pancakes. I still have sauce left so most of these will go into the freezer to be used for smoothies throughout the year. I will make a batch or 2 of jam.
Lily invented her own “yogurt” this evening using frozen strawberries and frozen mango. We added just enough water to be able to blend it and she ate it with a spoon.
Strawberry plants need to be reigned in. They spread by runner prolifically. I was giving away plants this spring as I was tearing them out by the handful where they had escaped from the raised beds. A friend reported that 2 of her children picked berries from this gifted plant they had planted in their yard. They declared them to be delicious–the best they ever had. Exactly! They grew it, they saw it ripen in the sun, and were paid for their efforts with an amazing strawberry. Top that Kroger! I think we have forgotten to appreciate our food. Growing some or most of your food gives you a real sense of their value. There is no way I would let my hard-earned strawberries go bad.
Last fall as I picked and picked and picked and picked and picked raspberries, I dreamed of a berry picking basket that I could hang around my neck. I finally found someone thinking like me. I going to need this. the blackberry harvestis going to be amazing. Now, to get my McGuyver-esque hubby to perfect this: http://tallcloverfarm.com/?p=93
My plan had been to use this weekend to get the majority of the garden in, but mother nature had her way and there are frost warnings for the next 2 nights. So, we spent our Saturday at the Farmer’s Market and then spreading 2 yards of beautiful compost onto the garden beds. Since installing the garden in 2008, we have come a long, long way. There is very little weed pressure this year so I decided to try a no-till approach. Instead of tilling and waking up all those weed seeds and disrupting the ecology of the soil, we are mulching with a thick layer of compost and then will roll paper mulch on top and plant into that. Should be a lovely thing. So, in less time than we normally spend on tilling, we have mulched and greatly improved the soil and prepped our beds.
We are already harvesting plenty of greens from the hoophouse. The garlic, which had the hoophouses constructed on top of it, is ahead of schedule. I removed the scapes today so that the plants’ energy would be spent on bulb-making. There is a picture of a scape in the slide show.
We found a feisty garter snake and a baby vole (?) during our adventures. Lillian was thrilled. You’ll also see the strawberries, kiwi vines, raspberries, and blackberries growing like gang busters. I think within the week we will have fresh strawberries to add to our rhubarb. We had a great time.
Proof that life is returning to the farm. Our “garage cat,” who adopted us last fall gave birth to 4 healthy kittens this morning. Now to find good homes for them and get mama to the vet so that she, named mistakenly “Edwin,” doesn’t find herself in the family way again! She made good use of her new, roomier box decorated by Lillian. Lily drew murals on the inside of Edwin, her kittens, and Lily holding them. She also immediately gifted them a plastic pony and brought Edwin an extra helping of food. I am not so happy about the vet bills this will mean or the need to find homes, but it is a precious event to share with a child and a truly small wonder. I can’t help but look at Edwin and her 4 darlings and marvel at the life she has brought into the world. I know that the world does not need 4 more cats, but I am glad Edwin got this experience and that we got to share in it too. It’s a small wonder in a hard and sometimes overwhelming world.
I spent three and a half hours in the garden on Sunday. For the last half of that, Lily and Paco joined me. I got caught up on the raspberries, picked peppers, and they helped me bring the beans in. As we unraveled beans from the drying cornstalks, Paco remembered something from his youth. He said this time of year, friends and he would pack a picnic lunch and hike the mountain near his home. Along the way, they woul break off pieces of cornstalks, peel them (must use your teeth here!), and chew on them.
Surprise!! The inner stalks are super sweet and juicy!! you chew them up and then spit out the fibrous leftovers. Amazing. I have never heard of that. It was a great way to refresh yourself. This “forgotten” memory turned into a wonderful morning of family togetherness. Lily was quite content to chew on corn stalks while we finished the beans.
On the way in the house, we stopped to feed the chickens and goats. Bertha, (pictured) as usual, needed her cuddles.
Lily certainly does not spend all her time skipping in the grass tending her chickens and goats (but it is a nice daydream). Getting her to cooperate is often a chore, just like any other child. She does not always want to put on her barn boots and go out, but she is almost always in a better mood post-barn than pre-barn.
In an especially foul mood this week while transitioning back into the social pressures of preschool, you can see the attitude she flashed at me in the barn with the chickens. A few minutes later she is working hard and taking pride in her ability to care of her goats’ water needs. She spent about 20 minutes this week pulling little burrs out of the goat’s coats. Quite a bit of patience for a 5-year-old.
She may grumble a fair bit and does not enjoy the “have to’s” in life, but she is so at home outside. I take pride in that. She has found the baby goats like freshly brown and falling tulip tree leaves. She patiently collects them and hand feeds them to the goats. Before handing one over, she saw a slug on it and showed it to me. I told her the goats wouldn’t like that, but I bet she knew who would. Right away, she said: “my chickens!” She put it in the pail and on the way back to the house, tossed it in the chicken yard. Bertha scooped it right up. That’s my girl!