Brute Force

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These pictures were quick iPhone shots, so please excuse the quality.

Ok, so I am not calling my husband and Felix, one of our employees we enticed to help, brutes, but it sure is nice to have some hired muscles for a few days.  Since Paco is leaving for 10 days at the height of planting season, he is trying to make sure the heavy hauling gets done now.  I am so thankful.  He and Felix filled 2 1/2 more raised beds in the high tunnel with 2 yards of garden soil from Soilmaker.  Then they hauled 4 yards (2 more trips) of garden mulch compost from Soilmaker as well to top the beds in the main garden.  Yahoo!!  Our no-till, heavy compost plan of attack is in its second year now and there is no looking back.  They also used some muscle turning over the beds where cover crops had been sown using the broad-fork.  Rich black beds are ready and waiting. I took the plunge and planted the first of the tomatoes, basil, and peppers in the high tunnel.

If what I heard is true, they will also prep all the beds around the house–some of this being breaking into sod.  Where the garden and high tunnel have flourished, the landscaping around the house has suffered.  We have committed to this year being the year we rip it all out, get rid of all the rocks, and create a flowing landscape.  I very much doubt the vision in my head is the same as Paco’s.  I have made it quite clear that I need him to do the heavy prep work and I will do the planting 😉

Best Exercise Around

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.


One Great Saturday

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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.

Life and Death (and Compost)

Here is the compost part:

I have been listening to the NPR podcast “You Bet Your Garden” this year.  Mike McGrath is quite a character and is relentless in his promotion of using a leaf blower in reverse to shred and gather leaves.  The shredded leaves can then be turned into the best imaginable compost or used directly on the garden as mulch.

So, I investigated (nagged hubby) and found out that our blower does indeed do this.  I just spent 2 hours filling 2 gigantic trash bags–the REALLY big ones.  It was great to be working outside on this perfect fall day.  After filling the bag on the blower about 9 times, I felt like my shoulder was going to dislocate and I had to stop.  Hopefully I can put another couple hours in this week and have a decent amount to spread on the garden. 

I am sure that the neighbor who was also busy with leaves must have thought I was an idiot.  Who would try to suck up and bag 5 acres worth of leaves?!  If only he knew the method to my madness. 

Here is the Life and Death part:

I am constantly amazed by the calm and perspective I always gain by being engaged outside.  Today was a day to ponder life and death and what a better lesson could I have had then engaging in the cycle of life right here on the farm.  As I gathered leaves, I thought of the rich soil they would make in the garden and how useful their deaths would be.  Next spring, they would be followed by a whole new avalanche of beautiful leaves that would do their jobs on and off the tree and the cycle goes round and round. The ending is necessary for the beginning.  Or perhaps, there is no beginning or end–they flow into each other.

Today and tomorrow (Nov. 1 and 2)  is the Day of the Dead (more here: ). This celebration is a very dear one to this family.  On November 2, 1996 my husband and I lost our first daughter, Adele, who was stillborn at 22 weeks.  In a poignant twist, we have a holiday that perfectly commemorates the birth and death of our first girl.  As I collected leaves this afternoon I thought of life and death and the circumstances of my own family.  I do not pretend that what happened to us and Adele was meant to be or served some higher purpose.  But this I know, her life and death was enveloped into our lives and changed us forever.  I also know, the promise of her in the womb gave my own mother the strength she needed to survive her cancer.  It is also true that the loss of Adele brought us to the circumstances that brought our 2nd daughter, Lily, to us.  And I know, she was meant to be here and with us. 

So today, the land taught me yet another lesson.  Our lives are not a line that starts with birth and ends with death, but a river that flows from one body of water and into another.  Earth and sky are all the religion I need.