Monday, April 30, 2012

Kelly Hollow

We love this place.

The wildflowers, the old foundations, the mossy streams cutting across the trail in places. The beavers, whose progress transfigures the pond at the top each season. Last year, a thicket of alder and birch and beech ringed the whole pond, which was maybe twenty feet across. Now the thicket has become a dam holding back a semi-lake.

We stopped in town on our way home. I stepped into an antiques store and bought an old photo of a formally dressed woman about to saddle a mule. Patrick had a short beer at the local watering hole, and we purchased a pint of Ben and Jerry's to share on the car ride home. It was a great day.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Waiting

The waiting is as good as, sometimes even better than, the doing.

This has been a week full of waiting-- sometimes pensively-- for the right time. The right time, the right weather, the right materials. It has been good. April will teach you patience, even when you think you've already learned patience, she will remind you again that you have a long way to go.

Ithaca got five inches of snow this week. I was there yesterday, and it took me several long minutes of staring at the odd crumbly white stuff on the side of the road before it registered. My farmer friends were well-prepared, though they're pretty much writing off any possibility of a plum harvest this year...

I brought home four tomato transplants from aforementioned farmer friends, a pair of thrifted jeans that fits like bark on a tree, and a reel mower from a different friend, for which I traded a jar of homemade dill pickles.

All these things are waiting.

My parents came Wednesday night for a brief dinner, and to walk around and see the progress being made. They brought comfrey roots, and wine, and a spading fork, and a scythe, and these things are waiting, too, alongside the hay I bought to use for garden mulch.

I am eager for the right time and the right weather, but not too eager. There is something cozy and satisfying, for sure, about this waiting business.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Greenhouse in the works

I have found myself deeply, ecstatically grateful for a cold week of rain. After the week I had last week, and the weekend full of waitress-hustle, it was positively delightful to spend yesterday evening sitting at the dining room table with hot chamomile tea, reading. Letting the muscles recover, letting the garden dirt work itself out from under my nails, and doing some thinking.

I'm been absolutely devouring two books right now. One is called Gaia's Garden, a guide to permaculture and creating an ecological garden. The other is called Four Season Harvest. It has a lot of ideas about row covers and high tunnels and cold frames and... greenhouses.

My graph paper pad and my freshly sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga pencil have been keeping me company at the dining room table lately, too.

Into the midst of this inspired graph paper groove: serendipity! My inlaws replaced all the windows in their house. Did I want some? Oh yes, boy howdy, did I want some. They loaded them into the truck for me and I drove all of them out here, to share with my neighbor who's also building a greenhouse. But I kept the best ones for me.

My inlaws' house is an Italianate brick semi-mansion with arched two-over-two windows. The greenhouse I intend to build with these lovelies is going to be class. It'll live on this corner of the garage (to the right), where it will get south-west exposure. It's going to be about 9 x 14 feet... larger than our bedroom... and visions of fresh March salads and seedling flats and overwintered pots of rosemary dance in my head. 

I am no architect. There is going to be a lot of pacing, pencil-behind-the-ear, back and forth. Lots of struggling to visualize the whole process of construction, start-to-finish, like any three-dimensional project. Like sewing a flat-bottom bag. 

(Incidentally, I really miss sewing. Someday I'll set down the shovel and pick up the rotary cutter...)

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Some scenes

Currant bush

Spinach seedling


Chicken run and compost

Genevieve's evening snack.
Happy Friday, everyone!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Outdoor stories

I've been getting so much done this week. Outside. I'm adhering to last week's make myself sore until I can't do anything but sit strategy, and it feels great. 

I went for a walk around an old cemetery, and then around my neighbors' back forty (they aren't back from Florida yet) with a sharp knife and a jar of water. Though I really like how these clippings look in the dining room, the ultimate goal is more pragmatic. I need shrubs. A lot of shrubs. I'm talking native plants and things that have edible fruit and things that attract wildlife, and also some things that have fearsome thorns and will hopefully keep the deer out of the orchard when planted in a hedge. These are not the kinds of things you can walk down to your garden center and buy. I wanted dogwoods and viburnums and hawthorns, and a few pieces of that glorious weeping mulberry up at the cemetery. I took clippings-- the innocent thievery of genetic material; a huge investment in time and patience and care. In a few weeks they'll start to root out in the water, then after a time I can pot them, overwinter them in the to-be-constructed greenhouse, and plant them next spring. I imagine. I'll keep you posted.

I laid more brick. I'm down to my last 27 in a tidy little heap, and I need to find a new source for more. I didn't tell you, did I, that I went back to my salvage site a few weeks back and they'd fenced it? Well, yeah. Was bound to happen, but still made me depressed. In a perfect world all useful raw materials would get claimed by resourceful folks, and reused, and given the respectful honor of being enjoyed the rest of their useful lives. I'm not fretting, though. My neighbor Jody has offered to "put in a call" to a well-connected friend who might know of some brick to be had. 

Yesterday I was pretty heavily invested in a wrestling match with an extremely tenacious and deeply-rooted forsythia tangle, when my neighbor Olie drove up. She'd helped me unload my truckful of lumber (for the fence) weeks back, hoisting 30-lb boards up over her head into the pile on the side of the driveway. I'd baked her muffins. When someone who haven't met yet ties her dog to your porch so she can come help you unload lumber, you bake. Now she was back, opening a trunk full of recently divided perennials and offering me peonies, chives, grape hyacinth, lady's mantle. Gold mine.

"You don't want any forsythia, do you?" I asked. As a matter of fact, she'd just been talking about wanting some. As a matter of fact. I sent her home with three "satellite"-sized forsythia, while I resumed my battle with the mother ship. The plants she gave me were huge; I was so grateful I had something to offer in trade, and that it was something she wanted for herself. 

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Monday, April 16, 2012

An excuse to dawdle

A friend's baby shower gave us the perfect excuse to get out on Saturday. We had to drive two and a half hours west, but, realizing the shower wasn't until 3, we were able to dawdle. We stopped at a yard sale. We followed signs to antiques stores that never materialized. We stopped at a picturesque cemetery. And we got to go back to this beautiful place. I got to drink in some spring wildflowers, and that felt pretty amazing.

This morning, I got out to the garden (before the thermometer climbed to eighty-five (!) degrees, and planted lettuces, radishes, and more peas. Neighbors stopped over to say hello and compliment the brick-work. Over the weekend, another friend had posted a status update to Facebook, "Gilbertsville. You can't make this shit up," and more and more I'm thinking it's the perfect reaction to this place. Half the time I feel like I'm living in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. The other half the time it's some combination of happy Beatles song and trippy Grateful Dead song. Oh, and there's another half the time where it feels like a Wendell Berry book. Have you read Wendell Berry? Gilbertsville feels like Port William, only more idyllic.

Next month, we'll celebrate two years since we "met," and one full year since we came to call it home. What a journey.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Brick of the litter

A good strategy, when one finds oneself incapable of focusing on writing, is to make oneself so unbelievably sore that the desk chair is the only comfortable option.

Mission: accomplished.

I spent the whole entire day outside yesterday, hauling lumber and wielding power tools. Power tools = my happy place. Then I jiggered and re-jiggered and re-jiggered those frames until everything measured true and square. Then I laid down weed block fabric, then I poured sand. Then I was Zen-like for a little while leveling the sand, and then I hauled brick and laid brick and smiled A LOT.

Life is such a good thing right now.

The lumber frames are temporary; once I finish laying the brick and sweeping more sand down into the cracks between, and let it all cure and settle for a month (and hopefully a few good drenching rainstorms) I'll remove them and unscrew them and reuse the lumber as part of my greenhouse frame. Ah, plans.

The beds themselves aren't getting planted until next year-- except the herb bed-- and I'm going to spend the summer laying cardboard and newspaper and dumping buckets of food scraps on the dirt, then mulch it all with autumn leaves and let it go all winter. This experimental plan is one of the things making me a little giddy lately-- just plainly curious to see if it works, if it results in a till-free garden full of rich, crumbly soil well-tunneled by earthworms. 

The beds will grow mostly leaf, stem, and root crops, the polite kind that mind their manners and don't go sprawling over creation like zucchini bushes and tomato vines. What I'm picturing when I smile like I'm crazed is a lush, picture-perfect shock of red-stem Swiss chard leaning luxuriantly out over those red-brick paths. Can you see it? It'll look like a painting, I tell you. A damn painting.

Lucky, lucky me.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Garden babbling

I called my mom last night, as I do most Tuesday evenings, and as we talked I began to prattle. I had spent about half the day outside in the garden, (and half the day inside trying to focus on writing, and failing), and my head was full of thoughts and ideas and plans and lists of materials. I told her about planting herbs (variegated sage, purple oregano, lemon thyme, chives, tarragon, cilantro, lemon balm, sorrel) and about planting carrots and cilantro, and about all the plans in my head.

Because she gardens, too, she understood it all. The lust for experimentation and planning, the prattling. The head full of dreams.

(This picture will make way more sense once I start laying out the pathways.)

My last deadline for this writing cycle is April 23rd, and I'm starting to keen pretty strongly for that day to come. My favorite thing about writing is the flexibility, and the variety. When the mind is worn out from assignments, I can go outside and work myself sore. Then I let my sore muscles recover while sitting at my desk and stretching my mind. It's hard to focus sometimes, but no day is ever the same.

I have a list for my next chunk of free time. It goes like this:
  • Frame salad garden paths with 2x4s; lay sand and then brick in basketweave fashion. 
  • Finish planting early crops: lettuce, arugula, radishes, beets. More peas.
  • Use excess sod to build short raised beds; cover with black plastic so sod decomposes.
  • Pick up reel mower from friend who said I could have hers; mow paths!
  • Spend ~$100 on more shrubs and trees for the yard.
  • Start prettying up foundation flower beds.
Sigh. It must be spring.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

The promise

I planted peas, kale, spinach, and broccoli on Friday, and that felt so good I spent Saturday afternoon planting potatoes.

(Potatoes which I carried home from the post office that very morning.)

That felt pretty good, too. I love this time of year-- the promise in the bare dirt, the promises you make to the plants, yes I will weed you, yes I will water you, yes I will care for and nurture you... It's like marriage, a little bit.

Coming out this morning to see my 24 newly planted broccoli seedlings showing traces of sun-scald, I reminded myself again what it means to be present, to nurture and protect. I scurried inside for 24 wide-mouth mason jars, and improvised cloches to shield my charges from sun and wind. 

I'm trying to keep myself here, focused on early springtime, and not think too far ahead. 

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Friday, April 6, 2012


Olive and I had a photo shoot yesterday afternoon. Her sweetness comes across so well in photographs, whereas when I point a camera at Pete he won't make any face but his smug, cocky, "You want me, baby, and I know it" face.

Not Olive.

Olive is an angel. 

As I was shooting these, I was periodically getting up to stand at the window, watching our sainted neighbor Jody rototill our garden. We suggested we might borrow his tiller this year-- he rototilled the space for us last year, which was wonderful because we were only there two days a week last year-- but he offered to do it anyway. I told him, wait a couple weeks for my rhubarb to get up. I'm gonna bake another pie.

Some debts of kindness, you see, can only be repaid with pie.

Right now, the minute after I hit publish, I'm going to the dump, then to swap vehicles, then to Frog Pond to buy broccoli seedlings then home. THEN I PLANT. Peas, broccoli, kale, spinach. Yes yes yes.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How revealing

 I'm a little surprised to find us diving into another big project for this summer, truth to tell. This summer already includes brick paths in the garden, moving the shed, building a patio, planting more trees, and raising chicks-- and I thought that would be enough. Right? That's enough.

But then I got this bright idea to spend part of Saturday scraping porch trim. And it takes about fifteen minutes of that for me to say to Patrick, "Hey, want to tear off a piece of that aluminum?"

A ladder was procured. A screwdriver was applied. And, like all other quick and revealing home improvement projects (pulling old carpet, stripping wallpaper) we couldn't take down just one. In other words, once we popped, we couldn't stop.

This house is beautiful. This house is historic. This house, for fifty some years, has effectively been George Clooney in a t-shirt tuxedo. Wrong. I pulled off some aluminum, and rubbed my fingers across that beautiful yellow wood underneath. Even the cracks and the nail holes are pretty. I found myself having an imaginary conversation with whoever built this place, in 1858. I know what he was going for, and let me tell you, it was not a mildew-covered aluminum sided subdivided rental house. I was playing out something like that scene in Catch Me if You Can, where Frank writes his bankrupt dad a letter promising, "I'm gonna get it all back now, Daddy. I'm going to get it all back." Exactly. I'm going to get it back, house. Your beauty, your charm. Everything you were meant to be, in 1858. All of it.

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Monday, April 2, 2012


Well, it didn't snow. It did rain-- cold, sniveling rain-- but we persevered. When there's ground to be broken-- and seeds so eager to jump into their furrows they're probably trembling in their packets-- the weather is not a determining factor.

We had Patrick's dad's fabulous miraculous sod-cutter on loan, and we had some cuttin' to do.

(The leaf-covered area is what I planted last year. This year, I'm a bit more ambitious.)

The cutting is smooth and breathlessly fast; the rolling and lugging and lifting and dragging not so much. One quick call to our neighbors, however, and they were both over here rolling and lugging along with me, eager to patch and smooth their lumpy bumpy front yard with slabs of free sod.

In between the heavy lifting and heavy breathing, we found ourselves talking about the upcoming summer, and found that our homesteading/gardening/chickening goals are strikingly similar. By the end of twenty minutes' work, we had a tentative arrangement to trade one household's free range chicken eggs for the other household's sweet corn. We talked about building greenhouses. We talked about sourcing salvaged materials and sharing labor and knowledge and teamwork. We're both young families figuring it out as we go along-- and it seems we'll be enjoying that process together.

Back to the garden. Since we put up the fence we've heard nothing but enthusiastic compliments from the town-- and curious speculation that we may be getting a pony. (We are not getting a pony.) The fence is to keep hooved things out, not pen them in. This summer will feature twice the tomatoes and broccoli and peas and beans as last summer, and my first attempt at growing potatoes. 

To the right we'll cut a 20 x 20 square-- after yesterday's sore muscles have repaired themselves-- and put in a salad and herb garden. That's what the brick is for-- pretty pretty basketweave brick paths. Eventually-eventually I'll establish some raised beds back behind that, for a rotating assortment of root crops, strawberries, and things that like to be fussed over. Leeks, celery. The big open space to the left will be for the big, sprawly crops and staple vegetables-- beans, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers-- while the polite, reserved lettuces and cooking greens and herbs and edible flowers pretty up the right side. In my mind's eye, the whole thing looks like a page from a glossy garden magazine-- but doesn't every gardener's garden look that way, in their mind's eye?

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