On working vacations

The Mother of All Colanders is holding four pounds of elderberries.  Fortuitously, the wine recipe I used had called for exactly four pounds of berries.  And yes, it is necessary to wear gloves when harvesting and destemming them; they are messy!

When you read this, my one full week of vacation will have ended and my heinie will be warming my work seat.  Sigh.

Of course my vacations involve no vacating, nor really any sitting at all.  And I almost never do take a whole week off:  I just usually dribble the two-week allotment out over the course of the year, granting myself a three- or four-day weekend here and there or as Tom’s art junkets require.  This year was different.  We did some structural work to one of our outbuildings and needed a full week to do it.

Pictured with some of its victims

It’s been years since I got out my Sawzall (reciprocating saw).  Nothing satisfies more than the polite buzz of that saw tearing through something:  without the plaintive whine of the cordless saw, the zip-zip of the chop saw or the quasi-authoritative whir of the table saw, the Sawzall just gets the job done, quietly, with spooky effectiveness.  Now I am wondering if it will again be years before it’s put to use.

Structural crap aside, I did practically wear out the knees of my work pants while weeding the garden paths.  It’s been such a year (you know the ones) wherein one must shuck all unnecessary nonsense in order to simply keep the cogs of the machine well-oiled and turning, and this summer it meant I couldn’t attend to the garden paths as I would like. (Of course, had I had the 25 yards of woodchips required to cover those paths, weeds would not be a problem, but, well, it’s an off-year for the tree-cutting crews around here.)  The garden beds themselves, though, of course are weed-free; a girl needs her standards.

Princess of Pigweed, I would say to myself while creeping on those knees.  Professor of Plantain, Duchess of Dandelion.  Shepherdess of Sheep’s Sorrel, Priestess of Purslane, Lady of Lambs’ Quarters:  the irony that the majority of the weeds I was pulling were edible was not lost on me.  Bursar of Burdock, Contessa of (inedible) Crabgrass.   Luckily, the week had been a wet one, and the weeds came out in clumps, few tools required.  And as I pulled, I marveled yet again at how strong my old arms and back remain.  I can do this for another fifty years, I thought, which would bring me to 95, sweaty and muddy and happy; more wrinkled, more gray.  I am sure lifting beams and wrangling posts and heaving rafters won’t be in my future fifty years from now, but…milking a goat and pulling some path weeds?  Not a problem, no sir.

15 responses to “On working vacations

  1. Our chickens LOVE crabgrass and I love the thought of turning crabgrass into eggs!

    Good feeling to get a bunch of jobs done, huh? I finally got a trellis up for the fall peas and we cleaned out the garage. Hurray!

  2. “this summer it meant I couldn’t attend to the garden paths as I would like. (Of course, had I had the 25 yards of woodchips required to cover those paths, weeds would not be a problem…”

    Who are you trying to kid, El? We have had so much rain around here (18 inches in June and July) that nothing stops the weeds from growing, even in my garden paths. I laid down last year newspaper, then black garden cloth, then a layer of wood chips. Even there the quackgrass is growing abundantly. No way have I been able to keep up with the weeds!

    But your reciprocating saw looks quite handy…

  3. That is quite a harvest of elderberries. I’ve never tasted them before but I’ve seen a lot of bloggers talk of them. Something I must try!!

  4. Nice to be physical. Good biofeedback.

  5. I muse sometimes about what my soil will look like twenty years from now. (I try to not think about what I will be like. . .) Hopefully years of amending and loving will make it a treat to work in, necessitating even less work. The paths. . . well, the paths might still need something. Dratted Bermuda Grass.
    Sounds like the Sawzall was a lot of fun.

  6. Well, a change is better than a rest, right? (I’m not sure where that comes from, I only know it from an Elvis Costello song.) The Sawzall has always seemed to me the mark of the really serious handyperson, someone who knows what needs to be done and how to get on with it!

    Oddly I haven’t found it to be an especially weedy year here in Saint Paul. Maybe because the spring was actually quite dry until mid-June. It ain’t dry anymore.

    So, how many of those edible weeds have you tasted? I have it on my list to experiment with purslane this year.

    Cheers~ Brett

  7. You are sure dedicated!

    Lovely blog!

  8. Cardboard scavenged from the recycling cages behind nearby retail strips is what I have always used as a base layer in my paths. It is easier than newspaper (bigger pieces, more consistent coverage and it won’t blow around as much when I’m putting it down) and the color blends in right away with the wood chips or other mulch that covers it. I also use it if starting a new raised bed – as a base layer under the fill it blocks whatever makes an effort to push up through the bed the first season. By the second season it isn’t needed and has decomposed. I haven’t used it over Bermuda grass but have over zoysia – no problems.

  9. Elderberry wine sounds like fun! Now you’ll have a few varieties to choose from and they’ll be ready at different times of the year. I think my dandelion wine will be ready to bottle in another month, then six months to age. We’ll see, but you inspire me to do some succession wine making! Ha ha.

    Most of my vacations have been stay-cations involving work too over the years, but it is nice to get things done.

  10. It’s so good to have the blog of a Michigan forager to read. Everyone else lives in Oregon or California and they all harvested their elderberries over a month ago. Right after you made this post I found a huge bush of my own.

    Thank you!

  11. I have a hope that by the time my body starts catching up to my inspirations, that I will have designed (and actually created!) a garden that’s easy to take care off. We’ll see.

    Like Cohutt I do the cardboard/feed bag thing under my garden paths and new beds and have had good luck too–that’s definitely in the works for future garden expansions.

  12. Nice to see your daughter wearing a white shirt while holding those elderberries.Relating a bit to food as local I started “Twain’s Feast” tonight.A nice read so far.The first chapter the author went to Ill. to observe Prarie Chickens on a remant of tall grass prarie.Amazing that there were millions upon millions of these birds at one time.The writer weaves the past and present well and has a nice eye for small details.

  13. Cohutt and Sara, thanks for the comments about using cardboard. I’ll try that technique for my garden paths. But a quick question: how long does the cardboard last? If I put some down in the fall, will the cardboard last through the following summer? Thanks.

  14. el, if you run out of paths to weed, i have more you can take care of. 😉 if only it were just my paths that needed weeding!

    but, even with blight and weeds galore, i have lots of tomatoes still. a blessing, for sure.

  15. Andrea, good for you! I like feeling like I have accomplished something over-and-above, too. I like it even better if I have likewise knocked all the usual tasks off the list too: this was one of those vacations I could do that. Now, well, now i am behind again! sniff!

    Dennis, it’s too bad that saw can’t be used on weeds is all I am saying. And I do know what you mean: I have one area in the garden where quackgrass keeps making a toehold. But frankly I never would claim that wood chips stop weeds, it’s I merely want to slow them down, you know?

    Meems they smelled quite wonderful after their initial fermentation when I moved them from a crock into a glass carboy (bigger brewing vessel). Otherwise they’ve not got much of a taste. I did have someone mention a elderberry pie and I sure thought that sounded tempting!

    CC, biofeedback! You are some kind of Californian, aren’t you?

    Stef, I tend to think of the entire fenced garden as my attempt at controlling chaos. Perhaps I am really simply a masochist but I think having clear and weed-free paths is a high priority. And yeah, I think about my soil too and am usually really well rewarded, especially with the greenhouse beds, which really did get a whole lotta loving during construction and afterward. So yeah. 20 years, yours will be dreamy. But your paths? Hmm.

    Brett, I made my second batch of purslane gaspacho (with green zebra tomatoes and goat milk yogurt) this weekend for a party. It was FABULOUS if I do say so myself. If you’re hurting for cucumbers (and I am this year, underplanting and underestimating my daughter’s ability to eat them) then it’s the way to go for that cold soupy bev.

    Aw thanks Wendy!

    Cohutt, that’s what I resorted to in Year 2 and for the sake of my sanity I doubt I will be doing cardboard again unless it’s completely tape and staple free: for years that is what I would find, little flapping bits of half-weathered tape coming through the chips. Sigh. I do loves me some wood chips though! So preferred to all others.

    Liz, great! I am in the throes of more wine making too; I did rack the dandelion wine a couple of weeks back. It’s fun seeing all of this. You’re right, in another couple, it can be bottled. Just definitely need to get into the habit of moving through the process. Now, well, there’s so much bubbling away. I am glad I gave you a nudge!

    Mari, congrats! Yeah I don’t know what it is about the coasts hogging all the foodies and the more adventurous gleaners and foragers. I know for a fact that many many people do this here…they just don’t blog, which I suppose makes all the difference, right?

    Sara, yeah, I am in the till/weed/shovel path dirt into new bed mode when it comes to making new beds…it’s all a process, and really it’s another reason it’s been 2 years since I have made new ones of my own. Somehow I finally think i have enough (enough meaning “all I can handle without trouble”). We’ll see.

    John, that shirt didn’t stay white but got white again (thank you oxygen-like product). I have seen a few prairie chickens (but not here in MI). They’re definitely silly creatures, and it is a pity we’ve gobbled up all their prairies. I love books like that though.

    Dennis, my experience is it lasts about 8 months, but a full year under the greenhouse beds. It’s really just a weed-seed killer by blocking out that light. Helpful, in other words, and a little more durable than feed bags or newspaper (the other two things I have tried).

    Serina, it is a good year for tomatoes, knock wood! AND weeds 🙂

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