Category Archives: death

On rushed seasons

22 March is shockingly early for the first (measly) asparagus harvest, don’t you think?

The girl barges in through the back door Wednesday afternoon and announces “It sure is quiet out there!”  That morning’s trip with the dogcrate full of roosters guaranteed that the regular sounds of backyard bucolia have returned here.

My call to the butcher’s wife brought the usual guffaw from her.  “SEVEN roosters? You ARE a softie, honey.”

Jellybean and some of his wimmin.  What you can’t see is his torn-up wattle, poor thing.  Now he’s back to being #2 Rooster.

Er, not really.  The seven in question were late-summer chicks too small for the Thanksgiving turkey trip to the butcher in question.  We endured their presence until we just couldn’t (“we” includes the harassed hens and of course the now bloody and pissed-off Mary Ellen and Jellybean) any longer.  And since one guy was keen to “sleep” in the huge blue spruce which shades the henyard…well, let’s just say an early spring’s open windows and one obnoxious night bird are not exactly compatible.  It’ll buy you a trip to freezer camp, dude.

I envy those of you who are actively eating down the contents of your freezers.  I am somehow unable to ever see the bottom of a freezer (understandably, not a bad problem to have), what with the seasonal binges like a rooster harvest.  Things simply get replaced.

The new greenhouse:  I had planned on harvesting these greens by the end of April, not March…

One thing not easily stored is the lettuces.  My best-laid plans of harvesting one  older-lettuce-filled greenhouse and then moving on to the next baby-lettuce-filled greenhouse are crappy plans indeed with daily lows beating average highs here.  Three solid weeks of temperatures in the 70s/80s mean that the 100s experienced in the greenhouses are not good for anything currently in there…including the 100 cells seeded with tomatoes.  Sigh.  Time to reboot, clean out, reseed.  Weather, you know, just happens.  My plans would’ve been perfect in a normal year.

The routine on Sunday and Thursday nights:  gather ye CSA bags as ye may…

But what are we going to eat in May?  I wonder!  Better start seeding lettuce rows for the fickle world outside.

The nightly haul:  leeks, lettuces (Amish Deer Tongue and red romaine), atop bolting collards, asparagus and onions…with herbs. 

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Is blogging dead? Or is it just dying?

Greenhouse lettuce and chervil

So:  What is it that makes people read other people’s blogs?  It was a Friday afternoon and my blog aggregator had been silent for hours.  Granted, historically Fridays (for whatever reason) aren’t a big day for posting…but as someone looking for a quick non-work-thought fix, I missed the lack of input.  And because my blog reader follows about 100 blogs, this silence was fairly deafening.

Where is everyone going?  Is Facebook so important a source of infotainment that it’s sucking all the communication bandwidth?  Is Twitter?  Or is it just that the blog format (words, pictures, generally more than 140 characters) is too…long both to write or to read?

Perhaps it’s just the blogs I read.  Those crowding my aggregator tend to be of the homesteady/gardeny/foody stripe:  all very much in the Look What I Can Do mode, and once someone’s accomplished something (their hens lay, their tomatoes ripen, their charcuterie dry) then it’s, well, done.  No need to revisit it, to post about it twice.  But (for what it’s worth) I haven’t particularly noticed the numbers of folks who read this blog fading…and we all know I go over the same material again and again.

[Also for what it is worth, I don’t think I plan to stop blogging any time soon:  I enjoy the writing exercise, the dialogue; and, strangely, I have a (perhaps hyperinflated) sense that what I say might be of interest to others.  I try to talk about my strange path without being too much of a pedant, too much of a tyrant.]

Anyway, wherever you are, you 100 bloggers, I miss you!  Whether I read you because you’re an emotional train wreck, because of your sparkling personality, your good stories, or because you likewise teach ME, I just wish you would post more often.

I would especially like it if you posted, say, during a long Friday afternoon?

On negatives being positive

Uh oh:  chicken tractor and lawn furniture scattered hither and yon

My husband continuously says I am a glass-half-empty person.  He says it often enough that it makes me suspicious:  does he want me to believe this?  Tomayto tomahto I say.  Frankly, I think we could all use a dose of half-emptyness, at least some of the time.  If it does nothing else it lets you accept that Stuff Happens, and it prepares you for it, for sometimes Stuff will happen to You.

Stuff Happens, so pick up the pieces and move on.  We had a hellacious windstorm on Thursday night, preceded by a hailstorm of long length.  The hail was kind of cool to watch, and thankfully wasn’t so bad as to shed greenhouse plastic and/or leafy plants.  But that windstorm!  Wow.  Friday morning was a bit of a blur:  tree-sized branches everywhere, and the chicken tractor thrice tumbled, meat birds scattered.

Lucky Lucy, wondering where her siblings might be.  Every year our daughter commutes the sentence of one female meat bird.

So yeah, lots of damage.  We lost two chickens (gone with the wind?).  This  morning fortunately was the appointment with the butcher, so I gathered the remaining 25 Freedom Ranger birds and drove them over, avoiding fallen limbs and debris along the way.  And then, well, then I carried on.

Old greenhouse, 4 Oct 11:  Left photo shows the lone tomatoes in the front and on back wall, with green tomatoes ripening on a screen; right shows rosemary, sage, and artichoke in the foreground and the zany fig tree at the right.  All empty-looking beds have been planted with winter-hardy lettuces and greens (mizuna, arugula, kales, chickories).

Control what you can:  I cleaned the summer crops out of the old greenhouse on Saturday.  I was too depressed to do outdoor garden work, so instead I prepared the old greenhouse for winter.

But it’s still summer in the new greenhouse  where it’s tomato city, with peppers…but seedling beds are full too.  Those are some late sweet potatoes on the screen, dried beans on the chair at the right.  Lots of work to be done here too, toward the end of the month.

The next cleanup project:  re-erecting the trellis.  Those are my hops on the ground.

So indeed:  bit by bit, pick up the pieces.  I suppose I should be thankful this storm occurred toward the end of the growing season…it would’ve been more discouraging earlier in the summer.  As it is now, well…things had begun to be harvested, picked, prepared for winter before this storm.  The trellises and broken-up beds aren’t “needed” except maybe by my aesthetic sense of wholeness.  Which is motivation enough, actually, to get me moving.  Half full indeed!

On chemical warfare in the garden

Slippery slope time:  I have a gardening secret, one whose use still causes me some great shame.  Like all secret shames, though, there’s a sweet upside to it.

My secret?  Bt.  Bacillus thuringiensis, technically.  This naturally-occurring soil bacterium has a sharp, crystalline structure that when ingested by caterpillars is quite lethal.  My aim is one particular caterpillar: those of the dreaded cabbage moth.  Those bloody things make any and all of my brassicas poop-covered, leafless stems if I gave them a chance.  Hah!  No chance, no quarter.

Yes, kitchen tools in the garden too!  I am shaking the powder upon pre-wetted red cabbage and Russian kale:  somehow, a butterfly got in there under the rowcover and laid her eggs.

You must understand that using this stuff is an absolute last stop with me.  All other insect and bug pests get squished between my fingers during my twice-daily trips to the garden.  With the exception of tomato hornworms (too big to squish and too valuable as chicken food) the swarms of Colorado potato beetles, squash bugs and bean beetles all meet the wrath of my finger and thumb.  It’s no wonder I always wear garden gloves, and even then that’s not a guarantee I won’t get grossed out…should I describe the arc that potato nymph guts will take?  Toward one’s eye, always.  Perhaps a face mask is recommended.

Anyway, back to the powder.  I go to great lengths otherwise to avoid the cabbage moth butterfly.  All (and I do mean all) of my cabbage family crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnip, and the zany Asian voodoo mashup veg of which I am so fond) grow under row covers in the warm months and are behind butterfly-proof screen within the greenhouses during the cold months.  This means about a third of my outdoor garden beds are covered with white cloth…not exactly pretty or natural, but, hey, I’ve gone on about the barrier method before.

The folks at the Fruit Exchange laughed at me, though, when I put the bag on the counter.  They know I grow organic.  And they know that I think this bag of stuff is really straddling a fence…it’s natural, but it’s far from its natural form.  “Things that bad, eh?” said the big guy in the overalls who always helps me.  “You know, I’ve got stronger stuff if you need it,” pointing to the odoriferous poison aisle.  (This is the same guy who, the last time I saw him, said “How many bales can you get in that thing,” he asked, pointing at my ancient VW Golf.  “Five, if I use the front seat,” I replied.  “Well, Jeff Foxworthy says you know you’re a redneck when you know how many haybales fit in your car,” yeah, lots o yuks.)

So I use the stuff only sparingly and in a reactive way:  only AFTER I see them does the powder come out.  It takes a day for the f*ckers to eat sh*t and die, but…all I need to do is hose the food off and it’s edible.  I still keep the covers on so no other creature from the order Lepidoptera gets affected.  And yes, it’s easier than squishing…and just as sickly satisfying, come to think of it.

On new compost

The compost heaps are also where the best volunteer veg spring up:  note the squash above.

Upon trucking the umpteenth wheelbarrow full of fresh compost around the new beds this weekend, I reflected on how much the big pile of stuff means to me and the gardens.  I’ve waxed philosophical on the subject many times over the years, and my ardor for the “garden gold” has only grown with time.

That said, I still have never let it cook down to being completely finished. Nope. Call me impatient, or greedy, or both.

It’s an interesting math problem, actually.  With the addition of dairy goats two years ago, the actual volume of compostables (in the form of their bedding) has quadrupled.  My gardens, however, have not.  It was only this weekend that the garden got expanded…it’s been the same size since 2008, thus, technically, I should be sitting on a surplus.  A surplus, or at least a big enough reserve so it actually cooks down!  There never is a surplus, though:  like the government’s budget, new sources for the goods are always readily found, and those resources get sucked up.  And lo, it’s never quite “done” yet.

So during that schlep of compost it also occurred to me that, as a gardener, my job is actually within the vast field of waste management.  You know, winkwink, nudgenudge, what Tony Soprano would claim as his profession (with a perfectly straight face, mind you) to anyone who asked.  Heh.

Yep.  Behold, the power of poo.

On worst-case scenarios

The pod people descend

You regular readers may have been noticing a decided lack of content-laden posts lately.  I apologize.  I have been up to my eyeballs in personal matters.

Lo these last few years it has been fairly commonplace for many bloggers to rue a flavor of the week doomer issue:  global warming/climate change, peak oil, global fiscal collapse, terrorism, whatever.  What to worry about, what to do about it, is generally the theme of those posts.  “Preparedness,” “sustainability,” and “adaptation” are very commonly mentioned terms made in response to these problems.  I certainly didn’t read (much less use) these terms with such frequency a decade ago.  Statistics show however that personal tragedies are much more likely to befall you, and probably a lot sooner, too.  A job loss, say, or a house fire, or a car accident, or natural catastrophe, or the illness or even death of a dear family member.  It is these common tragedies that we should prepare for, that we should…befriend.

Smoking!

One often goes through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five steps in things other than death.  “Acceptance,” the last step, does not mean fait accompli; often, the griever circles back again through the steps like some nightmarish carnival ride.  Personally, I think what hurts the most is the yearning for that time Before The Event.  You know:  your carefree miles spent in your gas-guzzling SUV, say, or life before the job loss/accident/flood/fire/illness/death. Life seemed so much simpler then!  Our problems were so few!  What could we possibly have had to complain about?

Grieving too is practically another world, a parallel plane to the one most of us walk about every day.  In the words of Iris Murdoch, “A real experience of death isolates one absolutely.  The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.”*

Becalming the bees

Our family is going through some changes.  My autistic brother has moved in with us; I have blogged about him before.  My mother is suddenly very ill and cannot care for him.  We, in turn, will be caring for my mother.

Honey Turkey don’t care

What in the world does this have to do with gardening?  Quite a lot, if we were to look at my garden, my kitchen.  The dining room table will be set for five, not three.  We will probably purchase the farmhouse across the road for my brother:  it’s larger than this one, and needs a bunch of work.  He will eventually live there with a few other developmentally disabled adults.  That house’s eleven acres will complement this house’s five.  And the old farmstead will be reunited (the houses and land were originally part of a 38 acre fruit farm, built by two immigrant Sicilian brothers a hundred years ago).  And, well…life will go on.

*An Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch, NY:  Penguin, 1988.  Originally published 1973.

On death and…poop

There’s a lot of life, too, including new life.

Thursday was a gray morning with me stepping into my boots, trying to keep my second cup of coffee from spilling, when the phone started ringing.  It was our next-door neighbor, asking, nicely, if I could come over, which, being neighborly, I said sure, of course.  Coffee down, hastily-kicked-off boots back on, I was over there in a flash.

Life on the farm has put me in contact with two expected but not necessarily always welcome things:  Poop and death.

Poop is mostly welcome, though I admit there is that maddening period of time wherein the snow has retreated yet the hose remains frozen:  poop, courtesy of free ranging chickens and turkeys, is everywhere on the walk and the deck.   (The hose has remained unfrozen for a couple of weeks now, yay!)  I am an inveterate harvester of poop and bedding, and goodness poop is what makes a farm productive so…as long as it stays out of the house, poop’s not a bad thing in its ubiquity.

Death, though, is also everywhere.  I found it ironic that this morning my neighbor happened to call when I had already killed or found dead five things (three trapped mice, one cabbage butterfly and one egg-stealing raccoon) and they were asking me to help with a sixth:  their fourteen-year-old Golden retriever had died in the night.  Their 120-pound dog.  Yes.  Who’re you gonna call but the feedsack-slinging, haybale-hauling, ditch-digging, raccoon-shooting neighbor, heck, SHE can lift old Annie into the trunk.

And I did.  Then I went back, got my now-cold cuppa, and had a sit in the old greenhouse, musing about my lot.  There’s turkey poop on my boots, I notice, and that first greenhouse bed needs more compost.  More poop, more death, to bring more life.

Sometimes, you feel small.

peep