Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Back To The Circle

With growing interest in growing one's own food, I'll share a bit of my second year on New England soil.  From the Midwest I came with little remnants left of my former farm.  I felt shame in uprooting plants and didn't want seeds tainted with whatever might have been floating around the fields bordering my well missed old farm possibly tainting my new pristine environment here.  And so, I pretty much started from scratch...again.

With that mindset, why not follow through then, in all ways in my it's-a-new-day life? Starting from scratch isn't truly the beginning of a beginning when you're just this side of 50, no- it's more like taking life as a huge compost pile and using the best of the steaming hot mess you're left with.

Kale and garlic scapes, lovely neighbors.
This year, the Big Fish and I started our whole garden from seed, with the exception of Kale seedlings from a local organic grower as the slugs and deer combined devoured my tiny starts again and again.  And some local, though with deep regrets as the man brought these suspect seedlings home- canning cukes.  If I don't give the man a little leeway in the garden, his pride and feelings seem to get a little sore, so of course- comprises were made.  The Big Fish never thinks I plant enough cucumbers, (although I must have set out close to 40 plants) well, not enough to thoroughly wet his appetite for pickles.  I wonder if I would have entered into this relationship so heavily if I had only known of his pickle obsession?  Too late now, I'm in deep with canners, ball jars and a highly sought after prized recipe for Russian Bear pickles with a flavor such as I had never encountered before- sweet, spicy and fruity.  If it were up to him, I suppose several thousand jars of these pickles would be as good as money in the bank, trouble is- he'd never let anyone else withdraw.  He is by far one of the most giving guys I know, except when it comes to pickles...a chink in the armor, my prince has fallen from grace, he is seriously deeply pickled.
Winter rations
Oh there I go again, off the subject...I intended to write this post as a welcome to new and old lovers of food and gardening;  of nostalgic stuff with a touch of sentimental craziness.  When you start a new venture from scratch or leftovers- in the beginning,  it is exciting!  My seed shack in the hoopcoop started just this way- spruced up and everything in it's place.  Labels- got it.  Water source- got it.  Organized set up with stereo to boot- got it.  Photo albums full of used seed packs, with hand written linear notes included! Got it!  It looked really swell and I sure enjoyed my late winter days out there with the seeds and smells of compost mixed with unhibernating dirt;  a soily earth perfume wafted all around and kept me romantically in tune with my surroundings.  (Including my chicken and guinea neighbors as they shared  the next compartment over in a Florida like winter home- their music of soft clucks and scratching was as fine as any melody.)

March lingered a little longer than need be, April sure as heck didn't kick up her heels hardly at all, but May whispered first with Raven's call, when I hear and see more of those big birds- to me, they are the harbinger of Spring. ( A well written observation of a Raven's nature Ravens In Winter- I highly recommend.) I could go into a whole interesting to me tirade on my neighboring Ravens, but I won't...yet.  Like the Ravens and every other bird, lizard and bug around this farm- I got down to the business of Spring. Earnestly and gleefully, composing the garden seed by seed and row by row.  Every day, something else half haphazardly compiled in the seed-shack while little transplants exited out into the protected cool air of a hardening off room and then finally out into the great big world of wonder.
Disarray in the seed-shack.

Chaos consumed the formerly tidy seed-shack, and like life- there is now little order to be found in it.  My winter gardening plans include a much needed clearing of that chaos, I plan to spend many a hard winter day occupying that room, trying to make some sense again of the clutter.

Gardening, growing your own food is a circle, not semi or partial-  but full.  It takes you through all seasons if you are truly sincere in your occupation of it.  In my experience, it is best to not become dismayed by all the troubling chaos of any aspect of life.  In the fullness of time it takes to tend to any endeavor- the moment will come and it will feel and be right, you will recognize it if you but learn to trust your self and your surroundings.

 I always come back to the circle, not where it started or ended- that is invisible as it should be;  I come to the center and try to see it all.  It was a good year I can clearly see now;  of trying new things, experimenting with new ideas and expanding old ones.  That my friends, is what growing anything- is all about.  It's a well thought out plan turned upside down by the experience of actually doing it.  Sometimes you trust your self and other times you simply just have to trust the moment and work with it as best you can with your two good hands and brain muscle. Two quotes I am left with and may be worth pondering to others-

Weather plays havoc with organized plans, but loosely made ones stand to reason with a stormy day.

Leaps of faith are not reasonable or well planned after all- their opportunities often come unannounced.  I don't think you can be too prepared, but it helps to be open and ready to rise to the occasion.  
Little chick lifts off towards some high oats.
An essay of a post by golly, I need to write more often...see you then.  Take care-

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From Seed, To Field, To Harvest, To Plate

I'll be getting back to the farming way of life in reporting here as so many are seeking new ways to live in a sustainable manner.
The Big Fish and I have created 13 new raised beds, made out of local hemlock.  Last year's cold, wet growing season affected the yields negatively, so we decided if we can't control the weather perhaps we can at least try to somewhat control the growing environment.
My back, neck and shoulders cry out in pain from yesterday's shoveling of manure, and don't it feel good!  My no till method does not appeal to my Big Fish, so these raised beds helped us reach a compromise there...less weeding, no need to till and hopefully greater bounties of garden produce will soon offset the price of lumber used to create the beds.

I am planting all my garlic in raised beds as a local homesteader wowed me with his crop and abundance of the biggest, healthiest cloves I have ever laid eyes on.  Incidentally, he has provided me with 30 plus year old strain from Maine garlic bulbs.  I hope I do him and the garlic proud.  He is a younger grower with his partner, I had stumbled upon their place on one of my many meandering drives.  One day I decided to invade his privacy by stopping by and picking his brain- mainly due to the interesting welded sculpture out front of his raised bed gardens.  A farmer who creates art out of cast aways?  I had to acknowledge my own history of rusty tree hanging Pterodactyls I had made out of auction finds, unable to believe there wasn't still some useful life in old farm tools!  The BF and I pulled right in and were instantly welcomed.

Farmers, gardeners are like that; friendly, open and all about helping another learn something or two about their operations that might lend a hand to your own.  I discovered this kindly cooperation a few years back when attending classes through U of I Farm Beginnings classes.  Through an internship I found many experienced  farmers who were more than happy to share their knowledge and experience if one would help out occasionally with onion planting and other muddy jobs that require physical labor.  I learned along time ago from my Dad,
"if you want to gain something, you must give something in return." 

 Pretty simple logic, tried and true- and a way of life for many years in rural communities.  I'm happy to see that many are returning to sustainability, golden rules and just plain common sense;  you may not be able to see much of that in newspapers, financial institutions, Wall Street, television or what Hollywood puts out- but one can find it in Countryside, a magazine/journal written mostly by people living off the land life.  I subscribe to this magazine as it hits close to home- living, working and sharing experience of one's own way.  Also- talk to your food growers at the farmer's market you attend.  You'll be amazed at the knowledge found there and much of it free for the asking- recipes, growing techniques, seed purity and story.  If you can't ask your grower why, when, where and how, then you've missed an opportunity in learning something truly worth pondering.  From seed, to field, to harvest, to plate- the food we eat has it's origins and your food provider can and should supply that knowledge.  That's as about as honest and common sense as it gets, most difficult these days to find such opinions unless one looks to the earth and to those who coax life from it- giving back more than they take.
Take care-