Crispy

I found my way to the garden on a frosty morning for a quick look about and weed.

The soil was crunchy past 1/4″ down. The stirrup hoe pulling sheets of earth along. Occasionally, a saucer of soil dragging an onion from its slumber.

The weeds in the pathways look a lace pattern, their name “henbit” sounding a fit.

They, as their dandy lion neighbor, not minding the season’s change as does the persistent potatoes I was hoping to harvest for Christmas.

Swimming in sky water.

It’s been raining for days. Thunder in the night that gasps me awake if I’m lucky enough to be asleep. Storms that water fond memories of childhood sleep undisturbed by earthquakes and dynamite.

The earth, parched in winter as it often is here, gulps down each cloudfull before the bursting winds carry off the empty buckets above and usher in the next round.

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I stole a few soaked moments this morning while my coffee steeped to puncture holes in the bottom of the tomato cups and rescue the pepper pots from the overflowing trays.

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The drops paused long enough this evening for a few fleeting shots of the drenched promises of future garden spoils.

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Here’s hoping for perfect shoveling weather coming soon, as a “biiiiiiig druck” (we have quite the budding machinery expert in the house) will be dropping four yards of compost tomorrow for my most lovely partner in life to dole out to the remaining empty beds.

Dig deeper.

If at first you find only frustration and disappointment…
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Dig deeper.

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It’s not quite the fifty pounds from a few years back, but for the size of that planting and the size of this one I’d say it’s a tie. 28 pounds of sweet potatoes and I’m pretty sure I missed a few that dove down or escaped under the planks to the edging paths.

And while I felt a month late, apparently I’m 11 days earlier than 2012. Also, note to self: if you want to turn questionably nutritious soil into glorious earth sow sweet potatoes first. Now what to sow tomorrow to keep it lovely until spring?

Rain rain…

Here to stay…coming back another day…

With no rain to speak of for a few months it seemed, and then three weeks in a row of serious rain things are a bit…soggy. The mosquitoes aren’t the only happy life forms at the moment though.

The sweet potatoes have blossomed and blossomed again.
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And the bee butts are grateful.
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The fungal mat is showing its true colors…
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Including this interesting specimen who starts out in tiny pillars that open into perfect little raindrop goblets.
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As unhappy as my onions are (I’m pretty sure they’re goners) the lemon basil has a mind to go from occasional herb plant to full on ground cover. I may have to help that little broccoli out before its trying to push through a jungle.
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More rain expected for the next two days, and it started again yesterday. I do hope everyone stays safe this time.

Meeting myself once more.

I can see your evidence. The soil is mounded there where once was even. The rounded curve of the flesh engorged and overripe through overrun neglect. Even after harvest there’s no return. The edges of the bed bow wider now from the deluge and the churning. The base of the boards have weakened through the damp days and hot nights. Even now, four seasons round, the body morphs and your affects are visible naked to others’ eyes.

Never again the same as the barren ‘scape before. With each season a new introduction. With each turn another getting-to-know-you period. You know yourself through brutely forced consciousness but are as of yet unaware.

I hold awareness for us both. I tend. I feed. I sow. I dig deep and I find more than I knew I could in the depths of discovery. Time and again the necessity is met from stores unknown until a hopefully never known future where they run dry.

Plum blossoms

A few years back now, I gave DH a four-way grafted plum tree as a celebratory gift. June, is her name. Two years ago, she gave us a single branch of the most delectably delicious fruit we’d ever dreamed of. Previously, I was not a fan of plums. As with most things, if we grow it ourselves, we gain a new appreciation for all that it is.

Last year, for reasons undecided, we were not gifted with any fruit. She didn’t bloom much, but the blossoms she did offer were enjoyed by the bees. There wasn’t a late freeze…or was there? I can’t recall. Needless to say, we had no plums.

The branch that gave us the fruit two years ago bloomed one little blossom on Monday. Tuesday, there were a few more…
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And this afternoon, well, let’s just say June has been busier than the bees have so far this year.
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But wait. What’s this? A second variety is joining the flower fest for the first time.DSC_0057

And the other two branches have buds waiting their own floral debut.

This winter was not any colder than past winters, or wetter, but it definitely had more cold days (or chill hours, as they call them in Tree Speak.) I can’t help but think that the other varieties require slightly more chill hours than the first, thus the petals pushing their way forth. I can barely let myself hope (and yet can hardly wait) for those same fruits again this year. And perhaps for three more varieties to try (and fall in love with) to boot!

It’s time to start hardening off the tomatoes, and nearly time to plant them out. I haven’t made their bed yet though…want to see how one hauls a half yard of compost when you sold the pick-up to purchase a family car? But of course you do!
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It doesn’t cost anymore than buying it in one bulldozer drop into the back of the truck. It does, however, require a good bit of shoveling, lifting, and heaving. I was just talking about how I didn’t have time to both garden and go to the gym…

As luck would have it…

Saturday I could hardly believe my luck. Again? Weather and kiddo and energy and cough? Glorious. I’m not sure I’ve ever more enjoyed pulling thistle (and henbit and dandelion.)
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Besides, it gave me the good fortune to witness the opening of these…wild crocuses? I do have some Prairie Crocus here and there, but the centers of these little wildlings look different (more like a cone), as do the leaves. Any ideas?
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I also managed to sneak in some seed sowing (even if I had to keep my phone on me for a little work wrangling.)
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In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve never been one to invest in actual labels. I’m not sure why. Instead, I tend toward taking pictures of what went where and the metadata of the photo captures the day and time for me automatically. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to labels soon enough. (I did receive some lovely ones as a gift this year, so it really is only about actually using them at this point…brains are silly things.)

And just as I was about to sow something on the heads of where I’d planted the potatoes because they were obviously not doing anything themselves…
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I took a closer look.
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Now if only the peas I planted in their midst would sprout…

The “getting to know you” period.

Tomorrow will mark nine months in our new home. I thought it may be time to introduce myself to the soil. Yes, really, it has taken this long. But by “I thought it may be time” what I really meant was that work, the weather, the kiddo, my Daycare Immune System Marathon, and my energy levels all conspired to give me a gift – opportunity.

So Friday afternoon, amidst sunshine and high 50s, I took the shovel, the dog, and the wheelbarrow into the front yard. The Great Grass Removal was underway. The soil here seems lovely. Dark, rich, and crumbly. When I first got to know the soil at our last house, in 100 square feet of triple dug (go big or go home?) earth, I found precisely two earth worms amidst soil that refused to release the roots within it. Here I find fat happy worms two to the shovelful and the soil goes with the flow, shaking off into the air with the bang of each grass clump against the shovel. Forget a front heat bed repeat, I could plant tomatoes right alongside the curb! (And just might, seeing as I have thirty of them…)

The first wheelbarrow was nearly full, my ankle was reminding me that this was my first real shovel work since its last injury, and then the dog perked up his head and started sauntering down the walk. I looked up and saw he was shyly wagging his way to meet the neighbor two houses down, so I followed. Our dog minds well on good days, minds with mediocrity on some days, and gets a mind of his own on occasion. He’s eighty-five pounds of strong sweetheart but has his triggers after he was attached two years ago, so we never lack for caution. An hour later, he and I both felt as though we had made a new friend and the sun was slipping. It was going to drop into the 20s again soon, so I cleaned up, packed up, and we went went back inside to check on my little tomatoes, now in their 4″ pots of garden soil, seed starter, and coir.
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Making space

In February of 2011, I cleared out my 100 square foot garden. I ripped the grass, dug three feet down removing weed seeds, grass roots, and June bug larvae. DH built the edging to keep the crawling St. Augustine and Bermuda at bay, anchoring the edging with posts with which to anchor shade cloth and bean string.

In January of 2012, I rented two plots in the local community garden. My 100 square feet in which to garden jumped to 500 over night. By May of this year, I realized that community gardening, or at least gardening with that community, wasn’t for me.

Even with my stark lack of gardening this year so far, dropping from 500 square feet back to 100 was a bit of a blow. So what’s one to do? Whine and lament the attitudes and personalities of those who made it necessary to leave the extra 400 square feet behind? Nah. That doesn’t solve anything. Unless there’s a complaint quota necessary for being human that I don’t know about…it would solve that.

One makes space.

Shannon over at Dirt ‘n Kids has shared her success with a similar climate to mine using Lasagna Gardening. August is not the time to be digging 36″ down through clay and pebbles to make a new bed. I wanted to grow more seedlings of self-saved broccoli seeds (Green Early Heirloom) and Amazing Cauliflower. I wanted to try my hand at some Ruby Moon Hyacinth Beans and Sugar Ann peas. And then…you get the idea.

I dug in the garage for a box. I must’ve had this same urge ages ago when I first stumbled upon Shannon’s blog, because there was a large cardboard box containing untreated brown packing paper, a neighbor’s discarded leaf bag, and smaller segments of lesser-chemical-ed cardboard eagerly awaiting the day.

I needed boards and screws. DH had gathered a neighbor’s discarded decking for my compost bin and had some extra pieces. I found some excess ends of 2″x4″‘s left over from his saw-horse project. Exterior screws were shelved beside the drywall screws, eye hooks, and other fasteners. I had to choose – 1″ 1/4″ dry wall screws or 4″ exterior screws. I knew the 1″ 1/4″ were too short to bite in properly, and may not weather the outdoors very well. I grabbed the 4″ exterior screws.

I didn’t feel like measuring. So many things in life must be weighed and measured, exact and equal. I find gardening to be good practice for my (slightly obsessive) need for accuracy and organization to let go and see that the world doesn’t collapse. The earth and the bugs and the microbes know infinitely more about what they’re doing than I do. The practice of letting them do what they do is soothing in a culture that glorifies busy-ness and demands constant multi-tasking.

I made thicker sides by putting two boards together, locking them in place with cross boards. The 2″x4″s were to serve as the corner anchors. I started the assembly…and learned that while too-short screws don’t work well, neither do too-long screws. I didn’t mind that they stuck out. I rationalized the tops would be great places to lash string ends. What I didn’t know was that a too-long screw won’t pull two boards together, it will leave them with a gap. Frustration set in. I went inside and was done for the day.

Letting the frustration go, armed with my new knowledge, I picked up a box of 2″ exterior screws and went about the business of removing a 4″ screw, replacing it with a 2″ screw, and repeating my way around the box. The boards cinched together and the box was square. I dug four quick holes to sink the corner posts into the earth. One full of pebbles, one blocked by a concrete over-pour, the other two easy. The bed lowered into place, it was ready for soil-making magic.

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I had already saved up some trimmings and egg cartons, some hay and compost. I’d even saved it in layers (you can see it behind the bed frame.) It was as simple as cutting loose a strip of layered goodies, carefully lifting it off the ground, and nestling it in the wooden frame.
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So I’m not sure how much square footage I gained. I’m ok with that. I’m also ok with the fact that the stump of the maple tree we had to cut down in the front yard has finally bit the dust. Giant sponges of carbon to start the fungal map off right made themselves available the very evening I needed them. The creation of a suburban forest floor.

I put up the drill and the skill saw. I wrapped and tied the extension cord. The shovel and buckets in hand, it was time to go in. DH had made some grass-fed burger patties and Cinderella squash discs on the grill.

And there it was. A forgotten carrot lost beneath the returning basil offering up spring’s sowings.
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Breaking summer ground for fall.

I grew beans in this bed in March and April.  I gave some new squash varieties a go as well as took my first real stab at some melon. It was all done by June.

Had I planned better,  I would have had some more pepper starts ready to go in. Next year, I hope to remember this. As it stood, I had some late-arriving sweet potato starts come in the mail and they took center stage.

Slowly the summer raged on. The sweet potatoes showed themselves to be slow growers. One melon, the Tigger variety, held on much longer than the Kansas or the White Cushaw.

Every where else in the Left Bed the weeds set up shop. The squishy ones that DH calls “ice plant weeds” and the sprawly ones that remind me of some sea fans. We wonspeak of the wild  morning glories or the other ivy. Then there are the two tall types I couldn’t guess at varieties for.

Thankfully, having ignored the bed for the last bit of our triple digits, the weeds pulled easily,  like they were rooted in sand.

The lowlands between the raised beds have served as walkways this season and as such needed a little loosening.

I’d added in a couple of inches of leaves this spring to the pathways. Over the course of months of rain and breezy days the leaves went underground. Digging yesterday unearthed them once more. Evidence of a summer spent under damp soil was all around. The leaves had made a layer of decomposed soil-food. Digging through it brought cakes of matted leaf material to the surface only to join forces with new compost and be turned under once again.

I’m still in the “getting to know you” phase with the soil in this bed. Upon first meeting, it came across as angry and weak . Someone had abused it previously and it showed. I started the spring by adding organic soil from a local source, manure, and compost. I was in a hurry and didn’t have the time to wait for the county extension office to run any tests. Over the summer I’ve learned that the soil is much sandier than my beds the short two miles to my backyard. It’s also full of tiny pebbles. Just below the sandy, pebbly, crumbly soil is what I’m used to working with – thick, cloying, stick-to-your-shovel clay.

So I worked in even more compost, breaking up clods of dirt (playing at being rocks) along the way.

Watering the base layers,  burying them, and watering again is my attempt to not irritate the earthworms too much.

I worked the compost into these holes made by burying the compost in the trenches. Then I worked it all together, evening it out into one bed. Trench be-gone!

These beds (this one and it’s twin across the sweet potatoes) are now ready for kale, broccoli, beets, onions, and garlic!

Those sad sweet potatoes? Those are the ones I ordered as starts. The pantry-potatoes? They’re happy as can be.

How do you prep your soil between seasons?