Monday, March 25, 2013
This time, it was done by hand.
The fields lie fallow this year. No tractor will cross, no plow will sink, no disc will dice. It’s this time of year we plow. Wait for a sunny day in March, when the soil is kind of dry, and turn the fields you want for cabbage, lettuce and broccoli. Row after row, the soil turns over onto he row that was plowed before it. Worms squiggle around underground now above ground. Spiders scurry out of the way. Crows follow, looking for grubs. Turn the tractor around and plow another row.
The grass around the fields is really starting to green up. The trees are just starting to bud. The sound of the motor fills your ears. The smoke from the exhaust fills your lungs and coats your clothes. You might finish by dark.
This year I’m only going to have a small kitchen garden behind the house. That’s it. I turned two rows yesterday, by hand, with a spade fork. The rhythm was similar to plowing. The fork goes into the soil, foot drives it deeper, and turn. Fork goes into the soil, foot drives it deeper, and turn. The same worms are revealed. The same spiders scurry out of the way.
You’re on the ground already, though. You can get right down onto the ground and look at what’s there.
I’m turning the first few rows behind the house, and I’m not even turning the full length of the fields. I’ve got a few mini-rows on the south sides of the fields. They’re just for me and my dinner. I have no plans to fill the back of the truck with boxes of produce, no hopes to stack the market table high with the harvest of the fields. I’m taking this year off. I’m a nurseryman. I have only greenhouses; I grow only potted plants.The schedule is reasonable. I get all my work done, on time, on schedule. I have time to enjoy the Spring. I have time to enjoy my neighbors. The spade fork needs no maintenance. I need no diesel. I finish work before dark. I eat dinner. It’s growing on me.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I mowed the grass yesterday. Over on the North side of the house. It was a bit soupy in spots, but high and dry in others, and the little blade went round and round and round and sent little grass pieces all over the place. After I was done it looked neat and tidy and smooth. The cut grass smell lingered, just about at nostril level. I imagined tiny bits of chlorophyll hanging in the air. It lasted through dusk and into the frozen darkness. I went out about midnight to check the greenhouse heaters, and the smell was still there. It was still there this morning, also, when I went out to shut off the heaters. It wrapped around me when I walked across the yard, reminding me of spring.
My first real experience with the dirt smell came about a week ago. I was patching part of a greenhouse wall, and needed to move a rock, and then another, and then needed to pull up a clump of grass. There it was. Rising from the ground like, oh, a groundhog looking for its shadow. The smell of soil in spring. The smell is, not to spoil the image too much, that of rotting micro-organisms, and, as if that were not enough, micro-organism excrement. Be that as it may, it was a welcome smell, the first of the year, signaling that the soil had warmed enough to promote activity amongst the non-see-ables. It had warmed enough to make the soil microbes bounce around and eat and have sex and die. I couldn’t see them, but they signal their existence with their aroma.
We’re entering the rush of plant season. The greenhouse is filling rapidly. Sunny days find a table set up in the yard, and I start plants. I empty bags of potting soil into buckets, and fill little pots and plug trays. The potting mix is peat and bark, ground up so much you can’t recognize it. The potting mix smell is, to me, the greenhouse smell. I know it doesn’t resemble a beat bog at all, but I like to think it does. It’s another smell of spring. It stays in its plastic bag all winter, and you can open it up as soon as it starts to warm and pour it into a pot.
It’s still too early for flowers, though they’re on their way. But there is still plenty in the air to tell your nose that spring is here.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
My Extension Has Not Been Extended
The robins are fluttering in the snowfall, and so it must be time to order fruit trees.
The catalogs are coming in the mail, as many different mail order companies as there are varieties of sweet cherries. And, as fitting these modern times, the mail order companies increasingly solicit me through email. Gurney’s, they of the oversized catalog with the yellow cover that doesn’t fit into any file or cardboard box or old milk crate, is emailing me every day. (I admit to be enticed by the Ka-Bluey blueberry and Ruby Monster tomato. I haven’t added them to my cart.) And every day, my anxiety level rises as Gurney’s tells me I have to act now or I won’t get free shipping or I won’t get $25 off my order of $50 or more or the price of daylilies will go up. The next day my inbox has another warning that if I don’t act now the price of daylilies will go up. The next day I’m about to lose my free shipping. At one point their algorithm figured out that I wasn’t ordering, so they extended their offer of free shipping. A carrot. The next day they threatened to rescind their offer of free shipping. A stick. The subject line: Your Extension Will Not Be Extended.
I play with the idea of lining the driveway with some pampas grass for $2.99, or putting a climbing thornless rose against the house at $6.49 each, or shading the house with a Colorado Blue Spruce for $1.99 (3 for $5.50.) I picture myself strolling across the backyard on a warm summer evening and picking the lush fruit from my dwarf peach tree (luscious flavor, self pollinating.) I want to bake a pie with the harvest from my Montmorency cherry tree (intense, sweet-tart flavor!) What I really do not want is an apple tree with five different varieties of apple grafted onto one trunk. This is not why I garden. I do not want to violate the laws of nature and the laws of logic. I want my extension to be extended.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Tired of the Chaotic Universe
The woods, especially, are messy. Trees wily nily everywhere. Trees and shrubs intermixed. Invasives. Leaves on the ground.
The greenhouse, however, is a paragon of order. All the plants are labeled. They’re all the same size. They sit in cells in plug trays that are all the same size. They are lined up on tables, those started first on one end of the table, and those started last on the other end of the table.
Outside, all the blades of grass are different sizes. The grass is mixed up with clover. Plantain. Buttercup. There’s mud.
Some of the grass is nice and green. Some of it is yellowing and dieing. There’s worms.
The greenhouse plants come from seeds that are lined up alphabetically in identically size cardboard boxes, each taxonomical family given its own box. The seed envelopes have lot numbers.
Outside, the daffodils are tardy blooming. In Hot Springs, they bloomed weeks ago. Across the ridge, my neighbor Joyce’s daffodils bloomed last week. Mine linger, still, it seems, in about to bloom phase – a hint of yellow visible through the sepels. Visible, but not showing. The full color and beauty of their blossom waiting on what I don’t know – a few more degrees of warmth? A bit more time? Drier soil? Wetter soil? More chlorophyll? Their coyness does not amuse me. I want bursts of electric color in my yard, turned on with the predictability of Christmas lights. I don’t want my expectations played with by the vague wants of a tender yellow blossom.
The inhabitants of the greenhouse sprout at the same time, blossom at the same time, and bear fruit at the same time. In exchange for this courtesy I give them all the same amount of fertilizer, water, heat and light. Our expectations of one another are quite clear.
The ladybugs are confused. They spent most of the day on the windowpanes. In the evening, they congregate at the reading lamp. They crawl around this way and that. Back and forth, sometimes over each other. They don’t seems to know why they’re inside, or what they want know that they’re hear.
Outside, the ants crawl in single file, evenly spaced, all with the same destination.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
The World, In Fact, Is Round
The snow came in early Saturday morning, had stacked up to about two inches by noon, and had melted by late afternoon. It was a typical Southern Appalachian blizzard.
Days later now, and vestiges remain. Under trees. High on the hilltops. On the side of a ditch. The North facing side of a ditch.
The melting snow demonstrates better than anything else the importance of orientation, and the difference between having the sun in your face or at your back.
On the farm, I know where it will linger. Here is home, and I know my directions. The roads are a different story. Especially the mountain roads. They wind and twist and curve and seemingly loop the loop, and you have to go every which way to get South, or even more to get North.
I lose my bearings, knowing only the relative direction of my ultimate destination. I’m oriented again by a ditch with a single side of snow. Or a barn roof: rust on one side and white on the other. The roads get curvy again, and I have no hope of predicting where the sun will set.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Drip Drip Drip
This is not a story about global warming. This is a story about the sound of water droplets falling from a greenhouse table, steadily and rhythmically, onto the landscape fabric that covers the ground below.
The greenhouse needs to be watered every day. Okay, not every day. It just feels that way. That day is approaching, though. Quickly. As quick, in fact, as the planet spins around the sun. And since I’ve watered it, up until now, when I’ve felt like it, say, once a month, or after a long succession of sunny days, or when I've wanted to, its needing daily care, constant attention and regular watering now is a turning point, one giant leap toward the need for daily watering. That’s when it gets hot.
It’s snuck up on me, I admit. In my mind, it’s still winter. (There’s a fire in the woodstove now; I’ll probably have to drip the faucets on Saturday.) And in winter, you don’t water things.
Well, you do. The sun goes through the plastic and gets stuck in the greenhouse and bounces back and forth against the walls and passes over the plants like a gazillion times. And they dry out. I was in there just today, starting some lettuce seeds. I examined a few of the perennial herbs that have been sitting placidly since I deposited them there in late fall, and the soil was dry.
But no, I watered these last, like, two weeks ago….
The days are getting longer, and the sun is getting brighter, and the cold is getting hotter.
I turned the main valve up at the well. (The lines have to be shut off and drained, ‘cause they’ll freeze. Yes: freeze. ‘Cause it’s winter.) The hoses filled up, and I grabbed the spray wand and let the water fall on the long line of plastic trays. I gave them a good soak, and watered in the freshly seeded lettuces.
There was a sound as I walked through the greenhouse. A sound that carried me to another time and place, though I could not see where. I listened. There was a madeleine on my tongue, but I did not know what reminiscences I was supposed to have.
It came to me, of course. It was the drip drip drip of the water as it drained through the plant roots and the potting mix, as it pooled on the bottom of the flat, as it overflowed the little ridges on the perforated bottom, and fell, and fell, until it hit the ground with its rhythmic plot plot plot, out of a hundred flats. A hundred drips out of each of those hundred flats, ten thousand rhythmic plot plot plots on the greenhouse floor.
That’s the sound of summer.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
In Hot Springs, The Buildings Crumble to the Ground and Imperil the Tourists
They got the crime scene tape out quickly. They had it ready somewhere, clearly. Orange traffic cones were put in the middle of the road, and the tape was run from the Iron Horse Café, out to the cones, and back again. When the trooper showed up, he parked next to the mess and turned his lights on. He turned all of his lights on.
It was the bricks on the very top of the building, the dentil according to an architecture book on my shelf, that crumbled and showered onto the sidewalk. No one yet knows why. Someone speculated there had been an earthquake. “That building is really old” another ventured, as though that was explanation enough.
Perhaps it was. Perhaps quite a bit can be explained by simply mentioning a thing’s age. But I suspect the possibility of stunning natural disaster will still linger in most people’s minds.
The building’s present incarnation is as an entity labeled the Iron Horse Café, and eatery and stayery catering to the seemingly endless supply of tourist dollars. Before that it was a quaint little gift shop full of kleenex boxes and porcelain figurines. You'd go through a back door and cut to the left and you’d get to the old hardware store – that dogleg is part of the Iron Horse, so you can go in from one street and exit onto another. Depot Street. Facing the train tracks. That where you put a hardware store at one time in evolution, where you could unload stuff from a boxcar and wheel it across the street. The old-timers remember when a boxcar full of fertilizer was parked on a siding in late winter, and was sold down steadily as the weather warmed.
That generation is dieing. The need for a boxcar full of fertilizer is dieing. And so, it seems, are the porcelain figurines. It’s a lifestyle, however, that is sought out by the tourists, and they can now rent a room in the establishment they seek. They wake up just where they want to be, but they don’t know it, so they grab a camera and dodge the crumbling façade as they go look for what they slept through.
We lost another one the other day. Floyd was 95 when he went. 95. I knew he was up there, but did a double take when someone told me he was 95. My thought was: there can’t be too many left. Who will be the last one who qualifies as an old-timer? Floyd was a gentleman. He held himself straight up and spoke softly. He had a Faith that was strong and gentle. I once kept a small garden on a spot next to his ancestral farm. His wife and he would drive up periodically and maintain the place. They’d mow the grass – in their eighties then – and dust the indoors. The bed was made and the table was set, though no one had ate or slept there in my lifetime. Floyd would compliment my garden and give me advice. He’d offer me a cold drink of water from his spring. He never spoke an unkind word to me, though I know he didn’t understand my beard or my bare feet or my desire to trellis the beans on bamboo poles.He’d left the farm when he got back from Europe. He first left the farm to go save the world, then went back and got married and moved down the mountain to Hot Springs. He worked at the plant up on the hill. I don’t know what they made back then – it’s gone through so many incarnations. It replaced farming in the lives of a lot of folks, though, only to flounder in these modern days, as manufacturing moves overseas. The agricultural dollar was replaced by the factory dollar, only to be replaced by the tourist dollar. I withhold judgment on this chain of events. I maintain a weakness for a traditional agrarian society, but I know as well as any of its hardships. I welcome the changes in my life, though it is with a tinge of resentment. Where I able to float, I would rise into the sky and watch everything form and melt and form again only to dissolve. I would try to resist the urge to knock bricks down upon it, but I don’t think I’d be able to.