Today was the day. After a couple read throughs of her books,
and heading down a few you tube rabbit holes… and waiting for the weather to thaw…
Today Kory and I created our very own Ruth Stout garden bed.
Complete with a Ruth Stout memorial archway…
With the ground thoroughly frozen at the start of the day, and mother nature shining a record breaking 65 degrees down upon us by mid-afternoon, everyone was in high spirits to be spending a February day in t-shirts.
I laid out some cardboard and newspaper to define a border and the stories in the Vineyard Gazette will be whispering to vegetables for years to come.
Let the deliveries begin…
After an early morning spent bearing witness for an immigration trial at the jail, my human rights hero, joined us to help supervise…
And one of the best parts of the day was watching how much fun Finn had playing in the hay. I didn’t get a good picture but she had such a big smile on her face…as if this fluffy soft bed was just a big gift for her.
Early on Kory could see that the ground was thawing rapidly so he made a lovely path…
By lunchtime we had almost two thirds completed.
Ruth recommended a good 8″ of mulch. She used spoiled hay because it was cheap since the farmers couldn’t feed it to their animals. After trying to find a ready source of that around here I decided, as you will recall from my last post, to use the regular bales available at our local supplier…thank you again Homer.
This chronicle is not meant as a how-to, interested gardeners will get much more pleasure out of reading Ruth’s own words of wisdom. I CAN report that there has already been much eyebrow raising, and not a little “mansplaining” from those who have heard of my plan.
Ruth had much to say about that…
“Naturally the neighboring farmers at first laughed at me; for a few years they doted on stopping in in the spring to ask if I didn’t want some plowing done. But, little by little, they were impressed by my results, and when they finally had to admit that the constantly rotting mulch of leaves and hay was marvelously enriching my soil, they didn’t tease me anymore. On the contrary, they would stop by to “have one more look” before finally deciding to give up plowing and spading and to mulch their own gardens.”
Originally I had planned to use straw bales as a border, which would provide some structure to run wire rabbit fencing all the way around and then available, directly upon disintegrating, to be tossed onto the mulching bed.
But we had much more hay than we needed to start out with so Kory used hay bales along the back edge and Him and Herself fetched another couple truckloads of straw to line the other sides. The straw is cheaper and won’t break down as fast as the hay, but all of it, as I repeat myself, will eventually be tossed onto the bed to provide the continuous mulching required to build the soil.
Fun fact…In the past years, when I was experimenting with strawbale gardening, it was quickly discovered that a fully grown studio rabbit is just the right height to reach up and nibble the tenders growing at the top of a bale. A bit of wire fencing was enough to decide them that there were other delicacies requiring much less work elsewhere in my yard…and several of them have been quite happy enough with that arrangement to pose for me in between noshes…
Some tossing techniques…
It was simply a glorious day to be outside making those January dreams come alive..
Even though our entire yard is on a sloping angle, this section of the studio yard is full of underground springs and is a devil to mow because it’s a swamp on all but the driest days. One of the benefits of this mulching method is that there should no watering needed. Ruth described setting out a small lawn sprinkler only to give seeds a head start.
Time will tell if the mulch will be happy as happy as the rabbits with this arrangement.
By three o’clock we had finished the large bed, hay mulched a nearby flower bed as an experiment, put straw down between all the raised beds to make muddy spring passage a bit easier, in addition to Kory tackling all of the chores Miss Pat had on her to-do list.
The finished bed…
Kory replenished the firewood stack on the log cabin porch, and now we can sit back with our feet up in front of the fire and wait for winter to rain and snow on this creation and for all those lovely earthworms and critters to wiggle their way into Finn’s fluffy bed.
I figure we made a loosely consistent 18″ or so blanket of hay and built a 15 x 50 foot bed.
I also figure there are more of these warm weather breaks ahead, and I have a large pile of leaves which we can chop up a bit with the lawn mower and toss on the RS bed (that pile is frozen now). And from now on all of the garden waste and grass clippings will go on there as well.
I’ll still keep the compost piles going. We had great success last season sifting many wheel barrows of that home grown gold. The existing raised beds were put to bed with that gold in the fall so should welcome rotations of deeper root crops this year, and most of the leafy greens and such.
Our next project is to replace one of the first raised beds I built, the bottom boards are rotting away. So it will be just the place for a keyhole garden. Oh yes, I am. I’ve designed it to use the same galvanized corrugated aluminum which we used to repair the walls of the asparagus bed last year. With some tweaking and design updates I’m hoping to improve on our first attempts and make a more permanent structure that can double as a cold frame for winter greens. Stay tuned for more on that.
Expectations for the RS bed this year are low because of the time it will take to break all that hay down and begin to build a nutrient rich soil. Others who have tried this report it took a year or more to begin to have soil that would support deeper root crops. OK, so I will be planting potatoes. Ruth just pulls back her mulch and throws them directly on the ground and piles the hay back on top. Pretty much the way I’ve been growing them for a couple years so there ya go.
Gonna also try onions and leeks, brussel sprouts and kale, shell peas and edamame, and a big section of squash. I sow all the seeds I can fit in the studio and the greenhouse so I may start most of the RS bed plants by pulling back the mulch and adding a couple of inches of composted manure and peat before planting the seedlings.
And don’t forget that strawbale border can be planted in as well. Maybe with marigolds and nasturtiums with onions and turnips in between. And a cascade of morning glories for the memorial arch.
Ahhh, what an absolute bliss of a gift this day was.
Thank you Kory for all that you do for us. These two old ladies are so grateful.
They are about 12 minutes from us and besides being fascinating humans, Dru, Homer and Claire, on their Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) farm, harvest acres of veggies, chickens, turkeys, beef, pork and gorgeous flowers. I’m sure that’s not the complete list.
We can’t live without their eggs and are thrilled that they have convinced the girls to keep laying throughout this winter ! They have local farm pick up once a week and drive to markets in Hershey and Maryland on a regular basis. Check them out to support your local farmers.
Today they supported us.
You’ll remember reading on this blog recently of the Ruth Stout garden I’m going to establish this year. I’ll be adding regular updates to share the process but today is the beginning.
I’ve got three flats of leek and onion seedlings well on their way. They are soaking up the sunshine in the studio patron lounge and will soon be joined by the cold weather startups like beets and chard and carrots when the annual Valentine’s Day studio sowing takes place.
This hay wants to be on the ground yesterday, so I’ll get to enjoy the coming warmup as I toss these bales around.
My frantic mind had settled enough to let the sun come up without my help, which gave the overnight coating of sleet enough time to begin to melt, and sorting the box of newly arrived garden seeds was a most pleasurable task to begin with, then a walk to the compost pile turned into a bike ride in the greenhouse, which lead me to Ruth…
(photo credit Mother Earth News)
Ruth Stout. The other party to which I am late in coming today.
Arriving at this sixtieth decade I seem to be only just now stumbling across the paths of quite a few amazing humans. This week it is Ruth. Or was, as she left the planet after 96 years of living here, back in 1980.
I’ll bet that most of my hard core gardening friends are smirking as they read this having known of Ruth and her simple ways well before my stumble…Ruth Herself didn’t throw away her tillers and pesticides until she was 60…so there ya go.
The evolution of my own gardening life saw me give away a brand new tiller a few years ago after learning about building better soil by letting the critters do the work..and I know many of you followed along as I adopted Joel Karsten’s Strawbale method which I have been experimenting with for about 5 years now… and that has morphed more recently into my latest guru Charles Dowding’s No Dig compost only beds which Kory has been helping me build and tend.
Well move on over and pass the hay… it’s time to quit working so hard and strip down to the essentials.
I’ll let you enjoy this introductory video… for those who are not smirking, and you can google down this rabbit hole to your hearts’ content… because it’s time for me to lift some brushes… but before I go… here’s a little teaser of a nod to my favorite part… she gardens in the buff. Yes. Yes.
I’ve been watching the forecast like a hawk and we’ve got a slight warming trend for the next week or so…averages above 40 and near 50 degrees. And coupled with the sunshine Finn and I headed out this morning to soak up some of that vitamin D, and I thought you’d like to join us.
In the photo above you can see those beds which Kory and I tucked in for the winter. The two in the foreground have some plantings and a cold frame. Let’s take a peak…
Under that tunnel on the right is an earlier fall planting of carrots. I invested in those tunnels for the first time this year and they are terrific. The manufacturer is Haxnicks. I went just now to Amazon to find a link but they only have the fleece version. The one shown here has a poly netting. Very sturdy and allows a lot of light in as well as terrific insect protection. They also make a heavier shade version which I’ve used with great success in deep summer heat. I’m using this one to cover the carrots and provide a structure over which I can drape a heavier plastic sheeting for insulation. We’ve had weeks of sub-freezing temps and so far they are not dead…so that’s a win.
The mini greenhouses, one shown on the left, are new this year. They fit the bed perfectly and I anchored them to the wooden frames for extra security. I did find that link…click here. (Actually I just checked the link and it is not the exact one shown above but it is the same manufacturer. Might need to do more surfing than I have time for right now to find the right one.)
So far I love them. I had a larger version of them years ago and, in the warmer winters, it gave me a full extra season of growth for kale and chard and even some pop up spinach volunteers.
You can see this swiss chard, planted last march, is still going strong and is my go to smoothy ingredient.
Today it was time to experiment with the second one I bought, and so the flat of seedlings which have been keeping me company inside the studio were ready to rock and roll…
I popped out a few of the kale and Hakuri turnips and out we went…
My theory is that this one may be warmer than the other as it is sheltered from some of the winds by the greenhouse which may also throw back some warmth from the south facing sun.
Here you can also see the easy access from the zippered panels.
Boy did it feel great to sit on my garden bench and hold the Hori Hori knife, and just like that they were planted. I have zero expectations that newly planted seedlings will make it planted this late but I live in hope these days.
It wasn’t in the original plans, but I thought adding one of those tunnels here might give an extra layer of warmth, and it worked out perfectly as a support for…
Yep…the christmas lights.
Somewhere I read of a gardener putting a string of lights inside a cold frame to add a tiny bit of heat during the night. Why the hell not. I can never get enough of christmas lights.
I’ve put the compost thermometer in there so I’ll have some idea of the comparison between the two covered beds.
As you can see, a solid 43 degrees before I covered was promising.
And here we are all bundled up and ready to grow…maybe.
It’s a sea of mud out there now, and shortly after I wrote last week’s post those pesky Muses actually did show up and have made up for my basket of angst by hurling half a dozen new and sparkling challenges my way.
So…as Finn conquers…it’s time for me to get back to the easel…
But Oh My Goddesses did it ever feel good to be out working in the garden on this almost Solstice day.
Beautiful December sunrise light bouncing all around us as Finn and I made our icy commute from log cabin to studio. She opted for an early morning nap while I sat at the kitchen table and clicked the knitting needles and gave the muses plenty of open space.
Last night I put the last touches on a portrait of my pal Peter. It was wonderful to come over these last few days knowing I would be spending it with him. But now, time to move on. Usually, and by that I mean 99% of the time, by the time I am winding down one painting there are at least two or three others competing for the easel. But by the time Herself came over mid-morning she found me roaming aimlessly around the studio…still pondering.
We sat together at the table and she listened as I rambled and a few ideas did start to pop. She reminded me to write them down, so I made some quick doodles, and the energy lifted. She left to do some shopping and I sat down at the computer and began playing with some of the thousands of photo references on file.
At sixty, I know that it takes more than a list of subjects, or a collection of still life objects to start working on a composition. In order to sustain the energy required to give my total attention, over the course of the days and weeks it takes to create a painting, I must feel the spark. My way in. It can be the challenge of a new subject, or the challenge of rendering a familiar subject in a new way, or a particular emotional connection, or the whimsy of finally telling the story behind a few words, which held the promise of a great title, and had been scribbled on a, now well worn and dog-eared, slip of paper taped to the easel.
I KNOW it when it clicks… and so far today… nada.
I keep telling those who ask, that being a mature artist means I know when to get out of my own way. After six hours of sitting here at the computer scanning for that spark, and sketching and re-working a new composition which I originally had thought was going to be a sure winner, one which would be easy to tweak and get to the panel quickly…I can see now how I fell right down the rabbit hole and into that old trap..quite firmly planted directly in my own way. If the muses don’t show up…there ain’t gonna be a ball game.
When Pat came home from her errands I was hopelessly lost. I explained what I thought the problem with that composition was and asked for her fresh eyes. Eh…no sparks on her end either. So, I threw in the towel and decided to pour my vapid thoughts all over this page.
What I’ve come up with, whilst writing, is that this current crisis of creativity is yesterday’s problem.
I’ll set the stage…
I had an hour to fill while I waited for Katie’s Women’s Study class to call me for a facetime thingy…something about which I was very nervous. They had been in the Granary Gallery last week using the artwork there as fodder for a discussion about gender in art.
Here’s a shot, which I believe one of the gallery associates took, of them studying my painting, Celeste envies Ruth.
After their sojourn, Katie thought it would be interesting to pose their questions and thoughts directly to the artist. I got a tutoring session on how to make the technology work and we scheduled a date.
So, while my nervous self was waiting for the phone to ring yesterday morning, I picked up a pencil…and BAM the Muses snuck up behind me, grabbed the pencil and in minutes they had fleshed out one of those old dog-eared notations-of-an-idea which had laid dormant, after several failed attempts to work out a solid composition, on other fractalled days like today when I had tried to show up for work without them.
You probably won’t see what I see here, but this is the sketch…
Five minutes later the phone rang, and I had a grand old time answering their questions and listening to their thoughts. I particularly loved them pondering which apron was Ruth and which Celeste, and their takes on why. They sure left me thinking, and that may have been why the Muses were exploring their own interpretations of gender roles in art.
Originally I had just a title, A Boston Marriage.
I’ll leave it there for now, it’s entire evolution won’t be complete until this fat lady sings… but armed with this new sketch, and the lingering energy of the collective Woman’s Studies class, I was eager to get to work.
I already had my models in waiting…and waiting..and waiting…since I first approached them with this request over two years ago. And we have plans to see them for dinner this weekend…but scheduling modeling time now that the Muses have arrived means postponing the fun of digging into this painting for potentially days or weeks.
And there you have it. I needed a workaround. Alas, I stepped all over the creative flow with today’s failed attempts to “fill in” the gap between that project, for which I have found the spark, with something equally compelling that will be the work of days rather than weeks.
Frustrating to waste one of these precious days when I have nothing but lifting brushes on the agenda. This month has far too many interruptions on the calendar to allow me to pull up the drawbridge. That will happen the minute the new year bells chime.
So, rather than call this day a complete wash, I have now used you dear readers to help me work through this…
And Herself, who has just texted me this from her snuggly sofa in the cabin…
“What painting are you working on ? Asking for a friend (insert red heart emoji)”
My response… I’m writing a blog about NOT coming up with a painting idea.
Not sure if it’s the finch or her perch but this tender glancing gesture reminds me of a little poem by Micheal Longley…
after the irish
she is the touch of pink on crab apple blossoms and hawthorn and she melts frost flowers with her finger
“There are no secrets we keep from our shoes.” – 16 x 20
Always willingly, but quite unknowingly, Zoe helped me tell a story which I’d been wanting to tell for many many years…
Shortly after his wife Polly died my pal Ted brought down from the attic tied together with one sturdy twined string a pair of purple suede pumps, saying Polly had wanted me to have these.
Then he told me the story that, when on a trip to San Francisco, they had bought this pair of shoes for a special occasion and Ted, being Ted, had gussied them up with some sparkly silver painted swirls and they, the Meinelts and their shoes had danced the night away.
When it came time to pack for the trip home the shoes wouldn’t fit in their suitcase. So, Polly being Polly, she slapped some shipping labels on the soles tied them together with that twine and dropped them in the closest US Mail box.
In gifting them to me I understood that the torch of a challenge had been passed.
Over the years the sparkle paint has faded but the purple of those pumps has kept on popping that story into my creative consciousness.
Along the way, and true to form, the Muses threw a title down like a gauntlet…
While listening to Alexander McCall Smith’s The #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, a perennial studio favorite, the character Mma Grace Makutsi, she who graduated at 97% in her secretarial class, utters the line.. “There are no secrets we keep from our shoes.”
The context is a bit complicated to explain and if you’ve read this far in these painter’s notes then you probably are already familiar with the conversations Grace has with her shoes, and if you aren’t then you are in for a treat as I believe there are up to 19 books in that series now and no, I cannot remember well enough to credit the exact volume in which this line appears, apologies to Mr. Smith.
What is relevant for our story here is that I stopped the flying brushes and wrote that line down on a scrap of paper which has made the cut on every list in each sketchbook since of what I want to paint next.
So… when Zoe was visiting the studio last summer and she had emptied the drawer of all the aprons and had carefully tied each one of them on one on top of the other, and she asked if I had any shoes to go with her outfit…
well there ya go.
It wasn’t until she took a break from all that cooking and collapsed with a hrrrumph into the comfy easel chair and propped up her exhausted and aching feet and the muses veritably SCREAMED at me that I…finally…had my way in.
I don’t know whether this train will take her all the way to Botswana but I know with all my heart that in her dreams… those shoes are dancing.
The studio stack of ready to roll panels is dwindling…
( Drawing credits to Daniel (top) and Rose (underneath) Follansbee )
And so it’s time to get out the magic 8 ball, no I don’t have one of those even as a prop, and try and guess what sizes of panels I might need for paintings that I haven’t even thought of doing yet.
I have a few big panels already made up, but I’m giving myself a wee break from working on those huge compositions…they take a physical toll as well as a mental one, and this old artiste needs some time to rebuild both body and soul before tackling the next one…or two.
So, I made a plan to carve out some small and medium sizes.
Kory helped me clear out the garage last week, what a mess, and this week he stepped into the roll of apprentice to give me a hand with stage one…cutting the panels out of 4′ x 8′ sheets of Dibond. We uncovered 5 full sheets and I decided to save one for that odd size which I don’t yet know I need.
I’ve written about the panel making process, and the use of Dibond, in three earlier blog posts, one all the way back to 2010. You can read them, if you’re interested, by entering Dibond in the search box…see it there at the top right of the website page ?
We managed to get most of them cut…before noticing that some of the lines and edges were skewing. This happens no matter how carefully I measure and clamp and hold the jigsaw. My professional picture framing experience has made me a master of the art of measurement, alas, even with cutting guides, stronger clamps and an even stronger set of assisting arms, my set up isn’t ideal for perfection.
And, at this stage especially, perfectly squared corners is a must. Further down the road, once these panels hit the easel, and I start figuring out perspective, on something like this composition for example…
I’ve got to trust that at least one corner is true so that when I use a T-square to draw the sketch on the panel, I can get all these horizontals and verticals to line up with each other in a convincing enough way that you, the viewer, forget about them. I want you to trust that these beams are as solid and sturdy as the original joiners intended, so that you can feel safe enough to walk around in that workshop and study what I really wanted you to experience…the light on those beautiful fibers.
So, if you are aiming for perfection, and you find some fatal flaws in the production, it is best to stop and fix them then and there. I am personally blaming, in no small part, the nine thousand percent humidity that drained our batteries pretty quickly in that stuffy garage. Years ago I stole the line from the yayasisters movie…”I’m puddlin’ here”…this was more like a tsunami.
After re-squaring up a stack, I realized tomorrow’s another day Scarlet, and availed myself of the air conditioning here in the studio office to set about cooling down and restocking my supply of canvas, which is needed for stage 2.
Years ago I did an exhaustive search for the best canvas on the market. Every artist has an individual preference for a painting surface and mine was the smoothest possible. I wanted the durability and flexibility of a richly gessoed canvas without the bounce and weave. The Dibond gave me the best man made substructure, and I settled on Joe Allen’s Portrait grade 10oz Army Duck (see roll in photo above) to wrap around it.
Unprimed, and smooth as silk, this canvas is sturdy and pliable, it wraps beautifully with just enough bulk to avoid fear of tearing, and it comes in manageable 60″ rolls. I order a couple rolls at a time to save on freight and when I did the calculations and I figured that I would be dipping into my last roll I knew it was time to reorder. But when I went to place my order on line there was a glitch. So, I called, got a recording and sent an email inquiry.
This morning I got a response explaining the quirky website glitch was just that and one more click would get me sorted. But there was also the sad news that Joe had died just a few weeks ago from a fast moving cancer. His wife Jacqui said that she and their son Justin, who she notes is “now the artist in the family”, will be attempting to keep the Canvas supply business running.
I never met Joe in person, but remember him as most accommodating, and pleasant to do business with and that kept me coming back over the years. He went out of his way to help keep the costs down as these heavy rolls have to be trucked all the way from Texas.
Jacqui has just written back to confirm the order, and in keeping with that tradition of kindness, has offered some alternatives to help save me some money on current shipping costs.
I wish them all the best as they navigate the business and their lives in the coming years.
If you are in the market for a superb quality product, fine salesmanship, need to restock your studio shelves, or want to try out something new…give Allen’s Canvas a shout. They are even having a sale right now.
Meanwhile, back here in the studio, there actually seems to be a patch of blue sky out there. Maybe that will drive away some of the humidity, maybe not. I’m giving the garage a pass today let my lungs clear out and give my flaring knuckles a rest…I’m going to play with the tiny brushes and watch the birds outside at the feeder.
I’ll try and chronicle the next step of the panel making process so you can see how that goes…in the mean time stay frosty out there.
While I sit here in the studio, awaiting the plumber, who will help me address the water which is pouring out of a busted pipe in the basement below my feet.
These unexpected pauses, jolting the daily drive train of a creative workflow, still unnerve me… there are decidedly a scarce few things which fill me with more dread than having to go down to the basement.
But, with Pat’s steady backup, I have conquered that stage of the drama and the power has been cut off from the errant water pump and, as I mentioned, the trusty plumber is on the way.
Which gives me that rare moment… the unexpected pause between crisis and resuming of normal play and I am filling this one by paying forward a gift.
Last night, after a long day, a message popped up on my phone from one among you who are followers that I have never met, but whose name I recognize from the occasional gift of a “like” response to a posting here or there.
She wrote that she follows my work and she had read a poem which, for some reason, made her think of me… Pat looked at me from across the sofa and asked why I was crying… I read the poem outloud, and we were both in tears.
So this pause is by way of a thank you to K, for stopping to share the gift of this gracefully moving beauty and her own kind words, and to remind myself to take a deeper breath and let the muses take the wheel today.
The Vineyard Gazette had a photo, which I can no longer find, of someone hanging the sign on the Derby Headquarters along the Edgartown Harbor. That photo, which I still can not find even on line, reminded me of the day I spent this winter painting a teeny tiny replica of that very sign.
I was able to find a replacement photo for you, courtesy of the MV Times files, which was attributed as…Derby weigh master Roy Langley rings in the Derby in 2015. — MV Times file photo..sorry I can’t credit the photographer.
I also found a reference to Mr. Langley in the 2017 Derby Souvenir Booklet which is available to read on line…click here. There is a nice tribute to him, written by Ed Jerome, on page 96 as Roy was retiring his morning weigh in duties, which mentions that, “at the age of 89, he (Roy) will no longer place contestant’s fish on the scale to be weighed. However, he will continue to gather morning baked goods for volunteers and coordinate the disbursement of the fish to the Senior Citizen Filet Program.”
Everything I love about the Vineyard is in that sentence.
So, back to that painting…
You remember this one ?
Here’s a pic of me working on that derby sign…
Let’s zoom in a bit…
Keep your eyes on the left hand side …
It’s a bit tricky to read, which is why I hunted for that stock photo, but here’s the closest I can get you…without standing in front of the painting with a magnifying glass…
My sign is about a quarter inch wide. The door is closed between morning and evening weigh-ins, but the rods were reeling away at the public wharf…a little further over to the right…
This painting, Anchored in Autumn has found a new home this week. Reports are that it may even be able to catch its own glimpse of the harbor from the new resting place.
We are making plans to return to the island soon, and I’m looking forward to finding a spot on the bench alongside the Derby Headquarters and parking there with my sketchbook to collect some notes as the winning contenders are brought in to be recorded.