The last few days have been grim. The siren calls from hospital workers, the mounting numbers of casualties, the criminally incompetent leadership from the oval office, the crippling anxiety that washes over us… wave after unrelenting wave.
The last few days have been sparkling. The return of the indigo bunting outside my window, flats of winter seedlings getting their first feel of wind, Finnegan laying peacefully in the sunshine, lazy conversations over the morning kitchen table with my love, and the glorious unrelenting waves… of that brilliant new green.
While I admit to finding myself frozen in my easel chair, not able to summon the creative energy to pick up even the tiniest of brushes, I am showing up every day. I know the Muses are here and I’m listening, but it sounds like static now…loudly buzzing and confusing.
And what I know about that is to get up outta that chair and go outside.
The glorious gift of having Herself by our sides during these stay at home days means Finn and I are at our happiest in our happy place… wallowing in the brightening colors of the studio garden…
My organizer using her superpower…
Anyone who needs or wants some of this plastic just holler…
While she sorted…I planted…
Two rows of peas planted in Ruth…which is a bit spicy to read back…
And…at the end of that glorious day…a bit of well earned sky chair rest…
So today’s painting will be a very early work which honors another of my love’s superpowers…
The Folder – 2000
This is quite simply inspired by my friend Rex. He is a poet. Our histories have walked side by side for over forty years. Our paths have criss-crossed over most of them. Our souls have always been as one.
And it is for Pat, my folder.
Folded things speak well of you when you’re out of the room. They hold the near future captive, like children about to go on recess or sexual pleasure at the brim of control. I think of the pressure of your hand smoothing over the cloth napkin, the bedsheet, the piece of clothing that signals the meal to come, the lovemaking, the spent day — and how you stack the bath towels as high as they’ll go, as a driver well keep the fuel tank near full during times of shortage. I step out of the shower looking to the center of my life, where you have folded it. Creases will have nothing to do with edges: It’s no accident that ledges are ledges and valleys, so far removed from any real horizon, where people most often choose to put down roots and grow. I like to imagine that God, who, faced with formlessness, folded the world into manageable corners, sent me you to repeat the gesture. Rex Wilder
The apprentice patiently awaits our next delivery…
I’m a bit behind. Been putting out insurance fires, medication issues, juggling tax documents, cooking perishables, and monitoring the stock market.
No, are you kidding I don’t know squat about the stock market but apparently I like to watch disasters in the making or the ticking I actually gave over dozens of minutes of my precious life to watching those numbers bounce around in free fall this week.
Mesmerizing, I was interested to learn about the internal brake thing which automatically stops trading. That stopped my heart when it happened in real time. And, because we have a tiny little bit of our savings tied up in those numbers some how…
I quickly took the advice of experts… and snapped right on out of that window.
And went outside. The distractions and emergency shut downs that have shaken our worlds have also put me a bit behind in the gardening department.
I keep a running journal to help me remember what to plant and when. Last year I dug deep, as it were, and invested, with Kory’s help, in building new beds and starting my Ruth Stout Garden, and now I have a journal full of useful information to be going on with.
As we saw in the first ledge post, there was good news to report about the soil under all that hay. Some pics from last season show how I used boxes filled with compost to provide some fertile growing medium while the ground beneath, which had been lawn, was slowly being converted, by the creatures within, to something more conducive to garden ready soil.
Made me happy in this lock downed moment to see all that green again…
At the end of the season we raked all of the remaining organic matter flatish, and made a footpath of wood chips then covered it all with a fresh foot or so of hay.
Where we had compost, roughly chopped up plant material and cardboard…the soil is now beautifully decomposed. There was one area in the back where I only had hay on top of last year’s soil and that is still anaerobic, sticky mud. We’ll see if the potatoes object because I planted some of them in that muck.
Yesterday Herself and Finn and myself enjoyed the ridiculously hot weather…76 degrees…and planted the Greens Bed.
This is what remained from the winter under cover. Beets in the back are probably not going to form but I’ll give them another week. Carrots are in great shape. Spinach which I’ve been enjoying all winter looks better after a heavy cleaning but I’ve got new seeds starting in other beds so this batch, which is very leggy, may be retired.
With 6 typed of lettuce seeds planted and some radishes as well, the whole thing got a blanket thrown over it.
They are just fine as painting models… but seem to be unsatisfied with the sunflower seeds I have been providing them all winter. They found the pea seeds which we had planted on St. Pat’s day and ripped that bed up. So…I threw more seeds in and put up the dreaded tunnel.
Hopefully they will get the message.
In October I noticed they were spending some time in the herb bed. I thought it was to bury nuts but no, they were eating the Chard. Since I had planted that for winter harvest I decided to cover it over. The plants didn’t produce much so I lifted the fleece and let the sun rain down.
The squirrels rejoiced and this is what is left. Eh, it’s time to start new plants anyway.
In that same bed, on the farside, is a magnificent crop of Cress.
It grew uncovered all through our mild winter-that-wasn’t and now it’s feisty and fiery flavor of pepper and spice is a brilliant addition to every dish. Somewhere I read it is one of the most densely vitamin and mineral rich plants. Double the benefits. This is a land cress variety which likes shade. It loves hanging out behind the grape arbor. I’ve got extra seeds if anyone wants to try some.
And so far, the squirrels don’t seem to have cottoned on to this delicacy.
Later on today we will start another flat of the seeds I need to catch up on and some of the hot weather lovers like tomatoes and peppers.
But as for my day job.
I guess it is appropriate to pay homage to some of my more squirrely Muses…
Stay frosty out there everyone…and be kind.
Squirreled Away – 2016
Last year it was the Cardinal, His Holiness Wolsey the basher of windows.
This winter, it was Sir Squirrel, the chomper of walnuts.
He who kept me company, through the snowy storms, perched on the air-conditioning unit, just outside my easel window, flaunting his propitious, hoarding prowess, and watching.
We watched each other actually. Watched out for each other may be more accurate.
When we got that Nor’easter, which dumped 4 feet of fresh snow, on the already whitened studio yard, it took me three days to dig out a path for Finnegan to get to her privy.
I noticed that Sir Sq. had been a no show and made a wee annex to Finn’s run from the arbor vitae to his window perch.
The mere work of a teaspoon, but it sufficed for him to re-surface and check back in to make sure I was ok, and able to lift those tiny brushes after all that shoveling.
Sitting there, sporting new pairs of both snow shoes and sunglasses, and chewing on a particularly prodigious nut, he must have noticed I was looking ever so slightly famished, because, after devouring a full three quarters thereof, he reached out to offer me a nibble…
See, that’s what I’m talking about…
it takes a village.
A Little Night Knitting – 2018
On those long winter nights alone on an island pining for her captain
the rhythmic click click clicking of the long metal needles is heard
as they catch the moon beams dancing over waves
that somewhere oceans away
have lapped along the starboard side of a weathered wooden ship.
As she knits and purls and knits and purls
the tips of those needles wave a tiny patter of light
a private message in a language of their own sweet and sacred semaphore.
It’s beginning to look a lot like fall around here. We have been home a month since our Vineyard visit and Granary Gallery show. A great time and very successful show was surrounded by a warm and positive energy which has been riding in my back pocket ever since.
And we needed that to get through some stressful weeks with a string of those unwelcome but generally benign hiccups that lurch your well laid plans into a different gear…or reverse in this case. Extreme heat kept me out of the garden, silly germs kept us all sick and snotty for Zoe’s camp Gran and Mima, the blue screen of death on the studio computer meant a week of tech gurus replacing one motherboard after another, and then there is…( and here I will allude to, but not elaborate on because I have a strict “NO politics in the studio rule”… the mother of all shit storms that is the current state of the nation and the planet )…but worst of all our dear Finn has been plagued with one infection after another.
None of the usual anti-depressants were working.
Putting all the bags of yarn on the daybed to plan out the coming winter of knitting…didn’t help. Getting out all the spoon carving tools and making pile after pile of shavings on the porch…wasn’t helping. Planting flats of seedlings for the fall garden and weeding out the old for the new…was hampered by the summer’s sauna.
I just couldn’t shake the blues.
As of today, most of those bumps in the road have been worked out but they wore this artist down and sent some old dragons a’ knocking at the door.
Alas, I caught them on the whisper… and realized that in spite of all the things I was trying to do to pull myself up and out of that negative space…what I really needed to do was to get myself back to my day job.
The second I sat down at the easel I felt better…lighter…centered and safe.
I have come to understand that this work that I do, the art that I create, the focus that is demanded of the process of bringing a painting to life…it is all of me. It has become what I am not just what I do. And it has an intense and powerful connection to something that is much bigger and vitally more important than Mercury going retrograde and blowing up the schedule.
It is no longer quiet listening, but a fierce reckoning with truth, and finding where it lives at the core of my soul, and then looking hard for where it lives in others. The closest I’ve come to labeling it is that “common ground”. I catch glimpses of it now and then, like a pixie winking from behind a garden shed. And more often when I stand behind someone studying one of my paintings and watch as they step closer. The noise in the gallery shuts off, and they are pulled in to a very private place. Sometimes, when they step back and notice me, they will take me where they went. Sometimes there are no words. But the recognition is there, between us, that there is some common ground.
I can think of it as a portal. Through which there is a tapestry of threads, more like live wires, and we, the artist and the patron, have found one or two that we recognize as familiar, that are alive in our own paintings as it were, and we come to see that we are not alone.
Well that is starting to get a bit tingly…like I said…the universe..or is it those muses… is shifting things around here in a most unpredictable and frustrating way…which is when I know to step out of the stream and go to a safe place.
OK I’m back now. This started out as a quick peek at the burgeoning fall garden, which is plugging along all on its own tingly threads in spite of the heat and my profound neglect.
And since, I have already articulated that the best place for me to be right now…with a tiny brush in my hand…and not playing in the dirt…I shall simply throw out these pics of this morning’s garden.
Beginning with a before shot of the Ruth Stout Memorial Arch to compare with the opening photo of today’s vining mess. You will see that the black eyed susan vines are finally thriving but the morning glory (mostly on the right) are insane…with nary a blossom.
Here it is again…before
In general I am very pleased with the RS bed experiment so far. I will elaborate in future posts but here are some random updates…
WE HAVE A LUFFA !!!
Finally. You can see how showy this vine has become. It has smothered the tunnel and begun to invade the lower forty…
looking back it is on the right
Here it frames the now almost cleared potato run…as it waddles on over to make an annex out of the old pea trellis.
Back at the far end of the bed you get a whole lot of rotting tomatoes and a fair supply of peppers showered by Pat’s zinnias…
A row of bags and boxes are mostly cleared of the failed onions with some lingering leeks…
Walking outside and into the raised bed area it’s the sweet potatoes that have taken the lead…
Three bags full, they hold some promise but it will be a month or more before I peek. The second planting of cucumbers are fighting off the squash bugs and going strong…
The beans have only now begun to provide enough for a meal for two…
Underneath that tunnel are some newly planted carrots and broccoli …
And the brussel sprouts and parsnips are roaring in the back bed…
On the backside of this very large array is the sad state of the strawberry beds, I am flummoxed at the heavy invasion of grasses and weeds which have taken over every single bed. I’ve weeded this bed intensely 4 times this summer !!! and look at the mess.
Back in civilization…
the new herb beds are doing well…
and the salad bed is once again producing lettuces and spinach…
After taking this pic I pulled a couple of those radishes, and then I yanked them all because I found cabbage worms on each one and a heavy infestation of baby aphids. They all went to the bucket of death. Now Herself can come and pick her lunch in peace.
And that leaves the best part of the garden for last…
Miss Finnegan is starting to feel better. These cooler mornings are just the ticket for a Bernese Mt. Dog. She lays here on the shaded cement and supervises my ramblings while she waits for her buddy to come over and take her for a ride around the neighborhood. Her favorite thing is to turn left out of that gate and jump into the car.
As I write this she and her buddy are getting ready for the tennis finals. Finn lays in front of the TV and as soon as the ball is hit she follows it. She got bored with all those double faults in the match last night but has a special fondness for Nadal, so she’s looking forward to his forehand.
And there we have it. A winding look into the labyrinth that, for my sins, is my world this month.
Now I’m headed to the kitchen for some lunch, and then up for one more cone at Reeser’s, and then back to the easel…
Yours in brilliant blazes of Mexican sunflowers, hovering hummingbirds… and finally flying brushes,
But it started with this sketch drawn last summer on the first night he showed up for duty…
Then came this “Study for Nightwatch”, painted to keep the image fresh in my mind and to play around with the light…
Once I got that worked out, I was ready to go…but… You see I had to wait for the sunflower to grow up.
The back story of this bunny’s journey from early spring garden bed to his position on studio night watch was chronicled in the Painter’s Notes for the study.
I’ve copied them here for you to read… but you already know the ending…
Painter’s Notes for Study for Nightwatch
You know that first warm sunny day when you understand that winter has at least one more round in her but damnation you are going to clean out a garden bed…any bed.
On just such a day last March we both huddled in our warmest fleece, Herself putting her boots up in the sky chair and myself blowing the cobwebs off of my weeding bench, we passed a lovely hour or two warming old bones in the afternoon sun.
I was hoeing away happily when I saw something odd.
Just under the drying stalks of last year’s hyssop was a layer of what looked like fur.
I often throw the leavings of Finn’s coat after her weekly brushings out into the garden or on top of the nearest snowbank during the coldest months
So that was my first guess.
Then the fur moved.
Ok yes, I screamed.
Woke Herself up actually… and then she screamed.
Not ten minutes before while I had been weeding the adjoining bed I had said to Pat… Now I’m going to be really careful because this is where those bunnies were nesting last year.
So…the synapses fired up… and collided.
Approaching cautiously and much calmer now I moved aside the covering layer of dry grasses and peeked under the grey and white blanket of fur…
and sure enough tiny baby bunnies nestled in a hollow the size of a teacup.
Oh the tenders and gawd… I had been hacking away had I nicked one before the discovery ?
I tried my best to restore order to the nest but I had removed almost all of the weedy canopy that had made this new spot seem promising.
So, I added some leaves to the top and found a wide wicker basket and laid it over the nest and offered up a prayer to mother nature for their souls
For the next two mornings I stood over the nest and looked for signs of life. Both times I saw the slightest rise and fall of the leaves and the next day Kory came.
He’s helping me with the yard work and as far as I can tell…so far he has no fears. Ok a slight shimmy in his step when he happens upon a large spider… but otherwise he’s a rock solid go to guy for wild animal taming.
Kory lifted the basket and the leaves and the fur and sure enough there were three living breathing bunnies curled up in their teacup.
As anyone who knows me well will tell you they all got names.
Seeing as they were born in my herb bed I dubbed them, Hyssop and Thyme and Vincent. The last just in the case I had, accidentally mind you, nicked one with the ancient Japanese weeding tool.
A few days later they were gone.
A week after that two of them jumped out of the way of the string trimmer I was just about to swing along the stone edging of the hydrangea bed.
Then, every afternoon for a month, all three showed up at my new bird feeders, which I have moved right outside of my easel window.
One of them kept lingering later and later into the dusk after siblings and squirrels finches and doves had long since gotten into their jammies and been tucked into their beds.
On this night as I was waiting for him the sunset sent extra long low rays through the bottom of the fence and shooting across the tops of the grass.
And like that the bunny hopped into that shaft of light and stood completely still for hours keeping me company as if he were on guard.
Then one of his ears twitched and caught the fading light and I saw the notch.
Now I am waiting for my sunflowers to grow tall enough to pose as the source of those angling rays in the big portrait I want to paint…
Last night I put the very last brushstroke on the final painting for this years’ Granary Gallery show.
Whew. These last few weeks have been an artistic marathon.
Now it’s a sprint to the finish line.
The show opening is August 4th.
The trailer needs to be ready to roll out of here a few days before that, and there is a slew of work that needs to happen before then.
My pals at Artworks, in Mechanicsburg have been busy getting the frames joined for me and we scheduled the delivery for later this week. That gives me a little time to clear some room for them.
So, varnishing, comes first. And it’s summer. The middle of a very hot and humid… and throw a few more humid-ers in there…summer. A while back I invested in an industrial humidifier for the studio. This has been quite helpful for just these type of varnishing days. Controlling the heat and humidity in here means that the varnish dries quickly and evenly and I don’t have to wait for the weather to cooperate, which…being July…it won’t.
After that I can shoot them.
With a camera.
Our business, HN Artisan, Inc. is set up to own the copyrights to all of my work. For all the possible uses of said copyrighted images, now and in the future, which include prints and publications, I need to obtain the best possible reproductions for the archive. And that needs to happen before I send them out and into galleries.
I used to farm this part of the operation out, which was wonderful while it lasted, even though it meant many trips to lug the paintings up and back in stages over the course of several weeks, so that the entire group of paintings was never in one place until the very last few days.
With my dear photographer John Corcoran easing into retirement, I scrambled to work out another option. Technological advancements, and time invested in learning about them, has led me to pick up the photography ball myself.
I’ve had some months to study and experiment with a new camera, fancy lights and another round of tutorials to brush up my Photoshop creds, and so far so good.
But now it gets real.
This year I have done another 8 foot painting, and I have to shoot it, and there is no place in my world big enough to do that easily.
You may remember that last year our pals Matt and Paul came over to attempt to shoot last year’s big panel.
While it was the start of a great friendship, but we had no success in coming up with an archive worthy file.
Over the winter I pondered this dilemma and decided to explore a tip which David Fokos gave me. Having been to my studio, he suggested rigging something up…to shoot down.
Laying the panel flat and suspending the camera above, then moving it in a grid like pattern across the entire panel and “stitching” it together in Photoshop.
Trick to that scenario is that the camera MUST be positioned at the exact same distance from the panel every time the camera shifts.
Long winding internet searches lead me to this…
A cool company, 80/20 makes erector sets for adults, and I got them to cut aluminum square tubing to my specs and then Kory and I assembled this frame. It was extremely difficult to figure out how to make this able to be DIS-assembled but we…ok he…muscled the plastic joints enough times that it can be done.
This has been set up in the garage for several weeks, remember that painting marathon ?, well now that is over and it’s time to step this photography game up.
I went with the aluminum rather than building this out of wood for the higher precision tolerance, that’s an artists’ rather than an engineers’ technical description, to keep the camera equidistant from the panel.
The top bars on this frame have a lip facing up. This was designed so that a small “sled” could ride inside those flanges and slide evenly along the top rails. Here’s a look at the sled and the clamping gear I bought to try and secure the camera to it…upside down.
I will work on that tomorrow morning when it is not 95 degrees out there.
Theoretically, the panel will be placed on the inside of that large frame laying horizontally. The sheet suspended above is to capture insect droppings from the garage roof, no it’s not an ideal workspace for artwork, but it’s the only space I have where I might be able to control the variables which include lighting and distance.
When …IF …I can get this dialed in, then Paul and Matt have promised to assist with the lighting and shooting of said panel. I better throw some more beers in the fridge for that.
So there’s a behind the scenes peek into the studio and the progress towards the big show of the year.
I’ll leave you with some pics of this morning’s wonderfully peaceful garden adventure.
With those hot temps here to stay, it was time to clear out the early spring bed for some heat loving veggies. So down came the pea towers. You can just see Herself hidden beyond the wheelbarrow full of pea plants using her super powers to pluck all of the last pods…I LOVE it when she joins me out there.
AND…the greatest gift …
Turns out the garlic was spared the nasty allium leaf miner after all !!!!
Yes, 100% of the plants are bug free.
The bulbs were smaller than usual, but that may have been a result of the pea towers blocking a good bit of light from them, among other factors.
Only last week I was crying in my suds that for the first time in years I had to ask Pat to by garlic from the super market. It was terrible by the way.
And now…voila… mother nature has blessed our greenhouse with a drying stack of bulbs.
Oh my heart is smiling all over again just writing that.
Ok back to my day job.
Stay tuned…the GG Show drumroll has begun and the lineup of new paintings will hit this blog page any day now.
I don’t want to “bury the lead”…so…Let’s just start right off the bat with the stellar harvest of new potatoes. Yep, those babies are the first success in the new Ruth Stout bed. Be still my Irish heart. I was watering early this morning and checking on the garden progress when I saw that most of the potato plants in the far corner were wilted and looking tired. So, I dug around.
This was the haul from the first six feet of the long 45 foot row which were the very first veg to be planted in all that hay. I’m thrilled to report that the soil there now is rich in organic matter, friable and loose. Last year at this time it was a mucky lawn.
It’s beginning to work !!!
Looking back down that long row you can see that the rest of the plants are still thriving. They were planted 4-6 weeks after those first potatoes.
Looking the other direction, from the gate, today’s potato haul was from the far corner on the right, beyond the squash tunnel. It receives the most shade from a giant maple tree so I am pleased to see the plants are finding a way in spite of that light deprivation.
You can see that the squash are enjoying this spot too…
There were also some not so happy garden moments. Those pesky white cabbage moths have found the brussel sprouts.
Even the ones I covered with this net tunnel…
So I picked off all the tender green worms and sprayed some spinosad and covered them back up. Speaking of covers, the RABBITS decided that the beautiful row of edamame was just right and ate all the leaves they could reach…THROUGH…the rabbit fence. Then they somehow climbed up into the lettuce bed and chomped their way through that crop.
So I tested out a fleece wrapping ala Christo and it seems to have discouraged them…for now.
One fun little surprise was awaiting me in the adjoining bed.
The cucumbers haven’t looked like much was happening…until I looked closer…
I’ll admit that this progress is tiny but the parsnips are up…
The first tomatoes are fruiting and it may turn out to be a good thing that I got them in so late as the really hot weather is only now here in earnest.
Berries by the bowlful every day now…
And everywhere else there is color…
Even the sky chair gets in the act…
The gift of having this corner of the planet to play in of a morning makes for a peaceful start to the studio work day…
But it’s time to pick up those brushes and hunker down at the easel…I have less than a month to put the Granary Show together and the clock doth tick.
The first couple hours of the morning were cool and clear, the calm before this next wave of severe weather moves into our neck of the woods. They just issued another tornado watch.
These pansies were planted for Pat’s birthday in March by Daniel Follansbee. They were moved out of the main flower pots when the warmer weather kicked in…but tossing them in the shady side of the arbor beds has given them an extended life and they were a much welcomed bright spot knowing that I was facing the task of un-planting what the dreaded Allium leaf miner had destroyed.
Every single leek, onion and garlic…over 400 plants which I had so lovingly, and surprisingly successfully, raised from seed this winter have been attacked. They were planted in eight different beds. Even the ones which were grown in the strawbales, far from any of the soil which was infected with the creatures for the past two years. (see that last picture to show the wonderful root structure flourishing in the straw bale bunches in spite of the infested bulbs above) EVEN the ones that I kept under the cover of netting and fleece.
So I decided to yank them in the hopes that this batch may be considered a “catch” crop. The larvae were visible in 100% of the plants, some having reached pupae stage, but all still contained in the bulbs and stems of the plants. They are now corralled and sealed into a plastic trash bag. No way I could ever get them all, but maybe…maybe this will make a dent in the population.
I am going to try one more experiment. One of my garden websites was having a sale on the last of this year’s onion and leek seedlings. So I purchased someone elses’ successful germinating alliums and am going to try and plant them in virgin soil and keep them undercover for their entire growing season. This predator insect seems to have two cycles per year. Another wave is coming. Sounds like my zombie plant game.
In the pics below you can see a similar experiment begun in the RS bed.
The ground beneath all the hay I tossed here back in January was originally lawn. Now it is mud as the hay mulch has smothered the grass growth nicely and begun to decompose. But it will need years of organic matter decomposing to change the composition of that soil so I am testing a primitive solution to grow stuff now.
On either side of the new squash tunnel, ( netting goes over it next time Kory is here), I have placed boxes, open both at the bottom and the top on top of the ground and pulled away the hay to expose soil. Then I added store bought compost, around 6 inches, inside the boxes and am planting directly in these. Idea being that roots have access to the soil below but enough nutrients to assist in growth filtering down into that soil. Everything, cardboard and compost will breakdown over the season and begin to amend the topsoil, but hopefully provided enough fertility to get a crop this year.
I am not completely satisfied that my bunnies will be deterred by the fencing we put up so I threw the netted tunnels over the young plants for added protection.
The plan I am formulating for the new onion seedlings arriving soon is to make up a similar area in the RS bed with boxes and grow bags and compost and then keep them completely covered with netting and or fleece for the entire season. If the flying leaf miners cannot get inside to lay their larvae then…well…theoretically no damage.
If this works then I will be forearmed and have all winter to prepare for next season.
Until then, the little bags of color…
and the first snow pea pods arriving…
are keeping my happy place…happy.
Stay safe out there this week and please take the severe weather warnings seriously.
And a fine good morning to you all from the studio. Yes, it’s been a while since I checked in here on the blog thingy…but it’s SPRING…and I’ve been working overtime both at the easel and…in the garden.
As this life flies by, I have been paying more attention to slowing down.
My vow to spend more time in the sky chair, which swung empty on its swivel hook for most of last year, and to spend more time with my wife, coming home in time for Jeopardy most of the winter, and to let the brushes flow at their own pace, surprising myself discovering new ways to say old truths… and grabbing all the spare minutes in between to play…in the garden.
We have survived the major tree removal project and the sky has opened up for sunshine to reach some areas of the garden for the first time in a hundred years. I am seeing some changes already, especially in the greenhouse corner of the studio yard. Here then is a tour of the very much “working” progress.
Got to start with a glam shot of my favorite day of every year…the opening blossoms of our Chilmark beach rose…with the extra shot of sunshine she will be receiving now we should be treated to quite a show.
Then, the welcome to my garden view…
Wood chips provided by those dead trees.
This corner is tremendously satisfying as the new bed is brimming with salad greens, and beets, carrots, onions and kale coming along. I confess that I have no idea what that tall green veg is…yes I labeled the seedlings but that label read Kale. It looks more like a broccoli thing. I’ll get a better pic and ask for ID help.
Then a few steps further along we have the splendid newly refurbished arbor bed. The traditional herb garden has now been annexed with the greenhouse bed which I planted yesterday with a whole bunch of seedlings that I actually managed to raise to more than the first two leaf stage.
Then we get serious, and very messy.
The spinach bed, planted way back in March, has been steadily producing but the cover came off pronto when it started to bolt way too early. That thin bed on the right had held a crop of winter carrots which I planted way too late. They were producing full heads of greens but the roots were being chomped by some creature so I yanked them. If I can find a space between raindrops today I’m going to add a layer of new compost and plant edamame there.
The bed beyond, with the two pea towers, is an overachiever. The garlic planted there last fall has been, and will remain, covered in the hopes of deterring the dreaded alium leaf miner. Everything else is shooting up. A local garden guru said this has been an old fashioned spring for us. I really feel that vibe. A gradual climbing in temps, increase in rainfall with some good days of sun and no deep frosts. We have turned that corner now and it is wonderful to put the ice trackers away.
Some big progress in the back forty…
We got this new bed, which I am dubbing the Very Large Array, almost finished. Not sure where I’m gonna find the dirt to fill her up but I can hear the carrots and parsnips whispering yes.
And now for Ruth…
This experiment may not look like much at the moment but it’s really fun. While waiting for warmer temps to attempt some planting inside this bed, I threw all sorts of things in the outside bales. Extra broccolini seedlings (I won’t grow that next year…lots of time and space taking flats for Zero return. (some seen here below)
The leeks, and the onions which I nurtured in February… are thrilled to have a home and are soldiering up the perimeter like they were born for the job. Some carrots, kale and extra sage are in there as well as sunflowers and climbers for the Ruth Stout Memorial Archway.
But Potato Row is the star.
All varieties are up now. You can see here how the back wall of hay bales is collapsing into the potatoes. They are on the uphill side of the sloping yard so they have to fight gravity as well as decomposition. I am going to let them do what they think is best and hope that the veg planted in them will overcome the drooping attitude.
There are some persistent weeds coming through the hay all over the bed. I will be using the mountain of wood chips to fill in some walking pathways in here and all over the rest of the yard. It can just be seen out there beyond the fence…which is part of the problem… I need Kory’s help for that but we’ll get her done.
Elsewhere on the estate…
The blueberry bed is thriving.
The much neglected far corner has received a facelift incorporating some Ruth Stout hay mulching with shredded hardwood to tamp down the thready weeds and help establish a new blackberry bed. I saved some Soloman Seal from beneath the pin oak which was taken down at the log cabin and it seems to be quite happy in it’s new home around the maple tree.
And then we swing back down to the easel window, along the rose bed…
A clever shot of the view which the birds and squirrels have of the artiste…from without…
and her view from within…
Some re-positioned birdhouses…
And David’s gazing ball…
and the apprentice telling me that’s enough…get back to work.
She’s right. It’s time to get back to my day job.
I’m having just as much fun inside…working on a new series of a very old house on the Vineyard. We will check in on that a bit later.
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.