The big hay day

Well dear readers…

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…

Ahem…

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.

Prowell Lawn Services at the ready…

And lest you think I have retired from my day job…

the greater irony of spending an entire day throwing hay around…

is that I have spent the last month doing my best to paint it.

No no, you will have to wait for those pics.

Suffice it to say,
I got PLENTY of up close and personal reference material today.

Now go and make your own dreams come true.

 

 

 


Study for Nightwatch

Study for Nightwatch  –  12″ x 24″

ow 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…

of Vincent.