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.
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.
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.