Postcards from the Ledge – 5

Oh little Brandywine…you can do it !!!

Bend towards the light
even in this week of storms
be the hope
for us all.

Gotta start with the veg.
A few of the flats are ready for planting out there in the big bad world…but we’ve had days of stormy rainy chilly weather and the little dears just shivered and quaked when I suggested we take a walk outside.

This flat of tomato seedlings is making a gallant effort to feed us, and every glimmer of hope gets a round of applause here in the studio.

Our angels have been checking in…thank you all.

All the many birthday wishes and calls for Herself were overwhelming and she is still smiling from the love.

Our social media platforms come alive with stories of helpers and random acts of kindness which makes such a difference.

Neighbor Sue is preparing a grocery grab and has generously offered to take one for the team of elders and pick up whatever we are running low on.
So, in my standard operating mode of neurotic overlord, I have prepared a list…and a C19 shopping kit…

Masks, gloves, and list organized by aisles and accompanied by photos of specific products.

I know this will make her laugh. She puts up with my crazy in such a kind way.

Bagged and ready for her on the porch it will not see the light of day because our store opens for “Vulnerable Patrons” at 6am.

Bless you Sue. I’ll have that extra gasoline for your mower when next you are ready.

On another note of community connections…
We have heard from a Vineyard friend who winters in NYC.
Worried about all our pals there it was good to hear from her, someone behind the barricades as it were, and to share some quarantine stories. It gets very real at the epicenter on every level. Keeping the lines of communication open just to listen feels important now.

Here in the studio the days have adapted to the waves of crisis and have evolved into a new normal.

Having stayed up later than usual… this week we are immersed in 16th century England as we watch Wolf Hall in companion to my re-listening to Hilary Mantel’s series as I paint. Tidings to her for completing this trilogy in time for the quarantine so I can listen to over a hundred hours of Tudors comings and goings. Ironically ? the first book chronicles waves of a seasonal corona virus like disease that topples much of the continent year after year. Helps me to understand our current medical experts’ predictions…

anyway…up late means rising later than usual.

So, Finn and I have been missing the sunrises and wandering over to the studio well into the morn.

Then we do our news/network and email diving, or I do while she secures the perimeter. Then she settles in to guard the gates and I begin to put out fires which have smoldered whilst we dreamt. Cromwell you influencer you…

This morning’s pile of woe was not virus related but it began last night when I went to print out some reference photos only to find that the new ink cartridge would not fit. After an hour of scratching my head and searching through old orders and googling info it has come to pass that I…with the help of Amazon’s misleading product searching…ordered the wrong replacements. To the tune of hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Ordered in January they are no longer returnable.

Double UGH.

I have since remedied this by ordering an entire new set of inks from a more reputable source, B & H Photo. But being in NYC and in the middle of this crisis, I expect there to be delays in shipping…if they ship at all. This can be worked around and is of course not life threatening but I bring it up here in the hopes that I can find another artist or photographer or company who might have this printer in need of ink for which my cartridges do fit…

The Epson SC-P800

I edited this to include a photo of the correct model.
And I happen to have loads of ink just waiting to fill one out there…

The ink was purchased in January and I’d be happy to sell for a nice discount and ship for free.

It’s a shame to let this go to waste.

Anyway…

the mornings do seem to be given over to managing life in the new world order and soon I hope to be spending those hours in the garden.

With this new normal comes a new goal…
to be painting at the easel by noon.
It is now 11:55 and the board of health has insisted that I take a shower before handling tiny brushes so this is how that deadline slips oh so easily into early afternoon…
and then there are those PT stretches to do…
and the stack of bills
which have been released from their final stage of porch decon to be paid…
and a quick game or three of Mahjong just to let the dust settle…
before looking up at the panel before me
and choosing where to begin.

11:59

Stay frosty out there fellow travelers.

And remember…Tits UP !!!


Postcards from the Ledge -2

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.

Because…squirrels.

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.

Making Art…

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.

AND…

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.


Postcards from the Ledge

Well here we are…

In global lockdown…

Living with six feet of separation…
in the hopes of staying on this side of the garden…
which as you can see has just begun…

And potatoes newly nestled in Ruth’s bed…

I’ve been thinking a lot about how lucky I am, as an artist,
to actually enjoy working at home. Social distancing is my norm.
The creative life is not always lived in isolation, but art often begins there.

Making art is about making sense
of the world around us
and within.

The irony is not lost on me in these early days
when artists of all types
are filling the airwaves
with song
and words
and paintings…

Spontaneous acts of generosity
offering touchstones to beauty
portals of peace
that simply reach out to remind us
of the importance
and precious value
of our common human existance…

for free.

When, for the price of a presidential golf trip,
how many schools could bring back the stolen art and music
education to teach new generations
to make that art.

Maybe that will be one new thing that we change
after so much tearing down that is to come.

So, yeah, I feel very lucky to still be able to walk over
from the log cabin each day
and walk around the studio yard with Finn
as the sun rises over the hill
and know that my easel awaits
and the brushes are ready…

I am very scared.
Anxiety and raw fear
blend with the persistent vulnerability of aging
so that those familiar edges
have now become ledges.

But, so far,
the Muses have not wavered.

They greet me at the door.
Remind me of our new family motto…

Tits UP.

So I’m going to join the chorus
and start sending out little postcards
from the studio.

To share some of what is still
so good in our world
some paintings that speak to me of that
and the constant reminder
that the garden gives me
that grace abides.

Winter carrots harvested to make way for spring peas.

Stay safe
Be well
and take care of each other…

AND…

Tits UP !!!

I begin with Skip…Swan Song – An abstract Chilmark Aria

This is Skip.

One of this world’s truly authentic selves.

A person for whom the esthetics of beauty
is the fundamental element of existence.

Someone deeply connected to nature’s expressions,
who finds art and music and dance
vibrating between all living things,
and whose joyful spirit,
when unleashed,
can fill an island with song.

Over a year ago I asked Skip to model for me.
I had some ideas.
Skip had other ideas.

We met and shared some croissants and coffee,
listened to each others’ stories,
talked about art, and Findhorn, and philosophy,
and listened some more.

Then we set out to seek the muses.
Skip pointed me down up-island roads that were hidden from maps,
we stopped for stone walls,
and wildlife,
wildflowers,
and whispers.

There were stories behind every corner,
pebbles on the road, on Skips’ journey,
and a few on mine, and new ones we were creating together.

Skip is a painter.
And one of the things we talked about was
including one of those paintings …in my painting.
We brought it along, and let the muses decide.

We ended up at the bluff, Camp Sunrise.
A melding of sacred spaces.
The morning sun had risen to clear October skies,
and the meadow was just waking up to the light.

This is the part where I get emotional.

Because the morning sessions I spent working with Skip
studying and working,
in that profoundly familiar space,
was the last time I saw the house,
perched on the edge of the planet,
in all her grace and glory,
before they demolished it.

We all knew it was coming.
The time when nature’s pounding would erode the bluff,
wearing away at the land,
until there was no where else for the houses to rest.

In my island time…
which began as the great gift of knowing Lynn Langmuir,
whose generous heart was deeper than the ocean,
and steadier than her beloved stone wall,
that very wall which wanders through this painting…
over the thirty plus years I have been coming to this bluff,
the chicken coop of a farm house,
had twice been moved back from that threatening edge.

It is hard to imagine,
in this painting,
that there is a 40 foot drop from bluff to beach,
just a mere five feet from the edge of her front porch.

And, still, this old Yankee stalwart ship-of-a-shack,
she stood proud,
holding her own,
and by that I mean generations of the Langmuir family,
and the many who were welcomed by them,
into the embrace of this enchanted space.

But the land…ran out.
And so, while the other, more modern structures
of garage and bunkhouse, were able to be moved
out back and beyond the wetlands,
to the farthest section of the parcel,
the bones of this old gal had been deemed too fragile for the move.

You couldn’t tell, from our distant vantage point,
that while Skip and I gamboled among the stones,
and communed with the muses,
the house had been emptied of all its touchstones.

The old wicker woven lounging chair was gone…
the daybeds stripped of their sleep-softened pillows,
kitchen shelves bare of the pastel colored fiesta ware,
paperback mysteries of Riggs and Craig,
no longer insulating the cubby-holed shelves.

Puzzles and kite string, checkers and cribbage…
amber eyed owls who lit up the hearth,
journals of writings from visiting friends,
with new chapters each year for us all to catch up.

New nicks, and old,
from bumps on the bedroom lintel,
where a hundred layers on the yellow painted symbol of a duck…reminding us to.

The tears in each sink from the iron and rust,
the old brown barn coat ever-hanging
on the white wooden hooks behind the green door.

All these objects, and a hundred more …
they have been the keeper of our memories.

The sunny days, the stormy nights,
we grew up in that house,
on the bluff,
as she grew old,
and, in her weathered-shingled way,
became…
the things we are made of.

This painting then,
for the house,
is her swan song.

Skip sings it for us all,
an aria as abstract
as the tapestry of souls
who have ducked to cross her threshold,
and sought refuge in her wings.

In thanks to dear Lynn…
Peace.


Garden Update – June

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.

Sunflowers and bowls of Vichyssoise to you all…H

 

 


Allium collapse

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.

 

 

 

 


Progress Report…flora

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.

Thanks for slowing down with me for a bit today.

Now go get your hands dirty.

H

 

 

 


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.

 

 

 


Let the garden begin !!!

THANK YOU HOMER…

our CSA pals came to the rescue to help us haul 50 bales of hay to the studio today.

Shout out to Sunnyside Farm…here’s a link to their blog and website.

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.

Which makes me think of …

The Hay Whisperer

Stay tuned and stay frosty out there.


Late to the party

I’m getting a late start today.

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.


Solstice Gardening

A little dirt on your hands…in December ???

You bet.

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.