Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Wind

I had a list of things to do today, but I went out to the garden instead because first, the chorus frogs lured me outside. Then, I thought I'd just go turn the compost. The next thing I knew I had my fleece off and I was pounding away at grass clumps and tossing cutworms over the fence to the chickens.

I've been reading this choose-your-own-adventure garden book before bed lately and I've learned a few things. Now I'm on the lookout for wireworms in my garden. They tend to be in gardens recently converted from yards. I happen to have a garden that is always being converted from lawn. They are reddish brown or orange and shiny little guys with jointed-looking bodies.

They're beetle larvae. Click-beetle larvae, in fact. I love click beetles! Unfortunately, wireworms chomp on root vegetables, especially potatoes, and make them susceptible to disease. I'll bet this is why my potatoes were so sad last year. They were in the yardiest part of the garden. Not this year! Actually, I haven't seen a whole lot of wireworms or cutworms as I've been out there cultivating so far. I'm mostly disturbing earthworms, many more than last year. I love healthy garden soil! I'm a dirt gardener.
I checked this book out from the library. It's now overdue. This is one I might buy. It's comprehensive. Every topic you can imagine is listed alphabetically... oh, so much to learn!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Portrait

In the hot, bright afternoon, I rousted a mourning cloak butterfly from where it was sipping on a pothole in the driveway. I watched red tailed hawks soar circles around a blue sky above the dried-up, rustling fields. I stopped along the roadside to dip my fingers into the soil below the leaning skeletons of asparagus stalks, checking for new growth, taking the pulse of the earth. Bluebirds warbled their hoarse happy songs from road sign perches and telephone wires.
As I pushed little round peas into the cold wet soil of one raised bed, three sandhill cranes flew just over my head, their feet dangling and necks gangling. I heard one whistle in between its croaks. I didn't know they did that. As the chickens alternated between baths of sun and dust, I weeded the spinach, which is perky with new green leaves. I planted four kinds of lettuce, but just a few rows. Sunday's forecast calls for snow.
Tonight there's a single spring peeper peeping over by the ditch that serves as a duck pond in our little camp. Two nights ago the first woodcock was "peenting" out in the front yard, gearing up for a flight display. Spring's been blowing in from every direction lately.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Giddy on the Ides of March

I was under the eaves of the grocery store where I'd locked my bike last Friday when I heard one of those advertisements that interrupts the store's radio station. You know the canned radio stations that push and pull your emotions to make you forget that you're shopping. One minute you're drifting down the aisle in a cloud generated by pop-song sap, the next minute you're singing along to that 80's tune you forgot that you knew every word of. As I unlocked my bike and found a place for the wine among the library books and skeins of yarn in my backpack, a peppy pre-recorded voice informed me that March is "Frozen Food Month." I went home and defrosted a bag of frozen spinach.

But really, it reminded me that this truly is the lean time of the year for local food. I think I just had a beer and a bunch of chocolate chips for dinner. I certainly don't have to eat this way! But I've trained myself to ignore the produce section, with deleterious effects. There isn't all that much promising around the corner in my garden harvests either.

I *did* plant spinach, arugula and radishes last fall and they overwintered. I was pretty thrilled to pull up the plastic and find little baby plants ready to pull down rays from the sun already. I ate a handful of spinach and arugula leaves. Not enough to sustain my bike commuting habits of late.

I'm almost used to this little-raft-adrift-in-the-ocean feeling I've had for the past year. Not sure that I see any land yet. However, my bike routes are getting better and better as I find little shortcuts. I know where to listen for the first peepers and wood frogs this spring. My little garden plot is acting as an anchor. I took a look around recently and I'm *months* ahead of where I was last year. This growing season will be so much easier now that the soil and I are acquainted. And what a thrill to have garlic and spinach and peas doing their little plant things out there so early!

March can be a pretty rough month if spring fever gets ahead of the rising temps and sunshine. I know this was always the longest month in middle school - maybe for students, but especially teachers! This March is off to a wicked mild start.  I just watched a flock of seven chickens get the urge to run clucking in a random direction. They stopped just seconds later and went back to their obsessive scratching and pecking. I think I know how they feel, getting that wild rush of energy for no apparent reason. That's what happened to me yesterday in the garden and now I have 8 cultivated beds and a very well-built compost heap that WILL be hot this spring if it's the last thing I do!

Friday, March 12, 2010



I was out in the flower beds planting my leftover peas so as to fix some nitrogen when the chickens came waddling over. I'm trying to discourage the co-dependency of my neighbor roostr-boy. He follows me around everywhere because I once spent an afternoon tossing him worms over the garden fence.

I ducked inside to discourage the chickens from following me everywhere. I'd love to have a flower bed full of flowers this summer instead of a scratched and plucked desert of nothingness.

So I'm taking this time to post a video of a strange worm I filmed last spring.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Finally, Some Gardening!

  The sun is causing delirium here. It struck yesterday and the entire household (both of us) suddenly rushed to scrounge trays and pots from out in the garden and under the snow. We dug through the piles of seeds stuffed into the corners of the refrigerator. We threw 'bows to score the best spot in the sun to do our pot-filling and seed stuffing. I cut up some of my best "tupperware" to make labels. 
(No leopards were harmed in the making of this blog.)

  I started onions and celery. I'm pretty much certain, after reading all I can find about celery, that it's bound to fail. Maybe I'll at least get close... or know that I never need to try it again. Its ancestor is a marsh-loving plant. It needs steady, plentiful water, rich soils, and Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears kinds of temperatures. I picked the seeds because this variety "takes the difficulty out of growing celery." Perfect! We'll just see.
  The onions are Red Marbles. I found a pile of a hundred marbles in the garden last spring, so I figured... Actually, they are long-day types for northern latitudes, which mean they grow roots and leaves until the days get to their longest, then they focus their energies on the bulbs. They're supposed to be good storing onions.
 The ground is still snow-covered. The bluebirds are singing like crazy in the front yard. The cardinals are noisy too. The woodpeckers are drumming. We're still on the look-out for our first red-winged blackbird here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

When You're 80

I thought that this would be a great day to return to blogging. I'm second-guessing that now. I spent the morning at the dentist and I knew I'd feel like sitting still the rest of the day. But right at the moment the Novocaine is wearing off and the ibuprofen isn't quite cutting it and my eyes are watering just a little. 

I've had a lucky day today, though, because I caught a friend on the phone this morning. She reminded me that in the battle of what you *have* to get done and the things you do because they make you *happy*, you must make time to cut the pragmatism and just follow your bliss. She said she asks herself now and then something to the effect of, "When you're 80, what are the passions, dreams and skills you are going to wish you'd pursued?"

Blog Free February was a small little adventure for me. The snow and sun came on in full strength after Groundhog's Day, making February the bright month of reflection I've come to appreciate it as. I finished some plant drawings and started a figure drawing class. The plant and butterfly drawings were gifts I gave as cards to friends. The figure drawing class reminded me how invigorating it is to learn something new. After the first class I was wound up so much I couldn't sleep. I spent the entire next day drawing. The rest of the week I had a deep sense of calm that I felt was coming from having this drawing life taking shape. Sitting in a meeting, meeting a new person, or dodging crazy Michigan drivers, the calm was there. I spent a great deal of time drawing in February. I also read a few books. I played guitar with my husband. BFF was a success, I think.

I also remembered why I appreciate the blogging world and how blogging prods me to keep asking little questions and seeking out the answers. I really enjoy reading others' thoughts and reflections and seeing small reports of what they're planting, reading, plotting, scheming, and observing. There's a lot of information out there to read and keep track of, so you have to be mindful of how it's contributing to your mood, progress, level of engagement, and overall goals. Taking some time off showed me that I really enjoy keeping a blog and reading others' blogs, as long as I don't get bogged down in the blog. (Blogged down?)  I'm hoping to follow my original intention a little bit more closely in the next coming months, though. I started this blog with the idea of looking more closely into the sources of my food, what it was costing me and the Earth, and finding ways that I could start breaking down my dependence on the industrial food system. I intend to focus on this goal a little more this season.

I've been reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, which I cannot recommend emphatically enough considering that I have learned so much, questioned so many assumptions, and faced many unfriendly realities since beginning it even though I consider myself thoroughly marinated in the issues surrounding our industrialized food system. Pollan is a master journalist. I will write an in-depth response to the book in the next few days, but for now I'm mentioning it because it has rekindled my interest in facing the question "What does it take to feed oneself?" Growing my own food is something I know I'll be happy I spent my time on when I'm 80 for the simple reason that it brings me joy. Many people are gardening these days, for many different reasons. As Pollan's book reminds me, it is very difficult to find our way out of the industrial food web. But there are some really good reasons that we should. As much as I love an ideal, I'm a realist too. I'm hoping I can share some of my experiences in nutritional independence, and maybe we can all continue to learn from one another.