Tansy Dance, Pasture Parties, and Br’er Rabbit

We are just back from two wonderful weeks in Italy (sunshine, food, seashores, food, music, food, art, food…) with a group from Portland’s All Classical radio. Casting a loving eye over our little farm, I immediately espied an infestation of Tansy Ragwort. Ugh. I do realize it must have been there before we left, but until it raises its bright, happy, bad-smelling flowers, you can miss it in a pasture.

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Pretty, isn’t it? It’s an invader, though, and can kill livestock in grazing fields. Tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobaea or Jacobaea vulgaris) is native to western Europe, arriving here in the 1920s. By the 1950s it was a terrible scourge, killing thousands of livestock animals who fed on contaminated hay. Pasture lands across the west were golden with its late summer blooms.

Time out for terminology: Senecio jacobaea, commonly called tansy ragwort (or just ragwort, or ragweed, or stinking ragweed, or stinking nanny/ninny/willy, staggerwort, staggerweed, or stammerwort, dog standard, cankerwort, mare’s fart, cushag, benweed, bunweed, bundweed, beaweed, bowlocks, curly doddies, or curly head, kettledock,  slavewort, fizz-gig,  felonweed, stanerwort, or yellow perils)

Illustration Senecio jacobaea.jpg (This image is in the public domain because the copyrights of the original work of art have expired. It is a reproduction of a painting by the Swedish botanist C. A. M. Lindman (1856–1928), taken from his book(s) Bilder ur Nordens Flora (first edition published 1901–1905, supplemented edition 1917–1926?).

is not the same weed as Tanacetum vulgare, Common Tansy,  or bitter buttons, cow bitter, golden buttons…

 This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923. It is a reproduction of a painting by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840–1925)Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz

which is, all on its own, a fairly noxious, invasive plant from mainland Europe. This one has historically had some medicinal and culinary applications. It is still listed by the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for fevers, feverish colds, and jaundice, and has been used as an insect repellent. Tuck it round you in your coffin to ward off worms.

That may be about enough on the distinctions of tansies, but you can clearly see the problems with naming. Look for the raggedy leaves to spot ragwort.

Beginning in the 1960s Senecio jacobaea was greatly controlled through the introduction of insect predators: the cinnabar moth, the tansy ragwort flea beetle, and a seed head fly. Unlike so many well-meant introductions of species intended to control others, this one seemed to work, and not to have unforeseen negative consequences. Farmers and university scientists believed tansy ragwort had been all but annihilated.

But now, the climate has changed. We’ve had some weather recently that pleases the tansy ragwort, and is not so salutary for the cinnabar moth and her friends. The clever, patient tansy ragwort has taken the opportunity to surge into prominence again. It’s interesting that while horses and cattle fall to the toxins in tansy ragwort, sheep are unaffected. Our sheep could safely graze in an invaded field. But, though sheep have been suggested as a biological control for ragwort (Journal of Range Management), I have noticed that if there are alternatives, the sheep disdain it. So I was out there yesterday lopping and bagging flower heads and pulling the stems from the ground. The idea is to get it before it does this:

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While I was cutting and pulling and sweating, I noticed the resident gophers have been partying again. I see this mostly in spring when they turn up all kinds of pottery and glassware in their mounds, signs, I believe, of their tea times and other imbibings underground. I imagine them celebrating their own waking to the season and their lively romantic carryings-on.

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Sometimes I am surprised at remnants of what must have once been treasured pieces of fineware. It seems gophers are none too careful with their belongings.

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But yesterday I truly blinked at what came up from below: a substantial length of plumbing pipe and joint ejected from the household to the surface, along with a piece of broken window glass.

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What on earth, if you’ll pardon the phrase, can be going on down there?

Having filled my quota of feed sacks of ragwort heads, I thought it was time to gather some blackberries in the afternoon. They’re just coming on here, with those big stem-end first berries scenting the summer air.

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It’s another nasty plant, really, the Himalayan blackberry. “Invasive and difficult to control,” say the university websites. That does not describe their savage attitude toward passersby. But I believe that if your landscape is overtaken by a fruit-bearing invader, you might as well make the best of it. I rummaged around and found my milk jug with the string attached, and headed out to the sticker brush.

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Do you remember the story of B’rer Rabbit and the Wonderful Tar Baby?  Do you remember how the worst, the very worst thing he begged not to happen to him when Br’er Fox caught him one day was to be thrown into that briar patch? “Please!” he begged. “Do whatever you want to me, hang me, skin me, cook me, pull off my legs and ears, but please don’t throw me in that briar patch!” So, being that foxes and rabbits are always fussing with each other (in the 1888 Charles C. Jones, Jr. book Negro Myths from the Georgia Coast Told in the Vernacular, it is a Wolf, but the relationship is constant), Br’er Fox did just that thing. He threw that rabbit right into that briar patch. Where, it turned out, Br’er Rabbit was most happily at home because that was where he was bred and born, right in those sticker bushes.

I remind us of this tale only because, I might say, not everyone is comfortable when they end up tossed into the briar patch. Picking berries I made a small misstep, and the branches beneath me weren’t there, and I tumbled right into Br’er Rabbit’s house, and I did not like it one bit. There is nothing to do but save the bucket of berries as you are going down, and then prickle yourself out as carefully as you can.

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I wish I’d been that rabbit.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 12:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Woods Walking on a Snowy Afternoon

A snow day off from work calls for a walk in the woods. I took two today, one in the early morning, just after feeding the animals, when I could look back at a moment of clear sky in the west.

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And one in the afternoon when, though a certain gloom had fallen over the woods and the snow was just beginning to assert itself, I couldn’t stay inside. Like a little kid on a day out of school, I put on my boots and hat and headed out again.

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I found I wasn’t the only one walking in the woods. The beginning of a snowfall, before it’s deep enough to hide the evidence, offers all kinds of clues to who shares the woods.

Here, in the morning light, are the tracks of a rabbit heading into the brush.

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And nearby, the skittery  footprints of some little rodent making her way across the path.

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Bird feet, two by two, hopping, hopping:

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I have to admit, some of us leave less elegant notes on our passing:

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But now, sound the doom music, the rumbling kettle drums, the minor chord of danger nearby…

A coyote makes his way uphill through the snow. See the marks of his toenails ahead of the pads. Imagine him moving along the trail he knows so well, sniffing the air…

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His tracks run in a straight line, trotting through the woods except for evidence of a moment when he paused… To whiff the scent of prey just missed? To scratch?

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Here, a crossroads: rabbit and coyote. Which passed first? The coyote follows the cleared track. The rabbit keeps to the brush except for a half dozen hops to the other side.

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just like the bird who crossed here:

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The bird has the advantage of flight if caught in the open. It seems that, on this occasion, the two shared ground but not time.

Oh, and back home again, we have Brer Cat, who had emerged from his briar brush to inquire whether meal service had arrived.

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It had.

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Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 3:52 pm  Comments (7)  

Gone in a Gust

13oct_fallcolor_smUsually, it is a gentle slide through September to the chills of October. A bit of briskness in the mornings, an evening when you want the warmth of sweater sleeves, the scent of leaves decaying at the margins of the driveway, and you become aware the season is drifting away from summer into autumn. But this year, on the very day of the Equinox, as if a switch were thrown, September slammed the door on late summer and flung itself into early fall. A friend sent a note saying the first windstorm left two trees down across their driveway. Smoke hangs over the woods and pastures as woodcutters begin to burn their slash piles. Mud lies in the track through the woods.

But, true to the nature of the season, we are just now in a span of gorgeous autumn days with early chill and afternoon sun, and I have to say, as much as I love September, I might love October more. The harvest festivals that come now are a notation in the seasonal round, marking this as the time of plenty when the summer crops are in storage and the autumn ones are about to fill our baskets and barrels. As I write this, a pan on the stove is simmering with pears in wine, and the scent of cloves is drifting through the house. I’ve just dug and brought in most of the geraniums from the garden. We haven’t had anything but a touch of frost yet, but a real one isn’t far away. I’m digging some things out, and putting others in: some roses I started from cuttings last spring, some Berberis I rescued from the “dead and dying” bin at one of the nurseries and that seem to have recovered from their trauma, some tulips for next year’s bloom.

It’s been a helluva year for Chanterelles in the woods. We’ve put them up in the freezer (sautéd in butter with some garlic, then frozen in 1-cup portions for future convenience) (Is it sautéd or sautéed, in English? Or sauté-ed? ). We’ve dried them, for use in stews. We’ve used them fresh in omelets, spaghettis, on toast, with rice, in a scramble, on pork chops, with chicken, with a rabbit… We’ve given them away up and down the road, and in town. It is the Year of the Chanterelle around here. The bag, of course, is the point of it all, but it’s the looking-for that is the very best, that thrashing and clambering into the woods, falling over logs and sliding down banks, the eye peeled for that flash of gold in the duff. 

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Gold has always led men and women into folly, and chanterelling in the woods is no less wild and unseemly in its way than the quest for yellow metal in the hills.

Just writing of it, just writing, starts the bell ringing in my chest, and I grab up my bag and head again into the firs and maples and salal.

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I’m back now, and settled down.  I found a few to put in the sack.

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Other harvests: we have late apples now and pears, potatoes curing on a rack, still some eggplants in the garden, green tomatoes now giving permission to take them for green tomato gravy, red cabbages hoping (I suppose) to become our traditional autumn red cabbage dish (vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, apples, onions, smoked pork of some variety, bit of salt, coarsely shredded red cabbage, and let it cook until it is good).

Did I mention apples? Sometimes we share.

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A thread of geese has just skeined overhead, gabbling and arguing as they go.

You ought to see the load of berries on the hawthorns in the forest.

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There is the other thing that makes October a fine month. It’s a month when the veil begins to thin between this world and another one, the one that makes our hair stand up a little on a dark night. By the end of the month, we will be looking over our shoulders when we go into the woods because, it seems… didn’t I just feel something there, behind me?

Ooo-ooo-ooo!

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Maybe it isn’t too early for my hair to shift a little.

OK, now. Just one more image of my most recent pass-time. I can’t help it. It’s gold.

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Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments (10)  

Things To Be Done in Autumn

Good readers: Ahead of this post, let me say I am not very happy with the new WordPress image handling routine, and it’s been a struggle to get these into the post and oriented properly and not all skewed in aspect. If, when you load the page, the images on your monitor are tiny, tiny and stretched out, it seems that if you refresh the screen (F5 on a PC), they sort themselves and appear properly. I think if you click on the individual images, they will appear as well, but that seems like a bother and takes them out of context. Maybe everything will look good to you and you won’t have to do anything at all.

And so, we begin:

It’s Christmas tree time in these hills. The sky has been a-buzz with the sound of helicopters transporting cut trees to trucks, and the roads are heavy with the trucks moving trees to their destinations.

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It starts in early October when the trees are going overseas, and continues into November, for the domestic market. Instantly after Thanksgiving dinner is off the tables, every open corner space becomes a Christmas tree lot.

In the orchard, it’s the best time. If there is any sound better than the snap! of an apple stem twisted from its branch on a fall day, then it’s the sound of the apple dropping into the bucket. The air smells like apples and leaves on the ground. My fingers are cold and damp, and the skins of the apples squeak when I handle them.

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This little tree of Liberties filled 3 wheelbarrows. It never seems to take a year off. They’re tart and firm, and they make a wonderful cider.

While I pick, the ewes are ever-hopeful, ever-watchful. They have a pretty good idea treats are likely to come over the fence in their direction.

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And they’re not the only ones hoping to share in the apple crop. I haven’t caught them at it, but here is the evidence of Visitors in the orchard:

.12nov_cidering5_smI’m thinking it’s the little brown rabbit I see hopping for cover when I pass through to feed the the llamas. I really can’t say I mind. Who can begrudge a little rabbit her taste of apple in the fall? But back to work … Here’s the last load on its way through the gate (see them there, down the path, in the wheelbarrow) …

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… to sorting before washing …

Sorting

… then loading into the crusher …

12nov_cidering2 … and the crushed result …12nov_cidering_crush_cr_sm

… ready for pressing: 12nov_cidering8_cr_sm

and then, oh! joy!

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That’s cidering. We freeze it now and have the freshest-tasting varietal cider all year.

Fall is spider time in the woods and field. 12nov_woodsspider_sm It’s a good time to get a faceful of web as you pass. But they’re beautiful on their houses of silk. This one,

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clinging to grass and apples, is so pregnant she looks about to burst. I set her aside to safety. Spiders are beneficial in the landscape. Still and all, I like them out there, not inside with me.

Fall is time to divide dahlias in the garden. Here’s a nice hand, the offspring of the one, roundish one you can see beneath them. Dahlias can be a little expensive to buy in quantity. With patience, you can start with a single tuber and finish the season with… let’s see… more. I’ll plant them out again next spring.

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Speaking of plant propagation, does anyone remember the rosemary cuttings I set last fall, in  in post Make More Plants? They were tiny little sticks with a couple of leaves on top. Here they are now, ready to go into the garden:

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Of two dozen cuttings, I got 23 to strike. I don’t know what I did wrong on the other one.

Aside from that, it’s time to make holiday wreaths again. Here is my pile of stuff, ready for the genius of the season to arrive. They’ll look better in a week or so.

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For a review of my wreath-making routine, here is an older post on the subject: Wreathery.

I always do enjoy this time of year when there’s not much to do. They say.

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm  Comments (2)  

Dark and Light

A  month or so ago, amongst other winter observances, we hurrah-ed the Solstice as if the sun were about to give us balmy days and springtime. Astronomical markers and conditions on the ground are not necessarily the same thing. We are pressing through the dark months here, the weeks of shortened daylight, the days of chill wind and rain, and ice. Solstice is the beginning of winter, and the edges of winter overlap both autumn and spring.

Here, a roadside apple tree on a frozen morning is so seasonally decorated, we think how it must have come to someone to hang colored balls on a tree for midwinter. The next good wind storm will dash them to the ground, but on this morning, they’re beautiful; abandoned and beautiful.

Our farm (where we would never leave apples on the tree into January, no matter how cheerful they be!) seems to sleep for now. Nothing much to do,

but huddle in a stump. The gardengoyle looks philosophical. It may be a long wait for spring.

But stop! There are signs of life in the woods and garden. Like tiny fires under the snow, Cotoneaster berries glow. They’re not really berries, but tiny pomes, like the apples by the road in fact. The birds seem to need to be quite hungry to take them. I suppose they prefer the fruits we would like to enjoy as well.

Fairy rings of tiny branching fungi have appeared in the tree lot. There will be dancing there in the moonlight, but you don’t want to see it. It never comes to any good when people go spying on fairies in the night.

Here in the woods I spy tracks leading off into the scrub. They might, I think, have been faun tracks. We are, after all, in the season of deepest mystery in the forest. Yes, I am pretty sure those are faun tracks. I’ve never seen the faun, or the fairies, but I’m certain they are out there. Who else could be walking through the snow with feet like that? I shudder to think of taking my barefoot toes into the frozen woods.

As a matter of fact, though I wear my wooly handmade winter socks as I sit here typing, I do not need to run barefoot after fauns to have the cold in my feet. My feet are always cold in winter.

With that thought, I will take myself upstairs now, where I have a secret going on in the attic. Here in the laboratory, under clinical light tubes, in plastic incubators…

the promise of spring.

We welcome you to this new year, little seedlings.

You, too, my readers.

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm  Comments (6)  

Whoops

Yesterday it smelled like spring for sure. Catch the scent of new grass, and violets in the air!

I can hear those fresh lambs bleating in the yard.

It’s the season of blossoms and babies.

But this morning, my gracious,

an April snowfall has come!

One expects rain in April, and a certain amount of hail, and an occasional all-destroying frost. After all, the plums are in bloom, which is reason enough for a freeze-to-kill night in these foothills.

But this gentle snowfall morning, who might have expected it?

Perhaps the nodding daffodils knew.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm  Comments (2)  

An Autumn Congeries

Ah, the foul weather has come, and we are shuddering and building fires in the stove. We had our first snow last week, gone now and turned to mud in the yards.

But there are fine things going on anyway. The young ram is courting his ladies. And courting. And courting. Being he’s just a youngster, he seems assiduous enough in his amours. He’s fairly polite about it all. When the mood for love strikes, he sniffs the air for confirmation, and trots toward the lady of his desires. He bumps her gently on the hips. She steps away demurely. He’s sure by now, so he turns toward the action end of things. At first she may walk away from him. He follows. He reminds her he is there with an additional few nudges. By the time he decides to consummate things, they are in agreement over the matter, and she pauses, presents herself to him, and… it’s done. It takes longer to work out the deal than to perform the act.

Our woods are damp and chill. Across the road and along the path up the Butte, Fall is as good as its name, with foliage littering the way. The scent of autumn in the woods is earthy, moldy, tannic and fungal. It’s a good scent.

All our complaints through the long wet summer have given way to joy: the yield of mushrooms in the woods has been good this year. Here is the beautiful Chanterelle in its native home.

And here it is in my home:

In several collecting days we bagged around 15 pounds live weight. Done in the skillet, in their own nectar, packaged and frozen into serving-size portions, they will come out for later use as fresh as fresh.

The scattering of fungi all through the woods is a wonder to the eye. Here are puffballs, spent of their puffs and looking like chimney pots.

And here, you see, the fairies are back in the woods. This is where they have been a-dancing overnight in the woodlot.

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In the barn we have two litters of rabbits all warm in their nests. The doe pulls hair from her coat to make the softest nursery you can imagine. There are seven little ones in here, snuggled next to each another. Mom hops in and out with what seems like careless disregard for the babes in her way, but none seem to get smashed.

Here’s proof: that’s a tiny black rabbit in there.

They’re not into petting at this age. The little buggers are so wiggly and reluctant, it’s impossible to get a good photo of them.

Here are some 3 week-olds. Eyes open, they’ve come to the cute stage. Really, really cute. They fall over one another as if no one had bones or nerves.

They’ve trampled that beautiful nest into nothing, but by this age they snuggle for shared warmth, and that’s enough. Those rabbit skin coats they wear are remarkably warm. In summer, when they don’t want the insulation, their big ears serve as radiators.

These little ears require some growing before then.

And as I speak of warmth and weather, what better time is there to sit by the fire and work wool into garments? Here’s a beautiful batt of blended wool and silk, carded into color layers, ready to spin.

By selecting gobs (that’s a technical term of art) from different parts of the batt, spinning the varied colors, and then making a 2-ply yarn, the hues come and go through the yarn in partly intentional, partly unpredictable changes.

The passages of color are long enough to create broad bands in the knitted garment. Five balls like those above, make this:

Warm as a bunny’s butt.

Published in: on November 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Seeds and Feathers and Things

We might reasonably have mistaken the beginning of autumn for a continuation of our dismal summer of rains. But there are signs things are moving toward winter. Here’s one:

The sweetpeas of summer are setting seed pods, readying themselves for next time.

Fall apples are dropping faster than we can cook them into crisps. There are plenty for fresh eating and for sharing with the livestock. William the mule is fond of his morning apple.  Here is evidence the little rabbit in the orchard likes her apple a day, too.

It was not I who left all those nibbles on the ground.

On the fringes of the road, while most of the Queen Anne’s Lace has drawn up its petticoat and is ready to scatter itself into the grass:

a few examples are still fresh and hopeful.

It is said the tiny red flower in the center is a drop of Queen Anne’s blood, a prick from her lace-making. Others, imagining less and defining more, believe the red drop of flower is an insect attractant.

Perhaps it can be both.

In the woods, the autumn fungi are appearing again. Their names are far too difficult for me to work out.  It doesn’t matter whether these are welcome at the table.

Their delicacy of color and shape nearly escapes description.

Some are best viewed from ground level.

Some from above.

In our barn I found a cast feather. This one, I believe, is from an owl, probably an owl taking care of rodent business in the nighttime barn.

And this, from the edge of the woods, a crow:

A Steller’s Jay (When I was small, I thought these were called Stellar Jays, because they were so beautiful):

And this, from near a small carcass in the field, a Turkey Vulture:

We might think of these birds with loathing but without them and others of their ilk, we would soon be knee deep in decaying corpses. I looked up one day and saw the owner of this feather. A vulture lingered on the air, clearly missing a primary feather from its span.

Even with all this appearance of fungi in the woods, this dropping of seeds and feathers about the farm, it’s notable that not everything is getting ready to shut up shop for the fall season. We remember that fall is breeding season on the farm. Soon we’ll bring the ram to his ewes. And here we have, oh dear, someone who has found the day just right for love:

This, my friends,  is slug love. I share it only so you won’t be deceived that everything around here is lovely and lyrical.

It might, however, be sweeter than we believe if we could listen in to the cooing going on in that embrace. Who am I to say what poetry one slug sings to another?

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm  Comments (9)  

It’s Here

It cannot be denied. The calendar and the farm are in accord here: it is spring.

The really cheap narcissus bulbs I bought last November, late in the season when everything is marked down and the 75-bulbs-in-a-bag mix is available for $10 in the left-over bin, those bulbs have burst out in the most heroic display of aroma and nodding heads.

As I have been restricted to The Construction Garden the last two years,

A Construction Garden in Bloom

most all of those bulbs are in pots. But they seem happy enough there, and it’s nice to be able to move the garden bloom around at will. Still nicer, however, will be the day I can have my real garden back. As spring is formally advancing now, I worry we’ll be into full summer before I can contemplate the landscape, and that will be the worst time to be setting plants out.

In the meanwhile, there is the vegetable patch to be attended. Here am I, Farmer Me, on my way to do battle with the winter’s growth of weeds and

the spring flush of new young slugs.

Ew.

It was cold that morning as I ventured out. Sun was shining, but the air was chill, as you may tell by my odd combination of layers and sun hat. I dress as the need advises. Note the final comment below.

Starting last spring, and continuing in this one, I am converting our old tilled vegetable ground into raised beds. There is real labor in this, more than seems required when I look down upon a completed day’s work. But the payback is substantial. I believe the yield in the raised beds is easily twice that in the native soil. Once they’re constructed, the beds are easy to turn and to manure. And heaven knows, we have plenty of nicely composted manure here. The raised soil dries out much earlier in the spring and allows me to plant long before I could even till in previous years. But there is this matter of getting the work done.

We tried the method of humping earth into long ridges as raised beds. The soil had a tendency to escape from its intended location, and irrigation water ran down the edges. Not all crops are suited to growing in excavated bowls in the earth, and, after all, what is the point of raising the bed only to then dig down into it to hold water in place? In past gardens, I have used wooden frames to contain the piled-up soil. They worked well, but wood in contact with earth lasts only a few years, and I shudder at the thought of using treated lumber in my vegetable garden. This time I am bringing in 6″ by 8″ by 16″ inch cinder blocks.

It turns out they have unexpected advantages. They are ample to stand on, and they can be anchored into the earth with rebar stakes.

So I labored myself into a near collapse on Saturday, chopping out weeds and digging down to set the blocks in something like a level arrangement (be kind: I am a gardener, not a mason). Already my peas are up, lettuce is up, and radishes are up. Parsnips and broad beans are sown.

Not much can beat a day that ends with this:

or, apparently, this:

Yellowcat at work

Other signs of spring on the place:

Chicks have arrived. These are day-old Rhode Island Reds. They’ll join the working girls in the hen yard when they grow up a little.

The rabbits are bred:

This is a Champagne d’Argent doe. These large, silvery rabbits are a quite old breed, raised for meat in France as long ago as… long ago. I am told the breed was known in the 17th Century, but I haven’t been able to find references that do not quote one another. Still, it’s a breed with a long history, a breed known to give large offspring that mature well and swiftly, with good-sized loins and pleasing flavor.  Growing rabbits is a return for us, to a practice from the olden days when we lived in the city.

It’s an odd thing, the rarity of rabbit in the meat markets. Rabbit meat is low in cholesterol, high in protein, and economical to produce. This is a kind of French cuisine everyone should be able to afford. And yet, if you ask your market butcher for rabbit, he will shake his head and tell you he can’t bring it in because no one will buy it. He will tell you it costs too much.

How can this be? Beef costs too much! Rabbits on the same alfalfa and the same weight of water, will out-produce a cow 6-to-1. Consider the 2 acres it takes to raise about 1400 pounds of beef to the square yard that can house a breeding doe rabbit. In a commercial setting (not ours, where we are less intense about breeding schedules), a doe can kindle 8 litters per year of, on average, 8 kits per litter. Allowing for some losses, suppose you get 6 marketable fryers from each litter. That’s 48 more or less 5-pound fryers a year from each doe (a doe rabbit and a buck might cost about $15 apiece), on a square yard of housing; the breeding stock will eat about 5.5 ounces of feed each, per day. I am at a loss to understand why we, as a nation, do not embrace this wholesome, economical food source.

Ah, but, in any case, birds are tweeting, the orchard is blooming, lambs are growing in their mothers’ tummies, and spring is in the air.

And it snowed last night. It snowed lightly, but nevertheless, it is a principle of the seasons that it should not snow when the peas are up in the garden. That’s my opinion.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 1:21 pm  Comments (6)  

Mid-Winter Observances

Here we are, more or less  half-way through to spring, waiting to see whether a rodent peeks out and perceives its shadow, and pretending to believe in the rodent’s effect on the length of winter. As February swings into view, we find ourselves a little desperate for clues to life outside the drabs of winter.

I see a few signs of wakening in the world. Here is the youngest of leaves, not yet unfurled, the very first sign of life in the

gooseberry cuttings made in early winter.

And these are narcissus bulbs pushing bravely into the chill.

Yellowcat finds the odd moment in the sun, though the sun is fugitive and unreliable:

It has always seemed illogical to me that the groundhog curses us with a long cold season if the weather on February 2 is fair, and conversely, if the day were foul, we might rejoice in the assurance that mild days will follow. Recently, however, I read an account of Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festivity that takes place (how coincidentally) at the same time as our silly Groundhog Day. Scratch a most minor holiday and you will often find a seasonal ritual behind it.

February: the gloomiest of months, it seems. Not yet spring, yet not quite winter still, it is gray, damp, and hopeless. It is the least favored of the months. Note that the beginning of February falls at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Such a position in the calendar must be observed in some way. Give us a cause for frivolling! Let’s light some candles! Let’s see what the weather has in mind.

Imbolc is a festival of northern hemisphere agrarian people. No matter what the weather on the day of Imbolc, the fact is, the sun has done its sitting still for winter and is edging toward spring. In the hope of a fruitful season coming on, folks look for indications of the farm year to come. At home by the hearth, if indications are right, bright fires are indulged, and lights in the home. Traditionally, snakes come from their  holes on this day, and badgers from their burrows. And, just so, they may tell us what to expect in the next weeks.

As with our bastard version, Groundhog Day, the rule is, should the badger see his shadow (as to the snakes, I cannot say; are they tall enough to have a shadow on a day in February?), the oracle says winter will be another six weeks longer.

Is there sense in this? Only if you also know that on this day the Hag Cailleach comes out from her hut and has a look around. She intends to gather her firewood for the rest of the winter. I suppose it depends on her mood whether she decides on a long miserable season or a brief, hopeful one. If she favors extended misery, she’ll arrange a good day for wood gathering: a sunny imbolc day gives her plenty of time to bring in her stores before sunset. On the other hand, if she looks favorably on farmers and spring days, she won’t need so much wood to get her through, and the day might as well be gloomy and chill.

There you have it, my children. The truth of prediction based on groundhogs.

May your Groundhog Day be clouded and drear.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 9:54 pm  Comments (4)