Nesting Instinct

The days bend shorter, the dahlias put on a show (my friend Barbara and I make a pilgrimage to the Dahlia Festival each September, just to fill ourselves with the glory of the changing season),(my fingers just typed “flory,” and I almost left it there as a happy portmanteau word for the glory of flowers each autumn),

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The flory of the Swan Island Dahlia Festival

and it’s this time of year again when vegetables are rolling in from the garden at a pace faster than they can be consumed. The canners are boiling in the kitchen where the temperature is around 100 degrees, and something inside a woman wants to start putting things by for winter.

It’s apple-picking and saucing time:

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It’s pickling time, too, and we have

Dilly Beans on their shelf,

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Bread and Butter Pickles,

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Mexican style hot carrot pickles,

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and pickled eggs in a giant bottle.16aug_eggs2_cr_sm

The tomatoes in excess of any possible fresh

consumption are jarred and stored in their ranks,

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and there are still more to be eaten, so many we have tomato sores in our mouths, but we keep on adding them to salads and plates, and making tomato sandwiches and tomato gravy and fried tomatoes. And there are peppers, too, waiting for their pickling piper to show up.

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These are a pretty little pepper called Biquinho, from Brazil, and just coming ripe now. They are intended for pickling, to be used in salads. We first found them at a Brazilian restaurant in Portland where they are part of the “market table” salad bar. Pretty soon we will have to bring them into the greenhouse if they are to finish their season.

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Deeper in the garden, the frost isn’t yet on the pumpkins, but they are ready for it. Ours are Rouge vif d’Etampes. It’s a beautiful French heirloom, once common in the markets there. It deserves to be kept in gardens. It grows easily and large, is sweet inside and beautiful outside.

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I can’t stop taking pictures of them!

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The summer squash are at last beginning to fail while the winter ones are ready for taking. The one below is Thelma Sanders’ Sweet Potato Acorn squash. It’s much like the more familiar dark-skinned acorns (we called those Danish Squash in our house when we were kids). As we know to be the case in other things, the skin color makes no difference. The meat inside is golden and sweet.

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The hay is in the barn, so that culinary detail is taken care of.

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Pears are still hanging on, waiting for their moment. These are Comice:

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Oh, and…

murder1_cr_sm there was an unfortunate day for some chickens. They are now resting peacefully in the freezer. They are not fryers but stewing hens waiting for their day in the winter pot. Chicken butchering day is also custard dessert day for us. Old hens still have a supply of egg yolks inside, and it would be a terrible thing to waste them.

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Having a satisfied feeling about the larder now, I feel it’s time to settle in for an evening of knitting, and to finish up a nice sweater project.

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The nest is feathered and it’s time to sigh and be content.

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 7:51 am  Comments (6)  

One Very Fine Bean

After meaning to for years, this spring I planted a patch of Fava beans in the garden.

It’s a bean with much in favor of its cultivation. A cool weather plant, it’s often used as a winter cover crop or green manure. They can also be sown in earliest spring for a summer harvest. In this, our wettest and coldest spring in decades, the Fava Beans sown in March seemed to be all happy all the time. Favas are an Old World bean, thought to have originated in North Africa or the Mediterranean region. All other beans come from Central and South America. When my New World bean seeds rotted in the ground this year (they are, at last, now in July, emerging from a third sowing), the Favas shot up early and fast. And tall!

I’m used to beans which, if they are not climbers, nestle at the level of ankles. These beans, perhaps the beans that carried Jack into the clouds, have become a breast-high jungle. (There’s a nice looking cabbage coming on, too, though with some perforations from the visitations of slugs; and I see some grass to pull.)

I’ve had Fava beans at their “horse bean” stage, that is, when they are mature and dried. They are flat and broad and pale brown. They’re known as Broad Beans in Britain where, as in much of the world, they are the common table bean. We New Worlders aren’t as savvy about this useful Old World bean.

To an eye accustomed to our usual beans, these plants are a surprise. Not only are they tall on a single stalk, the beans set upward on their stems

like erect little… hm… unlike the beans I have grown in the past.

Their leaves aren’t what I expect from a bean plant, either.  I am told the young leaves can be eaten like spinach, but we’re past the young leaf stage right now. It’s information I’ll save for next time.

They have a beautiful blossom of white and black,

which does look like a bean flower to me. They’re quite a lush and lovely plant, nearly a hedge in the vegetable garden.

Because they are rarely found fresh in the markets here, we haven’t enjoyed them in their youngster stage. But yesterday I brought in a mess of tender young pods, and we sliced them up and treated them like string beans (no strings here, by the way). Done in the sauté pan in a certain amount of butter, they cook very quickly. These are fast food, and they came out tender, sweet, and slightly nutty.

Why ever is this bean not used here in the States? It’s nutritious, and a good source of folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. They contain vitamins A, B, C, iron, and, that specialty of all beans, dietary fiber.

We have ahead of us beans at several steps toward maturity: to be used as freshly shelled ones, as dried, broad ones, and  as treat fodder for the sheep when the plants begin to fade. (They are not so good for chickens, however, for whom they can reduce egg production and enlarge livers. This is information of interest to a limited audience, I realize, but feeding the left-over plants to chickens is something I would have thought of doing. They are notably good for ruminants, though, and the sheep always line up at the garden fence when I’m working. Who says sheep are stupid? Mine know where a green treat comes from.)

I would suggest this bean is a worthy addition to any American garden where they haven’t yet grown. Admirable as a cover crop (like all beans, the tilled-in plants enrich the soil), they come happily to the table as well. My next crop will be sown in the cool days leading into winter, because in mild-winter areas like ours they will hold over in the ground for an early spring harvest. The Fava does not crave or enjoy hot weather. But it thrives in the chill and damp.

Here is Yellowcat, enjoying the feeble warmth of this summer’s beginning, with a view of Favas in the foreground.

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Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Clip, Snip, Shiver

As I head out to the woods to cut greens, I am thinking about the annual round again.

It comes to me frequently now that we live on a farm with woods. Since we came here — and I am a little surprised to note it has been better than 10 years now — I’ve come to see how city life shelters a person from the progress of the seasons.  It’s not just that we sweat more in summer and shiver more in winter (and we do!), but that I notice more of what’s going on close at hand.

In art, one thinks of Nature on the grand scale. In the woods and farm, I find I have time to pause and see the tiny packages that make up the big one.

So, as I was clipping greens for seasonal wreaths, and taking care to choose the unblemished leaves from the thickets, I could not help but admire the damaged ones:

How could a perfect leaf be more beautiful than this one in its dying moment?

For that matter, though we think of the white berries of Symphoricarpos as its main attraction when we see it in a garden or along a roadway (those would be the cultivated forms of Snowberry; in the wild the branches are spindly, the leaves are tiny and without distinction, and even the berries are sparsely held). But look at this one, this beautiful rot on last summer’s stem.

Or this perishing haw clinging to a thorn’s winter branch.

I am not trying to be contrary here. These are wonderful colors and shapes, tiny details we catch only now, as winter heaves around the calendar toward us.

In the forest floor, fungi of the most amazing colors

and shapes

erupt from among the needles. I have no idea what they are, only that they are strange and mysterious to my eye, and easy to miss in the hurry-hurry of weekday city obligations. They seem so fragile,  and there they are, all on their own in the big woods, blasting color into the winter.

I found this while I was out cutting greens, too:

This is a coyote track on the path down to the woods from our stock pens. Or, perhaps, it is the path to the stock pens. And freshly set in the mud, too.

After cutting my buckets of greens, there was still a good part of a glorious blue-sky early winter day left. Even in December, the garden beckons. I took cuttings from the gooseberry bush in the vegetable yard, in the hope that by next spring I will be building the garden around  the house construction site, and I’m thinking a path down the back would be a good place for a casual hedge of gooseberries. They don’t look like much, little sticks.

But each has its growth nodes ready to put out next spring’s branches and leaves.

They are set into soil now, where they can sleepily make roots over the winter. I will report on them when buds break, months from now.

And then, back down to the vegetable patch. The last item of harvest for this year is the shelling beans. These were Scarlet Runners. By this time, the pods look pretty well lost. But you know by now I am taken with the beauty of spent remnants of plants. Look at the beautiful colors remaining in the pods!

I wish I could share also the snap and crackle of the papery shells as they break open. And look here inside! Whole, huge beans, beans big enough to grow a stalk to the sky, beans great enough to take in that trespasser Jack.

With a ham hock and some good roots (parsnip, turnip, carrot…), these make a fine, farty soup for a winter day!

But, alas. The season of the garden truly is at an end. The signs are there at morning feeding. Frost on the blackberries signals a long plunge into the dark season here.

There are just so many tiny things to see! Slow me down, big world, and let me look around!

Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 7:23 pm  Comments (7)  

As the World Turns

It was Clear-the-weeds-in-the-vegetable-patch Day on Sunday. Things were at such a point, unless you knew them as a mother does her children, you might not find the vegetables among the upstart thistles and other weeds. On my knees, rummaging among desired and undesired stems, I looked into the heart of the summer squash thicket and saw this beautiful spiral.

Zucchini bloom on a cool morning

Who could find such a thing and not stop in their labor, sigh a sigh, and feel for a moment the perfection of being?

Here is another, the vine of the runner bean making its way up. It finds its own means of taking hold, reaching rightwards around any support it chances to find.

Runner beans running

Compare its right-winding direction with the squash blossom above. The squash goes left. The bean goes right.

In the lyrics of Flanders and Swann ,

The fragrant honeysuckle spirals clockwise to the sun,
And many other creepers do the same.
But some climb anti-clockwise, the bindweed does, for one,
Or Convolvulus, to give her proper name.

In this song, the honeysuckle and the bindweed find themselves tragically star-crossed lovers who can never come together because they vine in opposite directions. Their plan is to,

“…run away for a honeymoon and hope that our luck’ll
Take a turn for the better” said the bindweed to the honeysuckle.

But

Together, they found them, the very next day,
They had pulled up their roots and just shrivelled away.
Deprived of that freedom for which we must fight,
To veer to the left or to veer to the right!

Here’s another right-ward spiral, though within it you can see a left-hand turn as well. This bi-partisan approach might have solved the problem for the bindweed and the honeysuckle, if they had had a composite flower like the daisy.

A common composite

Much more is going on in this flower than its spiral. Those little spiraling ‘beads’ in the center of the flower are mathematical genius growing wild. If you were to take the flower apart, down to its center, called the Capitulum, and count the ‘beads,’ you’d find this sequence of numbers growing in the turns:

0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89…

It’s a series known as a Fibonacci sequence: each sequential number is the sum of the preceding two. I take it on faith. Enough other people have counted them.

Look here to see the wonder of this sequence.

Now I’m looking at the brow of our Mule, and wondering if William is more perfect than I might have thought.

Brow of the mule

Does he know what a miracle might lie between his ears?

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm  Comments (2)  

In Which We Catch Up

It seems we have let things lapse here. We see patient readers have been checking in, perhaps only to sigh and move on as there is nothing new to look at. We’ll try to do better.

Summer has come roaring in, full of busy days. The annual rite of bringing in the hay commenced, in mercifully mild wCherries!eather. Most usual haying temperatures reach the F90s or higher. This year we had extended spring rains to delay the process. For weeks, two days of brilliant sun would be bracketed by 3 of rain; and rain, for hay, is early death. As the stems rose in the fields waiting for a forecast of weather fair enough for cutting and drying, barn lofts grew emptier and emptier. Growers worried their grass might lodge over in the rain and refuse to stand upright again. Baling machines stood idle. Shepherds  watched the days pass on the calendar, through June, July coming up.

Haying requires a dry day to cut, a couple of dry days for the fallen grass to give up its dampness in the field, to be raked over and give up some more, and a day to bale and collect the bales out of the field. When it happens, the County roads are busy with trucks and trailers moving hay from one farm to another. Grass is life for livestock. If you are like us, with little field acreage, you buy your hay from someone who has lots of field and few animals. It is a time in which you push back plans because you cannot plan for the schedule of the field.  We assemble some strong arms and backs to help. They come with patient men who know they’ve committed to an uncertain date. Yes, they’ll help with haying. Just call. We borrow trailers and pickup trucks to go with the strong arms and backs. We hope they will all be available when the date finally comes. We wait on the weather.

In the meantime, I knit.

Knitting again.

At last, almost a month later than last year, the call came.

The Venerable Hayhook

A hayhook is a simple tool, so essential to the managing of bales most folks have several. This one is of wrought iron, cut from plain stock long ago and shaped to fit the job. Its handle is polished from long use. It's satisfying to pick up a tool that has served many hands.

We buy our hay straight from the open ground. Our friend, Lloyd, calls when the baler is making his rounds of the field. By evening of that day the hay will be dotting his acres in neat bundles waiting to be collected. They don’t stay there long. If you do not collect your hay promptly, someone else will get it before you. It is an exercise in urgency, this getting in the hay.

It’s far cheaper to buy hay this way, with our own labor in loading and unloading, than to get it from a grower who has stored it (his labor in lifting, lifting again, and stowing), or to have it delivered. We pay the strong arms and backs, certainly, but they are working for us, and it’s not nearly as dear as if we were paying a middle-man.

We ran into difficulties with the labor pool. We don’t need many hands, but we need more than just mine. This year R. has been laid up with a painfully infected leg wound, and found himself disabled in the days running up to, and through, and after, haying. That has been a long and frightening story of the vigor of small organisms. You are spared the details here. It seems all will come well at the end, but we were seriously concerned for quite a few days.

In any case, as haying goes, his was a pair of hands not on the job. I thought I had lined up two likely fellows from the construction crew, but when the call to the field came, they were reminded by their distaff side that it was apartment-moving weekend, and I could nearly hear the scolding they received clear from town. “You agreed to do what?” In the end, our friends Elton and Dan came over the horizon to help. They arrived at the field early on a Sunday morning, pickups and trailers at the ready. The three of us put away about 5 tons of hay in good time. Then Dan drove off to another field and another barn to fill. I think Elton went to find  a steam bath. A city man, he’s unaccustomed to these bursts of labor that come on a farm, and it was a gesture of fine character that he came out to help.

So: hay is in.

Since last I wrote, we found time to till and plant some garden.

Planting garden

Richard calls this my clown suit. They are hand-me-down overalls too small for other likely recipients, a little large on me, but too good to throw away. That anyone thought I might wear them does not speak well for my fashion image.

The garden is slight by our usual standard. The plot lay fallow the last two seasons, awaiting the installation of the new septic system (Two seasons because of… delays. When it was first supposed to come in, it didn’t. When it did, it fully missed the vegetable plot, and we could have planted anyway. Details elsewhere, and probably not worth looking up.), which meant breaking ground all anew this year.

This is the quality of soil we enjoy here. It’s officially called Jory Clay Loam, though the loam proportion is difficult to find. When I say “breaking ground,” I do not speak metaphorically.

Our Soil

But we have some garden, and next year’s will be better.

While the garden grew, I knitted some more.

More knitting.

The tomatoes are setting on.

First tomato fruits

The Runner Beans are blooming.

Bean Bloom

Baby squashes are appearing on the bush.

Tiny Squashes

Since last I wrote, the cherries have come ripe.

Cherries waiting to be picked.

Odd as it seems, the birds have let us have most of them this year. We have a riotous population of crows in residence, and the usual assortment of small brown birds. All of these happy to beat us to a good portion of the crop, and I can’t figure out what they are thinking, to have left all those beautiful, sweet gems hang there until I came for them. Most of the fruit has gone into the freezer, about 20 quarts. It’s a small tree still, and this seems a handsome harvest.

The wild strawberries are appearing in the woods.

Wild strawberry

And, oh, I knitted.

A knitting break in the day's tasks.

That’s our still unfinished house at my back. By the time we’re allowed to live in it, who knows, I may be tired, but I’ll probably still be knitting.

eldressfannyeastbrook

Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm  Comments (5)  

Small Gratification

How silly is this?

For… what? six weeks I reckon, I have been dying to plant things. I’m sure it’s partly the harsher than normal winter we’ve had, and the looking out at a devastated landscape where the new house is rising but any semblance of a garden is gone. And part of it might be the usual thing that happens more or less every February when the seed catalogues start appearing in the mailbox, the lengthening of the days becomes evident, and the gardener in a woman just wants to bust out into the dirt. All that. But this year we have no place to start seedlings, and no herb garden to clip and tend on a dry weekend in winter, nor any unexpected blooms peeking from garden corners.

I did come around the wall and spot these happy souls this afternoon.

Wood Violets!

But it’s not the same as having a real garden. It’s even too early to plan much because I can’t yet see the shape of the land around the house.  And though we will have something wonderful in the way of a greenhouse when it’s done, it isn’t there yet.

So Skepweaver was shuffling through old seed packets, sighing disconsolately, and wondering what to do about it, when her eyes fell upon: empty milk jugs waiting to go out to the recycle bin. And for some reason, she thought of greenhouses just then, little greenhouses. And she took out her scissors, punched holes, cut the jugs in half, filled them with potting soil left over from last summer, and pushed in a lettuce seed, one for each jug. Then she taped the tops back on, leaving the lids off for ventilation, and set them out in the feeble March sun.

Jug gardenSomehow, this lacks something.

That was last weekend. During the week we had days of sun. Cold sun, but sun, and I imagined my jug garden to be nurturing potential captive in the chill.

I peeked inside this morning.

Anything going on?

It doesn’t seem like much is happening. Huh.

Well. It’s a start.

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 8:14 pm  Comments (2)  

Eggs and Eggs

First fruits have arrived.

As I have complained already, the vegetable garden is more or less… a failure, this year. The combination of ill weather and the new septic system have conspired against the whole idea of production. Down in the garden, we have a couple of hard, green Early Girl tomatoes on the vine, about 3 infant zucchini (imagine if you can, a summer when the zucchini are scarce!), and the stubs of bean plants left behind by the rabbits. It’s not looking good for subsistence gardening. It’s fortunate we have markets.

But, unexpectedly, my stop-gap garden, the one in pots at the studio door, is doing quite well.

The cucumbers are looking good, the Swiss chard is coming on, we’ve had lettuce and radishes, and here are the eggplants. Eggplants have to be one of the loveliest of vegetable garden plants. They’re fit to be ornamentals.

Even in the best of seasons, it’s a challenge to mature full-sized eggplants here. But we can grow the smaller, short-season variety Ichiban,

and we had our first rewards this week. If we want a Moussaka, I go to the market for big, black-skinned eggplants. The little Ichibans are terrific for stir-fry dinners, though. Never mind all that business about peeling, salting to leach the bitterness, rinsing, squeezing out, and patting dry. Just slice these little guys into dollars (well, quarter-dollars maybe, given their size), and toss them into the mix. You want them to be thoroughly cooked, but they really require nothing more special than the other ingredients in the pan.

Now, isn’t that pretty? It was nice on the palate, too!

But wait! There’s more!

We have new eggs, too. Real eggs, not vegetable ones. The young Barred Plymouth Rock hens have started to lay. (The Ameraucanas seem to be a little slower to mature.)

When a hen first lays eggs, they come out quite small, as befits her young anatomy.

Soon enough, they will size up.

…That may be a small exaggeration of scale.

The view below shows a first egg and one from a hen who has been laying for merely a week.

Thank you, ladies.

So, odd season that it is, we won’t go hungry out here. But it looks like slim pickin’s overall. This is the kind of year in which, in earlier times, farmers starved.

Published in: on August 10, 2008 at 11:41 am  Comments (8)  

Exploding Vegetables, Canned Sheep, and Rose Petal Delight

This week we have a miscellany of treasures.

I was in North Portland earlier in the week, far from my usual haunts, on a trip to Kaiser Permanente where I am part of a clinical trial. By good luck my appointment fell on Wednesday afternoon and I stopped at the pretty little Farmers’ Market Kaiser sponsors once a week by providing space for vendors and car parkers. It’s part of their “Live Long and Thrive” campaign, and a nod to the growing movement in favor of local produce.

Food at an open-air market almost sells itself. You have to be insensate not to be persuaded by the colors and scents. And, especially, let me share this display:

Carrots!

Carrots!

Why, they are practically erupting, those carrots.

Consider these nestled onions, turnips and beets:

Onions and turnips and beets, oh my!

Onions and turnips and beets, oh my!

See those tiny white turnips over there between the onions and the beets? Pulled from the ground when they are scarcely bigger than radishes, they are the tenderest, sweetest turnips you will ever eat. Cut off the greens but do not throw them away! Slice the turnips, at most in half, and cook them briefly in a skillet with a half inch of water on the boil. I mean briefly! These are babies, and babies cook fast. Pay no attention to how long the cookbook says to cook them. Poke them with a fork and find them still just firm and they are ready. Serve them steaming with some butter. They’ll melt on your tongue. Next to some carrots for color, they will melt your eyeballs, too.

You can prepare the greens as well, and serve them for the next evening’s supper. Again, disregard the Joy of Cooking instruction that would have you cook them 20 minutes (!), pour off the water (!), and cook them another 10 minutes, upon which you will have a pot of green mush appealing only to Popeye. Why do they always tell you to discard the cooking water, laden as it is with color, vitamins and flavor? What better stock for a quick soup than the cooking water from vegetables? Pshaw! Shame! Oh, but I was preparing turnip greens: take up your skillet again, put in a little water and a bit of butter, lay in the washed greens, and cook them almost as your would a stir-fry, except you don’t really need to stir them. That quickly, though. Five minutes. Maybe seven. They are done and tender. Maybe add a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top.

This is fast food, people! It would take you longer to defrost the Skinny Cuisine dinner in a box.

Next, by special request, I’ve retrieved a photo from the farm archives wherein are portrayed the wages of sin.

Perl was one of our first sheep, a small old ewe with what is called a “lilac” fleece, meaning her dark spots were grey not black. Her pale spots faded almost completely in the sun. She was primitive in type, had a quite sparse and greasy fleece, was instinctual in behavior, and was the matron of the flock during her tenure. Covetousness and gluttony were Perl’s faults of nature. One year we housed the young pullets in one of the lambing pens in the sheep shed. It seemed a good way to get the growing young hens out of the basement, along with their dust and smell. We lined the pen with chicken wire to keep them in and the sheep out. It worked for a while. But Perl was a smart sheep. I want no disparaging remarks about the stupidity of sheep. Jacob sheep are not your usual sheep of popular tale. They are wily and intelligent and highly likely to figure out a way to get what they desire.

Perl desired the grain of the young chickens. One day she succeeded in opening the gate to the pen where they were housed, and must have gone right to work on the chicken feeder. But, lacking a beak, she didn’t eat from the bottom of the feeder the way hens do. She ate from the top. She probably lifted the whole feeder with her head then, and the wire carry-handle of the can slipped neatly over her two horns, and she was trapped. In the afternoon I went out to feed sheep, and found the flock standing on one side of the paddock regarding Perl with distant care, and Perl herself:

Perl in a can

Perl in a can

“I don’t want the cheese. I just want out of the trap.”

And last, a nice pleasure of the season: We have an old rambling rose, the best of its kind, which is to say unnamed, unruly, and divinely scented. It grew in the garden of my old house in Portland where it did battle with the fence and, in time, might have won if the new owners of the place had not taken the fence down altogether. I think the rose is gone now, too. But we dug up a goodly chunk of the root back then and brought it with us to the farm. Neither half of the ramble seemed to notice the surgery and the rose now grows right up through the nearby crab apple tree in front of the house here. Early summer brings the best air from this old bloom, and the flowers though they come but once in a season are profuse. I pluck whole fully opened heads willy-nilly as high as I can reach, and set the petals to dry. As the flower diminishes, the perfume remains. One year we made rosary beads from them, a messy but so-aromatic undertaking. We nearly swooned by the time we finished with that one. One year we made scented bath and body oil. It seemed such a simple, ancient thing to do, with a result so lasting and pleasant. This year, dried rose petal sachets, I think. Christmas presents, maybe?

“Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses,” wrote the poet James Oppenheim.

Published in: on July 4, 2008 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rites of Spring

We had a rare sunny afternoon yesterday. This May and June have been soggy wet and clammy cold, with the exception of the one radical day when the thermometer topped at F104 in our backyard. We didn’t like that much, but are tiring of the F55-60 and cloudy routine, too. It’s made garden preparation into an absurd exercise.

Last year, because we thought the new septic field might go through the vegetable garden, we didn’t plant. Even though I considered risking it, I knew it would break my heart to see the young vegetable patch ripped up for pipe laying. In the event, the field went through the sheep yard and not through the garden, but by then it was too late. So the garden spent last year laying in a nice sod of weed grass. When, in a split-second break in the clouds, I went at it with the tiller a few weeks ago, I wished I had broken it all up in the fall. I wished we had a nice friable soil instead of clay loam. I wished it would stop raining so I could do a proper job if it. I wished a number of things, indeed, that I will not share with you.

Since then it has rained. It has rained. It. Has. Rained.

Yesterday, in that unexpected Sun Break as we call them here, I went out and busted up clods and the stumps of grass clumps, and worked myself into a sweat trying to wrestle enough submission out of the ground to permit seeds to fall into likely places. Places likely to let them survive germination.

Busting up the clods

So, though it looks like a miserable start to me, and these plants will have to bring all their determination to the fore, the garden is on its way.

It’s supposed to rain again tonight.

Meanwhile, I see signs of the progressing season elsewhere on the place. We noted activity in a nest box sited on a fence post that’s going to be gone in a few weeks. “Uh-oh,” said Richard. The fence will have to make way for big equipment, and it didn’t look like a nest-builder at work now was going to have time to pull off a brood before demolition begins. We decided we’d feel less bad about interrupting an afternoon’s housekeeping than we would about taking down a box full of nestlings. It was not 20 minutes later we spotted work underway at the new site on the carport post.

This little tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) gave things serious consideration before committing:

Inspection

Hmm. Looks vacant. Notice how she pushes with her tail to give leverage for the look inside.

I think this is a female, with the male having more color on the wing tips. We like to have these seasonal visitors on the place. They take large numbers of mosquitoes from the air in the evenings.

It may not seem like it in the rain gauge, but summer is on its way.

Published in: on June 9, 2008 at 3:51 pm  Comments (2)  

Coming-out Day

Are you all tired of pictures of fruit trees in bloom? Too bad. It’s spring. That’s what you get. This one is the Gravenstein apple. I do think apple blossoms are my favorites in the orchard. The combination of pink and white just out-dresses any of the others, and the moment before the bloom opens, that swollen pale pink potential embraced by itself, that’s the best part of the display.

Yesterday we had rain and gloom. Today the sun came out, the orchard is in bloom, the bees are flying, and the pullets are ready for their move into outdoor quarters. Remember those fluff-ball chicks from a while back (March 2 post)? They’re adolescents now, and ready to move up in society. Today they graduated from their screened bathtub in the barn to the little chicken tractor in the garden.

First Day Out in the World

The chicken tractor is a pen with no bottom meant to be moved when the girls have used up the good ground beneath them. This should be a huge relief, or a revelation, to the little hens. Truth is, they were completely suspicious of the arrangement when we put them into the pen, and wanted nothing but to tread down the grass and get away from it. They’ll figure it out. Green feed and live bugs will very quickly become their preferred diet.

And besides, they have some work to do. All that grass needs to be worked into garden soil, and I am ever so eager to have someone working on it besides me. We suffer from a heavy soil here (Jory Clay Loam, it’s called), and it holds the winter moisture well into spring. I tried sticking a shovel into it this weekend, and found it still sticking like gumbo. When we lived in town, by this time I had half the garden planted in the hardier coles and lettuces. Out here, we wait. We wait for the one moment between gumbo and adobe when the ground can be tilled. So I say, let those young hens have a go at it. They’ll benefit from the spring grass and I will benefit from having some eager young things to scratch it up and turn it under.

So the day was still shining, and though I smelled like chicken litter (what a good thing to have moved out into the garden that is!), I set to work in the orchard. I had ordered little trees a while back, and they had spent the winter in pots. Three young fruiting quinces and a pie cherry.

The glorious quince

The quinces are not so usual in orchards these days. Time was, not a fruit lot went without a quince tree. The hard golden fruits, when still uncooked, can be anywhere from acrid on the tongue to complexly sweet. They’re mostly used in cooking, as jellies and jams, poached with spices, as sauces, in compotes, as pastes, as ingredients in baked goods. I remember quinces first from the time when I was a young teenager. Mother and I would go to an old farm property, an empty relic with a broken gate and a long driveway overgrown with grass and brambles. The house was falling under the weight of a rampant wisteria. In spring we would find mushrooms under the orchard trees. In fall we would go back and find quinces on the same trees. The apples in the orchard were ancient and bitter. The quince trees, however, continued to bear large yellow fruit, and we brought them home in baskets. Quinces make the loveliest jellies you ever saw.

The pie cherry comes with a legacy, too. For years we benefited from the prodigious yield given by my Aunt’s pie cherry tree. Oh, those sour-sweet jewels, they came off in clusters, like a tree dripping rubies. When my old Aunt passed, the tree passed, too, to new ownership, and our privileges went with it. I have longed for a tree like it since then. So today I put one, just a slight little thing, into the orchard. I’ll be patient. Cherries will come.

Well, but the day still shone, so, with an eye to catching a little bit of early vegetable planting, I set out the red cabbages, not into the garden, but into great big pots. It’s an experiment. In another year I might get an earlier start on the tilling, but for a year like this one, maybe setting the early sets into pots is a solution. We’ll see how they do there.

Red Cabbage

And still that sun was high and bright, so I went to work clearing some brambles from the orchard. It’s needed to be done, and the rain has kept me sulking in the house, so out I went with my loppers and clippers and my assistant cat.

Yellowcat on a spring day

In fact, that bramble was one of her best vole-hunting thickets, and the look she is giving me is not necessarily one of approval. The bramble is much improved now. From my point of view.

At last the sun was sinking wearily behind the hills. We came inside and decided one last gesture in acknowledgment of the weather was in order: Richard opened the grill, cleaned the racks from their winter’s slumber, and we did hamburgers on the barby. A long day, well-used.

I hope the pullets are pleased with their new digs.

Published in: on May 4, 2008 at 11:06 pm  Comments (6)