Friday, May 15, 2020

Are you, yes you, panic gardening?

If you want this, here is how it happens. 

In the past many days I have had so many emails or an occasional phone call on gardening.  People who really never thought about gardening are buying seeds and digging up yards or lining driveways with pots, maybe putting pure organic dirt in their bathtub.  Is the end near?  It must be!  

I am not the Cliff's Notes for a life time of gardening!  There is sooooo much information on social media, in the library, online, youtube and blogs it boggles the mind!  I never thought I was very smart about anything, I barely got through school and after 35 years of pottery, can finally make a decent mug.  But I am happy gardening and I do post a lot of stuff on social media so I guess I opened myself to an onslaught of questions and inquisitions when the pandemic hit and somebody said the word; FOOD SHORTAGE.   

Free tip, you're probably not going to feed your family or yourself the first year.  But plant some tomatoes or potatoes and you will more than likely get a great meal and it's good to know how stuff grows.  Especially if you have kids! 

I grew up with old Hungarian people who stuck stuff in the ground.  The women wore babushkas and rolled their stockings around their ankles.  Their ankles were attached to black lace up shoes with a 2" heel, although I think they would have rocked CROCs.  They wore dresses and an apron with a hankie pocket and they sweat, they were big beefy woman.  They were not gardening because Martha Stewart or Monty Don told them it was "good thing".  They gardened to eat and they had just come off the depression.  I really can't remember a time when there weren't tomatoes in the backyard and flowers in the front yard.  I think I still have the little garden stool my great grandpa made me so I could sit and weed ....... at FIVE YEARS OLD!  We also used it to sit on when we cleaned each and every brick on the driveway every hot August summer.  Kids of big beefy woman also sweat!  We were in servitude or slavery as I fondly remember yelling at my Mother.  To this day I will not wear an apron, I have a clothes washer and dryer.  Anyway I revolted from this whole garden thing but apparently dirt seeps through the pores and lives on in....... kind of like a virus.  It will kill you or cure you too. 

Then something strange happened.  At 17 years old I took an organic gardening class with my Mom.  And the old geezer teaching the class was looking for help on his farm.  I volunteered.  On a very cold, early March day, my Mom dropped me off in the little town of Columbia Station wearing shorts, a thin pink windbreaker and looking pretty cute.   I spent a week pruning and tying up grape vines.  It was snowing, I was cold, my feet were wet, my legs were beet red and at 5:00 pm when my Mom picked me up I was beaming.  I loved it!  The next day I wore jeans and long johns but still wore mascara.... because I was seventeen.  Grape vine pruning went into seeding hay fields and planting potatoes and corn on 250 acres (which is now a subdivision filled with shitty McMansions on some of the best dirt in Cuyahoga County)  and we baled organic hay all summer, 4 hay wagons a day stacked high enough to block the sun.  Every morning the bales got stacked in the top of the barn.  And in the Fall I was paid with a cow, freezer wrapped and ready for pick up from the local butcher.  It's the first time I saw my parents almost pass out with joy. No money changed hands.  I did it for three years and then enrolled in college at the prodding of the guy I worked for.  Unfortunately the school I attended was teaching Agri-business and not Agri-culture.  So I quit after the first year when the head of the Ag dept. wanted to know what I was doing there.  I was the only girl in the program.  Did I have a farming family?  Did I plan to marry a farmer?  Nope just a girl from the suburbs of Cleveland who really liked growing stuff!  I was sternly talked too and told to think about what I was doing.   And my bounce around days began.  A law firm, a gas station, a groundskeeper, a park ranger, a naturalist, a house cleaner, a waitress, a hardware store, a bakery, camp caretaker, manager of mens furnishings in an upscale Dept store called Godchaux's in Louisiana and finally for a few months homeless.....  I just never fit in anywhere. 

But I went back every summer and worked for the guy I started with at 17 and every year I got a frozen freezer wrapped cow and every year my folks were really happy.  It was payback for the 350 days of pure hell I put them through.   I was really happy and really broke.  Then finally I got a real job and my summers were gone.  Every year for the rest of his life the old farmer would call me in the late Spring and ask me if I got my garden in .... and then a few years ago the phone call didn't come.  He was 102 when he passed away.  But I usually said, Yes, I had my garden in.  I look out my back window and the comfrey growing in my yard is from his farm in Colombia Station when I was 17... I have taken it everywhere with me.  

I had enough experience to be hired as a groundskeeper for Ohio State Parks for $3.75 hour.  Whew, rolling in the green...... not money!  But I was outside and it was great.  My partner in crime, also a woman, started her own business estate gardening.  Hey, you want a job and I said YES!  We worked on a lot of estates in and around Cleveland.  I thought I died and went to heaven and made my own yard into an estate.  Then on a very hot July day, a garden designer had us dead head an acre of scabiosa around a concrete pool.  I declared:  ANYTHING THAT NEEDS TOUCHING THIS MUCH I WANT TO EAT!   I came home and started transitioning from ornamentals to edibles.  We even hired my kids to estate garden and we even fired them.  Gardens are weird like that, it's a life lesson.  You yell and scream at the kids to weed or even patiently explain what you're doing and they slam the door and say I'm going to the mall!  But who knew the dirt seeped in?  One kid just put in her own gardens last year and has chickens and the other has expressed interest in growing something on her window sill and maybe learning to can.  You think you have been out in the garden on your own little quest but you were not! Somebody was paying attention!  It doesn't even need to be your own kid.  It might be anybody who stops over.  If you really want to know something, find a garden group, put your head down and pull a couple weeds together or plant a few peppers or herbs.  You gotta let the dirt seep in.  Most gardeners I know don't have too much time for social media or pontification.  Buy a Farmers Almanac, subscribe to a good garden magazine and get busy.  If your first crop fails, WHY? and figure it out!  Books are wonderful things, I think I have them in every room in this house. 

So thats how this happened.....

So I guess I was mentored into this gardening thing and along the way found out there were a whole lot of ways to do this thing called gardening.  I made very little money but I learned a lot and became pretty comfortable.  I believe that is the definition of mentorship.  You work for somebody and you get to experience a craft or gardening or or or....... something that seeps in.

So do not ask me for a youtube channel or a book or "do you think I can plant corn in a patio pot".  Seek out a gardener in your area, maybe one you ride your bike past or walk the dog past and strike up a conversation.  Maybe ask if you can help to weed or spread some mulch.  Or join a community garden..... figure it out, you will learn far more and you will fail.  But just to let you know it doesn't happen overnight or during a pandemic.  And you might be really great holding down a great job and really happy at that job.  I happen to suck at that but I have things that work for me so maybe we should barter?  I have learned it's really hard to push a boulder up a hill and just don't need to do it anymore.  

Put the word panic in front of anything and you're in deep do-do.  Panic food storage, panic knitting, panic gardening, panic foraging. 

Roll up your sleeves and find a wheelbarrow and go for it! 

and now I relinquish my soap box to someone who really cares....

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Happy May!

Things are moving exponentially fast.  The sun rises earlier and sets later.  I don’t watch the clock very much during this period of quarantine.  I don’t think I used it much before quarantine.  I have started leaving the window open a crack or more even on the chilliest of nights.  The silence of winter is past, the birds are back and the morning breeze is gentle.  Is there anything better than the greeting  of a cardinal or wren....... in my humble opinion, no.  My eyes are still closed and yet I manage to say; good morning. Mornings are precious, things are waking slowly.  About the time my feet hit the floor and I stare out onto the back lawn, Kirby makes his way from his bed on the landing, simply to stand on my bare feet, rub his head against the blankets and wag that fat Lab tail enough to make a dent in the wall.  How is it possible to be this excited and happy every single morning?   He patiently waits outside the bathroom door, walks me back to the bedroom, stands on the blankets while I try to make the bed, listens for the click of my eye glasses; his que to know we we are going downstairs.  He walks to the top step and waits for me to catch up. His warm body leans into my leg or against the wall and in his controlled excitement we both make it to the bottom without tripping over each other.  Around the corner, good morning to Butch, press the "on" button as we dash past the coffee pot, down two steps, a raucous morning vocal serenade while I scramble to get a coat and boats on.  Out the door!  Running to the back yard, he face plants into wet green grass that leave green stains on a goofy yellow face, race around and under the pine tree, scaring all small finches and sparrows into flight, butt scratch around the azaleas, a quick pee, find the human, lean against my leg, whole body morning hugs and then back to the house for breakfast in full prance, tail wag, trot.  Kick off boots and coat while he patiently waits next to the food bin.  Fresh water, two scoops of food, and back up to landing while my oatmeal cooks on the stove.  Every morning 365 days a year we have danced this dance.  My God life is good on this small half acre. 
   He is my shadow, my main squeeze, my number one fan and he is never far. 

Our pattern has changed and now there is a slight detour to let chickens out and turn on grow lights in the studio....... it is a good rhythm to start a day.  
A rhythm I am very comfortable with, a rhythm that grounds me.  I eat my steel cut oats, read the headlines and no more.  Put hiking or walking shoes on and get in an hour.  The golden hour that allows me to stop the crazy train in my brain, put my day in order and pay attention to what I am "seeing".  The breeze on my face is from the north this morning, it’s cold.  Too cold for gardening and too cold for six week old chicks to be outside with no insulation.  Walking home I know I need to dig out last years old straw, dry and tucked away in a bin just for this moment, it is just enough.  I will pick up a fresh bale later.  For right now they are safe and warm.  They are the cheapest entertainment one could buy; 6 baby chicks, $2.99 each.  A 50 pound bag of feed: $17.00.  The feeders, coop, waterer and heat lamp were already here.  The entertainment will last for years!  Potter and blogger buddy, Brenda has informed me this is chicken TV at it's best!   A blind dog, a pack of chickens and me in a lawn chair with a beverage.  Toss in; free bug removal, free fertilizer, eggs, and compost turning for the bonus round!  

Alas the girls have been kicked outside and they are none too happy about this.   I often find them in piles on the ramp or in the straw trying to stay warm.  They have finally learned to go in the coop at night.  I spent two night wrangling baby chicks.  I picked each one up, said Goodnight and unceremoniously tossed the fluffy butt into the coop.  By the third night they caught on; head into the coop or be manhandled into bed.  Juvenile Delinquents! 

and another addition has been started to club med for chickens.....

Garden walk abouts take place daily.  My project list grows with every walk.  The weather is not cooperating this year.  I should not be expecting anything from anybody or anything at this point of my big phat American life but in reality I expect anything and everything to be thrown in life's path; murder wasps, another breaking news story from a vacant government, locusts, a pandemic, or snow in May.  Do I erect a giant hoop house over the entire half acre?  Can I create a bio dome on a city plot?  Oh the possibilities!  Is there room for an aqua culture tank tucked away in corner?  Can I grow olives?  


I haven't been able to grow pineapples and we love pineapples.  Aldi's had a sale last week.  I bought 8.  I should get a pint per pineapple.  We love canned or frozen pineapple.  Canning hasn't stopped.  I decided to empty the freezer of last years strawberries and I still had a bag of rhubarb.  There isn't a whole lot you can do with those two things except make pies, crumbles and jams.  I suck at jam making and usually opt for fruit butters as those are made in a crockpot.  The whole pectin thing I have never wrapped my spoon around.  Plus we are not from the tribe of jam eaters, we just don't eat much jam or jelly.  But I had the time and the "stuff" so I went for strawberry rhubarb jam on cold Sunday morning.  Good God, I stirred and stirred and stirred trying to get hot bubbling, sugary, fruity mess to 218F.  After an hour and several burns from sticking a thermometer in the goo, I made it!  The stuff is just terrifying, something from the potions chamber in a Harry Potter movie!  Water Bathed and set aside I had jelly on my toast the next morning and it was good!  

If it's cold out in the early morning I like baking.  It warms up the kitchen and makes the house smell great.  I want to be here!  Whats not to like about bread, crackers or cookies stinking up the house with fresh coffee on the perk?  Leave me in this bubble!  And whens morning warms and the windows are open the carlesii viburnum is sticking up the house too.  May is a pretty good month.

Tonight we are headed into the 20's, well below freezing.  I pulled out the sheets and have decided to toss them over the flowering fruit trees. It will look like the ghosts of gardens past have invaded.  We will light a fire in the backyard fire pit and pray for a cloudy night, obscuring the full Scorpio moon, a super moon, the full flowering moon.  The wind is gonna kill us though; 17 to 20 mph and out of the north.  These are the days and nights I realize how very small we are on this planet and we really have very little if any control over anything.  One blast of polar north wind and the fruit crops are gone.  The bees don't show up and there is no pollination.  This is going to be a year of reset for the world, I feel it down to my bones, it's on the wind.  

What gives me great good excitement to get out of bed in the morning?  Where in your life does time melt away because you are so laser beam focused on what you are doing that time just doesn't exist?  Where does your heart sing when your feet hit the earth.  Sit on the ground, if your butt is cold your tomatoes and peppers are not going to be happy so wait to plant, you don't need a calendar or book or youtube.  We "know" so many things and we have been given this rare opportunity to listen.  
May...... it has been a-May-zing so far. 

Oh and before I sign off, welcome Findley!!!  Another rescue and adoption!  Abby added this handsome guy, who is 9 or 10 years old to family.  He was a stray from a native reservation and somehow found his way to the Gunnison animal shelter.  Fin and Sebastian, the orange chatty tabby are getting along great.  Sebastian really did need a four legged friend and Fin appears to be a perfect fit!