Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The fruit of our labors

Spring was cruel this year. Mid-March stormed in like a lion with blazing temperatures in the mid-80's. Unheard of in these parts. Sick of winter, we raced out and enjoyed the warmth. We weren't the only ones. Startled from hibernation, the apple trees got their bearings and burst into bloom. The intoxicating scent of apple blossoms wafted over the farm. The small apple tree at the far west edge of the farm, freed from a blanket of grape vines, pruned and fertilized, was a riot of bloom. I fretted about Global Warming.

Then April marched in with a no-nonsense attitude. Several days of sub-freezing temperatures knocked all the blossoms off the trees. We weren't the only ones. Michigan lost 90 percent of it's entire apple and cherry crop. We tried to save ours. We raced out every night and wrapped the small trees in the vegetable garden, hoping against hope that we could trick them into keeping their blooms. It didn't work. And yet . . . and yet. One lone tree obviously hung onto one lone blossom. Here was the result. Our apple. Singular. The fruit of our labors.

The summer was no easier. We had record high temperatures most of the summer, combined with record drought. We watered using the sprinklers until I worried about the well. Then we just watered by hand, putting the hose directly on the roots of all the plants, both vegetable and flower. Surprisingly, this took far less time. I could water both the shade garden and the front sun garden in a little more than half an hour. Don watered the vegetables. Some of the crops were amazing. We had onions the size of grapefruits. In general the root crops did well. The shallots were plump and shining and golden. The beets were excellent. We had planted Siberian garlic and it made big, succulent purple bulbs the size of small lemons.

Other crops fared more poorly. We had some sweet corn, but not much. And for some reason, our entire pepper crop was a loss. I got a handful here and there, but nothing like the bags and bags we had last year.

I am slowly getting used to the farm. I have lived here a year and a half now. I've met the neighbors. We gave a party. I joined a garden club. I still miss having closer neighbors. You know how you can go out and a neighbor is there mowing their lawn and you wave and yell "Hi!" Or you stroll over to a neighbor's house and chat about your grandchildren. I miss dressing up and going out to dinner. We go out very seldom because the closest decent restaurant is 30 miles away. One way. I guess I could make a big list of things I have learned on the farm and another list of things I have learned about moving to a rural area. I've never been a shopper, but now I find myself missing stores and malls and earrings and perfume and girl things.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Poppies will make them sleep

June is almost over. We have planted the garden and already harvested peas, spinach, radishes, beets, and swiss chard. The corn is already well more than knee-high and the potatoes, both Kennebec and Yukon gold, are thigh-high and flowering. The strawberries are gone, the chipmunks got the last of them, and I am now re-working the bed for next year. I've given away 45 strawberry plants to neighbors and have probably 30 more yet to give away! It's remarkable.

The raspberries beckon. They are chest high and covered with small, light brown berries that, watched every day as I do, will never ripen into the miraculous red, luscious color that I envision.

But, oh, the poppies . . . . They are in bloom now in the front garden, surrounding the white bird house I put up last year. We have a pair of wrens that are nesting in the house at the moment. We had chickadees earlier, but they are long gone. The male wren built two nests in the house and sat on the roof top and sang until I thought his throat was going to burst before he got a girl to move in with him. Apparently she is happy with his construction and I see them both taking turns going in and out. Likely she has laid the eggs by now, but I know the babies are not hatched yet because when they are, the parents will begin the frantic, taking-turns race to feed them. In between carrying in hundreds and hundreds of little garden larvae, they carry out small white sacs, the size of a medium pearl, which are the baby birds' poop. They keep a tidy nest and I appreciate that. Plus they eat like there's no tomorrow.

But back to the poppies. Here is a picture.

They are amazing, dancing, frilly ladies. Revlon should do a whole lipstick and nail polish line based on these colors. They are everything from pale pink and pale lavender to melon, coral, and deepest, darkest red. They only last a day or two, but they left my spirits in the morning when I walk out, coffee cup in hand, to see which ones are in bloom that day. I think perhaps this may be the year I get arrested for growing them.


Technically in a no-man's zone of neither legal nor illegal to grow, opium poppy seeds are getting harder to come by. Most seed companies no longer sell them in the US. It is odd that they are the source of life-saving pain-killer drugs, as well as illegal street drugs that ruin life after life.

But I digress. There is always work to be done at the farm. Don has arm-wrestled the pool from a murky green mess into a clear, blue circle. The lawn needs mowing. There are always weeds to pull in the garden. The rototiller must be taken apart for the 5th time and reassembled in an attempt to use it just a few more times before it dies altogether. The house probably needs cleaning. And yet, and yet . . . with all that work to be done, I still find myself having vast, uncharted periods of boredom. I woke this morning at 3:30 from a troubling dream about my son. "Oh, Mom, for heaven's sake!" I can hear him say. But Moms are great worriers. I haven't heard from my daughter in a week. And even that is amazing since she works 90-100 hours a week and barely has time to even turn around, much less call her mother. I miss my children and my grand-children. How did I wind up in the middle of Michigan with a child on the East Coast and a child on the West Coast?

I have asked my husband for one more baby and one more adventure. The baby I already have. Cricket is snoozing on the couch nearby as I write. But the adventure . . . ah, the adventure is yet to come.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Treasure Map

I see I haven't written in over a month. I got discouraged. Easy to do maybe. Maybe not. At any rate, I find myself on this Memorial Day Weekend with not much to do. Don is watching the Indy 500 on television. After 24 years of marriage I have learned to watch, even love, football and college basketball. But I cannot, cannot, sit and watch cars go around in an oval. It's beyond me. So I am writing. I want to show you a picture of our Treasure Map this year.
We printed out this map new for 2012. Last year everything was in a slightly different place (crop rotation). This year, it is the map of where all our secret treasures are buried in the earth. Seeds, tomato plants, onions by the hundreds, all manner of peppers, hot and mild, and many more. This year we are even attempting rutabagas. This is new for us. When I bought the seeds, the woman behind the counter said, "You must be from the U.P." 

"Why do you say that," I asked, mystified. "Well, everyone from the U.P. grows these to use them in pasty's," she said, confident in her assessment. I grinned, "Nope," I said, "from the lower peninsula." She seemed disappointed.

Now, take a look at these 30 beautiful bottles of red wine.
It came out great. And it's delicious. Don't know if you can see the label in the picture or not. We called it "Black Dog Wines," with a picture of Boomer on the front. Our way of honoring him. We ordered the juice from Napa Valley. The box was dented and some leaked out when we received it. So we had to add a bit of red wine when we made it. Nevertheless, the bottles turned out to be around $3/bottle which is pretty cheap for a truly lovely, summery-light cabernet sauvignon.

And the strawberries? I needn't have worried. We started last week and have been picking at least a quart a day. Every day. I've made two batches of freezer strawberry jam, and have frozen three of four quarts already. We went to a party last night and I took lovely, lovely strawberries, all picked over and lightly sugared, to spoon over vanilla ice cream. Oohs and Aahs everywhere.
It is a wonderful feeling to have this perfect produce. I walked to the fridge in the garage this morning in my pj's. It was about 63 degrees, pale blue sky and a light breeze. I went to get a few strawberries to put on my cereal. Life is good, I thought, smelling the ripe strawberries. The farm is good.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dolly's New Duds

Since Dolly wore the same dress all year last year, and since she was a sodden heap this spring, I took pity on her and went shopping. Ball gowns were on sale at the used clothing store, so I thought this one would be perfect.
I wanted red anyway. Did she want red? I don't know. It has sequins and sparkles and probably by mid-summer it will all be pale pink. But at the moment she looks dazzling.

The garden is barely started. The onions are just rooting, the garlic is barely up, the lettuce is maybe 1/4" high, and, wonder of wonders, we have the teeniest, tiniest 1" high tip of asparagus coming up from where we planted the roots a week or so ago. It was so thin, thinner than the stem of a Q-tip, we hardly saw it.

But no bees. I am looking everywhere and no bees. This spurs my desire to get a hive this year or next. I know nothing about keeping bees, but I am willing to learn. You can see what no bees has done to my mania for fresh strawberries this season. The plants are all a-flower but not a single passer-by to dawdle in the pollen-laden blossoms.
So here I am, hand-pollinating the blossoms. I think this photo pretty much shouts "Botanic Loser!"

Besides being on my hands and knees in the strawberry patch, I have begun two other projects. These deal with rust-covered items that I plan to restore and make a part of my flower garden.
This is a small, metal folding chair I discovered out in the woods as part of a deer stand. I have big plans for this small chair. I see it painted a soft, pale buttercup yellow, holding a large pot filled with dark blue salvia and pale yellow nasturtiums. At least this is the plan in my mind. Flower gardeners are notorious for floriferous, blowsy dreams of colored blooms. (I have really no idea what sorts of dreams vegetable gardeners have. Last year's vegetable garden was a surprise and a miracle.)

Here is my next project. The "Ross Europa III" which means nothing to me, but the Viet Nam veteran who sold it to me (after some haggling) for $15, assured me it was worth far, far more. "The seat alone is probably worth $40!" Perhaps. Perhaps not. This, also, I plan to spray paint pale yellow, attach a basket to the handle bars and plant it overflowing (overflowering) with cheery annuals. At the moment it's a rust heap. (But still rideable!)

It's still cold here, highs only in the low 50's, and we're still covering the strawberry patch almost every night since it dips down into the low 30's at night. I still don't know what to do with myself most days. The garden doesn't keep me busy enough. I'm sick of cooking. I'm completely sick of cleaning. Frankly, going into town to shop for a new dress for Dolly was probably the highlight of my week.

We have lived here for exactly one year now. I suppose this blog is a record of how well, or how poorly, I've adjusted to farm life. Does anyone read this blog? I have no idea. I suppose it's a form of journaling, and perhaps that's good enough.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Promise

We have lived through March. I thought it would never end. It was the wildest and wooliest March ever. Came in like a lamb with over a week of temperatures in the high 80's, and left like a lion with frost/freeze warnings every other night. It was crazy.

Because of the warm temperatures, the flora and fauna of the world came alive much earlier than normal. The apple tree on the west side of the house that we freed from a vice grip of fox grape vines, burst into bud. The daylilies rose 10" out of the ground. My bonsai Hawthorn tree, a gift from a friend, leafed out, and most of the bulbs I planted last fall bloomed. Actually bloomed. In March. Amazing. We planted peas, spinach and lettuce. We pulled back the straw blanket from the strawberries and they reached for the sun. Already waist-high, the raspberries leafed out and suckers appeared everywhere.

We had to mow the lawn! In March! This is unheard of in Michigan and it will make a very long, lawn-mowing season for us. While mowing out back, I scared a small garter snake and apparently those girlish things never go away because I screamed as it (quite reasonably) fled from the tractor-mower I was riding on. The next day I was sitting in the sun and Don came out to see me. I stood up and started to walk toward him. "Honey, just stay where you are," he said in the tone of voice that only the Snake-Fearing among us understand. Another garter snake. It is spring, after all, when a young snake's fancy turns to...girl snakes, I guess.  "Could you just kill it?" I asked. (And I understand that this is NOT the politically correct thing to do.) He didn't. Said he'd catch the next one and show it out to the large rock and brush pile in the woods. Well, okay. I guess.

But here's the great news. Look what arrived this morning.

Our box of garlic, potatoes, onions, asparagus roots, rhubarb, and one tiny lilac bush. All things that will have to wait 48 hours because we're supposed to have a hard freeze tonight and tomorrow night.

But it's a promise of vegetables to come. Braids of garlic hanging in the garage. Bins of potatoes resting quietly in the dark. Beautiful, enormous pale golden onions drying outside on top of the trampoline. Ruby red rhubarb pie. It's a promise of hard work, weeding and watching for horn worms. Garden bounty. And some day, in a couple of years, fragrant dark purple lilacs.

The asparagus will take 3 years before we can harvest any of it. Knowing this, you're thinking, why didn't we put it in last year? Well, because we didn't. We had trees to plant, raspberry trellises to build, grapes to stake, and an enormous deer fence to put up. So this year we are putting in rhubarb and asparagus.

Today it's cold and windy, though, so I'm sitting inside writing and dreaming of the promise of what's to come.

Monday, March 12, 2012

can it be spring?

We are back from four days in Southern California, visiting my son and his family. We had a day at the beach, a day at a seaside, windswept golf course, and a few days playing with our grand-daughter. And it was the trip in which we learned we will never take the red-eye flight again.

Now home, we are having a week of very early spring weather. Too much, too soon,  too fast. Nevertheless, the glint of spring peeks out at me and I rejoice.
Funny how one, impossibly tiny golden flower can make your heart leap.

After some discussion, we also peeled back the straw from a very sodden, pathetic strawberry bed. I was afraid they would get too wet and rot underneath their protective blanket. We'll have to watch the weather. If it's going to freeze again (and certainly it will -- won't it?) we'll need to carefully rake some of the straw back over them. Same thing for the garlic.
And then there's bleached-out, soaking wet , headless Dolly. She's had a good run this past year, but I'm thinking like all young girls, she will want new clothes come spring.
Last October when we put the garden to bed, I was exhausted, happy to see the twisted, black tomato vines get pulled up, overjoyed to cut down 6' okra plants (really more like small trees) and oh so glad to stop picking bush beans. Labor intensive, they are too close to the ground, so this year we are going to grow pole beans. See how that goes.

But now that we've had a long spell with no garden, I find myself missing it. I'm excited to get packages of seeds in the mail. Fairytale pumpkins, Christmas lima beans, peas, spinach, sweet corn. And there are packages of flower seeds as well. A new, pink morning glory, forget-me-nots for under the large maple tree, pale jonquil yellow nasturtiums, and something called Bridal Party California poppies. The last are an experiment. I have already planted the somniferum poppies. They're getting harder to find, so I save them from year to year. They are one of the few seeds I can just scatter and they grow. Huge, floating, dancing melon-colored blossoms that the Mason bees fly in and out of until they're drunk and dizzy with opium pollen. I've told my husband this may be the year I get arrested for growing opium poppies. Ah me, the headlines:  61-year-old Grandmother arrested for growing opium in garden.

The sun is out at the moment but it is too warm and we have been told to expect 70 mph winds, large hail, strong storms, possibly even a tornado. I'm not afraid of tornados. I'm afraid of going in the basement if one comes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Train Your Dragon

The wee one is coming along fine these days. She has been with us about three months now. She came to us at two years old, having already had a litter of pups, and unspayed. And untrained. She was a kennel dog, but had been well socialized with other dogs, people, and, thankfully, small children. This last was very important to me because of having my grand-children around. She is a natural with them and lets them hold her, squeeze her gently, and sit with them if they watch cartoons. She did not know how to climb stairs (up or down). She did not know what toys were, how to sit in a lap, or how to jump on a couch. All this, and she was not house-broken.

She's come along famously. Now she is the beloved dog of two people with nothing better to do (at least in her mind) than to play with her and love her. She has learned everything, including some regular doggie stuff like "sit" and "stay." Her goofy, troll-dolly face makes everyone smile and even my husband is not immune. Her name is Cricket, which I like, and I think it suits her. My husband calls her "Pickles" which is his special pet name for her.

If you have not seen this movie, "How to Train Your Dragon" I highly recommend it. I am categorically not an animated movie lover, so for me to recommend an animated film is really a stretch. But now that we have Cricket (aka Pickles) she really does look like the dragon in this film, albeit a much smaller version. Especially when she is playing like in this photo.
She never bites hard, so this is just play. With wild eyes.

How to Train my Dragon? The same as in the movie. With love, respect, occasional treats, repetition, and fun. She is one smart little cookie and she seems to like learning new skills.

I think it was Will Rogers who said, "If dogs don't go to heaven when they die, then when I die, I want to go where the dogs go."

Me, too.