Summer Evening Ramble.

Gardening is a tricky hobby. This is my sixth year in the business of vegetable gardening. It almost feels like the word “hobby” is an understatement. Gardening is a part of my life, and has been for years. I spend winters reading, designing, preparing, and ordering seeds. Spring is a mad rush to start seedlings indoors, amend my soil, direct sow cold crops, and wait impatiently. Summer is supposed to be when all of that pays off. I water and water and water, I weed and weed and weed. And I wait, and wait, and wait.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from six years of tending to a tiny garden, it’s that it is quite impossible to supply enough for my family of four. We can maybe have a salad once a week from my lettuce. And my herbs are always available for seasoning. But most of it is a waiting game. I probably have around ten tomato plants, all of them with plentiful flowers. In the spring I had several rows of beets and carrots. Now I have one of each, because the devil in the form of a rabbit has been helping himself to the buffet that is my vegetable garden.

It’s a lot of frustration, but I can’t possibly expect anything more. I can hardly compare my yields to the growers at the farmer’s market- they have acres and acres, they use fertilizer and pesticides. I have only 64 square feet of vegetable growing space, and my go-to amendment is compost! But every year I do it again, because I love it, because it is a part of my life. I love the excitement and promise of a new spring, I love the hot summer afternoons of hauling watering cans. I love serving my family a bowl of delicious salad from lettuce I grew myself, even if it is only an occasional salad.

This summer I’m taking a course at my local community college. I’m still in high school, but my school doesn’t have anything remotely resembling an agriculture program. This class is three times a week, and lasts for three and a half hours. My friends wince when I tell them this- but they don’t get it. Every single minute of those three and a half hours is useful and interesting. I’m learning about conventional versus sustainable, I’m learning about crop rotation and sub tillage, cover crops and fertilizer. I’m learning things I never even dreamed of learning until college, and the best part is that the course is completely free (thanks Obama!).

I am sitting right now, overlooking my backyard. You could call it a back garden, since the summer flowers are so abundant. Colorful and blooming coreopsis, mandevilla, sedum, day lily, black-eyed susan, calibrachoa, and hibiscus line the stone walls. This scene is my favorite part about summer. It reminds me of cookouts, family, warmth, and life.

As I type away at my laptop, Boris the Pug attempts to wolf down the crushed walnuts he finds underneath the butterfly bush. I attempt to catch him and he runs behind the tall ornamental grass. I can see his glittering, mischievous eyes from behind the fronds even now. He unabashedly crunches on what must be a particularly satisfying shell, and then drops it on the bark mulch to find more.

It feels like the clouds are holding their breath. They completely coat the sky in milky white, with purple undertones in places. They seem heavy with moisture, and have brought a cool breeze all afternoon. On the radar an angry red splotch is racing in my direction, and should be here within the hour.

 

 

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The Egg Midwife

Well everyone, I am here to break the four month silence! I am not exactly sure why I chose today, of all days, to write again. Though I have an inkling that it has something to do with the fifteen page paper I’m supposed to write for tomorrow. I should probably start that soon.

The chicken world has been relatively stable. There is a resident fox family living in my neighbor’s yard, so I have to confine them to their smaller, secure, run when I leave the house. I feel awful doing it, but I’d feel even more awful if I walked into the coop one day and didn’t find chickens- only feathers. This past Thursday I had to play midwife to my hen, Mary. I walked into their run that evening and saw her sort of hunched over and slowly milling about. I wasn’t sure what was up, so I picked her up and gave her a check over.

Feet? fine. Eyes? no bubbles or foam. Under her wings? no mites. Ears? no infection. Nose? dry. Vent? large bump as if it were turning inside out.

Hens are tricky. If they don’t get enough calcium, or they have some other underlying issue, their egg can get stuck inside of them (this is called being “egg bound”). When they lay eggs, sometimes the vent does not go back to its rightful place, and turns almost partially inside out. This can lead to bigger problems, like shock or infection. And so I ran inside, readied a crate for her, and brought her in, just in case that was what was going on.

I went downstairs to check on her. When I opened the crate door, she stepped out onto my arm. I held still while she perched on my wrist, soothingly petting her feathers. Then she started making a loud groaning noise, visibly straining. Then I heard a plop on the pine shavings. I leaned over to look, and there was an egg.

Did I just catch her in the middle of laying an egg and make a big fuss for nothing? Possibly. But I’ve never seen my chickens look that lethargic during the egg laying process. And when chickens want to lay, they seek out a cozy, dark corner- they don’t hobble around outside. I think she might have just been having a hard time laying that day. Regardless, I made sure I relocated the oyster shells (a calcium supplement all hens need) to a more accessible spot in the coop.

In other news, I got a job! I’m pretty sure its seasonal, meaning I’ll only be working until the end of spring. What exactly am I doing, you ask? Hanging out with plants! That’s right, I’m working at my local garden center. I’ve worked three days so far, and let me tell you that hanging out with plants is a lot of work. My job is to water, and restock the annual flowers and vegetables. The people who never put the plants back in the right spot actually make my job exist. I am constantly rearranging the little six-packs of plants so that they live where they are supposed to. And then I bring everything up to the front so that it looks nice. After this, I make about five trips to the greenhouse to restock- the hardest part is remembering which varieties I need to replenish. Then repeat. Then repeat. For about eight hours. All of this is interspersed with customer questions that I cannot answer (yet!). It can be a tad monotonous, but the amount of information I am learning about plants is amazing. I am slowly recognizing different flower varieties, which I’ve never been good at; dianthus, dahlias, zinnias, calendulas, marigolds, monarda (bee balm), portulaca, snap dragon, lisianthus, gazania, pansies, and petunias, to name a few.  I find that each time I work I am more able to answer questions. It’s quite exciting!

 

 

Veggie of the Week

Photo Aug 24, 5 15 32 PM

The Purple Pear tomato is underneath that bright red one. It has a green tinge towards the top.

This week, for vegetable of the week, I have chosen the Purple Pear tomato. Like all of my plants, I ordered my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., but these ones are special. Because I ordered these seeds about four years ago, when I began my heirloom vegetable garden. My first year, I didn’t even know what “heirloom” was. But when I stumbled upon heirloom tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, swiss chard, kale, etc.. at the farmers’ market, I fell in love. I had to grow them. So that year, instead of buying tomato starts from the garden center, I bought a few paper packets of seeds that came in the mail encased in bubble wrap. And one of these glossy packages was the Purple Pear tomato. They had excellent production the first year they grew. I got countless amounts of these reddish-greenish fruits.

But Fall came, as it often does, putting an end to my garden’s harvest. The left over, frost kissed, and very withered tomatoes soon fell off their vine, into the soil. The soil got covered in three feet of snow for a few months, and then turned over once more in the spring. In late May, I noticed green tomato plants poking their heads up through the ground. I never thought they’d flourish, but they did.

Next year, the cycle continued.

And again.

And again.

It took four years for this little tomato to slow down in production. Some disease took all of my tomato crops, making the stems wither and die, and rotting unripened fruit. And I STILL got a pretty good harvest. Two baskets worth.

I think this vegetable certainly deserves the title of Vegetable of the Week. But I won’t be letting the fifth generation grow next year. I need to get rid of that disease!

A New Lonely Lifestyle

You’re probably wondering what the heck I mean by that post title. Lonely? New lifestyle? Huh?

Don’t worry, it’s just me being a little dramatic again. Two days ago we dropped my sister off at college for her first semester. She and I are very close, especially because we shared a room from the moment I was born. I told her most of my problems, and she listened and gave me advice. I’d bake her cookies, or muffins, and she’d drive me to a coffee shop. We always watched different shows together, binge watching them over our frozen pizza and iced tea. This summer we spent just about every day together, and suddenly she is ripped from my life completely. Gone, meeting new people in a strange environment, sharing a room with someone else. Everyone tells me “She’ll be a different person when she gets back, it’s amazing the changes that happen!” as if it’s a good thing. As if I would want her to be anything other than what I know her to be.

So when I’m sad about her leaving for college, I’m sad for myself. Because no one is going to bring me to the coffee shop anymore. No one is going to listen to me the way she does. No one is going to bicker with me about who has to turn the lights off at night. No one is going to share the cult TV shows on Netflix with me. When I look across the room, her bed sheets are stripped off, leaving an exposed mattress. Empty, forlorn.

I resolved myself as we drove away from her that afternoon that I would bury myself in whatever I could. Gardening. Work. Perhaps I’d take up jogging. Yoga? Anything to keep my mind off of that fact that she isn’t here. My voice is rusty from not talking all day.

On the topic of work, I trained with the animals on Wednesday. I got there, and the person training me showed me to the wheel barrow, shovel, and rake. He told me to clean up the straw in each of the stalls. I did, and I’m pretty sure I have never seen so much feces in my entire life. In one pen, the alpacas (two shaggy, spitting beasts) live with three friendly little horned goats. In another, a mother goat lives with her kid. In another pen, three Nigerian Dwarf does live together. A third pen has a doe and two adorable twin kids with black fur. Another contains multiple hens and a rooster. Another has ducks. The list continues, but I assume you’re probably done hearing about it.

Anyways, everything went swimmingly until I reached a pen with two brown, huge, Nubian does. I walked in, like I had countless times before, and rolled the wheel barrow to their little hut. The two goats bounded away from me, and only came close enough to sniff my hand. That was okay with me, as I was extremely tired, and to the point of gagging with the smell of goat urine in my nose. I continued shoveling the spoiled hay into the wheel barrow, every once in a while spotting a mischievous goat head peering around the corner at me. A few minutes later, I heard a rattling noise. Familiar with antics of goats, I dropped my rake and ran outside to see a flash of brown fur pass by outside of the fence. Swearing, I undid the gate, accidentally letting the other goat out. They trotted around me, running away whenever I walked near them. Their amber goat eyes gleaming with amusement. I told the person who was training me what happened, and we managed to herd them back into their pen after 40 minutes of stressful scrambling. Not the best first day.

I also had another day of ice cream training as well. Thursday was my final day of training, and I do the real thing tomorrow. I got the text for my hours as I made muffins this morning (they were blueberry lime and absolutely delicious). I’m extremely nervous for various reasons.

  • I can’t make an ice cream cone to save my life
  • I don’t really remember anything I learned because it was so much to process
  • I don’t know who I’ll be working with- I’m not really good at meeting new people

I’m sure there’s more, I just can’t think of it. You may have noticed, I have a terrible memory.

Farmer’s Market

Today my mother, sister and I got up early and headed into town. We arrived at a coffee shop, ordered our mocha and vanilla lattes, and sat back to enjoy each other’s company. After the bottoms of our cups were visible, we ventured outdoors, passed a row of teenagers smoking goodness knows what. Whatever it was, it smelled strangely like the inside of an office I had been in. Hmm. 

But that’s besides the point. We passed through a little alley way, and walked down the side walk and across the common. There we found the farmer’s market, a long line of farm stands full of heirloom tomatoes, carrots of every color, swiss chard, lettuce, blueberry muffins, watermelon, and any vegetable you can think of. Well, not any vegetable. I love the abundance, the colors, the smells. And every single bit of it is grown right here. The farmers always look so jolly, and everyone there is united in the belief of local, wholesome foods. Sure its expensive, but its worth every penny. 

Photo Aug 16, 11 52 52 AM

 

Today is a big day for me. At 2 o’clock I’m walking down to the local farm stand/store to ask for a job taking care of their animals. I’m hoping to clean stalls, care for the chickens, goats, donkeys, and cows, do some feeding and watering, and all the other chores that they involve. Its a win-win-win-win situation! I’ll get a little bit of money, learn the ropes of farming, spend time with animals that I love, and have something nice on my college application in a few years. I’ll probably have to do some cashiering and store responsibilities, but I think that the pros are just to good to pass up! My stomach is in knots though, and the anxiety is a persistent feeling that won’t go away. I’m so doubtful of myself- who would want a wimpy teenage girl as their farm helper? I’m worried they won’t take me seriously (though I’ve met the two farmers, and they are really kind). Perhaps these worries are completely unfounded. Either way, I need to learn to deal with situations like this. 

Wish me luck!

Veggie of the Week!!

I think I’m going to start something new- 

VEGGIE OF THE WEEK!

Every week, I believe I will feature a vegetable, or fruit, from my garden. I know you’re holding your breath, so I won’t keep you in suspense a moment longer…

 

This weeks veggie is………..

BEANS! 

This particular variety is a bush bean called Dragon Tongue. I ordered the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company this Spring, and direct sowed them into the ground, two plants for every 1 ft x 1 ft square. Apparently they are Dutch, and have gorgeous purple streaks on top of a light green. The purple disappears when they are cooked, leaving plain old greenish-yellow instead, but they are a true beauty beforehand. They’re quite productive too! They began producing about two weeks ago, and every week I get a whole bag full of them. On top of all this, they are absolutely delicious with some butter and garlic.