The time has come.canopy

It happens every year, but there’s no telling exactly when.  Surely it moves like a rippling wave from South to North as the season progresses.

This is the time when all of us with large gardens or small farms go slightly mad with the season’s work.  There is no rest.  There is only more do-ing to be done.  Everything needs to be planted, transplanted, hoed, mulched, trellised, caged, staked, weeded, and maybe hoed again, right now.mulching tomato

I was curious to see how it would be this year, as we continue to scale back our growing operation and reduce the financial pressure on the garden.  But it’s not much different.  We’re still more or less nuts.  This seems to be a package deal that accompanies late Spring in our chosen lifestyle.

On contemplating this, with a hoe in my hand, which is really the best way to think these days, I received a distinct impression about stirring biodynamic preparations.

When we stir, we place a small amount of the “prep” – whichever material we’re working with at the time: clay, silica, or composted manure – in a crock of water, and stir.  First we stir in one direction, round and round until the water forms a vortex and the the spiral tip reaches the bottom of the crock.

Then we break the vortex by thrusting our arm, or stick, or paddle, into the water and going the other direction.

The order is broken.  There is chaos.  Jumbles of water and air and bits of preparation collide.  And then, as we continue to stir, they re-align and begin to form a vortex going the other way.

The way to change direction is through a period of chaos.

Of course, we could just let the water slowly come to a rest, to a period of stagnation, then gently turn it the other way.  But that’s not the instructions.  We’re told to mix thoroughly, and in that process, we make the chaos.501

I wonder, glancing down the row of galinsoga weeds, already blooming beside our cabbages, if part of the wisdom of that practice is to help us cope with the way things are?  Maybe we can begin to understand ourselves as particles in suspension, too.

Winters slow down.  It’s natural.  Our days go at a different pace.  And so Spring starts from there.  We’re conditioning ourselves as the days grow longer, the warmth of the sun stronger.  We feel the pull and get more and more engaged with the quickening pulse of life.

But something happens, about this time each year.  It gets wild.  The waltz we were doing before doesn’t cut it.  We have to boogie now.  And then the tractor PTO makes a bad noise (if you don’t know what that means, be contented to know that it’s not good).  Then the lawn mower starts choking itself in the tall grass and won’t even clear its throat in the lawn.  Then the twenty or so turkey eggs that are due to hatch starting tomorrow get eaten by a hungry raccoon.  Not to mention some damage to the mother hens’ tail feathers.  One of the hens gets deranged about her spoiled nest and strays, leading our much-loved old tom over to the neighbor’s farm where he gets mauled by a dog and then disappears.  And then there are potato beetles to pick and grass sprouting in the rice seedlings.potato bug All of this seems to happen in one very long day, on top of the million other things that must be done right now, which includes feeding and schooling the kids and doing the dishes (please don’t ask about the condition of my windows and floors).

This is chaos.  It feels unsustainable, and it is.  The good news is that it never lasts.  In a few more turns, we will be swimming in stride with the new direction of summer.  There won’t be less to do, but we’ll get a rhythm going.  If we can keep loose, and keep moving, the dings and bruises of this transition will somehow expand us for the journey ahead.down the hill

Of course, the rhythm doesn’t last either.  We will transition again, and again, through these periods of order and chaos.  There’s no choosing one and sticking with it.  That would only lead to stagnation, which is worse then a good dose of chaos.

Writing this helps me remember, helps me hold on and believe that this period of agitation with it’s varying degrees of grief, frustration, and exhaustion will pass.  Maybe it can help you remember, too.  I hope so.




for Doyle’s Iris Patch.

Right here in Red Boiling Springs.iris patch 2

You might have an opinion about irises, but you might still be surprised too.  I certainly didn’t know much until I met Doyle.

He has the best collection I’ve ever seen.  iris merlot

Doyle was raised here, then went off and made a living cutting hair in Nashville.  Upon reaching retirement age, he decided to come home.  But he has not been idle.

There is about an acre of irises in his backyard.  He tries new ones, propagates the ones he likes, and shares them in all their glory with anyone who bothers to stop by.  The variety of colors and fragrances is truly a wonder.  A visit to the Iris Patch is a feast for the senses.iris brown

It’s a local treasure, and a worthy diversion for the busy gardener.

If you want to visit, it’s too late this year, but mark your calendar for Mother’s Day 2015.  You won’t be sorry.iris stripey

Thank you, Doyle.iris patch 3

it ain’t always easy

My week was intense. I felt so much like the warbler that found it’s way into our house and suddenly realized it was trapped. And then spent a bunch of energy flitting around looking for the exit sign while inadvertently bashing it’s head on the windows, attracted to the promise of what lay on the other side, but unable to travel that enticing direct route to get there. Then being chased, pursued, and finally caught and held by something larger. Something that it didn’t fully understand.

Yeah. My week was sort of like that.IMG_7061

I busted my little buns in the garden this week. I wasn’t the only one busting buns; also Eric, sometimes the kids, and more often than not our farm neighbors and devoted helpers, Jesse and Hannah. A tremendous amount of work went down. Sweet potatoes were planted. All varieties of peppers and eggplant were transplanted. Ginger. Watermelons. Muskmelons. Zucchini. We cultivated. We pulled weeds. We got sunburned. By Thursday afternoon, we had accomplished so much and we were all pooped and ready for a break. And blessing of all blessings, in rolled the thunder, lightning, and dark clouds. And then the deluge. (Can you hear the porch swing creaking and long gulp-y swallows of some type of carbonated, fermented beverage?)

Cher as "dead weight" on the harrow. You see why I might need a beer...

Cher as “dead weight” on the harrow. You see why I might need a beer…

It rained hard. By evening, when the rain subsided, enough rain had fallen to bring the small creeks up in a flash flood. My wool sheep happened to be on the other side of a raging “branch”, so including them in the evening rounds wasn’t an option. But I just figured all was well and instead went with Eric to lend a hand with his chores: moving the big flock/herd of sheep and cows, collecting eggs, loving on the dog, feeding the chicks and goslings. All the critters in that circuit were peaceful and glistening following the storm. IMG_7048IMG_7055So we do the chores and head to the house and call it a day. Friday morning, also known as “harvest day”, rolls around. Before heading up to the gardens, and since the raging torrents had subsided, I went over to check on my sweet little wool sheep. My most skittish ewe, presumably from the fear of the intense storm, had likely spooked and had gotten herself tangled in our electrified net fencing,,, and was dead. Not at all what I was expecting to find waiting for me on that otherwise beautiful morning. (Here the little bird begins bashing it’s head on the window, trying to understand why it can’t get out.)

But (not to sound cold), there’s a business to run and a harvest to execute. So I untangle the ewe, remove her from the paddock, and in a haze, move on with my day. Fortunately, the harvest is relatively quick which allows me to return my thoughts to the dead ewe. I couldn’t bear the thought of her being “wasted”, but at this point her meat was dogfood. Her fleece was gorgeous, though. Shorn just long enough ago to hide all of the wobbles left from my inexperienced shearers hand. And she was my only brown ewe. Here, I would like to interject what a damn fine husband I have. For I voiced my desire to skin the ewe so that I could tan her hide and Eric didn’t think I was crazy (well, not too much anyways) for wanting to tackle such a project on a harvest day. He dutifully helped me, amid a swarm of flies and stench, and patiently taught me some new skills. Bless him. (I put the hide in the freezer for later tanning, so expect some future progress report on this project another day.)

I hope this hasn’t left you readers longing for the story to be over. It’s not over. There’s more.

Saturday morning Ira and I (along with Hannah), head to Nashville for market in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. With so many chores on the farm right now, Eric or I, and a child or two, has to stay home from market to tend it all. Well. When Eric made the chore rounds that morning, and went to check the little flock, he was thunderstruck. Another ewe, this time one of Ira’s, had found the same fate. Tangled and dead in the fence. The very next day. We have no idea what happened. Maybe the mineral feeder was too close to the fence? Maybe with the dark of the moon, the ewes just couldn’t see the fence during the night? (But we have used this type of fencing for years with minimal drama.) While I am a fairly upbeat and positive person most of the time, this series of events left me feeling cursed. And to see Ira’s face when he saw his dead sheep. A sheep that he had bottle-raised, cared for, and loved for an entire year. It’s enough to leave a mama with her heart in her hands, wringing and squeezing, at the sight of that forlorn boy. And he had just lost a baby duckling to (we assume) a big black snake, his favorite newly hatched chick from a broody hen suddenly died, and he ran over one of his pullets when moving his chicken coop… all just days before. Mercy. To quote Ira: “Boy, things just aren’t going very good.”IMG_7088

I know these stories seem depressing and sorrowful. I know I could have just kept my mouth shut and instead focused on all the fine and good things that happen each day. I could have kept it sugar-coated. Full of rainbows and butterflies. That kind of thing. But I also want to be sincere. I want to be true and real and honest. Shadows pass. We all know that. We just never know for sure when, or what the light quality will be like when they do. I’m learning that it ain’t always easy… but it’s real.IMG_7068