fringe benefits

moonWe waited out the last of the “little winters” with our little greenhouse getting a bit too full of plants ready to go in the ground.  The moon was nearly full, in a nice earth sign with rain in the forecast for the next day.  We hustled and got it (almost) all planted.

Doing this change, this year, scaling back the gardens – it’s strange.  We only planted seventy tomatoes.  My Fellow Man and I stood on the edge of the field, looking at the rows and wondering…  could seventy tomatoes possibly be enough?  How could seventy tomato plants possibly NOT be enough?  It’s been ten years since we’ve grown anything less than one hundred tomato plants.  Our season has been organized around hundreds of row feet of just about everything.  It feels very strange, and sort of unsettling, to be growing less.tomatoes

Part of the weirdness is missing our people.  Year after year, I have considered our customers as we plant.  Thoughts along the lines of: “This family loves this variety of pepper, let’s make sure to have plenty of it!”  Or “This person always wants extra orange tomatoes.” Or “I can’t wait for her to see these purple radishes”.  Sharing the garden was such a large part of growing it.  I miss our people, and I still think of them when I’m out there.  No doubt, there will still be plenty of food sharing going on.  It’s just changing.

Another part is figuring out what we, just our family, want to grow.  After a decade of trying to grow EVERYTHING, the question this season is – what do we want to eat, and how much?  Mostly, the answer is still EVERYTHING, but the proportions are changing, and it feels funny to consult only ourselves, not our larger marketplace, in the decisions.  We have grown mostly paste tomatoes this year, with canning in mind.  The watermelon and cantaloupe bed is smaller, more narrowly defined by our personal tastes.  I’m having a hard time believing that we will survive with anything less than a seventy five foot long row of basil.  It’s just not worth the risk!  But some things, like spinach – we can have a small bed of spinach and be wonderfully satisfied while we wait for the cucumbers to bloom and grow. It won’t be long until the excesses of the growing season will be fully upon us. basil

The topic of “how much is enough” is a big one.  We live in a culture that glorifies excess.  We are raised on it, and in it.  The “average” American child consumes the same amount of resources as thirteen of its neighboring children in Brazil, or thirty-five children in India (source).  The numbers are nothing short of absurd, but I don’t doubt their veracity, because I feel it right here at home.  Here we are, trying to live “simply”, trying to produce instead of consume, and still we are over-run with matchbox cars, legos, paperback books, not to mention the constant demand of the fuel tanks, needing to be refilled.  I’m not into inspiring guilt, in myself or others.  I am very much interested in inspired personal responsibility, in myself and others.

While hustling the garden into place this week, I thought about doing my best, and continuing to learn to do better.  I don’t do this – this gardening, this thinking, this writing, because I feel guilty about our excessive use of resources.  I do it, and advocate for it, because it feels good to strive for better.  It feels good to learn, to change, to grow on the inside.  In fact, it is much more satisfying to learn and grow than to buy more stuff.  It’s just a little more challenging.garden enough

And I believe we can take steps in a completely different direction by looking at what it is that we can make MORE of for the goodness of the world.  Love, of course, is the most obvious thing.  Friendship and understanding, love’s counterparts – can’t have too much of those.  There don’t seem to be too many clover flowers, so I think it’s safe to make more clover.  Flowers in general – especially the ones still attached to their roots. We can use more flowers.   Then there’s the other stuff, like tomatoes, for instance, and lettuce (sweet potatoes, too, and cilantro, arugula, garlic and onions, butternut squash – can’t have too much of these things).  If we can’t eat them, or given them away, the chickens and goats will enjoy them, and we will pile up their manure, let it rot, and spread it on the garden, which leads to another good thing – compost, and fertile soil.  Anything that anyone of us can do to enrich the life of a piece of ground (and I’m talking about earthworms, not Miracle Gro here), THAT activity is a service to all life on earth.   The fact that we gain incredible natural beauty, high quality food, and good health from that service?  That’s just fringe benefits.

valerian

mr clipper

i spent mother’s day assisting a professional shearing team at our neighbor’s alpaca farm. i mean, when your neighbor needs help with fiber and you get the chance to watch a pro, really, the choice was obvious.

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i guess i was expecting someone old. maybe even grumpy. i never, ever imagined this pair: two young men, well traveled and tender with fiber. they met in the peruvian andes of course.

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they sheared 20 alpacas in a quick morning. we swapped stories. in those few hours in my neighbor’s barn, my current love of fiber and the fondest memories of my twenties spent travelling the world filled my mind and heart. tales of south america  and asia flowed amidst countless facts of alpaca fiber and dyeing and shearing equipment and staple length.

if anyone is ever in need of an alpaca shearer, mr clipper’s shearing service comes with my highest praise.

goats in may

Goats seem prone to discontent. Maybe it’s an adaptation strategy developed over thousands of years of hanging out with humans. Sometimes their capriciousness is a little too familiar. They pull at their ropes, always focusing on something just beyond their reach. They kick their back legs, both in the joy of freedom and in the devil-may-care moments of frustration. They are not afraid to butt something or someone, out of their way. They usually avoid eye contact.

pepper and annie

That’s why it is so pleasing to us, their caretakers, when they are contented.

That’s why we, their caretakers, are so pleased to see the calendar turning to the month of May. The fields have finally grown UP big enough to please the goats. In March and April, our caprine friends were hungry, and eager each morning to go to the field, but never satisfied.

pepper

Now that it is May, they graze quietly all day, resting in turns, and rolling in a patch of bare earth when it suits them. They return to their pens in the evening with round fat bellies full of mature dock stalks, thistle leaf tips, clover flowers, and grass seed heads. They are contented to be scratched along their bumpy backs and down their long necks. When we take our first peek at them in the morning, they are still chewing.

Thanks May. We are all so glad you’re here.

annie