embrace contradiction

If you’ve wondered where we are this week, I’ll tell you.  We’re busy.turnaround2

After months of seemingly endless wet and cool weather, the turnaround finally happened.  It’s been suddenly summer.  Very hot, and even dry.  The cover crops grew inches every day.  The greenhouse burst full.  Everything grew.  And so, it all had to be handled, right away.

This time of year engages every dimension of a grower’s life.  To be honest, it won’t slow until Autumn, but the initial throes are some of the most intense and thrilling.  Days take on a kaleidoscopic quality.  The whirl of sky, plants, compost, soil, water, children, animals, meals, sleep.  (Did I mention dishes, laundry, and sweeping the floor?  No?  oops.)  Round and round we go.

There’s no place like the open field to meet yourself, face to face, as the tilt-a-whirl spins.  Hopes. Dreams. Ambitions. Desires. Fears. Expectations. Joys. Losses.  They rise from the dust, play in the mind-field of the garden, and settle back down in the shade by the end of the day. Field time brings us into immediate contact with the personal bundle of contradictions inherent to human existence.  Just a few weeks ago, I was waxing lovely thoughts about leaving the earthworms alone under a thick layer of mulch.  Give the seasonal kaleidoscope a whirl and watch that one go by!turnaround3

Those plants that went into the mulch are growing just fine (some places a little weedier than I’d like, oh well).  But when the cover crops lay cut in a golden green carpet, and the best chance of rain we’ve seen in awhile looming in the forecast, I was overjoyed for my Fellow Man to ride through the gardens with our good neighbor’s tractor and spading machine, working the soil into long, smooth, amazingly loose seed beds.  Spaders work the soil deeply.  They bother the worms, I’m sure of it.  Overall, I have mixed feelings about them, but right now it feels just wonderful to see those cover crops be worked under so well, and so quickly.

The beautiful terrifying sight of open ground moved us to frenzied action, and now, with sore muscles and the best chance of rain upon us today, we are not finished by a long shot, but we have made a good start at least.turnaround1

I can’t pretend that it isn’t exhausting and sometimes stressful.  It is.  I think about this while I plant, while I push a wheel hoe, while I shovel another load of compost, while I sort tomato and pepper varieties from the greenhouse.  None of the small scale growers in our circle of friends are in this line of work for the money.  Do we have to make money to survive and make land payments?  Absolutely.  But friends, there are many more lucrative and less demanding ways to make money than growing good food.  Financial greed does not rule the heart of the small grower.  We’re in this for the life.  We’re in it for the pure glee of seeing a seed sprout and grow.  We love the satisfaction of healthy flocks and herds, healthy children, and the feel of sun and wind on our faces and ground beneath our feet.  It’s simple.  It’s a lot of work.  It’s exhausting.  And it’s wonderful.

May you be blessed with work that challenges, excites, and enlivens you, and wears you out a little too.turnaround5

plum tuckered

IMGP0715The rain is starting to fall right now. Last week when I mentioned how our potato planting was laid back and we were not in a wild rush to finish before a storm or something… well, that was definitely not the case with our onion planting this morning. Wild rush. Frantic high-speed-all-hands-on-deck sort of planting time. Something like 4000 onions by 9:30 am, and after milking the cow and moving the livestock and breakfast. These intense times serve their purpose just the same, I suppose, balancing out the calm times. Gets the heart pumping. IMGP0717So, yes, we planted onions this morning. Our friendly UPS man delivered them last evening, after an already long day in the garden, while we were up on the hill doing our evening chores. By that time we were already spent and looking forward to a good nights rest. But looking at the weather forecast, we knew the morning hours of work-time in the garden were limited. We knew we would have to bust ass if we wanted them in the ground before rain.IMGP0721During the night last night, about 1:30 am, Olivia started screaming for me because she could hear a wasp buzzing in her room. She was afraid of being stung while she slept and wanted to come into my room for the rest of the night. So she did and fell back asleep and slept soundly. For Eric and I, however, that pretty much ended our peaceful slumber. Between the brightness of the moon and the looming thoughts of coming rain, neither of us could sleep worth a hoot. I did manage to fall back asleep, although fitfully, but Eric’s wheels started turning and he designed a row marker for the onion planting while he laid in bed, unable to sleep. He was up at the garden, just as it was getting light, constructing his vision/version of a rolling row marker. “Wouldn’t want to be just laying in bed wasting time, right?” said Eric this morning as he tested his new tool. (Which worked expertly, I might add.)IMGP0720All three children were very eager to lend a hand with the morning’s planting, and if not for their involvement I’m pretty sure we would not have finished. Too bad I couldn’t pause even for a second to get a good picture of the Smith family work crew (plus Jesse, but he’s like family, too) in action. We worked like a well-oiled machine and left the garden feeling satisfied and ready for breakfast number two. IMGP0726

Now, with the rain falling I’m ready to put my feet up for awhile and work on the cool hat that I’m making. Maybe even steal a little cat-nap if the stars align just right. I’m plum tuckered out. I wonder if the little pepper and eggplant seedlings wouldn’t mind waiting just a few hours before being potted up…

a clean slate

IMGP0307Cold weather is coming. Today the temperature rose to the low forties and when I left the house for afternoon chores, it still felt almost balmy down in the protected hollow around our homestead. I had been busy doing this and that most of the day and had not felt the slightest chill whatsoever. Feeling chipper and carefree, I opted to leave my heavy coat behind and head on out for chores without that extra burden. Big mistake. When I got up on the ridge and out into the open pasture, the air was changing. The cold air was skipping merrily in from the north. The livestock also happened to be situated in a north-facing paddock today, and the sun was mostly masked behind thick, cold clouds. It didn’t take much time before I was pulling up the hood of my sweatshirt and shoving my hands deep into my coveralls pockets (my gloves were also in that heavy chore coat I was not wearing…). The temperature is not supposed to rise above freezing until this weekend, and tomorrow night we could be kissing the zero degree mark. I know for many of you hard core northern-types, you are probably rolling your eyes at my laments. One day at zero… big deal.IMGP0305But, but… here in Kentucky we live in this simultaneously magical and frustrating zone of the planet. We can graze our animals year-round on pasture and don’t have to house them in the barn for half of the year. We do feed hay also, but each paddock has some grass for the grazing. Sometimes, even, the grass will actually grow just a bit in the winter. Not a lot, mind you, but some. On the flip side, since we can graze the livestock year-round, pasture water-systems are seldom set up for long stretches of below freezing temperatures. It would cost an absolute fortune (primarily in time/labor) to freeze-proof all of that pipe, and we aren’t very flush in the time/labor/money department right now. Installing and engineering the hydraulic ram pump powered water system that services our pastures was enough of a task back in the day. And it works perfectly 99% of the time. We certainly have pretty reliable “back-up plans” as far as getting water to the livestock, but none are as easy as plugging a hose into the pipe that bisects each pasture. So this evening during chores, Eric had to fill up extra water tubs in anticipation for the coming frozen days. Every morning and evening, we will be busting the ice in those tubs so that the perpetually thirsty bovines can get their precious drinks.IMGP0327The ever undulating mercury and the constant freezing and thawing that this region experiences also brings forth mud. Lots of mud. But I don’t want to think about that right now. Right now I want to think about cold. I want to think about hard frozen ground. I want to think about the deep penetrating freeze we are about to experience. It feels good and right and necessary. There is work happening amidst the freeze. Good work. Cleansing work. From my gardener’s point of view, I know that my garlic crop needs a certain number of chill days in the winter so that it doesn’t form, what we call, “club roots” (one giant single clove/bulb, non-segmented). I know, also, that a good hard winter will knock next year’s insect pests in the garden down a notch or two. The maple sap will run harder. I will be more ready for spring.IMGP0294The changing of the calender year, coupled with this coming cold weather, has got me fired up to clean my personal slate. I’ve been hell-bent, bound and determined to get my household in order.

Maybe it’s a resolution of sorts, but I don’t really make resolutions. (Except maybe to knit more, hula-hoop more, and just be nicer. There. Those are my resolutions.)

Maybe it’s because I can sense the slightest shift in day-length, each day just a little bit more; each day one step closer to crazy spring.

Maybe it’s because I know the cold weather is coming and I know the whole family will likely be indoors more and I know first-hand how much better everyone behaves and gets along when the house is orderly.

Maybe it’s just because I am a Virgo and I can’t help it.

Anyhoo, today the girl’s room got the one-over. And while I was busy there, Ira decided it was a perfect time to make gingerbread cookies. So all three kids quickly set to mixing ingredients and flinging flour and rolling out dough. And licking their fingers. Again and again.

So while I was cleaning one slate, another one found itself in dire need of cleaning. Isn’t that just the way it goes?  Round and round and round again. The days. The seasons. The years. Do the dishes, turn around, do the dishes again. So, I guess the jokes on me. I’m the one hanging on to the neat and tidy fetish. But at least there was gingerbread to snack on while I tackled the kitchen mess!