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Friday, March 19, 2010

Materials on hand, a bit of thought and a little elbow grease

The Americaunas are growing like weeds

Today was mostly flowers day in the potting shed; there were seeds of various vintages languishing in the seed drawer and Risa's making an effort to get most of them out of the envelope and start over with new packets/saved seeds next year.

She could have bought, or, with forethought, made, better potting soil; the stuff on hand smells like a South Georgia dirt basement and seems to be half bark. To get something representing "fine soil" she's taken to running this stuff through a heavy-duty kitchen sifter. It's the kind with a big crank handle on top, sitting on a tripod. Slowly she fills a number ten tomato can, while listening to the classical station on an old radio donated by the kids, which hangs amid the rafters.

Risa fills each 4" pot halfway up with compost (and ha-ha to whomever says it must be "well rotted"; you go with what you've got) and then to within an inch of the top with the bark-o-bits, then shakes the flat till all the pots are level, more or less.

She opens a packet, afraid to check its "packed for" date, shakes the seeds out into a little bisque-fired dish, and plucks them one by one with tweezers, dropping them in the pots in a pattern of four to the pot, square. If there are any left over, she drops one in the center of each pot till they are gone. This is done right to left, front to back, and if she goes away for a bit, she sticks the tweezers upright in the next unseeded pot, to mark her place till she gets back.

It's not too unlike quilting.

The empty packet, with a date added by grease pencil, is tucked beside a pot to show what's in the flat, and then Risa drops a half handful of sifted bark-o-dust over each pot, shakes everything down level, carries the flat to the grow tunnel, gives it a gentle blast from the pistol-grip garden-hose nozzle, and goes back to start the next flat.

What's in them? Asters, echinacea, zinnias, statice, sweet williams, marigolds, calendulas, some other things. Not all of this will come up. Some of this is old seed anyway, and some will quite rightly protest such abuse by refusing to make a showing. Some pots might have five seedlings and some none; once the second set of leaves appears, things will be shuffled around until there's one per pot of whatever did sprout.

Risa finishes up by putting up a flat of tomatillos and basil and parking it in the potting shed window, next to such tomatoes, peppers and eggplants as have come up.

She used to be good at this but her green thumb is winding down; to make up for the loss in quality she plants more flats, and manages to fill up the garden by throwing in her regulars, then her reserves, and finally the national guard. No self-respecting super-gardener would stand for it, but she hasn't asked them to, eh?

Just across the wall, in the chicken barn, there's quite a bit of commotion. Beloved's Americaunas are already quite large and they are done with cage life, but too small yet to be sneaked into the flock (which she will do at night, by setting them on the roost).

She's building them a pen that takes up a third of the barn, using hardware cloth and twisties, roofed with a sheet and clothes pins. This takes a lot of clothespins, as at least one Rhode Island Red will test its holding qualities, while chasing a fly, before the week is out.

Again, not the sort of design you will see in the guidebooks, but it uses materials on hand, a bit of thought and a little elbow grease, which for decades -- centuries -- were the principal currency in use on American farms.

Like elsewhere to this day.

Eggs, potatoes and bok choi in the sunshine, on the "patio" by the lilac bush. With a small glass of home brew (it's potent, as it turns out).

"You know what?"

"What?"

"Proud o' ya."

"Proud o' you too, luv."


For a man to pride himself on this kind of wealth, as if it enriched him, is as ridiculous as if one struggling in the ocean with a bag of gold on his back should gasp out, "I am worth a hundred thousand dollars!" I see his ineffectual struggles just as plainly, and what it is that sinks him. -- H.D. Thoreau, Journal

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