Monday, January 26, 2015

Trying out the broadfork

The broadfork, invented by John Jeavons, is not a plow. The idea is not to turn over the earth but to lift it, creating pathways for aeration and draining. Our soil is a heavy clay, despite our having added maybe about 700 wheelbarrow loads of organic matter. I have to stand on the fork's step and waggle myself to get the tines in deep enough. But then comes the lift, which is simply a matter of pulling the handles toward you and then leaning down on them. Ergonomically this is near perfect, and it's a joy to see the two-foot wide clumps of earth rise up and settle back at about a twenty degree angle.

This gives us a chance to move the beds, which are a decade old and showing signs of needing rejuvenation. I'm lining off beds the width of the fork, two feet wide instead of three,  and raking the sheet mulch out of the resulting paths onto the beds, in effect preparing fallowed earth for planting.

Hot work! We are fifteen degrees above normal for this date at 64 °F, and sweat is running off the end of my nose. This is the upper, or spring garden. It's slated to get greens, roots, broadbeans, peas, and, later, green beans and runner beans. The summer garden is in the rear, toward the street; it will be, GWATCDR, about corn, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes.

The ducks are a bit cheesed at being excluded from the spring garden, but they are still finding plenty to do in the summer garden. Susannah prefers grass and is working the chicken moat/orchard.

Three beds ready to go. But nothing is up in the flats yet. I carry off the tools to clean and put away, stopping to admire Jizo's patience (he needs flowers around him) and still-pointedness. He has palms together eternally; I put mine together momentarily and know, ever so briefly, that we are one.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

While the sun shines

It's time to prune the raspberries back. Here you can clearly see the chicken moat -- well, right now it's ducks only -- with fruit trees. Soft fruits are inside the fence.

It's also the time of year when I seek out elephant garlic that has come up all over, for replanting elsewhere. This is a legacy of a time when the garden was much smaller, circular, and had a border of the stuff. Notice I've doffed the jacket already. It's hot out here.

A new garlic bed is filling up by the bucket load.

66F today, tomorrow, and the next day. We're under a big hoop of above normal temperatures -- 80F in the Chico California area -- that extends into upper British Columbia. I know some of you are contending with ice and snow, but I still find this a bit scary, as we are at the 44th parallel. Should so many spring songbirds be urging me to whistle while I work? Meanwhile, I make grass clippings while the sun shines.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A few flats

There have been, like, six frost nights this winter so far, and the spring songs of the birds and smell of the wide-awake soil are driving me nuts. So I'm off to the potting shed to play with a flat of beets, one of Fordhook Giant chard, and a couple of mixes -- lettuce, kale, collards, whatever is in the salt shaker.

The shed greets me, an old friend. We have worked together for twenty-one years.

 If you're new to gardening and don't have a lot of flats and pots and such yet, you can start with those plastic things meals come in these days. Make your friends save theirs for you.

Cover seeds lightly. Water lightly, put in south window. You won't get the big pretty seedlings that come from the garden store (those require grow lights) but they generally pull through ok. Turn your flats to get sun from both sides, and in decent conditions (like today, over 50F out) you can move them outside. A little wind will strengthen them.

Good potting soil is a must. I buy a local product that's not too great in itself, and add some bark, some organic cotton meal, and the dirt thrown up by gophers around their holes.

Sometimes I make furrows in flats with trowels, sometimes I don't. Seems to work out either way.

This nozzle has a really good "mist" setting or I would have to go with a really expensive watering can. The cheap ones will dig out your seeds like a waterfall.

I'm not too particular about buying seeds every year. These didn't get used last year and will probably be fine. If not, I'll just try something else in the same flat.

That will do for now. I bow to the little rock Buddha and mosey back through the soft rain to the house, stopping to ring the gratitude bell along the way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Everyone should get away for a few days

We went away for a couple of days in the (alarmingly) splendid weather we are having in the West and rested and recharged ourselves at the famous Sylvia Beach Hotel, a "literary" bed and breakfast in Newport, Oregon, not so very far from home for us.

Each room is dedicated to a famous author and decorated accordingly. Some, such as Tolkien, Poe, and Seuss, are so imaginatively turned out that I'm not sure it would be restful to stay in them. We tried Melville, which was fun (it has the biggest bed, known as Moby), especially reading all the journal entries by the newlyweds, and then Jane Austen, which is much more relaxing.

We divided our time between the Reading Room and beach walks.

More here: Youtube video.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tasks and tea

Conditions are murky, and one wants to stay by the fire, but some necessary activities are beginning to assert themselves.

A thing that needs doing is testing the new broadfork to see how it works. I'm not quite ready to lock the poultry out of the main garden, even the upper part, which is often planted in April or even late March with things like peas and early greens. That's still a ways off and I want every inch gone over by the ducks again and again. Susannah, too, who finds all the weeds as they sprout.

So I have looked at the bed by the summer deck. Last year it had one oregano "bush" and a few alliums and didn't really pull its weight -- well, lots of salvia, but still.

I have a surplus of broadbeans so went to the cold room to get them and, with them in my pocket, addressed myself to the fork and the bed. Would it penetrate deeply enough to lift the bed?

Here's a commercial photo of the fork, a Bully Tools product. It's selling in the range $60-70 which is amazing if you have priced broadforks. The adverts all say it has fiberglass handles, but what I got was fiberglass tubes filled with broom handle. The handles are very hard to install on the fork and line up with the bolt holes, but I got it done with a shot-filled deadfall mallet I inherited from my father-in-law.

Based on reviews, I gather the steel is a bit soft, so I should avoid boulders and tree roots. No problem here. It sank to the hilt in the test bed and lifted the soil beautifully. At this time of year, tilling is a no-go, but broadforking is a go! I spread the seeds, about one every six inches, and with just a touch of the rake they vanished.

Feeling a bit invigorated by this success, I turned to pruning. There are five mature apple trees that want major surgery, but I'm not ready for them yet; however several smaller apples and pears wanted attention as well. Two of them were brushing the tiny house already, and cutting them back gave me some satisfaction.

After that, I took the scythe to last year's fuchsia, mint bed, and raspberries. I will have to tie up the remaining raspberries and cover the cut ones with cardboard and straw. I cut all the raspberry canes last year, in an effort to get ahead of spotted fruit fly, and so this year all the canes are second-year and should give a decent crop. We shall see.

For lunch (and dinner, for I had more of the same) I made cornbread on the waffle iron, always a favorite, and a bowl of -- broadbeans. These are not the ones saved for seed, which are very tough, gathered from brown pods and dried, but rather popped from green pods, blanched and frozen, young and green. I find they are good placed right in the steamer from the freezer, and the outer bit, which I don't peel at harvest, does not trouble me at all.

These are all small tasks, as one can see. January often sees such. There is a rhythm to them, and there is a small but persistent joy in finding it.

One builds up the fire a bit, puts the kettle on, dresses for weather, and goes back and forth between the tasks and tea.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

One aspires to be that

Like most anyone in the northern hemisphere, I suppose, that has a garden year, I begin in January with a short hike to the potting shed to see how much clearing away must be done before entertaining thoughts of flats and seeds. A cursory glance tells me it's not as bad as some years. Nevertheless, I have my excuses -- cloudy, wet and windy out -- old, stiff and cold -- and head back for another stint by the stove to commiserate with a lonely cup of tea.

Beloved has been asked by a Catholic friend about anything I might know about Buddhism's response to suffering.

"She might find your thirteen page reply a bit overwhelming," she informs me.

Over the tea, we determine that the question is on serious illness, and for that I haven't any information that would not occur to any good Catholic.

"I think Buddhism does not expect to get you out of pain, it's just intended to get you out of always starting off on the wrong foot -- adding to the negativity in the world."

"Yes, that's the short answer I was looking for."

Oh, okay.

Still grey and blustery, so I head down to the cold room to do some inventory.

There's plenty of stored water, canned goods, frozen and dried sundries, and all the seeds we wanted except cucumber (must get); of bulk goods we are high in most things but could probably use more salt, garbanzos and rye flour. Notes made; close up and return to the fire.

It's not as bad out the window as it was, and I'm not as stiff, so I shoe up and take another look at the potting shed. Looks even better in the brighter light; and some sun has gotten in through the south window-wall. If there's anything 18th-century on the classical radio station ...

... and there is. Yes, I can do this.

A little better after half an hour.

Outside, the hens are clamoring for some dietary supplement, as they've been excluded from the garden this week in favor of the ducks. So I go get them a bit of raggedy kale.

There have been few frosts, so the kale has remained unpopular in the kitchen, but the hens have high regard for it.

On the way back to the house I touch the iron-pipe bell to "awaken" it, pull the rebar "bell inviter" from a knothole in the lilac, take one long breath, tap the bell, replace the rebar, and put palms together and bow.

The bell's name is "Wide-Awake." One aspires to be that, you see.