Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heaven Outside My Door

My daughter found this this morning where her dad parks as we waited in the driveway for her school bus to come.

She took it as an omen that our days would be fantastic. She's going to ace her Science test, she said, and I'll have a good day at work. Shortly after she left, I saw a rabbit hopping lazily through my backyard, munching the tall green grass that's growing around our septic tank. Take all you want buddy, I thought. It's too soggy, so consider it your own personal buffet. Thanks for your help with taming our jungle.

I went outside to try and get a picture of our furry woodland lawnmower to share with all of you, but he had hopped out into the part of our yard that I lovingly have started calling our field of wild greens. We have A LOT of dandelions growing out back. I'm pretty sure they'd be safe to pick and eat if I only knew what to do with them. We don't use any herbicides or pesticides here, and it had been at least 3 years before we arrived that this homestead sat empty. (If you have any great greens recipes for a first-time forager, please pass them on!)

Instead of cute rabbit pictures to get you through this hump day, here are some other things I discovered unfolding around us. I need you help in identifying a few too if you wouldn't mind.
The Lilac Outside My Bedroom Window
What is this taller plant with the little flowers and heart shaped leaves on the tall stalk all pointed downward?

Are these chives?!? What do you think? They smell like onions when picked!
Please share: tell me what you think these plants are or something productive I can do with all these dandelions. I'd love to hear from my fellow homesteaders, farmers and friends. What sorts of heavenly things (sights or smells) are outside your door today?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So Fresh and So Green

Ohio sometimes gifts us with the most bizarre of weather. This past weekend was no exception, with a blissful beginning on Saturday with sunshine and high temps, followed by Sunday's perpetual misting and yesterday's downpours. It's as if Mother Nature is crying, like the whole of earth is suffering from some lingering Seasonal Affective Disorder or Depression and can't shake off the bad memories of this most recent, very memorable winter. Today I wake to birdsong, sunshine and temps in the 70s, all the while reminded by the weatherman that by 3 pm we should be on the lookout for hail. Here it is early evening and there isn't a cloud in the sky. At least it's not boring. Here at the Semi-Farm, we never really know what to expect.

During the brief bits of warmth and relative dryness Saturday before work, I finally got to survey the flooding in the yard and check on my strawberry patch, which also seem to have been recently visited by a rather large and hungry deer, judging from the hoof prints in moist dirt and the few runners that had been nibbled off here and there. I don't think the plants are doing too badly though, as I see quite a few new leaves beginning to grow. I'm not sure how many berries we'll get this season, but at least the deer are getting some enjoyment out of the small plot.

Much of the yard is still swampy, but hubs did manage to mow the grass inside the fence in the back yard. It's a good thing it didn't rain today. In just a few more days the grass would have been so tall, we'd probably have had to sent a search party to find the dog after sending him out to do his business. It's a jungle out there, surely.

The yard is starting to look like a lush, green velvet carpet and all the trees are beginning to bud out and get fresh leaves. Little tinges of spring are evident just on the fringes of everything, like a green mascara coating the tips of tree branches. There is some kind of wild lettuce growing in the nature preserve down the street and the forest floor has a fresh carpet of moss to liven up the place. My little bit of Medina County is coming alive it seems.  As good as all this rain has been for the grass and deer who like making their own Ohio version of Hollywood Stars in the strawberries, it's been hell on getting the garden started. I'm afraid to direct sow any seeds while it is so damp for fear they'll just rot, and those wacky weathermen (who are really just fortune tellers with ties) said something about wet snow next week with temps hovering in the 40s, so frost is still a very real (albeit distant) possibility. It's hard to believe when it's70 degrees that tomorrow could have me reaching for the flannel sheets instead of the flip flops. Mother Nature in Ohio is one crazy bi-polar lady.

Just like the rest of it is now, one of these days that patch of dirt in the yard will be green too. And orange. And purple. And red. If not before, my vacation will bring food here to the Semi-Farm, so long as it's not underwater.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mother Earth

Other than your standard recycling, composting, reducing your driving and all those normal sorts of things folks think of on Earth Day, might I suggest supporting family farms or the organizations that help them? Farm Aid is among my favorite charities and their website is like Facebook for those of us who prefer dirt beneath our nails. Enjoy this tidbit from a talented man and then head on over to their site and give a little love to those whose love of the land helps us eat.
Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's the Thought That Counts

Well folks, here are the new additions to our little happy corner of earth. I'm posting multiple pictures not only because I am incredibly proud to have them in my humble homestead, but to also go off on a brief political tangent. I don't do this too often, so I hope you'll forgive me. (At least I'm in good company~ my pal Ohiofarmgirl is raging about Sam's Club right now on her blog.)

This year, we ordered seed from two companies, Burpee and Seed Savers Exchange. Seed Savers would have gotten all of our business, but they were out of some of what we wanted by the time I got off my duff and dusted off my credit card to order. So, alas, I had to give money to the seed Mega-Lo-Mart for a few things that were organic or heirloom if I had the option. Not only were we avoiding Burpee because they are a corporate behemoth and we usually like to spend our cash with smaller places that appreciate our gift of money and love more (and give better service because of that), Burpee was by and large more expensive than Seed Savers or other organic seed companies. (Try and wrap your head around why that might be. Please fill me in if you are successful at all. I honestly would love to know and understand.)

We picked out so many delightful, colorful, interesting and tasty looking things from Seed Savers! I am fairly sure it got close to $150 by the time shipping was included. We're still waiting on our fingerling potatoes that should ship to us next week, but just LOOK at all the cool stuff that was tucked lovingly in my mailbox the other day by my postman (who is a great person and truly a gift to the postal service, much like my friend Shelley):
WOW~right?!! (Notice the size of the envelope in the background.) I am particularly smitten over the Romanesco Broccoli, which I am sure has captivated lots of other would-be tree-hugging hippie types like me over the years. Don't they look yummy!?! And look at all the beautiful photographs of the the plants, the thoughtful design of the seed packets, which are average size. Lovely presentation, isn't it?

Here's what I got from Burpee:

Yep. That's the actual envelope size. The seed packets are relatively close in size, to give you an idea of scale. No wonder it cost me roughly $9 to have it mailed here from the next state over. I'm sure they are just as tasty and normally I don't care much about appearances or the shiny-ness of things but...really?!? Pass the cost savings on to me at least. Or don't use envelopes with the pull-tab at the back as the only real way to open it so I can reuse them. Or something.

And just so you aren't missing the really dumb part, because I wouldn't just waste my time ranting about pictures on the seed packets, check the two shipments out in a side-by-side comparison.

Oh. My. Lord. It's like the gardening equivalent of sending someone a flash drive in a 4 foot box. Seems just a little wasteful to this eco-conscious household. At least it was good for a laugh.

Anyways, Seed Savers, I would like to thank you for your efforts to not only preserve unique varieties of plants for future generations, but for being good stewards of the earth and putting thought into how your product gets to me. Even though I probably won't have to order as much thanks to techniques I learned from your website to save seed, I promise next year I will order earlier. And that $40 check for membership to support your organization? It's on its way the minute I get the work situation settled, in an appropriately sized envelope and with my heartfelt support.

Thanks for listening. Can't wait to show you pictures of the seed kids as they grow. If you are curious at all as to why I am so fired up and want to learn more about packaging materials and the environment, check out this article on Planet Green.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blame It On the Rain

The last few weeks here, like the weather, have been dreary, stormy and tumultuous. Although there is plenty to be excited and hopeful about in terms of our home, yard and garden, the part of my life that helps me pay for these dreams of dirt and chickens has been a bit wacky. I'm trying to remain fairly zen about the whole experience and to practice mindfulness in the midst of all this chaos, but it is exhausting in an unpleasant sort of way, not in the good way that physical or creative work is. This is soul-draining, and I am so thankful for the good friends and positive folks who have made the time to nurture and encourage me through this.

A monk and author I greatly admire, Thich Nhat Hahn, once wrote about how blame doesn't help us in situations like this, that are volatile and full of pain. He said that when you plant lettuce and it doesn't grow, you don't blame the lettuce but instead look for reasons it isn't doing well, but when we have problems with other people, we blame the other person. This isn't really helpful and neither are reasoning or arguing. All we need is a little understanding and compassion. He says that if we show we understand and nurture each other, things will thrive and grow and change, like lettuce will if we care for it. We should cultivate seeds of love and peace in one another, rather than feeding the seeds of anger and violence that can choke out the good things in our life like so many weeds.

Like the one in my yard, the garden of my soul sure needs some tending, so as I wait for the rain to pass and the challenges of my job to work themselves out (however that may happen), I've been focusing all my efforts on meditation, my family, and changing my mindset to one where uncertainty can be an opportunity for positive change. You know, the "when one door closes, another opens" thought process. Though you can't tell here on the blog, I've been doing a lot of writing lately, but mostly in the form of query letters and cover letters. Maybe this is a chance to do what I believe in and not just what pays the bills. Who knows. Like mother birds do to their babies, sometimes the universe kind of kicks us out of our nests to move us forward. I know I'm not just plummeting toward the ground, so I'll enjoy the ride.

April has brought a tremendous amount of showers to us here in northeast Ohio. Once the floods subside in my mind and my yard, it's time to start growing! Our small fortune in seeds arrived the other day and UPS says my box of blue potatoes is arriving today some time. I'm very excited to see them and even more so to taste them! This Thursday I'll be going to hear a speaker from the blog Ohio Bites at a local library talk about his family's adventures in local eating and perhaps I'll run into an old childhood neighbor who works there. I'll post some pictures for you folks tomorrow of our technicolor dream veggies to be, and, if the rain will hold off a little while, maybe I'll prepare the small beds by the front door while I prepare my heart for any other changes I might face.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Are Made of Dreams and Bones

It's done. Finally. On this cold and overcast Ohio day when winter drags on into infinity, I accomplished something with the garden. Nothing's been tilled or planted, but we've begun to move this little bit of earth one step closer to farm-dom. The gnarled arms of the apple trees are still bare under this dreary sky, but I'm dreaming of dirt beneath my fingernails. The seeds have been ordered. Lots of them.

We aren't exactly the type of family that shoots for the ordinary on purpose, so everything we are attempting to grow is a variety that can't be found on most grocery store shelves. It's the type of produce we normally eat but in varieties that are a bit off the beaten path, like technicolor chard and red carrots. Our radishes will be inside out, with the red part hiding under a white exterior. We're growing yellow cucumbers and green tomatoes and blue potatoes. Yes. They will be blue. If all goes as planned, it'll be technicolor and it'll be interesting. Our very own backyard horticultural acid trip. Hang on folks!

Last year we were still getting settled so all we managed to grow were a few peppers, tomatoes, and herbs in containers on the back porch. This year we're getting much, much more serious about raising our own local organic grub. Since we're working stiffs, getting this is a pretty big investment for us, but well worth the effort. We splurged on heirloom seed so we can save what we don't use for next year and be able to save seed from the plants that grow too. My brother has also been kicking around the idea of a community garden in the town we grew up in to help folks who can't afford fresh produce. I'm in love with his idea and hope I can support him in this project!

Within the next few weeks, my mailbox will be bursting with little envelopes of life. I've been stressing on life a lot lately, but I think all I need is some fresh air, time in the warm sun and work to do in my garden. Like Arlo and Pete would say, Mother Earth will make you strong if you give her loving care. My vacation from work is near the beginning of May and, with luck and a little hard work, we'll be well on our way to having the most local produce of all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

head full of compost, heart full of seeds

This weather is testing my patience, along with a lot of other things in my life. Today it was finally a decent temperature, but in exchange for the warmth, we've had a steady downpour all day. The yard is flooded again, so the sump pump shut itself off again. Not a huge deal for a short period of time, but it means some greater efforts must be made at water conservation. No planting or plowing here in the near future either as we wait for things to stop floating around and dry out. Time, once again, to hurry up and wait. Sometimes little things like this throw a wrench in the best laid plans and foul the moods of people you'd rather see happy. Life is such that it is full of lots of little moments like these, pebbles that trip you up in the road. It feels as if I've been collecting them for the last month or so and, though I feel terrible complaining as I read about Libya and Japan and the immense difficulties faced by people far away, I think I have enough pebbles now to pave a short driveway.

Maybe it'd be better to think of life's frustrations as the sorts of things you'd toss in a compost heap: all the aggravations of the work day and the not-so-fun bits of family life like so many banana peels, eggshells and coffee grounds all together in a big shit-pile, festering and hanging about, not doing much but accumulating and being a bit smelly. Ideally, you keep them around for a few short minutes in the kitchen scrap-sized bin in your head and then get over it and cart them off to a larger pile somewhere else where they are forgotten and rot, turning into fertile soil the way only learning experiences can, with time. But sometimes your smaller bin gets full too fast. Sometimes it feels like people are following you around throwing their own apple cores and scraps in your little bin, cramming it full with their baggage, poor planning and bad attitudes, until the lid won't fit anymore and the sides are starting to bow. Sometimes there is too much too fast and it just won't process, and the whole getting over it step is missed entirely. This is where I find myself this week, and the torrential rains and overcast skies only add to my melancholy.
Maybe I've just forgotten or gotten too busy to empty my little bin into the larger pile, but my head is so full of these leftover bits, this nonsense, that I can't really seem to make room for anything else. I'm suffocating on this multitude of things that should be no big deal individually, but together they make everything a bit unbearable. I can't focus, I struggle to keep trying and care, and I need support, which I suck as asking for to boot. So I find myself ready to scream over things I know are just learning experiences and chances to grow while people in Japan struggle to have their basic needs met. It's shameful to be so selfish and shortsighted, so guilt gets added like a layer of leaves to the pile as the bin in my head begins to overflow.
Elsewhere, deep inside my heart, I know this weather will pass. I know the mud and rain of spring will give way to summer's bounty. I know the seeds of what I love about life, my family, my home, my farm and my writing, will some day be in full bloom. I know eventually these bits of my life that now I'm struggling to plant will be nurtured and fed by the trials I've survived, by the compost that I've built from my experiences. Right now it seems like those seedlings are just buried in shit, but someday they'll push through all of it and toss the rocks aside, emerging stronger than ever before. Someday there will be tall, proud cornstalks in place of weak little weeds.
Compost takes heat from the sun, fresh air and time to become something useful. It's going to take time and patience for me to turn the garbage of today into tomorrow's harvest. Someday the bin in my head will help grow the seeds in my heart, but I need perseverance and sunshine to help me along. Hopefully the better weather's not too far off.