Sunday Update: 4.19

I stepped out Sunday morning with coffee and a camera and thought for a moment I heard a turkey gobble. Surely not. Perhaps a starling picked up a new song; they mock bobwhites long gone. The mockingbird sussing out nest sites now mocks the squeak of the dog’s red and blue ball. I heard it again, clearer, from the edge of the field behind the house, maybe two hundred yards off.

It’s that time of year.

The fifteenth of April is our official last frost date; this year cool weather hung around another couple days. But I’ve been able to build fence build beds, move some strawberries and herbs into better spots, and begin putting transplants in the ground. The poultry palace is underway in its final location, the duck run and a half-finished coop for the Speckled Sussex hens. I was chucking to myself in quarantine- the birds, the food, the fence, the coop….these’ll be by far the most expensive eggs I’ve ever purchased.

It also struck me like a bolt from the blue that, the way things are going, the way our nation’s farm workers are treated…I have no regrets.

If you can do something, you should.

Sunday update- 4.12

The wild plum are finally blooming along the back fence. Usually it happens before leaf out, white blooms among black branches, and for a week or so I wondered if I’d missed it. They’ve started suckering into my yard; I’m happy to provide a few feet of space for the cover and the windbreak they provide.

A twinge in my back Thursday meant letting the fence sit a while working on less intensive chores like prepping beds, setting up rainbarrels, and burning brush I lopped last autumn. I impulse bought a peach tree that should be sheltered from the house.

Strawberries are beginning to bloom. And I’m admiring the volunteer phlox.

Checking in.

Four or five half-days of fence building after the daily COVID-related telecommute and I felt alright. Good, even. Yesterday, maybe the day before (they’re all blending together at this point), I reminded myself how nice it felt working until dusk. My grandfather spent his life holding down jobs that let him keep his farm, his passion. This must be a little like what he felt at the moments he could enjoy it, I thought.

This morning, feeding the birds, I felt my back spring.

Not too bad. I tried powering through- set a couple trays of peppers and tomatoes on the back porch to begin hardening off, planted the peas, watered carrots and lettuce and Lacinato kale I’d planted. Ran by the hardware store for a couple sundry items.

By the time I returned my back was a wreck; I spent three mid-day hours siesta’ing and watching old films- Mubi, if you’re curious, which bills itself as a high-brow Netflix. It was hot today, a little over eighty degrees and muggy, and I briefly considered turning on the air conditioner.

After a long, hot, late-afternoon shower I was feeling better, and re-homed some of the native wildflowers I’ve planted over the years into new parts of the side yard. Prairie Rose under the bedroom window, where it’ll hopefully clamber up and smell sweet. Rattlesnake Master up against the foundation, where dry soil won’t bother it and where it’ll bloom and feed bees. Ashy Sunflower, against the new fence, where it’ll become part of a prairie swale along with Indian Grass, culver’s root, and purple coneflower.

As long as the nursery stays open.

I laid out beds that’ll be filled with peppers and tomatoes, beans and okra, a couple weeks from now. I argued with myself over where to site squash, watermelon, and corn. I set out spots for currant bushes and elderberries waiting another few days to go in the ground. And in the evening, in the dark, I sat and watched the full moon rise while toads trilled for mates.

Prepping for the big push.

You can tell a lot about a landscape and its history listening to frogs the first warm, rainy spring day. Mostly western chorus frogs here, vestiges of historic grassland. They’re gray-brown and tiny, the width of a thumb, clambering among grass along ponds and pools and ditches. Creep close and you can watch their yellow throat patches inflate as they sing, from a distance it sounds like a finger running across a plastic comb. Three, five feet away, it’s disorientingly loud, and one wonders if it’s a defense strategy.

Lots of things going on in the old garden plot- fava beans and peas, lettuce, spinach, chard, chinese cabbage and kale, kohlrabi. The chickens are big enough they can spend some supervised time outside, playing at weeding and eating the occasional worm or slug.

The big push starts once the rain quits, shifting to the side yard where a fence needs put up. Rain barrels placed. A coop sited and built. Beds built. Taters seeded. Wet spots addressed. Trees and shrubs planted.

Skipping ahead to week six :)

The best-laid plans can run awry of frozen ground and bouts of snow, but hopefully that’s behind us now. Green fingers of daffodils are poking up, finally.

Utility companies came and flagged gas and sewer lines, meaning the fence can go up as soon as I have a couple days and the ground’s softened up. They also trimmed the powerlines, removing a couple big hackberries and a honeylocust I asked them too, which should allow more light to filter in to the plot from the west. Most of it will be split into firewood- the end product will hopefully be as much a food-producing garden as a gathering place when there’s company. Some of the branch wood may be inoculated with mushroom spawn and added to my growing pile.

After that, everything’s gravy. I’ll be moving a couple blackberries and an apple this afternoon, as the pair of figs I grew last season slowly begin waking up. Starts are started- peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, along with bunching onions and leeks, fava beans and snow peas, and we’ll probably start some herbs and nasturtiums this afternoon.

And then, there’s the newest addition- four Rouen ducklings and a couple Speckled Sussex chicks. I wanted something that’d live up to that Jim Gaffigan joke, turning inedible vegetables into delicious eggs and meat, as well as something I can gratifyingly toss Japanese beetles when they erupt come midsummer.

Everything I’ve read about ducks says they’re messy. The ducklings look so pristine and well-kept, but I hedged my bets and bought only four.

Everything I’ve read about ducks is absolutely correct.

Week Three: the fungi experiment.

There’s a pair of great-horned owls scoping out nesting sites in the locust at the southwest corner of my place. It’s a little comforting hearing them, barely audible, in the night.

Snow slowed me down this week; luckily there’s other projects to attend to.

A couple small hackberries and mulberries have had to come down, along with the bush honeysuckle plaguing the fencerow. I could burn it all for firewood, but a hundred oyster mushroom spawn plugs cost as much as a large pizza, and I figured it was something worth playing with.

I bucked a couple logs to what felt like a good length, drilled some holes, malleted in a couple plugs in each, and tucked them in a shady spot along the fencerow. Give them a few cool months and consistent water; we’ll see what they do.