Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rain Dance

We finally got rain three nights ago. I know this only because when I opened the laundry room door to take the girls for their morning walk on Monday, I was surprised to find the walkway around the porch wet. It took a moment or two for this register in my mind as an indicator of precipitation. It's been so long since we've had any measurable rain that I felt a bit as if I were in a dream. When the reality sank in, I shouted to Turfman as if someone had left us a pile of cash outside our door.  We quickly began investigating other areas of the property to get some idea of just how much it had rained, a little disappointed at having slept so soundly through the night and missing the big event. All indicators suggested that we had gotten a reasonable amount. It wasn't until I returned home from work to find the ground in the vegetable garden still wet that I realized we could consider it a substantial downpour. The rain finally arriving was a surprise at first, but having had some time to consider the situation, I'm pretty sure I know what brought the rain.

I've always held the belief that if I didn't want it to rain, I just have to carry an umbrella with me. If I'm prepared for it, not a drop will fall. Very recently I had come to the conclusion that it may never rain here again. To that end, I spent a day this past weekend installing a drip irrigation system for the vegetable garden. If the rain refused to come, I would bring the water to my garden. I could no longer handle running around, as Alan Titchmarsh once put it in his gardening show, "like a scalded cat," trying to keep everything from withering in the parched soil. I had to make a big purchase of a splitter for the outdoor spigot, a two zone timer, and a 75' garden hose to reach the front edge of the garden. That's where I began hooking up the brilliant system components that DIG Corporation sent me a while ago when I won a contest they sponsored. (The drip irrigation system is something else I packed up and brought with me from the Orlando garden.) I laid the main 1/2" poly tubing around the perimeter of the garden where the "wall" will eventually be (lots to look forward to) and then cut a line across to the first planter bed. As I drop each new planter in, I'll splice into the perimeter water line to install another drip line. In fact, I'll be doing that tomorrow night since I just finished another planter in time for the seedlings I've been growing in modules to be planted out.

The new drip line in place

The first planter now has a twin…whose wood needs to
age a bit.

When I surveyed my work, I felt justifiably smug. "Ha!," I thought. "Who needs you, stinking rain? I can take care of everything myself!"And so the timer opened the valve every six hours to deliver 10 minutes of gently dripping water to my little seedlings. By Sunday night, the ground finally looked like garden soil instead of the hideous dust that I had been handling.

And then it rained. It rained enough so that the garden was still damp on Monday night. I had to turn off the spigot to avoid drowning my seedlings. It rained Tuesday night, but a little lighter. I didn't have to open the water valve again until this evening. 

Just like carrying an umbrella--reverse rain psychology.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Signs of Progress

I have a grand vision for the vegetable garden. I drew it out on graph paper almost two months ago. When it was finally finished, I wondered if I were even capable of bringing it to life. It requires careful measuring and marking, quite a lot of lumber, and a significant amount of physical labor. Normally, I am undaunted by such projects, but there's something that makes this particular project especially difficult--I have a full-time job now.

I am grateful for the job. After all, it gives me the ability to buy the lumber and soil necessary for building the garden, but it slows my progress almost more than I can bear. For the first two weeks after our neighbor had plowed the area for the garden, I really didn't want to see it. It felt too much like an indictment, a testament of my inability to manage my time wisely. I found it difficult to get started with the building, knowing that my incredibly slow pace would keep me from completing the project until next spring. But I reminded myself in a sort of persistent pep talk last week that it has to start at some point. So I picked up the lumber necessary to build one planter bed.

Here she is, Planter Bed #1.

I built it using untreated 2"x 6" lumber for the sides and capping it with 2" x 4" boards. Before anyone raises a big fuss, I do understand that untreated lumber will not last as long as pressure-treated. I'm an organic gardener, and I just don't want the chemicals from pressure-treated lumber in my garden. Instead, I treated it with a homemade olive oil and beeswax wood preservative. It's a bit of an experiment, but it's worth a try.

The bed is pretty large, considering the size of my planters in Orlando. At 4' x 10', it's more than double the size of anything I had previously built, but in the larger space, it looks really small. That just spurs me to build another planter this weekend to give this first one a mate and to balance out what is becoming the garden. 

One lonely planter in a very large field

The other problem that is driving me to build another bed so soon is that I already need more planting space. After we filled the first bed with a good mix of the garden's soil and some manure, bone meal, and kelp meal, I quickly went to work planting seeds for beets, sugar snap peas, radishes, and carrots. Now it's full.

The first radishes are peeking through already

A whole seed module tray is planted up, too, and with those seedlings starting to put on their first full set of leaves, they'll be needing a permanent home soon. That's why the second planter is first on the priority list this weekend. Well, that and the fact that a shipment of seed garlic is due to arrive next week. Things are getting a little urgent around here. 

Young seedlings in the market for a new home

So we may be moving along really slowly, but there are definite signs of progress in the garden. I'm sure that a year from now, I'll look at what we've built and be amazed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Good Tractors Make Good Neighbors

Our new neighbor from the property behind us likes that I like to talk manure. He says it's a rare thing to find someone who knows the true value of horse manure. When I first drove up to bring them homemade bread and introduce myself, he asked me about my plans for a productive garden. Then he looked me square in the face and said, "You're going to mark out where you want this garden. Then I'll come down with my tractor and plow, and I'll plow under the field for you. And then we're going to do what neighbors hardly ever do anymore but should: we're going to garden together." Every good relationship should begin with manure and gardening, I say.

A couple of weeks ago, that's just what he did. We removed all the hunks of grass that had been torn out by the plow. He came back a few days after that with a tiller attached to the tractor, and he tilled the plowed soil.  We removed as many rocks as we could. He tilled again a few days after that.

The garden begins with Zoey inspecting
the work. (Photo courtesy of Turfman.)

As much as we love Cisco, our neighbor horse, we doubted his ability to produce the amount of manure that we need for the new garden. So we drove a little way one Sunday to pick up horse manure from a facility that boards and trains horses. It was absolutely amazing just how quickly our truck bed filled with manure when the owner used his Bobcat to load us up. We covered the pile with our tarp as best as we could, but I was a little worried about the drive home. I fretted the whole way that we were flinging poo on everyone down I-75. Imagine my extreme horror when I looked in my side mirror and saw a State Trooper. "Slow down," I said. "We can't fling poo on an officer." Thankfully, we arrived home with just about every scrap of poo in place.

Tippy and I are now officially knee deep in poo

Now the area is ready for a garden to be built around it. I had carefully drawn out a design for the garden on my graph paper, but something has been nagging at me a bit. I've been questioning whether we all need to spend so much money on building our vegetable gardens. Then I came across this article about our obsession with raised vegetable planters, and I feel a little stuck. I'm not sure how I will proceed with the design now. The original plan calls for a number of raised beds built from 2x8s. I considered dropping down to 2x6s, but I'm not sure that accomplishes much. I've been perusing photos of the walled kitchen garden at Prince Charles's Highgrove Estate for inspiration. I have to make a decision soon since I have a whole bunch of seedlings peeking their heads out of their little greenhouse beds and hoards more seeds arriving in the mail this week. I shudder when I think about the garlic that will arrive a few days later. Something must be done this weekend. It's getting a little urgent here.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mesmerized by a Little Devil

I pillaged my Orlando garden before we left, as my regular readers already know. I tried to keep it quiet, but the ever-growing cluster of plants in plastic pots started to give away the secret. By the time the neighbors started coming over to dig up a little bit of my garden for themselves, Turfman was getting a worried. He thought we might be openly flaunting the removal of plants, but I convinced myself that even though we had taken quite a lot, the holes were barely visible. In the last week, my decision to take and give away as much as I did has been vindicated. Horrified neighbors have been texting me photos of our former front garden. Nearly everything that was left behind was dug up and thrown away and replaced with low-maintenance (or, as Christopher Lloyd always called them, "low braintenance") plants.

Nearly everything that I took away with me is now thriving in the Georgia garden, but one cluster of plants, in particular, is putting on an amazing display right now. When I think of what the new owners of the former house don't get to enjoy, I am filled with wicked glee. I can sometimes be found these days bent over the flowers cackling and whispering, "Mine! They're all mine!"

And so I give you all the incredible process of a Crocosmia in bloom. This variety is called 'Lucifer,' and he makes me so very glad that I stole him. In fact, you can't make me feel guilty for my crime. Really, it was just a liberation. He was mine to begin with, and he would be dead now if not for my greed.

The flower spike initially looks a little like the head of wheat

The individual buds begins spreading away from one another

And then they just start showing off

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The State of the Pond

In the words of the band Garbage, these days, "I'm only happy when it rains." The problem is that since we moved, it really hasn't rained much at all, which means my happiness levels are draining quickly, a bit like a certain body of water on my property. Previously, when we found ourselves in the midst of a drought (and believe me, in Florida, one is frequently in the midst of drought), I would fret a bit about the dwindling water supply in my rain barrels, but I wouldn't work myself up into a nervous wreck. Now that I have a pond, it's a completely different story.

The water level in the pond is something I now monitor throughout the day. It has receded at least two feet from where it stood around the edges just two months ago, and it was already low then. If I hike around the pond, I can clearly see its former levels, and I can say with certainty that it has fallen by three feet of depth. The fish, turtles, and other creatures that call the pond their home are weighing on my mind.

That's a dock of sorts, now very far from the water's edge

I've become obsessed with the weather. I check the radar several times a day in desperate hope. When I hear of flooding in Detroit and Phoenix, I feel for the residents, and then I curse the skies. 

I would be capable of finding a silver lining in rain clouds. As it stands, I have to grasp at something positive in this situation. Here's all I've come up with: with the water level so low, I can focus on pond clean-up since the pond is yet another area that has been neglected for years. Now I have much easier access to the things growing out of control. All I lack is a punt to reach the center of the pond.

The jungle

One of many strange, plastic ducks is hidden in these weeds

I can clear out the wild growth in my wellies and a raincoat, though. I want some rain. I want "When it rains, it pours" to be more than silly, complaining sentiment. I want it to be literal. I want it now.

And wouldn't you know, it just started to rain here. It just needs to continue for several days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Starting Over

Seven years ago, I stepped away from a full-time position as an Assistant Professor of English. The reason was quite simple. Turfman got promoted and relocated, and I preferred being with him. In addition, we both preferred his salary and likely always will. I had desperately hoped that I would quickly find a new tenure-track position near our new home. I did not. In fact, though I found a great part-time position at another university, it became pretty clear that my decision to walk away from my first job was a red flag for other institutions. I despaired for quite some time about my derailed career, but I eventually got over it and decided that I could make a new path for myself, and so I did.

Then we moved here, and I quickly got a full-time professor position. Sometimes, it seems, life is just a constant stream of revisions to the plans we make for ourselves. Tomorrow, after another major revision, I begin again. I've had to search frantically for electronic files of all my teaching materials, long ago set aside and nearly forgotten. I had to assess my wardrobe again after a long period of creating a new, decidedly more casual one since I've spent more time gardening and writing than ever before. The Wellies I recently purchased for mucking about the pond and the future veg patch will get less wear than I expected. But I'm looking forward to the challenges and the rewards that this new chapter will present. I'm looking forward to the potential of it all.

The front garden presents the need for similar revisions and the possibility of something beautiful. I had hoped we could salvage the unloved shrubs, but as you've seen in previous posts, they were far too gone. After I cut them all down, Turfman went to war with the extensive roots. I think he lost 10 pounds getting them out. But then we had a clean slate and thinner waistlines and could start fresh, which is exactly what we did this weekend, thanks to the help of a super sister-in-law.

The new "bones" for the garden

And the mirror image on the right. The speckles in the
photos are from photographing in the rain.

The view today is so different from the one we saw when we arrived here. The garden still requires a lot of work, a lot of perennials to fill in the gaps. The plants are small, but in time, they will grow and fill the space. Some elements of the plan will work, and others will require revision. There will be triumphs and disappointments. In the end, though, it should be all the better for the work put in, which is essentially true for just about everything in life.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Insider's View

Have you ever considered the outdoor views from within your own house? I never gave it much thought until I realized that our Orlando house really never afforded us a good view of the gardens I had created there. If I wanted to see the work I had done, I would have to walk straight up to a window and peer out, turning my back to all the furniture. It was an inward-looking house. I don't know what to think about the architect who designed such a space. Perhaps he didn't think at all about how furniture would have to be placed in that house, didn't realize that the windows were in bad positions. Or perhaps he was a hater of the outside world. I have no idea, but I'm inclined not to like him.

The new house is entirely different. Views figure prominently in every room. It makes me imagine the architect of this house as an outdoorsman, a lover of nature. I think he's a kindred spirit. I want a house that reminds me at every turn that the world outside is a magical place. I think houses should make us feel warm and safe but should also beckon us outside. That's what this place does. I cannot walk by a window without feeling the outdoors tug at me. I can barely sit down to watch television without being distracted by the view. It's an outward-looking house, which makes it more comfortable by far.

One of the family room views

The view from the bedroom

The view from my desk

What our guests see from one bedroom