Just as we’re putting in the fence, up pops another predator: a big wild turkey, right in our front yard! I think it was munching the buckwheat, which is succulent right now. So just a few yards away from the vegetable garden (luckily, at that side, the fence was already up).

It’s bittersweet to spot it: a flutter both of fear and joy, because the turkey is of course another element of wildlife, along with the foxes and the deer. And it was very pretty, a shiny russet brown, and graceful too. The way I figure is that I can afford to be ambivalent about it as long as the fence will keep it from the vegetables, as long as that one lone turkey doesn’t bring its flock to decimate the buckwheat.

Speaking of birds, Saturday morning at 6 am I met one of my neighbors who is an avid birder. He took me around the neighborhood and told me all about the birds that live here. He pointed out their songs, then we stood very still (aargh, forgot the mosquito dope!) and he made a funny whistling, swishing sound, and the birds appeared, sometimes only a few feet away. They were curious what that noise was all about. “What kind of birds are those?” and more importantly, “Are they a threat tom nest”.

And so I saw (* indicates for the first time):

  1. 2 Eastern bluebirds*
  2. 1 oriole*
  3. 2 yellow warblers, Mr. and Mrs.*
  4. 1 bobolink*
  5. 1 red-tailed hawk*
  6. flock of cedar waxwings (7?)*
  7. 1 tree swallow*
  8. 1 tree sparrow*
  9. 1 catbird*
  10. flock of cowbirds*
  11. several grackles
  12. 1 wood duck*
  13. Canada geese

And I heard, for the first time consciously:

  1. 1 vireo (forgot which)
  2. 1 scarlet tanager

He showed me where some of them nest, so I can take Amie there and “call them”. And I got to discover another nature reserve, tucked away right in my backyard!

No pictures. We had binoculars, but since the birds came so close, we hardly needed them. I’m happy I didn’t have a camera on me: I really could enjoy them so much better. I think I’ll keep the camera for the birds who come ot the feeder, and those that “pose”, of course.

Now I really AM tired! We spent the day digging a long one foot trench, then installed the fence. We’re talking 150 feet of trench/fence in mostly stone and rootbound soil. We still have 1/3 to go. For budget reasons we went with simple chicken wire, three feet high. It doesn’t look too bad – in fact, it’s quite unobtrusive – and it will do for now: it will keep the rabbits and the dogs out… We don’t know about gates yet, but tomorrow I will plant the seedlings anyway. The plants’ risk of stress due to being rootbound is starting to outweigh the risk of being eaten by the bunnies.

While working we frequently heard thunder, coming closer. Suddenly it turned very dark, and the tall trees all around us began swaying like crazy, and there was this feeling in the air, of static, and Amie started crying. We were ready to run for cover, but that was it, and two minutes later it was sunny again. It had been like a giant, invisible hand had swept by us. The next town over had major hail. Luckily we escaped that: the seedlings were out on the patio!

But what an experience! So eerie and exciting and I was so grateful that we were out there, in the thick of it. I am having many of those moment of gratitude when I’m out there. Like when I was ruminating the soil and soil horizons, while digging of course, and suddenly I realized: “stuff doesn’t ‘break down’. It is broken down”. A minor difference in grammar, a huge difference in reality.

Amie had her last day of school on Friday and we spent that week making thank you cards for her teachers. She chose flowers as the theme. I drew some, which she watercolored, and then she drew some flowers in a vase herself. She isn’t much into drawing lately – she’s always outdoors – but once she is inspired she makes works of art!

3555448682_77fc12ab5f

3554640015_406799ea65

She also caught several caterpillars (inchworm?) and gently put them in a jar. She  gave them leaves for food and housing and talked with them. There was no lid, so there was often an outcry about those creatures attempting to escape.

3555447780_85facf3d86

3529598016_c81e8297f7

  • The beds (see here for map)

Bed 3: beans. A couple of days ago I sowed garbanzo and lima beans, haricots verts and Provider bush beans. It’s so much fun, tucking in those beans: big, hefty, and immediate reminders of what you will be harvesting. The French lentils I sowed on the 13th have all come up nicely, and the red kidney, fava and cannellini beans that went in the same day are slowly heaving up, bean and all: what a sight!

Beds 5 and 8: ‘taters. I placed and filled up the three potato bins, which entailed a brief battle with poison ivy, huge sheets of cardboard, and a much more prolonger struggle with five wheelbarrow fulls of compost. I planted the Salem and the Bintje. All the potatoes are out of the bedroom: yeay! Speaking of potatoes, all of them, even the Banana Fingerlings I put in last, have broken the surface of the soil.

Bed 8. The 80 onion sets I put in on the 10th are pushing up nice green shoots.The radishes are of course in the best shape of all: the workhorses of the garden, they’re called, for good reason. There’s a few carrots to be seen, and a couple of blue flax (best companion flower for potatoes), but no sign of the nasturtiums/ia?

  • The seedlings

I’m hardening off most of the seedlings by moving them from the porch to the semi-shaded patio in the morning and bringing them in at night. It’s quite a haul, but a good opportunity to look at each of them closely. And what I’m seeing is that some are showing signs of stress, either because of the hardening off, or more likely because they are bursting out of their pots. Still, I daren’t transplant them into their beds because the fence isn’t up yet.

The seedlings downstairs – peppers, mostly – are growing very slowly. Due to the fiasco with the Peacework Peppers, which three surviving seedlings are still tiny, we may have to buy pepper plants. Next year I’m sowing earlier than when the books say, and an assortment of different kinds, to hedge my bets!

It’s hard to divide my attention between the garden, the seedlings in the porch, and the seedlings in the basement. Especially the basement, with its one remaining shelf of light, is depressing to me now. It’s where it all got started, but now it’s so much more fun to be in the sun and the wind and where the birds are singing.

  • To do over Memorial Day weekend
  1. Pot up the remaining 9 tomato plants
  2. Plant two tomatoes in old cold frame
  3. Finish filling up the pea bed (bed 2, 4 x 4), figure out “trellis”, plant peas {UPDATE} too late for peas, planted squashes and cukes instead
  4. Move rest of wood pile (just a little bit more to go) and stack in back
  5. Plant fence: {UPDATE} 3/4 done!
  6. Plant Beds 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12
  7. Prune bushes {had no idea what I was doing: will see what comes of it!}
  8. Dig and fill Beds 6, 9, 10, 11, 12

{UPDATE} Funny, I was going to write about how tired I was from all the work. Instead, as I was writing, I turned to what is growing and was invigorated. I’m not tired at all! Then I pressed Publish without changing the title.

dead bird (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(It’s that dead bird again)

Well, at bedtime Amie again asked to talk about the dead baby penguin. Again she wanted to know why there was no blood. Was it really dead? I explained that it died because it was too cold. Probably its heart stopped working. I explained that our blood needs to circulate – go round and round – in our bodies and that the heart is a big pump that does that, and we listened to each other’s heartbeat (it will be a new game; she also loves to put her ear to my jaw when I eat crunchy things, which makes her laugh out loud). Then we slowly came to the heart of the matter, for her, on this evening.:

- If you’re a human, do you have to be a grown-up to die?

- Well, sometimes children die too, but not so often. They’d have to be really sick, or in an accident.

- But if S [friend at school] died, I could no longer play with her. I could still play with C and E, though [more friends at school]. But not with S anymore.

- Well, mostly, in this country, children grow up to be adults.

- But I was really sick, and I didn’t get dead.

- That wasn’t sick enough. Much sicker.

- If we die together, like in an accident, we could hold hands and still love each other. If you die first, I will still love you. But I will still have Baba and S and C and E at school to play with. That will be ficient [sufficient]. But I will still love you even though you’re dead. And I could still hug you, if you die with your arms open a bit [demonstrates]. Not if you close your arms [narrows her arms], then I wouldn’t fit. We could hold hands then.

- Usually, though, when someone dies, they take away the body, because it gets all smelly and rotten, because the blood no longer circulates through it and so no longer keeps it fresh. So they bury it in the ground or burn it up in a big, bright flame.

- I will still love you then, even though you’re not here.

Then the conversation turned to whether all her friends, E and C and some others (note: not S anymore) could come and live with us, and where would be put them to sleep and where would their Mamas and Babas sleep.

None of this – and nothing in our earlier conversations – was said morosely or sadly. It was simply matter-of-fact talk. She is trying out the concept of death, lingering mostly at its fringes: the poses we die in, would there be blood. Sometimes she gets at the heart of it, like today, when she considered what it would be like if her friend or I died, what she would do, if it would still be sufficient for her. But even then it is a trying-out of the thought of it, not the feeling. That’s why I am not worried: it is safe. And being so open about it, answering all her question without flinching, safeguards that safety and her trust in me.

3529603814_0fe3f424e9

I finished Bed 8 (see here for layout beds) and planted:

  1. Red Baron onion: 1 row, 79 sets
  2. Banana fingerling potatoes: 3 short rows (5 feet), about 20, several eyes on each
  3. Nasturtium: 1 square
  4. Blue flax: 2 squares
  5. Carrots: 4 squares
  6. Radishes: 1 square

In Bed 3 I sowed:

  1. French green lentil: 33 plants
  2. Red kidney bush: 30
  3. Fava bean: 20
  4. Cannellini bean: 10

Along with Bed 5, which has the trenches with the Keuka Gold and the Dark Red Norland potatoes, that make three beds completed. It’s going to rain/storm today, so no chance of getting bed 7 filled up, or of getting the three potato bins set up.

All my seedlings except the youngest and most heat-loving are on the porch (it still goes down to 47F at night). I’ll slowly start bringing them out into the direct sunlight of the balcony, and into the wind, so I can transplant them soon.

Better get cracking on that fence!

3529602060_bbdb2f8562

Connected At The Roots writes about children in nature, and usually reports on going out into the wild, several kids at once, with magical results. Recently there was an interesting post on kinesthetic adventure at home (but still outside).

This inspired me to make our rather wild property more kinesthetically challenging. Amie is always hanging and climbing anyway. The opportunity presented itself when we had some large trees removed by our neighbor. Oh, he regaled Amie and her buddies with a true show of how-does-he-do-that-climbing and hands-over-the-ears-chainsaw noises and heart stopping toppling of trunks and then the gasp-inducing thump…

One of the trees was a big pine, which we were advised not to keep as firewood. So I asked my neighbor to chop it up into stumps of several heights: for around-the-campfire seats, and for stepping and jumping.

Now we just need to wait until they stop oozing sticky tar, then we’ll sand them down and place them. Amie already walked on them (of course, I mean: they’re there!), and later on complained that her shoes were stuck to the pedals of her bike.

3529602412_9484e5f2d6
I also asked the tree guys not to shred the smaller poles that are useless as firewood but that we can use for teepees, either for beans or for housing.

We have several areas on our property that are quite civilized, like our vegetable garden and the herb garden, the small strip of lawn-to-be in front (it’s all buckwheat at the moment), and the “practical area,” where the clothes are line-dried and firewood and building materials are collected.

Then there is the fenced-off backyard, which is a bit like an old forest: old trees rising up, their branches and leaves out of reach up high, but below, in the pine-needle duff, roots and twigs threaten to trip you up… unless you’re used to running along a mature forest floor. The adventure actually begins at our patio, which is made of bricks sticking this way and that, and some oddly place planks sticking up…

Then there are two areas to the front which are mixed old and young forest. The saplings crowd the massive tree trunks of the old trees, sending their branches this way or that – oops, don’t let them poke out an eye! The ground is even more treacherous there, with fallen logs and cut off stumps hidden underneath decades of accumulated leaves. We plan to have a narrow path in each of these patches: hidden and shady, leading to some structure made from tree and moss…

Three days ago I chitted the Dark Red Norland (early) and the Keuka Gold (mid-season) and they were all callused over and ready to be planted yesterday. I planted (sowed?) about 1 lb of each.

3521548027_a4be5f4036 3521548489_fdf813029d

I dug 3 trenches each 8 feet long (the length of our raised beds), added some well-rotted cow manure to the bottom, then put in the potatoes eyes up. Then I covered them with 3″ of soil, tamped the soil with my spade and watered them. We should see the plants coming up in a couple of weeks, then I’ll start adding soil as the stems grow until the trenches are filled.

That means my rows were not 2.5 feet apart (as is recommended), but only about 1 foot apart (our raised beds are 4 feet wide). Also, I put in each seed about 6 inches apart, not the recommended 8-12″. Gotta make do with the space we got. Call it “intense”.

That’s BED 5 filled to capacity (and beyond). This is the relevant part of my garden layout (so far) in Plangarden:

gardenmay9

Or click on My Garden Design to see the entire garden (it changes every day; and I’m still debating whether I will get the subscription – $20/year, so I don’t know how long it will be available for you to see). Finished, unplanted beds are in light purple, whereas finished and planted ones (only BED 5 so far) are in brown. The beds I still need to dig and/or fill are in light green.

Today the tree work was completed, so I can go ahead and plant without fear of things being trampled or crushed (there was a lot of crushing: we’ll be resowing our lawn). So tomorrow, if the weather allows, I will plant BED 8 with onions (from sets), the broccoli, kale and leek seedlings, and radish seed. Perhaps I might even finish double-digging BED 6 while filling up BED 7 (which is all dug out)…

dead bird (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

In the evening Amie watched March of the Penguins. We had shown it to her about half a year ago but she wasn’t interested then. This time she was, going “oh so cute!” and so forth, but really paying attention when the little chick dies of exposure and the mother mourns over it.

- what happened to it?

- it died because it was too cold.

- but no, it didn’t get dead. Look, it’s moving, like this. [makes sad little movements with her head]

- no, sweetie, it’s dead.

- what is the mother trying to do now?

- the mother is so sad she is trying to steal a chick from another mother.

- stealing isn’t nice.

- see, the pack doesn’t allow it and the chick is back with its mother.

When we went to bed she wanted to sit in the pile of blankets to keep her egg warm. Then she wanted to talk about the penguins.

- I especially want to talk about when the chick got dead. I liked that.

- you liked it? Do you mean it made you happy?

- no.

- so you mean you are interested in it.

- yes. It’s interesting.

I had to explain again why the chick had died.

- but I didn’t see any blood.

- it wasn’t wounded, it was just too cold.

- can I have a baby penguin? It’s not too cold here.

- it’s too warm here. Penguins like it cold, but not too cold.

Seconds later:

- promise me we will die next to one another? [this while holding my head, her nose nearly touching mine, her eyes locked to mine]

- I can’t promise that, sweetie. We don’t know when we’ll die. It’s mostly not in our control.

- we could die in an accident.

- yes, or when we grow old and it’s time.

- but we don’t die on the cross. Only Jesus died on the cross. What is Jesus’ Mama’s name?

- Mary – not the Mary we know. A different Mary.

- What’s her last name?

- I don’t know.

- Jesus died and then Mary died too. They went far away. As far as… Auntie R. That was a long drive.

A little later:

- Mama, can we have another baby? But I want it to be a girl. We can call it Amie.

- but you are Amie. So we couldn’t call her Amie!

- but what if I die? And I still want to pinch your arm? [arm pinching is a leftover from nursing: she does it when tired or sad and when falling asleep]

I was dumbfounded. A weird thing, that statement: “Amie” (II) would still be pinching my arm, and that seemed to make her feel better about dying. Such a strange concept of identity, such fearless exploration of what death is and what it means to her! She soon fell asleep.

I’ve written about how I want to communicate to my daughter about death here.