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You know you don’t get out much when… August 20, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I recently returned from a trip to our native Nashville and to Bardstown, KY (in the heart of bourbon country). Naturally, we’d taken OFB’s larger and more road-worthy car, leaving my brave but battered little red VW Golf idle in our parking square.

Once we’d returned, we’ve been running errands together and recovering from our trip (along with our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, who’s always totally wiped out after being boarded). In other words, loafing. I haven’t seen the need to head out on my own, so the little red car has remained in place.

You can imagine my amusement when I went out to get the mail this afternoon and saw that a big, bold garden spider, the yellow-and-black orb weaver (Argiope aurantia), had woven its elaborate web from one tire to the daylily row alongside! I couldn’t wait until OFB returned so I could show him. We love these showy spiders, and it was the first one I’d seen so far this year.

I guess it’s time to move the spider to a safer location and fire up the old VW before the tires start to rot…

‘Til next time,

Silence

The gardener’s dilemma. May 13, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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“Hey, Ben! What have you and Silence been up to?”

“Oh, nothing.”

The moment these words left our friend Ben’s mouth, I could have kicked myself. Silence Dogood and I have been spending every spare minute for the past couple of months clearing our raised beds and adding compost to enrich them for this season’s plants. We’ve emptied our greenhouse and moved the plants that live there during the cold months outside, potting up, dividing, pruning, and adding our own super-rich earthworm castings to their pots. Then we’ve taken the rejuvenated plants to our deck or returned the ones that live in the greenhouse year-round (like cacti and orchids) to their comfy home.

We’ve sown greens and planted transplants, added onion sets and potatoes, potted and planted endless herbs, and potted up tender edibles like citrus, olives, figs, black pepper, vanilla, cardamom, lemongrass, and elephant ears. We’ve cosseted our perennial crops—rhubarb, strawberries, cilantro, asparagus, horseradish, comfrey, catnip, motherwort, chives, garlic chives, walking onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes. We’ve potted up extras—peppermint, garlic chives, catnip, partridge-breast aloe, Cuban oregano, jade plant, aloe vera—to share with friends.

We’ve been planning two new raised beds. We’ve been feeding our three compost bins daily. We’ve been weeding and watering ad infinitum. We’ve been very, very busy.

And yet, when somebody in the non-gardening universe asks me what I’ve been up to, I say, “Oh, nothing.” Nothing that would interest you. Nothing that wouldn’t turn your whole world upside down when you grasp that I spend hours outside in the garden nurturing our plants and ourselves rather than sitting in front of the TV watching “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives” or “Dancing with the Stars” or [your favorite show here].

I doubt that you’d be too excited about the shows that run 24/7 here at Hawk’s Haven: “Bad Dog!”, “The Scallop of Doom Knows All, Sees All,” “Who Threw Up on the Rug?!”, “Shut Up, Ben,” “GAAAHHHH!!! A Stinkbug Flew on Me!!! Get It Off! Get It Off!!!” and last, but by no means least, “How Can We Make a Fortune from Athena, the Dancing Cat?!”

Right, nothing ever happens around here. Silence Dogood is never the least bit ruffled by any least thing that comes her way. Our friend Ben is not the least distracted by dreams of grandeur connected to winning, say, the MacArthur Fellowship or the Nobel Prize. Silence and I never give so much as a thought to becoming #1 New York Times bestselling authors as we write our sci-fi and historic mystery novels.

Oh, no, no. What have we been doing? Nothing.

What have you been doing?

Grumbling in the rain. April 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben has actually heard of people who like to garden in the rain. Either these people are deranged, or whatever they do by way of gardening is far, far different from the things our friend Ben considers to be gardening.

Unfortunately, spring is such a busy time in the garden and landscape that even the rain-averse our friend Ben can’t let a little thing like a light rainfall (after two days of downpours) stand in the way of getting things done. So this morning found a reluctant OFB—goaded on by an increasingly sarcastic Silence Dogood—hauling myself outdoors to take care of the following, while Silence, mind you, remained warm and dry inside “writing.”*

First off, our friend Ben carted all the flats and containers of frost-tender veggies and ornamentals that will ultimately go into the garden beds out of the greenhouse for the day and set them either on an unoccupied bed or on the deck. This process, euphemistically known as “hardening off,” bears more resemblance to torture (from the plants’ perspective) on a cold, wet day like this. To make matters worse, normally our friend Ben would haul them all back in again for the night, as I’ve been doing daily for the past few weeks, but since overnight lows are supposed to stay in the mid-40s, I think I’ll leave them out there to fend for themselves tonight. After all, they’ll have to get out and stay out in just two short weeks, so they might as well get used to it. Plant boot camp, here we come!

Next, our friend Ben transplanted this year’s crop of surprise pumpkin-or-squash seedlings. Silence and I love to decorate for fall and the Harvest Home season, from September through Thanksgiving, by arranging a wealth of pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, ornamental corn, wheat sheaves, sorghum—you get the idea—around the front door, on our kitchen table, and on the deck. Then we typically compost the pumpkins and squash.

This move results in surprise squash or pumpkin seedlings emerging from our compost bins and taking over a fair part of the lawn around the compost bins the following year. Two years ago, we had a luxuriant butternut squash spilling over one compost bin and producing an abundance of large, handsome squashes. Last year, it was a delightful and prolific miniature orange pumpkin.

This year, our friend Ben noticed that the compost we’d spread on the hot pepper bed and perennial vegetable bed had somehow sprouted squash and/or pumpkin seedlings. The pepper bed had produced two seedlings with the most enormous seed leaves our friend Ben has ever seen. And lurking under the horseradish in the perennial vegetable bed was a cluster of super-healthy squash/pumpkin seedlings. (I’d better back up and note that pumpkins, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers are all related, collectively called cucurbits. Pumpkin and winter squash seedlings are especially hard to tell apart, and if they’re volunteers and could be either, you might have to wait until they fruit to find out what they really are.)

So our friend Ben transplanted the two huge seedlings, a couple of clumps of the smaller seedlings, and a yellow zucchini transplant we’d bought on Saturday to the raised bed behind our Pullet Palace (that is, enclosed chicken coop and yard). I’m pretty hopeful, since Silence and I chose all heirloom edible pumpkins for our display last fall, which should up the odds of getting some good and beautiful edible pumpkins this year from our surprise seedlings. (But Silence points out, correctly, that we need at least one more yellow zucchini and several yellow crookneck summer squash plants.)

The next chore on the list was to pull up an enormous armful of dandelions and throw them to the chickens. Normally, our friend Ben enjoys this chore. Far from another abysmal round of hand-weeding, pulling vitamin- and mineral-rich dandelions for the hugely appreciative chickens is more like harvesting. This natural spring tonic gives the chickens a real boost, and it shows in their delicious eggs.

But like every other rainy-day chore, there was the downside. First, hauling ever-more-slippery containers across the yard. Next, transplanting seedlings with muddy rootballs into muddy ground, then trying unsuccessfully to get the mud off your trowel and hands. Then the agony of knowing that the cold, wet air has made your nose run, and you have a tissue in your pocket, but your hands are coated with mud. Then trying to pull slippery, wet weeds out of the ground with your slippery, mud-coated hands.

Fortunately, by now there was only one chore left: Clearing one path through our Cultivated Wild Meadow and laying down newspaper prior to putting down mulch, once we actually get some. Our friend Ben should explain that our Cultivated Wild Meadow is divided into quadrants. One quadrant houses the chicken coop and fenced yard. The other three contain a combination of meadow plants native to our area and perennial flowers, biennials, and ornamental grasses that we’ve planted in over the years. A cross-path separates the four quadrants, with an antique chimney top capped by a silver gazing ball in the center where the four paths intersect.

Unfortunately, we’ve been rather neglectful of the paths in recent years, and weeds have encroached. So this year, it’s time to reassert authority by laying down thick layers of newspaper and topping them with mulch. Rainy weather is perfect for the newspaper phase of this project, since it will wet the newspaper down to a sodden pulp, which not only prevents weed growth but keeps the newspaper from blowing away before you can get the mulch to go on top of it.

Because of this, our friend Ben approached this particular chore with considerable enthusiasm. Pull any upstanding weeds from the path, put down the paper, weight it with rocks, and let the rain help us weight it down and solidify it. Sadly, we only had enough paper for one arm of the quadrant, but no matter, we’ll continue to accumulate more, since we subscribe to both our local paper and The Wall Street Journal. We’ll keep clearing the paths as we go. And one arm seemed easily doable, where four would be a real chore.

In this case, the rain—our ally in weighting down the paper—became our friend Ben’s nemesis in terms of hauling rocks. We keep the rocks we dig out of our garden beds and other ventures in an unobtrusive pile where they’re accessible when we need them for a task like this. But yow, the difference between handling dry rocks and wet, mud-covered, slippery rocks! Once again, OFB’s hands became mud slicks as I struggled to secure the paper as quickly as possible in case the rain intensified and the winds came up as predicted.

Returning at last to the house, I was confronted simultaneously by a horrified Silence (“Eeeewwww, don’t touch anything, look at your hands!!!”) and our exuberant puppy Shiloh (“Take me out, take me out, take me out!!!”). By now, our friend Ben was a sodden, miserable mass (and I still needed a Kleenex in the worst way).

Gardeners who like working in the rain, I can only ask, “Why?!” And as for you, Gene Kelly, much as I like singing in general, anybody who’d want to sing in the rain has water on the brain, if you ask me. Go soak your head!         

* An incensed Silence, reading over my shoulder, pointed out that she might be dry, but there was no way anyone without fur could possibly be warm in our frigid little cottage. I have to admit, she has a point there.

Not dirty enough. April 6, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Today was a real spring day here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. It was not freezing. It wasn’t hailing. We weren’t enduring torrential rains or days of 50 mph winds. It was sunny, mild, and beautiful, and the little bulbs were blooming everywhere. It was time to get out in the garden.

While OFB circled the trunks of each of our fruit trees with a liberal application of wood ashes from our fire pit, I set out our vintage metal lawn furniture, gazing balls, and huge Vietnamese mustard-yellow urn. We then spent a good hour on one of our most frequent yard chores, pick-up sticks (hardly a surprise given the number of trees on our property and those 50 mph winds).

I cleaned out and watered the greenhouse while OFB hauled our huge container fig plants to the deck and laboriously refilled each of the bazillion milk jugs we use to water the greenhouse, then hauled them all back across 2/3 of an acre from the hose to the greenhouse. We replaced a fluorescent and an incandescent bulb in the greenhouse, opened windows and doors, moved plants around, composted a few that hadn’t made it through the winter. I brought out the herbs I’d bought yesterday at Jim Weaver’s Meadow View Farm in nearby Bowers, PA—another bay tree, ‘Arp’ and prostrate rosemaries, an orange scented geranium, a pot of cilantro, a medicinal aloe—and cleared space for them on the greenhouse bench while OFB planted the ‘Crimson Cherry’ rhubarb we’d bought, also at Meadow View, next to the venerable rhubarb we’d inherited with the house (probably ‘Victoria’).

I weeded and tidied one of our raised veggie beds, cursing invading grass and admiring our thick stands of garlic and bunching onions, while OFB visited with the chickens and collected five more eggs. I filled the birdfeeders and OFB secured the tarps over our woodpiles and henhouse (hail had smashed through the aged and brittle corrugated plastic roof). I put peat moss around our blueberries to acidify the soil, planted a primrose a friend had given us by the creek, and replanted some bulbs that had been washed out by the torrential rains, while OFB tidied our three compost bins and did a little pruning.

Then we got down to serious fun: Walking over the property admiring every single plant; watching our dog Molly enjoying a day in the sun; watching our outdoor cats playing and sleeping; taking a puppy treat over to the neighbors’ four-month old pup Oliver. Listening to our little brook, Hawk Run, burble under our bridge as we sat on the deck with celebratory margaritas.

I’d have said we’d put in a decent day’s work, until I went into the bathroom to wash my hands and clean my nails. To my surprise, the dirt came out from under them. My nails looked, gasp, clean. None of them had even broken. 

I don’t know about you, but dirty nails are my criteria for real gardening. Yes, my back is a bit sore as I write this. Yes, my fingertips are cracking and I got a splinter. Yes, my neck is stiff, and yes, I’m looking forward to bed and a night of repairs and restoration. But clean nails? Nope, it just doesn’t cut it. Clearly I need to work harder next gardening day!

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence