I had planned to post about the garden last weekend but I was so busy working in the garden that I ran out of time and energy. You see, it was the end of a full week off from work. A week during which I’d get up at 5 every morning, have a delicious breakfast and cup of coffee made by my personal kitchen wizard named James. And then I’d put on my gardening clothes and spend the next 3 hours working until the sun had come over the treetops and was glaring down and starting to heat up the day.
I got so much done that I had not had time to do for, in some cases, a few years. Things like saw out all the dead rose canes and prune back the living ones, cut out all the dead raspberry canes and prune out the dying of drought ones and the already fruited so not going to fruit next year ones. I cut out some dead wood from my hazelnut tree. I really got into the compost piles and removed the finished compost and spread it all over the garden, then turned and refilled the bins. I removed a lot of small trees that had planted themselves from seeds that had blown in. And I finally got to cleaning up last year’s leaves off the small concrete parking pad at the back of the garden—don’t judge!
I felt good, the garden felt good, so much goodness all around. And so last Sunday my vacation drew to a close with me wishing I could spend every day all the time doing what I had just spent the week doing. If I could do that, my garden would be so much more productive and I would be able to work on my very long project list that includes building a solar oven and making a garden gate out of woody garden cuttings. If I could spend every day working in my garden, it might look something like Kate Lavers’ Plummery
If my yard farm looked like that, I’d have to come up with an awesome name for it too so I could make a video and show everyone around the Back Forty (feet). Ha! I thought for a second I had landed on a name, but there is actually already a farm in Minnesota called The Back Forty. And here I thought I was having a moment of originality. Should have known better.
Speaking of that parking pad. The whole back portion of the yard used to be a garage and much larger concrete parking pad. We torn down the garage and left only a just-big-enough for one car slab of concrete in case we ever needed to move our car off the street. Then we built a small shed and a chicken coop and fenced it all for the chicken garden. That was six years ago. In all those six years we have parked the car on the little slab once? Twice? And when this car dies, we are hoping, planning, that we will not be buying another one. We only got this one because the car share program did not cover outside Minneapolis and James worked two suburbs over.
So this is essentially wasted space. Here’s where you come in. What should I do with it? Leave the slab and build a rocket stove for outdoor cooking? Rip up the slab and plant a nut tree, probably a hican, and make a fire pit from an old washing machine tub that I have? Something else I am not thinking of? I am up for some creative ideas, so lay them on me!
The drought continues to get worse. We are considered severe, and when I look at the drought map of the state, the extreme red blob is creeping closer and closer each week. I have given up on getting any summer or winter squash. The plants are blooming like crazy but they have only ever produced male flowers. This means keeping things watered has gotten just a little easier. I have two Kentucky wonder pole beans that survived the early rabbiting, green beans, one tomato plant, and blue corn.
I’m not completely sure how the corn is doing. Early on as soon as the cobs and tassels began appearing the squirrels went on the attack and brought down quite a few stalks in order to eat corn that didn’t even really exist yet. In an attempt to save the corn, I started putting knee high nylon trouser socks over the ears as soon as the tassels start to turn brown. This seems to be working at keeping the squirrels away. It also means I have the best dressed corn in the city! Now, whether I will get fully developed corn remains to be seen. Some of the ears are getting large and looking promising. Others are still small and making me fret.
The blue corn is a flour corn, however, I am hoping to be able to pick a couple ears when the kernels are big and watery, known as the “sweet corn stage,” and make a vegan version of elote—Mexican street corn. The rest, I want to dry and turn into flour. Since the weather continues warm, I’m hoping the smaller ears still have time to develop.
The elderberries are now ripe and, in spite of the wonderment of sparrows that paid a visit and ate all of the berries from the top of the tree-shrub, and in spite of the Dashwoods eating them at the bottom, there has turned out to still be plenty for me in the middle. I already have a big bowl’s worth in the freezer and another big bowl’s worth ready to be washed and frozen, and probably another half-bowl’s worth left to pick. I can’t complain about all the elderberry jam I will shortly be enjoying!
It’s been a challenging gardening season and I am not alone. I was visiting a new local nursery today with my neighborhood Green Committee and chatting with some of the other gardeners was comforting. One woman whose cucumbers are generally prolific, has already ripped out her vines. She got one very large cucumber this year and that’s it. I came home with a couple of seed packets, a winter lettuce I am going to try to grow indoors in a pot in a sunny window, and a perennial lettuce called Canada Perennial Lettuce. I will plant a few seeds in the garden now and see if it comes up and overwinters and plant the rest in the spring. It will be an experiment.
Because there really isn’t anything growing in the garden that the Dashwoods will bother, we have opened the gate to allow them to begin performing their fertilization services.
The baby chickens are still indoors. They are 6 1/2 weeks old now and are they ever feisty! It has been very useful having a collective name for the Dashwoods all these years but the new three have presented a problem since we chose not to name them after a fictional family. We have two comedians and a pop star, what do you call them? I tried peepers and peeps and just plain chicks and tossed out jokers once too, but there was no spark for me. And then the other day I popped out chicken nuggets. And so Lucy, Ethel, and Sia are now the Nuggets.
The Nuggets are getting big. They have lost all their baby fuzz and look like little chickens now. A couple weeks ago Sia started jumping up on top of the food and water jars, pleased as punch. It took a little over a week before Lucy and Ethel figured it out too. So then Sia had to up her game. Now she regularly flies up and perches on the top of the child gate that is ostensibly there to keep them from flying out of their box, which they are now tall enough to easily look over the top of.
So far Sia just flies up and perches. She likes to do this especially when someone is in the kitchen because she can see everything from her perch. She really likes it when we talk to her and likes to just hang out and watch the goings on before she turns around and jumps back down into the box, usually landing on top of Ethel, who then squeals in protest.
Ethel very much wants to fly up there too but she hasn’t made it yet. Her attempts generally end with her flapping into the side of the gate about four inches from the top, and then falling down into the box. Lucy has made it out once. I walked into the kitchen one morning to find her perched on the edge of the countertop looking a bit alarmed as though she was wondering how in blazes she had gotten there and what was she supposed to do now? James gently scooped her up and put her back in the box. She has made no further attempts to either get to the top of the gate or over it. Freedom apparently wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
I am hoping to move them out to the coop Labor Day weekend but we’ll see how big they are then. They will spend a week or two in the sectioned-off half of the coop, able to see the Dashwoods but no one able to directly interact. Then we will remove the barrier some evening just before dark and hope for the best. Stay tuned.