You can plant beauty
You can create beauty
Your life is a unique expression of energy
Your expressions are powerful
How do you choose to move?
Every year the transition to the farming season slows down my blogging. Outside, the earth is trying to thaw even as snow sloshes down every few days. Each time I walk to the greenhouse I hear water running in streams beneath the snow, and I linger to hear the flow gurgling under my feet, promising thaw despite the low-pressure cold fronts that persist.
Sun is coming our way, though, and inside the greenhouse we are seeding, watering, up-potting. Waylon has his own spot in the greenhouse, cuddled with the dogs on the camping pad that Edge has been sleeping on these past few weeks so he can stoke the wood stove fire through the night. Of course, Waylon toddles all around the gravel floor, making games of putting rocks into yogurt cups and pouring water from one bucket to another as we seed.
The greenhouse is a place of growth for all of us, seeds, toddler, mama and papa: family.
I shouldn’t do this, but after reading John’s post, I couldn’t help myself–I had to take out the spring and summer photos and remember the heat and taste of what feels to still be a distant season.
We made it through last night’s cold, and the car engine managed to turn over this morning, despite it being -23. If I sit close to the wood stove and stare into the photos enough, I can almost imagine that we’re tumbling amid all that food right now. Soon. Soon.
For now, I’m thankful for the heat of the stove, for bacon from our friends at Humble Rain Farm, and for the photos that remind me of what’s to come.
Spretnak, Rhazes, Mirlo. Lettuce in November!
We started these late in the season, and yesterday was likely our last lettuce head harvest. These little gems and mini-butterheads have been holding under row cover for a few weeks, and though there are still more in the garden, I doubt they will size up even to their mini-maturity.
If this is the last harvest, I marvel at them even more–lettuce is so beautiful. I love the ruffled texture of the butterheads, the deep green cones of Spretnak, a little-gem romaine, and the rich velvety red of Rhazes, another little-gem (“little gem” really is the actual term for these mini romaines. It suits them well).
If I didn’t want to eat a salad, or cut them in half to grill with balsamic oil, I’d sit and stare at the lettuce like a painting. Is that crazy? Shouldn’t food be beautiful, shouldn’t we take the time to notice when it is? Maybe it’s only my perception, but I believe food tastes better when we take the time to notice its textures, colors, and dimensions. There is so much to take in before we ever take a bite.
Soil stains my palms but I don’t see the deep brown circle that spreads like watercolor on my skin until the I enter the light of the yurt from the settling dark outside. It’s 7:00 perhaps, and I am coming in from transplanting perennials. The sun is sinking earlier these days, tricking me into sleep at 8:15, though some nights Waylon refuses to believe when the sky tells us it’s bedtime.
Clouds pull over the sky like a tattered blanket, bringing dreams of storms and showers; we’ve been dry for weeks, and everyone here–soil, plants, pond, people–is ready for a dousing. We are opening like cracks in a dessert, opening for water to pour in, rush through, and quench.
The perennials I am transplanting get a bucket-full of water, not from rain, but from the left-over vegetable wash-water that comes from the holding tank we are living on these days. They accept it. It’s fall, the time for dividing and re-locating, and I’ve been given a gift from a local woman who’s tended a perennial garden for 30 years: Bleeding Hearts, Siberian Iris, Bee Balm, and Peonies. I take a shovel to their roots, circling at first, digging deep around them, and then finally sneaking under and leveraging up, the crack and pop of release telling me it’s done. Tenderly, I pull the plants out, move them to pots, load them in the truck, and bring them home to join echinacea, yarrow, and rudbeckia.
All this digging, pulling, breaking free–I’m doing the same, finding the overgrown parts of myself where frustration hides in a tangle of roots. When the digging gets tough, I look out and see the trees glowing with fiery leaves, transforming the entire landscape with their announcement of letting go.
With each moment of pause staring out at the mountains and each plant dug up, the trees and perennials teach me the magnificence of release, the necessity of breaking apart and creating space.
I dump buckets of compost on the newly transplanted perennials, and I keep the stain of soil on my hands to remind myself that I am perennial, too. It’s good to trim down and be tucked in before winter.
As we prepared for the first frost last Thursday, we offered free pick-your-own flowers to our CSA members. I wanted to pick all the flowers, the zinnias especially, which finally began to send out long cutting stems a few weeks ago when I learned to prune the first middle bloom low on the plant to encourage branching at the base. I remember the excitement of seeing those first blooms, and then the slow impatience as the plants stayed squat and the stems too short to put in a bouquet. I didn’t want to cut the middle–it was so precious and the plants were so small at the time it seemed as if I would stunt them even more.
One day when I finally remembered this important instruction, I took the shears out and walked down the bed, fearlessly clipping those blooms, which by now had passed their prime and begun to prepare themselves for the transition into seed-heads. With each snip and heavy drop of a flower I felt as if I was somehow freeing the zinnias. It wasn’t long before they did begin to branch out and shoot up new blooms with smooth, long green stems.
It’s hard to trust ourselves sometimes. Who wants to prune the first bloom? Who wants to risk that cut, that exposure? We are not often taught to reduce–more! more! is the mantra society plugs into us. But look what the zinnias teach us: prune, cut low, and you create space for so much beauty.
Each time I announced free pick-your-own flowers at CSA pick-up, delight spread over our members’ faces. Even those in a rush put down their baskets and bags of veggies to make their own bouquet. They came back with arrangements of zinnias, rudbeckia, statice, amaranth, sunflowers, salvia, aster, marigolds, and calendula. One woman told me, I’m not usually very good at making bouquets, but this one seemed to come together!
I believe if you give someone some shears and point them to rows of flowers, they will take beauty and create more.
The frost kissed those zinnias on Thursday night and left them brown by morning. It’s time now to pull the plants and put the flower beds to rest for the season. This is the gift that frost brings: the encouragement to say goodbye, to clear out the garden and let the soil rest; and just as pruning makes space for the blooms we seek, the frost tells us to make space for winter, which will eventually turn again into spring, when we will take that space and plant flowers once more.
Gratitude. My medicine for those times when I don’t move with ease. To think of a smile, or a friend, or the break of sun over the garden–to pull up gratitude as if it were a carrot releasing from the soil. This is what I’ve learned as a farmer: We harvest more than food from the garden, as we must if we are to create a balanced life.
So today, my gratitude:
Sleeping in, waking slowly
Sun after a rainy day
The punctuated calls of the rooster
Zinnias, sunflowers, statice
Aster, rudbeckia, calendula
The slightest breeze, telling me, it’s okay, move slow today
There are the mainstays, of course–my family, the dogs–but these snippets lift me, too. The small things find me in the in-between-moments, when no one else is around, and they smile at me, and I feel the corners of my mouth lift to smile back.
what are you grateful for today?
We’ve entered zucchini and egg season, by which I mean we only eat zucchinis and eggs due to lack of time to make any other meal. What else could be so fast as summer squash sauteed in butter, eggs cracked in the pan and yolks broken with a spatula, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a quick chop of parsley, folding in of some thinly sliced cheddar, and an easy transfer from pan to tortilla? It takes maybe five minutes. And we’ve got a lot of zucchini. The eggs, not as many (60 layers and only our 8 oldest are laying…oh chickens, how much longer can you hold out?), but plenty for the two of us and Waylon, who has also recently discovered scrambled eggs.
I think we had the same meal three times in the same day last week, with perhaps a slight variation from rice tortilla to a romaine leaf wrap when we ran out of the real thing. It’s high time for succession pulling and planting: the first round of kale, out. Two rows of lettuce mix and two rows of Asian greens, gone. Broadfork, compost, rake. Seed, transplant. Last night the dill finally went in, though the cilantro still waits in its trays, catching my eyes each time I walk by it, as does the next succession of summer squash. Soon. Soon. If we don’t get it in, what will our quick scrambles turn into?
Despite all the work there is to be done, there are moments of reprieve: a coffee gelato cone, a dunk in the reservoir, a quiet hour after the babe and papa have gone to sleep. I sink into these moments, these quiet breaths scattered like a trail through the day: this way now, there will be rest soon enough.
In another 6 hours the sun will rise, and we will, too. Edge will make chai, Waylon will eat a banana, and I’ll turn on the stove to make breakfast of golden yolked eggs and zucchini.
I walk into the woods for the first time in what feels like months. Winter is filled with snowy walks, but soft snow in late spring keeps my post-holing legs out for a while, and then comes seeding time and summer and all the work that the garden demands, and so the woods form the periphery of my days; they frame this land we live on, but it’s only now that I finally leave the open picture and venture back into the shaded and layered forest.
Before I even cross the wood line, though, I stop. Milkweed is flowering in the neighbor’s field. In the garden I pull it, the long straight root sliding out with a quiet, satisfying pop, but here I look. A few years ago, while taking the Wisdom of the Herbs class, I learned to harvest milkweed flowers, saute them with some olive oil and tahini, and eat them in a wild edible stir-fry. During harvest we took out our hand lenses and looked into the flowers, pausing to take in the shape of each petal, the insects that crawled across the flowering globe, the details that only reveal themselves when you stop to see.
It occurs to me now that life is a continual practice of seeing. It is not so much that the world is asking me to open my eyes, but that my own soul is sending the request: stop, look. It’s this pause that grounds me. In her book The Backyard Parables, Margaret Roach writes:
I am fairly certain that to make a 365-day garden you must also learn all over again how to see–to see beyond the big blue Hydrangea and other obvious show-offs, right down to the shapes of buds and textural complexity of bark, and the way the play of light and shadow, sounds and smells, and even movement contribute to the living pictures…You must learn to see with your heart; the eyes won’t do in the hardest months. You must look viscerally, not somatically; it will take you in the direction of the light.
And so it goes for the wild places beyond the garden, too–I must learn to see beyond the lilies and black-eyed susans, and look also at the milkweed, this plant I regard as a weed in the garden, but that blooms here now with quiet beauty. We all belong here, this much I know. Despite my attempts to clear milkweed and plantain and knotweed and grass from one rectangle of earth so I may grow spinach and lettuce and carrots and beets instead, we all belong here. To learn to see in this way is to bring ourselves back into the realm of belonging, too.
After pausing at the milkweed, I keep walking. My camera stays slung over my shoulder, switched off, as I follow the sounds of the dogs as they jump and race through the trees. They have lessons to teach me, too, but also remind me this: the woods are meant for exploring, open your eyes, leap in.
This time of year is for starting seeds. I sow mine into flats in the greenhouse, where the soil stays warm and perfectly moist. We learn to seed from nature, though, and wildness has sown itself over and over, starting long before greenhouses ever came along…
This time of year is for starting seeds, and this weekend we found some that started themselves along a hiking trail: