Hoe, Hoe, Weed & Mow

The onset of summer-like weather has jump-started the growing season–and the weeds. Last weekend, John, Martin, and I put in the tomatoes, peppers, and most of the rest of the onions and leeks.

This morning, before the real heat set in (I think it might’ve hit 90!) I hoed that whole new tomato garden to wipe out the first post-planting flush of weeds. They never look very menacing at that tiny “white thread” stage (named for their single thin taproot), but they are a lot easier to take out at that stage and in this hot weather, when any little soil disturbance makes them wither and die.

The Red Ranger broiler chickens are growing like the weeds, too. John took to calling them the “Drumsticks,” so I’m now referring to them as “Drummies.” They’re only three weeks old now, but I swear some of their legs are as thick as a full-grown laying hen.

I grabbed one up particularly recalcitrant one up in my hands this evening as I was trying to herd them into their kennel, and was amazed at how “meaty” it felt. Just solid and pulsing with heat and energy. I’ve never raised the typical Cornish Cross broilers, which some farmers I know are repulsed by for their tendency to do nothing but sit by the feeder and eat ’til their legs give out, but I’m impressed by the zip of these Rangers.

In the morning when I release them from their secure quarters, they all race out into the grass pen, flapping their wings and checking out anything that might’ve changed in the night. That’s not to say they don’t like their ration: I’ve taken to calling feeder-filling time, the “Drummie Scrum,” and I’ve also taken to filling a third feeder because fifty rapidly growing chickens at two feeders got to be a little too crazy for me to find amusing anymore.

The guys headed off to camp tonight, and I hope they have good weather for it (or at least that Martin is not scared, and the tent doesn’t leak–in that order). We have seen dark clouds roll through a few times today, and now there is lightning flashing in a few different directions. I got the raised bed garden watered early this morning, but I didn’t have time to water the tomato garden before work–I did water it yesterday, so it should be fine.

Instead of watering this evening, I stayed out ’til 9:30 or so weeding garden beds and cleaning things up with the gas trimmer–taking the cages off the rugosa roses and serviceberry and hazelnuts and trimming around them and the edges of border beds and around the buffalo berry bushes. We’ve got a couple of cattle panels leaning up against our power poles, and I pulled those out and trimmed underneath them, too. I think grass loves cattle panels more than anything–if you leave one sitting along a fenceline or in the yard for any length of time, it becomes a real project to pull it out.

I also took a hint from my friend and colleague Robin Moore, who is this amazing blacksmithing, flower-growing, skill-having woman I’m blessed to know. We were at a Women Caring for the Land gathering that Land Stewardship Project hosts in Glenwood, and she started talking about this guy who buys up all the old seed from garden centers and where-have-you and plants it all together in a big, crazy mix.

I got to thinking about all the one or two year-old flower and herb seed I have just sitting around, waiting for the perfect place to put it. Except there is no perfect place, and there is no time to individually plant every last thing I want to grow (or even that I have seed for). But what I did have is this kind of bare, ugly place along the west side of the goat barn that used to have a big pile of goat manure on it, and was sprouting a bunch of weeds.

There were plans for that spot–I was going to transplant the “secret stash” of hollyhocks that John has so far managed not to mow (my dear husband is a hollyhock-hater, but I will let him tell that story!), but with the weather so hot and the spot so remote from my normal watering route, that probably would’ve just led to more hollyhock demise. So instead I mixed up a great, big batch of flower and herb seed–from amaranth to cilantro to Thai basil to zinnias and everything in between–and I hoed up the area, kicked some soil over it, and we’ll see what grows. Oh, and dare I say the mix contains my mother’s special “no-mow” hollyhocks? Shhhhh!

Then I cracked a cold beer and sat on the corner of a garden bed in the deepening dusk–when all the bird calls sound as if they’re coming from far away, watching lightning play across the southern sky and the rain clouds curtain around the farm. The breeze was light, the mosquitoes were somehow absent, and I spent some well-earned time just enjoying the view of the work we’ve accomplished.


Pushing Too Hard

It has been a long while since there’s been a “She Said” post. Trust me, there are a few drafts in the queue, but this is the season of all-out work. Last Spring, “He Said” and I were still living in my house in Clinton and the focus was almost entirely on getting the house buttoned back up, so we could move in and ultimately have a lovely summer wedding on the farm.

We accomplished all that and more, but the gardens and grounds got short shrift, and there was a pile a mile wide of tasks that got shoved from summer to fall to this spring–which ended up coming cooler and later than any of us would have wished. I keep reminding myself that the place I moved here from was the “banana belt” of South Dakota, and up here we’re about two weeks behind and ten degrees cooler than what I might’ve expected there–if expectations count for anything in our changing climate. From what my former farming partner has said, I got out of there just in time.

Of course, if you read on to learn the true nature of my personality when it comes to gardens, you’ll see that perhaps the “getting out just in time” comment wasn’t related to the global climate weirding at all. I am glad to see that others have taken over the garden space that once was Flying Tomato Farms–and less glad, though perhaps satisfied in some evil way that others are cursing that gumbo area along the western edge of the gardens that I cursed roundly on more than one occasion.

Listening Stones Farm lost three hens to Marek’s disease earlier this Spring, but it seems like everything has stabilized out in the coop now that the weather has somewhat stabilized. I’m down to eight hens a’ laying, but there are fourteen more pullets plus a young Black Australorp cockerel who’ve taken up residence in the hen house, and we’re getting about half dozen eggs a day–more than we can eat by a good measure, and eventually we’ll be offering eggs for sale rather than simply foisting a dozen upon every unsuspecting visitor.

A little over a week ago we picked up 50 Red Ranger broilers to fatten up over the next couple of months–part of a bulk order with a few friends over on the eastern edge of South Dakota. They (the chickens) are now out in their very own semi-secure quarters in the goat barn, awaiting the time they can set out within the grassy fenced pen to do what their name suggests (range, that is, not practice communism–we haven’t held a HUAC hearing as yet to know their political leanings, but rest assured, we are watching them very, very closely).

Communists? We are watching...

Communists? We are watching…

On an evening earlier this week, when Mr. White was getting ready for his MN Master Naturalist conference this weekend, I started getting anxious about a place to put the tomatoes. I knew where I wanted them, thanks to a brush-and-stump burning project down below the existing raised bed garden that left a small section of the prairie scraped and blackened.

I expressed my anxiety to the Mr., who was attempting to rest in order to get better from our latest plague (this winter and spring have been atrocious), and then I headed outside to pick eggs and survey my intended new garden spot. Heard a machine start, and here he came on the maiden Listening Stones Farm voyage of the 1979 JD 317 garden tractor that a friend recently gifted to us.

He did a couple of passes with me standing by a little disgruntled (My tractor! My garden! Waaah!) before he saw my tractor-tantrum coming on and willingly gave over the seat and went back inside to more fully recuperate. If you have somehow heard that I’m a saint for putting up with Mr. White, you have it exactly wrong. I am a serious pain in the arse when it comes to anything garden related (we can quibble over the other stuff, but in this arena, I humbly acquiesce).

Spent the next hour (or was it two?) cultivating my new garden space, and thinking very seriously that I should have bundled up better. But, you know, how can a gal leave her willing little tractor when it’s doing such a splendid job? Yup. And that’s how JGW got better enough to go on his splendid weekend adventure with the MN Master Naturalists, and I got what I deserved for not taking better care of myself.

I think I’m going to name the tractor Eunice. Or maybe Viola.

At any rate, I’ve been feeling rugged this weekend, though with the weather so perfect and no husband to remind me that resting on occasion and eating regular meals are reasonable things to do, it’s probably a good thing that my body is reining me in a little.

Puttered around with mowing on Friday evening–especially the goat pen where it was getting long (nope, we don’t have goats–the former owners built the pen and barn named for the beasts and we’ve stuck with it), but I avoided a big triangle of dandelions in full bloom and buzzing with early-emerging pollinators.

All at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden dandelions!

All at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden dandelions!

Saturday I felt the worst and only puttered slowly with broad-forking a bed running parallel to the road and planting with a buffer strip of sunflowers, amaranth, cosmos, zinnias, and broom corn to hopefully shield the tomato garden from spray drift from fields across the road (tomatoes are especially susceptible to herbicides). Moved a few finer-leafed daylilies from the raised bed in which they overwintered to a bed along the sun porch. They, along with several other perennials I’m still trying to figure out a place for, were gifted from Earth-Be-Glad Farm near Lewiston, MN.

Today…more small puttering repotting a bay tree and separating our tomato plants from the ones I’m offering for sale, plus a small amount of mowing that once again confirmed I am a total weenie when it comes to driving a riding mower over uneven ground. I remain convinced that I will tip over and kill myself on every bumpy patch–and we have quite a few of them even after I dumped several wheelbarrows full of sand into the foot-deep ruts where the septic pumper truck got stuck earlier in the week (a kindly neighbor came with his large tractor to pull the guy out).

Houseplants become deck plants in the summer.

Houseplants become deck plants in the summer.

It’s hard to slow down even being ill when it’s spring and you can finally get going on the pile a mile wide of projects. T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruellest month, but really it’s May–the month that everyone up here is really yearning for in the depths of winter…when it’s really and truly spring and the weather is so fine and suddenly all the projects of the past six months are falling upon your shoulders if only you were well enough and there were enough sunny days to accomplish them….

There aren’t enough sunny days or hours within all the days of the month, even if they were sunny, to accomplish all one dreams about doing in the first deliriously warm weeks of the spring. Best to just recognize the limitations of one’s capacity and also the importance of taking time for pure enjoyment–of listening to the birds, dozing with the windows wide, and spending time with loved ones over a glass of wine in the gilded evening light.