I snapped this shot of the little birds nest in the big red maple a few weeks ago, just as the tight red buds were starting to form on the bare branches to signal the end of winter. Just this past weekend, the spiny flowers had started to unfurl, a first fuzzy pop of spring color against the sky.Then, the big late season storm hit and the branch with the nest and the fuzzy red blooms came down under the weight of the snow. The yard littered with similar fallen soldiers, the aftermath of what seems to be the last gasp of winter. Sigh.
We are getting bees! We are in week three of our ahhhmazing beekeeping class, a collaboration between the Central Virginia Beekeeping Association and Parks and Rec (I can’t help but picture Ron Swanson). We will be installing our hives in April, with hands on help from my honey mentor, McKay, whose HiHat hives have made the best honey I’ve tasted out of Brooklyn and whose bees are currently pollinating the dogwoods and magnolias of Mississippi. The more I learn about the bees, the more I love them. They are brilliant and capable and changeable and what they can do is some sort of ancient magic. I can’t wait to share my adventures with them here.
incredible salivation worthy hive image from the ever-beautiful Wayward Spark
So, if you couldn’t tell over here at Feather by Feather we have a serious thing for birds. A certain type of person might blame my Brooklyn tenure, where you can’t swing a taxidermied cat at the Brooklyn Flea without hitting something someone’s put a bird on (watch it again, it’s amazing). But that type of person would be wrong. When I was growing up we had a big bay window in our living room and my Mama kept birdfeeders out there and I’d sit in the window seat and watch them. Tiny delicate songbirds and dun lady Cardinals and big bully Jays. I got to pick out the birdbath at the Pottery Factory (a ruffly concrete number) and when it was time to get more seed, Mama would take me with her to Southern States, a small regional farmers co-op which, in addition to fodder, seed, tractors, and tools ALSO sold Breyer model horses, another ob.session of 8 year old me. I digress. The birdseed was stored there in large self-serve half barrels, black oil sunflower seeds for the Cardinals, millet for the Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice, thistle for the noble and special Goldfinch, and cobbed corn for any lame fool addled enough to want to feed a squirrel. I remember so well running the seeds through my hands, the smell of the thistle, the dust floating in the sunshafts streaming in the windows by the big checkerboard Purina logo. So. Now that I have a window seat of my own, my Mama passed along her birdfeeders to me. Hung on shepherd’s crooks and complete with baffles to keep those fat, oil-furred country squire squirrels at bay, the birds love them, and I watch them come and go and talk and pick and dance and swoop all day (below photo taken after I chased them all away with my camera, of course).
With the cold frames comes the (very very very) exciting discussions of what we will be growing in the garden this coming season. Talks of my Mama shelling peas with her grandmother on her porch, thinking about the tiny harvests we’d pull from our Brooklyn backyard, remembering this past summer, heading out to the country on a whim, stopping at Jay’s en route to pull potatoes, get dirty, and jump in the pool. I snapped this picture of his garden map then, as if knowing I’d need as much far off moral support as I could get. Per usual, the more maps you have the better. And hopefully we can have something like this going on too…
On the docket today: building cold frames with Maman, who is bringing up some extra windows for the purpose. For those of you who, unlike me, haven’t been fiendishly googling them for the past two weeks, a cold frame is like a miniature greenhouse, slanted into the sun. They’re good for incubating seeds, rooting clippings, and (perhaps most exciting?) allowing tender lettuces to be grown steps from the back door long after the first frosts come fall. Getting ready for spring!
drawing (and excellent instructions!) from here
This little bit of strange ancient seeming wisdom feels just about right as I roll up my sleeves and begin to work around the cold earth, planning the infinite possibilities of land and seed and creation. We are the alchemists and some of us remember and others (me) are beginning to be reminded. Amen and what a way to start the week.
This and a million other awesomenesses over at Gravel & Gold.
I fell in love with this incredible Katherine Wolkoff photograph of a deer bed after seeing it in Abbey Nova’s house tour (loving, lurking), and actually went so far as to contact her gallery and inquire after prices (as they say, if you have to ask…). The whole series of photographs is stunning, but it’s the idea of the deer beds themselves that I find so compelling. To make their beds the deer press down tall grasses to create a little room, grass walls shield them from predators, grass-over-brush makes a soft place to curl up. Something from nothing, softness and sleep. Imagine my joy when on walkabout the other day in the backyard, trying to figure out where to start digging for the firepit, I noticed my very own deer bed amidst the grasses being kept long for winter, to be turned under when spring comes*, but in the meantime, satin sheets for sweet does.
*also when spring comes, and this deer bed comes with a “free continental breakfast from my tender garden shoots” I’ll probably change my tune as to how sweet these does are, but for the time being, they are welcome to lay their winter bones here.
Sweetheart got me THREE big, thick, gorgeous books on starting a vegetable garden, so the day after the Christmas snows, I went out to walk the land. I’ve been thinking about this garden for years. Thinking big. rows of fruit trees and berries and tender lettuces and cucumbers and new potatoes and strange roots. I want them. And, I’ve decided: this is where it will go. This huge swath of gently sloping earth that gets full sun all summer and has enough funny nooks and tree-lines to the sides for any guys that like shade. This knobby, untended, johnson-grassed stretch of impermeable Albemarle Clay. I’m pretty sure it’s a good plan? Hmm.
I don’t really know what I’m doing in the garden. But, it’s in my blood. My grandfather used to cultivate flowers from cuttings and would eat a warm tomato off the bush like an apple. My mother lines her beds with precious Poet’s Laurel and twisty Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick and knows about blossom end rot and how to kill slugs (answer: with beer) and a thousand other secret earthy mysteries. Me? I’ve just stuck as many plants into whatever containers I can find, cross my heart, and know I can shake my fist at Brooklyn if it fails. Not so, this year. Perhaps it’s too much. To go from herbs planted in coffee cans to almost a full acre of possibilities? Oh. Man. BUT. We are not ones to be thwarted, we will get our hands dirty, we will grow. And- the books, with their maps and charts and diagrams, are ready to be devoured and the seed catalogs arrive next week. So now, in the time honored traditions of anyone working the land, we thank our lucky stars we have the rest of the winter to get it all together.