Starting from Scratch

SeedsBefore we left for New Orleans, Sweetheart and I pored over the seed catalogs I ordered back during the cold, dark months. We decided to order from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, an organic seed saving co-operative that’s about an hour away from us, figuring that whatever persnickety planting instructions they might have would ring true for us too. We were intoxicated with the sheer HOPE of the whole thing, the tiny paper packets full of possibility, with their seductive heirloom names (Lazy Wife Greasy Bean, Drunken Woman Lettuce, Ice Cream Melon, Whippoorwill Southern Pea, Yellow Moon and Stars Watermelon), and family origin stories (Violet’s Multicolored Butterbean: saved by 4 generations of Violet Brady Westbrook’s family, Banks County, GA, Turkey’s Craw Bean: according to folklore, a hunter shot a turkey and removed a bean from its craw; the bean was later planted and saved, hence the name Turkey Craw). When we returned we had a fat package of seeds waiting for us. We awoke to a frost today, but we’ve got to get our buns in gear! Dirt under our fingernails, the sun on our shoulders, the possibility of the soil, we are drunk with it.

Garden Maps

jaysgardenmapWith 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…lilyandpotatoes

Cold Frame

 coldframeOn 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

Almanac Calendar

AlmanacCalendarI went into the hardware store to get a tiny set screw (to keep the GD TP holder from flying off the wall every.time. from the simple force of tearing a square TMI?). I love the hardware store. It smells like birdseed and leather oil and they have classic rock radio on and the dudes that work there are true dudes and will listen to any strange explanation of a problem and try and help you fix it (remember my camo tarp?). It is one of those places that feels unchanged in at least 50 years and I hope that by not just heading over the mountain and going to Lowes that hopefully it can remain unchanged for another 50. Sigh. After the dudes settled on the correct size screw and were ringing me up, I saw, next to the ancient zagnuts and mary janes and nabs by the register they had a stack of 2013 almanac calendars, $1. No brainer impulse buy.AmericanWeathervanesAlmanacThe almanac calendar is full of all kinds of brilliant and random information, useful in a glorious but somehow achingly old-fashioned way. Each day tells you when the sun will rise and set, what the moon is up to, whether there’s going to be any significant change in the weather, if you need to watch out for any Leos in your life, and (of course) how good the fishing’s going to be that day. Red days are days of rest, big woodcut white-faced moons are full and bright in the sky, and any extra space dictated by the length of the month is filled in with information in varying degrees of usefulness: upcoming eclipses, birthstones, how much paint it takes to cover a given surface, animal gestation times, how much of different crop seeds you need to cover a given size plot of land, the vagaries of astrological signs, how to clean windows etc. etc. etc… AlmanacCalendarCleaningToday, smack in the middle of primrose February is, indeed, cold after Saturday’s blustery rolling-pin-wielding storms and yesterday’s general mellowness, and the fishing is terrible so I’ll stay inside, avoid any battling Geminis that might cross my path otherwise, and wait with watchful eyes as the days get longer. This can be a life where this information still matters, where the moon and stars are not distant and unseeable, but players on a timeless stage, dictating a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to dance, a time to mourn, a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together. It’s where the almanac hangs by the marvelous stove. So, for general thoughtfulness on this bone-chilled day, Time to plant tears, says the almanac:

Sestina

Elizabeth Bishop

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

 

Where the garden will go

GardenSpotSweetheart 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.SnowyGround

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.

On 30

PoinsettiasYes, those are my painted wood farmhouse floors. Yes, that is my pink poinsettia. Yes, they were both waiting for me when I returned to the country from the city this week. The floors have been here since 1890 or so, the poinsettia, since just last week, but my how I love them both. My mama has been getting me a pink poinsettia for my birthday every year, as long as I can remember, since before I wore a fur muff and a cape (like this) and took three very special friends to Richmond for a tea party and to see The Nutcracker (this was my deepest desire as a girl turning 8 and, frankly, that STILL sounds totally awesome). Also waiting for me upon my return, a parcel from dear McKay, with a new story (hers) and moon vine seeds to plant in the spring (mine), and a big ‘ole box from Jay and Katie Rose full of JARS (!! how well they know me) and, among other affirmations, this quote:

Time and tide wait for no man, but time always stands still for a woman of 30.”- Robert Frost

Now, I realize that there may be a bit of a mid-century jibe lurking here, one about lying about your age, but that literally didn’t occur to me until just now… rather, I read it as something powerful, as if, at 30, a woman has a certain hard-earned-sense and now-finally-trusted-intuition and faith-in-the-weight-of-her-own-truth to slow down from the head-long gallop of 16, the jittery glitter of 21, and the loud, mouthy, wisdom of 25 and take a deep breath, at last, and be comfortable in quiet, in time, in her own skin. 30 years of living may not magically afford us the ability to weigh what we need and want and love and craft a life of purpose and beauty out of them, but I turn 30 on Sunday, and I’ll celebrate it at Home, with wood-smoke and family, with Sweetheart and music, with friends coming down from the cities and coming in from the farther-out-country mountain hollers, and with love. And fried chicken, oysters, and champagne. So.Poinsettias2

Lil’ Harvest

Our little garden is chugging along—presiding over the (spotty) new lawn our landlord insisted on planting on the hottest day of the year—and weathering the stifling New York City heat (made even more mouth-breathingly hot by the hundreds of AC butts panting out the back of everyone’s brownstone, pointed at our zucchinis) surprisingly well. We pulled this ‘lil harvest on Sunday- two sweet knobby cukes, one lone, long red basque sweet pepper, two small banana peppers, and a mess of basil. Our eyes are trained on our one reddish tomato (one!), and anticipate its ripeness by the end of the week. Three meals worth of bounty isn’t too much- but it’s pretty darn good.

Early Summer Offerings

Today I took my first cup of cold brew coffee out to the backyard to survey our small domain and water our little container garden and I was positively struck with early summer wonder. First off: the simple joys of homemade cold brew are not to be taken lightly and it is ever-so-much more enjoyable than I thought possible to drink it with a cuppow mason jar top. Right now there is a ton of (fabulous-yet-frustrating) construction going on in the backyard as our awesome landlord Bernie and his yappy yorkie Zeus put up new fencing, plant big lovely boxwoods, lay down a patio, occasionally spar at our window with Nipsey the Cat, and make a big mess everywhere including in the cucumber pots. In the midst of the construction chaos, ground strewn with power tools and trash, our little garden is still thriving. Is this a New York parable? Our Early Girls are putting out their first little green maters, late breaking broccoli is rearing its head, zucchinis are blossoming, nasturtiums are up, all of the little hot peppers are putting forth blossoms (the big one already has two peppers on it!), the first strawberries are almost ready to eat, and all of the herbs are thriving. It’s always the little things that matter most.

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