Harvest Time

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“A garden is never so good as it will be next year”

- Thomas Cooper

With thanks to Chiot’s Run, from where I snitched the quote.

I’m dragging my feet on digging the potatoes. The reasoning is twofold: I needed a weekend of doing very little, and that was accomplished. And I think I’m putting it off because then I’ll know it’s time to really rearrange things out there for fall. But I’m also worried they’ve been in the ground (so to speak) too long, so it will get done this weekend.

I have my eye on a 4 foot mini greenhouse for the winter out there. Unfortunately, it’s close to $100 at Lowe’s, and that kind of money always goes toward something else here. I still have a large amount of plastic sheeting, so there’s a chance I could jerry-rig something with PVC pipe, but that’s one of those projects where you’d almost rather shell out the dough for the nice mini greenhouse instead. Especially when the landlord gives a crap about outside aesthetics.

Labor Day. Can’t believe it’s almost September. 

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Yes, that middle shot is Ansel sitting up like a human, feet out in front of him, so he can bathe the privates. Why do you ask?

Discovering Food

Yea, can’t shut me up. This post probably belongs in my cache of essays for the book I’m laying out, but I’m itching to talk today…

One of the downsides to binge-watching TV (I’m unable to ignore it when Science Channel decides to throw a Firefly marathon…Browncoats unite!) via plain old cable is being stuck with the same types of commercials for hours on end. McDonald’s latest campaign to drag office drones thru their drive-thru before work involves extreme close-up shots of the ingredients behind an Egg McMuffin and coffee…the egg being fried, the Canadian bacon sizzling on the grill, the English muffin being brushed with butter, the coffee being poured. I’m not a Canadian bacon fan, but even if I was, all I could think while watching it was how the “butter” being brushed on the muffin was likely three types of oil with butter flavoring (like the stuff you pour over your movie popcorn), GMO’d to the hilt, the eggs from battery cage hens tortured throughout their short lives, the bacon created from pigs that were never able to turn around in their cement floor and metal cage pens…..

I don’t lament the abuse I performed on my body during the dotcom years, hitting the revolving door of their drive-thru at lunchtime because it was the closest crap near work. It’s in the past. But I’ve never been so happy that my food habits have changed. The Hubs made brunch yesterday, fried egg sandwiches with bacon on top. Both the eggs and the bacon come from a farm in Fairview, a half hour from here, where the pigs and chickens are pasture-raised. The bread is homemade, this recipe with organic flour from the local co-op, which means even the flour may be local, since the co-op is working harder to stock Carolina Ground lately. It was a scrumptious, sigh-inducing meal that I reflected on often as I burned through Firefly episodes. I may still overeat and not treat my body right, but where we live and the decisions I make now…so much healthier!

I was reminded of this as I read Ben’s post today. Even when you don’t create the food yourself, it’s entirely possible to take pride in the food choices you make. I’m incredibly lucky to live where I do, and it’s thanks to where I live that I’m able to make the choices I do. I’ve noticed Jacksonville (FL) has been trying harder to pull in outlying farmers and set up smaller farmer’s markets since we left. But the pull to grab crap when crap is so convenient is a very difficult struggle. My sister encounters it daily, living in Charlotte. 

So this is mainly a gratitude post, because ever since I did my homework, I haven’t been able to darken the doorstep of a single drive-thru (and while we live in BFE, there are a wealth of choices within a short driving distance), and that. is. so. liberating! 

Wild Geese

With thanks to Kris Carr, for putting it on her FB. I needed this today and will reread it several times to get through this Monday. Canada geese especially, have a special place in my heart. I got to know them well as they flew over our field on Above All in Connecticut. They carry the spirit of my dad, from the flock that visited the cemetery when we took him home.

Wild Geese
You do not need to be good.
You do not need to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver

Differences & Work Avoidance

Mid-August in WNC. I step outside to work for a bit, because it’s warm out and I’m getting tired of the artificial environment of air-conditioning. Enjoying some of the warmth of summer, some of the only real warmth we’ve gotten this year. It’s been dang mild up around these parts. And as it is, it’s climbing to mid-80s, and I’m sitting in the shade in yoga pants and barely sweating. I have no business complaining. Though I complain more about the AC than about the outside heat. I’m ready for that sucker to be OFF. One more month. We could be kicking it off in the evenings already, if we weren’t so dang lazy and acclimated to sleeping in cold…

The local oracles think the leaf color won’t be as bright due to the frequent rains we had this summer. Last year felt dull too, so I’m hoping this won’t be the case. One of the black walnuts out front is starting to drop leaves already and turn…the low leaves are going yellow while the higher ones are turning red. It’s pretty and gets my juices flowing. I’m an autumn lover.

There was a guy weedwacking across the creek, clearing overgrowth with a practiced hand. It felt like a juxtaposition from the landscapers in Florida, many of whom speak Spanglish and don’t care about the environment (yea, OK, I’m stereotyping). Down there, it’s about fertilizers, pesticides, cutting back, whatever it takes to create pristine nature around business districts amidst a tropical environment that encourages all levels of growth. Unfortunately there’s quite a bit of that around here too…I was quite disappointed recently to discover that the reason the berry yield was so low out back this year was because the landscapers spray that whole area to prevent parasitic growth. God, I can’t wait to have my own land…

My dad took pride in his landscape, and I used to be reminded of that pride every time I’d hear a Florida landscaper grind an edger around a sidewalk, oblivious to how they were dulling the blades. Around here, the landscaping is done with more of a discerning eye though. It’s about the health of the trees and shrubs, rather than focused on the appearances. And given that NC’s nickname oughta be “Land of the Kudzu”, I see their point. Definitely like this attitude better.

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The garden’s winding down. I’ve yet to record my mistakes, but they’re evident more and more as I look at what’s growing and what’s dying. I need to get out here this weekend and cull. I have 7 tomatoes (fruit, not plants) growing and some random peppers; the basil can stand another harvest; and I’ll probably dig potatoes in another week or three. The rest is such a hodgepodge.

*****

The IRS continues to threaten. I applied today for several spots within the local school system, everything from lunch lady to paper pusher to TA. I pray for a nibble, something that will put a pinch more dough in our pockets while simultaneously allowing me to work with kids. They’re so much more tolerant of crazy than adults.

 

Midlife Renewal

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More introspection than farm stuff this post…feel free to skip it if that’s not your speed.

I’ve been enjoying a bit of a midlife crisis lately. I turn 45 next month. I come from decent genes, so I could definitely make it to 90, though I’m probably shortening my life with every day I allow bad food to dictate how large my ass gets. And we won’t even explore the tangent that we’re likely not going to have children…that’s a crusher. Point is, I feel TIME pressing down on me hard, and combined with my rather terrifying fear of death, I’ve been struggling a bit with how to deal with it.

I’m an Oprah fan, and a Kris Carr fan, so when I saw that Kris Carr’s Soul Food eps from Super Soul Sunday were being replayed this past weekend, I tuned in while I relaxed. Sunday was a true relax day…I sat on my ever-present arse and played Mah Jong for a good portion of the day. Wasn’t quite feeling sorry for myself, but definitely not 100% up. So I listened to Kris’s words, and Mark Nepo’s talks with Oprah, and let stuff sink in a little. The undercurrent of the talks was the big C…Mark Nepo has fought it twice, and Kris lives with it, a stage IV chronic type that, thank the gods, is under control. But she’ll probably never be “in remission”, and living with that blows my mind more than the fact that the cancer could significantly shorten her life.

Lots of little gems in those talks, but one particular thing Kris said stuck a chord, and it’s funny, because it could be taken as a stepping-off thought or a really depressing one: “Life is a terminal condition.” Yea, yea, that feels so Hallmark, like that saying about don’t take life too seriously because you’re not going to make it out alive. We’re all going to die. It may happen in a random car crash, the big C, or when we’re 100, but regardless, it’s going to happen someday. So the vital thing to take from that is how incredibly important it is to live the life you want, to its fullest. 

Since I tend to live in the future, you’d think that would only exacerbate my condition. But instead, it’s forcing me to look at the present, because improving my present is how I’m going to gain the future I want. Whether it’s chipping away at our debt, eating healthy, losing weight, getting stronger, all these things and more are going to contribute to our someday farm. 

*****

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My soul food sits on my lap as I type this. He bathed a bit on my right leg, then switched to the left where he’s dozing. He’s definitely half tabby, half callie…as he’s growing, his stripes grow more confused and he’s got this coffee-ice-cream light brown coming out around his face. He sleeps like a teenager on a phone, and I have to shift him frequently so he won’t fall off my dang leg. He’s such a kitten, not even 4 months yet…he’s adorable one minute and jumping on his big sister the next. But it’s mostly in play, and Fig gets pissed, but we haven’t seen bloodshed with them, which is a relief. Hubs and I are still covered in Band-Aids, but we’re disciplining him and he’ll get the message eventually.

*****

I have minimizing on my mind lately. I look forward to giving more love to animals, but we wouldn’t last a day with a dog in this apartment as it stands. We need more bookcases, less books. The 2nd bedroom turns into a catch-all when we don’t have room for something, so I’m starting there, tearing into it. There’s already a box of books ready for the local used bookstores, and I hope to hit it more this weekend.

7 tomatoes and 1 pepper on deck…c’mon August!

Summer

C'mon peppers!

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Yea, it’s been awhile, sorry about that. I’d have a leg to stand on if this were a real farm. Alas…

Every growing season is a learning one. I’m sure that’s true for all farmers, but when you’re just starting out, getting used to growing things, the lessons make themselves known strongly. A dozen tomato plants and maybe 2 of them are going to bear fruit, looks like. I overplanted, and one entire bin is withering, in spite of copious rains and the same sun as the other bin. I need to make some notes about what I think went wrong, so I can reel myself in a bit next season. I’m trying not to think about how the scarcity of pollinators could be playing a role too. I swear when we do get land, the first critters we procure may be housed in hives.

That sad looking batch of potatoes represents the first dig of the Russetts; there’s a couple left in one bin, but it’s not going to be nearly the yield I anticipated. Hubs brought up an interesting question. Granted, he’s a conspiracy theorist these days, but he pointed out that the Russetts were planted from an ordinary grocery store potato, non-organic, and it’s possible they are genetically bred not to grow outside of lab conditions. The leaves just died off early, while the Yukons (from Sow True) are still going strong. I’m thinking if it was blight, the fruit would’ve been affected. Will be researching further.

July here has been about rain, quite a bit of it, so everything’s growing like gangbusters, but actual harvesting will prove thin. We’ll bring in some mint, lemon balm, and basil this weekend, get the dehydrator humming, and I may start culling some pots already, of the stuff that I know isn’t going to make a go of it. It’s a little fascinating how the rain falls; we’ve got one tomato/parsley pot drowning, but it’s under the crabapple, so the branches of the crabapple must lean just so to make the rainfall heavier there.

Our situation isn’t really optimal for fall/winter crops, but I’m still hoping to start a tea garden. Not sure where, as the kitten is 3 months old and that definitely isn’t conducive to indoor plants, but I’ve got time.

*****

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I stepped outside this morning to cool temperatures, which still amazes me. Yea, I live in the mountains now, but it’s July, which I spent a quarter century equating with the wet wool blanket of HOT that followed you from door to door of wherever you were going. I could weep with relief. I see things with new eyes still; it’s like last year was all about just reveling in being here, and now I’m actually looking and seeing stuff. So much green, so much growth. Oak leaves big as dinner plates. The berry haul was almost nothing this year, because the landscapers are douchebags and cut it all back, which is cool though, because it helped me see how much I’d like some berry bushes when…..

So much to learn! Some local farmers are kind with samples, and what I thought were red raspberries at the Weaverville market last week were actually wineberries, a lovely mix of sweet and tart. Sampling also proved lucrative for Gibson’s, as their blueberries are the best I’ve ever eaten and I loaded up on those, made another refrigerator pie and froze the rest. The season’s definitely later up here, and I’m grateful.

I defrosted last year’s blackberry haul and canned blackberry jam last week. This weekend is about peaches (jam again) and tomato sauce. Enjoying the hell out of the process and seeing how it makes my pantry look.

*****

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Ansel’s wonderful. Curious and playful, running everywhere. He’s a biter, so we’re working with words and a spray bottle of water to get our point across, and he’s a quick learner. Growing like a weed. Figaro still hisses quite a bit, but we’re integrating them daily into each other’s lives and no bloodshed yet.

 

Learning

Life is change, adjustments, and learning to be OK with them. When the change is entirely voluntary, you feel guilty getting cross about it. Such was the case last night after a long day of being clawed and bitten in play. How do you train a kitten not to act like a kitten? You allow some of it, and whip out a spray bottle of water for the particularly rambunctious times. When you see that the kitten has found a circuit that he likes to run in a room, and anything that’s in the way be damned…you adjust.

I felt like a really bad mother last night. In the light of a new morning, with 2 cups of coffee working their magic and a kitten sleeping on my foot as I type, I see more clearly. Plus, kittens are hilariously springy, bouncing back from adversity in a manner that humans can only hope for. He may not understand why I get cross, but he’s still passing out on top of me in the evenings while I wind down with TV. No permanent damage.

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“Haha, you can’t stay mad at me, I’m cute!”

Sunday I woke up with tasks in mind and more than a little energy to complete them. I worked Saturday, and it dragged, so I was determined to get a couple of things accomplished on Sunday. There are waffles in the freezer now, fresh bread in the cupboard, and cookies for the week. The garden got some much-needed attention, and afterward, I treated myself to a bath and mani-pedi. When I let myself relax and tend to things I enjoy, the ripple effects are awesome.

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The garden…oh, the garden. I have so much to learn. I hate thinning seedlings, and the result showed itself rather mightily this June. I let the garden go for most of the month of June, not doing anything other than watering, and the result was crowded, leggy tomatoes and peppers (offering the fear that only half of them will actually bear fruit) and crazy long potato stalks. I transplanted half the peppers into their own pots, and was forced to pull quite a few tomatoes. Making that decision when the plants are bigger is a little easier; you’re better able to eyeball who’s got a chance and who would only be sucking life out of the stronger stuff by sticking around. Still, it feels like throwing away food.

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I staked all the tomatoes and the basil. and as I look at what I’m growing, it’s nice, and an improvement over last year, but all I want is more. More pots, more soil, more room. There are three fresh packets of seeds that haven’t made it into the soil yet, and there’s still stuff missing that we’d like to be growing, both for medicinal purposes or teas. With a kitten in the house, starting stuff inside may be plain illogical, so I’ll journal what we have, what we want, and make plans instead.

Such is the life of a shorter growing season. It’s the only thing I miss about Florida, and I couldn’t make decent use of it when we lived there anyway. With a west-facing porch, you could practically hear the plants gasping from the heat of the sun in the afternoons. Here, I’m rearranging stuff more, again, so the full sun plants actually get some in the mornings when the daystar cuts in through the canopy. But the days here are mid-80s with 50% humidity. To walk outside and not feel suffocated…it’s an exquisite relief that I’m still drinking in.

A couple of blog posts rang true this morning. Nourishing Days talks about the balance of effort with reward. Shannon Hayes talks about radical homemaking from a debt perspective, how it’s a personal choice whether to seek the quest in a debt-free model or take on a mortgage and all that entails. That too is a balancing act that must be looked at with a long eye. I’ll be rereading both of those posts this week, as I begin a true budget and lay out what that’s going to entail. How we must stop treating ourselves to dinners out (and in my case, Starbucks), how carefully we’re going to need to study purchases to determine if they are needs or wants, so that we can chip away at the tax debt and move forward. I plain don’t make enough right now for that scenario to bear fruit, but I think with some changes and hard work, it’s possible.