Growing like Gangbusters
I’ve been lying here for a hour now, drifting along in a half-sleep, contemplating the universe. Having slept five hours, I am already ahead of the game by an hour, so I’m not likely to score any more sleep tonight.
|Dozer can out-snore a helicopter when it comes to noise.|
Soundlessly I rise, easy to accomplish with Dozer’s snoring reverberating through the entire lower part of the house. I mean the soundless part being easy, not the rising part. The clock reads 1:50 AM.
Yesterday afternoon’s foray into the orchard to prep soil for Annie’s Heinz tomatoes, has left me not only a little stiff, but also dehydrated to the point where I was unable to pound enough water last night to stave off the cramping in the muscles in my thighs.
Noooooooooo… Excruciating? Agonizing? Intolerable? Merciless? Depraved?
I am paralyzed with an inability to go forward or to retreat: breathless, waiting, sweating, emitting a low mewing sound, inhuman in nature… This is a good morning for Annie to be upstairs in her nest, still recuperating from her recent surgical procedure.
If I just remain immobilized, the cramp will persist; I have to walk to loosen it up, as challenging as that is. More urgently, my bladder is threatening to loosen up also, giving me additional motivation to do, that which I am incapable of doing.
On the bright side, if I can overcome this, I get coffee! Two cups, anyway. Ridiculously slow in retreating, the cramp taunts me with its severity just long enough to firm up my resolve to increase my intake of water, to still more than the six-eight liters I pound every day.
I glide into the kitchen, soundlessly. What is this on the counter? Oh, yeah, a dead chicken, as Annie’s pops used to say. Only it looks like a small turkey. Has it defrosted? Should I put it in the refrigerator?
Annie mentioned that the chicken was Casey’s and that maybe I could roast it at some point today. We have expanded our meal-making to include himself these past few weeks, gradually, with Amber being back in Ohio caring for her mama.
It’s not like Casey didn’t eat at our table for the first eighteen years of his life. Lately though he has been stretched beyond comprehension, trying to do double-duty on the farm, while resolutely carrying out his self-imposed responsibilities regarding the regulation and legitimization of medicinal cannabis.
He has mastered the art of living off of what is available on the farm, for the most part, thriving on stir-fries, stews, and organically grown meat acquired through the local community. What’s not available is more time. Annie and I try to help out in that regard.
I contemplate the capon on the counter. With the temperature hitting the mid-eighties today, the prospect of having the oven on for three hours later on is not especially appealing. I like heat as much as the next guy, but not that much.
If I open up both the south and north bay windows, I will get a nice cross-breeze, and the house will not heat up. With any luck at all, by the time the sun rises, the oven will have been off for an hour. It will be 2:15 when I pop that bird in, and the book says that a six-pound chicken is going to take about three hours, give or take.
I’ll melt a couple of tabs of butter, smear it all over the outside of the bird and add a cup of water to the roasting pan. I will also peel and quarter a couple of yellow onions and toss them in. We’re ready for action-ready for danger; we’re ready for the oven.
I have to stifle the impulse to take a quick stroll outside; it has to be at least seventy degrees, one of those nights when you can sit outside in a lounge chair and just watch everything grow. No rush. It will still be there when it gets light out.
My father liked to grow things, also, beginning back on Fellowship Street. At first he had a garden in the vacant lot next door, and then he transferred it right in the middle of our living complex, after a house was moved in to fill that vacantness. He used to say that when it stayed as warm as seventy degrees, the plants would grow like gangbusters. This morning the temp is 71.
After all, farming is about growing things, whether they are flowers, vegetables, herbs or love. We have a lot of love around here and I honestly can’t say if the love begets the farm or vice-versa. “Oh, love is a many-splendored thing…” I would sing over and over to the boys as kids.
On-farm even the chickens can squeeze in under this love umbrella. I have been tending the little darlings since Annie has been getting back on her feet, a true act of love if ever there were one. I have a love/hate relationship with chickens: I love to hate them.
That being said, I am meticulous about the whole business of chickens because of how it demonstrates my love for Annie: thoroughly.
There are seventeen in all, sixteen layers and one rooster. THAT one is neurotic, noisy, skittish, but at least not aggressive…just a royal pain in the neck. But those girls will produce eggs, more than a dozen a day, making the loot we spend on the organic layer crumble well worth it. A bag lasts a couple of weeks or so and costs 36 bones at the Laytonville feed-store.
How does the math all work out? Organic eggs cost more-or-less five dollars per dozen at Safeway. Let’s see now: 30 days x 5 dollars = $150.00; 36 dollars doubled is $72.00. We are bringing in around $150.00 per month, while spending $72.00.
I stopped in at the Laytonville feed-store one day recently, and wandered about for a minute or two as Meadow engaged in a conversation with a customer. I figured I would just mosey around and locate that layer crumble I needed myself, and lug a bag up to the counter.
Such the selection! Aisle A intersected with Aisle B, and there was an endless procession of fifty-pound bags marching on around the corner. I sidled back over in the direction of the counter, trying my hardest to feign nonchalance, while I waited for Meadow to finish up with her customer.
It didn’t take long and she was asking me if she could help me. When I explained my mission, she bustled back down those aisles I had just traversed, with me trying to keep up. Without hesitation Meadow grabbed ahold of that bag, and straightening up at the same time as she slung it over her shoulder, proceeded to lug it up front to the counter. Or so I assumed.
But no, she never stopped until she had hopped down from the store, onto the ground outside, and deposited the feed in the back of my little pickup. I had protested immediately as she hoisted the feed over her shoulder that I was perfectly capable of handling that task, but evidently, so is she.
If I go on record as saying I was impressed, it implies that I thought a woman was incapable of such a mundane task, and I do not want to give that impression. I think I will just say that I appreciated being given excellent service by someone who then turned to me, after she had returned to her spot behind the counter, and said, “Will there be anything else, Mark?”
Oh, Meadow knows who I am. Duh. For a minute there I forgot that I had taught Henry in eighth grade and had conferenced with Meadow more than once. Got it.
Now back on-farm, I fill both chickens’ dispensers with fresh water, replenish the crumble, jet back to those last two terraces I’m prepping and grab a bunch of that parsley for the little darlings. I head back inside to feed Dozer, Margie, Toby and Mr. Crips, take the dogs for their walk up to the top of the driveway, and take pics of the farm to post on Monday market day on the way back down.
Next I finish up that second terrace, adding vast quantities of rice hulls to the soil to offset the clay, and turning it once again to combine both the hulls and the compost into the mix. I must be able to thrust the pitchfork down until it bottoms out, and comes back up effortlessly, with no rocks or clods of anything.
If there are rocks, I toss them aside in a pile for removal later; if there are clay clods, I break them up and mix the result in with the rice hulls to prevent the clay from forming again. The mixture coursing through the tines of the fork, has to flow as effortlessly as the water does when a line bursts.
I do a quick splash-down of the three patches of marigolds just planted within the last few days, and then the first of two daily water applications (in this heat) for the greenhouse out back. I move on to Annie’s radishes, drying tomatoes and just-sown string beans.
I finish up with the newly-planted cukes and squash, before going in to eat breakfast. Casey will be here and Annie said 8:30; I’m late because it’s a few minutes after that, but then I haven’t seen Casey either.
After breakfast Annie heads up to help out for market day as I clean up the kitchen. First I start the emitters on the deck for their five minutes of daily industry and monitor the clock as I clean, so as to make the switch from the deck emitters to those of the roses.
I have eight different little areas of ornamental flowers and herbs that I water over each two-day period. I flip each valve consecutively and the emitters do their job of distributing a minimal amount of water for maximum benefit.
By definition, everything but newly planted seedlings, has to be on drip or emitters. There is just so much watering to be done, that to think of any other possibility, is to think about proper use of time. Time is the most precious commodity of all on-farm-except love of course.
There are no time-clocks to punch in on, when you work on a farm. That can be a blessing or a curse. Like the field of education, a farmer is on-call 24/7. A teacher is also incessantly on-call: planning, reflecting, panicking, delighting, evaluating and then planning some more. The brain never fully disengages.
The farmer also plans, reflects, panics, delights, evaluates and then plans some more. His or her brain never disengages either, except he gets to eat what he produces, or appreciate the beauty of picked flowers, or benefit from growing of medicine.
The teacher does not see the tangible results that the farmer does, unless you want to look at test scores. Since testing was what drove me out of the field of education, you probably know that I do not care too much about test scores.
Test scores are to me, comparable to what the chickens leave behind on the ground, after they have inhabited a space for any length of time. The only difference is that what the chickens produce, at least does some good on the farm.
Test scores are nothing more than, well, er, um, chicken poop, without the benefits.