Boys and their toys, or, Alas! My compost pile!

What is it about men and Things With Wheels???

Himself’s favorite toy is his tractor. (I am not supposed to refer to it as a toy. Tractoring is Seriously Manly Stuff. But … come on. It’s blue, for crying out loud! And it has really BIIIG wheels. But I digress…)

Being an exceptionally devoted wife, and also somewhat in touch with husbandly reality, I understand that the main point of having a five-acre farmlet is to be able to ride around it on a tractor. Often this is a good thing. You can attach a flat blade and shovel snow off the driveway … and all the way along the private road … and clear to the end of the nearest county road if you’re feeling exceptionally public spirited and haven’t run out of gas. You can attach a thing with lots of teeth and use it to break up the freeze-dried cow patties that accumulate in the pasture during the winter. You can even race down the driveway, sans any attachment at all, to open the gate for people who are confused by the (unbolted) chain that keeps it shut.

And year after year after year, for the seven years we have lived here, you can have a stand-up, no-holds-barred, screaming fight with the above-mentioned wife regarding whether or not to use the tractor to plow the vegetable patch before trying to grow anything in it. (This fight has been known to last until well into summer, by which time, of course, it’s too late to grow anything at all. But the tractor is still brought into action for weed control. I have yet to win a fight over the usefulness of weeds as a means of dust control.)

Reasons not to plow the veggie patch:
1. It compacts the soil, which in our area is prone to compacting anyway. (I don’t know when last I saw a wild earthworm in our veggie patch.)
2. It makes the ground rutted and lumpy and hard to walk on without falling down, even when one hasn’t had anything to drink.
3. It creates dust, which in our (windy) area is fine as talcum powder, only not at all soothing when it gets between eyeball and contact lens.

Reasons to plow the veggie patch:
1. Must … drive … the tractorrrr…..

So this year I put my foot down. No tractor in the veggie patch! Serious grumping ensued, and a renewed threat of Separate Garden Zones. And … I just did not feel like having a fight about it. Right now life is good, I actually believe I may in fact manage to (a) plant, (b) maintain and (c) harvest a whole assload of veggies, but I don’t want to have to do it alone. So we compromised. No plowing, but the tractor was allowed in with a blade to scrape up the weeds (HOW do they grow so fast? They come rocketing out of the ground before it’s properly thawed!) The advantages of blading – leveling out the ruts left by last year’s plowing, and pushing mounds of spare earth to places where they were needed – were acknowledged. Areas to be bladed were agreed upon.

Most importantly, the importance of not messing with my precious, hard-earned compost heap were discussed at length, along with the question of how to stop the chickens from scattering the heap far and wide, and some bragging about how nicely it was growing what with all the barrow-loads of weeds and horse poop I had been heaving around.

Tractoring commenced. I had to leave the area because of dust, noise and evil smells, but that was okay, because seeing Himself having fun just warms the cockles of my wifely heart.

And today I went outside to continue gardening and, yes, I admit it, to photograph the compost heap for yesterday’s blog. This is what I found…

Former site of compost heap. Yep, you got it. A whole fresh set of ruts. And the compost? Scattered to the far reaches of the patch.
Former site of compost heap. Yep, you got it. A whole fresh set of ruts. And the compost? Scattered to the far reaches of the patch.

Seriously, if he ever brings that tractor into the veggie garden again, I may have to kill him.

Getting off to a slow start

Oh my word, I wish I were fitter! And at least 100 lbs thinner! And that my feet didn’t hurt so when I stand on them for any length of time! And that this STUPID pain behind my left knee would STOP!

All that grumpiness and bitching apart, I am happy to record that today I Put Seeds Into The Ground! First, I dumped two wheelbarrow loads of composted horse poop, chicken poop and vegetable matter into one of the raised beds. (I have weeded all six of the raised beds – go me!) I hope the compost is rotted enough … I’d have preferred to have given it a couple more months of actual proper care (as opposed to just standing around looking messy), but that would have meant buying compost, which goes against the grain. I shall just hope for the best. I forked it in as well as I could, mixing it with the soil already in the bed. And then I sowed a row of beets, two rows of radishes, a row of broccoli and two rows of Walla Walla sweets. All seeds, and I’m realizing that next year I must get started very much earlier with indoor planting, but I have hopes that some of them will come up and do their vegetable thang.

The first raised bed, weed-free, full of compost, and planted. All that's required now is faith. And regular watering.
The first raised bed, weed-free, full of compost, and planted. All that’s required now is faith. And regular watering.

So far I have also weeded and leveled a little more than half the long bed along the Nasty Neighbor’s boundary. Once that’s done I will dig in plenty of compost and then transplant the asparagus from the raised bed they’re in … We actually got a small crop the other day and it was most delicious! I don’t think I have as many asparagus as I’ve allowed room for, so am thinking I may try to scrounge plants off the non-gardening types who bought a neighbor’s house. Otherwise I’ll just leave space – or rather, fill it up with nasturtiums – and we can go out into the fields and dig up asparagus plants come fall. At any rate it’ll be ready for a good crop by next year.

I already have a bunch of tomato plants, some bought by Himself and some given by our friend Fae. They’ll be ready to go into the NN Boundary bed pretty soon, in front of the asparagus. I need to go downtown for nasturtium, marigold and alyssum seed … got borage with the veggie seeds from Territorial Seed Co, near Portland.

The compost pile is coming along, no thanks to the chickens, who like to stomp on it and kick it all over the place. I need to put down some railroad ties or similar to form a barricade … I don’t mind them stirring it up, but I want it to stay in one place! I have LOADS of compost in the containers we built out of wood pallets last year. I thought it hadn’t broken down well but, having found some of it to be very usable, I am hoping there’s more good stuff there than I’d expected, despite my neglect. Anyway, I’m putting the undecayed lumps into the new pile, mixing them in with barrow-loads of horse manure interspersed with the green weeds I’m digging up.

I am a little disappointed at my failure to do the permaculture thing properly. I haven’t been able to handle the soil without tilling it – too many weeds that have been allowed to grow too large, and the soil is rutted and hillocky so it just has to be leveled, and in any case it’s pretty compacted and in need of compost. Also I am irritated beyond belief that Himself is out there scraping and compacting – and raising DUST to transform my contact lenses into sandpaper – with that bloody tractor. But better to make a start, however imperfect, than lose yet another year. I will make much more effort to mulch and lay down cardboard toward the end of the year, to be sure it’s good to go early next spring. For now, I’m just glad Himself has given up being cross about my insistence on organic gardening, and is willing to give it a try rather than stomping off and starting his own patch somewhere else. At least he agreed not to till with the tractor.

So all good, I guess! So long as some of these seeds just sprout!

Digging in … virtually

On screen it’s neatly organized, logical, and not too big. In my mind, it’s a glory of order and fruitfulness. The reality is a lumpy, hillocky, weedy space bordered by a wicked electric fence belonging to the Nasty Neighbor (west), pasture (one day an arena – but that day is in some vague place as yet unknown), chicken run with fruit trees (east). and more clods and hillocks and a sort of manure/compost pile and then the house (south). It’s called Fanny’s Garden, because our sweet old Fanny was laid to rest under the plum tree there. And it is the 39×46 foot space where I hope to begin transforming our five windblown acres into a place of blessing.

The starting point. Fannie's tree, a few raised beds, the fruit trees in the chicken run, and the Mighty Columbia in the distance
Fannie’s tree, a few raised beds, and the Mighty Columbia just a bit away

I am very bold with my plans, because it’s still March (just barely) and the year is still spacious. Days grow longer and warmer (but not yet hot). The wind may (it will!) stop blowing, and the dust will drift down and not blind me. As long as the weeds are green and seedless, they are just compost waiting to be made – I shall make it!

I was up until 4.30 this morning, absorbed by an online garden planning program and a cornucopia of other resources. And now the plan is made, and the next step is to buy or order the plants and seeds for April (I’m buying organic, preferably heritage, where possible), and then … to dig.

Fanny’s Garden – the plan

But not too deep. The goal is a no-dig garden, following permaculture principles as best I can while still learning what they are. On the other hand, short of bringing in an entire new layer of earth and simply covering it over, I don’t see how some digging can be avoided. It’s just too lumpy and hillocky! For the first few years we were here, every single spring and summer, sometimes several times a season, Himself would get out there and drive his tractor up and down and round about, plowing in the weeds – but he never went back to smooth the ground. So now I have lumps and bumps to fall over, and compacted soil beneath, and STILL there are weeds. The tractor has been banned, as have poisons, and Himself is in the third year of a snit over this and vows he will not so much as lift a fork out there. It’s all mine.

So here I am. I have a plan. A bit of a budget. A weak and flabby and aging body. And a dream. A picture in my head of a lush and fruitful place, filled with the warm hum of contented bees and a fragrance of strawberries.

Asparagus, planted last spring, survived a year of neglect, and now destined for a new life in a different part of the garden
Asparagus, planted last spring, survived a year of neglect, and now destined for a new life in a different part of the garden
Used to be strawberries. Oh well ... time for a fresh start, I guess!
Used to be strawberries. Oh well … time for a fresh start, I guess!