Reeking but undefeated

I think I’ve mentioned, once or twice before, that I’m a little obsessive about compost. So when I told Himself the other day that he could stop putting every bit of unwanted peel, core, leaf, or mysterious-squishy-thing-from-the-fridge-veggie-drawer into a special bucket next to the sink, for subsequent emptying onto the compost pile, that was a Big Deal.

Himself, as a believer in better living through chemistry who just doesn’t get the Magic Of Decomposition, was rendered exceedingly happy by this change in house rules. But for me it was an admission of defeat. The thing is, my meticulously planned and sweatily planted veggie garden has exploded. Every time I venture into it, I hear this theme song.

I took this three weeks ago. Those pretty yellow ones are now taller than I am.
I took this three weeks ago. Those pretty yellow ones are now taller than I am.

It’s not that there aren’t vegetables – they’re out there. Lurking. But fetching them in involves a machete, and a compass to find the way back to civilization, and one should probably be armed against lurking predators. (There’s a lot of lurking going on, and it scares me.) Meanwhile, that whole self-sufficiency trip just ain’t happening this year.

So anyway, recognizing that (a) the soil is apparently not in urgent need of anything to encourage stuff to grow, and (b) I can’t find the compost heap anyway, we now throw away kitchen waste instead of recycling it. And the only downside is that doing so makes me feel like a huge failure in Permaculture World.

Until the other day, when it dawned on me that, if I were to send all this vegetable matter down through the garbage disposal, it would end up underground, decaying peacefully in the septic tank and slowly seeping back into the soil. (I’m a little foggy regarding the design details of our septic system, but I’m reasonably sure seeping happens.) I was happy again! Plus, for the first time, I could see the sense in having a garbage disposal. I had never encountered one before moving to the US … In South Africa, kitchen waste goes on the compost heap. Or if you aren’t into compost, you can put it on the elephant table.

Okay, I’m kidding, outside of the zoo there aren’t actually elephants in Johannesburg. But if there were, you could totally feed them whatever green, crunchy stuff you didn’t want to eat yourself.

Getting back to the point of this story, this evening I got a chance to use our garbage disposal as a compost alternative on a grand scale, because I went to fry up some onions and every bloody onion in the pantry was nasty in its middle. (I didn’t grow these onions. The onions I planted appear to be experiencing jungle shock and are refusing to bulb out.)

As I chopped each one open and it oozed at me I shoved it into the garbage disposal, and listened to the chomping, roaring noises with a frankly savage satisfaction. Himself wandered into the kitchen, expressed a contrarian opinion, and was sent packing. Two minutes later, the chomping and roaring gave way to glutinous bubbling, a moaning noise came from the guts of the machine, and a greasy mix of chopped onion and brown water bubbled up into the sink. Basically, the garbage disposal reacted pretty much as I would have done if I’d crammed four icky onions down my own gullet.

There was NO WAY I was going to tuck my tail between my legs and ask His Engineership to rescue me, so I got myself under the sink and took apart as much of the plumbing as I dared. (I have been known to be handy under duress, even if I do have to mutter “lefty loosey, righty tighty” every time I have to twist something.)

Nothing happened. I googled it. Do you know, there’s a whole library of how-to-fix-your-garbage-disposal on Youtube! So clearly this is a universal problem. I am not alone! I watched half of one, which instructed me to press the red button, so I pressed it. Still nothing happened.

You know what happened, don’t you? In the end, Himself took apart the plumbing, which did vomit forth, and then I cleaned up. It was completely disgusting, and I still smell like onions.

What else could I do but share the story with the whole world?

Do you ever set goals, and then find that reality is a whole lot more complicated than you’ve planned for? 

Potatoes do it in tires

Time for a garden update.

Actually, that’s not true. It’s time to apply nose to grindstone, shoulder to wheel, butt to chair, fingers to keyboard and brain to my current editing project. But the heck with it … this morning I gardened until my leg was burning, came inside and iced until the sciatica was numb, and now I am just going to give time to a quick li’l update. THEN I will contort myself as described above and do something constructive about meeting the next deadline.

So, the garden update. I had help…

This is Lola, who likes to keep an eye on whatever I happen to be doing around the place. She’s good company when she remembers not to lie on the newly dug-and-planted ground.
Destra checks in periodically, but today was more interested in swimming in the horse trough.















Potatoes are planted! I got 10 seed potatoes from Territorial – I chose Rio Grande organic – and they’ve been impersonating baby triffids on my desk for the past couple weeks. I hope they like being snug underground at last! I picked this spot because it’s one of the many places where I started a compost heap (a few years back) that Himself flattened when playing with his tractor, so the soil is nice and rich. This wasn’t where I originally planned to put them, but when I was outside actually putting them into the ground it made sense.

Behind the potatoes, against the chicken run fence, are the raspberry starts. I put them in the ground (dry root plants, also from Territorial) a few weeks ago and so far am seeing no sign of life, despite copious watering. Hope they’re okay! There were five, now there are four … thank you Lola for not lying on more than one…:(

05-07 Potatoes
Each tire surrounds a single Rio Grande organic potato. The theory, which shall be tested this year, is that as the potato plants emerge, you keep covering them up with soil, adding more layers of tires as the soil rises. When you want delicious baby potatoes, dig ’em out. Otherwise just leave them in the rising ground; they should be fine through winter.

All six raised beds have been planted. Three of them are in seeds – Walla Walla sweet onions, mignon carrots, Lutz green leaf beets, cherry belle radish, Thompson broccoli and Crockett bush beans, as well as borage here and there to … ummm … attract beneficial insects, I think. Something good, anyway. The radishes are coming up gangbusters and need to be thinned, and I’m starting to see wisps of onion too, and maybe some beets and broccoli… but there are vast expanses of just DIRT the temptation to dig it up and see if anything is actually happening down there at supposed-to-be root level is about killing me! We also planted a few strawberries (I’m pretty sure the old ones I found when I cleared out these beds have expired), various tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.

In the background against the Nasty Neighbor’s boundary fence is a long bed with more tomatoes and peppers. In fall we’ll be filling it up with asparagus, but we decided not to move the asparagus from its current raised bed just yet. That was a good decision; we’ve been eating home-grown asparagus at least once a week. Yum!

Fanny’s plum tree is infested with aphids and isn’t doing too well. Himself has been spraying, which caused me to want to have a hissy fit, but then I decided to zip my lip instead. It’s about warm enough to plant nasturtiums, which are supposedly great at attracting aphids away from other plants. Pretty soon I’ll clear space around the tree and put some nasturtium seed in, along with aliums to help chase the aphids away. And after that’s done, THEN any spraying will result in an entirely deserved hissy fit.

05-07 Raised beds 2 05-07 Raised beds 1

The grape arbor is full of weeds, but the two grape vines are doing well and look like they’ll bear fruit. Yeah! I’ll deal with the weeds in due course, but for now it’s enough just to keep them back from the grapes. Projects for this year:

  • Finish building the arbor (it needs poles across the top to support the vines in a year or two – and also to hold a hammock or swing)
  • Plant two more grapes (need to wait and see what kind we’ve already planted, as neither Himself nor I can remember whether they’re red or green)

05-07 Grape arbor

The compost heap looks a little flat. That’s the chickens, though – they do love to kick it around, and that’s probably as good a way as any to keep it stirred up. I added a barrow-load of weeds today, and Himself can do penance for previous devastation of a compostly nature by dumping a couple barrow loads of horse  pooh and raking it all together in a nice pile. How better to warm the cockles of the wifely heart?

05-07 Compost heap


It’s frustrating to be in May already and have so little done … but adding it all up like this is at least a little encouraging. And meanwhile the fruit trees are flourishing like mad. We’ll have apricots, nectarines and pears galore, and maybe a fair crop of plums. Well, I’ll just keep picking away, digging and planting as best I can between days of dust-laden wind and the ubiquitous deadlines.

Which I should focus on right now.

Except … I have to take Lola to the vet for a checkup. Ha ha! Another great excuse to procrastinate! Gotta love that adrenalin charge when it hits!

World Naked Gardening Day

Gardening in the buff! Yes, yes, YES! I have got to do this. I love getting naked in the outdoors, and yet I can’t remember when last I went skinny-dipping. Oh, how it would appall the Nasty Neighbor if I let him see me! (No one else really overlooks our property, unless they’re wandering around their lower pastures.) Thank you Fearless Cowboy for the heads up…:)  Roll on, first Saturday in May…:)

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!