Soil-sense Intervention

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Meager morning harvest. Was this really it? I was already on the path of knowing I needed to improve my soil, but this was a total eye-opener. Even these few offerings from the veggie garden aren’t as healthy looking as they should be. I realized recently that I’ve been gardening the same backyard for ten years now and somewhere along the way I forgot that soil upkeep doesn’t happen with an application of leaf mulch twice a year.

I’ve always known that the soil is where it matters most in the garden. Regardless of the quality of plant or seed or the amount of sun and rain, if you don’t stay on top of building and maintaining the health of the soil, you’re losing.

At some point, I got lazy. That’s the truth of it. I could give the typical excuse of “life” getting in the way and all that bull, but really it was pure laziness. And then last week a book that has been on my shelf for two years finally caught my attention—The Third Plate by Dan Barber.

Just 100 pages in and there have already been so many poignant quotes that have made me say, “DUH, Jenn. DUH.” Gah.

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It’s embarrassing, really, to acknowledge here that at some point I lost all sense when it came to the soil of my gardens. After that pitiful morning harvest, I started thinking back to just a few years ago when I would go out on a similar morning and come back with my big ol’ antique colander and shirt full of tomatoes, peppers of all sorts and sizes, piles of herbs, eggplants with depths of purples so beautiful it became my favorite color. I would make sauces and salsas, cook and freeze, share with friends, coworkers, and family, and still have more.

It wasn’t just the abundance either. You could taste the difference in each variety of tomato, pepper, and eggplant. There were flavor and textural variations, as intended. I think I first noticed two years ago a drop off of not only production but quality. Did I do anything? Put out six inches of leaf mulch twice a year and hoped for the best. Stupid.

Today, I started the fix. With a weather forecasting rain for the next few days, I figured it was a good time to get some nutrients into that soil. By the way, this is what the skies looked like even with a 90% chance of rain for the day…

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But anywaaay, I know weather prediction will never be perfect or spot on, so I got out there to work. First thing, I put out a big bag of mushroom compost. Pulled what was left of the leaf mulch and some of the scrappy, dry dirt away from around the trunks of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs, and filled in with a hearty moat of the compost. I know it’s not ideal to apply the compost in this way, but the hope is that the rain will work it in and the worms I know are still down there will come up to pull it down.

After doing this around all of them and going through the mushroom compost and a bag of cow manure I forgot I had, I put down a fresh layer of leaf mulch and watered it all in. This is my idea of a patch in hopes of salvaging some flavors and production. I also started more long term repairs.

Finally got a compost bucket going again. I used to always have one and it was easy and obviously rewarding. Again, laziness took over. No more. I set up the bucket right down off the back deck, which is right where the kitchen is, so all kitchen scraps will now go into the compost pot. Luckily, I found a 30 gallon black plastic pot under the front deck that still had some previous composting attempt in it. Already rich with worms, I added some leaves and grass clippings and will start to add those veggie bits. Getting back on the right path seems doable now.

I know that there are the fancy-schmancy compost bins you can buy, but an elevated bucket that drains has always worked for me. It’s big enough to make good compost, but not so big that I won’t want to work it correctly.

My other longer term plan is to plant clover or beans or some other nitrogen-fixing cover crop. That will make a big impact for the next growing cycle. I am also doing more research into crop rotations that will improve the soil in a specific area for the planting following it.

I’ve had a soil-sense awakening because of a book. It’s overdue, but I’m relieved that it happened. My gardening practices needed an intervention, and as I get back on track to improving my garden soil, I’ve found a renewed interest in learning as much as I can about soil and the microbial life that is right below our feet. It truly fascinates me. For some people, it’s the galaxies above. For me, it’s the intricate universes below.

 

 

 

Dark and Dog-tired, Take Two

I’m still up in the air with my feelings about Facebook’s “On this day…” feature. Some days it causes a baritone belly laugh and others it brings forth a saltwater flood from my eyeballs. It has reminded my hermit self of events I had forgotten about attending, and it’s brought back words spoken that had been pushed out of my mind.

But today, today… . Today, that bastard feature showed me a blog post of a poem I wrote last year when I had once again relapsed. It was titled Dark and Dog-tiredReading over it again today took me back to that drive to the mountains—my place for recovery of all kinds. The poem was unedited when I posted (too full of emotion to care), but finding it again, I will definitely be working it over and over until it’s in better shape.

Not only was I reminded of this forgotten poem dealing with relapse, but another poetic influence may have been my savior today. Earlier this year, a dear friend sent me the memoir The Best Day, the Worst Day, written by Donald Hall about his marriage to Jane Kenyon. Two writers/poets and their difficult path traveled together through the fury of cancer. It is an absolutely devastating but beautiful story of love. I’m not a huge fan of his poetry, but his words in this memoir…oh, my. Theirs was a love that, I am not ashamed to say, I envy.

I may have connected with the story a bit more than I normally would have because of some of the drugs she had to take being the same ones I have also been on and off and on again over the last three years. His descriptions of her levels of pain and the side effects were spot on—things I have never been able to express to friends and family. The rage. The moonface. The depression. The joint pain that you lie about and say is a 6 when really it’s closer to a 12 on a scale from one to ten. The hair that embarrassingly covers your entire body, including your cheeks and chin. The clumps that fall from your head.

And the one that rang out in my mind recently and wouldn’t leave—the rash. A few days ago, it broke out across my chest and collarbones and felt like thousands of tiny bonfires raging under my skin. At first I thought allergies, but my brain said, Pay more attention! Remember, woman! And I did. I remembered Hall’s description of Kenyon’s cyclosporine rashes and how they’d have to rush her to the emergency room, so I called my doctor. His words were, “Stop taking it IMMEDIATELY.” Those are scary words to hear about a drug that is keeping me in remission.

What if there is already too much in my system? What if I called too late? What if stopping now isn’t soon enough? What if stopping now makes me relapse?

I can’t go through all this again.

I can. And I will if that’s what comes. Every time I feel like we’re getting a leg up on this syndrome, another hurdle is thrown on the track and the reasons to keep me jumping are already dwindling—dark. And I’m exhausted—dog-tired.

So I’m going to focus on the fact that poetry got me through this day a year ago and it helped save me today. Instead of worrying about what is next, I will work with my words and lines and keep leaping.

Meatless Monday in a Book

The past few months have flown by in a confetti tornado of many more activities than my introvert-self typically likes, but I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed myself…most of the time. In true hermit fashion however, I’m settling back in at home for the winter–if it ever actually arrives–and thinking about all the comforting meals I’d like to create.

Tonight’s meatless Monday meal was simple and delicious, yet unnoteworthy. But one of my Christmas 20151228_212206-1.jpgpresents is absolutely worth talking about. The beautiful book by Hugh Acheson, The Broad Fork. It’s an entire collection of recipes for fruits and vegetables broken down by season. I try to eat seasonally as much as I can, so I instantly appreciated the set up of this book.

Apparently, the idea all started with his neighbor asking him, “What the hell do with kohlrabi?” Great question. Although I know what kohlrabi is, I’ve wondered before what I would do with it were I to bring some home. In the contents lists, kohlrabi was among a few others I was drawn to learning about such as salsify, sunchokes, fiddleheads, and yacon.

20151228_213904-1.jpgI will delve into those “oddities” later, but what caught my attention most immediately were the recipes for Brussels sprouts. Being that we are in the season for them, and I adore them, I went straight to that section. My eye quickly found the fried Brussels with a lime vinaigrette recipe, and I plan on making that as a side for my New Year’s eve meal.

It’s hard not to sit here and read through this entire book tonight. The photographs are20151228_214204-1.jpg gorgeous and the recipes are the perfect instructional length. Look at that radicchio! I don’t even like this stuff, but I want to tear this page out and chomp it. The pictures throughout bring on the uncontrolled drool factor. I love vegetables, so I don’t need help with eating and preparing them in all the ways, but I can see how someone who is leary about what to do with them would find this book inspiring.

I’ll be starting with the Brussels recipe, but I’m sure that I will be trying many more throughout the seasons.

 

No Patience Girl Strikes Again: Garden Edition

Not only does patience evade me in the kitchen, it is also nowhere to be found when it comes to the garden.

We had our first coolish snap here in North Florida this past weekend and while at my favorite local nursery, Native Nurseries, I couldn’t resist picking up a few starter packs of veggies for the fall/winter garden. It’s the right time to start seeds, but a little risky on the small starter plants because we are guaranteed another heat wave before the weather truly breaks.

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But I just could not say no to those little four packs of cabbages and broccoli. I needed them. They needed me. It was mutual, so it happened. I chose “Red Acre” cabbage, “Golden Acre” cabbage, and “Belstar” broccoli.

(That Poohtea Bucket was made for me by a creative friend to brew manure compost tea in for my veggies. Don’t you just love it?)

They also had an endangered native called Brickellia cordiformis “Flyr’s Nemesis” which is a big time butterfly favorite, so I obviously had to add that to my purchases. Although rare in the wild, it’s supposedly easy to grow and propagate, so I’m optimistic in trying it. Here’s what the blooms will look like when they open…IMG_8629

 

 

 

As I was heading to checkout before I could grab anything else, an unusual bloom caught my eye.

wpid-wp-1442362242206.jpgWhat was that lavender-ish, spotted lovely? Oh, a Dotted Horsemint (Mondarda punctata)! Another Florida native that I did not have in my yard…yet. Picked up a gallon size pot of that because I love all beebalms and headed home.

The weekend itself got away from me, so I didn’t end up getting them into the ground until this afternoon. Recently, after seeing some pictures of my harvests from last year compared to this year’s summer harvests, I knew it was time to amend my soil. Overall, I have great dirt from years of leaf mulch and garden rotations, but it was clearly time to give it a boost. I want big production for fall/winter. I’ve got plans for those veggies. The freezer is already full of homemade veggie and chicken stocks ready for soups!

I gathered up the cabbages and broccoli and placed them with a general idea of what else would be added in the weeks ahead. For each starter plant hole, I mixed in two scoops of mushroom compost, a good dose of Jobe’s Organic fertilizer, and watered them in with Moo Poo Tea (which is the best stuff ever). If that doesn’t give them the best chance ever? I don’t know what will. Even better, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow and the next day. Nothing, nothing at all, beats all natural rain after planting.

As the baby veggies settle in for the night, I’m busy looking through my seed collection which has now reached 14 packets including this weekends additions…

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Did I not mention that I also bought more seed packets while at the nursery? Whoops. I did.

Clearly no patience girl is here to stay. I can pretend that baking has helped slow me down and taught me to do things in order, but the fact is, I can’t be stopped. I need all the foods, all the plants, and all the words (I may or may not have another shipment of books on the way as well) right now!

 

Painting, Pressuring, and Pulling: A Laborious Weekend

Whew. The weekend is over and I’m almost looking forward to going back to work to get a physical break. Instead of heading to the beach or mountains or just relaxing in town, I somehow thought it would be a great idea to take on multiple home projects all at once. Brilliant.

Last weekend I started painting the bedrooms in my house. I’ve had the same grey throughout all of the house for about four years now. The color was an attempt to neutralize and unify the house after a rough patch in life. It worked well, but lately I’ve been ready to reinvigorate my surroundings to bring on more creativity. It was time to put color back on the palette.

Painting, like pie making, is another activity on my therapeutic list. There’s just something about covering over a past decision with something vibrant and new, but knowing that old decision is still under there as a base for your present.

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For one of the rooms, I wanted a purple. I’ve always adored the different shades of this royal color found in vegetables and flowers, but finding one for the walls is a different story. Purples can be difficult. They tend to either end up looking like you splattered Grimace on your walls or they dull out to a hideous mauve, reminiscent of polyester suits and rose perfume–brutal. This purple is neither. It is a plum with just enough brown in it to not be child’s play, but not too much to be old lady. The effect is at the same time relaxing and refreshing.

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For the guest room, which is really more of my library, I wanted
blue. Again, blues can be tricky. There are so many moods of blues. I didn’t want the beach-theme blue nor the cornflower boringness found alongside rooms of burgundy and emerald greens. I wanted something with depth and, again, to rouse the creativity beast inside me. Found it and it’s a perfectly dark, bluish-green that creates a cozy nook, but also gives an expansive feeling like looking out at the Blue Ridge mountains at twilight.

I realized after moving artwork back into both rooms, that the color choices may have already been made for me. Everything is fitting back in naturally and with a renewed beauty.

Next up for the weekend was pressure washing the massive deck. Well, decks, but I only got to one this weekend. The front deck runs the length of my house and is half as wide. My house being quite small, this is the compensation. A big deck. Yep.

So anyway, my big ol’ deck had become a hazard–a veritable adult slip-n-slide. Or maybe more like unexpected ice skating. Either way, it had to be rectified. After hours of work, and even some enlisted help, it still wasn’t finished. As with most things I get involved in, there was a hitch. By the time the hitch was fixed, I was caput. The difference on what was accomplished is shocking though and it is actually safe to walk on now. Pro=tip:  don’t wait two years in Florida to pressure wash your decks.

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Before. During. After.

Then there was the garden. While my unpaid labor worked on the deck, I took on the yard. Cut the grass and then doused myself in bug spray and ventured into the vegetable garden that was overgrown with summer weeds, basil gone to seed, six-foot eggplant plants, and ‘Black & Blue’ salvia slowing marching ahead consuming everything in its path. I got out my tools–hand shovel, hand weeder, clippers–and proceeded to use none of them. Instead I used my glove free hands, as usual. I have to admit loving the feel of dirt under my nails. I will never have nice fingernails and I’m good with that.

11891182_10153520472232310_7267114819877121211_nScooting along in the dirt, I wrangled that garden back into shape and it’s now ready for fall seed planting next weekend. I will also be adding broccolis, cabbages, spinach, and herbs from starter plants in another few weeks. Violas, snapdragons, calendula, and nasturtiums will be included as edible flowers and to attract more pollinators.

Finally, the weekend of chores had come to a halt. I was sweat and dirt covered, stinking of bug spray, and ready to just sit back and look at all my hard work. Although a long weekend at the beach would have been glorious, even with an achy back and numb hands, I feel really good about the labors of accomplishing so much and seeing the results.

And now I’m going to wrap this Labor Day night up with a cup of chamomile, a fresh out of the oven cookie, a comfy chair, and the words of Jeanette Winterson.