Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | March 4, 2012 | 11 Comments

Last Monday was a bad day.  The kind of day where you drag your comforter downstairs, huddle under it with the kids on the couch, and watch the rain outside the window.  While listening to Billie Holiday.  With Deep Song on repeat.  That kind of bad.

Which meant there was nothing to do on Tuesday but start over.  Plus vacuum, mop, and bleach the entire house.  Including pulling out the stove to get to that narrow spot between the stove and the counter where the sauce always drips but you pretend you didn’t see it because, really, unless you have a bad Monday, you don’t have the time or energy to clean it.  Also, nobody but you knows it’s there (which is the general rule of thumb regarding whether an area needs to be cleaned or not).

I carried the bleach outside and bleached all the waterers in the barn, and the feed troughs, and the horse combs, brushes, and hoof picks.  Bleach is very therapeutic.

I even considered bleaching Papa’s feet.

But, luckily for Papa, there was another place I could exhaust my energy.

The garden.

Because if cleaning the house and the barn doesn’t burn off all your blues, the garden is happy to work you until you’re too tired and sore to be sad about anything except the way your knees and lower back scream when you try to get off the couch.

Despite a recent snow, the fall crops had survived the entire winter.  The only problem was that the warm temperatures that spared the veggies also encouraged the weeds.  Chickweed and hairy bittercress were taking over among the spinach and lettuce.

I don’t deny these weeds their beauty.

Especially in the season of mud, any green seems like good green.

But I was hoping to grow these onions to maturity, not let them get choked out.

Believe me, there’s nothing better than sweet Vidalia onion rings, battered and fried fresh from the garden.  I mean, isn’t the point of gardening to grow wholesome healthy veggies that you can transform into fat laden perfection?  Isn’t it?

Anyway, chickweed and hairy bittercress both form thick mats so they can’t be pulled up individually like other weeds.  Which is fine because I just turn them under to make room for the next season’s crops.  Their greenery adds nitrogen to the soil and their roots keep the freshly turned soil from running off in the heavy spring rains.  These weeds are actually an important part of the raised bed gardening we do on our farm.  Which isn’t to say we invented it.

A lot of farms seed and grow cover crops like clover, winter peas, mustard, or rye.  Then they use machinery to turn it and till it into the soil before spring planting.  We just invented the free version of this method where the crops that grow are sown by Mother Nature and the soil is turned by hand.  It’s part of our commitment to running the farm without heavy machinery and use of fossil fuels.  Plus, we can’t afford a tiller.  But I’m sure that even if we could afford a tiller, we’d do it by hand. (Probably….. Maybe…..Don’t quote me on that, I’d hate to hurt Santa’s feelings if he ever brings me a tiller….)  Anyway, doing the garden chores the old fashioned way certainly comes in handy when you have to work off a bad Monday.  Or eating an entire party size bag of M&M’s.  Or both, since those things tend to occur together.

So I set into the job.  One shovelful at a time.

And once it was turned over, I used the trowel and the spade to break up the root mats.

Then I picked out the scraps of greenery for the goats and the pony.  And voila!  A fresh planting bed.

Working by hand meant I could cultivate between established patches of veggies.  So we could continue to harvest lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard while waiting for the newly seeded sections to grow in.

That’s called a “four season garden”.  Otherwise known as a fluke, darn lucky, or a consequence of global warming.  Your pick.

Next I raised the skirts on the brussel sprouts.

Which just means I pruned all the lower leaves that were dragging in the soil.  Slugs were making their way up the leaves into the plants.  And the leaf cover was encouraging a bit of rot and mildew at the base of the plants.  Their new look let in lots of sun, discouraged pests, and made it easier to harvest.

Then the peas got a makeover.

Gardening books say that you’re supposed to rotate your crops because planting one crop in the same spot, year after year, depletes the nutrients in the soil that the one specific crop uses to grow.  That’s a good theory.  Unless you’re talking about peas.   Rotating your peas means you have to pull up all the stakes and trellises and cages that the peas use and put them someplace else.  Year after year.

Not gonna happen.

Besides, you can plant your peas in the same spot every year.  Just whenever one of your dogs gets out and massacres a free range hen, bury the chicken body at the base of the pea plants.  Replaces all the nutrients in one big bang.  If you don’t believe me, you should know that I put down pea seeds right after clearing the debris off those cages.  3 days later, I had this:

All thanks to the Ameraucana that the dogs discovered digging for worms in the far corner of the backyard a couple months ago.  There’s nothing more powerful than the circle of life, my friends.  Om.

Finally, I pulled up the dried old flower stems and added fresh soil to my cut flower garden.  Which I keep in very fancy…tires.

Providing cut flowers for the house has always been a problem for me.  I love to have a vase of pretty flowers on the table, in the entry hallway, and on the windowsill.  But I hate cutting up my perennial flower garden.  So I settled for planting some flowers in tire beds in the vegetable garden.  The tires keep them from spreading and choking out the vegetables, and I can cut them up to my hearts content since I’m the only one who sees the butchered base of the plants down in the garden.  Half-massacred zinnias, sunflowers, and peonies are kind of like the drippings between the stove and counter.  Nobody’s bothered by what they can’t see.  And by the time they’re in full bloom, they even cover their pathetic tire bases.

With the sun going down and the kids asking what was for dinner,  I knew I was done for the day.  But I felt a little better.  The March garden requires an appreciation for loosely flowing and free form cottage gardens.  Things are still weedy on the edges, wild onions are surfacing with abandon, and the survivors of winter are a bit paltry and frost damaged.

But it’s eagerness for life is heartening.  And it’s endless amount of chores can take the edge off any of the strife that life hands out.  As a matter of  fact, as I left the garden I had my eye on that vine climbing the fence behind the blackberries.

I figured it could make a good privacy screen between us and the neighbor’s house.  Or tearing it down, ripping it to shreds, and dragging it to the brush pile could be a marvelous angst-ridding project for the next day.  It just depended on how I felt in the morning.

Do you feel lucky, vine?  Well, do ya?


11 Responses to “Monday.”

  1. Terry Golson
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

    Where are your useless hens? Shouldn’t they be in there digging up bad bugs, or would they eat the overwintering greens? My garden is under 2 inches of snow and is frozen solid. No fall greens here, so the girls will be out, working in the garden as soon as the ground thaws.

  2. Ann
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

    Do I need to put a note on Santa’s desk about a tiller. By the way, do hope that you will have your birthday off and can celebrate. Lots of love and Happy Birthday early!!!!

  3. admin
    March 4th, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

    My hens are never allowed in the garden b/c they eat everything in sight! Plus they destroy the raised beds by kicking the dirt out. But I do keep guineas in there during the summer for bug control and I am thinking it is about that time….

  4. Sherry Herry
    March 5th, 2012 @ 4:22 am

    So the guineas don’t eat the plants or seeds? I was wondering about that?

  5. admin
    March 5th, 2012 @ 5:17 am

    No, the guineas are great! They don’t eat seedlings or even scratch the dirt around. They simply walk around picking bugs off things. They will make their nest at the base of plant and sometimes the plant will struggle because the guinea has matted down the soil but we love getting more keets so it’s worth it. I also keep some high protein crumbles available so that they have enough to eat before bug season really starts and so that any broody guineas don’t have to work too hard for food. But overall, the guineas are great in the garden. No more ticks when we are harvesting and no more expenive organic pesticides!!

  6. Jill
    March 5th, 2012 @ 7:11 am

    You have a birthday too!? Lucky us.. Hey I like the tire beds. The tires would be in the landfill and that’s not good. You are a great re-user! I love the part about lifting the skirts of the brussel sprouts… Added a bit of sauciness (sp?) to my morning. Sorry you had a bad Monday… (You) make my day, punk.. or something like that (Clint fan). Thanks for entertaining us with your hard work. You are awesome. Tell the Other Half.

  7. Ferne K
    March 5th, 2012 @ 9:51 am

    Thanks for sharing your life “down on the farm.” You always cheer up my gray, rainy, Oregon mornings. I grew up on a small farm and appreciate all you go through.

  8. Lisa D
    March 5th, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

    Bad days do not motivate me to clean or garden. I think there might be a name for your disorder; I’ll have to research that one.

  9. Lynda
    March 7th, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

    That’s it, I’m planting peas in the morning! BTW, how do you keep your Guineas from flying out of the garden? Mine seemed to go anywhere they dang well liked. ~ Lynda

  10. admin
    March 7th, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

    We have an 8′ high chain link fence around our garden. We had to put it up to keep the deer out. We clip the guineas’ wings when we put them in there. However, some of them are smart enough to climb the chain link with their feet, flapping their wings as they go, until they get to the top. Then they just jump down. So, we just keep putting guineas in until we get ones that are too stupid to know how to climb out. Trust me, it doesn’t take very long to get to the stupid ones 🙂

  11. Carolynn
    March 25th, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

    I love your perspective on life – the bit about peas and chicken carcasses was an especially good bit of advise. Om.

    As soon as the ground thaws, I’m going to have to get out there and start some therapy of my own. Wish me luck!


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