Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Drunken gardening.

Posted on | March 27, 2012 | 9 Comments

I still remember the day we we started.  I remember because my camera dates the pictures when I download them to the laptop.  Which is a very handy feature.  I think I may start taking pictures of the does and bucks when they are managing their personal business.  Sure would help with kidding season.  Although the people at snapfish who develop my photos may find it a bit odd.


Here’s the day we soaked the peat pots…

…and planted the seeds.

Please note the usage of egg carton lids as water reservoirs.  I accept donated egg cartons from everyone.  But I rarely use the 18 egg cartons.  Mostly because I am confused about pricing.  Should the cost per egg be cheaper because they are buying more eggs?  If it’s cheaper won’t everyone want the 18 egg cartons—which I have in limited supply?  If I price the eggs the same regardless of amount, since 1 dozen eggs costs $2.50 (or approximately $.20 per egg), that means an 18 egg carton should cost $3.60.  Who’s going to make change for that??  And what about the fact that the 18 egg cartons are too wide to fit in the egg carton cabinet, meaning they end up stacked in corners all over the house?  Now that I think about it, what sadist even developed 18 egg cartons? Isn’t my life complicated enough as it is?!

You can see why they end up being deconstructed into seed starting trays.

Plus, the flip sides make excellent card holders for little hands.

Or for a mom who needs one hand to hold her wine glass and the other to reach for M&Ms while wondering if she should just keep the Old Maid and lose or try to pass it off to a child who will cry when he gets it.  Help build their character by letting them lose and kill the children’s fun?  Or take the hit and let them call you Old Maid for the rest of the day?  There are no easy parenting decisions.  Although they are easier with wine and chocolate.

Also, please note that a child with a fever may be too sick to go to school.  But he can be given Tylenol and, when it kicks in, get up and help out with the farm chores.  Letting an asymptomatic kid lay in bed watching TV and making endless request for juice and snacks is a bit too June Cleaver for me.  Never mind a quick way to get kids calling home sick 3 times a week.


The seeds were labeled with very professional labels…

…and set in the greenhouse on fancy straw bale shelves.

Then I watered them and filled the reservoirs.   After a few days the seeds were germinating.

After a few more days, they were dried up and dead.

I called a friend who gardens successfully in large greenhouses.

“I don’t understand,”  I said.  The first time I filled the reservoirs with water it lasted for 3 days.  So in 3 more days I came back to refill the bases, but the plants were already dried up and dead.”

“Was it sunnier than usual?” he asked.

“Yes,”  I exclaimed. “So I expected the seedlings to be happy and healthy with the extra warmth, but they were dead!”

“You can’t wait 3 days to check on the greenhouse,” he explained.  “If the days are overcast, a heavy watering may last for a long time.  But if there’s even one sunny afternoon, the greenhouse will heat up and the plants will absorb every ounce of water available.”

“So I should check on them on sunny days?” I asked.

“You need to check the greenhouse everyday,” he said.  “Watch the weather report and plan to open or close vents and windows according to predicted temperatures and amount of sunshine.  But don’t just rely on the newscast.  Sometimes I come home from work at lunch break to open the greenhouse if it turns out to be warmer than anticipated.  And if nighttime temperatures drop unexpectedly or a cold front comes in, you may have to get up at night and turn on seed warming trays.  Consider putting in black 55 gallon drums filled with water to moderate temperature changes.  Also, keep an eye on humidity…”

At least I think that’s what he said.  I honestly didn’t hear much after “…check the greenhouse everyday.”  Because I was wondering what he meant by everyday.  Like every day that I have time to do gardening chores.  Or every day that I remember I have seedlings in the greenhouse.  Maybe every day that there is no emergency in the barn like bloat or kidding or an overturned automatic waterer.  Perhaps every day that the school is not calling to tell me one of the kids needs to be picked up for a suspected case of pink eye, ringworm, head lice, norovirus, swine flu or any other reason that that staff can find to cut the class number from 22 kids to a more manageable 18.  Or every day that I can summon the energy to drag 100 feet of hose across the driveway, go back and straighten all the places where the hose kinked itself, attach the gentle misting arm to the nozzle, haul it into the greenhouse for watering, and then reverse the entire process.  That kind of every day?

Because surely he didn’t mean every single day that the sun comes up and I am still alive.  I don’t do anything every single day.  Not even brush my hair every morning (which is why hair clips were invited) or put on my PJs every night before bed (who hasn’t woken up in their barn clothes on the couch where they fell asleep trying to summon the energy to get upstairs for a shower and bed time?).  I think every day is for boring normal people, not farmers.

I nodded politely as my neighbor gave his advice.  Then as I walked home, I pondered all the ways I could avoid having to check the greenhouse every day.  Taking good advice is also for boring normal people.

I restarted the seeds.  But this time I blocked up the holes in the sides of the egg carton (you know the slots where the lids fit) so the trays would hold more water.  And I purchased some $.67 clear plastic trays that are designed to go underneath house plants, set the peat pots in leftover 6 packs, and put them in the trays.  Those trays hold a whopping 3 inches of water.  Which I figured should be good for at least 2 sunny days.  Guess what?

It worked.

Which just goes to show that cheap and easy has it’s place in life.  Just not in preteen clothing or parachute repair.

As soon as those seedlings had a good set of roots I moved them into larger black pots sitting in the 3 inch trays.  The tomatoes went right into the straw bales.  The straw bales got saturated every 3 or 4 days until water ran out the bottom.  This kept the plants watered and the heat of the straw decomposing kept the roots warm, too.

That’s when it happened.  All that cheap and easy went straight to their heads.  Those plants exploded like they had just been waiting for a haphazard home where the farmer only checks on them when she remembers to do it, none of the kids are home sick, and the only other thing to do is clean the bugs out of the windowsills.  Perhaps they felt challenged by the benign neglect and felt like they had something to prove.  Perhaps they noticed the last batch of withered seedlings tossed in the compost next to the greenhouse and realized their survival was in their own hands.  Perhaps the tomatoes had a running bet with cucumbers and everyone wanted to grow bigger than those ridiculous heat-loving, drought-tolerating herbs.  Whatever the reason, it was a beautiful sight!

And all that growth changed my approach to gardening in the greenhouse.  See, around here we work on the law of negative returns.  I know what you’re thinking: “Huh?”  Or some of you are thinking: “We’re not impressed.  We know you googled that.”  Anyway, like most people, our basic understanding of input and output used to focus on the law of diminishing returns.  The law of diminishing returns states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant, will at some point yield lower per-unit returns.  That law is for non-farmers.  Any farmer knows you don’t have a chance in hell of adding one more factor of production while keeping all others constant.  Nothing stays constant on a farm except the fact that the credit card bill always says you spent more than you thought you did on your last farm project.

Instead, on a farm you can try throwing everything you’ve got at a project—time, effort, and money—and hope it succeeds.  If it does, great.  If not, then you’ve experienced the law of negative returns—when adding more of a factor actually results in decreased returns.  That law stinks.  It also follows us around about as bad as a bottle-fed buckling.  So, over the years, I’ve cut back on the time, effort, and money I invest in a new project.  And I’ve discovered a new rule of my own: Put in just enough time, effort, and money that you won’t lay on the ground weeping and gnashing your teeth if things don’t go as planned.  Or at least you won’t lay on the ground weeping and gnashing your teeth for more than an hour.  An hour is acceptable.

I realize my rule is not very encouraging and enlightening.  Not so much Joel Osteen

as it is Maxine.

Which is just the way it is sometimes.

But in this instance, the cheap and easy combined with a half-hearted effort actually resulted in a copious bounty.  Which in turn inspired a frenzy of even more cheap and easy.  I dragged out some 55 gallon drums that we’ve been saving to turn into rain barrels (by “saving to turn into rain barrels” I mean letting sit at the top of the driveway for 4 years) and set them up in the greenhouse.  Now before you think I was doing something crazy like following my experienced neighbor’s advice, you should know my main goal was to achieve more shelving for more seedlings.

I proceeded to use the circular saw to cut an old and discarded fence panel into shelves. (I know you’re jealous.  I know you wish you had primo items like this sitting in a pile at the top of your driveway for you to see every single day as you drive up to the house.  Don’t be a hater.)

My father had suggested I level the greenhouse floor before adding more shelves or planting.  That was a great idea.  But using rocks from around the yard to level the barrels and the panels sure was a whole lot easier.  Just note that if you are visiting my greenhouse you shouldn’t try tapdancing on the shelves.  Or leaning on them particularly hard.

And if you are leaning, be sure not to hold on with your hands underneath the shelves.  Because I didn’t so much as remove protruding nails as I just pounded them flat.  Shouldn’t be a problem as long as your tetanus is up to date.

Oh, and the third support to the high shelf isn’t actually a barrel.  I only had 2 of those.  Instead, it’s just bricks on top of a 5 gallon bucket on top of cement blocks on top of 2 old tires.  Definitely don’t lean on that.

Plus, don’t grab the old metal shelving I stole from the deck where it was holding water guns, sprinklers, and beach toys.  It’s rusted away in a few spots.  Also, it’s not attached to anything.  Just kind of balancing there.  On the uneven ground.

And don’t stand on the lower shelves to reach for anything.  They’re just resting on empty upended flower pots.

Now that I think about it, it’s better not to visit the greenhouse unsupervised.  Or without insurance.  I’m just saying.

Those of you that know me are probably shocked at this frantic investment of effort.  Especially since many of you know that previous years’ attempts at seedlings resulted in pathetic little transplants that had to be babied in the garden and struggled through the entire season.  But the growth of the seedlings in the greenhouse was so impressive…

…so inspiring…

…so irrepressible…

…so downright intoxicating…

…that I just couldn’t stop spreading seeds.  And to add fuel to my gardening giddiness, the tulip and daffodil bulbs that Pretty and I planted last fall along the garden fence actually bloomed!

They weren’t dug up by squirrels.  Or eaten by deer.  Or too damaged when we planted them (I like to buy cheap bulbs off the discount racks when they are already dry and withered or hopelessly sprouting under the store lights).  No, they were glorious…


…and triumphant.

The blooms made us practically delirious.

When we saw that the wildflower seeds we sowed were coming up, too, I think I did swoon for a minute.

Of course, the only thing left to do was to get Middle to lay out a row of compost on the other side of the fence in return for some computer time.

And plant more seeds…

…in order to rejoice over more seedlings.

While Pretty and I were admiring the fresh and delicate shoots, pushing up through the dark soil, something else caught our eye.  The pear and peach trees were blossoming!

They were blossoming despite the fact that they were bought for $5 each, so root bound that the pots were splitting, and the nursery worker explained that they were sold AS IS and wrote “Good luck” on my receipt.

You’ll have to excuse for me for what I did next.  I couldn’t help it.  I was tipsy with success.  Buzzed on blossoms.  Gardening under the influence.  I went down to the garden and I did it.  Something I swore I would never do again.

I planted potatoes.

But this time I planted them under straw.  The same magic straw that I used in the greenhouse.

But that’s not all.  Since I was feeling no fear, no pain, just sweet spring greenery flowing through my veins, I went even further.  I took the basketball court that passes for our back yard…

and I…, yes, I really did…despite years of lost time, effort, and money…

…I planted grass seed!  It was a desperate, daunting, drunken act!  It was inexplicable!  An inexcusable lapse in common sense.  It was…


Oh, my.  May this magnificent bender never end!


9 Responses to “Drunken gardening.”

  1. Sherry Herry
    March 28th, 2012 @ 3:11 am

    I love reading your blog. I can’t help but notice the similarities in our families. I too, have many animals and plant a vegetable garden. I am excited when things I planted actually grow, bloom, and have fruit, or whatever they are supposed to produce. I am envious of your green house. I would like to have one of those too.

  2. Lisa D
    March 28th, 2012 @ 4:28 am

    Exactly why I DO NOT garden. Dry dead things. I do, however, level things with rocks from other parts of the yard 🙂 Good luck with all that growth — let me know how year 2 goes. Don’t know how you have the energy.

  3. Terry
    March 28th, 2012 @ 5:13 am

    Your experience with the seedlings matches mine. Except I don’t have the success with the next batch, either. I’ve given up. I buy seedlings. I’m thinking about using your trick with the straw bales. Am in awe that your goats have not wiggled their way into the greenhouse yet. Mine would.

  4. Diane B.
    March 28th, 2012 @ 5:49 am

    Your post makes me want to plant something – which in the past has always died, but maybe it will work this year! 🙂

  5. Cheryl
    March 28th, 2012 @ 6:40 am

    you had me rolling on the floor laughing with your shelf construction. You make it sound so logical to do it this way (same way I do things) Love, love, love your posts. Keep it up.

  6. Gary D
    March 28th, 2012 @ 8:03 am

    MY GOD Woman, come to my place before that green thumb falls off. I will buy all of the wine it takes to make you giddy if you can duplicate your success here.

  7. Ferne K
    March 28th, 2012 @ 8:41 am

    What a glorious spring you’re having there on your Home Place! We had eight-inches of snow a week or so ago that smashed my beautiful daffodils flat to the ground. But bless their tough, little King Alfred hearts they’re mostly all standing tall again and still blooming. Happy Spring!

  8. Walnut
    March 28th, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

    I love the mostly-dead plant rack! Why pay $25 for something in May when you can buy it mostly dead for 2.50 in mid-July?

  9. Lynda
    April 1st, 2012 @ 6:21 am

    I too am a shopper of the ‘mostly dead’ rack. I have many lovely things growing here on the Farmlet that I otherwise could not afford were it not for those last chance deals! I am so glad that you found me because I have so much fun reading about your life… and I enjoy your killer sense of humor! So glad spring has blessed your farm this year. ~ Lynda

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