Friday, June 17, 2016

"Farm" Triage

 During the busy season, this is the view I most frequently see of my spouse. Head down, working. I miss you (even when I don't and even when you wish I too would take my grumpy self elsewhere) even though I sleep next to you.

A reflection on my personal state of affairs. It has to be done every so often. Here it is:

Farming is looked at as a majestic release from the 9 to 5 dread of punching a time clock in the face, unless you are salaried and then they never really let you go. Most people realize that farming is tough. Tough, yes, but again, a noble venture. After all you are feeding people, and that is noble, generous, and looked upon with favor.

There are exceptions and caveats, and of course it is subjective. Some might say that the family farm is noble while farming GMOs for feed is not noble. Other types of farming are not considered 'real farming'. Let's admit it, lots of folks grumble about horses..."that's not farming". Nurseries, be honest here, friends, not necessarily farms. It's ok, I don't think "farm" when I see rows of mums, so you don't need to when you see rows of Joe Pye weed.

I'll admit it, I awkwardly call our land a "farm". I awkwardly call it "our land". Farmer? Me? Not so much. Nurserywoman? Frankly, I'd rather be called a nurseryman, just to go easy on the syllables.

I don't love the word "farm". I like what it vaguely connotes, kinda and in the best sense of the concept. Actually, I'd prefer to call what I'm doing a restoration or replanting. 

And back to the majestic release from drudgery. I'll tell you what, every April, May, and June my family slightly to completely unravels. Complete disconnection from each other and the planet earth. We are so incredibly busy that life becomes like an emergency triage. What's going to get done, and what's not going to get done. We eat poorly until with great effort we reverse that.

Minor criticisms of each other are duly noted, registered, and rejected. We're cranky, we're lonely and brittle. Our kid, who supposedly we are doing this "for" so he has a better life, acts badly, too. Momma and Papa are not paying attention and are pretty unpleasant at times.

And hey, remember, I'm not even a 'farmer'. I'm a nursery(wo)man who also makes programming and land stewardship consulting part of the business plan.

We don't see our friends who farm during this time of year. We don't see our friends who work in the financial world during tax time, that's true, too. Nor, our college age family during finals... but... what am I trying to say? There's some irony in the noble venture to farm. The f*cking to do list won't go away. And just when the to do list gets really long and my head is about to explode, many of my pals might be in the same boat, and nobody's able to get together and unwind.

Ultimately, I need something more than unwinding together anyway. I'm really feeling the need to build a little village that links our separate farms, regardless of what we're farming...whether its vegetables, wildflowers, taxes, or the myriad other tasks that pay the bills.

 Home office before the plants took over Hoophouse 1

 OK, so riding this rig does put a smile on my face.

 More family time together checking out the labors. Part of this area is now paw paw, persimmon, hearts a burstin', New ENgland aster, pearly everlasting, steeplebush, etc.

 More family time together laboring. Race around picking up all the things that should not be flail mowed.

 More family time together pulling weeds.

 More family time together picking as many strawberries as possible so we have then for the winter.

 That's me. Nurserywoman, hear me question my existence.

The vegetable garden, mixed feelings. We do have adequate purslane finally.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

School Trip to the Nursery

Beren heads for the rain in Florida

One of the many things I love about my son is that he heads right out into rainstorms. Yesterday, the older kids from his school visited our nursery. Rain came on cue. Their teacher said, "I love rain. This is great. They'll certainly remember this trip."

Kids ran screaming, "TORNADO!" "RAIN!" Some ran under a tent, others didn't. Beren partly went under, standing directly below a stream of water that poured down his head. Did I say I love that kid?

In between racing around the pond and playing on the swings, we saw some plants and yelled over the excited din. As it should be.

One teacher discovered a butterfly in hoophouse two. The girls hustled in to see it. Magically, the butterfly slipped out of a slit in the plastic. I found a bumblebee clinging to the shade cloth. I gently grabbed it, banking that this creature would not sting me. A few buzzes and the bee calmly clung to my right pointer finger.

"Won't it sting you? Can I touch it? Can I see it? I can't see it! Can I pet it!?" "Yes, the bee could sting me, but I've had practice. Plus, today is a little cold." I added to the teachers, "I hope I'm not a bad influence here."

I got a couple minutes of attention because of my outrageous act. I talked about buzz pollination and pollen sacs, showed the bumblebee around a final time and placed the bee on a fleabane.

After the kids left, I was pretty overstimulated. Bottom line - teachers deserve rich rewards for all they do.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pardon My Appearance

Pardon my appearance, I've been remodeling myself for the past seven months. I took a break from writing, opting instead to go within rather than present outwardly. I've considered writing about many topics, sad stories, sweet moments, or passing things I hope to remember but just couldn't write about. Again, all the effort - a h*llmouth worth of effort - went to tinkering around with the gears, belts, and gaskets of this human being.

A few items around this time were tough regarding writing. I've seen a few 'mommy blogs' go kaput around year 3, 4 or 5. Kids go to school. They become their own person, big time. Mothers get busy (busier? turn attention elsewhere? Saying "mothers get busy" seems to identify a persistent condition). I respect all that. But, where was my writing going? Down the hopper or just existing between my ears as a drove to some future soccer/scouts/choir event?

When I did write, I didn't bother letting anyone know. No Facebook, no asking Jared to review for massive typos. I have a few reasons for that, including slipping into a sleeping bag made of myself and my self-awareness. It was too difficult to present and represent myself while doing so much inner work.

Of course, none of this is particularly easy to talk about, but part of my work has been standing next to and in front of my fears. Checking them out, walking alongside them (hey, man, you've been with me for awhile, maybe I'll say 'hi'.), and seeing if they are all I've built them up to be. When I can, I let go. Otherwise, I say, "yeah, I'm afraid of that." Or, "come along." Or, "I'm gonna take you on, and only one of us is gonna make it. And, it's gonna be me."

One tremendous fear I have is The Fear of What Other People Think of Me. I have that one pretty bad. It's a chronic and occasionally acute condition. At this point, I don't think it's going anywhere, but in a good moment, I can address it. I can ask myself what exactly I'm concerned about. I can also see the good in it, that is, when it's not debilitating. In the good light, I give a sh*t about other people.

And so, in opening the big trap door, I'm letting you all know at one point or another, or maybe more than one point, I've been concerned about what you thought of me.

I recently and accidentally ground-truthed this with a stranger. Turns out the Stranger and I both know a Person. I like the Person. The Stranger did not like the Person. The Stranger let me know it, and let me know it over the course of a couple minutes. It was indulgent. I let the Stranger know I liked the Person, briefly.  

The take home message? From this conversation, I can deduce that Yes, someone has talked sh*t about me, too. Yes, there are people who don't really like me. What a relief, it's true. It's true, and it's no big deal.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Oh, wow, this is a pain in the *ss

Beren tugged my arm as I talked to my mother in law on the phone. "Momma," he said in a whisper. He continued so quietly that I could not understand him. I shook my head and wrinkled my eyebrows indicating I could not understand.

"Momma, I need a plate," he said in a more audible whisper. 

"Ok," I mouthed, handing him a plate.

Later, I realized he was being courteous. Though still interrupting my conversation, he was doing so at a lower volume.

When he was a baby, his needs were immediate, fast and at times, furious. I would say for me, at a "holy f*ck" sort of level (diaper plus missed feeding cues, or just woke from, he insisted despite my equal insistance, awaking from a nap is BY NO MEANS to be done calmly. Awaking from a nap must include a minimum of 10 minutes of screaming no matter what.) 

By toddler age, needs and experiences are down graded to "holy sh*t" (by no means are we leaving this playground)  level alternating with "oh crap" (forgot a change of clothes and fell in a puddle). By now things get up to "oh, wow this is a pain in the *ss" (another case of poison ivy, or it's very hot and his legs do not want to finish the rest of the walk home) level with occasional spikes to "oh sh*t" (tumbling off porch railing). "Holy f*ck" level is rarely reached these days. Maybe I have relaxed a little, too.  

Overall, a good weekend here - mostly a mellow flow. Beren did collapse on our road in aggravation, defiance, and tiredness (see "oh, wow this is a pain in the *ss" above") partway home from a search for wild edible mushrooms. Of course, any weekend that includes a couple hot afternoon hours floating in the Musconetcong River is a good weekend. Plus, full family camp out on the living room floor to beat the heat. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

First word

Towards the end of April:

Beren and I pulled into the parking lot of the only pharmacy in southern Warren County that stocked Tincture of Benzoin.

"What's 'on... ee'?" Beren asked me.

"Did you just read that sign, Beren? Did you just READ a WORD? Wow!"

Beren glowed in his quiet way.

"That's the word 'one'. O-N-E. One way."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ridge Walks

Along the narrow, cedar section of the ridge
When we first moved to Pohatcong just over two years ago, spring finally came. Prior to spring we'd explored the woods. When the forest became green, so did our nursery. We barely left the confines of the deer fence - the heavily used and long abused farm field and home landscape. 

We saw many ruderal plants, and we celebrated them - lambsquarters, fleabane, dandelion, St. Johnswort. When we did exit the fence, well, when we left via another gate besides the driveway...we were rewarded each time we entered the forest. We tossed a fence around a couple lonely hepaticas and completely alone showy orchis.

This year, a few things have changed. We've taken on more business responsibilities, and our business has grown. Yet, we're more settled. We have better equipment that we've carefully chosen. And, our son is bigger. His own legs can carry him up the ridge and back down, farther than they have in years prior to this one. I also am no longer Beren's shadow. He's a capable woodsman.

Here are some of our rewards - 

Early saxifrage

 Linden - edible (and tasty) young foliage. Always been a favorite tree.
 Wild strawberry

 Columbine, Beren & I call the flowers "nectar pops"

Hearkening back to my art school days, I call this "Untitled #301". Why? Because I don't know what fern or sedge this is.

 Up he goes

 Up he goes

 Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the one and only

Hop hornbeam

Rockcap fern rhizome scrambles across the ridge.

Looking towards the Alpha Grasslands, hidden in the mist

Columbine and untitled #46 sedge

Trees on the ridge have personality and adversity

 Moss phlox - the right timing brings new sights

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Brushpiles and Woodchips

What's left of the Norway maple is a challenging puzzle to leave in place or try to undo with a chainsaw

Life is all right.

We finally ordered a chipper. We've been talking about it for a couple years. Ever since a mysterious man with clicker wheel showed up in our front yard and started asking questions abruptly.

He started in with "How long ya owned this place?" He had Joisy (Jersey) accent. "Excuse me?" I said. He continued with a series of questions. Eventually, he told me he'd been dispatched by the home owners insurance company.

"Gotta trim those branches over the roof. They'll send you a letter," he said and drove off in his city slicker mobile.

After years of renting, I thought I was no longer under anyone's thumb, except for the mortgage company, but I could ignore them until bill paying day. Jack*ss, I thought.

We called a few tree companies, and one called back. They came out, gave us a quote, and put us in line. We waited several months until I got antsy and called my cousin who is a climber. We set a date for him to come a few weeks later.

A few days before he was to do the trimming work, the tree service called, "We're coming on Thursday." "I didn't hear from you for months, so my cousin is coming to do the work." Silence. "We told you we'd come out." "Yeah but that was months ago." "Allright." Click.

We created a wooden cairn in the woodlot next to our driveway. The red maple branches over the roof went first. Then, the thinning, declining Norway spruce that blocked sun from reaching shining into the floor to ceiling windows in the living room. Sorry, gloomy spruce, but like most newcomers to a place...I fell in love with this spot and then began extensive cosmetic surgery. "I love you but you'll have to change."

Jared headed out for work, and by the time he returned my cousin and I had decided to do the ten year prune on the silver maple that hung over the wires to the house. "I had enough power outages at the old place," I said. "Yeah, we'll clean this up. Next time the tree companies go through, they may go easier on it, too," my cousin added.

We asked my cousin to take out a huge Norway maple, non-native invasive. Crapping up the woods with its copious seedlings. Allelopathic, possibly. Had to go. I asked my cousin to take out a fewer smaller ones on the woods edge. Suddenly, an ash came down instead. Miscommunication through the hearing protection. Firewood. Not the ash, the Norway behind it.

Another bunch of brush piles. In fact, the Norway maple lay, intact, in our field for a couple years. I was mortified. Gloomier than the Norway spruce. I was festooned in climbing buckwheat, an untidy, unattractive, annual native vine. I let that go. Mile-a-minute vine joined the climbing buckwheat. Mile-a-minute, also called devil's tearthumb, is a non-native invasive vine. You could likely guess how fast it grows. I spent many, many 'minutes' clambering over the crown of the maple, pulling and bagging up the plant.

This winter we finally cut the Norway (maple, we called it "The Norway") for firewood. In the late winter, we got to the crown and created huge brush piles. In the last month, we spread the branches out into future planting beds. Recently, our neighbor pulled up in his truck, "You got the brush cleaned up in the field, huh?"

Then, in the winds of 2016 an old box elder came down on our fence. Box elders are maples, though they hardly look like a maple. They're tough in that they an germinate and grow quickly in adverse situations like floodplains. No box elder has a straight trunk. All box elder have many, ragged branches that go in every directions.

Our woodlot brush pile grew. I tossed human-sized tumbleweed-like box elder branches on top. They rolled off.

The winds of 2016 continued. We watched another box elder split and fall. This one bounced off our truck's soft top (no damage) as I talked to my dad on the phone. "Uh, gotta go, Dad." We had wanted to lay this tree down for a couple years, but it leaned both towards the shed and away from the shed in a box elder kind of way. In a very unsafe kind of way.

More box elder for the brush pile. Might was well take down the scraggly mulberry while we're at it. All mulberries are scraggly and are perfect pairing for box elder brush piles.

So, we got our chipper, and we started on the the spruce and box elder and mulberry pile. It's a awesome machine. We made a dent, a small one, but a dent, and then I got the chipper jammed. With a 4' piece of rebar and a 3 pound hammer, we got in unjammed. No cursing.

The next day we moved to an easier brush pile - mock orange. Last year, we thinned the mock orange that was ready to engulf the 1930s era addition to our house. The brush pile sat next to our septic field since then.

Let's say, I was very pleased to get this chipper. I woke up thinking about it each morning since it arrived late last week. It's not just a man's toy. Imagine coming home each day...ascending the ridge along our road, driving through a little patch of beautiful rocky woods, which opens up on the left. Our deer fence. Inside the deer fence, our brush piles. The Norway maple festooned in vines. The Douglas fir pile. The ash ensnared in grape vine pile. Invasive thorn bush piles. The fallen black cherry and limbed up mulberry pile. 'Round the bend to the mock orange pile. Turn into the driveway for the full view of the shuddering mammoth of box elder, Norway spruce, mulberry, silver maple, and red maple. Yes, I was ready for the chipper.

It's not just vanity or American tidy yard mania. Wood chips are really or our land's soil. I'd called numerous tree companies: "Do you drop chips at farms?" I'd left my number with any tree company that I could chase down along the road. No calls. No chips.

Today, a tree company arrived at our neighbor's property. "Do you need a place to drop chips?" Yes, yes, they did. We got three loads of chips. One load included a crow's partially built nest. I know that because I watched the crow fly to the tree with branches. Hopefully, our compost pile is enough to keep them local.

They chipped three mature trees in one afternoon. "I knew we'd get chips as soon as we bought a chipper," Jared said. "Me, too," I agreed.