Green Victorious

When I was a kid my parents and some friends rented a community garden plot in Baltimore. Our yard was mostly gravel and shade, and I remember the first summer my dad carrying on about the victory garden his parents had when he was a kid and the experience he wanted to replicate. We got a few salad and more zucchini then we could eat in 10 summers, and then we moved to a house with a big yard in the Midwest where, ironically, we grew only lawns and flowers. I’ve let my gardens lapse here and there, but this year, I have a hankering for victory.

I had my first back to the land epiphany when we moved to Vermont and wanted to make the most out of space. Every power outage and snowstorm that socked us in, every trip up our rutty road in mud season made me more determined to have my grocery store growing in my backyard, feeding my freezer through the summer.  Whenever I dig in, however, I get a lot more than just groceries out of the dirt and my sweat.

My ongoing pulmonary issues and Thing1’s compromised immune system prompted us to initiate a ‘stay home’ protocol well before the governor issued one for everyone in our state. My body has limited how much heavy work I can do right now, but as long as I have the strength to whisper the words “I have an idea” to my husband (and now kids) the resurrection of a big garden was inevitable.

This year I’m experimenting with Straw-bale gardening, laying ground work for no-dig sheet mulching in the fall. So far the weather has been too cold to allow more than a few pea shoots to establish themselves in the conditioned bales, and trays of seedlings and propagated cuttings add welcome green to my office window.  

The current experiment is much less work and may produce slightly fewer jars of tomato sauce. As long as there’s something green and hopeful flourishing, however, I’m calling this garden victorious.

The Song Can’t Remain the Same

The Song Can’t Remain the Same

I expected some savings during the quarantine from not driving, going out to restaurants or ordering takeout. I expected an equally big bump in our grocery bill when Thing1 returned to the nest, but, even with two giants to feed (13-year-old Thing2 hit the six foot mark this week), thrift, apparently, is part of our new normal. It’s one of the few welcome surprises this month.

I thought about it as I came across a video about propagating root vegetables from cuttings from store-bought veggies. Always a sucker for a recycling project, I knew I’d need a place to keep my cuttings safe from cats looking to knock things over. Before the pandemic I might’ve stopped at the garden center on my way home from work. With every project and new recipe lately, however, I find myself going shopping in my attic or the recycle bin with an eye on repurposing items that might’ve been forgotten or even tossed.

Last year I, along with a plethora of other Americans got swept up in decluttering — removing things from the house that didn’t spark joy. I quit when I got to the book stage (might as well declutter cats or kids), but I was already fumbling during the closet clean-out. I was never going to get that perfect pink size 6 dress on again, and I’m sure it found a better home with a more dedicated dieter. There were plenty of items, however, that went to donation bins whose goals of redistributing old clothing, I later learned, may be doing more harm than good.

For environmental and economic reasons, we were off grid for over a decade. We obsessed over every watt we consumed, but this sparkling solitude has made me question my own material consumption.

A few days ago I stumbled on a wonderful movie on Netflix called “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind“. I highly recommend for anyone with kids — I even ordered bought the book for my middle schoolers for fall. The story takes place just at the time of the 9-11 attacks and follows a high schooler in Malawi named William along with his family as they endure flooding, drought and subsequent crop failures. The change in family fortunes force them to count every grain in every meal. For William, a born tinkerer who loves fixing things, the changes mean the end of school, but, consumed with a vision of wind-powered irrigation for the village, he sneaks into the library to conduct research on his own.

There are so many powerful themes throughout the movie — strength, family in all its complexity, perseverance, and the power of education – but, as I watched William rummage through the village landfill for scrap metal and used electronics to build his turbine, another, smaller, theme emerged. Education, not merely necessity, was the mother of William’s inspiration, but it was thrift and ingenuity that helped him use whatever was on hand to bring together his turbine and save the village.

Now, a year after my failed purges, I am rethinking every purchase and every creation in terms of its embodied energy and its impact on our budget. The purge got me thinking about what happens to those things when we’re ‘done’ with them. Watching a determined teenager cobble together a life-saving machine with recycled parts, however, provided a sober — and inspiring – new perspective that will make me consider much more carefully exactly when I’m ‘done’ with something and when it still has another life left in it.

First Pick

First Pick

Digging In 11×14 Watercolor

Last year I broke my foot, and it never completely healed. For most of the last year I felt like I’ve been driving a Pinto with the left turn signal on waiting for the tiniest little ding to knock my appendage out of commission which made gardening last year a fantasy.

this year I’m getting equipped to make the fantasy reality, but I’m a little bit nervous about what mother nature’s planned. We can usually get peas and greens in by March and have first pickings before The trees are fully leafed out.

This year, however, Mother Nature may beat us to the punch, having given winter it’s pink slip already. I think she’s tempting us to get the peas in early.

You can buy prints and cards of this painting here.

Retro

Retro

The falling leaves are bathing Vermont in antique gold, and lately I feel as though I’ve entered a malfunctioning time machine that teases me with glimpses of the past.   Leaves and, soon, snow are coming to cover the painted yellow lines on the asphalt, camouflaging the trappings of the twentieth century.  But this only heightens my curiosity, not about the recorded history of the area, but about what life was really like.

In some ways, our off-grid, out-of-the way life gives us unique peeks into an older lifestyle – we heat and cook with wood, we grow and put up some of our food, we hang all of our laundry on the line.  But every time I pop a tube of roll up cinnamon buns or hamburger helper in my shopping cart, I wonder how ye old housewives managed to do all of this by hand.

I loved the Little House books when I was a kid, and Farmer Boy, the one about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband, Almanzo, as a boy, actually took place not too far from here – you can visit his homestead in upstate New York.  The story of their family was fun, but my favorite parts were always the copious descriptions of how Ma and Pa put up a house, a garden, a bear they just killed.

It’s at this time of year when I’m freezing instead of canning the last goodies from the garden or when I’m nurturing my inner slacker mom in other ways that I most often think of Laura’s Ma, and the detailed description of Almanzo’s Ma – the original SuperMoms – raising a sizable brood of super-obedient kids in nearly pristine houses stocked with food they grew and furnished with homemade furniture covered with homemade quilts.  I don’t just wonder what it was like to be them, I wonder if there was something magical in the well water back then.  I get exhausted driving my saucy kids (no idea where they get it) to school, bringing home part of the bacon, and trying to keep the house just neat enough to keep from being condemned.

I don’t yearn for life in that “simpler” era.  I like antibiotics and being able to vote.  But I would pay good money to know their secrets.