Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!


And good luck with that.

The annual day of the Cussing of the Small Engines has finally arrived. Hi Ho Hi Ho It’s off to Earth I go. To the rectangular gardened part of her, to be precise.

And I’m prepared for the agony of man against nature, here at the barren beginning of the thankless months of preparation before our soil finally warms enough by the first week of June to throw me a beet for the labors that start today.

I’ll be ostensibly cranking up my Stihl tiny-tiller for its first test against the over-winter cover crop of winter wheat. To give it a fair shot of breaking that up, I’ll have to crank the mower for the first time since October, and crop the wheat as close to the ground as possible–a task made more difficult by the profound unevenness of the soil.

A platoon of moles have done excavation work that would make the Mexican border crossing’s subterranean status look positively solid by comparison.

Local word has it that this is going to be a terrible year for Japanese beetles–that predicated on the common observation at yesterday’s Organic Gardening and Wild Foods gathering that the moles this year are more prevalent in our soils than ever as they, totally without malice of forethought, go about their work of finding and eating grubs that fall into their dark tunnels.

They will also, inadvertently I have to keep reminding myself, expose the roots of newly-planted tomatoes, sprouted snow peas and foot-tall climbing beans to the dry, nutrient-empty air, and so much for all that kneeling and bending and visions of sugar peas dancing in my head.

I’ve read that an (not inexpensive) application of milky spore to the soil will kill the grubs and send the moles to happier hunting grounds. I’m off now to think about that while I muck about the cold, muddy, lifeless garden compound, trying my best to imagine that, one more year, we will win some, even as we lose some.

But in the end, win or lose, a guy could do worse than to lean on a hoe of a late spring morning in the gentle heat of a new day and take part in this grand and terrible pursuit of body heat, vegetable nutrients and the flavors of summer.

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HomeGrown in Floyd

Alert! Top Tomato Contest in Floyd this weekend at The Community Market at the Station. Click the image for larger version of the poster. Get your maters ready.

Alert! For the first time today, the SustainFloyd Refrigerated Truck will be stationed in the community–today and for the next 6 Wendesdays at Check Elementary on 221 toward Roanoke; and on Saturdays (I think also 3 to 6) at the Willis Mart area on 221 toward Hillsville.

And for those who want more or those who missed the first Market Breakfast, put September 22 on your calendar–same menu (with maybe some interesting additions), same folks plus some visitors, and same good time. Some 240 were fed on August 11, and I for one was filled with the warm fuzzies. Lotta fun!

Squish Squash

Fried. That’s the way you get your first solid food in the Deep South. Squash is no exception–battered, fried yellow squash went with fresh-sliced vine ripe tomatoes straight from our vegetable man, Mr. Puckett (who died just recently.)

I don’t remember ever having the same dry-heaves response to squash that I did to canned asparagus (we couldn’t get fresh back then? Why EVER eat canned asparagus!?) The name alone has repulsed many a small child before the first bite might otherwise have been a possibility.

But I may have taken my last bite of squash–of the yellow variety, now that we have, for the first time, grown pattipan this year.

We sliced a few of the 5″ flying-saucer-shaped fruits and put them on the grill the other night, along with some marinated chicken. We dabbed them with olive oil, and sprinkled them with pepper and season salt. Unlike yellow crookneck, they have very little seed cavity and are mostly the firm, fleshy receptacle walls of the fruit of that particular vine. They don’t get mushy like the yellow ones, and actually have a bit of flavor on their own apart from the seasonings you add.

I just found this recipe for “creamed pattipan” that I think we’ll try.

I’m not sure about the storage potential for late-season pattipans, but I’m in the process of improving our small cellar to get rid of some moisture and retain more of the coolness over fall and winter, so may give a couple of these veggies a test, and next year, plant only pattipan. And try them cubed and fried. [I’m open for serving suggestions and recipes, y’all.]

On The Godly and the Ungodly, Alike

To back-yard garden is to agree to toil within the constraints of the soil and sun, rain and heat, time and space that you’re given for this use. To produce produce, you can do no other.

To garden signifies your intention to cull from the indifferent provisions of nature only a certain set of species whose seeds and sets you alone will provide while working to thwart the nutritional hopes of others that nature offers–invaders who will come to steal from the roots (weeds) or (insect and vertebrate pests) to eat that which you imagine looking out at you from behind the glass walls of a Mason jar in the dark of your root cellar come December.

You will meet with some successes. Do get up on your high horse. Consider victories, should they come, to be the consequence more of luck than genius and craft, because no matter how much you confer of these human energies, the rains cometh on the good gardener and the slothful alike. And failures will really not be so much yours as they will be victories for early blight, stink bugs or the blind indifference of storms that seem always to part and fade just before they would sweep over your tiny plot with enough water to stave off wilt and wither. The tropical storm we had hoped for in July will be too late now to do any lasting good.

And yet, the creek still has enough flow to serve the garden, even though the past month has brought not enough rain to do a thorough job of soaking deep. The grass clipping mulch has helped even out what moisture we were required to add in squirts and sprinkles, but you can look at the tomatoes, beans and cucumbers and tell they have been stressed often and long, and they are sad. The garden lives, but it hardly thrives. Even so…

We have put up a canner (7 quarts) of Jade green beans. Yet to come, the climbing beans (heirloom Goose and Black Beans) have cascaded over the tops of the 8 foot cattle-panel walls of the stockade, and if the bean beetles and stink bugs will show moderation, we should be able to put away maybe 50 quarts of beans, and half as many of tomatoes. We would throw our yellow crooknecks at passing cars, but passers-by come so infrequently, we get bored hiding in the borders, waiting.

With regard to the putting away: a domestic difference of opinion.

She has chosen to store our canning upstairs in a back room (not dark, not cool) because the cellar is moist and the jars sweat. So?

I say we need to make the cellar work, because storage at 50 degrees in the dark is far better for preserving stuff. She worries about rusted jar lids. I say we can fix that.

First, we can increase ventilation with a small vent fan or run the dehumidifier occasionally and drain into the sump pump. We can reduce moisture coming in by a number of means. And we can move away from metal lids. I plan to order these non-BPA plastic infinitely reusable jar lids later today.

IMAGE CAPTION: a bee’s eye view of a PattiPan squash flower–and I’m happy to report that at last, the pollinators have come. It was a silent spring, so to speak.


Floyd Man Becomes Human Scarecrow

They call them accidents: low-probability events that somehow come to pass despite the odds, resulting in personal or property damage, humiliation, and/or law suits. They are less entertaining and more painful when they happen to our own personal selves. And they are especially chilling when, with just a little different trajectory, a bit more force and the momentary distraction of our better angels, our little accidents might result in headlines like the one above.

Said accidents also tend to come totally out of left field–unexpected, impossible (within the bounds of sanity) to prepare oneself for or to protect against; and stunningly inconvenient and often life-redirecting while as much healing occurs only as quickly as bruised self-esteem and inner recuperative processes will allow.

It happened, of all places, in the garden. The garden: The place I go to feel sheltered, safe and separated from all risk and care. Wouldn’t you know.

Victim: I am simply picking the yellow crookneck squash whose fruits wink into maturity at the rate of about one an hour. We cannot neglect them or else we’d wake up of a morning and find the garden a giant wire-basket cornucopia filled to the top with schmoo-shaped soft-skinned, slightly nutritious, mostly tasteless (thank goodness for pepper) squash–the copulating rabbits of the vegetable kingdom.

So I am doing the Garden Twister maneuver wherein one stands with feet awkwardly and carefully placed within the Squash Forest of impossibly large vision-obscuring leaves so as not to damage one of the fecund little shop of horrors specimens. (Do not ask why threat of damage seemed so necessary to avoid, given our love-hate relationship with this particular offender.)

The standing with legs splayed, feet aligned at almost 180 degree diverging directions while squatting slightly–a very interesting kind of garden ballet, actually. This position alone becomes an acrobatic task for someone with proprioceptive response-ability half as chrono-gifted as my own. But wait! Now from that pretzeled position, bend at the waist while also rotating hard left while extending the upper torso, then the right arm reaches for the that one pulsing plump protoplasmic schmoo that has ripened since you first stepped inside the garden only minutes earlier. So far, so good.

Now we come to the low-probability, high impact part.

I lost my balance. Many a bodily-injury accident report begins with those words. What that implies, if I may put on my physical therapist wide-brimmed sun hat, is this. Balance is a precarious and under-appreciated gyroscopic process that occurs constantly below the radar of human awareness. It means that in walking, sitting, standing or gardening, one is able, through a complex of fine-motor responses, to keep their center of gravity over their base of support. To do otherwise is called an accident. I did otherwise.

My leaning center of gravity, in its determination to pick that one throbbing yellow schmoo just out of reach, shifted the tiniest bit beyond my awkwardly-placed ballerina-posing feet that. (See me in a green gardening tutu and bodice.) In an attempt to avoid a fall, thus causing horrible damage to these cherished members of our gardening cast, the body shifts to Code Yellow: Do. Not. Fall. Whatever it takes, reposition your BOS under your COG, you idiot! Without so much as a single nerve impulse of conscious planning, our feet run to get under our displaced  and flailing torsos.

As they say about falling off a tall building, the fall isn’t so bad. It’s the stopping at the bottom that hurts.

My fall went into slow motion. It stopped some frames later when I hit the wall. Well, not so much a wall. A wall would have been preferable to the cut ends of a cattle panel wired high on six foot T-posts. Imagine a blunt 4-foot-tall multi-tined pitchfork aligned exactly with the path of my careening out-of-control self. Who, in a million years, would ever have imagined this as a source of life-threatening injury? That’s why they call them accidents.

I hit this horizontal comb of heavy metal tines going at a good rate of speed. I was, not surprizingly, stunned by the sudden concussion on impact, and by the vague unprocessed sense I was injured. When I realized exactly what had stopped my lurching fall, it occurred to me that the pain on my forehead might be from a wire that had punctured my skull at the temple; that the pain on my chest might be a pneumothorax; and that the tine that hit my leg might have displaced my kneecap. Was I dead? Was I bleeding horribly? Could I ever risk coming to the Garden of a Thousand Cuts again?

I am happy to report that the bruised ego was the worst injury. Second is the six inch laceration almost but not quite requiring stitches along the outside of my left knee. And several other round pokes from the glancing wires that almost pinned me in place like a human scarecrow in my own garden.

Ann was there, saw the whole thing, immediately made it my fault and why didn’t I put something over those lethal wires anyway?

And so I come to you, complete strangers, to empathize with me in my recent trauma and bodily insult. You alone can give me reassurance that I’m not quite ready for The Home, that I can live here in UnAssisted living, that I can go to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.

And while you’re here, would any of you be willing to take home a pickup load of insipid yellow crookneck Schmoos?