Saturday, March 21, 2009

How to Get Your Husband to Roto-Till

This is golden shovel kind of moment: my husband roto-tilling our first Kentucky garden patch which lies in front of our new "hinkel house" (Pennsylvania "Deutsch" for "chicken house")

I tend not to nag but started in about our small garden patch a few months ago. It was last planted two summers ago when the former owner had her last vegetable garden here (I am grateful for so many of her thoughtful plantings of trees, shrubs and some perennials and I'm sad to say I haven't done her gardening justice). Her wire fence was caving in and I wanted something more substantial. About a month ago, post-chicken house construction, the crew put up some sturdy locust posts and good solid wire--the kind we have inside and out of the chicken house--and a cedar gate. Not only does the garden have to be chicken-proof, it needs to avert puppies, guinea hens and any number of wild rabbits (and let's not forget the neighbor's often unpaddocked horses and goats--not that I'm complaining).

For several weeks I've been itching to plant onions, early cabbage and lettuces, spinach, radish and peas that, if I plant next week at the latest, I can pick in mid-late May. I'm realizing that mid-March here is like late April or early May in New Hampshire with its warm days, cool (often cold) nights, and still a chill to the ground and air. Because the growing season is longer here you can really have a spring garden, a summer garden (all annuals that thrive after frost), and a fall garden. Our first frost last year was well into October and I understand you can set out squashes, melons, peppers, tomatoes and everything else after May 10. By June it is too hot for peas and most lettuces or colder crops like kale and cabbage. [Not sure when I can plant leeks--spring or late summer here? Something else to check. Meanwhile I emailed my garlic farmer friend Edie at Bee's Wing Farm and she reminded me that garlic is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. It will be interesting to try it here. "Definitely soft neck," she added.]

As the fence has been done for a while, I have been sending subtle--and not so subtle--hints that we need to get the garden roto-tilled. Today, while we were at Homestead Greenhouses, I mentioned in front of Lena the owner (knowing full well my husband was in ear shot, but pretending that he wasn't) that "we're here to look at your fruit trees and bushes and I can't buy my onion sets until our garden is roto-tilled." You know, breezy, not pointed, and kind of in passing. As soon as we got home what was the first thing my husband did? Hauled out the roto-tiller, changed the oil and away he went. Then our boys each had a turn. He was pleased that a 39-year old tiller could start as it did, especially after not being used in a few years. I chuckled, noting the proximity of my age to the roto-tiller (add about seven years) and questioned my capacity to do the same.

However, the emergent problem became: "that because the ground is hard, I will probably have to cut the wire fence and go in with the tractor and cultivate it." "OH NO! NOT THE FENCE!" I said, silently to myself, followed by an equally silent "of course, the garden soil probably wouldn't be so packed down if you didn't have the tractor parked on top of it all winter." Now all that remains: "Will he or won't he?" That is the question.

Meanwhile, I feel like, well, a mother hen awaiting the call from Shelley at our local post office telling me that my chicks have arrived from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Tomorrow we need to make a large half of a wooden shipping crate into a circle by affixing rounded cardboard in the corners (to keep the chicks from backing each other into a corner if they get scared), rig up the heat lighting, get the feeder and waterer cleaned and ready (of course I bought the feed and shavings weeks ago--the chicken baskets, feeders and waterers I've had for a few years--truly--it's like getting a nursery together for an expected child). We will be going to a local Mennonite auction next week where we will likely pick up some guinea hens and maybe a few other chicken varieties. The guineas will free range and live in the trees but I need to better research how or if I can mix older laying hens with chicks in the chicken house.

I've just ordered our Cornish X chicks (for the freezer--aka "The Chickens that Will Have No Name but for which We Are Thankful") that will arrive the week of May 11. It is probably best to have the chick arrivals staggered. Even though the meat birds and the future laying hens will be in their own half of the chicken house duplex, I'd rather not be overwhelmed with too many chicks at once. That also gives us four months or so to eat up the rest of the food in the freezer! At least this is my rationale given that the local source we thought we had for young meat birds is not getting them this year and May 11 is the earliest Murray McMurray will ship them now.

Two pots of emerging New Hampshire rhubarb plants await their new home, along with thirteen (always a lucky number for me) strawberry plants that I salvaged from our Kentucky garden, pre-roto-tilling, and placed on top. Now, where to put them? Our son Henry is having his turn on the roto-tiller.

I was delighted today to discover that a tiny bit of "Golden Glow" brought from my New Hampshire garden survived its winter pot and two glorious shoots of rhubarb are also beginning to emerge from theirs. That rhubarb came from the Gray Goose Farm, where my grandparents and mother farmed, then to my apartment, to our home in Hancock and now to Kentucky. The Golden Glow, in the Rudbekia family, is an old-fashioned tall perennial sunflower-type plant that blooms in late summer. It was often planted next to New England outhouses [in this photograph, above, it blooms happily next to the tool shop at the Sawyer Farm in Jaffrey, along with some phlox]. About ten years ago or perhaps more, my husband and I ventured up to East Hardwick, Vermont to Perennial Pleasures Nursery. This mother and daughter duo specialize in heirloom plants and every one is grown in their gardens and hardy to Zone 3 so you know they are tough. Golden Glow is one of the first perennials we bought (from this nursery) when we were setting out our first garden together so I very much wanted to bring some of it along here.

The other day we unloaded the contents of our "barn truck" that has been in a friend's driveway since last July. It was like Christmas in March--now all housed in the new shop and old garden shed. Eli holds a garden sign I found in a scrap pile at a New Hampshire nursery.

We wanted hardy New England stock for our first New Hampshire garden planted over ten years ago and it is really no surprise that after haphazardly watering the transplants in late fall, a few winter freezes, and puppy nibbling, that these pots from New Hampshire have survived. I am delighted that they did. Meanwhile, some transplanted apple mint--another Gray Goose Farm "original" heirloom via a transplanting from the Sawyer Farm--needs to be checked up the road at its temporary location. In the rush of our last few weeks in New Hampshire I dug those plants with my friend Rosemary (also a Cupcake--who prefers to be anonymous) who also dug some for herself. Somehow this last garden ritual seemed important to do and in sharing the plants with a friend, somehow less upsetting. I felt like the early settlers might have done when they carried root stock and seeds across the mountains from New England to their new frontier homes, among few things brought from their old homes along with them. It's been a very long while since I've wanted to put down new roots.

Oh it is good to dig in the dirt while watching your husband (and boys) roto-till. [And yes, I could probably get the thing going myself but there are some things that just aren't in my job description!] As he said, it is the last he'll have to do with the garden this year. I expect he is waiting to see how committed I am, first. I don't mind as the boys will enjoy helping me and it will be my own little patch of earth to tend. Meanwhile, the daffodils are thriving in front of the chicken house and seem to await the chickens' arrival, too. It amazes me that they pushed forth despite all of the activity on top of them in recent months. Spring is a glorious time and always an assertion that life goes onward, no matter what comes our way or what beats us down.


Bee's Wing Farm said...

What a lovely blog to read early in the morning over a cup of coffee! I am just in from walking the dogs. It's still cold here, but I can go without a coat if I have a big thick robe, and then high muck boots for trudging around the mud and remaining snow. Fields are still frozen but we're dislodging branches that fell in the ice storm and dragging them over to the brush pile. We are a long way away from putting in onion sets!

What fun you're going to have with your chickens and new garden. Do you have a good water source? I love the high spraying hose for the perennial garden and imagine you'll need a lot of water in the summer as it will be so hot there. Your tomatoes, eggplants, etc. will love that! Imagine all that chicken manure to come. How are you composting?

This is all very exciting! Such fun to see Eli with a sign from New England.

Love, Edie

a Cupcake near you! said...

Okay, what I want to know is how do I get YOUR husband to roto-till MY garden! Do you think a rhubarb pie would work?

Anonymously yours,