Tuesday, June 21, 2011

water water everywhere

we have so much water in the rain barrel- i just let them play
 The gardens are on autopilot.  They've been planted and weeded a few times, mulched, or at least most of them have been.  The soil is warm, the rain falls, and everything grows just as it says it would.

The farmers in Minnesota- the real ones with hundreds of acres that is- not the eighth acre variety- are having a hard time getting crops in with all of the rain.  It seems that I hear or read one or two articles a week lately about how late the planting season has been, or how poor the outlook is for harvest this year.

But only if you're tilling with a diesel tractor or planting corn and soybeans.  Gardening of the shovel and hoe variety is doing quite well right now, thanks.

Not that I don't have sympathy for the hardworking commercial farmers of the Midwest.  I do- it's a hard way to make a living, and not getting any easier.   My grandparents farmed 400 acres in northern Wisconsin, handed down to them by my great-grandfather who had inherited the farm from his father, who had homesteaded the land under the homestead act.  Nobody in my parents generation wanted the farm, so as soon as he turned 65, Grandpa decided to sell.

That was a little over 20 years ago now, and Grandpa and Grandma seem happy- they still have their enormous vegetable garden and their orchard, but the stress of getting the crops in, baling hay before the rain came, getting the crops harvested, making sure the cows stayed healthy- is gone.

There are very few family farms of that size left in that part of Wisconsin now. In just over two decades, most have sold to larger operations with thousands of dairy cows, and enormous pole barns.  I haven't seen the operation that bought my grandparents' farm, or the dozen others like it, but have heard it described.

It sounds nothing like the place I used to wander around as a kid- falling down old wooden sheds, old rusty tractors in the tall grass, a chicken coop full of noisy chickens, corn cribs, spooky and mysterious grain silos.  Something has been lost.

I may not have been willing to be a part of it even if I had been given the chance, so maybe it's silly of me to mourn it, but the increasingly larger and larger scale of agriculture makes me uneasy.  It also makes the process of growing my own food, and food for my family more meaningful- and more urgent.

almost nothing is flowering now- but check out all the texture!
 I'm in the city now and the rain is falling softly on the leaves of the cherry tree, the serviceberry and my daughter's magnolia.  Thunder is rumbling gently in the distance.  The rain has fallen on and off for two days now, or is it more- I lose track.

The rain barrel filled up a while ago and the rain has been spilling over into the overflow catchment and into the raingarden which is the lushest I have seen it since I installed it 5 years ago.  Not much is blooming at the moment- but the green could hurt your eyes, it's so bright.  And the contrasting textures are fantastic.  I love this time of year for that.

Since I want to keep the water in the rain barrel fresh by draining it down and refilling it every so often, and since I knew we were getting more rain tonight (that was all but guaranteed) I let the kids play with the hose and have some fun.  I rarely let them play with the water tap, but if we're emptying the rain barrel anyway...

It was fun to see that they actually took turns.  My daughter held the hose and filled up my son's watering can, which he then used to sprinkle the steps, which she imitated with the hose.  They watered some of the plants too- which may or may not have needed it, but really don't seem to mind the excess moisture since we have such sandy, loamy soil.

I left the hose on the fruit trees as well to let them really deep water for a while.  Both the apricot and plum I planted this spring are doing really well.  They got off to a slow start, but have made up for it now.  I may actually have to prune the plum soon to keep it from putting out too much new, soft growth.  It's a good problem to have.

sparkle strawberry

fava beans- will be bearing soon!

The strawberries I planted on May Day are another thing altogether.  More than half died, probably because of my trimming the roots too short, in my hurry to plant with frozen fingers on that miserable, snowy day.  The 'Sparkle' have done reasonably well, with maybe 60% or so making it, but only a few of the 'Seascape' made it.  I think a total of 3 out of 25 if I count right.

I spotted a few 'sparkle' strawberries already.  I know I should pick them off so the plant develops, instead of the fruit- but strawberries grow like weeds in this climate- so I'm chancing it.  If the flavor of sparkle is anything like described in the Fedco catalog, it should be worth it.  The real payoff will come in two years or so when we have a lush, overflowing raised strawberry bed in the backyard.

The birds will be honing in on those, I'm sure.  I hope the neighbor's cat is up to the job.

Fava beans have been flowering for over a week now and some flowers are wilting and turning black, which means we will have favas soon.  If you haven't had them- seek them out.  Not that it's easy to find them- especially fresh- but they're easily the best bean I've ever eaten.  Middle Eastern or Indian grocery stores will sometimes have them- frozen if not fresh.   Gita cooks them up in curries and with cooked vegetables.  She just cuts them up, pods and all if they are small enough, or shells them if they're too big and tough.  I salivate thinking about it- and I'm really not a big fan of beans otherwise. 

Our little backyard ecosystem seems to be functioning well this week.  Rain falls, the plants grow and bloom, the birds take a few morsels, but the neighbor cat keeps most of them away, and we enjoy the rest.  Made possible, in a large part by the compost and mulch of last year's plants and leaves and grass clippings.  A tidy little circle in a occasionally tidy little yard.  Bring on the rain!  We'll find a way to use all of it.

the pool filled with rain.  who wouldn't want to get into that?


I saw this fantastic article in the Minneapolis StarTribune today.  It seems CSA's are going mainstream.

Community Supported Agriculture- if you're not familiar with it- is a way for farms to sell directly to supporters via yearly food subscriptions, and they're a great way for city people to get a variety of fresh organic food during the growing season, and for small farmers to have some guaranteed income when they need it- at the beginning of the season.

The CSA is a model of agriculture on a small scale done right- as opposed to the bleak scenario I painted at the beginning of the post.  I like to be hopeful, and CSAs give me hope.

One of my best memories of college, was of living in a student housing co-op, and driving to a bunch of small CSAs in the early spring with my girlfriend at the time.  She was the food manager for the co-op, and wanted to buy two shares for the house.  We saw 3 or 4 farms, on a day of driving through some of the prettiest countryside in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.  We ended up subscribing to Red Cardinal Farm, and enjoyed the produce for the next 6 months.

That was in the mid-90s/ maybe 1994, maybe 1995.  CSAs were still a new and radical concept at the time, and even some people in the rather radical student house we lived in questioned the idea.  So I'm glad to see them coming of age.  They're a great ally to have in the time of peak oil and food insecurity.  Welcome to the big screen, CSAs!


  1. Things are looking great. I've appreciated all the rain this year, too, with a new garden bed and a new serviceberry to tend to! I'm so thankful it's sunny today, though, and am very excited to get out this weekend to weed/tidy up.-Jodi

  2. Ditto that Jodi! I'm still in planting mode- planning on replanting a few hot pepper plants that didn't make it after the mid-may freeze. I shouldn't have planted that early- I know- but what's done is done.

    It should be a beautiful weekend to be outside. I have some renovations to do, but hope to spend most of Sunday outdoors-- hope the weather holds up that long.

  3. Your whole garden looks so beautiful.Seems you have very sweet and good looking kids too. Life is wonderful!