To Lose These Walking Blues

And now, an interesting travelogue, if you don’t mind.

Not a great car seat.

Yesterday, Andie took Chicken Chicken, the artist formerly known as both Cat the Chicken and Other Chicken, on a pest control field trip. In other words, Andie took Chicken Chicken out to lunch and said, “No thanks. I’m good.”

Eyeing the menu.

Years ago, I read that the ancient Chinese battled swarms of locusts armies of hungry ducks and chickens and I told this story to Andie.

Turns out, this practice has carried on into the present day.

This is like chicken paradise.

Andie watched Chicken Chicken chase bugs around a garden for a couple of hours and brought her home, stuffed and happy.

Go ahead: google “locusts chicken army” or “locusts duck army.” Nobody can resist an awful pun. Pesticides are nasty shit. If you have bugs, what you need are chickens or ducks.

Imagine how scary this must be for the bugs.

I’m thinking of going into business in my retirement as the lady who brings goats to your overgrown yard for a constructive nibble, but now I visualize a side gig where I bring chickens to gobble Japanese beetles. I’ll be rich!

Okay, maybe not rich, but not at all bored. Some vineyards deploy ducks to tackle pest problems. I can see myself rolling up to a winery with my team of hungry chickens help them solve their unpleasant problem. In fact, I’m picturing a bottle of gratitude now.

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Shatter Your Illusions Of Love

Helpful when critters drop by for a drink.

Pretty, pretty clam shells after a thunderstorm. As a silly treat, we get those super cheap grocery store stuffed clams, then crush the shells to let calcium leech into our garden soil for about a hundred years. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

The Goat Won’t Stop Shrieking

 

They hardly suspect I brought scissors.

A lot of people will tell you carrot greens are not edible. Those people are full of shit. Carrot greens – especially young carrot greens – belong in salads and soups.

I was taking miserably bad pictures of my garden for a few weeks. Why? I don’t know. Inspiration left me and joined the Foreign Legion or something. This morning, I weeded the garden of plants I didn’t remember planting and plants I regretted planting. It was pleasant for me to spend time in my garden on a Monday morning. I suspect the plants on the compost pile might offer a different report.

The garden, as it is currently constituted, is difficult to photograph, by which I mean I suck at photography. The soil is dark and rich. The plants are vibrant shades of green. The chickens are surly and demanding, the neighbors are full of crazy and Andie’s garden cat Kitty refuses to come in the house since it stopped snowing. I go out the back door and have no idea what I’ll find, no matter how many times a day I crack open the door.

 

I cannot overstress how tiny this garden is.

It’s rained every day or every other day for about two weeks. The ground is saturated, the river is high and lettuces laugh maniacally.

Tomorrow is a big day at my job. All Hell is going to break loose and for the next little while – hold onto your hats – I’m going to try staying calm and being reasonable. STOP LAUGHING! I’ve been reasonable once or twice. Probably. I mean, it could happen, or we could have blocks of chocolate delivered to my office, for general gnawing purposes. I guess therapy dogs don’t drive themselves places, but I can’t rule out ordering them from Amazon.

 

Suitcase And Guitar In Hand

For a bunch of years in a row, I took a picture of the backyard garden from the top of the back steps, usually on Sundays because that was probably the day I charged the camera battery. Or milked the cow. I don’t have a cow. Anyway, taking pictures from that vantage point is a big old failure now. To show you, Poor Impulsives, the exceedingly homemade garden, I had to walk down the steps and walk around the entire ridiculously small garden, and what a sacrifice it was. You are welcome!

Tools and dirt, check!

At the bottom of the back steps and to the left, the temporary greenhouse and the solarizing bed.

Almost as soon as we put up the temporary greenhouse, two storms came along and threw everything inside on the ground. Stuff is now growing on the floor. I don’t know what that is, exactly. Can’t wait to find out if it bears fruit or tries to kill me.

Some plants, check!

At the bottom of the steps, slightly less left: the berm in the foreground; in the background, the stairs that will be covered with window boxes, a composter, the high raised bed.

Pete and I built the plant prison with chicken wire sides, which was a total pain in the ass and was guaranteed to whack me in the face every time I tried to get closer to my plants. He revamped this dealio with plastic fencing along the sides and I am the very happiest of happy campers. At no time has plastic fencing attacked my person and the squirrels are totally out of the big raised bed.

I have a splinter. I'm sure it's not from all this wood.

Standing in front of the greenhouse and looking straight back at containers full of potatoes, sweet potatoes and asparagus. The higher raised bed in the distance is full of garlic. The chicken chateau to the right is full of surly chickens.

I plant a lot of potatoes. Nothing is more fun than dumping out a container of potato plants to find wonderful new potatoes on the surface of the solarizing bed. Dudes, you can grow food in hilariously small spaces – if you can protect it from voracious wildlife. And your neighbor with boundary issues.

Yep, that's a container of lemongrass in New Jersey.

The higher raised bed is full of garlic and clover. I love garlic and I’m experimenting with cover crops. I’m at that age, you see. Against the fence to the left will be a forest of peas & beans; against the forest to the right will be a forest of asparagus, a couple of years in the future.

I like walking around the plant prison to the space near the higher raised bed. This is the center of the garden space and from here, I can see most everything. From here, I see things I should fix and things I should be patient about. Place your bets.

Can you believe I wasted the battery power to photograph this?

Presently, the somewhat anemic forest of peas & beans. The favas are doing well. The beans sprouted nicely. The peas? I’ve re-seeded.

This is the spot where Andie’s cat Kitty likes to nap on sunny days. I love finding her here. I wish the squirrels were a little more nonplussed.

That's not my shed, but my plants lean on it.

Walking around the berm/plant prison, there’s the tumbling composter, the stairs Pete built to hold planted containers, the layer composter, a container of potatoes. Also visible: a whole lot of garden fence pieces put away carefully.

The other day, I took a weed-whacker to the yard. I like this part of the garden green and mossy, but weeds are aggressive everywhere. I was careful to pick the dandelion greens for the chickens before I weed-whacked this area to within an inch of its life.

You would not believe how much time I spend staring at eggplants.

Turning directly around, this is the backside of the berm/plant prison; beyond on the left, the higher raised bed filled with garlic; beyond right is the chicken run and coop.

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but lots of seeds are sprouting in the plant prison. This planting method is working for me. I have backaches, but for other reasons.

In my day, it was "Yellow Submarine." Why is this kid singing music from before his parents were born?

Behind the berm/plant prison, looking straight back at potatoes, the garlicky higher raised bed, the future home of an asparagus forest, and the fence between me and the little boy singing, “JET! OO OO OO OO! JET!” over and over again.

When I was a kid, the retired neighbors across the street spent all of their time and energy planting flowers and trimming their hedges and adjusting their pansies and I thought they were crazy people. Maybe they were. But about the plants: I get it.

I’m excited about getting up tomorrow morning to water plants. Because: craaaazy.

Bright In A Hollow Sky

This spring, we’re up to all sorts of wild new stuff. I cut off all my red hair and now I look people in the eye and wait for them to say something about it. I built the berm in the low raised bed and Andie and I covered it with fertile soil. Andie moved the blueberry bushes to the front of the house and planted the currant bushes. My job has taken a turn for the more interesting and serious and – surprise! – I rather like it.

What? I assembled it before breakfast, mofos!

Five foot by five foot by too high for me to reach, dammit!

Over the winter, I took a part-time job to send Panky to space camp, but plans change. Miss Sasha and Mr. Sasha decided that Panky should wait another year before he goes to sleep away camp, but found Panky a summer robotics program near them. In an exciting turn of events, I’ve made enough at my part-time job to send both Panky and Buckwheat to summer camp. Do you know what that means? That means in the future, Mama can pay some bills.

I like the sound of that. Everybody wins.

Nobody expects it. Especially not me.

Only Thing To Guide Them

Next week, Poor Impulse Control will turn a dazzling 14 years old. It’s leggy and growing like a weed, but not getting braces or babysitting for pin money. I draw the line at it dating until it’s older, but who am I to get in the way of young love?

Seriously, I see you.

I see you!

I’ve been working on the garden every few days, and it’s hard to see progress that way. The raised bed I’ve been adding sticks to now has a layer of composted manure over it, high, low and in between. Though that makes it sound deep, it’s not. I had three bags of composted manure and I tried to evenly distribute the crumbly manure over the surface I plan to plant. Picture a middle-aged Jersey chick in an orange neoprene jacket, perfect lipstick and violet gardening gloves throwing fistfuls of aged poop at a stick wall. Yeah, I did that in full view of all my neighbors, aware that some of them may have telephoto lenses.

branches

I got sticks. That’s all there is.

A few days ago, I noticed a neighbor had cut down some broken branches and zip-tied them. After work on Saturday, I grabbed my little red wagon, walked around the corner and rang the bell. An Asian man answered the door. They’re neighbors, I know the family doesn’t speak a lot of English. Suddenly flustered, I asked if those branches were extra.

Extra? Really, Tata?

Staring at me and smiling as one does at crazy people, he said yes, the branches were extra. I told him his garden was always beautiful, then I stuffed two bundles of branches into the wagon and carried the third the five miles or 150 yards back to my yard, where I started stuffing smaller branches into gaps in the berm. Eventually, my back convinced me to cut that shit out, but I still have work to do to plug gaps.

You have no idea what I’m talking about.

That’s okay.

What I’m saying is that for the last three weeks, I’ve been taking such small steps toward re-working the garden bed that on any given day I had almost nothing to say about it besides, “Where do I buy a buttload of organic potting soil?” But little by little, I’m getting ready to plant.

Today also marked the first day this year it was warm enough for me to bicycle to work. Spring is here.

How’s your lipstick?

Hours in an Offhand Way

My raised garden bed has not been a source of unmitigated good news. Because it is four feet wide and I am a very small large mammal, reaching into the middle of a bed I can’t step on is a dicey proposition. More than a few backaches dampened my enthusiasm as recently as last weekend, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Two weeks ago, Central New Jersey had a crushing snowstorm that took down trees everywhere. I had an idea. It was a very old idea I’d come to on my own. It’s called hugelkultur, and the principle is to use what is on hand to solve problems.

Sunday, I dragged my little red wagon to the corner and turned left. Between two birch trees, I found a metric buttload of small branches. My neighbors watched from behind curtains as I filled and overfilled the wagon with branches and sticks. Don’t worry. When I see them do sketchy shit, I don’t make eye contact either.

Debris is your friend.

The raised bed, viewed with my back to the house, in the first stage of reshaping the surface.

Pete and I drove out to the feed store, where baby chicks distracted me from my worries and I spent a zany amount of dosh on seeds. Note to self: YOU ARE DONE WITH THAT. Anyhoo: we were driving around and broken branches everywhere frustrated me because I can’t operate a chainsaw and Pete says I’d be a total menace with a Sawzall. Which is true, and mostly to myself. Maybe. But Pete also said that right in front of our house, down a cross street, a fallen tree I’d reported to police might solve problems, but first, we both needed sandwiches and a time out because we were both grrr grrr bad kids.

This may be a thing where you live or not, but maybe where you live, jerks call the cops on Black teens who take pictures on their way home from high school. That’s happening in my tiny town. There’s no excuse for it. In fact, cops should call themselves on kids¬†not taking pictures of every little thing and give themselves a stern talking-to about being the goddamn adults. Since I am what passes for an adult, I ate a sandwich and walked my red wagon down to the fallen tree with my pruning shears. I filled and overfilled the little red wagon with branches and sticks. Twice, I walked down my street three or four houses and filled the wagon again. All of this debris was collected within 100 feet of my house. The last time I went out, I saw a man in a car spy me from a distance and slow down, because no one expects to find a grandmother with a red wagon and pruning shears on his front lawn. He drew closer, then darted down the driveway I was not blocking, and stole into his own house. After that, I waited for the police, who did not, somehow, come.

The first step of hugelkultur is to create a spine of logs, branches and sticks. This is the first step of the first step. As soon as the snowpocalypse we expect tonight and tomorrow thaw and fade from memory, I will collect more branches and sticks to build this spine higher and wider. This is going to give me a backache. I should stock up on Aleve.

Seriously, I don't have the teeth for this.

The same garden bed viewed from the opposite corner. Not pictured: beavers. Not at all.

After I collect more branches and sticks, the next step is to cover it liberally with rich organic soil. It’s going to compact as the branches decay and enrich the soil. If I play my cards right, I will gain two square feet of planting space the length of my raised bed. The trick is to at this point make the spine high enough to prevent future backaches.

Note to self: buy a lot of Aleve.