Word Garden

The Blog of Writer and Poet Michelle Regalado Deatrick

 

2011 and 2012 Posts

Current posts are here

 

...How a writer and her family fell in love with 80 acres,

and what the land gives back.

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Sometimes we can’t quite believe how lucky we are to be the owners and caretakers of this beautiful place, with its sloping land, small wooded areas, wildflower-rimmed fields, wetlands, and hedgerows sheltering wildlife.  On it, we’re developing a native prairie…stands of native trees…a small orchard…and a large, often weedy organic garden—these are the beloved, frustrating, time-consuming eighty acres we call Windhover Ridge Farm.  


 


 

 

12/28/2012   COMPOSTING REDUX

Snow drought:  I’d never heard the term before this winter.  The drought that plagued the Midwest all summer continues, and on our farm, as throughout much of the region, the first significant winter precipitation has come only in the last several days.  

The Mississippi River is running dry—barge traffic is already limited, and the depth at Thebes, Illinois, will drop to three feet within a week.  Three feet!   The Great Lakes, too, have dropped to historic low levels <See http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com on low water levels >. The Midwest relies heavily on the Mississippi for transporting grain out, and petroleum and fertilizer in—if barge traffic is further limited or stopped, as seems unavoidable, the effect on the entire region, especially farmers, will be enormous.

DSC_0265A_Queen_Annes_Lace_200x301_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgSo when snow finally fell on December 26th, there were no complaints in our home about the cold, and our ordinary delight in a landscape transfigured and illuminated by snow was only increased by the vigor of the storm:  more than four inches fell, according to our gauge.  That’s big snow by southeast Michigan standards.  Still, snowfall in many parts of Michigan remains ten—or twelve—or seventeen inches below normal.

I’ve lived most of my life in various warm-weather regions of California, and spent more than two years in equatorial Africa.  Given a choice between a beach and a ski slope, I’d choose the beach every time.  This morning, my cowardice regarding the cold struck as it occasionally does in winter:  I hesitated in the warm kitchen, a bowl of kitchen leftovers meant for the compost bin in my hands.  Outside, the bins were lumpy white, hump-backed creatures under thick furry snow coats, and I thought of the kitchen garbage bin, which was so close I could easily reach out and dump the bowl’s contents into it.

DSC_0142A_Shovelful_400x266_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgSeven weeks ago, I shoveled ripened compost out from the bin I’d filled with kitchen scraps and garden trimmings last winter and spring.  The compost, a ruddy chestnut brown, yielded to the shovel’s edge, crumbling, and filled my ten gallon bucket to overflowing.  I felt rich as I raked the compost over my raised beds, envisioning spring vegetables sprouting in it, greening, flourishing on the compost’s vast treasury of nutrients. 

Compost, unlike most commercial soil amendments, needn’t be brought in a barge or forged from fossil fuels.  And so, remembering the fall compost harvest, I went out this morning into the snow and wind with my offering of onion skins, steeped tea leaves and coffee grounds—some of which I spilled, wrestling open the door of the compost bin, which had conveniently frozen shut. 

Frequently, I am struck by the inadequacy of my little efforts to repair the damaged earth, ferrying kitchen parings to a compost bin, or writing poetry—and all the while, a great river is drying up; another species has died off while I type. And yet, in the cumulative effect of small choices—scraps to the compost bin rather than dumped in the garbage pail; a family’s tomatoes grown on a balcony, its chickens in the backyard; writing a poem, a song, a story that embraces the beauty and fragility of the natural world—lies some hope.  As New Hampshire poet and farmer Maxine Kumin writes, from out of “our spatterings and embarrassments—/ cat vomit, macerated mice, rotten squash, / burst berries.../ arises a rapture of blackest humus.” 

 

11/22/2012   OF APPLES AND PEARS, GRAPES AND POTATOES

Enormous flocks of crows normally visit our apple trees in late fall, gleaning the withering fruit that we could not reach at the tops of the larger trees.  But our entire fruit crop failed this year, and the crows instead headed for the harvested wheat field, searching through straw for the seeds that remain. 

DSC_0095_grapes_600x399_96dpi_aqua_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpg

Every year, something we’ve planted fails, and something else astonishes by producing more—wildly, crazily, wonderfully more—than expected.  Usually, we’ve been glad of a few delicious clusters from our grapevines.  As if to compensate for the lack of apples, pears and cherries in the orchard, the grapes this year fruited with great exuberance from vines growing so enthusiastically that I had to cut them back repeatedly as they attempted to take over the espaliered passion fruit and the tomato bed as well.   

It took some work to keep the grapes from being appreciated and consumed solely by the insect world.  We fought off an attack by grape berry moths in spring using sticky traps, hand picking, and a spray of agricultural kaolin (a fine white clay).  In mid-summer, Japanese beetles staged a follow-up attack but were easily distracted by pheromone lures.  And so in September, we had a splendid grape harvest.  We ate cluster after cluster, and still had an abundance to gather—ripe berries for flavor and color, green grapes and stems for pectin to thicken the juice—plenty to mash, simmer, strain, and then store several jars of tart, garnet-colored grape jelly. 

DSC_0118_potatoesWtrowel_400x357_96dpi_146205220aqua_wCaption.jpgAnd then, in October, came the potato harvest.  We plant our seed potatoes at a shallow depth, and rather than hilling them with dirt, use straw left from the wheat harvest. (The tubers must be covered, because those that undergo photosynthesis turn green and produce the nerve toxin solanin—the same glycoalkaloid that gives deadly nightshade its well-deserved reputation).

 

When you remove the straw at harvest time, the potatoes sit cradled in the soil, bright in their skins of pink, red, gold, purple, blue and brown.  From eight pounds of seed potato planted in May, we harvested over 80 pounds of potatoes for eating, giving away, and selling—Prince Edward Sunshines for roasting, coated with olive oil and rosemary; bright purple Caribé for frying with lemon and parsley; and rosy-skinned FrenchDSC_0175_tomatoes_400x324_96dpi_145205220aqua_wCaption.jpg Fingerlings with their superb, nutty flavor for boiling and mashing and baking.

How can one be grateful enough for all of this—for the grapes and the potatoes; for the planting and the harvesting; for the work of tending the land and for the winter’s rest from that work?

 

 

 

 

9/19/2012    WATER, WEATHER AND WILDLIFE, PART 2

This year of drought, wild creatures have come in extraordinary numbers to spend DSC_0600_Sandhill_Crane_on_the_Praire_400x315_96dpi_wCaption_aqua46205220.jpgsummer and early fall on our farm.  Mid-day, a pair of red-tailed hawks hunt, riding the updrafts above the bright gold straw in the harvested wheat field while goldfinches dart along the thistles at field’s edge.  Warm afternoons, indigo blue buntings flit among the blue vervain and a family of four sandhill cranes stalk their way through the hedgerows and the goldenrod.  Young cliff swallows swoop and swing across the sky, chasing enormous, fat dragonflies, then rest on the rain gutters of our house.  As our sprinklers go round—trying to keep emerging native grasses and our young native trees alive—robins play in the spray and hunt worms and grubs.  Later, the young groundhog lounges out of his (her?) burrow beneath the woodpile and yet again tries to find a way into my fenced garden, its ripe fat blackberries.  A dozen turkeys, led by the matriarch (an unusual mostly white wild turkey called a piebald or Smoky Grey), scrounge for beetles beneath the orchard trees, give up, and invade our neighbor’s chicken coop. 

DSC_0546_Cottontail_on_the_Prairie_Path_410x283_96dpi_wcaption_aqua146205220.jpgIn the long shadows of early evening, we often walk the path that skirts the edges of the native prairie.  This year, more cottontails than usual scatter before us on the path and piles of coyote scat, thick with fur of rabbit, raccoon and feral cat are numerous.  A couple nights ago, near the larger of our wetlands, we startled a pair of three-point bucks which leapt away from us, magnificently, through the grasses that had hidden them.  And as I made dinner three weeks ago,  I watched, entranced, out the kitchen window as two still-spotted fawns wandered delicately about our yard and dined at my poor, deer-harried hosta bed.  Our own dinner was a little later than I’d planned.

There’s no doubt the abundance of wildlife results in part from the native grasses, wildflowers and trees we’ve planted.  Mostly, though, it’s water that brings so many animals here.  For water, like hope—hope for the drought’s end, hope for a better harvest next year, hope that we all will tend to this planet we’ve been given before unusual weather like this year’s becomes the norm—continues to come to us through the farm.  Water springs out of the hill’s side above our ephemeral kettle DSC_0665_Kettle_Spring_Reduced_to_a_Trickle_410x257_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgpond, and in this year of drought, I’ve come to a better understanding of why springs were sacred to the ancient Greeks.  Our water has slowed to a trickle now, but there, all around the water’s short muddy course before it is absorbed by the thirsty clay, animals have trampled and hopped and left their marks. 

8/1/2012    WATER, WEATHER AND WILDLIFE, PART 1

The skies have not been kind this spring and summer.  We received less than a quarter inch of rain in all of July, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration map shows our farm in a Severe Drought region (the U.S. Drought Monitor: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ ).  I wonder, sometimes, whether the nation at all realizes how dire the situation is:  drought has stricken the places where most of our food is grown, but barely touched the coasts, where most of us live.  It’s hard even for me, living in Michigan, to imagine how it could be much worse, in the Extreme and Exceptional Drought Areas of Indiana and Illinois. 

DSC_0011_Thirst_Soil_266x400_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgEven before the drought, farmers in Michigan were having a rough year.  The historic warmth we experienced in March (in the ’80s for over two weeks) meant fruit trees budded out too soon. And then normal cold returned.  Once buds are on the trees, it takes only half an hour at 25 degrees to destroy ninety percent of a fruit crop.  For all my efforts at wrapping trees in fabric to hold in warmth and tucking hand warmers by the dozens into the crotches of limbs, the nascent fruits in our orchard were killed by the April freezes.  Michigan, which provides three-fourths of the nation’s tart cherries, experienced a near-total loss of its crop (ninety-seven percent).  It’s particularly sad because this is a state of small, family farms, many already struggling.  Not a single piece of fruit hangs on our orchard trees this year, not even on the glorious heritage Gravenstein, normally loaded in August with hundreds of stripy red and yellow apples that we simmer into pale pink applesauce and preserve for winter. 

And then, there’s the effect on plants and wildlife.  The little seepage spring that gives rise to Raspberry Rill—the rivulet that flows into the two-acre wetland on our DSC_0018_stressed_tree_400x360_96dpi_wCaption_aqua145205220.jpgfarm’s northern edge—has dried up, as it does every summer.  But this time, it trickled to a stop a month earlier than usual.  And with no rain to provide groundwater flow, the wetland itself is an expanse of cracking, dry ex-mud.  The beautiful elms, basswoods, and old oaks near it are yellowing and dropping leaves, and I worry about the frogs, toads, salamanders, and little, shy, Massasauga rattlers that live there—.  Every day, I scan the sky for rainclouds several times, check the radar hoping for the approaching blotches of orange and rust that mean rain—and hope and hope and hope for rain.

7/6/2012    THE PRAIRIE IS GROWING

DSC_0518_Susans_cropped_600x300_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgA swath of gold-yellow is lighting up the eastern slope above our kettle pond.  Despite drought, despite blazing heat, the black-eyed Susans that we sowed last fall in our native prairie are blooming by the hundreds.  From my desk, the individual, pointillist flowers are indistinct—as if an enormous paintbrush dipped in glowing DSC_0473_wildflowers_400x266_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205202.jpgpaint swept across the hill’s lower contours. 

The hard work of preparing the soil and planting our native prairie seems so long ago—before spring, before winter—and we’ve been so busy this spring and early summer with garden and orchard, that we had forgotten to watch for the blooming of the wildflowers.  They came to us like an unlooked-for gift on a half-birthday. 

Tens of thousands of native asters and goldenrods flourished here before we planted the prairie, and they’re back, though most are not yet in bloom.  Cattails are growing in the wet bottom of the seasonal kettle pond, and some uninvited beauties--flowers like miniature sombreros, yellow-petaled, with tall thimble-shaped seed heads—burst open in mid-June, alongside simple, soft yellow blooms and others with centers the color of ripe melon that flicker to marigold yellow at petals’ end.  I haven’t yet identified them with certainty, but hope they are natives, or at least not invasives that will push the natives aside. All the while, grasses—Indian grass, switchgrass, and the endearingly named little bluestem—rise towards sun and sky, shaped into wave upon green-gold wave by the wind. 

DSC_0521_butterflyweed_cropped_400x326_96dpi_wcaption_aqua146205220.jpgBorne by some good wind, butterflyweed, a milkweed type which we had not planted, came to us this year.  Also called Pleurisy Root (Native Americans chewed on its roots to relieve pleurisy and lung problems), its clustered, intricately shaped flowers glow orange on the northeast hillside, not far from our stand of black walnuts and wild raspberries.  May its nectar, a butterfly favorite, succour for many years the monarchs that grace our farm, sailing through on south winds each spring.   

5/31/2012    PRAISE FOR DAPPLED THINGS

Over six thousand daffodil cultivars were grown, or grew wild, in the 1930s—daffodils with names like Trumpet Major (known since at least 1576), Twin Sisters (1597), Campernelle (1601), and Madame de Graaf (1887).  Just a small fraction still exist, and many even of these are disappearing. 

DSC_232_Hyacinths_276x444_96dpi_wcaption_aqua146205220.jpgWe favor native plants on our land, but there’s good reason to preserve non-natives like our heirloom hyacinths and daffodils (some favorites are in these photos I took in April) that won’t push the natives out.  Preserving variation among and within species is surely important so that plants can fight off diseases and pests. But we also think the flowers are just plain pretty.  All winter, we anticipate the little miracles of spring blooms pushing up from bulbs hidden in the warming earth.  The small purple cups of crocus appear first, opening to reveal gold-furred stamen.  Then pools of blue scilla spread in shady spaces, the sweet-scented hyacinth spikes push up, and finally the daffodils.  Especially the daffodils.

In his gorgeous 1877 poem, “Pied Beauty,” George Manley Hopkins praises variety, not just of the natural world, but of what we humans create, especially the places where we embroider and elaborate on the natural: 

Glory be to God for dappled things—

            For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;

                        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim...

                                    Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough.”

And glory be, too, for those people who are saving what remains of “dappled things.”  We buy our bulbs from them—mostly from the wonderful folks at Old House Gardens here in southeast Michigan < http://www.oldhousegardens.com >  . 

DSC_276_Daffoldils_410x347_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgI enjoy looking closely at the daffs I gather from our yard and farm:  they are so different, not just in the more obvious qualities of color and size, but in the lengths of their trumpets, the angles between petal and stem, the frillings of the corona.  We don’t just lose genetic diversity or disease resistance when we breed a world in which every apple is a Red Delicious or Granny Smith, every daffodil a King Alfred.  Whether the source of that variation is natural, human or divine—or some combination—we lose a vital source of our own joy in that world.

  

4/21/2012    TURKEYS AND HUNTERS

Three years ago, we first sighted a lone female turkey on our farm.  Half a year later,  we saw her leading a little group of poults.  Today, a flock of at least eight adult wild turkeys roams the farm.

DSC_0342_Turkeys1_600x338_96dpi.jpg
Wild Turkey on Our Farm, April 2012 

Wild turkeys have a prehistoric tone to their walk—long-legged; a little awkward; thrusting—and they’re big.  The turkeys who choose to live here hang out mostly among our tall native forbes—goldenrod and aster, bergamot and milkweed—and along the edges of our wooded areas of native plum, hickory and black walnut. 

Last fall, when we planted our five-acre native prairie, we kept the turkeys in mind, seeding the bunchgrasses they love—switchgrass, Indian grass, and bluestem.  The native prairie, it’s nice to realize, is in keeping with long tradition:  the idea of conducting burns in order to maintain meadows for turkeys originated with the Ojibwe, who were numerous in the immediate area of our farm before the settlers. 

In the last month—March and April are mating season— the males have been strutting for the females, puffing out their abdomen feathers and spreading their tails vertically, as if they were feathered platters on display.  We’re hoping for a multitude of poults in a month or two.

The turkey in the photo became separated from the flock for awhile.  After I took this photo, it came within fifty feet of our house, and we were thrilled. 

But perhaps these turkeys’ relative comfort with humans isn’t in their favor.  Last weekend, a young neighbor decided to come onto our land, apparently to hunt them.  It was not turkey season; nor is hunting with firearms allowed by local ordinance, in our area.  People with guns on our farm are more than a little scary, as we and our children work on the farm and walk there quite a bit.  It would be easy for someone to think that the person moving about in the tall grasses or woods was a deer.  This young man actually stood in the backyard of our house, aimed a shotgun out over the farm, and shot at the turkeys.  Unfortunately, by the time police arrived, he had run off to his family’s woods.   The good news:  the turkeys had escaped.  This time.

 

3/6/2012         COMPOST

This morning, I dumped into the compost bin:  three half-grapefruit rinds, two cups used coffee grounds, a cardboard take-out container, and several withering strawberries sporting grey-green coats of mold.  “Like a still life,” I said later, DSC_0198_Compost1_410x288_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146x205220.jpgdescribing how beautiful our kitchen scraps looked on their background of half-decayed vegetables and paper shreddings. 

 “You have got to be kidding me,” said my husband, who has gradually come round to the idea of composting but is no true believer.  In fact, he is quite happy to “let” me take care it. 

The word compost comes from the Latin—com, meaning “together,” and ponere, “to bring.”  Thus, to compost is to bring the disparate together—but to do so with intention.  The Latin root also begets words describing the work of cooks, visual artists, and music composers:  compote, borrowed from the French, for a delicately simmered mixture of fruit, and of course composition, for—as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it—“the art of constructing sentences and of writing prose or verse” and also for composing music, drawing or painting “to form a harmonious whole.”  

DSC_0199_Compost_Bins_410x288_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146x205220.jpgMaintaining an actively decomposing compost pile does indeed involve maintaining a harmonious balance of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich additions, plus enough moisture.  And the pile must be aerated, since it’s aerobic bacteria that convert kitchen, garden and paper waste into carbon dioxide, heat and—most important for finished compost’s use as a soil conditioner—nitrites and nitrates. 

My compost piles don’t always achieve that harmonious balance.  A large, wire bin sits outside the garden gate for garden waste, and two bins just outside our back door take in kitchen scraps and shredded paper from our home business.  We alternate use of the kitchen composters, letting the compost in one bin “cook” while filling the other.  But because I’m rather laissez-faire about the whole thing—I don’t cut the scraps up small, I don’t work hard at maintaining the perfect balance of the nitrogen-rich and the carbon-rich—in late summer the bins occasionally offer up an odor that is definitely less than harmonious.   

DSC_0204_Wire_Cage_Compost_Bin_343x288_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146x205220.jpgMy husband was right in at least one way:  compost is anything but “still life”—it is made up of the dead, and of what living plants let drop as we do our fingernail clippings:  browning leaves, frost-withered tomato plants, carrot peelings, beet tops, and the corn stalk’s hairy roots.  It changes at the microscopic level constantly, and to the naked eye from day to day.  And that rapid movement toward decay is what works the miracle, makes dirt fertile beyond imagining out of what would otherwise end up in a landfill, where without air or adequate moisture, the same process can take hundreds of years. 

The happy news for someone like me—who, like most of us, strives to compose a harmonious balance among the too-many things we do—is that my composting is good enough.  I toss things in as they come along, shred or tear up paper, pour in water when the mixture looks dry.  I bought kitchen composters that rotate easily, so I don’t need to get the pitchfork to turn the pile—I just give them a spin every week or two, to keep the mixture aerated. If my compost were a poem, it would be a found poem, pieced together from randomly chosen lines of other texts.  Sure, the process  takes a little longer than it would in a perfectly orchestrated pile, but the first two batches of compost, which ripened last summer and fall, turned out sweet-smelling (really!) rich black dirt. 

“Don’t be ashamed to saturate dry soil / With rich manure, and scatter grimy ashes / over exhausted ground,” Virgil writes.  So with a certain sense of ceremony, and of connection with others who have loved and stewarded and nourished the earth, I dug the compost into two of my garden beds.  Come spring, come summer:  I’ll see how my garden there grows.

 

1/26/2012      GROWING GARLIC

From the perspective of a gardener in the temperate latitudes, the Romans got it right when, around 450 BC, they modified their calendar and made January the first month of the year—January, named for Janus, god of time and transitions, of doorways and beginnings:  the god of two faces, one looking backward on the year just passed, the other gazing forward on the year to come. 

I’m looking forward to the new year of growth in garden, orchard, native plantings and farm—and to the days at my desk, growing stories and poems and my novel; I’m also looking back on what worked well (and not so well) in 2011, and have begun the luxurious thumbing through of my garden journal, deciding what to order again and what not, and of paging through seed catalogs—Abundant Life Seeds (organic, sustainably grown, with lots of open pollinated & heirloom seeds), Peaceful Valley (more organics), and Territorial (terrific planting and cultivation explanations; good garlic selection).  It’s easy to get excited and greedy.  If I wrote everything I first hope to, when thinking ahead, and if I actually ordered every interesting seed, fascinating plant or delicious-sounding tuber that I circle on my first time through the catalogs, I’d have no time for sleep, and we’d need a pickup truck to collect the seed boxes delivered to our mailbox down the road. 

DSCN0412_German_Red_Garlic_410x555_96dpi_wCaption.jpgGarlic is going to be a big part of our garden this year.  It’s easy to grow, and the difference between a really good garlic and the hybridized types sold in the stores is as huge, in my family’s opinion, as that between a home-grown heritage tomato and one produced in a mid-winter hydroponic hothouse.  Most stores carry two types of garlic (elephant and “regular”), but there are hundreds of garlic cultivars, each with its unique flavor, ripening time, and skin color.  Our family actually did blind taste tests last year, with bowls of roasted garlic from the store and from the garden.  The store garlic went uneaten after the first taste.   

 

In 2011, German Red garlic did spectactularly for us, so we’re planting several rows of it for 2012.  It’s a mid-season hardneck garlic, which you’re very unlikely to find at DSCN0067_410x323_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgthe store, since the hardneck garlics don’t store as well as the softnecks (hardnecks have a woody central stem, on softnecks, the stem is soft).  And yet the best, widest range of flavors are found in the hardnecks.  German Red is gorgeous, its translucent white outer skin layered over an inner skin of pale, glossy terracotta—like chiffon over bisque satin.  But it’s the flavor that gets to you.  Strong, rounded, a little challenging.  Perfect for roasting until caramelized and then smearing over a slice of sourdough. 

And as with the garden, so—stretching a little for this metaphor—I hope to do with the writing:  to write what is strong and true and rooted in the earth, what’s not found in the usual marketplace.  And what makes you want to come back for more. 

 

12/27/2011    WORD AND WORLD

Flakes and froths of snow are falling slowly, almost tenderly, on orchard and forest, garden and farm—as though the snow has something to say, something that should be listened to.  I’ve had the privilege, today, of having time to watch and listen to that slow fall of snow, to the wind, to the movement of four does and a buck through brush, to the red-tailed hawk circling over our farm during the hour, mid-day, when the snow stopped.

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Buck and Goldenrod, November 2011

Tending to the natural world nourishes and sustains the world of the word, both spoken and written.  Homer relates that Odysseus, that master of word and wile, learned horticulture as a youth from his father the king, and it’s in the land of the Phaeacians, whose marvelous gardens Homer describes with admiration, that Odysseus first tells the story of his travels.  In his Georgics, Virgil takes “what makes the corncrops glad, under which star/to turn the soil” as his subject.   And in Genesis, after speaking the universe into being, and immediately after creating the first human, God places the human in a garden “to till it and keep it”:  a garden is our first and natural home, and keeping that garden our first vocation. 

At home:  this is indeed how I feel when I’m digging the soil in our garden, turning up its mineral-laden clay, streaks of sand that allow the soil to breathe and drain, worms that quickly turn DSC_0773_400x280_96dpi_wCaption_aqua146205220.jpgback down into the dark, the rich, the good earth.  While pruning peach and pear trees, planting early pea seeds in half-frozen dirt, tilling manure in around the rhubarb, so often the word I’ve needed for a poem, the plot turn I’ve needed for a story, simply comes to me.  When I look up from my desk, out at the wind sweeping the grasses on the eastern slope into wave after magnificent green-gold wave, or raising a mist of fine snow crystals over the ice-touched pond, the same often happens.  As if in order to hear what the words want to say, I need to hear what the world of wind, wing and water wants to say, too.

11/10/2011    OUR NATIVE PRAIRIE EXPERIMENT

Yesterday, we completed the planting of native grass, wildflower, and sedge seeds on the five acres of the farm that include our seasonal kettle pond and the slopes around it.  We’d planned to sow all the seed in May, but it was the rainiest spring since we bought the farm, and more than an acre of the bottom of the kettle—which normally dries out in late spring—was underwater.  So we planted four acres in spring, and waited for fall to spread the seed on the wettest section. 

May_2011_Kettlepond_DSC_0453_600x399_96dpi.jpg

Seasonal Kettle Pond, May 2011

On this five acre section, we’re using the usual (and, we’ve learned, expensive) method of developing a native prairie.  It’s taken four years, five acres, 40-some pounds of native seeds and 15 lbs of rye grass for a cover crop ($1,600), three prescribed burns ($5,400), tilling, sowing, and rolling—and an awful lot of sweat. 

The other twenty-five acres are what I sometimes call The Lazy Woman’s Prairie. We’re going to be very interested to see how the five acre section compares, over time,May 2011 Native_Seed_Mix_DSC_0507_360x320_96dpi_Aqua146205220.jpg to these twenty-five acres where we’re trying something completely different in native prairie development:  keeping costs, effort, and carbon footprint to a minimum.  In this area, over the last four years, we’ve been controlling non-native plants, particularly those that spread rapidly or are toxic to native plants—for example, garlic mustard.  I’ve planted a few native plants that I couldn’t resist at native plant sales, or that friends gave me.  And three years ago, we tossed four pounds of native wildflower seeds onto the ground in a few places, with our blessing,  but with no soil preparation, no watering, and no fertilizing.   This year, for the first time, some of those wildflowers bloomed. 

10/28/2011    WINDHOVER RIDGE FARM

In January, 2006, my husband and I bought a farm in Southeast Michigan.  He’s an engineer; I’m a writer by choice, a social scientist by training—we were some of the most unlikely and naïve farm owners ever.

But our home overlooked an 80 acre farm, and developers had been bidding on it.  We desperately wanted to save the sloping land with its small wooded areas, its wildflower-rimmed fields and its wetlands, its hedgerows sheltering wildlife, from being turned into neat rows of houses marching up and down denuded hills—this, in an area with no need for more housing.

DSCN0344_600x450_96dpi.jpg

Winter Wheat, October 2011

And so we became the owners of Windhover Ridge Farm.

It's been a wild and wonderful ride, and we learn more every year.

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December 28, 2012

November 22, 2012

September 19, 2012

August 1, 2012

July 06, 2012

May 31, 2012

April 21, 2012

March 6, 2012

January 26, 2012

December 27, 2011

November 10, 2011

October 28, 2011