Gardening, Writing

The First Dig

Ever since the snow melted, I’ve wanted to dig in the dirt. My flower beds will stay undisturbed until it gets much warmer, but my initial focus is on expanding my vegetable garden. So, yesterday, I got a shovel out of the garage and began. Like other things that I do, including my writing, it’s a matter of starting and keeping with it.

I had a vegetable garden I built at the other homes we owned. But the one we have now in Shelburne Falls has a very small yard largely shaded by large trees that thankfully keep the house cool during the summer but don’t permit much sunshine. Then there are the deep slopes and one large swarth of level land the previous owners unfortunately allowed to be consumed by the invasive Japanese knotweed that is so difficult to remove. The only spot for a garden is at the top of the backyard hill that abuts land owned by the Catholic Church next door.

So, I created a garden from the grassy, weedy spot. I removed what was growing and then proceeded to supplement the soil — I dug down about two feet — with compost and manure. In the end I had a 5-by-10-foot garden read to plant last year.

I didn’t expect much. After all it takes a while to build a soil’s wealth and there had never been a garden here. I was also warned not to grow anything the deer that wander in from the woods might like. That first year crop included tomatoes, three kinds of peppers, onions, beans, and squash, including a couple of volunteers that came from seeds from the compost. It was a decent first effort. (I also planted garlic in the fall for this year’s crop.)

My focus this year is expanding to the areas I covered with black plastic — I recycled the compost and manure bags — to kill what had been growing there. So itching to get started, on my first dig, I expanded the original plot by 18 inches on each side. Now, there are two deep, long trenches ready for compost and to be backfilled with the dirt I saved plus other nutritional stuff I will add. It wasn’t that warm yesterday, but the sun was strong enough that I shed my jacket.

Frankly, I don’t do much thinking in my garden. For me, digging is one of those “be here now” experiences. Yesterday, I forgot about finishing our taxes and other stuff on my to-do list. I pushed the shovel into the ground with my foot, shook out the dirt from the dead plants before tossing them into a hole I’m trying to fill, and lifted the soil on top of the existing garden for later. Today, I will work on the vertical expansion. Tomorrow we’re getting rain.

It’s one shovelful after another. I see similarities in my style of writing. I stay totally focused while enjoying the moment — digging one word after another as I work toward a bountiful end. And the more I do it, the better I get at it.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A selfie in my sunny garden.

A LINK TO MY BOOKS: Interested in my other growing project? Here is the link: Joan Livingston Books on Amazon



Gardening, New Mexico, Writing

Out With The Bad

I’ve been on a tear, really, about Russian thistle aka tumbleweed. First a little history: long before most of us were living in Northern New Mexico, sheep were allowed to overgraze. Prairie grass vanished. Sagebrush and invasive weeds such as tumbleweed, which has its origins in Russia, took over.

My mission is to eradicate it from our piece of property at least.

When tumbleweed is new, it is a green, spindly thing that grows into a thorny plant that is good for nothing. If allowed to grow, dry, and tumble, it spreads seeds like nobody’s business. I want to get to it before that happens.

Friends back East said they were charmed by tumbleweeds. They’ve seen pictures of them roll. Sometimes they do it in huge quantities that can clog a road. I say ugh.

For me it’s a constant battle, at least during the summer, to keep that damn plant from growing in our open spaces and along our parts of the road. So for the past few days, I’ve been out there, digging it up and chucking it in the open land across the road where it will die. It is not pleasant work. The maturing plants are scratchy. There is no way I can get all of the roots. But I do my best. Do they seem less each year? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

It’s a lot like revising fiction, although that is a more pleasurable task. I’ve set aside the next adult novel that is to be published to rest for three weeks and returned to my middle grade fiction, The Twin Jinn series. After a few years, I am taking a look at the first one, in which I introduce the family of genies hiding out in a traveling carnival. (I am planning to publish The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries this fall.)

From SOMOS Weeklies

From SOMOS Weeklies

Enough time has passed that I read it with fresh eyes. As a result, I saw parts I want to change. I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad stuff, but I found sections to expand and contract. Words to eliminate or change. Points of view. Certainly, this task is more fun than yanking tumbleweeds under the hot New Mexican sun.

Another task this week: Getting ready for my solo reading Friday, July 8. I’ve chosen the short sections I will read. I want to give those who attend a flavor of the three-day bash. For those living nearby, it’s 6-8 p.m. at SOMOS of Taos on Civic Plaza Drive. I will have books for sale: $12 gets you a magic carpet ride back to the early seventies.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A wheelbarrow filled with those damn tumbleweeds.

Gardening, Nature, Taos

Mine for the Taking

My sister Christine gave me the first pinecone. She was in California for a job interview and brought the sizable cone back as a gift. I’ve held onto it for years.

Then I started collecting my own whenever I ventured to a part of this country that had pines. I’d pocket one or two as a free souvenir of camping trips and family visits.

Then I expanded my collection to pods and nuts. I keep them in a large basket on the dining room table. I marvel how a dried piece of nature can stay so beautiful so long.

Last Thursday, I was in my favorite second-hand store in Taos. I stop by on a frequent basis to test my luck — after all half of my wardrobe came from this store. I found nothing I wanted to wear — or anything I wanted to read among the used books.

pineconesBut as I was ready to leave, I spotted two pinecones. These were not ordinary cones. They were 21 inches long and had a gentle curve. Both had wooden stems. I believe they are from sugar pines. One cone was in mint condition. The other had a couple of dings. For four bucks each. I bought the perfect cone.

At home I hosed the cone outside, let it dry and then placed it beside the basket of cones and pods. But after seeing the rather lopsided effect, I went back the next day for the mate.

It’s a silly thing really, collecting cones, pods and nuts. But I am also pleased just how easy it is to make me happy.


The Grand Champion Hen

COUNTY FAIR UPDATE: I’ve kept my streak going of winning the Grand Champion Poultry at the Taos County Fair’s junior livestock auction. During the two years previous, I bought a goose and a duck. This year it was an araukana chicken, which produces green-shelled eggs.

I bid on behalf of the newspaper, my eighth time. The money goes to a good cause — the 4-H kid who raised the animal — and in my case the kid gets to keep the animal. Sage, the hen’s owner, was rather shy but his mother was rather enthused I spent $300 for the bird, which per pound makes it one of the most expensive animals there. But it was a deserving hen.


My blue ribbon pumpkin

As for the vegetable exhibit, my medley faced tough competition but a pumpkin that magically grew in my garden — one of this year’s volunteers I wrote about earlier — took a blue ribbon. How about that?

And finally the photo above is the front of Orlando’s, a favorite restaurant in Taos, where I always order green and red chile — or Christmas as we say here.

Gardening, Writing

Expecting the unexpected

I have interesting volunteers in the garden this year — plants I didn’t plant but are producing food.

The dill and coriander are a given. Their seeds spread on my beds, and if I let the dill, it would overtake the garden as if it were entitled to it. I allow it one small patch.

I also have a couple of tomato plants, which I bet are the cherry variety. I have found a few arugula plants.

But earlier in the season, even before the seeds I sowed showed any progress, squash plants began growing. Their seeds come, of course, from my homegrown compost. Instead of yanking the plants, I let them be.

Squash in my garden

Squash in my garden

I’ve watched the squash plants grow, flower and grow some more. When I was gardening yesterday morning, I found rather large pumpkins (or they could be the local calabacitas) and buttercup squash. Beans, lettuce and cucumbers are nestled among their spreading vines.

My garden is going strong this season given the rain we’ve had so far in Northern New Mexico. Yesterday I harvested the potatoes and onions to store. Weeks ago I dug up the garlic — this year’s crop has huge, tasty bulbs. The peas are still producing and we are on our second crop of lettuce. Then, there are chard, kale, beets, and the earliest they’ve ever reddened, tomatoes. Soon I will have cucumbers and beans. We don’t need to buy anything.

But back to those squash plants. I hadn’t planned on growing squash this year. Actually my previous attempts have been less than successful. So I am thankful for this unexpected bounty.

I felt the same last night when the sun’s light hit our house’s stucco walls while we sat outside in the ramada. The photo above is proof.

I feel the same way when a piece of writing goes a certain way and I didn’t see it coming. I just let it grow and see what it will produce.

Gardening, Writing

Back to Earth

It was 70 degrees when I got off the plane in Santa Fe last week from the frozen Northeast. That balmy weather continued this week, with definite signs spring is here to stay: the Rio Grande was flowing high, apricot trees were blooming, and garlic was up six inches in my vegetable garden.

So, of course, I got the gardening bug.

This weekend I got half of my vegetable garden beds ready for planting, adding homemade compost. The digging is labor-intensive since I built the beds underground in trenches. But the soil looks rich and healthy. I saw lots of earthworms.

Then, I planted a wildflower patch in the back of the house.

Yes, the last weekend in March is early and we will get cold snaps in Taos again. But I just had to plant.

So I stayed on the safe side with peas, spinach, onions, beets, and a lettuce mixture. Everything else will have to wait.

Our cat Two in the garden.

Our cat Two in the garden.

As I worked the shovel and wheelbarrow, I pondered how similar gardening is to writing.

First, I get many of my best ideas in the midst of this grunt work. I have been inspired by break-throughs that sent me running into the house to write them down.

And, like writing I have successes and setbacks. Last year, I grew enough potatoes to last until midwinter. Alas, that crop of kale looked spectacular until bugs took it over. Then, there are the surprises such as the sweet winter squash that grew from seeds discarded in the compost heap.

I keep working and working until I feel I have it right.

I am willing to take risks.

If I have more than enough, I share it with others.

At the end, I feel a great deal of satisfaction.

Note: Tina Larkin took the photo at the top of this post for The Taos News. That’s Hank and I standing in front of the gate he built. He and son Zack also built the fence. My garden is safe from rabbits inside. I wrote a story about it for the paper.

Here is a link to a story I did for the newspaper’s Green Guide on Do It Yourself gardening.