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.


Bad Rabbits

Crap, the rabbits are back. Hungry rabbits. Subaru-eating rabbits.

Wild rabbits took over our lives during the first winter we lived in our Taos house on the sage-covered mesa. One morning, after an early cold and snowy snap, the Subaru’s “check engine light” came on. When I popped the hood, I saw the distributor wires had been chewed. I saw droppings in the snow. Damn rabbits.

We replaced the wires.

Then, damn rabbits, it happened again a couple of days later.  I even found the culprit when I raised the hood. My scream startled the little beast.

I heard horror stories from neighbors whose cars were also attacked by rabbits. One woman once found three inside her car’s engine compartment. Her mechanic called everyone in the garage to take a look. She ended up having the bottom of her car wired to keep out the varmints.

Here is what I found out: the wiring has soy-based wrappings. Rabbits and mice love them.

I took action. After I drove home, I waited until the engine was cool. I lifted the hood, covered the crucial parts with the floor mats, rubber needles up, and left containers of mothballs before I shut the hood. I reversed the process in the morning.

Then, I bought a bale of hay and placed it in the snow away from the car. I figured it was cold and since snow covered the ground, the rabbits didn’t have food. I’d serve them hay.

Then, something unexpected happened. While the rabbits feasted on alfalfa, the hawks feasted on them. The rabbits were gone. But I didn’t take a chance. I continued to protect the engine until the spring when there was grass again, and then resumed the next winter. 

I thought our troubles were over. I lived in harmony with rabbits since. We fenced my gardens and used wire mesh a few feet below ground so they couldn’t dig. I watched them hop around the back yard as they fed on prairie grass.

But it got awfully cold Sunday. We had snow. Early. Sound familiar? And yes, the rabbits got hungry again.

So now we are back to popping the hood and going through the routine again. Hank got a bale of alfalfa for the rabbits.  Let’s hope they prefer that to wires. I’ll let you know how we make out.

Food, Home

Change in the Air

Fall is here. The aspens have yellowed and the landscape has browned. Hank called just now to say hail then snow is falling in Taos Ski Valley. We will likely get a few warm spells still. But there’s no going back.

So, it is time for a few seasonal rituals. Yesterday, I harvested what was left in the vegetable garden and began the long but enjoyable process of cleaning and replenishing its soil. I did the same for the flower beds.

I was pleased to find several pounds of carrots, the rainbow variety and a few onions I overlooked. Alas, no kale this

year after the bugs took over. But I have greens and lettuce growing still in a cloth-covered bed.

I also planted next year’s garlic — the bulbs 4-by-4-inches apart and 4 inches beneath the surface.

So how did my garden grow? Nicely, thank you. I didn’t buy vegetables all summer. The tomatoes could have done better so I need to figure that out, plus those bugs that consumed the kale. But I have half a year to think about it.

I have weekends of work ahead. More gardening, and then we will be getting a cord of wood delivered. That will have to be stacked close to the back door.

Yesterday, I also put away my warm-weather clothes and took out my cold-weather.

What other changes? We’ll be eating winter squash and soups. I’ll pay more attention to weather reports in case of snow. And, I plan to wear a hat.


Division of Labor

After going at it alone for two-and-half-months, I have Hank home again. He was Back East for a good cause — helping our daughter with her new home. Hank is a skilled woodworker and a willing Dad. You should see the deck he built.

As I wrote in my last post, I used the solitude to good advantage  — writing at will. I did go to a few events I don’t think he would have enjoyed as much as I did. I gardened, cleaned, and landscaped heavily. I carried on knowing there was an end in sight.

What is apparent to me is how over the years we have found a natural division of labors.

Outside of home Hank will check the postal box and take care of those little errands such as dropping off dry cleaning or going to the hardware store. At home, he cooks Mondays and Tuesdays, my longest days at the newsroom. He hand-washes the pots, pans, and anything that doesn’t fit in the dishwasher. He cleans the cat’s box daily and makes the bed. He irons better than anyone I know, certainly better than me. There’s a lot more, and I missed his contributions very much in those months.

But then I missed cooking for him and me, which is more inspiring and fulfilling than cooking for me. I certainly missed having someone to speak with and share the details of my day. There were a couple of times in those months, I really could have used his help.

I’d say we are close, caring companions, with love for our grown children, plus similar tastes about entertainment and politics. He doesn’t garden but we do stack wood together. I wish he wore his glasses when he cleaned but he does keep things very neat. You should see all the furniture he has built for us.

It’s great to have Hank home.