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3.23.2011

Potential

I am currently still en route home from my trip to Oregon, taking a turn not driving- by the way, technology (and generous parents who no longer have any children to support and therefore spend all their money on grown up toys) is awesome. Right now my kids are watching a movie on the on-board DVD player, and listening to said movie with wireless headphones so none of the rest of us have to be subjected to it. While my sister and her boyfriend are in the front seat listening to country music (puke) on XM I am in the back seat with my ipad, my keyboard, and my headphones. I have written a rather long journal entry and part of a short story I've been working on, caught up on facebook and some of my favorite blogs, and responded to email, all while speeding down the interstate (or tooling acrosse interminable Eastern Oregon). Most of the time I am not a fan of technology and how much we rely on it to survive, but I have to say that when traveling, these little convieniences make the trip a lot more tolerable.

I digress. While I am mildly dreading the transition from lush, green Oregon to cold, snowy Minnesota, I am heartened that spring will be here soon. Understand that Bandon, this time of year, is rainy. And calling it rainy is an understatement. It rains all. the. time. We saw probably 10 hours of sun the entire 5 days we were there, all of it falling into the "partly cloudy" category, and almost all of it on the last day. But it was enough sun for me apparently. I feel amazing. Like someone gave me a drug amazing- the mild depression that had started to wear on me from the long, dark, snowy winter has been lifted and I am ready to get to work.

Spring is all about potential, and the potential in me and in my children and in my property is brimming right now. In my journal entry I wrote yesterday I kept coming around to the idea of being able to bottle a feeling and save it for later- if I could bottle this feeling of excited potential, of raw motivation to get outside and start building and producing, I would have gallons to spare for the long, hot summer days when I'm not quite so excited to get outside and weed and compost and mulch and harvest and preserve. But right now, as of this moment, I'm convinced that this year will be a far better gardening year than last. Last year I was uprooted in the process of planning and developing one garden (a completely different kind of garden) and found myself transplanted in a completely new climate with just enough time to start a new one. Last year my youngest was still too young to understand that he couldn't walk all over and dig in my planted beds, that he needed to walk on the paths between, and my oldest wasn't old enough to be much help. Last year I was planting and unpacking and settling two young children into a new house in a new state all simultaneously. But something deeper flagged my motivation early last year, and I can't put my finger on it. I wasn't quite depressed, but I think I lost my sense of direction after we moved. When we were looking for a house we purposely looked for a small (big to us, though, after the tiny house we lived in in Cali), old house on a few acres in the country. Scott liked the idea of isolation with only a few neighbors- he also likes the fact that there are no HOA's and little in the means of regulation, other than the township rules and my rules (which are stricter). And I wanted to have the little homestead I had been dreaming of for the past two years, something that had seemed pure fantasy while living in an 800 square foot rental house with a 15 x 20 foot back yard. But the reality of it overwhelmed me and, as I often do when I get scared or overwhelmed, I turned in onto myself. Until this winter, which in retrospect has done wonders for my drive and motivation and my sense of focus, I had even stopped doing many of the things I had been doing in California like baking bread and soaking grains. In fact, other than sporadically maintaining the small garden I planted and putting up a few things (thank goodness I was motivated to do the pickles and the sauerkraut- I was thankful to have them this winter), I couldn't even tell you what I did all summer. Most of the unpacking was done during the first week in our new house, while my kids were with my in-laws. I painted the living room and the kitchen, but each room only took me one day (and the trim in the kitchen is still not done...). We spent a few days at the pool. But otherwise I feel like I wasted a lot of days last summer- days that had a lot of potential. Days when I could have been planting new fruit trees (or at least managing the pest control of the existing ones), succession planting the beds that either were finished or didn't produce well, setting up cold storage for the carrots I grew (of which I think we ate 7, because I didn't store them well and for some reason they didn't taste very good), properly curing and storing the beautiful winter squash I produced (which ended up being forgotten in the garage, where they froze and rotted), making a compost ring for the huge amount of leaf litter we had (which I am just hoping composted to some extent under the snow, but it's irrelevant because I believe leaf mould has to compost for two years, so I guess that isn't lost), and enlarging and improving the garden itself. I could have gotten a lot accomplished and saved myself a lot of work this spring.

However, last year's lost potential is only serving as further motivation for this year. As I said, thanks to blogs like Nourishing Days my motivation and focus have been restored, and I have begun to think about the potential my acres have. It is inexcusable, in my opinion, to live on property of the size that we live on and not use it to produce as much food as possible. Obviously I can't reach the full potential of the property in one year, but I can do as much as I can this year and add a little more each year.

Lastly, because this blog also serves as a record of my intentions so I can look back later and remind myself, I'm going to make a boring little list here of what I would really like to accomplish this summer:

-Build chicken enclosure and retrofit the coup (add windows and ventilation).
-Expand garden from an estimated 25 x 25 to 50 x 50. I still haven't priced materials, but as long as it's not price prohibitive I'm going to do a little lasagna gardening instead of actually breaking all of that ground- I'll layer cardboard or newspaper over the areas to be added, then cover them with several inches of compost and "black dirt," which I'm hoping to get at a reasonable rate by the truckload because a neighbor sells both. Then, by the time the roots have gone down as far as the cardboard/paper layer it will have disintegrated enough for them to push through. Even if that section of the garden isn't as productive this year, it will be an infinitely easier and more realistic way for me to expand the garden significantly in one year. Plus a large amount of it will be potatoes, which I was planning to hill with straw mulch anyway.
-Begin propagating some more grape vines from the existing two (and when pruning a few weeks ago, I discovered I already have two or three new vines that had propagated themselves due to the neglect of the vine- I'm going to try to dig up these vines as soon as the ground thaws and move them to where my little "vineyard" will be.
-Plant two apricot trees. It's killing me, because I know that fruit trees take a few years to produce and I would love to plant an orchard this summer so we can have more fruit sooner, but fruit trees are expensive, and I want to plant a little at a time and see how they do before I throw a bunch of money in that direction.
-I still need to buy potato slips, some black plastic mulch for the peppers, some floating row covers for the heat loving plants, straw, and whatever materials I choose to make trellises out of. That doesn't seem like that bad of a list, now that I look at it.
-I need to figure out what my blight prevention plan of action is going to be- as poorly as my tomatoes did last year, I know it's likely to be an issue again and I'm not quite naive enough to think simple rotation is going to be enough. I have fungicide spray and liquid copper soap (that I only want to use as a treatment if needed, but I bought it now because it said specifically that it treats septoria leaf spot, and I'm pretty sure that was the problem), and I will be mulching them with plastic this year instead of straw. But there's an all purpose fungicide from Gardens Alive (organic, of course) that I may buy and use as a preventative. Thank goodness removing the old tomato vines was one of the few fall tasks I actually accomplished last year.
-build a three compartment wood slat compost bin.
-build a simple wire fence compost ring for composting leaf mould.
-All the actual planting and fertilizing and mulching and cultivating and normal ol' garden stuff.
-Begin to set up my cold storage for winter vegetables.

That list looks long (but only because I'm wordy), but having it all down like that makes me feel better, like it's all more doable. I look at that list and I think "I can accomplish all of that in the next few months- that's not too much."

So if you haven't started yet, or if you aren't sure you want to even start a garden, look around at your yard. How much potential do you see? Even if you don't have a yard, think about any sunny windows or patios you have. More food than you might think can be coaxed out of small spaces- you could grow a tomato or two (or even other plants, like strawberries) in one of those upside down planters, have some peppers or eggplants in containers (heat loving plants actually do better in containers, because the soil gets warmer), train peas and beans up the rails of you deck, patio, or even up a screen around your air conditioner. Herbs can easily be grown in small containers in a sunny window, as can salad greens. A little planning now can maximize the amount of food you are able to grow in a small space, and the entire process is extremely gratifying.

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