In my garden, cucumbers are plotting to take over the farm. You may think I say this in jest. May I assure you, I do not. Just yesterday I marched outside and sternly warned the little cucurbits to keep their tendrils to themselves. Having alloted four (yes, four) generous spaces for them to run as they pleased, I saw no reason whatsoever for those rascally intruders to wrap themselves around the corn, choke the zucchini and climb the pea fence. All this mischief happened while I was busy picking a mountain of string beans. I just can’t turn my back for a minute.
My father’s father was a plumber, but Gup could build or fix anything. He taught us, “Always use the right tool for the right job.” In other words, don’t try to drive a nail with the flat side of a wrench. Whether planting a tree, wiring a house or making a crib for a great-grandchild, he would repeat, “If you don’t do it right, it will never come out right.”
Those words rang in my memory as I surveyed my strawberry bed early this summer. The previous year had been unusually chaotic, with insufficient opportunities to tend the gardens. When the strawberries should have been setting buds for a plentiful harvest in the next growing season, they were busy competing for nutrients with weeds we didn’t have time to pull. Although I weeded and mulched and tried to make amends this spring, the damage had been done, and this summer’s yield was meager.
Determined to set things right, we began a proper renovation of the bed as soon as the last strawberry had been picked. After mowing off the leaves, we tilled under all but two narrow rows of the youngest crowns, then weeded and thinned to allow plenty of room for runners and daughter plants. We fed them, shoveled the best of my finished compost around them, mulched and watered.
Surely, it would have been easier to scrap the whole bed and start over in a weed-free plot next spring. That would be the recommendation of many gardening resources, and I considered that option before choosing to put my efforts into renovation anyway. My decision means I will fight every stubborn weed until it gives up or the ground freezes. My vigilance will continue until late fall when I blanket the bed with Premium Ground Cover, which will protect the crowns from the cold and windy winter.
So, why did I choose the more difficult way? Maybe because the daughter plants from last year rooted well and are strong. Maybe because beginning again with new plants next year gives us no berries until the following year – such a long time to wait. Certainly because I believe my persistence will redeem what I couldn’t do right the first time, and in the garden, persistence is the right tool for the job.
“I want all these lupines out of here.” Katie was emphatic. At my daughter-in-law’s new home, the flower garden was a tangle of runaway perennials. Katie had a different vision, and she wanted the whole mess to go away.
At my farm, an overgrown area next to our property line desperately needs renovation. I want nothing more than a sea of lupines. This was clearly a case of one person’s misery being another’s happy day. Katie’s lupines were blooming in all their white and purple glory. I wanted to move them, but how?
With so much to do that day, we knew we had to dig them out in a hurry, preserving as much soil as possible for Katie’s garden. The taproots certainly would be damaged. Worst of all, their intended new home wasn’t ready. They would have to be transplanted into a temporary bed, then moved again in the spring – if they survived. “I hope you’re tough,” I told them as I stabbed my shovel mercilessly into the ground.
Back at the farm, with more pressing chores waiting, I stood the lupines in a deep bin and gave them a long drink. There wasn’t time to plant or even to cut them back. Their chances seemed bleak. “Hang on, or it’s the compost pile for you,” I warned as I pushed the bin into the garage to keep them out of the sun.
The following days were unusually hot and windy. Transplanting would have been futile. Although the lupines were watered and shaded, they wilted badly. My expectations dwindled.
Four scorching days later, with the temporary bed ready and rain in the forecast, my dear husband dragged the bin outside, bedraggled lupins already beginning to stink of rotting leaves. It was evening, and the blackflies were ravenous. Waving and swatting to little avail, we dug holes, pruned and planted with more speed than care. “Be brave,” I encouraged, as I tucked each one in with a good blanket of my favorite hay/straw mulch, Premium Ground Cover by Lucerne Farms.
Water is the most important thing now. If the soil remains moist and cool, Katie’s lupins just might survive their rude uprooting and bloom again, here at my three acre farm.
She probably didn’t know – the woman who lived here before us – how little water was in the well or how long the well took to recover when all the water had been drawn. Even if she had known, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. She was into her nineties and she lived alone. How much water could one person use?
The well had been drilled less than 50 feet deep at the bottom of an even older stone-walled dug well. At a time before we all decided we need everything in a hurry and then waste so much of what we thought we needed, it was probably deep enough. When gardens were watered by the bucketful and clothes were washed because they were dirty, not because they’d been worn once, a little water went a long way.
We were still living away when we signed the papers that married us to this land. Our son and daughter-in-law were tending the house and, most of the time, they were okay. When we visited and were all together, it was quite a different story. The wash dishes – wait, shower – wait, fill the washing machine – wait, rhythm of our lives was stressful. We had to listen to make sure the pump didn’t struggle and burn itself out.
Before we could move back to Maine, we knew we’d have to drill a new well, a daunting task from 550 miles away. We called our plumber, Mark, who had fixed all manner of water woes in the short time we’d owned the house. When he told us not to worry about a thing, we didn’t worry. By the time we came home to stay we had water, enough bone chilling, hand numbing cold water in a 205 foot well to irrigate the potato fields all around, the well driller told Mark.
A fine thing can happen when want becomes plenty. Although we use all the water we need, all the water we want, really, we couldn’t possibly leave a faucet dripping or a hose running. We remember the water differently, aware of the privilege of having more than we could ever use. We need the water to help us care for this land. The water needs us to enjoy it mindfully. We’re called not only to be good stewards of our land, but also of the water deep beneath it.
This is the story of a woman who loved a farm and had to leave it behind. It was a small farm by the standards of some; 65 acres of gardens, raspberries, wild strawberries, fiddleheads, an old apple orchard, a new orchard, potato fields, woods and dreams. It was a farm with a hill at the center. From the house she could watch the sunset, then walk up the farm road to the top of the hill and watch the sun set again.
The worst part about the leaving was not missing the house or the dear neighbors or even the moving far away. It was the aching for the land; the deep, deep longing for one piece of earth to call “our farm”. The new garden at the new house in the new town did not soothe the ache. Neither did the peach trees, nor the forsythia, nor the beds of blooming perennials. The land belonged to someone else, and even the rose bush brought from the farm refused to grow.
This is also the story of a woman whose passion for the soil brought her home to a corner of land. The orchard was ancient and long untended. There was no garden, but wild strawberries filled the field. There was a clothesline. “This is where we will build our life together,” she said. “And this is where a corner of land will become a three acre farm.”
Come along, then, for a journey as long as this is best with companions.