It seems like it was another lifetime when I posted last. We took off running full speed ahead to catch up with the planting season almost the minute after I lost my job and we decided to put in a bigger garden. We had no prepared place to plant and were already weeks behind in planting or starting most things. For these last 4 weeks, every moment has been something new to do and learn. I am learning how to be unemployed, I don't know how to go about all the mind numbing processes involved with not having a job. I get a free month of COBRA insurance and also unemployment insurance, handling these take up a great deal of time.
Two weeks in a row I forgot to check in at my appointed time with the unemployment office. We haven't finished putting the big garden in and the small original garden also calls. It's like having twins, neither will wait and both demand attention! Many of the seeds that were put in the new bigger garden came in a Winter Garden set that weren't originally planted because we were unfamiliar with them. We had to get familiar with them quickly.
The soil wasn't anywhere near ready after the neighbor tilled it, so we've been working over there from as early as we can get there in the morning, till it gets hot. Then home for lunch, a few hours of work in the garden at the house, on to one of the dozen new and urgent projects and then every few days, making food for the next few days. After a pre-dinner snack around 4:30 or 5pm, we are back over there usually by 5 or 6 and work till exhausted or 9pm. After we get home, another bite if we're hungry, and whatever else work we can get done till bed. There has been little time for anything else. Any spare time has to be spent on research. That's another one of the reasons I haven't written in the blog in a while. The other is that I usually write at night. I have posted a few during the day, but almost all are written at night. All this change is really quite a shock to my senses. I'm too tired at night now and it feels odd to write during the middle of the day. We stayed home all day yesterday because the last of the seeds that had to be in for May - June went in the day before yesterday. The next round goes in July 1st and the beds still need about another 6-9 hours of work. So I guess we're kind on track!
We enjoy our work. For most of the day we are outside doing physical, but enjoyable labor. Our mind is free to think, wander, be quite or sing. In a book I'm reading right now called Better Off, the chapter I'm reading paints a picture of similar physical work. When he describes how he feels after working all day in the field, I understand completely.
"I did feel a slight, pleasant ache in my thighs, back, and shoulders. Since my last stint, it was almost as if my body had developed a craving for work. Odd, that pain could feel almost...good."
"It was happening as it had before. Physical motions were becoming automatic, freeing the mind for other interest. Muscle fibers meshed, synapses branched, the heart pumped, lungs swelled, and sweat glands - now at full throttle - discharged... When the diner bell clanged, I was actually disappointed to have to climb from the wagon."
None of the work has been particularly too hard. I don't have pain in my back like I did when wielding a computer mouse all day. Now the muscles feel warm, used and yes tired. A good tired. Working with the scythe and hoe for hours a day, has stressed my right elbow a hair. But not nearly to the point of needing to take anything and I'm not in pain. I consider this more of a warning. It will get a few days of rest from hoeing. The hardest part of most things for us is learning how to fix/grow/build something. The hoeing isn't that hard. Picking up rocks and prickly weed clumps isn't hard. Moving a wheel barrow of rocks and debris isn't that hard, watering certainly isn't hard. Weeding is done occasionally right now with a stir-up hoe , but the weeds haven't taken off yet. We are trying to catch them as soon as they come up and weed almost every day. We couldn't be happier with what we're doing and I pray I don't have to go back into an office ever again for any reason, but I will if I have to.
I was also reminded in "Better Off" to take breaks. I have been reminded many times lately by family, teachers, friends and authors to take breaks and pace myself, don't over do it. I do tend to get caught up and zealous about things and find I have over done it many times. The last of the seeds that were late and HAD to go in were put in day before. Then yesterday, like racers collapsing as soon as they cross the finish line, we decided only now to become too exhausted to do much work in the garden. I guess we were running on adrenaline these last few days excited to be close to the end of the dash. Now we enter a slightly slower pace for a time and after this week, I don't think we'll have to do 2 shifts a day there for a little while. Our pace will be fast, but there will be time to plan and prepare also. There will be time again in the evening for a movie or a book too!
As soon as we put in some of the plants at the big garden at Crooked Creek, a hail storm hit. Then the tomato leaves turned purple and stopped growing. After a quick bit of research we found the problem was poor phosphate and there was no organic phosphate anywhere to be found unless we wanted to use blood or bone meal. We finally ended up finding Bat Guano & Rock Phosphate, but it took quite a bit time and a dozen phone calls. The Rock Phosphate won't release much into the soil immediately, so we hoped the bat guano would help in the short term. Most of the plants hit by the hail storm came out fine and the tomato plants all now have a natural green color to the leaves and are growing again. The peppers & tomatoes are starting to flower and the luffa, squash, potatoes, corn and others have already spouted in the new garden. It has always amazed me how fast things grow and change. Being outside things change much more quickly than they ever did in the office. It's an exciting, refreshing, constant change. The creek and grass go up and down. The wind blows, the flowers grow, smells come and go. While the senses experience the constant change, I am enjoying being able to start and then finish a task in a logical, flexible - yet ever correcting fashion. When all done and the body worked out well, I can physically see what I've done. Is there any greater satisfaction?
When we were stumbling around trying to figure out what was wrong with the tomato plants, Jeffrey found this website by "Huguenot Street Farm". Since we decided not to use blood or bone meal, I contacted them when we hit our phosphate problem. They were nice enough to quickly reply about the difficulty in finding organic, non animal phosphate sources. After a call to the Rock Phosphate people, I found out the organic stuff is having production slowed or halted entirely due to arsenic being found at the source. So I guess we have to focus on the long term effort of growing cover crops over the next few years. We immediately treated the phosphate deficient plants with Epsom salts to help the uptake of the phosphate that is there and like I mentioned earlier we did find some rock phosphate and bat Guano. Hopefully we won't have this problem next year. Isn't the Internet a wonderful tool!? All this I learned on my kitchen table.
We've been eating off of the smaller garden already. The first to arrive was Pak Choi. No insect issues at all so we just snipped and stir fried for a few minutes for a quick lunch with couscous made with broth. We get the couscous in bulk, it stores well and only uses about 7 minutes of propane to cook (just enough to get the water to boiling and then turn off). We've also been eating from the onion chives that are tall and delicious. The tomatoes were just pruned and tied up with a little help from this article. I love the drawings! (note: updated bad link not same exact article)
Jeffrey's been furiously working on repairing the systems in an old RV he bought for us to use at Crooked Creek. We can stay the night over there to work more if we have to and lunch or work inside during the day so we won't have to come home. If we decide to sell our house, the RV would make a great place to temporarily live after being built up with some straw bales and other super winterizing. We would only do that if we decide to setup a solar system over there first. We had someone come this morning to help us figure out what it would cost for a small system we could build on to later. In his spare time Jeffrey is learning all he can on solar, water and wind power. If we can get that going at the property, then we can build even faster.
Right after the July planting, I have to work on a plan to process, market and trade this food. I have been collecting mason jars since we arrived and have gotten all that I can find. Some were given to me by friends or found at a garage sale. We may try to get a license that allows us to prepare and sell food at a farmers market, but I still have more research on that to do. (some of this I feel might be duplicate news - sorry I can't remember).
Learning to scythe, peen and hone the scythe so that I won't mow like a drunken monkey has been taking several hours a day (by choice). Yesterday I learned my difficulty, if you want to call it that, is that my blade isn't sharp enough. I love using the scythe. I find that time flies by. I'm constantly correcting to try to get the stroke right. I know the better form I have, the easier the task will be. Right now it isn't hard, and the cut is pretty good. I just know that it can be better with practice and with a sharp enough blade.
I've done a lot of reading about the scythe and am currently convinced the popular video of the girl scything is a little too fast for me. She puts too much "umph" in it and pulling my left arm up as she does begins to ache after a few hours. I found another video that I like much better.
My right arm naturally swings straighter like his does and he only mows 3/4 the area she did. Ok, maybe that's not a good thing, but it sure looks like he's in a much more relaxed posture. An online friend "Wildcrofthollow" gave someone else some great advice on using the scythe and said I could quote it:
"You could decrease your sharpening time considerably by learning hone more effectively. sharpen with fairly short (12") strokes from heel to toe and downward on the part of the blade that is usually up. use the edge side of the stone for this. check for burr on underside. repeat until you have a burr along the entire edge. then using very short almost vertical strokes take the burr off the underside by using the flat of the stone and honing with your hand moving toward the edge. Be careful, but this can be done safely and easily.
You are scything with your arms. this is tiring and somewhat hard on you. develop a deeper stance and scythe with your waist. your right wrist will track with your right hip throughout the entire stroke except at the very beginning and end of the stroke. Your scythe is the right height for you but you need a deeper stance to use it effectively, you are too upright, which is causing you to use your arms instead of your waist. Scything is not done with your arms it is all in the waist.
As noted by Old Vet, you are cutting the field the wrong way. you have already noted about this. Always windrow to the outside of the field. cut around it clockwise if you are right handed spiraling into the center.
Again because of your too upright stance, you are keeping the blade a little too high off the ground. Let the back of the blade kind of float along the top of the soil. the blade is curved and the edge will be above the ground. this will allow you to control the tip much easier.
Do you have a peening jig? or peening anvil? Peening the blade will make your sharpening much easier and it only takes a few mins.
So very glad that you are using a scythe. It really is relaxing and doesn't take much time. It is extremely effective.
If you want to make your scything a truly spiritual experience, mow at dawn. The grass is wet which makes mowing so much easier. You can scythe until breakfast, by which time you feel like you deserve it."
When I commented about my personal mowing experience, this was the reply: "The swinging like a drunken monkey will fade although you will never feel like it has gone away completely no matter how good you get at it. The feeling of time not passing is because scything is a meditation. One needs three things to meditate well. A focal point (the mowing), to be relaxed, and to have the eyes focused on the bigger picture (wide angle vision, soft eyes, different names depending on tradition)(peripheral vision engaged, happens because of the large arc of the blade). Very Zen."
I don't miss my old job, but I miss and think about my friends that worked there a lot. Sometimes I wonder what happened to this thing we built. In the beginning of the project, there was a saying "Don't call the baby ugly." My friends and I made something but it wasn't finished. Everyone having their own specialty. Where did it go? There isn't a place we can drive by and see again what we've done. Sometimes when I'm working in the garden, an old thought about a bug or some task undone from my old job pops into my head. It's still marked as "undone" in my brain I suppose. I wonder what will happen to software and all the people that use it. Hopefully I"ll think about it less and less.
I just can't wait to see what the garden does! Here are some pictures of before and after and one of the 3 big rock piles that were all pulled out of the garden. Four weeks ago, this area was an unfenced field. Good night!
One of the 3 piles of rocks.
After bed prepared.
After tilling, but before hoeing, making beds or taking out rocks.