Saturday, May 31, 2014


My older girl and I are strolling through the Farmers Market downtown. I turn to her and ask -- do you notice anything about my nose?
She looks at me. It's crooked.
In what way?
It's sort of tilting to the right.

I give it a moment's thought. Maybe she's joking. She can be such a tease. I glance at her, but her mind's off and onto a different topic. She's not teasing. Damn.

Well, I suppose a nose can self correct. I've smashed my nose before -- on the ski slopes, when I was an adolescent, doing stupid things on the T-bar. This time, I wasn't being teen-silly. I was mowing the prairie fields out back with the tractor (see yesterday's post) and I had to duck a tree. I managed to avoid the first branch, but the second one slammed me in the nose so that my teeth tingled.

In other news -- it was a brilliant day...


...with a brilliant breakfast...


...and brilliant chickens keeping us company at every turn.



Okay, but what turns did we take? What did we do on this day?

As I noted, I zipped down to the market, where I met up with my girl...


It's so good to shop for produce that doesn't originate in a greenhouse! The asparagus is exploding at the moment and new potatoes make their first (to my knowledge) appearance.


By the time I return home, it feels warm. Very warm. Flowers-are-drooping warm. The plants I had divided and planted by the sheep shed? Wilted. I carry buckets of water to give them hope.They revive, but only after several bucket runs. Ed asks -- should we trench a hose down here?

We'd already buried a hose (last year) and ran it to the new orchard. Should we run another one toward the sheep shed? I'm planting and dividing so much in this area! Bringing water down would make maintenance quite a bit easier!

And so this is how we spend our evening. Digging, watering, trenching.


Oh, and packaging raspberry canes. We have a trickle of buyers. Our dense raspberry islands are being whittled down somewhat, shared with others.

And that's a good thing.

 I have to end with a flower photo. A true mark of full spring is the prominence of blues in your garden. Did you notice it in the picture just above? My favorites today had to be the "butterfly" iris. This is the flower that, once established, will always show its cheerful face, straight up, without a waver or a falter. It doesn't last for a very long time, but when it's here, you can't help but love it with all your heart.


Friday, May 30, 2014


New Glasses

I've been dealing with eye glass prescriptions in the way that a kid might deal with carrots and celery packed into her lunchbox: throw them away with the sandwich and cookie wrappers. And so even though I do have my eyes checked every few years, I ignore the adjustments suggested by the visits. Bifocals are expensive and if a doc says -- only minor changes, well then why bother.

Small wonder then that when I picked up my new glasses today the world felt oddly different. It's like moving from gentle Impressionism in art to stark modern realism. My, we live in a sharply edged world!

And though I like the new frames (you'll see them in good time -- since my car cost less than these eye pieces, I don't intend to change them in the next decade or two), I feel wobbly adjusting to the reading line.  I keep thinking -- isn't it terrible when you try to do well by yourself and all you wind up feeling is dizzy! Ed would say -- next time buy the cheapest glasses on the market, then you wont bfeel so bad when you don't like them.

Old Tractor

In the last week, Ed again had to fix the old John Deere so that I could keep up with the "prairie" mowing. My idea was to mow it until flowers again begin to emerge, reclaiming the land from quack grass and underground vines. It was a noble idea, but by the end of the day I concluded that I would like to resign from prairie mowing.

Yes, I have, over time, removed rocks and boulders. And big chunks of wood. (During past mowings, I nearly caused irreprable damage by hitting these in the field.) And I learned the location of all the stumps, so that I would quit running into them. And truly, the field looks better than it did in past years. But enough already! Working that tractor over ruts and mole hills makes my insides bounce and as I step off that machine, I feel as dizzy as someone who has come off the world's fiercest roller coaster. 

And again the blades stopped churning toward the end of the job (the belt slipped off) and I think surely the message is that I should now just  let the field grow and if the flowers emerge -- wonderful and if they don't, well, it may just be that this land needs more than a mowing operation to have it reclaim its beautiful prairie face.

Winter Chickens

Today I heard from the owner of our chickens. She called to say that she was thrilled, thrilled that our cheepers were so happy (she'd driven by and witnessed their joy first hand, she tells me). So, all's well? -- she asks.

And this gives me a chance to reflect a little on the whole chicken project.

Yes, I like them.
Yes, it still unnerves me when they dig around my flower beds, but I've learned that their damage is minimal, so I no longer panic.
Yes, it's okay to let them free range all day long -- they know how to take cover when hawks circle overhead, they never go into the neighbor's yard, or the farmers' fields, or the road out front. And they put themselves to bed, so the night ritual of locking their coop could not be easier.
No, they do not mess up the yard with their droppings. Perhaps it's because the farmette is so large --for whatever reason, the only place we ever encounter their droppings is in the coop overnight and at our doorstep if they decide to hang out there waiting for me to come out and play.

On the less than perfect side, it's true that Oreo does not like lively little children. If they chase the hens, he'll very effectively put on his terror-monster act. Very effectively. His memory of a kid last year breaking his foot into a dysfunctional mess stays with him.
Then, too, there is the matter of winter. (You see? I always get around to answering a commenter's question!) We'll need a bigger coop for them. Chickens in Wisconsin can tolerate the cold quite well. Most of the time they don't need additional heat -- just shelter from the wind and snow. (Exception: this last winter was too cold. They will need a heat lamp if we get more polar vortex days.) And they need water. So in fact, we did introduce an electric cord into the coop to keep the water melted on freezing days and nights. But will they go out in the snow? I have no idea. I do know that they need more space than their current coop provides if only because I need to be able to enter and clean it to my standards (which are, admittedly, ridiculous). So in the next months, we'll be looking to expand their quarters.

But that's not this month's project. Right now, we're still at the early stages of presummer!

This Day

Oh, it is a beautiful day again! I didn't let the chickens out until 6:30, by which time I'm sure they felt themselves to be abandoned and trapped for life. The sun was up, even as there was a gentle dew on the fields and grasses around us.


The skies stayed blue and we puttered in small ways until breakfast...


...and then of course I had my weekly groceries to pick up and Ed had his various meetings and so I did not return to outdoor work until in the afternoon. A warm afternoon that caused the chickens to retreat frequently into pockets of shade.


So... what's missing here from this recount of this day?  Oh, flowers! We're in a transitional season: spring blossoms are spent, summer -- not quite ready. As I said, this is the time for irises...


...but not only. Here's a cute little Penstemon. Its pinky sweetness will end the Ocean post today.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

there comes a day...

There comes an evening when you are so tired that thoughts stray only toward the couch where you will soon position yourself and, if all goes well, not get up again.

Those are not good blogging times. I bring up the photos for the day and hope that there aren't many to look at. I wish that the post would write itself and leave me alone. Preferably on my lumpy but oh so soft bed pillow.

You've guessed that this evening awfully resembles just such a time. 

Even as the day was wonderful! The wake up was effortless. Though on the earlier side of dawn.


...when everything looks beautiful.


Even the chickens look beautiful.


The sky is blue, the breakfast is sublime...


And the flowers? Ahhh, the flowers...


All that loveliness! Too much! Too much!


After breakfast, we proceed with the usual and indeed, it's one of those times where no one great task stands out. We did not build the Empire State Building nor the Golden Gate Bridge, not even a glass roof for a porch. We just did little things. Oh so many little things! Until the last rays of the sun filtered in through the trees, we worked and paused and played with chickens...


...and then worked some more. And when another break was in order, we went to Farm and Fleet to get new work gloves because every last work glove at the farmette has holes in it. When there, we looked at seeds and decided watermelon in the yard would be nice and so we picked up two packets and planted those even as there was almost no sunlight left.


And when the time comes to write a post, you always hope -- I always hope -- that an idea will have formed earlier and now you are going to merely release it and watch it develop into a sentence. Sort of like a garden that forms out of your many separately acquired plants.


That doesn't happen on a tired day. On a tired day, you let your fingers type and you hope that they have enough cerebral matter guiding them that what comes out makes sense. Nothing more than that. You just want to make sense.

If you're lucky, afterwards, you'll have enough oomph in you to crawl upstairs and turn out the lights. If not, well, there are worse fates than falling asleep on the couch and letting your someone else turn out the lights for you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


We have birches. We have maples. We have enormous willows, we have pines of all sizes. We have more box elders than I could count. We have crab apples, an ancient orchard of pears and apples and a newer orchard of peaches, cherries and more pears and apples. We have black walnut and carpathian walnut and something that I swear is honey locust. We have trees I can't recognize and whose names I'll never know.

We have a lot of trees.

You'll know, I'm sure that there are many reasons to prune a tree: for its health. To eliminate dead branches. To give it shape. Or, because you can't drive the damn mower under it, it's that saggy. For aesthetics. For a wedding.

I would say that we are right now faced with all of the above.

Over the years, we've improved our tools for this: from clippers, to a pole saw, to last year's addition -- a power pole saw. Even so, pruning trees remains one of our toughest jobs, for the obvious reason that the branches on especially the mammoth trees aren't exactly accessible. Even with full extensions of the pole saws, held by a  6'4" Ed, it's a stretch.  But it has to be done (even as Ed is always reluctant to trim anything) and so today we go with full force after the branches and we saw off most of the ones I identify as in need off a cut. We form neat little piles of logs from the fat limbs and throw the remainder on top of our wood stack (which, too, is home to many generations of woodchucks).

I truly think this was the last of the massive outdoor jobs we had for this spring. Oh, we can continue working for hours every good weather day from now until fall, but the back breaking, tedious stuff is behind us.

And that's a good thing.

Four photos for you today. The first shows off one of my most happy bloomers -- the Gaura plant (aka "whirling butterflies"). The photo is from my morning walk to open up the coop. There are still drops of a night rain on the plants, but the air is no longer hot or humid. The flowers opened up just a day or two ago and they will continue their dainty dance all the way through September -- a real treat for any garden. True, it doesn't always survive a Wisconsin winter. So what! Dig it up and bring it indoors. Or just cross your fingers!


The second photo is of breakfast. How could it be otherwise!


And, of course, I have to acknowledge our cheepers. The hens were delightful, if a tad lazy today. They followed a pattern of scratch and rest all day long, settling in near whatever clump of trees we'd be trimming. Here's Scotch running through the raspberry patch.


Finally, let me put up one picture just for the record: big Ed trimming the big willow as best as he can.


The weather changed on us in the course of the day. The wind picked up, the skies cleared. In that beautiful and somewhat brisk evening air, I went back to weeding the older, established raspberry islands. When you want something mindless to do -- something that requires stretching, crawling, bending -- in other words, doing yoga like contortions -- pulling out creeping charlie is always an option.

A supper of leftovers, an evening of quiet.

Time now to rub some shea butter cream into a gardener's ravaged hands.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

out and about

Can it be that I am becoming too tied to the farmette? That May, June -- will forever become months when my imagination doesn't run past images of budding flowers, flowering strawberries and emerging vegetables? That the routine of a day spent outdoors will grip me even more fiercely than the routine of an academic year once did?

Well, today, I put the brakes on outdoor farmette work. Oh, sure, I was up for the chickens...


All the rain  has caused weeds to sprout ten times over, so I worked on those a little, but not so much that I couldn't appreciate once again the drooping lilac...


And yes, we had our usual lovely breakfast on the porch...


But it was interrupted by the phone ringing. Then, too, I had terribly boring errands to run. [Longtime readers of Ocean may recall my last year's efforts to properly establish my dual citizenship; well those efforts are still in progress and much of the documentation that I obtained then has to be reissued and resubmitted elsewhere, so yes, I am still working that beast to its finale]. Broken up by a very delightful coffee meeting. And then more bureaucratic waits, filings, payments  -- all downtown. At least I had Rosie to zip me about. On a warm and sticky day, she is exceptionally awesome.

(from her seat, pausing for a light)

And before you know it, it's midafternoon -- quite a hot midafternoon, so that the idea of working outdoors is about as appealing to us as it is to the chickens. (Here they are, indulging in a good roll in the old barn.)


Isis, too, finds the heat and dampness distasteful (though he surely looks grand wading through the tall grasses).


Between thundershowers, we force ourselves to work. We trim tree branches. That is, Ed works the power saw and I, like a broken record, keep repeating that we should take shelter because of the claps of thunder (Eventually I took shelter while he finished the job.)


This was our day. Where, you might ask, is the color? The trickle of loveliness that you associate with the end of May? Oh, everywhere. I'll leave you with one example. Because the last week of May is iris time. Here are five ruffled girls, giggling away.


Monday, May 26, 2014

divide and conquer

A quiet day. Hot to start with, even in the early morning.


And so we both begin outdoor work at 6, thinking that by noon, we'll feel burdened by the heat.


A pause for breakfast -- which is late both because neither of us wants to stop working and, too, because I detour to the rhubarb patch and pull off some more stalks for compote.


It becomes a breakfast meal for Ed: a rhubarb-honey-kefir smoothie.


Me, I dump the compote into my oatmeal.

The notable moment comes after we finish eating, when the air is so calm, the view onto the various gardens so soothing that neither of us wants to get going again. I tell Ed that a morning breakfast on the porch competes favorably with a pain au chocolat breakfast at the open air cafe in Sorede. (But Sorede comes in at the heels!)

Eventually we return to our work. For me, it's time to divide and conquer. A good perennial gardener will spend a lot of time dividing plants that have grown too big for their own good. I have made this inordinately difficult in my primary beds, because I mix in daffodils to get an early burst of blooms. And so the bed is always crowded, especially now, as I wait for the daffodils to die off, even as the summer flowers are pushing to take over.

(with a nod to the mightily fragrant lilac)

I can't do a thorough job. And, too, I see that one of my favorite late summer plants -- the Japanese Anemone. has significantly naturalized, so that I now have something else that poses control challenges for me (in addition to the chickens!).

A gardener's work is never done.

A few more photos for you from the day:

Of our very hidden entrance path (contributing to the theme of "what a difference a month makes").


Of the front yard to the farmhouse -- weeded by me today, cautiously explored by the hens.


Of the far western yard -- home to our new orchard, our vegetable garden and today -- to dandelions and Scotch!


Of Ocean author, with a lily of the valley behind her ear.


And finally, of a sudden downpour, which made the lilacs sag in the most splendid, moody fashion.


Appropriate, I think for this reflective holiday Monday.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Well, I overslept. Just a little. If on other days I let the chickens out by 6, today it would be a half hour later.

So I'm in a bit of a rush. Isis wants breakfast. Can you wait? No? Okay, but listen! I can hear the chickens squawking! I have to hurry!

I step outside. A beautiful day again! Maybe I should take a photo now... what's this?? The cheepers are running down the path toward me with an exuberant greeting, except wait: running down the path?? Who let them out?!

The better question is -- who forgot to lock them in last night?!

It's easy to forget. They retire to the coop, all is quiet, you think you've done it (actually Ed has been doing it most nights) because frankly, the routine doesn't vary and so there is an image imprinted somewhere in your brain that you did lock them up.

Thank you, racoons, possums, coyotes and whatever else could have made a meal of them overnight for staying away.

So, a pretty morning with four live chickens:



Lovely breakfast:


Boring beginning to the day: we wash the farmhouse upstairs windows. There are only seven, but it takes time, especially since I go out on the roof to do the outside panes (the windows swing in, but it's easier just to climb out). Ah, but it's pretty from up here!


And then it's the usual: planting, digging up raspberries for a Craigslist buyers (driving in all the way from Iowa! And again there were three children along for the ride and I was about to put Oreo away, but he seemed nearly asleep under the crab apple and so I let it go), finishing up mowing (it's a tedious multi stage process: today Ed did the front on the big mower and I tidied up around the trees and beds with the little mower), more planting, more watering.

And if this sounds terribly repetitive, remember please that just a month ago, toward the end of April, we were only beginning to notice the first buds on trees.

What a difference a month makes!




And June will be different too. This year, because of my little one's wedding, I wont be leaving the country until the end of the month. But even as outdoor work will continue, it'll be of a different caliber. Finessing rather than overhauling. Tending rather than redesigning.

Evening. My older girl and her husband are here...


...and it's the first time that we decide to take our dinner foods outside.


The lilac continues to fill the porch with a spicy perfume. The birds provide all the music anyone could need. A gorgeous end of day. And yes, we remembered to close the coop for the night.