Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nature: God's Beautiful Mess

Have you ever looked around, and all you see is a mess?  Maybe it's your life in general, your schedule, your relationships, or just your house or your car.   When I've swept up the dog hair for the fifth time in one day, or my hands begin to crack from all the exposure to rags and water, this is how I feel.  I have looked out the window at the beauty of the White Horse glacier, then seen Mr and Mrs Duck fluttering out of our creek, and I have been renewed.  What is it about just looking outdoors that can do this?  Right now, it's the end of the home school year, and I am indoors pushing for a few more things to be learned before the utter freedom of summer, but I long to be outdoors.

I decide it's time to take a walk.  As soon as I embark, I notice a piece of a fast food cup someone neglected long ago.  A slug has left a trail of slime across its garish yellow and black face.  There are freckles of soil seasoning it.   A nurse log has fallen across a well maintained forest trail:  bits of broken rotten wood surround it, as well as a hole, just the right size for a sneaker to stick into, so that one must awkwardly roll across these, gracelessly clambering in order to pursue the path.  Mounting the log, a branch, not yet covered with leaves, stings my cheek.  Fearless, I step bravely into a big skunk cabbage, the unmistakable scent lingering as I move on.  I stumble on a root, soaking my feet in the frigid water of the creek.  Sand and pebbles are in my shoes.  I shiver.  Not to be outdone, I make a giant step out of the creek...and into a bed of stinging nettles.  Ferns...where are you when I need you?  I climb up the hill towards my home, ready to nurse my wounds and to take a warm shower.  I find that a 5 foot long blackberry vine has made friends with my rear end and is following me home.  It's cold here in the shade.  I run into the bright spring sunshine and look back.  

Our little waterfall

 I notice the order of the forest.  I see the cedar, hemlocks and the cottonwoods towering at the top.  Then I notice the maples, alders, willows and the snag trees a little lower down.  Below that, I see elderberries, salmonberries, and best of all blackberries.  Beneath them, the ferns, nettles, trillium, and bleeding hearts nestle in the leaf mold.  There is a creek sauntering through it all, skunk cabbage on its banks.  Burbling waterfalls announce the beauty of the glacial moraine they expose in the water at their feet.  A nurse log has made a bridge across it, and a huckleberry bush has sunk roots deep into its nourishment.  A mother rabbit has dug a burrow at the foot of the log, and is raising her babies. If I look closely, I can see that at the mouth of the burrow, some grubs have been disturbed from their slumber, not quite prepared to face the hard work of life that looms before them.   A tiny slug, no bigger than a two year old's fingernail, has found a bit of paper, and is endeavoring mightily to digest it, to bring it down to earth.

The glacial moraine at the foot of our little waterfall

I smile and thing to myself, this is God's beautiful mess!  It is perfectly ordered, everything in balance.  Each bit of creation depends on those around it.  Boundaries are not clear, but purposes are.  I'm part of that beautiful mess, and so are my shedding dog, my orange peel strewing children, and the place we all call home.  Slowly, my eyes have filters that polarize my world so that I see it with God's eyes.  My ears tune into His frequencies...and I see the miracle of it all.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Potato Families

I am ever on the quest to find the easiest and cheapest way for us to grow potatoes.  With five kids, we need a food that is fast and good, and potatoes are just that.   How thoughtful of God to design a plant that we just need to save a few of, cut up, then plop back into the ground in the spring.  Well, that's what I've been doing for the past 10 years or so.

My dilemma is that I can't find them again in the fall!  I have heard of using old trash cans, but I need mine and am a little too miserly to go and buy a trash can just to cut it up!  I have also heard of using stacked tires, but I know those would become climbing towers to my children.  I can just hear a faint cry for help as I unearth one of the boys from beneath a mountain of tires.  After reading Ruth Stout's famous "No Work Gardening" book, I tried her method of just throwing straw and old hay over the potatoes, but soon I found stray  potatoes soaking up the rays of the August sun, turning a lovely shade of green.  I've also managed to ruin nearly an entire crop of potatoes by cleverly drying them in the sun.  This was in the days before I learned that the green on potatoes is not merely a sweet blushing at the light of the sun, but a feisty defense, involving poisons we probably shouldn't regularly eat.

Over the years, I have just been careful to dig ditches and mark them well, plant the potatoes, then dig them up in the fall.  This sounds well and good, except that my potatoes must have migratory instincts!  They like to be found under the mulch of the path next to the beds I planted them, or beneath the vines of the pumpkins next door.  I know it's probably because potatoes spread that way beneath the ground.  Pretty soon however I have dug up my giant garden plot in the treasure hunt for potatoes, and for some reason, I usually choose to do it at noon in the still strong heat of summer.   We have been able to create a self sustaining potato crop, rarely buying new seed potatoes, but I fear that I'm not as self sustaining as those potatoes!  I know I need to find a new method at the ripe old age of 32.

One of the Potato Families
This year, I am trying something that I am sure has been done by many people.  I know, however, that it has  never been tried on our land, in our wet soil, or by me.  Therefore, I will try it, and have a go at it.  I was looking last year at my happy little pumpkin vines in their conspicuous and sun warmed hills and realized my potatoes would love such a high rise home.  So, this spring, instead of digging my ditches and finding my stakes, I got my five year old, and told her we were planting potato families.  Potatoes, I told her, love their families, and are very sad when they are too far from one another.  They like to have a little bit of space to be on their own and grow, but they really enjoy family time!  We took our seed potato bin and carefully created about 16 potato clans, by gently arranging groups of 8-10 seed potatoes on the surface of the garden soil in little groups.  This way, the potatoes, come fall, would be above the water table, hopefully sparing my foot in the shoveling process and my back from lifting completely sodden soil.

We then were careful to dig up lots of surrounding soil and hill it generously over the potato families, making them cozy and warm, and letting them rest so they could grow.  My daughter had great fun assisting the potato families, and we were able to plant all our potatoes in a very brief amount of time.  We will continue to mound more soil over the potatoes as they grow, giving them lighter soil to push up through, and space for the families to grow.  I'm understanding more than every, that even though the process of saving seed and planting it is so simple, it is up to us to be creative and to fit our farming to our own individual soil, land, and personalities.  We then grow food that is truly unique to our families.  I'm looking forward to meeting the new potato kinfolk in the fall!