Saturday, May 19, 2012

Smooth Seas

Smooth Seas do not make skillful sailors--African Proverb

You've probably heard it said that when a child is about to surmount a major developmental milestone, they may regress in other ways, or be just plain unbearable to be around.  When they are about to learn to talk, they may throw temper tantrums incessantly though they were previously a somewhat angelic child.  This is possibly from sheer frustration at not being able to grasp the whole of what they are learning all at once.  

Don't you feel like that sometimes too?  Just when you think you're about to grasp a skill; to really feel comfortable with it, a problem is plopped right in your midst, kind of like a cow pie.  You can cry and scream about the stench and the flies, or you can choose something else.  Maybe you'll learn that cowpies make very good garden fertilizer and scoop it right out of your path.  

My kids are part of a 4H club, and they each have to have a project animal that they help to care for.  Eva's main project is our pygora doe and her new kids that were born last month.  We have had kids born on our farm twice before.  These kids have come bundled with one obstacle after another, and she has asked me exasperatingly, "Why is it so hard this time?"  And it really is.  In the past, the babies have taken to bottle feeding well, the mama has had no complications, and life is good.  Well, except for the time when Levi noticed that goats like to jump from high things and tried to let a baby goat jump off our porch, but that's a story for another day.   

This time, the doeling got chilled shortly after birth and had to be fed with a syringe all night on her first night.   Our buckling got an inexplicable limp which passed after about a week.  Our mama goat refused to nurse her kids after they were disbudded, but we realized it too late and by then she had mastitis.  We treated her and her milk production is now up.  The kids didn't take to the bottle well and took a solid week to appreciate its finer points.  

And yesterday, we found blood on their little play table that they bounce on in the stall, along with diarrhea down the buckling's backside.  It was a mild winter, and parasites and worms are rampant this year.  Fearing coccidiosis, we got the kids to the vet, finding that it could be a probable case because of blood in the stool occult, and must be treated as such.  I was thankful that Eva had done a report on coccidiosis last year, because we were able to catch it very quickly.  

Eva began to understand that if we hadn't experienced these hardships, we would not have learned the remedies for mastitis, how to care for a weak kid, how to bottle feed a kid, and most recently, how to best prevent and treat coccidiosis.  Because of the research I've done, I've decided that because our mama goat is going to be a dairy goat, and we will be using her milk for food, we will switch our worming to more herbal types, which are more effective and safer in food.  

I have been noticing lately, therefore, that under the pressure of crises, there is a crucible for important learning that doesn't seem to happen any other way.  The things we learn through hardship become the most indelible and memorable lessons we can learn.

I've tried to grow poppies ever since we moved here 13 years ago.  It all  started when I went to Germany in high school.  I cannot forget the small cafe we stopped at in the country, and then turning around to see a red blanket of poppies spread across the field.  Having grown up in Hawai'i, I'm not sure I had even seen a poppy in person.  

They are supposed to be easy to grow, but I never grew them successfully.  I would carefully plant them in a pot, watering somewhat sparsely, then failing.  I would plant them outside and never find them again.  I didn't find success until I noticed some growing at a garage sale house.  The owner proceeded to give me  a mason jar full.  I sprinkled them liberally on my garden, and now they return every year.  

Some things that we do must be done lavishly in order to achieve the smallest measure of success.  Maybe it's a little like parenting.  Rather than one important parent child snuggling time, relentless and generous love poured out and spilling over into weeks, days months and years is what gains that small measure of trust that asks the teen to tell us their deepest fear.

Last year, I saved my calendula petals, made an infusion in olive oil, then made a salve with a friend's help.  I was looking forward to doing the same this year, but when I looked at my first yellow blossoms, they were green with aphids.  I noticed that the columbines were coated with the little suckers too!  I studied up on the best remedies and tried to use things I had around.   First, I tried diatomaceous earth, which is a powder made from the fossilized remains of tiny algae plants.  It is used for delousing our goats, so i figured I'd give it a shot.  It seemed to get a few of them, but I persisted. 

cabbage worm and aphid leaf damage on the columbine

I thought about buying tobacco because the juice is supposed to be a good insecticide, but opted for spraying soapy water on them.  That's what did it.  Soon, all i saw were the white dried out shells of the aphid bodies.  But there were still just a few remaining, so I bought some ladybugs at the co-op and let them go to town, munching up the rest.  They knew right where to find the aphids, hiding between the petals of the flower.  Some cabbage worms had decided to set up house on the calendula, but the soap water seemed to make them move on too.  I would never have known aphid prevention so intimately, had I not had this encounter.  I still want to learn what it is that attracted the aphids to my plants, so I can help them to be more resistant.

One of our resident ladybugs enjoying a lily.
There is a weed in the far part of one of my flower beds that grows several inches a day.  It is morning glory, and it has decided that under my porch is its personal greenhouse, and sends out shoots regularly into the neigboring flower beds.  For now, I don't know what to do about it, other than constantly pull it, or maybe to crowd it out.  I'm learning about soil health, and have heard that eroded soils are happy homes for morning glory, which makes sense.  But I can't even get under my porch to make the soil happy!  

For now, I'm considering allowing the mint to take over that part of the bed, though it doesn't seem to want it, probably because that area is a little eroded too.  I think building up the soil there is my newest goal.  I think soil health would not have been on my radar, had it not been for this persistent little vine because my gardens are otherwise overly fertile.  I am thankful for it in that respect.

strangling a gladiolus or some other sort of flower

trying to smother a garlic
Oh invasive  mint, I may love you if you will crowd out the morning glory!
Recently, because of various gardening challenges, I'm turning to an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" sort of gardening philosophy.  The plants that like to grow wild in our area grow very well in my flower beds.  Last year, I discovered the beauty of a woodland edge plant called fringe cup saxifrage.  Eva found some in the forest and planted it under our red currant bush.  It's thriving. When I put plants that are obsessed with water in my saturated lower gardens, they thrive.  The peppers and tomatoes are plants that do not relish getting goosebumps at night, so I have rigged a small mock greenhouse for them, so that they can get a taste of home.  

A volunteer big leaf maple.  He needs to go in the back yard.
Instead of forcing the plants to bend to my will, when I join them in finding what they like best, they do well.  I even get some volunteers thinking they need to get in on the fun, like the big leaf maple and the hazelnut tree (both entirely too gigantic in future years) that have popped up in my flower beds.  When I care for my plants, their environment becomes a nursery for plants of all kinds.  It's the same with people, when we are gentle and nurturing with the people who are closest to us, others, maybe even those that might not normally fit in, will want to join in.

Kids thrive on a little bit of chaos, some room to run, and a lot of love
This brings me to one of the most important things I've learned about myself through my homesteading challenges this year.  I cannot let go well.  I am stubborn, and if something is not working well, I, like a horse tethered to a cart in the mud, keep straining and chomping at the bit, convinced that stubborn persistence has got to fix things.  In some cases, this can be a valuable thing, such as when a 2 year old demands candy repeatedly just before dinner, and I must stand my ground.  In other situations, it is not a great plan, such as when I push my children through a writing workbook that doesn't resonate with their learning style and teaches them zip.  I cannot let go of the lost cause cases.  

My tomatoes are the garden manifestation of this penchant I have for problem hoarding.  If you'll remember, I killed off the first batch of seedlings by frying them with hot compost.  The second batch was given beautiful "organic" potting soil which came supplied with fungus gnats which stunted their growth.  Do you know that they have been planted out in the greenhouse for nearly a month or so, and they have not grown one inch taller?  They are little bonsai tomato plants.  Maybe I should market them.  

Do you hold onto problems?  Maybe our problems force us to learn new things.  They help us grow in knowledge, wisdom and experience, but at some point, we should move on and forget about them.  It doesn't help our fortitude in new situations to constantly be reminding ourselves of our past woes by tying them to our ankles.  This is my new resolve: to recognize what I have learned in my challenges, and to relinquish the things that tie me too long to the pains they have caused.  What have you learned lately in your struggles?  Do you have any problems you're hoarding?

The tomato plants are dwarfed by their larger cousins that made it through the initial massacre.

I'm not quite ready to let go of these little problems...they are green...what if they take off  soon?   Maybe I'll pull them out in a week or two... ;)


  1. Angie,
    You are such a great writer! I enjoyed reading this with my coffee this morning. I'm a bit of a problem hoarder myself but, I mostly struggle with the "deer in the headlights" problem. I have issues that need solutions but, I'm not taking the time to do the research and find a good solution. For example, something has been nibbling on my radishes and zinnia's but, instead of fixing the problem, I just get frustrated about it.
    Anyway-great post. Have a great weekend!

  2. Ah, I can't help but smile in enjoyment that I'm not the only one nursing along stunted tomato plants this spring... mine look about the same size as yours, and even though they are only about as large as one leaf on the farmers' market transplants, I'm still giving them a chance. I hope that both of us end up harvesting some tomatoes at the end, even if it's just green ones for a green-tomato pie! :)

  3. Love you! I don't have any wise words to answer yours, but I can say that you sound right on.


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