"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

State of the Farm, Early Spring 2015

This has been, nearly, a year without a winter. We had a hard freeze and a few inches of snow way back in November, and several frosts over the months, but generally speaking it has been one of the warmest winters in recent memory. The local snowpack is at historic lows: about 30% of normal in the north cascades and less than 12% of normal in the Olympics and Vancouver Island. Everyone is expecting a protracted drought this summer and water restrictions.

Once again I have failed to make use of my several 275 gallon totes, which were originally purchased to store the spring rains for the dry season, for use in the garden. I still have not (after five years) set up a system to collect rainwater from the roof. Here's what I do have: a gigantic plastic cone, purchased from the vet for my long-gone standard collie. I'm thinking I can still set it into the opening on top of a tote and use it as a kind of enormous funnel. At the moment, the totes (those that have not been appropriated by my husband for his biodiesel manufacturing or for waste-oil storage) are sitting uselessly about, cluttering up the landscape.


This is just about the earliest spring anyone can remember. A wasp was blundering about inside the greenhouse shortly after New Years. I saw a honeybee in the first half of February. The first Killdeer's piercing cry was heard on January 31st (I made a note of it), and the choir frogs, known locally as Peepers, began to sing weeks ago.

Walking  around downtown some ten days ago, I saw crocuses and daffodils. One house, for an unknown reason advanced in springtime beyond its neighbors, even had a rhododendron in full bloom. 

Rhodedendrons are strange plants - I have a whole hedge of them, some fifteen completely mature bushes, and they are individually glorious, but I've never understood why their bloom times are so widely staggered. The first two, with delicate deep purple flowers, are blooming now, albeit mostly still in bud. The others - scarlet, white, mauve, and coral - bloom at odd intervals anytime between now and early June. It's nice to have an unending procession of flowers, but quite mystifying as well. Personally I would never have planted Rhodies - they are very poisonous to livestock - but I'm certainly not going to tear out a whole bunch of forty-year old, spectacular bushes. 

I was almost too late to prune the fruit trees. The buds were already swollen. You can actually prune at any time, it's only a courtesy to the trees to do it while they are dormant. Since I only lop off a few little suckers here and there (I am a very timid pruner) I figured I might as well wait until the juicy buds would provide a snack for the goats. After a long winter on a pure hay diet they appreciate the woody browse.  The buds on my orchard have not yet opened, but the ornamental cherries in town are a snowy mass of blossom. 

It is time to exert myself in there garden, if I plan to have a garden this year, which is something I have not yet decided. On the one hand, I have had some sort of garden every year since I was seventeen and I would hardly know who I was if I didn't poke a few seeds into the ground. On the other hand, I barely have time to wipe my nose after I sneeze these days, what with my new job (medical interpreter) and my volunteer duties. The Gleaner's Pantry  provides us with as much fresh produce as we can possibly eat. If it isn't as fresh as it would be from my own garden, well, neither does it require as much backbreaking work with a shovel. Right now on my stove there simmers a stew made with chickpeas from my pantry and kale, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and bell peppers from the Gleaner's. It is hard to justify the work and time to put in vegetables when I can have as many as I want for basically free. 

Actually, I have already started a tiny little garden. Two weeks ago, during the warm spell, Paloma had a friend over and she brought her little sisters. I amused the girls by bringing a half a dozen egg cartons out to the greenhouse and letting them fill them with sifted compost and plant a packet of sugar snap peas. They are just emerging now. In another week or so I will tear the carton into its component compartments and plant them directly into the dirt. I also filled up a couple of wooden planters and sowed them with arugula, which is already knuckle-high. Who am I kidding? There will be a garden here as usual. 

Let's see, other spring news.... I walked the pasture perimeter yesterday and saw that if I want to harvest nettles this year now's the time. Nettles are delicious - they make the most wonderful soup ((Stinging Nettle Soup (Wild Spring)) and I've heard they also make great pesto and tea, though I couldn't testify to that. 

With only one doe milking, I am not making a lot of cheese, but what there is is good. On the porch outside the kitchen I have a few planters full of herbs, and the clump of chives is up and green. To me there are few tastes as evocative of spring as green, oniony chives. I snipped a handful and chopped them fine and added them to some freshly made chèvre, and then I sat down and ate an unholy quantity spread on plain crackers, with red grapes. 

I love Springtime.