Sunday, April 14, 2013

Discovering My Inner Farmer

Discovering My “Inner Farmer”

I’m turning into a farmer.

Lately, at the store, I find myself in the garden section of the only variety store in town, or looking for obscure items, like a brush to scrub out the dirt under my fingernails, or peat pots, or labels for seedlings.  I spent a number of cold wet February days engrossed in seed catalogs.

I even bought myself a straw gardener’s hat, and am looking for some lightweight overalls to wear out in the garden this summer.  I already have the pitchfork and the banjo, and the rocker on the porch, er, deck, ready for my American Gothic moment or my Deliverance cameo.

My new favorite store in my small town is the farmers’ co-op store.  I’ve been going there for years, as it’s the cheapest place for gas in town, and my favorite drive-through latte place is next door.  But, now, I’ve discovered they have great prices on tools, and odd bits of garden and farming stuff I’ve been needing.  They have all the cool farmer stuff, including eight kinds of fence posts and woven fence wire, and baby chicks for sale.

The toy John Deere tractors look like fun, but I haven’t had the courage to play with them yet.  But, I think my time is coming.  I’ll just tell the clerk it’s for the grandchildren.

Today, one clerk helped me find the weird little clamps to attach wire to metal fence posts, for my brand new baby vineyard.   They have five kinds to sell, and the clerk directed me to the cheap ones, for fences not challenged by cows or horses.  Baby grape vines should be a bit more docile.

The co-op is one of two places in town you can get metal fence posts.  I’ve been finding them handy for staking up trees and shrubs (so they can withstand the typhoons we occasionally have around here) and also now for the garden, now that I am chief gardener.  (That reminds me, I need to update my resume and my Link-In status.)

And, they give me a ten percent senior discount.  So, who can resist.

Today, as I was waiting to check out with my exciting purchases of screwdrivers and fence wire holders, I had a bit of time to kill as the guy ahead of me was ordering baby chicks.  The store had some baby chicks in a cage along the back wall, and he was  wondering what kind of chickens he needed for his chicken yard.  Apparently what he needed must be special ordered from Baby Chick Warehouse.  

I’d been wanting a decent pocket knife for a couple of years, one that was simply handy for mundane tasks, such as cutting the twine I use to stake up my trees and plants, and to open bags of fertilizer and seeds.  The supermarket store had the spendy $50 kind, but I just wanted something handy to rip open a bag of fertilizer or whack off a hunk of twine.

As I’m standing in line waiting for the chicken farmer to make his decision, I spy a nice display of very handy, single bladed pocket knives, for $4.  When it became my turn to make my exciting purchases, I quickly added a knife to the loot.  The clerk asked me if I just wanted to throw out the box and put the knife in my pocket.  She knows farmers well and knows we don’t need any packaging materials.  In a minute, I was out the door with my trusty new pocket knife in my pocket.

I think it will work.  It is a Navy Seal brand.  But, somehow, I don’t think the commando teams use the $4 version.  It will work just fine with my garden twine and that sack of lime I need to get out to the vegetable garden next week.

My last stop was the local plant nursery that is a loosely guarded secret around here.  They don’t advertise, except for a little sandwich board sign by their mailbox, six miles out of town on a country road leading nowhere.  It’s a couple of miles from me, who lives near Nowhere, so they are like neighbors to me.  But, everyone around here knows that is where you get the good starts of veggies, and flowers, and herbs.  The place sells to the bigger nurseries, but, the best prices and the best quality is found at the other end of their driveway.

So, on my way home, I stop at the place.  I’m the only customer, but then, it’s Friday afternoon, and I guess people are doing other stuff today.  Stuff like work, or mowing their lawn just a few hours before the next series of spring rains move through the area for the weekend.

Me, I’m retired now, and I really do have a hard time remembering what day of the week it is. When every day seems like Saturday, the forty hour work week loses its importance.  Maybe that’s one reason I read the morning paper.

We just had an entire week of rain and the calendar says it is spring, so the grass production is in high gear.  And, today, some of the dairy farmers are spreading their “liquid gold”, which they always do just before it rains.  We use our noses around here a lot to predict the weather.

The owner greets me by name, and asks if I have anything in particular I need.

“No, just browsing,” I say, not very convincingly.

No one leaves this place empty handed.  It’s one of the reasons I have a good sized sheet of plastic in the back of the car, for the box or two or three of plants I’ll find at a nursery I just might stop by and “browse”.

Four tomato plants call my name and demand to be taken home.  Now, mind you, we had a good frost this morning, and the next few days is supposed to be rainy, windy and cold.  And, maybe some more frosts next week.  Definitely not tomato planting weather.

Still, plant lust is part of my psychology, and we do have a greenhouse.  The owner asks me that, as he rings up the sale.  We exchange nods of understanding, of our addiction, and the basic primal need to buy tomato plants in April an hour before a cold front moves on shore.

Back home, I find myself in the greenhouse, gathering big pots for my tomatoes.  I shovel rich soil into the pots and am soon tying up the new guys next to the bamboo stakes I’ve found in the garden shed.  I get to test out my new pocket knife, cutting off a hunk of twine, and helping the tender tomato stalks stand up in their new home.  The Navy Seals and Rambo would be impressed with how I skillfully whacked off the lengths of twine and brought order to the tomatoes with my maybe official Navy Seal $4 knife.

We used to buy garden soil by the plastic bag.  But, a couple of years ago, my wife got smart and simply ordered a truckload of the stuff from the local garden soil and barkdust wholesaler.  (Yeah, we have a big pile of barkdust, too.  My back muscles wanted me to mention that.) That’s where I get my dirt now, and, amazingly, that big pile is doing down a bit, a bucket here and there for the roses I transplanted, my grapes, and my new seed plantings I’ve made. The greenhouse is now half full of my fledgling, soon to be, vegetable garden and I have a basket of other seeds sitting on the dining room table, waiting for that warm week of May that is seed planting right in the garden week.  It is coming in May this year, right?

I’ve even gone so far over the edge of garden madness to fashion a little nylon holster on my belt, so I can tote around my trowel and my hand pruners.  I’m ready for the noontime showdown at the OK Corral, if the Earp brothers need some landscaping done.   I’m thinking of adding a little hook for the container of slug bait, but that might have to wait until slug season moves into high gear.

This morning, I could be found in the back of the garden, happily putting together the planks of my newest raised bed, using serious metal screws in the planks, thinking the new raised bed would be a good place for all the squash and zucchini seedlings emerging in the greenhouse.  And, maybe, that heirloom Ukrainian melon seed  and purple tomato seed from the heirloom seed company in Missouri I’m trying out this year.    “Thrives in cool climates”, the catalog boasted for a lot of what I bought.  I’ll put them to the test.

Yesterday,  I was pounding in metal fence posts, and digging holes.  Soon, my new grape vines were sticking their toes into the ground, all staked and tied, and labeled with special copper labels I’d found on Amazon.  The little vineyard of six vines had been on my project list for years, and the spot was the most sheltered and warmest, most grape friendly spot on our place.

My mind’s eye could see the grape-laden vines handing heavily down along the trellises on a warm summer evening, with me out there clipping off clusters of sweet table grapes.  Oh, probably not this year, but the project now is well under way.

I’m still looking for that pair of comfortable, denim coveralls.  I’ve got the straw hat, the pitch fork, and the banjo.  But, maybe I need a jug of moonshine.  That might be the next project around here.

4/10/2013 Neal Lemery

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