Archive for March, 2009

Not that there was ever anything wrong with my old friends. ;- )

Visit Farmers for the Future

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TJTrue confession time:  I have had a girlish crush on Thomas Jefferson since I was about 11 years old and I saw his fiery red-headed portrait and started reading his biographies.  It was true love.

As I have aged a bit, though, and now have some short reference for my life I can see how all those little quirky bits of my youth are starting to coalesce into the whole me.  Things I thought were odd or eclectic are now finding a place in my psyche in much the same way that puzzle pieces may seem to fit nowhere, and then suddenly drop into place revealing the much larger image.

I never knew I loved gardening until a few years ago.  Certainly I was surrounded by avid gardeners in my great-grandparents and my grandfather, but had not yet discovered that fascination in myself with growing things .  Now I can hardly stop thinking about it.  I anxiously ordered seeds in January; I optimistically started those seeds in February and March.  My plans for the weekend are already laid out, and the potting soil is happily tempering away in the greenhouse, just waiting for me to come and spend happy hours transplanting seeds.  I watch the weather two weeks in advance, seeking opportunities to work in the garden.

In fact, whereas a few years ago I was interested in gardening, I am now beginning to feel like I am a gardener.  Now it is a part of me.

This year, unlike previous years, I have started a Garden Journal, or rather, two.  The first journal is a hand-written document so that I can write down the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve thought about, and interesting things that Grandpa has told me.  The second journal, catering to my technology tool-using skills, is an Excel spreadsheet of all the seeds we’ve purchased, where they were purchased, how much they cost, when they were started, when transplanted, and will go on to record how many were planted out in the garden, how they progressed, and (hopefully) how much they yielded. It’s an ambitious project, I admit, but it satisfies my analytical (OCD?) mind to track the garden’s, and the gardener’s, progress through the season.

Which brings me back to Thomas Jefferson.

While perusing online resources for garden calendars this evening, I came across the digitized and transcribed garden journal of Mr Jefferson, himself, a fascinating document that was his own way of record-keeping for almost 60 years.  It’s no secret that Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello were among the finest to be found, with experimental cultivars from all over Europe and Africa sent by admirers and kindred spirits.  For the last hour, I’ve delighted in reading his planting records, weather observations, and notes on advice and opinions given to him by his gardening friends.

But what I have particularly enjoyed is the amazing humanness of this giant among gardeners that is revealed in his journal, not only in the writing, but sometimes even through the lack of entries.  He was a busy man, and often away from home.  He planted things and then either forgot to record the progress or was unable to do so due to his travels and commitments to the cultivation of a young nation.

jefferson-calendarThe most telling page, though, is page 35, and for this page alone my heart’s flames were rekindled, because on this page, very carefully and methodically, Thomas Jefferson began his own ledger of garden records.  His bold penmanship setting out in orderly columns the records of his sowings and reapings, looking very similar to my own spreadsheet journal.  But even more impressive than his methodology is his brutal honesty, as he simply writes failed in a column to indicate the loss of the crop.

I’ll never know what that one word, failed, encompassed for him.  Was it the failure of the experiment, failure of the gardener, or simply the failure of the crop?  How did that failure relate to the kitchen and table at Monticello?  As a novice gardener, when things go wrong, I wonder, “what did I do?”  Did Jefferson also scratch his red head in wonderment while he looked at his failed carrots and celery?

Page 1 of Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Journal intrigued me.  By page 12, I was entranced.

But at page 35, I fell back in love.

And now I wonder if he sat at his desk on a fine spring afternoon, like I sometimes do, and think, “Damme…I wish I were out in the garden!”

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More random thoughts

Some days I can’t think along one coherent mental track, but my thoughts meander like waterdroplets down a windowpane.

With that being said, here is how today is shaping up.

You know you are a country-girl when you think to yourself as you leave your house in the morning, “Wow! The county did a really good job grading this road yesterday! Almost all of the deepest ruts are gone….mmmm nice new gravel.”


I am pleased to announce that I made an 88 on my statistics exam from last week.  It was a doozy, and I can honestly say I’m relieved to have a B in the class.


The portents have spoken, and spring is officially here.  Signs of spring:  Cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, peas, and radishes have been planted out in the garden.  Peppers are ready to be potted, and the tomatoes are coming along. Grandpa bought 10 forty-pound bags of potting soil. The water is turned back on in the greenhouse.  And most telling of all….I’ve started listening to my mix cd of tractor songs and songs that remind me of being in the country.


I had a wonderful time at the beach with Emilie, and didn’t want to come home. Okay, that’s not exactly true; I had a wonderful time being with Emilie and blue-skying about our dreams, and didn’t want to come back to my workweek and studies.  When I blue-sky, everything I set my hand to  is successful and pleasant.  I can take the most beautiful vacation in my mind over a cup of coffee with a good friend.


Grandpa tilled down the collards and the kale yesterday.  Thus ends another chapter of winter greens.


I’ve become addicted to Facebook.  I never thought that would happen, but the joy of finding and hearing from my friends is amazing.  I love to hear what they are thinking, how they are feeling, and seeing what causes and groups interest them.  The best part of all has been hooking up with so many of my high school and JUNIOR high school friends!  And there’s something rather affirming about looking at your friends list and realizing that you are not an island, afterall.  Sometimes, even in the midst of my chaotic life, I have to remember that.  I loved having updates from family far away, and friends so close we live in the same town but don’t have time to get together.  I feel more connected to people through the technology.  And in a way, the status updates are like mini-blog posts.  Some are funny, some are thoughtful, and some are just a tap on our collective consciousness, as if to say, “tap…tap…tap…hello? Anyone in there?”

I’m in here.  And you’re in here.

And we’re in here together.


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It’s the kind of day where I have a hundred unrelated things on my mind, but have only had enough coffee to fuel 37 of them.   In honor of this special rainy Monday-morning feeling, I’ve decided to write a post that is illustrative of the randomness of my mind today.  Buckle your seatbelt!

I have a midterm tomorrow in my stats class and after studying this weekend have come to realize that I don’t really know this stuff; I only seem to understand it when the professor is talking about it.  Tony quit smoking this weekend, cold turkey and is really doing well!  But I worry about him this coming weekend when I’ll be out of town an unable to keep him entertained.  Yay! I have a trip scheduled with Emilie for the weekend!  Oh no! I have no mad money for the trip!  Man, I hope Tony gets a job soon.  I wish I’d had the money to buy that optional text for my stats class.  Maybe that would have helped.  Maybe I should just drop this class.  It wouldn’t set me back that much.  But then I couldn’t take classes in the summer semester.  But that’d be okay, because there’s a lot going on this summer with my family.  Maybe I’ll need that extra time off with them.  And maybe I should back out of the mission trip to Peru. I can’t really afford to go, and besides which, my family is going to need me this summer.  Particularly in the garden. I wonder if the seedlings can wait until after I get back from my trip to be transplanted.  The tomatos can, I’m sure, but the peppers were started a bit earlier.  They’ll need to be worked soon.  Hm, the peppers at my house are 7 days after starting and no sign of germination yet.  Grandpa said it could be 10-14 days, but I had hoped they would show before I left for the trip.  Oh great, the graduate student colloquium is tonight, so I can’t go home early and study for the midterm.  Maybe I should just drop this class….

And there you have it, a brief look into the inner-workings of my mind this morning.  Now aren’t you sorry you peeked!  ;- )

[Update: 2:41 pm – In a continuation of the randomness of today, I have just been visited in my office by a travelling dictionary salesman, a very nice man named William.  I have never, ever, been approached at work to buy a printed dictionary set, and so the whole time he was talking I was thinking, “what’s next? Hairbrushes and vacuum cleaners?” Very, very random.  On the otherhand, making cold calls selling printed dictionaries in this day and age must be a pretty tough job.  I am tempted to buy one just out of respect for his efforts to work hard and do an often unpleasant job.  I am reminded of the Will Smith character in “Pursuit of Happyness” trying so hard to sell his x-ray machines.]

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It is four weeks before the last average frost day (April 10) in Georgia, which means two things…

1. I can look forward to wearing my Birkies without socks for a change. ;- )

2. Peppers and tomatoes had better be started by now in order to plant them out in the garden by the end of April.

I’ve written about starting seeds in a post from last year, so I won’t go into details here. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been starting seeds of various sorts and varieties, and have even finished transplanting the cabbages and brocolli. In all, I’m starting to feel rather accomplished.

At the same time, I’m also feeling a bit troubled, and perhaps a bit guilty. You see, in years past, I helped to start the seeds, but left the seed pots with Grandpa to care for before transplanting. He would check the moisture for the seed pots, move them in and out of the sun as needed, keeping them warm by letting them sit on the top of a chest freezer on his back porch. He would carry them down the back stairs to the water and the sunlight in the morning, and then back up the stairs in the evening to keep them from getting chilled in the night air.

I’m not talking about one or two pots, either. With six varieties of peppers, two varieties of cabbage, two varieties of brocolli, and four or more varieties of tomatos, we’re talking about quite a few pots going up and down stairs every day, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that the usual care for the seedlings may be growing more difficult, and more dangerous, for Grandpa.

This is the first year that I’ve thought before starting seeds, “How many pots can Grandpa care for at one time?” I’ve actually held off on starting some varieties so that he has fewer pots at any given time to move around and keep watered. It’s truly been a different way of looking at the work: not “what needs to be done right now”, but “what can he manage right now?”

And it has become clear to me that I can no longer start seeds and then leave them for him alone. In fact, in yet another small step, I have moved into taking just a little more responsibility for the gardening.

Now, on my back deck, warming in the sun, are two terracotta seed pots that are the incubators for Italian red peppers and Mexican poblano peppers.

It’s a strange feeling knowing they are out there. I can’t describe it. It’s a little like the first time I cranked up the tractor without being told to do so. Was I overstepping my bounds? Should I have asked permission to start it and drive it?

If I had told Grandpa what I was doing, if I had suggested that I was taking them because he already had enough to do with the others, he might have been glad I took the initiative, or he might have been hurt that I was essentially “cutting back” on his activities. These days his moods can go either way. He’s glad I’m helping; he’s angry he needs the help.

I feel as though the two pots on my deck represent two possibilities.

The first being that I am moving more and more to a daily sense of responsibility for the gardening rather than a part-time weekend farmer wanna-be. This is a good thing, because this is where I hope my path is taking me, towards full-time agriculture in my next career journey.

The second possibility is a little harder to think on – that if this tractor is going to keep on rolling, I’m going to have to drive it without oversight and supervision more and more often, until one day the guidance will be the memories in my heart, and not the voice of my grandfather. It’s the gradual move from apprenticeship to journeyman farmer, which is the long-term goal, but it also acknowledges in tiny jangling undertones the fact that one day, this will not be me helping my grandfather in his enterprise; this will be me being responsible for my own enterprise.

When I brought these seed pots home, I brought home two terracotta pots filled with a little peat moss, a little vermiculite, and a handful of seeds. But somewhere in the box that carried the pots, a tiny shadow of sadness and a large measure of responsibility, for both my grandfather and the seeds, came along with the seed pots.

Two terracotta seed pots are quiet. They sit there on my deck, unmoving, and innocuous. And yet these two terracotta seed pots are perhaps saying more than my heart is ready to hear.

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I’m o-Kale!

Just call me Sister Trish of the Blessed Sisters of Homeless Kale!  If you’ve read Emilie’s posts about kale, recently, you may be wondering …. a lot of things.  Kale is a mystery to a lot of people, ergo, the very topic of a kale blog post lends an air of intrigue and wonderment!

…okay, maybe not so much intrigue and wonderment, but more puzzlement.  ;- )

The first question you might have is, “Wow, is Trish still alive?”

Well, yes, I’m still alive and playing a precarious balancing act between mastering the intricacies of high-tech innovations in education, and loving the hours I get to escape and delight in the complexities of farming and small-scale agriculture.  It’s a strange balance, and I’m not sure how I manage to keep these things pigeon-holed, but somehow I do.  As usual, this strange dual-existence of mine keeps me rather busy, and not blogging much.

That being said, many exciting things are happening in my life right now, things worth writing about, and I anticipate a spring thaw and warm summer of blogging.

The second kale-induced question may be, “why is Trish giving Emilie [and others, I might add] enormous quantities of kale?”

This is, of course, like many agricultural stories, one that begins last season!   In the fall we plant vast quantities of greens for the you-pick-it market right before Thanksgiving.  Turnip greens, mustard greens, collards, and kale.  By far, kale is my favorite, and yet it seems to be the last thing standing in the field after the masses have pillaged and plucked to their hearts’ content.  Invariably we are left after Thanksgiving with a) green-less turnips, b) several fields of stumps where greens used to be, and c) beautiful rows of untouched kale.

All of which is quite alright with me.  Turnips and kale are lovely together, and as the winter progresses, they just get better, and better, and better!  Nothing makes kale sweeter than some frost on it.  So throughout the winter months, when the fields are abandoned and the rest of the world is holed up in their warm houses, I can go and pick at leisure all the turnips and kale I want.

Unfortunately, Grandpa doesn’t take too kindly to being holed up in the house all winter.  He just doesn’t do well in the house, and would much prefer to be outdoors doing anything.  So, at the very first hint of spring, he is itching for the opportunity to start at it again.

Which brings me to the great turnip diaspora of 2009.  Imagine if you will, it’s 55 degrees outside, and a good 8 weeks before the last average frost date (April 10), and I, innocent and naive in my optimism am going to the farm for my weekly bag of turnips and kale, only to find that Grandpa has been there before me.

Not just been there, but been there with a tractor and a rototiller!   The crumpled and wasted corpses of succulent turnips were scattered heartlessly in the midst of clods of red clay.  The carnage was heartbreaking!  I mean, you should warn a girl before you till under the turnips!  This kind of trauma could scar a person and put in motion any number of post-turnip-tramatic-stress-syndrome behaviors!

Such as carefully guarding and distributing the kale.

I know that at any possible moment, my grandfather may feel the call of spring planting and race out to the kale patch and till it under, even though it’s still so tasty and beautiful.  I can’t bear the thought of laying it low in the midst of it’s late-winter perfection.

Actually, I can hardly stand the waste of the food.  When I stand out in the fields I’m still amazed at the quantity of quality food that the land can produce.  I honestly stand there and think to myself, “just look at it! There’s food just laying all over the ground, ready to picked!”   I mean, a person could live on this stuff and that still amazes me.

So, every chance I get I’ve been picking kale and giving it to people who I think would appreciate it and find interesting and worthy things to do with it.  It’s so much more gratifying to know it’s filling the stomachs of my friends and family and not just decomposing after the passage of the tiller.

Not that putting the organic matter back into the field is a bad thing. It’s just that I’m not ready to think about it as “organic matter” or “green compost” quite yet.  To me, it’s still food.  And it’s beautiful, in its simple but life-sustaining way.

It’s the crop that always survives the winter, no matter how icy, and how dreary, and how long it may be.  It’s the crop that improves the most when the elements and the environment are at their worst.  Kale is hearty, sweet, sturdy, tasty, resourceful, delicious, and reliable.

Kale deserves our appreciation.

And besides, kale really misses his friend, the turnips.

So think kindly on kale.

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