His Garden Grows in Perfect Rows

Day 28 of 365

His garden is so perfect that people think he must use a rototiller. He does not. Everything is done by hand. He disturbs the soil just enough to get the chicken compost from our chickens into the rows where he is planting. And he wastes no space. He’s a master of space usage. I’ve never seen anything like it. I honestly never understood what a fantastic skill it is to have–space usage. I mean, he can load the dishwasher like a magician, but that just annoys me. I feel my way is fine.

But in the garden–in that garden–I have full appreciation for his skill and his perfectionism. I used to help plant more. I still do sometimes, but it’s only after he’s used the string to mark the places for me to plant. One time, I just made my own row, and when the carrots came up with a bit of an s-shape to them, I think it broke his heart a little.

He’s frugal to a fault, if there is such a thing in the garden. He uses every nook and cranny of the garden. He wastes no water. It’s too precious. He waters by hand and aims for deep watering with as little water as possible. Any extra water from the house is saved for the garden. He also plants seeds without the plan to thin them later, so as to not waste the seeds. This seems bold to me, but he just knows the seeds will come up. He talks to them to make sure.

He also plays music for them, classical music. Every day, in the garden, he listens to Bach and Vivaldi and Mozart. So do the plants. I don’t know if it’s the chicken compost, the classical music, or Ron’s magic touch, but every year, whether there is drought or so much rain some of the food starts to rot in the ground, this garden feeds our family.

And this year, we have our first farm shares. It took him years to have the confidence to do it, but I can see that he’s proud to share his work with others. This makes my heart happy. Not only do other families get to share in this delicious, beautiful, organic food, but I can see there is a pride growing in a man beaten down by life early and often.

It’s a kind of miracle to me that this garden, this work of art of a vegetable garden that feeds our family year round, heals. But it does.

And isn’t it lovely?

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I have to quickly add a Ruby and Kate update. Ruby has become a fierce mama–like a little too fierce, perhaps–but her babies are very well cared for. Kate is now sitting on an egg that may have to be a miracle egg. I have put three other eggs from our flock under her as of yesterday, which means she may have to have wait another 20 days before she finally gets to be mama. It’s all kind of heartbreaking, but I will feed her well and help her get through this. I believe she deserves to be mama after all that drama. Plus, she looks healthy despite having been broody for over two weeks now. Of course, there is still the miracle egg. I won’t write about it until I check it again in a few days. It’s a long story. Hopefully, it’s a good story. We’ll know soon.

Gardening with Chickens–and Rocks

Day 8 of 365

Because I long for a barn, every now and then, I look at real estate online. I would love to find a place with a barn. Any barn will do, big or small, red or brown. But when I look at real estate prices here in Maine, I find myself feeling thankful for the little plot of land we “own” (really just borrowing from the Maine woods). We have a large, sturdy chicken coop, a duck house, magnificent trees, and a giant deck in our back yard complete with an Eastern Phoebe nest this year. We also have a large organic garden space, and that garden space has come at a price for my husband, making it so we feel really tied to this little patch of earth. 

There was a small garden area when we moved in, full of rocks and deplete of nutrients. Apparently, the owners before us were not organic gardeners, so Ron had much work to do with the soil. Over the years, thanks to the composted chicken poop and straw and fall leaves and cover crops, the soil in our organic garden has become quite magnificent. Ron does not use a rototiller and turns over the soil by hand and shovel. But, also over the years, he has expanded our garden space, also by hand. During this time, I am convinced he has moved a quarry’s worth of rock from the garden. 

It never ends. Each year, he picks up rocks, digs up rocks, and moves boulders with nothing but logs and levers. Sometimes, I help. Sometimes, our son helps. Mostly, this epic undertaking falls to my husband, and I worry about so many years of toil. We joke that he did something in another life to deserve a life of rock moving in this one–Sisyphus, only moving rocks in wheelbarrow instead of rolling one up a hill.

I worried extra this weekend when he was expanding our garden yet again. This time, he was turning over grass in the chicken yard to add more space for a third kind of potatoes. It was hot. To have temps at about 90 degrees in May in Maine is not usual, and in the middle of that heat wave, that poor man hit a large rock “every time my shovel dug in,” he said. 

I was working to plant flowers on the other side of our property, but I would go visit him from time to time, telling stories of my adventures and bringing him water and lemonade. On my visits, I would marvel at both the size and amount of rocks he was moving to make space for more potatoes. 

But he had company. Every time I came to visit, I noticed the same three or four hens were “helping dad.” They know the drill. Under grass and within the rocks lie grubs, and it’s a win-win for everyone. The chickens eat the grubs, and that means fewer beetles in our garden, eating up our harvest. Chickens, while they cannot be trusted with small, delicious plants (one year, our Poe flew over the garden gate and ate a whole row of broccoli plants), chickens play an important role in our gardening cycles. 

Before planting in the spring, chickens do a great job of getting everything ready. We let them in the garden to eat grubs and scratch around in the soil. The chickens are also fantastic gleaners in the fall. They eat the leftover tomatoes and cabbages and will eat bugs then too. In the middle of garden season, sometimes, Ron has let a few hens into the garden for some interim pest control, and that works fairly well. However, you do have to keep an eye on them. In a garden of goodies, chickens are easily distracted from potato bugs. 

We reward our chickens with treats from the garden throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and it’s all just a part of this fantastic symbiotic relationship we have with our chickens. Our chickens give us delicious eggs, and I am so thankful for them. But they do more. The provide pest control, provide us with fertilizer for our garden, and on long days when you are digging through the rocky Maine soil to make room for potatoes, they provide you with some good company. 

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And, of course, I have to add a quick Ruby update: She’s doing well. No break today, but she did have some leftover scrambled eggs. Tomorrow, I candle eggs, so stay tuned!