April 11th, 2011

The Lovely Bones

My faithful Troy-Bilt tiller, Spiny Norman, is having his engine rebuilt this week.  While the Wheelhorse tractor, which rambled over a few too many stumps last season, has a cracked spindle on its mowing deck, and the greenhouse has three panes of storm splintered glass that need replacing.   I seems I need to set up a triage on the farm.  The thing about older machinery is that it’s worth fixing, worth rushing to the ER (Engine Repair?) for treatment.  Like organic farming versus chemical farming,  good tools presuppose a long-term relationship, not a one-night-stand with plastics and pot metal.

Bones and buildings in Early Spring, before the growth hormones kick in.

Bones and buildings in Early Spring, before the growth hormones kick in.


I used to expect my tools to put up with me and my casual disregard for their well-being:  “Did I leave you out in the rain again?  I’m sorry.  Suck it up.”  But I’ve since learned the hard way to be mindful and patient.  I’m a parent, after all.

I’m not into small engine repair.  Dirt I don’t mind, but all of the petro-gunk that clings to engines and fuels internal combustion has no appeal. I’m partial to external combustion, to the heat of topsoil as it arouses seeds to germination.  I have a neighbor who’s a genius with all things petroleum based, a grease monkey to my dirt monkey.  He tinkers while I till, and keeps me in working machinery, a must-have for farming unless you’re Amish and have seven plain-clothed children who are chore-bound to help out. My kids harvest eggs and tend a few flowers, but it’s all moi after that.

Hundreds of seeds have been planted in the greenhouse, starting their miraculous journey from speck to splendor.

Hundreds of seeds have been planted in the greenhouse, starting their miraculous journey from speck to splendor.


And as much as I love the farm in the full swing of the growing season – in the swelter and hum of midsummer – there’s a moment in early April before seedlings have begun to push up through the soil, an anticipatory delight, when there’s nothing to tend or fret over or weed. The farm’s form is clear, its lovely bones spelled out, its undressed structures waiting to be loosely draped with beans, cukes, squash and tomatoes.

I pick through the soil, which has been coughing up rocks in a consumptive heave of frost and thaw in beds that I was certain were finally stone-free. The tilled earth, before being knotted and bound by weeds, is a relief, as are the vines-less cucumber and squash trellises, the short Winter-stalled grass, the absence of insects. All of the cold season’s fitful tantrums have passed , and the farm seems to be holding its breath.  Then March continues on into April (it snowed on the first, no joke), and instead of going out like a lamb, it sent Spring on the lam, a fugitive from the farm and its desire to unfold and grow again.

There will be a lot to savor this season, including some hard to find heirlooms, like the serpentine Italian squash Trombo D'Albenga.

There will be a lot to savor this season, including some hard to find heirlooms, like the serpentine Italian squash Trombo D'Albenga.


Only the greenhouse is a refuge from erratic Spring weather, where hundreds of seeds have begun their miraculous journey from speck to vegetal splendor.  There will be much to savor this season:  Mereled Rattlesnake snap beans, Mexican Sour gherkins, serpentine Tromba D’Albenga squash, Lemon Drop tomatoes, sweet paprika peppers, purple Barbarella eggplant.

Happy Spring!   – Mb

As he has planted, so does he harvest; such is the field of karma.  ~Sri Guru Granth Sahib

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