Not deferential enough: Down on the farm

Posted Wednesday, May 4, 2011 in Opinion

by Gina Hamilton

Spring is in the air at last ... can't you feel it? I mean, aside from the cold rain and the occasional frosty nights, we are finally turning the corner, and if the young man's fancy turns lightly to romance, the old man's – and woman's – turns lightly to gardening.

Down at Turning Tide Cottage, we have turned our front lawn – with the exception of my lilac bushes and my forsythia and my rhododendron and hydrangea and beach roses and my little bulb garden, which are the only flowers I seem able to grow – into productive farmland. Last year, we had bushels of tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers. This year, we may do as well or better. 

And while it is too early to put plants in yet, and Skillins Garden Center wisely hides the tomato seedlings and pepper plants when they see us coming, we decided to spend a little time getting the beds ready.

A few years ago, we took out some rather nice tongue-and-groove paneling to install insulation in our upper floor, and we kept the wood. Chris made raised beds out of most of it last year. This year, he made a few more. If we keep it up, we'll soon have no lawn left, which would be fine with me and, I suspect, our son and heir, who does most of the mowing. But I don't know if we could use that many vegetables.

We also took some of that lawn edging plastic stuff and rolled it into nice round step-pyramids of the Saqqara variety. Last year, we made one of them a cucumber patch, and the other was supposed to be pickles. They cross-fertilized, of course, and we ended up with giant pickles. But this year, we may grow strawberries in one of the things and cucumbers in the other, and forget about the pickles, or just move the pickles somewhere else.

Now, you have to understand that this all happens on a plot of land about the size of the average child's sandbox. We're doing it in the front yard because there is no back yard – we bump right into the railroad tracks – and our side yard is too shady for anything but the most shade-tolerant plants, such as hostas, which I am not fond of. If it were up to me, I'd take down some of these trees and get a little light into the side yard, and maybe put in fruit trees there.

And the chickens. I want chickens, although it is contrary to the Code, I am told. I think we could probably use a cow, too. I learned how to make cheese last year.

These happy thoughts arise as the farmer's markets open for the season this weekend, and will mark my summer Saturday mornings. 

Turning Tide Cottage was built in 1890, and looks a great deal like the interior of a sailing ship. The original owner was a lady named the Widow Africa, and no doubt she had chickens and probably a cow, although she owned this lot and the one next door, so she had a little more space. I have found places on the maple trees where someone – the venerable Widow? – tapped them for maple sugar. She had a full root cellar, too, and occasionally, digging in the yard, I find one of her old cans or bottles. She did without central heating – that was added much later – and had three great fireplaces to keep her warm, cook her food, and heat her water. She liked things in ship shape – below the years of paint and moldings and paneling were drawers built into the walls.

She liked to see her world. She had more windows than were good for her, in every single room of the house. She even wanted windows in her root cellar, and so they are there, even though they've been since boarded up to keep energy in. 

I don't know anything about the Widow Africa except that I now live where she lived, and feel very comfortable living here. And I want to keep her traditions ... and her lifestyle, to the extent that I can ... alive. So like her, I will go down to the market on Saturday, basket on my arm. Like her, I will grow what I can and buy locally what I can't, and I will eat what is available in season. Like her, I have done away with central heating – Turning Tide Cottage is now heated with wood pellets – and ... if I can convince Scott, our Code Enforcement guy, to look the other way ... I will have chickens.

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