Dressed for summer

A couple years ago I got in the habit of dressing my vegetable garden fence just because I can. Because it’s fancy. Because it makes me happy. Now, I like to think it makes my chickens happy.

The flags only last through the summer because I choose pretty fabrics as opposed to outdoor fabrics, but they’re easy to make. This year I found four beautiful, vibrant West African fabrics that look especially dashing with my red chicken hut. What silly traditions make you happy in the summertime?

Fall garden prep: mulch

Over the weekend we finished spreading our first truckload of shredded hardwood mulch from Country Farm & Home. We’ve joined the ranks of so many gardeners I interviewed this summer who were fans. My husband is a fan of their beekeeping and chicken sections, and we bought some really healthy fruit trees a couple weeks ago. This mulch validates our decision to shift gears to a local garden shop. But back to the spreading … I think we’ll need at least two more loads to cover all of our garden beds. Cross your fingers that we won’t need four (my back will thank you)!

Fall garden prep: edging the beds

I’m allergic to bees, wasps, and hornets (I’ve been to the ER thrice), so there’s a point in the mid-summer where I give up garden maintenance for everything but the Victory Garden to Mother Nature. Usually by mid-September it’s safe to get back out in the dirt, and one of the first things that gets my attention are the weeds. Last fall, we traveled a bunch and didn’t put out new mulch, so this fall everything’s particularly hairy. But that’s okay because one of my very favorite things to do is edge out the garden beds. I am merciless in my approach, one that I perfected twenty years ago: I dig it out with my shovel. Through the years my husband has tried to use attachments for his mower or tractor, or the weed wacker; none of it works like the spade.

The remnants of Hurricane Sally are coming through today and tomorrow, so I’ll order a truck of mulch from my man Peanut to be delivered next week. I’ll post photos of the finished product.

Behind the Scenes: Fruitful Vegetables

The Optimistic Gardener | Fruitful Vegetables

By Dolly R. Sickles

This week in the Chatham News & Record I’m talking to my good friend, John Davis, whose wife Jean I’ve known for 25 years. John is just the coolest guy, with a totally interesting origin story

Born in Brazil to parents who were lay ministers with the United Methodist Church, John is a peaceful dynamo. Since his parents studied agriculture at Iowa State in the early 1950s, and their purpose in the small town of Lins, Brazil was to run the farm that supported the seminary school, I knew John would have great farming insight. 

You can read about his logic for planting in the ground versus raised beds, how he fertilizes, and the cool cistern watering system he developed in the article. I wanted to use this post for a true behind the scenes look at a childhood that was so very interesting and different than most of us. The Davis family lived in Brazil until John was 14, and during that time his peaceful father, Bob, turned out to be quite the radical Renaissance man.

In 1964, when the military took over the Brazilian government in a coup, Bob Davis stepped up to the plate. “Toward 1970, when we left,” John said, “dad was spending time with other people in the Methodist Church to get information out of the country, and to help get people under surveillance out of the country to safety.” They had a small apartment out back they used as a staging area to move people out, like an Underground Railroad. 

The Davis family constantly encountered exciting things—theirs was like a real-life Indiana Jones situation. There was the time when, one night, Bob was going to take a woman they’d been helping to the bus station so she could leave the country and get to safety in Argentina. Only, the police were there so she and Bob had to wait it out in the car. Another time John came home from school and headed to the vacant lot next door where he hung out, and noticed the ground was disturbed; he found a shovel and started digging. Turned out his dad and crew had been smuggling out documentation and information to US media sources that described the torture and imprisonment happening in the country. And then there was the period when Bob delivered the mail to missionaries and ministers in the field by plane—”a big, lumbering DC-3″ that needed a dump truck to start its propeller once. I kid you not, I could’ve listened to stories about John’s family for hours. 

And not to be outdone, Jean’s family also has an interesting history of gardening. Her mother worked for the famed Weston Nurseries in New England, as an azalea propagator. Jean also worked for Weston, though she was out with the garden crew planting bushes. “That was enough experience to know I don’t want to work in the garden again,” she said, laughing. “I like flower gardening, but I enjoy the fruits of John’s garden.” She turned out pretty good, farming aside, because she’s the President & CEO of MCNC. She’s basically a badass with a cool origin story, but that’s a topic for another day.

So let me assure you, the people around you are interesting as hell. You’ve just got to talk to them. Checking out their garden is a good way to break the ice. Get out there and be optimistic, people. And dig in the dirt while you’re doing it.

For more information:

Flying the Coop

Our cute little coop bit the dust a couple weeks ago. Seven inches of rain in three days tends to be dramatic, and in our case, our cute little coop couldn’t keep up. The side door collapsed, so we had to nail it shut. And that means our six chickens were not happy (or safe)–so we built a new one. “You should turn it into a AirB&B, and call it ‘Sleeping with Chickens’,” our friends said. LOL. All we have left to do is caulk it, paint it red, and add the finishing trim.

Garden Project: Dried Flower Bows

Every year we grow globe amaranths in the summer so we can clip and dry them, and use them in lieu of ribbons. They make really pretty bows, and if you’re careful while unwrapping your present, you can put them in a little vase. Side note: globe amaranth‘s (Gomphrena globosa) are easy to grow, drought tolerant, and do well in the ground or in containers. When we dry them, I trim them into neat individual stems, tie a handful together with jute twine, then hang them upside down on a hanger in a closet upstairs. We usually cut them in late September and by Christmas they’re ready for packages.