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Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Somehow I missed the too-adorable-turquoise-egg stage of our first bluebird family this year, and the first time I swung open the hinged door of the nesting box and peeked into the nest, there was a jigsaw pattern of brown and black, accented with white stripes, and a bright eye or two staring back at me. The nestlings are all feathered out and just about ready to fly away already!

The second nesting box had no family at all. I'll have to check the third one, further down the drive, and keep an eye out for those heavenly little eggs. The miniature naked chicken pinfeather stage is much less attractive, and these teenagers are a little bit intimidating, even if, like teenagers of all kinds, mostly what they want is just feeding.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Last evening, home from the hospital day, I went down to the farm to help Jim, Sule', and Jeff with planting our first official crops.

George and Tom were working the field again with the rebreaker--we're doing our best to unearth and kill every devilish bit of bermuda grass, with the same success given mankind for every effort over the centuries to eliminate evil. That is, not much, but hopefully enough so we can live with the result.

We planted a long row of celery (although the transplants were a bit rootbound), a row of onions, and this morning, under a flat gray lid of threatening clouds, Tom and Jeff added a row of leaf lettuce. Each leafy cluster was doused with a cup of manure tea/creekwater mix.

We've really had too much rain for the ground to be as thoroughly worked as Jeff would like, but, as he points out, dealing with imperfection is the nature of farming. Last night's imperfections, in addition to bermuda grass, included the effects of stoop labor on the aging sacroiliacs and an evening's crop of mosquitoes. Still, at dusk, an inverted fingernail moon was cool and sharp in a darkening cobalt sky, the dogs followed me and the water buckets to the creek, and I heard the liquid murmur of wild turkeys in the Baker's pasture across the road.

And at the end of the driveway was the golden rectangle of kitchen light calling us, and our aching sacroiliacs, to supper again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Morels--the poor man's truffle.

We've had two small gifts this spring--one from Joe, from his woods in Williamson County, and one from Jeff at Long Hungry Creek. What a treat--dredged in egg and flour, cooked in butter, served with scrambled eggs from Julia's flock. One supper included our first asparagus of the season, the other our own Sulphur Creek watercress salad.

Morels--they look a little bit like your brain would look if you were a conehead, and have a clean loamy smell. We savor each tiny bite, and always--even if we're talking about gates, or taxes, or tragedies at home or abroad--stop to consider how large our small gifts are.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Meet EricTheFarmer. Yes, he is outstanding.
Eric was one of the kids next door, and practically grew up on Sulphur Creek Farm, running around the yard with the other kids, and we have the embarrassing photos to prove it. He spent many hours with our girls catching tiny fish in the creek (they called them "gelbers" in neighbor-speak), cannonballing into the pool, and chasing the dogs, who were chasing the cows, and many hours in the back of my car during our long-lived carpool days.
He's all grown up now--knows a lot about Native American artifacts, has traveled throughout the United States, including time spent living with Eskimos in Alaska, and working on farms in Wales, England, and Scotland, and is just about to graduate from Appalachian State. Eric's been very involved with the farm project since the beginning--just had to convince Tom that he was serious about becoming our farmer.
When school's out he'll be here full time, working under Jeff Poppen's tutelage. In the meantime, Eric's constructing a volunteer e-mail list, starting tomatoes in the college greenhouse, and organizing weekend workdays.
Hard for us older folks to express our delighted amazement, surprise, and happy gratitude without sounding sappy. Impossible, actually. But just about now, after the kids are in college and before the grandkids, you sometimes look back and wonder if you did ok, and if somebody like EricTheFarmer wants to work your property and live nearby, you wonder a little less.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spear point

EricTheFarmer on serendipity:

We now have proof that there is more in our gardens than bermuda grass! While shaking the topsoil and worms out of a clump of grass, this large point fell out as well. Identified as a Table Rock point, this chert spear point would have been made during the Late Archaic period, over 4,000 years ago. Due to the size of the point (2") and an impact fracture at the tip, it is likely that this was a spear point that was either lost during a hunt or discarded afterwards.


EricTheFarmer--well, studying up to be--sends this message from Tomatoland, aka college greenhouse at Appalachian State:

These are our 150 tomato seedlings being raised in the greenhouse. In a few days these seedlings will be transplanted into larger pots to allow for extra root growth. In these first few weeks, the seedlings are carefully cared for. Every few days the tops of the leaves are brushed over lightly, which encourages the plant to grow a strong and sturdy stem and to produce higher yields once in the field. We are growing 8 hybrid and heirloom varieties this season, which include Golden Jubilee, Homestead, Celebrity, Cherokee Purple, Big Boy, and Juliet.

My poke at the city-in-the-pasture proposal down the road: Tomatown, no Maytown. OK, so it's not very euphonious. Topical counts for something, doesn't it?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


DiAnne and Martha are responsible for our glossy new signs--we all stand a little taller when we walk by!

Bamboo workshop

So you grow bamboo and are wondering what to do with it?

Matt English, of Solar Springs Research Farm, is hosting a workshop at Sulphur Creek Farm on April 25, 9 a.m until mid-afternoon--about bamboo, especially harvesting and using bamboo for construction and crafts.

Cost: $60, lunch provided, limited to 20 enrollees.

Contact Sydney at for information. Oughta be great!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bermuda grass: the myth, the reality

The plowed field stretches for miles across the prairie--well, really, only a couple of acres, but still-- packed with the roots and runners of Bermuda grass. We have rotating shifts manning the pitchforks, and have conquered only a few strips in this endless universe of dead and dying Bermuda grass.

All well-educated farmers are versed in the classics, and we have just uncovered the backstory of Sisyphus, that clever knave, King of Corinth, who, for a variety of sins, was doomed to endlessly roll a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll down again.

The actual story has an angry Zeus pointing first to a field of Bermuda grass, and then to the boulder at the foot of the mountain, and saying to Sisyphus: "OK, you choose".

All farmers, at the mercy of the elements and developers and balky tractors, have an existentialist bent as well, and, like Camus' version of Sisyphus, there is some meaning to this life of one forkful after another, then bending over to pick out the lumpy strings of roots, then another forkful. Some is the Zen of no-thinking, and some of the sailing piled-up clouds, rimmed in glory, and what a blue is the sky, and that musky mushroomy earth. And the childish pleasure in just plain getting dirty.

Well, having pretty much touched on all of the no-faith traditions at this point, will salaam my way out. Shalom, on this Easter weekend.

Bermuda Grass

Another Saturday workday: Here's Kay, our volunteer cook, who, unfortunately for some of the rest of us, has raised our lunch standard impossibly high.

So, cutting bamboo at DiAnne's, planning for a bamboo workshop in a couple of weeks, fixing a tire on the trailer, getting our signs up (a shoutout to DiAnne and Martha--they--the signs, that is, and also, DiAnnne and Martha--look fabulous!), and, as always and forever, digging out Bermuda grass.

Ellen, Sandra, Louisa, myself, Eric--all spent time with a pitchfork turning over the plowed ground, sorting out the clumps of roots and runners. It's still a little wet and heavy, but we worked around the edges, so as not to compact the field too much. The earth is sweet and loamy, with fat earthworms in nearly every forkful--already a different thing than it was when first plowed a couple of months ago. Jeff's juju inoculations (more soberly known as biodynamic preparations) and a lot of compost are working their underground magic.

Stove Explosion

So, it's the middle of another Saturday workday, peacefully making sandwiches for Millwandt and Upinder, and -- Boom! the stove explodes. Really. The glass stovetop shatters into thousands of tiny pieces, the control knobs blow off, and I, calmly, after ascertaining that I am not aflame, turn the burner off.

Millwandt, shaking his deceptively saintly-looking head, surveys the debris, and says "After living with the Mau Mau, nothing is panicking".

So there: after living with the Mau Mau, Maytown isn't much.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Jeff at our table dissing the disk: There's too much contact between the metal and the dirt--it just schmears, makes a smooth clay surface like a pot. I would never use a disk plow here--it's great for sandy soil, but not for this clay.
I now can't remember the names of the kinds of plows that he says ARE appropriate for our garden, but this one, which has deep curved tines, is fine. "You just want to break it up deeply enough, then just fluff it up."
A lot of the plowing and re-plowing of our patch was to turn up the bermuda grass and expose it to the weather, especially over the winter. Bermuda grass is going to be our Achille's heel, our Waterloo, our sword of Damocles, our natural disaster, our plague. We're going to have to pick out as much as possible by hand, and keep picking and weeding. Forever.