Weed Paper! (Not that kind of weed)

Through the woods and across the field, way back behind our homestead, lives a bird-loving neighbor who rehabilitates peacocks. Each morning her feathered friends chat it up, lengthy high-pitched yelps echo across our country landscape. At dusk, silence surrounds and just as the sun settles behind the pines, we can always count on the peacocks across the way to sing their evening song, a faithful regimen at the finish of yet another day in Pungo country.

This morning I walked outside to see the sky and smell the sunshine. Between the bullfrogs belching in the pond, the peacock’s power ballads, my two Bantam roos crowing out their early bird song and a flock of geese barking their way across the sky, I couldn’t help but feel a little euphoric. The noise of nature reminded me that I’ve landed in the right space for my life. I want to bottle up this sensation and share it with the world. But I can’t do that. So I’m writing about it instead.

Anyway, here’s the latest on the homestead happenings.

The family vegetable garden is officially jam-packed! I finished up the last spring bed on Sunday afternoon and now the fun part begins, watching as it all comes to life, reaching up, pining for the sunshine and sipping all the moisture from the soil and the sky, then spreading across the garden space with vigor.

So, I really wanted to be more intentional with the use of my space and with my variety of vegetable choices in our garden this year. I want yield, of course. That’s always important – especially when it comes to our staples like salad greens, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and green beans. But I also want to hone in on the vegetables that we love most and eliminate some of the things we just didn’t fully take advantage of over the past few years.

Key word: Okra.

Growing okra is easy and fun and it looks wonderful. However, I hate touching it. I’ve learned that harvesting okra bothers me. Not just because I find it annoying, but also because it literally causes irritation to my skin. Two seasons ago, my spicy pickled okra tasted like a Heavenly delicacy.  However, the first batch of okra I canned last fall? Not so much. Have you ever tried to chew on a leather belt soaked in pickle juice? It’s probably easier to digest than my 2017 okra harvest. Simply put, we don’t love it enough or use it enough in our cooking to keep it on the growing list. Plus, we can buy it at the farmer’s market down the road or even at the local vegetable auction when it comes time to add it to my hearty fall soups or when we get a hankering for some spicy fried okra and jalapeno bites.

Also, I’m experimenting with placement this year. It’s risky, because although rotating crops is probably a good idea every other year or so, there’s always the chance that I may choose a less than ideal spot for my tomatoes or maybe the cabbage and broccoli won’t be as happy in “this bed” as they were in “that bed” the year before. Anytime I try a new growing spot, I have to accept the fact that it may or may not affect our yield. But, in one capacity or another, I’ve learned the hard way every single year. I’m willing to do that forever, I suppose. Just part of the learning process.

Historically, growing squash, pumpkins, cukes, zukes, melons and (believe it or not) garlic has proven to be quite a challenge for me in this little garden. I’ll get a harvest, but it’s always meager at best. Frankly, that’s not what a wanna-be-farmer has in mind when pouring blood, sweat, tears and seedlings into her patch of earth. So this year I’m attempting to grow some of those troublesome crops in completely different beds than we’ve ever used. We conditioned the soil and changed up our trellis options for the vining veggies. Already the spaghetti squash, crook necks, zucchini and straight eights are thriving. Just in case that switcheroo doesn’t work out like I hope in the end, I’ve also allocated an entire section of land outside of our traditional vegetable garden for many of those same crops. After Hurricane Mathew moved through a couple years ago, we lost a ton of trees in our old chicken pasture. My Hunk cut them all up for firewood and moved chicken coops out and placed them elsewhere on our property leaving a mini meadow-like space, which gets soaked in sunlight for most of the day. Because the ground was covered in turkey and chicken poo for a couple of years, the soil is rich and filled with organic goodness. I’m so hopeful the aged “black gold” will help offer up an abundant harvest this year. I’m picturing a billion pie pumpkins and Casper whites, countless mini harvest blend gourds, along with butternut and acorn squash galore. Of course, I expect no less than 20-30 deliciously sweet heirloom watermelon and cantaloupes on the vine. Are my expectations too high? Absolutely. Always. But hey… A girl can daydream.

If I’ve learned anything from my garden endeavors, it’s that no two growing seasons are alike and no matter what vegetable fails to grow, the weeds will always thrive. Our garden is at least two weeks behind what it was this time last year. The extended winter weather probably won’t stunt our veggie growth or harvest in the end, but it most definitely got us off to a much later start this season. As for the weeds, we opted to put down an industrial weed mat this year. If you know me, then you know I love to make things beautiful. (As does my Hunk.) We like aesthetically pleasing garden and outdoor space. Cultivating beauty gives us a feeling of joy. Industrial weed paper in the garden is not beautiful. But guess what? I’m at a different place in my desires this year. I choose logic over loveliness my friends.   I love to garden. It’s a huge piece of my life. But so is going to the beach, raising children, practicing yoga, taking care of chickens, reading books, writing stories and sleeping. I cannot possibly do any of those things well or fully enjoy any of those simple pleasures unless I allocate the time necessary to each of them. Industrial weed paper = more time breathing in sea salted air while listening to crashing waves and less time ranting like a raging lunatic whilst ripping devil root systems from my pepper patch. Attempting to even slightly control nature is humbling.

Have I mentioned how much I love this time of year? I truly feel renewed, it’s as though the universe has given me a shot of cosmic adrenaline and I’m flying high on seedlings and sunshine, dirt and farm fresh eggs. It’s almost too sweet to summarize. I am grateful for a life close to nature.




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