Friday, June 15, 2012


IN BIRDLAND IT'S BEEN DRY FOR SO LONG THAT THE FERTILE SMELL OF RAIN WAS A DISTANT MEMORY. In the past few weeks we'd had two middle-of-the-night thunderstorms that carried a lot of sound and fury, but in the morning, though the dust was dampened down, the cracks in the earth were still there. Yesterday's showers were very welcome. It began as a gentle sprinkling and grey skies. It brought with it a welcome coolness and the lovely, earthy smell of rain. I didn't want to get my hopes up, though. The skies weren't all that grey.

We had been preparing the beds in the garden coop for planting. Yes, it's very late to start a garden, but it's always June before I can get into the summer rhythm. The dryness actually made the soil a bit easier to work after the digging, and I thought maybe I could get the beds ready and planted before the rain, but I am always over-optimistic. The forecast was for rain in the night, and I was racing the sun to get the last bit of soil turned over. The sun always beats me. I went to bed dreaming of a little house full of lush greens and dotted with bright tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.

The garden coop is a little house of chicken wire next to the coop. We built it to keep the chickens away from the more tender plants after we saw what they could do to my tomato crop. They are worse than tomato horn worms, which can eat half a tomato or all the leaves on a stem before you even realize the caterpillars have arrived. They start out small, but soon turn into monsters. They're hard to see even after they grow fat, so close in color they are to the plants. I usually find them by following their little packages of poop, in neat, geometrical stacks, or looking for the decimated leaves. I've heard that Guineas eat the bugs but leave the plants alone, and they are probably a very good fit for my garden. I should try them sometime, but I think I'd have to build another coop first. Chickens are great for preparing soil—scratching it up and eating grubs, but you can't trust them in the garden itself.

 The garden coop will accommodate about 6 large tomato plants. I try to plant some herbs in the corners and lettuces in beds between the tomatoes while the tomatoes are still small. The tall walls are great for growing cucumbers and pole beans. We can live for the whole summer on fresh cucumbers. I keep one big ceramic bowl on the counter filled with them, fresh off the vine, and another in the fridge to float slices in a vinegar and herb marinade. The vines grow up the walls and make a lush little house. If it weren't so full of tomato plants by midsummer, it would be a great place for a picnic.

The rain didn't come in the night, after all, and next morning I was able to finish digging the bed. I like to make raised beds around the periphery with a low valley for a walkway and kneeling space down the center. I was just about to start digging that when I began to smell the rain coming. It started gently, and I had time to put away my tools, enjoying that lively scent and the chill on my skin. I spent the rest of the day on indoor tasks—guilt free, since it was raining. I sorted my seeds into piles for inside the garden coop, existing flower beds, and other possibilities. I envision a rambling squash bed a little ways off. Maybe they will develop their leathery skins before the chickens find them. 

This morning it's even chillier, and the skies are still grey, but we only got about 1/3 of an inch. The cracks in the earth are still there, though softened. But the fields! The corn looks like it's grown 6 inches overnight. The soil in the garden coop will be dry enough to rake out in a few hours, and then I'll get my seeds planted this afternoon. The seeds will begin to sprout and we'll look to the sky and hope for more rain, and the cycle will begin again.


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