The mountain had it’s first snow coat last week. It only hailed here on the ridge where I live, but the next day when the clouds lifted, Helens was bright with snow. I’m waiting for the fog to lift this morning to see how she is doing today. Right now, the fog has come all the way up the valley and seems like it’s encircling the lawn, as if there is nothing in the world except me, and this house, and a rabbit browsing in the front lawn. I have already fallen in love with this place to the extent that I feel resentful whenever I have to leave it. It’s unfortunate that we don’t own it (we’re only renting), as I will be very sad to move away from here.
But so far, the major life upheaval is going very well. It’s getting to be time for me to start a job, since the savings won’t last forever. I’ve sworn off desk jobs and corporate politics (my last few jobs were as a technical writer), and this Thursday I have an interview to be a cow milker. It’s something I’m totally unqualified to do, and I told the head guy that right up front. But he was still willing to give me an interview, so I’m looking forward to it.
I had decided not to have a winter garden this year, since Preston graduates in December and life is pretty up in the air after that. We may be staying here for another year or two, or we may be heading for Japan to teach English, or any number of things between those two extremes. So I didn’t want to put all the effort into a garden and then have to leave it in January. So instead of gardening, we’ve been clearing blackberries. Many of the patches are taller then my head by a foot or more, even taller where they’ve overtopped the fir and hazelnut trees. I’m guessing that about a quarter of our 17 acres is blackberries, although we have yet to *find* all 17 acres, since many of the access routes are covered in blackberries. Every time we open up a new trail, we discover some new part of our property that we didn’t know existed.
But now two interesting things have happened to make me change my mind about the garden. The first is the discovery of a garden from a previous tenant. We had seen a fence post when we first moved in here, and it looked like it marked the corner of a fenced off garden space, but it was completely overgrown with blackberries. We could only see a small corner of the fence, the rest completely covered with vines 5 to 8 feet tall and heading up the steep hill behind it, so that it looked like a wall of blackberries 20 feet tall. We didn’t really think that it was worth salvaging. But then last weekend, I was curious to clear a path to a particular fir tree at the edge of the yard, and the easiest way was through that garden patch. As i started clearing in there, i discovered that it isn’t just your average row garden, surrounded by chicken wire. There are these great raised beds in there, a tomato frame, a couple of other beds that were obviously designed for something in particular, although i don’t know enough to know what they were for. Even a raised bed with a platform on top designed for starting seedlings. And it’s much bigger than it looked at first. It’s not completely rectangular, but it’s probably roughly 20feet by 30 feet. I know for some of folks this isn’t a large garden, but remember that my last garden, on the balcony, was 1.5 feet by 8 feet, so this is *huge* by my standards.
A couple days ago, we got all the blackberry chopped down, but there’s a lot of raking left to be done to get it cleared down to the dirt.
And the second thing that happened is that I read this fabulous wildfoods cookbook, by a woman named Linda Runyon. The book is called From Crabgrass Muffins to Pine Needle Tea: A National Wild Food Field Guide. She was a homesteader in the Adirondacks in the 1960’s, and she lived (and still lives) on 60% wild-gathered foods. The book identifies several dozen common “weeds”, discusses how to gather, store, and cook with them. There’s even a chart that breaks down the nutritional value of all the plants, so you can see the calories, protien, vitamins, etc. (this is hard information to find about wild foods). There are 50 pages of recipes, from nettle chowder to clover pasta. And she even has a section on poisonous look-alikes (which is often missing from edible food guides).
So, back to the garden. I’ve decided that I don’t want to put the time and money into a garden that I might abandon in January, but there’s no reason why I couldn’t transplant some of the edible stuff that’s already growing around here into the garden, making it easier to access. Things like plantain and dandelion and nettles and chickweed are all excellent food, with many uses and lots of nutrients. I’ve got the plantain, clover, and dandelions growing in my yard. Some friends have some chickweed they are happy to give me. I haven’t found any nettles on this land, but surely some neighbors have some around here. I’m sure some folks think it’s madness to grow dandelions and nettles in my garden, but it’s free, and it’s better for you than lettuce, and I think it sounds fun.
So I’ll spend the next couple days raking and moving chopped up blackberry vines. (It’s one of the big problems with blackberries…where do you put them after you chop them down?! They resprout from cut canes.) I took some before pictures, and as soon as I find the charger to charge up my camera batteries, I’ll take some after pictures and post them in a photo album.
When we first discovered the garden, i had all these images in my head of the lovely, knowledgable retired woman who must have put so much time and love in to creating this garden. I had fantasies about looking her up and showing her the before and after pictures of restoring her garden. I was even having imaginary conversations with her about where she used to grow different things. But then, from a variety of sources (including left-behind paraphanelia and confirmation from the landlord and the neighbors), we’ve learned that the garden was created by the guy who lived here alone 4 years ago or so. He was a commercial marijuana grower. He had converted one whole outbuilding into the equivalent of a pot closet, complete with grow lights and temperature controls. The nieghbors say that when they walked through the property after he moved out, they could see the cleared plots where he must have had outdoor crops growing in among the trees, but he had cleared them out when he left. Apparently, he had quite a green thumb, and was also growing a legal garden, and had built all these raised beds. It’s funny how often I have to be taught the lesson about stereo-typng people. I suppose men can be gardeners also. 🙂 (No, we haven’t found any of his left-behind crops. I don’t imagine anything would be left after 4 years, even if he had forgotten some. But we’re still keeping our eyes open 😉