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Previously in Patti's Garden

Patti on the farmApril 23, 2006

Wishing all a Happy Rainy Spring Day!

We've been waiting for this rain for days now....we have elderberry plants heeled into the compost pile waiting for the earth to be full of moisture before planting. Strawberry plants are sitting in the cellar awaiting transplanting into the bed that's been readied for them, fortified with lime and compost. Wild leeks that Joe dug for us are waiting to be planted on the banks of the little pond to tumble just below the forsythia that's dazzling us with its spectacular bloom.

The rain has allowed us to light four great bonfires today. We've spent the last two weeks or so pruning all the brambles.....autumn-bearing raspberries that get cut off right down to the ground, summer-bearing raspberries that are meticulously thinned and trimmed, and the dastardly blackberries (bearing thorns that rip through denim into skin) which are relieved of their old dead wood and whose flopsy canes are woven into a semblance of control on their trellises. The bramble canes burn with a great whooosh so the fires are a lot of fun. We burned the biggest pile on the banks of our larger pond. Ralph had spent many hours on the tractor clearing the brush and small chokecherry trees along the banking to create a site for the new elderberries. He's carved out a horseshoe around the east bank of the pond where we can plant the elderberries in a semi-circle about 110' long. It's going to be beautiful when the pendulous flowers are in bloom. Elderberries produce many tiny star-shaped flowers clustered together in what looks from afar like one huge bloom.

In the greenhouse, the four waves of plantings of tomatoes and peppers are recovering from their transport from the grow-room and are almost ready for potting-up into 4" pots full of compost-enriched soil. A cold frame we set out in the garden under the bay window is full with baby perennial flowers as well as pots of spinach that are almost ready to eat. The spicy lettuce blend we planted on Valentine's day has given us greens we've enjoyed regularly since the vernal equinox (March 21). By the end of the week I'll begin sowing the first waves of the annual herbs and flowers - fewer than in years past since I no longer grow extra plants for sale. I also suspect I'll grow fewer flowers for cutting this year. As our berry yields increase, my time for flower arranging diminishes. I'll still grow lots of zinnias, ageratum, scabiosa and nasturtiums, but no longer start thousands of plants.

When I moved the plants into the greenhouse last week I worried a bit about the phoebe who had so enjoyed nipping the tiny seedlings and eating the sprouted seeds last season. I was more than surprised to discover that a neighbor's cat had taken up residence in the greenhouse this spring and I suspect that the phoebe won't cause any trouble this year.

We've uncovered the Strawberries and they look excellent. Likewise the Red Currants which are already bursting with new growth. The Raspberries and Blackberries are also beginning to put out new green tissue. The Blueberries have swollen fruit buds on the earliest varieties and the whole planting seems to have gone through the winter in great shape. I still have to go through and prune out any broken branches, but the blueberries are so effortless (compared to the brambles) that I hardly even think of this as a chore.

In the orchard, the Seckel Pears are budding out and I'm surprised at seeing so many flower buds on such young trees. The Damson Plums also look to be loaded with flowers. I have learned not to count my chickens before they're hatched, though, so I'll feel a lot more confident about the tree fruit when the dangers from frosts have passed. Our Damson Plum planting is up to about 24 trees, though, so I am guardedly optimistic. The new peaches have no flower buds, of course, but they too survived the winter in fine form.

Oh, yes, the garlic has emerged....every single clove we planted I think, and it looks great.

In the woods, the fiddlehead ferns are just beginning to shoot up and the trout lilies have flowered. Trailing arbutus is up but without flowers yet. Wild turkeys are everywhere - not just in the woods where Rosie routinely rouses them, but also right across the road where my neighbor keeps many horses. The spilled grain is a prize for horse and turkey alike and the turkeys often rise to great displays to challenge the horses. The horses don't back down to the birds and everyone makes lots of noise. It's great fun for us because we don't really care who gets the grain.

The best news about the woods concerns the beavers. These workaholics gained my everlasting respect last year when they turned about two acres of our marshy wetland into a veritable pond. When they retired for the winter, I worried that folks who lived downstream would trap the beavers (they told us that they planned to) and this was a big concern for me all winter long. Whether traps were laid or not, the beavers survived and are thriving. We now have about 3 acres of many ponds that shimmer brilliantly in the sun. Ducks land and splash and Rosie barks and barks "Don't take that stick! I said, Don't take that stick!!!" The beavers are moving upstream past our property and our land is so steep and the pond so far below our house and orchard that I'm not concerned about damage from them. I am truly relieved that they have survived and amazed at their ability to transform the landscape.

The Great Circle of Life

I apologize for the delay in getting out this newsletter. Longtime friends and readers probably suspected that the reason I didn't write was that my heart was too heavy to get the words out.

TeddyOur dear Teddy died two weeks ago on April 10. He had been growing weaker and weaker for about a month before the Keene Flower Show at the end of March, then rallied a bit after the show was over. Ralph's care was so loving.....he made stews and broths and created all kinds of meals for his old friend, wiped his runny eyes and did everything he could to make Teddy comfortable.

About a week before the end, Teddy left the cozy porch for a walk in the pouring rain just before daylight. When Ralph discovered him missing, we hunted in the rain with flashlights for an hour before Ralph found him far from the house down by the beaver pond. Since this was 10 times farther away from the house than he'd been for months we can only imagine that he had headed toward the raspberries for his morning constitution (he loved to leave his droppings at the ends of the rows so that the wild animals would understand that a really big dog lived here!) and had slipped and slid down the hill. He grinned and thumped his tail when I got to him and our predicament became how to get a 160 pound dog up a long, steep, mud-soaked hill. The answer is - with a little help from our friends. I called Dancing Bear Tom and Rick the Egg Man and we gathered the old bear into bedspread and the guys somehow managed to move him. (Rosie and I completely obstructed the process; Rosie kept darting back and forth in advance of the guys getting in the way and when I tried to bring up the rear behind Tom I kept stepping on his heels pulling him down from behind.) When we got him back on the porch, Teddy seemed a bit astonished, then went back to sleep.

He weakened more after that adventure, and, with the weather warming, Ralph created a cave of straw bales that Teddy could stay in day and night. He could keep his eye on the house and the road, and he even got to see the daffodils come out courtesy of this very early spring. On the night that he passed away, the peepers and frogs were making noise in the ponds and the owls were calling in the trees.

That morning the neighboring turkeys and horses were sounding off at each other and phoebes were working on building their nest right above his head. As heartbroken as Ralph and I were, the earth was giving us a gift of spring as she released Teddy from his winter.

I think that when all his other needs are met, a dog's true canine comedian personality can flourish. Teddy was just the funniest dog ever! He made me laugh right from the start as a puppy when he'd vocalize while yawning. Since it made me laugh, he'd do it again, and again. He learned to sing and could carry a bit of a tune. He also got quite a charge from stealing food, like the chunk of bread he took from my pocket while I was arranging flowers before market. (He'd have refused the bread if offered but this was a sneaky-joke.) The first time Ralph put a cafe mocha in the cup holder of the old volvo Teddy swung his head over it from the back seat and carefully lifted the delicious brew into his compartment in the back. He was always stealing Ralph's coffee after that. He was always delighted to see company, especially the beautiful girls who would come to help pick the berries. The most beautiful girl to him, though, is our Rosie who joined the family when he was seven and put spark into his later years. We often called him "Senator Ted" with all love and affection because of his vastness, shagginess and joy in life.

He gave us so much love, and we are so honored to have lived with him.

Patti (and Ralph!)

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