Spring finally arrives, bringing garlic and puppies.

There is something that happens to my brain every time I see the garlic come up.garlic

It’s like holding your breath for five months. And then you wake up one morning, walk down and see the green. And you didn’t even know you were holding that, worrying a little somewhere in your mind that it wasn’t going to come up, and then it just all releases.

It’s been a productive and heartening few days. We’re experimenting with a couple of permanent raised beds, which is – and I’m not alone in thinking this, I’ve learned – wildly exciting and horrifying. What if you spend the time setting these up and the angles don’t hold up? But the benefits sounds amazing – higher soil temperatures faster, more efficient uses of soil amendments and compost, and they’re easier to weed.

peas

All this without a tractor? Yes, please.

The potatoes from Maine Potato Lady arrived last week, and the first pea planting is in. It is finally (well, mostly) warm enough at night to have the first round of transplants hardening off outside, and these next couple rainy days should set the stage for some big planting projects. We’re looking at summer squash, mesclun mix, other greens and another tomato planting by week’s end.

Field peas in.

Field peas in.

I hesitate to get too excited about this, but it appears the greenhouse war of 2015 is at an end, or at least a hiatus. There were a couple weeks where a handful of mice were laying waste to my spinach, beets and a sad tray of eggplant, but the last few days and some smart tray coverings have kept them at bay.

chardlings redbor kalelings

Easter came and went, and I was reminded, as I am at every family gathering, how awesome our team is. We have business owners, entrepreneurs, hard workers, innovators in our family. My cousin took us into his garage to show us the forge he built and the work he’s making with railroad spikes.

beer opener

Housewarming – my cousin gives me a bottle opener made from an old railroad spike. Righteous. He makes coat hooks and other crazy things as well.

Right? I mean, sheesh. I don’t know if all families feel this way when they hang out, but I’m really grateful for the energy in ours.

And Little House, Little House. Sometimes I just want to sit there and watch the flowers bloom. Every day another photo is hung or some leaves are raked or the aloe gets repotted, and it starts to become a home.

repotting crocuses

In other news, a major hunt and a pair of boot laces later, Mom and Dad came home with chase, this stuffed animal bear cub baby Rottweiler.

Puppy

I was hesitant at first about this whole thing, but when he laid (read: kinda slid fell, because he still doesn’t have the motor skills to do anything with coordination) down in the middle of the kitchen with his legs splayed out behind him and immediately fell asleep, I knew he was one of us. So I went to buy some stuff for him, and got him the smack dog food which apparently is the best in the market for puppies, it helps their hair and their digestive tract, it has many benefits and  wanted to give him the best I can.

underfoot

Talk about underfoot.

puppy monsters

Barely a real thing.

And Arya is in love. These two are currently the same size, so they spend most of their days rolling around and chewing on each other, or chewing on things near each other, or chewing on both ends of the same thing. You get the idea. They already rousted their first groundhog together – though somewhat unintentionally – so hopefully when Chase is a little bigger they’ll start doing some useful farm dog tasks.

puppy and arya

BFFL

couch puppies

In the meantime, about half my life has become something like Milo and Otis in real time.

There are still a few spots open in the CSA, guys! Get it, get it. Read the CSA tabs of this site for more details. For now, I’m trying to build up a couple more beds before the rain.

Dreaming of Dirt

April 17, 2012, 6:00 am

The sun has been rising steadily over South Philadelphia for the last hour or so, shifting the black outside into formless gray surfaces across our backyards. A grill, a concrete divider covered in matted green ivy, a fence slowly come into focus as 6:00 am approaches.

I have been lying here listening to the tenuous cries of feral cats, mounting birdsong and my own breath in the muggy morning air. A bean tree has created its crooked, stubborn life in the partial dirt alley behind our house, and starlings and, today, a wayward seagull have paused to give a call before moving east toward the water.

Ninety degrees in April? Unfathomable. How this uncanny weather is about to affect my future is anyone’s guess, at least right now. Lord knows I’ll have to start figuring all that out soon. But right now I’m not thinking about weather reports.

I am thinking about dirt.

Two weeks ago my family, Nate and I dug up thirteen shovels of dirt from a two-acre perimeter on the property in the Lehigh Valley. We carried it home, mixed it together and laid it on newspaper to dry overnight before shipping it off. Penn State will test it for phosphorus, arsenic, nitrates and a slew of chemical words whose boxes I checked without understanding the names. Soon we will have some guidance as to what is happening in that shale land that may become my home, and hopefully we’ll be able to figure out how to coax it to life.

As 2012 rolled in this year, I knew two things for sure: I was unhappy with my work, and I was, for the first time in five years, growing disillusioned with the city. I talked to Nate, I talked to my friends, and I talked to my parents, and for the first time in a long time I started to think about dirt in a big way. And it felt right. I started sending out applications to organic farms for work at the end of January.

I started visiting farms, reading books by farmers and articles about high tunnels and farmstands. I e-mailed the Food Trust for a farmer’s market application, knowing full well that we are probably years pursuing this issue further. I drove to New York to interview with Keith Stewart and his wife. Keith is known for his work and runs a well-established farm that he’s been tending since the 80s, and for the next six months I’ll be working for him along with a handful of other interns I’ll be meeting soon.

My success, failure and love of dirt at the end of all of this will determine my next move, which at this moment may include creating and operating a farm. My parents, who have always been amazingly willing and able to roll with the punches their daughters have thrown over the years, went from coolly skeptical to wildly interested over the past three months. This past week my father assembled nearly a dozen rain barrels and my mother attended her first Exploring the Small Farm Dream class at a Penn State extension office. The guest speaker talked about creating CSA shares for people in the SNAP food aid program and running classes and summer camps to teach kids the importance of sustainability, and I could hear the excitement in my chest reflected in my mom’s voice. For the first time, I started to believe we might pull this off.

Last June I joined Back on My Feet, a running group in the city that partners with homeless shelters instills a sense of self-worth and purpose through running. Three days a week I leave my house in the morning dark and run to meet my team at Broad and Bainbridge, where we run with guys from the Ready, Willing and Able shelter nearby. This team is what I will miss the most when I leave – I know that unequivocally. These guys have pushed me to try harder, to run faster, to dream bigger than I ever have before. Without them, I never would have realized how much I needed to shake up my post-grad existence, or that I want to be working and living and sweating outside instead of feeling my eyes give out behind a desk and a computer.

When I told them I was leaving, my guys immediately started to call me “Farmer Liz.” This blog and this journey are in honor of them and everyone in my world who has encouraged me to take this plunge (and to share it with them). I hope this undertaking will, at the very least, pleasantly distract you for a few minutes a day. Maybe you’ll start looking for some dirt of your own. Regardless, stay tuned. It’s sure to be an adventure.

-Farmer Liz