Life in the Slow Lane: “Unfair working conditions!”

Pig Nation. Photo by Denise Domning

Pig Nation. Photo by Denise Domning

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Winter garden. Photo by Denise Domning

I want to ball up my fists and shout “Down with Management!” or “Unfair working conditions!” Unfortunately I work for myself, and as my own manager I’m not giving myself a break. The sensible half of me insists that I stick to the computer and finish the few remaining projects that stand between me and beginning my next two books. But the not-so-sensible part of me is bewitched by these gorgeous Autumn days.

You see, as Mother Earth begins to settle in for her winter nap, she calls to me, reminding me that now is the time to plant! Go ahead, the rest of you warm-weather gardeners. Fuss over your Early Girl tomatoes, your California Bell peppers and your rows of Platinum Sweet corn. Give me the winter growing season and I’ll give you turnips, lettuce, garlic, onions, tat soi, chard, collards, cabbage, broccoli, arugula, spinach, parsley, cilantro, sorrel and much more.

That’s right, I’ve become a dedicated winter grower. I’ve seen my patches under snow for days and still harvested delicious greens after the melt. On frosty winter days, I browse like the sheep, nibbling on this bit of lettuce, chewing on that radish bulb while oohing over the newly sprouted fava beans.

I don’t want to be at the computer. I want to be in the north half of my orchard, which is now carefully fenced off from the sheep and ever-more-massive porcine girls. Very carefully fenced. All of my critters have made a try at that fence over the last weeks. Of course they have! The turnips are coming up like crazy.

Whoops. I spilled the large bag of turnip seeds I intended to use over the whole space of that garden. There was nothing else to do but rake them into the soil, moving them as far out into the newly turned dirt as possible.

You know, until two years ago I didn’t really understand turnips. Oh, I’d used one every so often to flavor beef stew, but that was it. On the whole I thought they were pretty ugly and useless. I mean, white with purple tops. Really? Then I met Richard Stevens. He hales from the deep South and, after touring the garden, asked if I’d ever grown turnips. I gave him a scornful “no” then did a little research. Guess what? There’s nothing better to rebuild your garden soil than growing turnips over the winter, then turning them into the soil. And, by the way, EVERYTHING follows lettuce.

So, in went my first package of turnips. They not only grew, they grew very well. I harvested my first bunch or two and prepared my first few turnips the way Richard suggested. I was blown away by how good they were. Hey, Mikey! I liked them!

At any rate I swear, every one of those spilled seeds sprouted. What else was there to do but harvesting turnip greens by the bushel basket full? What to do, what to do? They’ve been all in my soups, stews and sautes. I still have another bushel basket or two left to thin. I think the greens are too tender to freeze so that leaves me no choice. What do we do with stuff we can’t use here on The Farm? We feed them to the pigs! Hence the big girls working at that fence. They like turnips, too.

But here I am at the computer writing this post when it’s70 degrees outside and in the garden is a large patch of bare beautiful deep brown dirt just begging for seeds.

More radishes. Yep, that’s the ticket. I need to plant more radishes.

I despise radishes, but for some reason the “me” that tastes them and doesn’t like them is disconnected from the more inner “me” that recognizes something in them that my body craves. So I eat them with my face screwed up and hating every minute of it. In fact, I crave them so much that I rarely get them truly washed clean. Maybe it’s not the radishes I want, but the dirt itself. Well now that’s a fairly disgusting thought, even more disgusting than radishes.

Maybe I can talk myself into planting the rest of my garlic instead. Nope. I’m holding out for St. Martin’s Day on the 11th, the traditional Northern European day for planting garlic. You can take the Medievalist out of the 12th century but you can’t take the 12th century out of the Medievalist.

I know! I’ll end this week’s post by telling myself what I really have to do right now is go down to the garden and take a picture of what’s growing to add to this post. It’s a dodge. I know what will happen as I make my way down there. The non-sensical, stubbornly independent part of me will pick up the hoe. In that case it may be a few hours before this gets posted.

But at least I’ll have that picture. Wish me “Happy Planting”!

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