We've latched onto the idea of "permaculture" here at Dragon Flower Farm, drawn to the movement's emphasis on independence through a garden stocked with human-use plants. So rather than only enjoying the sight and smell of the spring season's plethora of petals, we challenged ourselves to make use of them as well.
My father is a very handy man. He's the type of guy who sees a brick patio and thinks, "I could do that." And then he figures out how to do it. And actually does it. And it looks awesome. As his son, it is both heartening to see what can be done and discouraging when you see how often your attempts at doing something awesome falls short. But as my grandfather used to say, "It's good enuf fer who its fer." It took me years to translate that from his Oklahoma twang to my more prosaic American standard into, "It is good enough for whom it is for." I always liked Grandpa's attitude towards life.
It's been a strange spring in a lot of ways. The season has seemed to last a lot longer than usual - our utility bill was cut in half over the last month because we've needed neither the furnace nor the A/C. Spring here in Missouri can sometimes go by in a blip so that you barely have any windows-open days before it's time to shut the place up and turn on the A/C. So a long spring is a welcome thing. But up until this week, it's been dry, unlike last year's mushroom-encouraging daily deluges, so we've been grateful for the rain barrels to water the direct-sow seeds going in now.
As we work on the Dragon Flower Farm, we are also developing our philosophy around what we are doing, and why. At this point (and it will likely change) I would say it is a philosophy of the mean––the middle way, if you will. One aspect of that philosophy is the role of chaos. In Jungian thought, the forest represents the primeval, the chaotic, nature red in tooth and claw. The home represents order, civilization, humanity's dominion. The garden is the place where the two intersect. It is ordered, but it is still influenced by the power that resides outside of its walls.
Back in January, I'd asked mystery author and wildlife biologist Ellen King Rice to help me ID some of the mushrooms I'd found growing in the woods and here at Dragon Flower Farm. As you might recall, we ended up turning the post into a series of tips on how to ID mushrooms, which is something no one should take casually, at least if you're looking to eat them.
The flora is waking up here at Dragon Flower Farm after a long sleep. I wish I could say we are, too, but the truth is we're merely shifting from hard-work-inside to hard-work-outside. It's the same with the fauna. As I mentioned in the post on bird baths, our feeders were super active all winter. In addition to the usual flocks of house sparrows, house finches, and European starlings, we experienced frequent visits from cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, woodpeckers, and even the white-throated sparrow, a treat to watch for its two-footed, back-and-forth dig move in the dirt under our feeders. Like the birds, we're flush with motivation to make the most of springtime; while we marvel at the awakening garden, several projects are keeping us busy during this shelter-in-place.
Anthony and I tended to be fairly home-oriented even before the coronavirus hit and made us homebound by executive order. Fortunately, this emphasis on the home sphere has enabled us to shift into the shelter-in-place with relative ease because there's plenty of drama going on right in our own backyard. With three bird baths, three platform feeders, and a suet feeder poised within view of our back windows, we've got a 24/7 wildlife study right here.
If you've read the previous two blog posts in this series (here and here), your pan is well-seasoned, and you know how to care for it. Before you start using it, the first thing you need to do is a bit weird, and it sounds like something out of a fantasy novel, but you need to get to know your pan.
Generally, there are a few rules for cast iron skillet care and a few myths that can be dispelled. First of all, there is cleaning the pan. A well-seasoned pan, that is being used properly, should not be difficult to clean up. Hot water and a metal spatula are usually all you need. If you are cooking something that has a lot of sugar or starch (say potatoes), then you may need to break out the non-soap steel wool.
In order to use cast irons, there are a few things you need to do: You need to season your pan (which I will cover). You need to learn how to care for your pan (covered in an upcoming post). You need to learn how to cook with your pan (covered in an upcoming post).
Twenty nineteen was a really wet year for us in the Midwest. As a result, we experienced a bit of mushroom mania that began in spring and lasted clear through the fall. To pay tribute to both the magnificent mushroom and the fantastic fungus, today I've asked former wildlife biologist and author Ellen King Rice to collaborate with me on a special guest post. Here I've compiled images from Dragon Flower Farm as well as from walks in the woods. The plan was to have Ellen ID the fungus among us, but that proved a little bit tougher than either of us anticipated. So if you've got some IDs for us, please share in the comments below!
Our twofold mission is to plant both natives and 'human use' flora, and the native plants have not disappointed. While the rhubarb gasped and expired, and the blueberries* have continued to struggle, the natives have taken hold and flourished, pretty much without exception. As an added bonus, we've been able to obtain many of them free - either as volunteers or gifted starts and seeds.
One of the best uses of mulch in my experience is in converting an area of turf grass to nice gardening soil. I use what some people now call the "sheet-mulch method," which is basically a decomposable barrier layer, such as an old wool carpet or cardboard boxes, underneath a thick mulch. I've done this three different times at three different homes over the past nearly twenty years, and the result is always amazing. I can't stress this enough. It's an affirmation of the natural decomposition cycle, proof that nature knows best.
First of all, why render fat? Well, fat is a substance that the human body is accustomed to absorbing. In fact, if you take in too little fat, it can have numerous deleterious effects on your health. It can lower your hormonal levels, make your skin dry, encourage you to overeat, mess with your body's natural temperature regulator, and cause mental fatigue. Now, that does not mean you have to eat animal fat. But if you are a meat eater anyway, it is certainly one of the easiest ways to make sure you are getting enough fat in your diet.
I've spent a good deal of time talking about what we had to extricate from the Dragon Flower Farm, i.e., invasive plants like honeysuckle vine, winter creeper, and even autumn clematis. Yes, it's been at times a tragic tale of what the botanists call "disturbed" areas in suburbia/near urbia. But not everything existing onsite when we bought the house in November of 2017 was undesirable. You might be wondering what we're planning to keep. Here's a list by category.
We're still in the throes of a long-term project to replace turf with a blend of plants that are ideally both native and edible, or at least one if both can't be satisfied together. I'll describe the very important turf remediation project in a future post dedicated to one of my favorite topics, mulch. But for now let's talk about the super fun part of gardening: putting in new plants.
I apologize for leaving you hanging--on the fence, so to speak, over the winter, when I mentioned we had another solution in the works to screen the view of the apartment building that looks down into our little 1/4-acre. But here it is: trees.
I don’t have any clear memory of a time when my father wasn’t gardening. Even when we were renting small houses on the outskirts of Walla Walla, Washington, we at least had a vegetable patch. Every year I remember watching my dad buy and plant seeds. Of course, our family also canned fruit, made salsa, and had a root cellar. My father was the son of dairy farmers and my mother the daughter of very poor immigrants. It makes sense that they would continue to see the dangers of the world being mitigated by a small garden and some canned foods on a shelf under the house.
This time I'm here to share the last chapter of the fence-install story, and it's a shocker.
In its native environment in Asia, I'm sure it makes for a wonderful garden vine. Its dark green, ovate leaves foreground the vanilla cream-to-pale yellow flowers that appear in May. The scent they give off is intoxicating, a heady, thick sweetness you can practically taste. In fact, you can taste it; pull the pistil out and touch its end to your tongue, and it's like a dab of sugar. In fall, the flowers give way to bright red berries.
Anthony loved the property's quiet, farm-like feel. A quarter acre is a lot of land to play with, the biggest plot either of us has had across the span of adult lives spent in ten different cities, six different houses, and more apartments than we can count.
I found through this process that it's generally good to be friendly and invite conversation, especially if you're a writer, as you never know where a good story is hiding.
My friend had recently adopted a vegetarian lifestyle himself, but when I offered him beef made from grass-fed, organic, humanely- and locally-raised cows, he accepted. A nice, juicy hamburger is hard to turn down once you've removed the ethical stumbling blocks.
My husband and I just bought a quarter of a cow. Yep. A whole quarter. It's the meat of grass-fed, organic, free-range cows. These cows are also practically our neighbors, as we drove for, oh, about 10 minutes to get to the farm where they live.