I was a little girl on Pappaw’s lap the last time I rode a riding lawn mower in Bethel, NC all those years ago (I’ll be impressed if any of you know where the heck that even is!) All other mowings have been push or ruminant. But this morning I pushed in the clutch all by myself (my legs are long enough now,) geared her into 3 and took care of the overgrowth bordering the black raspberry and grape patch. This was done in preparation for some intense mulching; layer of compost, layer of cardboard, another layer of compost and finally a layer of straw. The jungle the garden patch looked like before looked tamed, beautiful and as darn near pristine as any gardener would hope to see. 12 loads of compost hauled by the trusty Rhino-cart (complete with a pair of hanging dice,) gave us enough to pile a good inch across the surface of the plot and in between the established canes and branches and the new growth that loves to pop up just out of reach of the trellising system. The cardboard will lock in moisture for the thirsty roots, suppress weed growth and decompose over the course of the growing season.
That was this morning. This afternoon found me harvesting wild mint from the banks of their irrigation ditches (more on this below!) It grows rampant in colonies about a foot from the ledge of the bank, smells crisp and cool, ‘pops’ with its vibrant, almost lime green skin and has shallow, side-reaching roots that make transplanting a breeze.
And finally…..asparagus! I’ve been waiting all Spring to have some asparagus – Pinwheel didn’t grow it, it wasn’t up yet in Harmony Village; ta-da! Now I have hoards of asparagus: in eggs for breakfast, sautéed with butter and lemon for lunch, in veggie stir-fry for supper. Asparagus (tainted urine aside) is hard for me to get tired of – perhaps that’s because I’ve never had a chance to get tired of it. It has only a very short growing season, takes years to produce an adequate culinary crop and a lot of farms just don’t grow it.
The secret is in the roots; the first year you plant, you’re supposed to just let it be, no picking no harvesting no nothing. Let it get tall, go to seed and die back the first year, the starches are then able to concentrate in the roots over the winter and store up enough energy to send some yummy edible stalks (leave the ones that are skinnier than your pinkie) up to you through your mulch of choice (I’ve only ever seen hay mulch used with asparagus.) According to the 2 patches we have growing here on Javernick Family Farms in Canon City, CO, it likes cow patties but doesn’t prefer to live with clover. And it definitely likes a sandier soil than most crops.
Now to the ditch irrigation. I’ve always heard about ditch-style irrigation, especially its use in places like Southern California, New Mexico and Arizona where water is in high demand and highly patrolled. First they dug 3 foot deep and wide ditches lining sides of all the roads and fields (miles and miles of ditches,) then a few metal plates bent to fit the curve of the ditches serve as dams, both temporary and easily moved. The water channeled from the Arkansas River is released by a valve set along the middle of the property to flow into the ditch of choice and slight indentions that line up with each tractor tire path allow the water to flow from the backed up ditch, down the paths and overflow to barely cover the seedlings/mature crops (2-3″ into the beds) when the water is cut off at the valve and the crops are good to go with a long, cool drink. This can take 1 -1 ½ hours during a hot, dry spell (the crust of the topsoil is so parched that the water merely slides over it before penetrating (which can lead to flooding in certain spots,) or up to 2 ½ hours when the tilth is decent.
Culinary adventures have hit a slow spot this time, as I’m sharing one small kitchen (with only 2 working burners, a limited supply of pots, pans and large bowls and only cloves, nutmeg and chili powder to call a spice collection) with 4 other people. Nonetheless, mini-strawberry-coconut-lime scones, sourdough starter and Spring garden vegetable stir-fry have come into being (and come into our beings) so far. Other highlights have been homemade guacamole (an abundance of cilantro in the greenhouse helped settle this) as well as a couple fresh pineapple choppings.
The stir-fry tonight was delightful – a shopping trip to the local health food store (the only bright light so far in Canon City,) procured coriander, ginger, paprika and soy sauce to go along with: Javernick asparagus, bok choy, garlic and beef loin steak. Carrots, celery and rice made up a good portion of the meal, all of which was topped of by a simple dash of vinegar and a spoonful of honey at the end and garnished with some Javernick cilantro for kicks (and taste, and happiness.) Mmm, salty, pungent, sour and sweet – another meal with applauding taste buds.
The weather has been slightly unarguable everyday so far; warm yet extremely windy the first day, chilly and overcast the second, gusty again the third, and today it’s rained non-stop all afternoon. However, I’ve gotten in some good bike rides, explored the (miniscule) downtown area, gotten connected into the local library system and am enjoying being enveloped on all sides by majestic, red rock mountains with a few distant snow caps hovering just above in a couple of directions. The terrain of Colorado blows me away again and again. Besides the sky seems bluer, the clouds are definitely closer and the sun sets streaks in my hair a little bit faster.
Sudden, spontaneous showers today interrupted a fun project only a couple of times; painting recycled newspaper stands for the CCFA (Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance) Food Guide distribution in a few towns around this part of CO. Spray paint, some sticky stencils and a few vegetative objects (kale leaf, chive blossom and stem, a few seed-head grasses, tomato and arugula leaves) turned shocking green into stellar, layered, collage art. Art with a message if I’ve ever seen it.