What's in Bloom Now

Monday, February 27, 2017

Comfort Me With Lists

As WWII raged across Europe, at his seaside farm in Maine E.B. White wrote lists. White was a sheep- and chicken farmer, as well as a columnist for the New Yorker. It’s hard to imagine the minutiae of life on a “saltwater farm” a day’s drive from the nation’s largest metropolis could hold any cosmopolitan reader’s attention, never mind get past the editorial red pen that would today bypass the trouble of redlining by simply scrawling “Rewrite” across the first page. And his list did run to pages. It ran to such lengths not only because White’s readers had decent attention spans, but because this list included every footstep, every nail and board, every intermediate errand White anticipated in accomplishing the noted tasks. Reading it took as long as accomplishing it might; writing undoubtedly must have taken longer (as his wife may have pointed out to White at the time).
     That list is as comforting, and satisfying, to read today as it must have been to the throbbing, war-sore metroland of ’42 New York. Comfort comes, now as it did then, in the solidity of now, of What Today Requires for Tomorrow. The future today looks similarly murky to what it must have felt in those ‘42 days of foaming demagogues. My daughters tremble and chafe at the distinct possibility that all the hopeful, progressive changes they’ve witnessed as they and the new millennium have grown up together will be crushed in a few short executive orders. All I can offer them is this: Be kind. Keep questioning, thinking independently, and learning. Do all you can to make this world the world you wish it to be, starting with the day you have and the people you have around you. Because this is what I believe, my labors and my laundry list haven’t really changed. Getting the dog his rabies vaccine, keeping the fences in repair, painting the peeling red trim on the chicken house windows, remembering to turn the bread I set to rise beside the wood stove an hour ago… Lists order the day. They keep me calm as well as humble in a feet-out-of-bed, get-to-it way. There is less to juggle in my brain when it is down on paper. I wish I were even half the writer White was, so that my lists could be a gift to others as well. Still, so I feel less alone in this world, and so that you know the season still launches itself regardless of Washington, here is my own End-of-Winter, First-of-Flowers list of chores. So begins a second year of First-Flower Farm...

1: Business:
There will be business taxes to figure for the year past. This may be the one time when the paltriness of my pathetic earnings will be a positive, expressed as a (laughably small) sum called “earnings” and a positive as regards the financial impact from me to Uncle Sam. (I want all my money to go towards funding Obamacare.) To get ready for taxes, I’ll have to update last year’s bookkeeping through Dec. 31, including in these figures expenses that will not become at all profitable until much later this year (see “cyclical nature of farming” and “why CSA?”). There sit those 100 iris bulbs under a foot of fresh snow, the 100 tulips guarded by garlic nearby, the six peonies each marked with a stake (thank goodness I took my own advice and marked them, for a change, since I would have forgotten not only their placement but their very existence by now otherwise). There, now: the bookkeeping has given me something pleasant to daydream about.
There will be newer receipts, dated after Jan 1. Also, seed, paid for last year but to be planted in the coming months and arrived mid-January, so presumably that goes in this year’s expenses, despite the fact that to report that money spent last year when I spent it would give me $0 taxable income after expenses for 2016 and a farm-for-free by all accounts for this year. Hmm. Best to put last year in a shoebox marked 2016, despite the mobius strip that is farm accounting. Then I’ll need new spreadsheets for this year, populated with my in-the-red-so-far 2017 season. (Patience, Scotswoman—patience!) Receipts for this year’s seeds then go into a new binder in the file marked “seed starting/planting plans”, backed by last year’s records which continue to become more and more useful as I try to avoid making the same mistakes starting this year’s crops.
There’s less hustle to this year’s work of applying for farm markets and licenses. Since I’m already on mailing lists and not an end-of-March latecomer. Now those four markets are known quantities. Market managers have friendly familiar faces. I really look forward to seeing them again, and I’m not so nervous about exactly what insurance I need or how many ounces my tent weights should be. While it’s a bit of a dream-crusher, I also have a realistic idea how much I’ll sell, how much I can make at each market, and how long it will take to earn back my investment (October). If this season isn’t going to be a drag through the bitter truth, I’ll have to come up with some new schemes, and that means deciding how to tighten my focus. I’ve signed up for a $10 Marketing Class from local-foods advocate Berkshire Grown. I’ve sent flattering letters to new markets in hopes of tailoring my market appearances to a more appropriate customer population. And yes, I’ve perused the want ads and applied for a real job. I should do more of that.
February 25, under the Japanese maple beside the porch
Meanwhile, happily, I don’t have to take the serve-safe exam, the allergen awareness test, pay off the Pittsfield Board of Health, or freak out about the rigors of my annual home kitchen inspection, though I do need to schedule that despite the fact that my updated 2017 license already hangs from the inside of the cabinet over the stove. That means scour the kitchen. I’ll also have to renew insurance and board of health licenses, but this year I know who to call, how much it all costs, and (perhaps most importantly of all) that I really do have to do all this stuff but it isn’t, ultimately, too big a deal despite how official and scary it seemed at first. (Thank you, Lia, for loaning me your courage!) That reminds me: how I do rely on all my family! To have another year at all, I need to be a good mom and maintain my marriage to the Patient Spouse (who has already done more for First-Flower than I have by starting the burn pile and building a gate). Those interpersonal to-dos involve me remembering to enjoy life outside of canning, growing and sewing, so my stress doesn’t fill the family’s days and nights with its abiding overabundance. This may also involve planning in a three-week absence from markets and earnings for a trip to Wyoming, though the P.S. points out correctly that “a vacation shouldn’t be part of your list of jobs to accomplish.” Would that my mind operated with the calm seas of his own. Instead, I scramble in the frozen soil for a better year than last, ponder advertising (what?), reviving the blog, looking for sources to place paid ads and defining the business (already on the list) so I can expand in the right direction. It’s a good thing I like farming, huh? Next time: The Fun Column of The List, and Why I Get that Part Done First. (Hint: none of it involves money or happens at a desk.)
Bloom Where You Are Planted.

Friday, December 2, 2016


"The squirrel misses the turkey," the Patient Spouse joked. He's not a sentimental man, largely, and I knew he only said it to break the usual mealtime silence. But I saw right away that he was right. The squirrel continued to lean to the right, where the turkey had been, but with no turkey there to support its little furry shoulder or meet its sidelong glance, the lean had turned to more of a list and the sidelong glance looked—yes, it most certainly was—no longer wistful, but sad.
     The turkey and the squirrel arrived on our dining table independently: the turkey, from his place in the dark safety of the glass china closet where he awaits his annual Thanksgiving appearance; the squirrel, from a box of fall decorations kept under the window seat. The turkey dates back to my childhood. He is a wax candle, probably from the Ben Franklin store circa 1970. His wick is long gone and his possibly-even-applied-in-America paint plumage is somewhat eroded after years of state appearances on the family table, in the dollhouse and now, every November of my adulthood, on my own dining table. The squirrel arrived from IKEA a few years back, a charming little fellow with embroidered eyes and a winsome tilt of the head, clutching a tiny mushroom in his paws. When I set them together on the table this past November, the turkey proudly stood his ground as ever, but he looked less darkly arrogant and more as if he were pleased with his new role: propping up the simpleminded but adorable squirrel, whose little mushroom was held like a bouquet about to be offered. It was clear this December-May relationship was made to last. Then, one day while changing the tablecloth, I saw the turkey had lost a big chip out of his breast feathers. Not wanting to further endanger this, one of my favorite family inheritances, I returned him prematurely to the china closet. The squirrel stood alone. That is, it did until I became so sad at seeing it, lonesome and leaning, supper after supper, that I returned it to the box under the window seat.
     Do I need therapy? Am I externalizing my own failings and lonlinesses? I'm sure the DSM would say so. The PS might concur. At best, its a childish thing to worry over two pieces of wax, polyester and paint as if they had feelings, as if I've never outgrown the ability to invest those things that represent life with sentience. But my elder daughter is more on the mark, I think, when she recognizes my reaction for what it is: the sensitive and slippery slope of animism.
     Take these carrots. Clearly, they love each other. It was for that reason that they became the last of my most recent digging to be separated. I kept grabbing them out of the bag in the fridge, seeing their shapes entwined,, and thinking nah-they just can't be separated. Some may see theirs as a sex act, but I see it as the ultimate embrace. Once, I even tried untwining them, but it became clear I would have to dismember them to extricate one from its soulmate. The best I could do was wait until the PS and I were sharing a lunch, make these devoted Daucus into sticks, and share them with my own soulmate. In our mutual affection, theirs lives on.
    See? She called it a slippery slope, the Eldest did. A life lived in the animist religion is a complicated thing. It can be consuming, even. Yet, it rarely seems unhealthy. Rather, it is another way of preserving wonder at the world, where the lines between magic and reality are blurred. 
    Say two vegetables are entwined, and you are harvesting them to sell. This happens all the time. The ag agent will likely explain it away as bad thinning practice, or stony soil, or maybe a nematode that has made your beets entwine, your parsnips embrace, your carrots consort. These experts would never consider animist explanations. They disregard the soul that animates all things. They don't believe in Gaia, the older name for Mother Earth.
     For a long time, good gardeners shared this secret: if you dug a lady slipper orchid in the wild and transplanted it to your yard, it would die no matter how you nurtured it. There was a relationship between the plant and its native soil—microorganisms that kept it alive and helped it thrive in a co-dependent system labelled "mutuality." A few such setups existed: the nitrogen-fixing bacteria living on pea-family plants, the algae and fungus living together as the visible "Plant" we call lichen; we learned about such things in biology class, and if the ladyslipper trick was a trade secret, it was backed by this scientific pigeonhole.
    It is becoming increasingly evident that such mutual arrangements exist everywhere throughout the plant kingdom, on such an intricate and complex scale that it boggles the mind. Seemingly unrelated species enable each others' survival. Stranger still, trees foster their nearby offspring. Weak plants cry out to be helped and their chemical signals allow pests to close in on them in their  undefended state. Outside your door, the air is filled with shouts and murmurs you can't hear, with messages sent across great stretches of time and between species. The old are teaching the young. The weak are sacrificing themselves for the strong. Plants, as it turns out, are not only more animate than the modern mind has allowed, they appear to be far better at getting along with one another than our single species can even manage to do with others of its own kind. How can you not respect that?
    So it's impossible for me to thin the garden and leave the little transplants gasping in the row beside their living comrades. It's hard to separate the two seedlings and plant them a row apart (or worse, choose one to live and one to execute). "Pick me!" the one bean seems to cry out, while its neighbor scolds, "I was too young: you should have waited until tomorrow." "Don't drop me here!" says the seed lost along the side of the row where it will grow up and be trampled in the path. "I tried so hard" says the volunteer poppy growing in the crack right in the middle of the walkway.
     Is it all in my head? I try to tell myself so. I don't want to turn into a white-haired old coot wrinkled as a raisin who talks to ants. The white hair and the wrinkles are starting to look inevitable.  I know the ants don't speak my language, I really do. But as the quiet of gardening alone sets in, things do speak: seedlings and bugs and stones and fruit. The old coot in the garden is a stereotype because this does happen to people. Are we coots crazy? Or are we just listening? Every time science discovers fresh evidence of the animate "inanimate" life buzzing below our human radar, I feel equal parts wonder and vindication. Meanwhile, you'll have to pardon me if I break off here. The begonia is calling me from the window, and it's so, so thirsty. Bloom where you are planted.

For the Brown Thumb on Your List...

The simplest things are the hardest for me. Consider Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera). Now when I worked at a garden center back in the days when such places still grew and tended things (rather than getting it all in by the truckload from someplace in the South) we had a greenhouse full of past-season Christmas cacti every spring and summer. They grew leathery and reddish, shrivelling in the heat and drought in their weedy resting place under the wire benches where marketable stock awaited purchase; any water these almost-dead specimens got was what trickled down from above. Every fall, we pulled them out, gave them a soak, and watched them green up and burst forth in magnificent magenta and red blooms. They were bought and taken away, or else they survived to spend another year in exile and neglect while they put on more growth...and an even better show the following year. "Neglect," I say. Yet my attempts to imitate this on a household level always end in sudden botanical death. After a summer spent outside in the droughty shade between some arborvitae and the house, I bring in my schlumbergia to watch it wake from schlumber, bud, and die. I've killed two, and am raising a third that I'm pretty certain is doomed. Sure, Christmas cacti are a dime a dozen at the nearest grocery store floral department this time of year. But for someone who makes their reputation growing figs and peaches, jewelled corn and iris from seed, this inability to keep alive the most undemanding, bomb-proof of plants has always been a bit of an embarrassment. The un-fussy Christmas cactus is not the only thing: gift amaryllis never rebloom in my care; sometimes they don't even unfurl those fat buds they arrive with. Paperwhites and hyacinths grown in those lovely glass forcing vases are doomed in my hands.
     But wait: maybe I'm not alone. A fellow gardener confesses she is lethal to aloes. Another routinely executes rabbit's foot ferns unless they are rescued by covetous friends (ahem). Everything—EVERYTHING—has its limits, after all: too much love, not enough; more fertilizer than necessary, or not enough; sudden death by cats or slow death by gas leak. Unfortunately, a lot of these maladies are hard to diagnose until it's too late. I'm not sure, for exampe, whether my shallow-rooted cacti died from too much water or too little; obvously, the protocols for doctoring it through one diagnosis or the other conflict.
    Anyways, my cactus never did bloom on time. The first year when I brought it home from the store it was a Christmas cactus. Then it was a Haunukkah cactus. Then, a Thanksgiving cactus. This year, it set bud on Halloween, opened two flowers on All Souls Day, then went to meet its maker. But I love Cristmas Cactus! The contrast between those thick, dull green leaves that are almost, I daresay, ugly out of season and the jewelled blossoms that appear from nowhere at just the right moment (okay—or not quite the right moment, but nonetheless a happy surprise)... The Christmas cactus is a botanical enigma: easy to grow yet difficult to grow well; common as dirt, yet somehow declasse in a way that allows me to appreciate them for their pure, classic, pedestrian splendor. They're a grandma kind of plant, like gladioli, african violets, zinnias and hoyas: plant breeders and style-makers have largely let them be in such a way that these old-fashioned plants have kept the naive charm they posessed back when plants weren't shipped cross-country in semis but were grown by the white-haired nurseryman at the local glasshouse or passed along via "slips" from a generous neighbor.
     My associates will point out that I turn everything into a pean to simpler times. Nevver mind. Really, all I wanted here was to explain that I've come up with a triumphant solution to my embarrassing case of schlumbergia rot. In fact, the first limp limb to droop, redden and drop to the floor beneath the hanging planter provided a template for this, the truly heirloom Christmas cactus:
 Materials: Paper, wire, wool, cotton, china
Available in two colors and varying pots, signed by the artist. $35.
  It isn't often I make something totally original, and even less frequenly do I make something so utterly like I wanted it to be that I am loathe to part with it.
Okay—so a real, live CC is available right now at Price Chopper for $6.
Is it organic?
Can you keep it alive?
Is it environmentally sound?
Is it signed by the artist?
Can it be passed along as an heirloom?
 Tomorrow, I embark on a two-day holiday marketplace at the nearby botanical garden, where I have been assigned space in the food tent and am supposed to hawk only my edible items.
But these, and the two others I made, simply have to make an appearance.
 Just for fun, here are a few more pictures, including one of my first Hellebores (the Christmas rose, a hardy perennial that doesn't bloom until February here in New England, and resents life in a vase.) Already, I have vague notions of tissuey crocus and tiny nodding snowdrops to herald February. Looks like I need a studio as much as I did a greenhouse... 
(Meantime, I'm happy to schedule a trunk show by appointment: georgiadouillet@gmail.com.
Bloom where you are pasted.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Summer in Pictures

I've been meaning to share the joy of weekly flower harvests. The season just got way too busy to fit in a blog post, though. So, here, without the labor of more reading, is a sample of what First-Flower's first market year included. Bloom where you are posted!


Setting Up, Moving In

 Here is the completed greenhouse on Halloween day. Not visible is the guyline going from the back end to a driven 2X4, all conceived of and installed by the Patient Spouse to minimize racking and provide one more anchor against prevailing winds. Shelter Logic's plastic tarp "glazing" seems much sturdier than standard 6mil greenhouse film, but it is hard to imagine enough light coming through to foster plant growth and also allow the interior to warm significantly.
     Originally, I was going to install the end panels only, to check if that mystery roof angle (remember the gray macaroni pipes?) was properly done, then box up the glazing and wait until seed starting season to finish the project. It seemed a waste to start the clock on wear and tear from  sun and wind, since the completed house was intended for seed starting. It also seemed like installing the cover would take no time at all (meaning I could remove the glazing in summer and grow crops in-ground on this site). However, as construction progressed, I began to plan differently. It seems like a waste to have indoor space and not start experimenting with it. I'd rather know how it heats (and freezes) relative to the outdoor climate now, and not when there are $200 worth of seedlings inside. Why not try out a winter crop, recognizing that this should have been planted in September but that a few free sample seedlings could provide a sense of what I'm working with—and maybe a dinner as well.
      As to the future summer use and permanence/impermanence of this house, having put up the cover and sides it is clear this is no quick job. 2-3 hours seems a modest estimate of what it takes to dress or undress the frame, and that's with nice unrusted hardware. It may remain an indoor space year-round, though that will mean coming up with a reasonable and inexpensive means of irrigation if it is going to be useful growth space all season next year. IN THE MEANTIME:
     Last year's two cold frames are installed, giving a 1' path between them for watering and servicing. Eliot Coleman promises this greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse will add nearly 20 degrees of protection to any winter crops with the cold frame covers installed. As an experiment, I've planted some seedlings salvaged from the vegetable garden (self-sown): "Tennis Ball" lettuce, dill, cilantro, misticanza and arugula. Outside of the frame is a row of onion "Ailsa Craig" I think might sprout at some point and provide me seedlings for the summer onion crop with far less trouble than I'd get planting them indoors in February. I've seen nothing written about fall-seeded onions, and only know this is how the Evergreen Bunching Onions manage if left to their own devices. If you think about it, in the wild any plant ripens and drops its seed to winter some dormant season on the ground. So why don't we seed in the fall and let the seeds time themselves, rather than coming up with these elaborate indoor methods? With plants native to warmer places, it makes sense that the gardener has to make an artificial early spring in a heated greenhouse. But for cold-climate crops like onions, potatoes, spinach, leafy greens, etc., why not fall plant?
     Guess I'll find out. Meantime, it's tempting to go crazy with the theory, and put in more than a plot of arugula and a row of onions and lavender. I start to imagine a nastirtium crop put in now, while I'm thinking of it, to vine and trail around the outside foundation wall as soon as it's of a mind to sprout in spring. Why not carrots? Broccoli? Kale? Easy to fool myself and my years of experience, as the in-house temp soars 20 degrees above the outdoor 60F on this first, sunny, warm fall day...
     I think Coleman sez "no," though—something about the lessening hours of sunlight and its lowering angle causing plants to shut down growth until early February. So I put the seeds away for more well-reasoned times. Still, a November salad looks a promising prospect. I spend the remainder of the day moving the burn pile a safe distance from this meltable plastic home, and my spirit soars towards the coming season. Bloom!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Greenish House, Part Two

     The greenhouse arrived a week sooner than expected. It weighed about 145 pounds and arrived UPS in a box much, much smaller than I expected. (The UPS man was nevertheless relieved to be rid of it. He declined my offer of unloading assistance—probably company policy—but admitted he had been dreading this stop since he put it on the truck that morning. He looked like he was getting ready to smoke a celebratory cigarette as he heaved himself back into the driver's seat after dragging the box into the garage.)
     This greenhouse is Shelter Logic's "Greenhouse in a Box". The distributor, Home Depot, had great over-the-phone customer service, and also offered free shipping without adding $75-$100 to the base price like other distributors. At just under $400 for 200 square feet of greenhouse space, I know I am getting a chintzier-than-pro product. After looking at some other Shelter Logic structures in the neighborhood, though, I've gone against my better judgement and am willing to give chintzy a try. Those other structures look tight, square, tidy, and have stood up to area conditions for at least a year or two. The online customer ratings of this greenhouse run the gamut from "Great product for this price point" to "Fell down twice in as many days." The problem seems to come in one of two ways: this is an IKEA-like major assembly project and some folks really hate that kind of thing; and/or it needs way more anchoring than the manual suggests.
    The possibility of my investment taking flight is the harder of the two issues to address.  I've stood in a sturdy USDA-grade high tunnel in a serious windstorm and I understand how wind and 6mil plastic relate to one another (think: kite). The 4 "free" auger anchors supplied with the kit seem like a nice start, but have less holding power than the neighbor's dog picket pin, and I'm guessing in a windstorm this sucker is going to have more than 4-dogpower pulling strength. The bottom boards I built for the homemade greenhouse are now the bottom board retrofit for this kit: 60 board feet of 2X6, with the greenhouse's legs screwed to it and it screwed to three 2X4 posts driven into the ground. Presumably, the structure itself can stay upright with this kind of anchor, as long as it is assembled exactly the way the manufacturer intended. Which leads to the other problem: building from a kit.
     There are those that love a kit, and those that chafe at having to follow directions slowly, exactly and in order. I love IKEA. If IKEA made a greenhouse kit, I would buy it. (Dig those free Allen wrenches!) This Greenhouse-in-a-Box isn't IKEA-level design genius, but the quality is at or near IKEA-grade. Although the instructions claim two people can assemble the kit in 2 hours, I assume this is a weekend-long project.
     Sorting the pieces takes an hour. (Consumer tip, Shelter Logic: if you put a dot of colored paint on each part instead of a smeary six-digit number stamp, or even bundled like pieces together in the box-especially those three kinds of bolts —90 of them—which only differ 1/8" in length—it would be ever so much easier for the builder.) Here is the greenhouse, sorted into its components, on a very cold day, in the basement garage. I usually arrange flowers here. This is far more exciting.
(Note the IKEA toolkit. Indispensible! Likewise the set of socket wrenches my dad bought years and years ago when I got my first car. Thanks, Papa!) This kit necessitates a 7/16" socket, a mallet for gentle persuasion, a stepladder, and later, a couple long pieces of rope. That's it!
     Once the parts are sorted, it's relatively quick work to make the two end frames and three center sections - except that those parts that look like big gray elbow macaroni in this photo, and which determine the angle of the roof. These can fit either way onto the leg and eave pipes, but give the roof a different angle depending... I wonder which way is right, and go for an educated and uniform guess. (Again, Shelter Logic could have made an identifying orientation mark or a detail drawing in the instructions to aid with this critical step.)
     Now, here are those pieces, stacked in the yard and waiting to go up to the cleared spot. They are lightweight, but cumbersome. Especially in what remains of the blackberry patch...
   By lunchtime, a structure rises in the footprint of the first try. It is far more graceful. I'm glad to have put effort into site prep. All the joints are loose. That's just the nature of the design(chintzy). (Heck, it's a greenhouse-in-a-BOX, fer christsakes!) It means the whole structure wracks on uneven ground, in this case listing southward as if it wanted to go into the warm kitchen for a cup of coffee...  Wait: that's me that does. Fearing wind, I wait to get the whole frame anchored before putting up the end walls, which looks like a two-person job.Ta-Dah! (for now.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Greenish House

     My father started it. Last spring, about the time I was planting those first seeds and trying to resign myself to the fact that I'd have to revert to the bad old pre-greenhouse days of seed starting (check out spring posts and you'll see why sans-greenhouse is a challenge), he sent me some lovely greenhouse porn online. The options were tempting, and put the costs of house ownership bellow the $2000 price tag for the smallest of tunnels from Farm Tek. Still, I didn't have the capital to justify even a modest hobby house, and resolved to make do with cold frames (also documented in those March posts). Still, for some reason I didn't delete those tempting pictures and their alluring blue links to sites offering walk-in spring protection.
     By the end of summer, the Patient Spouse began delicately re-opening the question. "Where are you going to put your greenhouse," he inquired now and again throughout the hot days of August and early September—when, like the cricket in the fable, I was still fiddling away the summer as if all issues of seed starting and icy winds would never again be an issue.  As the leaves began to change, so did his tactics. Besides increasing the frequency of his gentle inquiry, he began to offer his spare time. Did I want help clearing out the garden? Would the greenhouse go here, or over there? How big was I thinking to make it? I stopped insisting that I was not, in fact, "Thinking to make it" any size at all, and began tentative, then aggressive, measuring, staking, and land clearing. "Is this where the greenhouse is going?" he asked, coming out one buggy October morning with gloves and a shovel to help dig grapevine. I realized I was talking siting, dimensions, visibilty to neighbors and proximity to water and electricity rather than denying the presence of a mental greenhouse. Like two separate people, I was the Scot with the $2000 profit and a copy of the Help Wanted section, and a farmer with startup capital of my own and a Muck Boot poised to step into my future.
     Land clearing is far more comforting than sitting down with the want ads. When the going gets (emotionally) tough and I can't really validate my abilities, it's by far easier to get outdoors and pull bittersweet roots than it is to think how I could have made it to the age of 46 without a stable career (fodder for another post someday). Through hot autumn, I cleared the swath from the squash bed to the Northwest corner of the property. The Patient Spouse helped level dirt, move rocks, and cut vines. While I hemmed and hawed over dimensions, measured materials and drew up rudimentary designs, he merely smiled and nodded. His smile puts the Mona Lisa's all to shame.
This is the spot, all cleared and more or less level, limited by the old boulder wall marking the West property boundary (greenery growing on it—parallel to neighbor's hedge), North boundary (thin white stick in background is the corner post), North edge of squash bed (post and wire in foreground) and a huge boulder after which land drops away. We had to dig out and move about 2' of soil down-slope to rocks in foreground to make a more or less level 10' X 20' pad. It's a long way from either the spigot or the rain barrel, which I'll surely regret, but this was the only place with flat ground, all-day sun and not needed for ag or access.
     The Patient Spouse looked at my rough, not-to-scale renderings of the greenhouse I could make for pretty much nothing out of existing lumber and an 8' X 100' roll of 6 mil poly bought for an earlier, failed attempt at a retrofit lean-to greenhouse. The width of the plastic ruled out making a hoop-style frame from either conduit or pvc pipe because there is no way to attach separate sheets over such a framework and keep the plastic "skin" airtight. Besides that, buying materials that would bend to hoop shape immediately meant a $200 investment in building materials, not including another $100-plus for greenhouse plastic of an appropriate width. It seemed easier to think in terms of an old-fashioned, frame-style house, using the existing salvaged 6 X 6 and 4 X 4 posts I had on hand, with a sturdy kicker board base and  top frame and some sort of roof... maybe 4 operable lights like I built for the cold frames. "Free"...or, mostly free... the term appeals to this farmer.
     Little did I know, the P.S. was biding his time. He had heard the words "of some sort" in that design of mine. I built. He went to work and earned an actual living wage for us. A rather exciting frame rose up from the dirt. Here it is.

     Meanwhile, the weather grew colder. A couple weeks back, we hiked in the mountains and saw the first of the snow under the trees. Oh, yeah: winter. Snow weight. We didn't have any snow at all last winter until March. But I saw that I had been deceiving myself. Those cold frame lights for the roof would have to be smaller, reinforced, and maybe all removable wasn't such an affordable idea. Either way, I'd be buying about $75 of welded-wire fence for inadequate reinforcement under the plastic, lots and lots of firring strips to build the frames and hold down the plastic, and 4 10' 2X4s to hold up my increasingly elaborate, no-longer-so-cheap roof. Use Palram plastic? Not for under $300. Use cattle panels in place of welded wire? Only available in useless dimensions for my increments-of-5 design. The Mona Lisa smile never left my man's face. I endeavored to persevere with my giant cold frame design for a few more days. Then I went back to those porn pics from Pop's.
In two weeks, for $100 shipping, I could have the kit for a complete $400 Shelter Logic tunnel frame (think "sheds snow") delivered to my door in 2 weeks. Dimensions? 10 X 20. How about that!
The P.S. let me use his laptop to place the order. He waited until I hit the "print purchase confirmation" button on Home Depot's friendly website (!Free Shipping!) before he said, seetly as ever,  "That was the right choice." I had to rough him up a little before he would even confess that he "Didn't want to say anything." Under no amount of wifely pressure would he utter the words "I told you so." He is a far better man than I, you know. End of part 1.