Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beyond the Garden Bed

I spent the morning in the garden watching a mother even busier than I:

Over the last month or so, we watched mama and papa bushtit make trip after trip, bringing dried vegetation and fluff and crafting it into the fuzzy, pendulous sock of a nest that grips the bamboo.

Then a few days ago the sock started hopping and squeaking, and now when mama peeps her approach the little ones tweet-tweet their tiny hearts out. Given the size of the nest---less than a foot from top to bottom and just a few inches across---they can’t be much bigger than walnuts, but they’re apparently quite hungry.

I’m out here doing the same thing: working to feed my family. It can be daunting to think about. How much food can we really coax out of this yard? Hopefully a lot, especially as we’ve just amended and planted the back of the yard in the space around the fruit trees.

This soil was so hard that I firmly remember a clang the first time I stuck a shovel in it, solid clay with poor drainage. Before the winter’s rains this year, we made a lasagna of cardboard, horse manure, and straw. This is what it looked like in February, just before the straw:

Then in the spring we turned it---hard, time-consuming work---added some of the great free topsoil we picked up, and topped it off with just two bags of fertilizer and a bit of blood meal.

This is the space for Big Plants: corn and squash (and beans to round out the Three Sisters), and I’m hoping they’ll run all over the yard. When the chicken coop is ready it’s going to be a tight fit back here. I can’t wait.

And with the hose attached to the rain totes back here, watering is a breeze.

It's evening now, and that mama bird is still at it. Though I’m a busy mama, too, working in the garden gives me the chance to observe those moments in nature that I’d miss if I were rushing through, and learning the rhythms of my yard’s other inhabitants reminds me that I’m just one part of a larger system.

Sharing that with my boys is a gift, one they appreciate in their own way. When I pointed out that the baby birds cheep and bounce when mama approaches, my oldest tracked her arrival with his make-believe rifle: “Blam! Got her.” Sigh. They’re still growing, too.


Susan said...

Fantastic photos. Your garden is so inspiring to me. One day I will grow something to eat. The bird and nest photos are just wonderful. And you got the "tit" right, but what you've got there is a bushtit, not a titmouse (no crest, long nest). :)

Denise said...

Thanks, Susan! You'd think with all the field guides lying around here I could've IDed her correctly... I googled bushtit nest and saw some gorgeous photos. I'd love to suspend last year's nest from the ceiling, but I think she's still using bits of it.

esperanza said...

Nice post Denise! Beautiful photos. I love the growing list of food you all have on the side bar, and moon phases. Nice touch!

Susan said...

Bushtits are pretty hard to identify, they are so nondescript and move so fast. The nest is a big help. But when nesting they don't exhibit their characteristic behavior of flying from bush to bush in mobs. I observed them for years before I finally happened to have a birder handy when some passed by and my curiosity was at last slaked.