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March 18, 2010

Hawthorn Hill: Cutting back


This is a cutting back year for us up here on the hill. The universe may be expanding, but down here on planet earth there is an insistent inner voice that says, like it or not old man, the time has come to stop creating more work for yourself no matter how much you enjoy the fruits of your self-inflicted labors. One of winter’s perennial tricks is casting a veil of forgetfulness over the previous year’s labors. In the past, I would look out my study window about this time of year and imagine all kinds of new projects.

That is not the case this year. Instead of, for instance, envisioning new perennial beds rippling their way colorfully down the hillside, I think a meadow, left completely to its own devices, would do just fine.

I have never doubted the truth of the cliche that less is more. The difference is that now I am willing as hell to buy into it _ hook, line, and sinker. Last year we operated a very modest CSA, which went pretty well, but at the end of the summer we realized that as much as we enjoyed growing veggies for others, we could easily live without the worry of making sure that we not only had enough of everything, but that it all stayed fresh by pickup time. Plus, we really yearned for full-time summer flexibility, a luxury we had not enjoyed since starting our daylily business ten years earlier.

The first thing we did last autumn was return one of our largest vegetable gardens to its former wild state. This spring we hope to move quite a few things closer to the house. It will mean reshaping things a bit, which will undoubtedly require a lot of transplanting and digging. But the long-term gain will be worth the effort.

We ordered far fewer vegetable seeds this year, an existentially difficult task for me. We still plan on growing quite a few vegetables, but the focus will be on healthy summer eating and putting as much food by for winter consumption as possible. Many of the exotics, varieties I cynically refer to as designer veggies ending in vowels, are out.

Over the past several summers we have planted quite a few fruit trees and berry bushes, all of which should start bearing within the next few years. Root crops are great because once planted they pretty much take care of themselves and are never in a hurry to be uprooted from their cozy subterranean homes. I have a particular affinity for vegetables that do their work underground and are content to stay put until needed. As soon as the snow clears I hope to pull a few carrots out of my below ground cold frame for a late winter snack. That is, if I can find it!

I can go on and on about the reasons for cutting back, but the real reason is that when one gets on in years backs, arms, legs, and psyches start to complain a lot more about the demands made on them.

For instance, as much as I enjoy and appreciate winter, I have made it very clear that snow removal is just not as much fun as it used to be.

Birding in Costa Rica next February is an attractive option.

Fact is, I enjoy gardening and farming just as much as I ever did, but the time has come to appreciate it more and wrangle with it less. Besides, that will leave more time for foraging in the woods on the lookout for interesting flora and fauna, especially ferns, wildflowers, and birds. The time is ripe to start coming down the mountain _ slowly.