Can You Say, “Hoop”?

Last spring I was inspired by Dana’s post on cold frames/hoop houses over at the Druid’s Garden. Though we didn’t have enough money in the budget for these in the community garden last year, I really wanted to make sure we didn’t go another season without them. So last weekend myself, my mother-in-law, and three other folks put in about four hours and constructed a nice batch of hoop houses for four of the raised beds in the community garden.

Half-inch conduit brackets hold the PVC in place.

Working off of Dana’s notes and a few random pieces of advice gathered by Google-fu, I designed these to rest just on top of the soil of the raised beds, making them 3.5′ by 6′ in size. I hadn’t used a circular saw since stage crew in high school, but it came back pretty quickly. The best piece of advice I got from Dana’s post was to use these nifty little conduit brackets from the electrical section of the hardware store to serve as guides for the PVC pipes (1/2″ diameter). The PVC slides right into them, allowing the frame to be anchored in the soil once outside.

Materials (for one frame, around $20-$25):

*20′ of 2×3 (we got some of ours from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which salvages lumber from construction sites)
*3 8′ pieces of 1/2″ PVC (hoops should be roughly double the width of the frame)
*8’x10′ piece of heavy plastic sheeting
*12 conduit brackets
*8 3″ screws (hold frame together)
*24 3/4″ screws (attach brackets)
*Staple gun & staples
*Drill
*Circular saw
*Tape measure

First, measure out all your pieces. Then on the long boards, place and mark where the brackets will fall (one of our group made a template out of a short piece of PVC with two brackets taped to it, which made this step really fast and easy): two sets should be about an inch from the ends, and the third set should be right in the middle (3′ mark). Use a drill to then fix all the brackets in place with 3/4″ screws.

Next, using the 3″ screws, attach the two long sides and two short sides together to make a rectangle. Insert the PVC into one set of brackets, bending it until it slides into the set directly across. It should be starting to look like a hoop house now!

Finally, take the plastic sheeting and mark the halfway point on the short side. Match this to the center point of the short side of the frame, and then double over the edge and staple in place. Work from the center to the edges on one short side, then the other; lastly, repeat this on the long sides, miter the corners and voilà! You are the proud owner of your own hoop house!

A finished hoop house!

 

Enter the Pac Choi!

The community garden is rumbling along at its own steady pace. The past weekend was a bit frantic, trying to get the field prepped for tilling on Monday, but we squeaked through, pulling out the last of the winter “rock crop” just as Bob C. arrived with his tractor. Our amendments of choice this year were bone meal (phosphorus) and urea (nitrogen), since last year’s crops were disappointing in their hardiness. However, I am *very* happy not to be turning everything by hand this spring, which is what ended up happening last year. Yes, it was a low-carbon footprint/free exercise way of doing things, but it took two weekends and my glutes were scolding me for a month!

Newly amended and cultivated field garden

One advantage of pooling resources is pooling compost. Below is a shot of the mountain collected from various households as well as landscaping debris. We’re aiming for a “turn-less” system (which is what the 4′ pvc pipe is supposed to help with), but we had too much volume for a single vent to handle. The goal this year is to build a couple more boxes, and see if smaller piles won’t keep hotter and ultimately be handled by the pipe method.

Mt. Compost

And, as promised, baby plant pic spam!

Baby kale

Baby lettuce

Baby spinach & pac choi

Lastly, our garden guardian, the Toad Cairn. Last year I found a mummified toad amongst the tomatoes, and I asked if it would like to stay and help keep watch over our crops. I built him a little toad tomb in the northeast corner of the garden, from which he can survey his domain.

Toad cairn

 

Spring Happenings

Image

Homemade pickling spice mix.

Already spring is moving right along. We started seeds for the community garden last weekend, both indoors and out. Cold weather crops of spinach, kale, and peas were sown in the raised beds, while chard and parsley seeds nestled down into warm peat pellets. And today we finished adding urea and bonemeal to the field garden in preparation for tilling tomorrow (assuming the ground isn’t too wet). The compost will require some more management, but overall, things are looking good.

In addition, I attended yet another lovely ritual by the Mystic River Grove, our local OBOD group. The Boy had a great time, chasing birds and zenning-out with the Awen chants. The rite itself was truly beautiful, as J., our ritualist, really has a knack for weaving poetic language into her ceremonies. There was more than one moment when tears were brought to my eyes, both from her words and the fellowship shared by the circle.

Most of my kitchen-witchy stuff has been on the back burner, but I did get my act together and blend my own pickling spices for a corned beef and cabbage last weekend. Also, my continuing experiment as to whether duck fat does indeed make everything better continued to display tasty results. Braising the cabbage in duck fat took this recipe to a whole new level.

Meet Scooby

Scooby, the kombucha culture

Thanks to my very thoughtful hubby, I am now the proud owner of my very own SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). With any luck, in less than a month’s time Scooby here will produce a gallon of kombucha for our family (and possibly neighbors, depending on how fast we go through the stuff).

The end of February and beginning of March has ended up being a nice fallow period. After the wonderful and heady rush of the New Year, New You experiment, it felt nice to have some empty space in my life.

Now, though, spring planning is in full swing. Seeds and soil amendments have been ordered, and we’ll be planting the cold weather crops out in the raised beds this weekend. (“Cold weather” doesn’t really seem appropriate for the 80+ degree weather forecasted for Saturday, but I’m still stubborn in believing we might get one more good snow yet.) I still haven’t fully decided what to do with the new front yard bed that I started last fall, but I do want to save some of my energy for my own plots this year, in addition to those of the community garden.

In other words, prepare yourselves for the annual onslaught of gardening chatter and cute baby plant and veggie pics!

—A.V.

Beltaine

The east is bright with morning light,
And darkness it is fled;
And the merry horn wakes up the morn
To leave his idle bed.

Behold the skies with golden dyes
Are glowing all around;
The grass is green, and so are the treen,
All laughing with the sound.

The sun is glad to see us clad
All in our lusty green,
And smiles in the sky as he riseth high
To see and to be seen.
William Gray

Oddly enough, I would say Beltaine is right about on time this year in New England—perhaps even a bit early!  All the signs are in place, from flora to fauna to meteorological. It’s a clear day here in central Massachusetts, after some heavy spring rains yesterday. The sun was practically begging for us to come out and play, so I packed up the Boy on my back this morning and we went for a long tour of the conservation land surrounding our community. Everything smelled wet and fresh in the woods, with the acidic tang of decomposing leaves. We had sightings of:

  • a great blue heron
  • a salamander
  • two garter snakes
  • several chipmunks
  • fresh deer droppings (although no deer)
  • first dandelion flowers
  • first skunk cabbage
  • a pair of hooded mergansers
  • peas and spinach are sprouting in the raised beds

Between the activity of the animals and the wide variety of plants popping up, I’d say that high Spring is definitely here!

Beltaine was one of the holidays that I have a harder time wrapping my head around.  In addition to the fact that I wasn’t really into the whole fertility thing back when I started working the Eight-Spoked Wheel, the hotter days are when I begin to have trouble connecting to the Otherworlds.  Beltaine marks the last time when that sort of journey work flows easily—and the last ride of the Wild Hunt as well.  This isn’t to say Otherworldly travel is now impossible, however I rely much more heavily on my guides and allies during the warmer months.

But after having struggled and trod around in circles trying to get excited for May Day, I think I’m finally starting to get it.  I started “getting it” back in college, since my school held a huge May day celebration each year, complete with a Maypole (and a Mayhole, for the feminists), hoop races, plays, music and song.  It was, in fact, the last hurrah before finals.

Now, living in co-housing, I manage to take joy in others’ bustling actives within our community, and I’m able to start losing myself in the work of tending the garden.  There’s compost to be turned and trellises to be repaired.  Beltaine marks the end of the inward times, and welcomes community activity and interaction.

So really it’s time to shed some clothes, put on some sunshine and sink our hands into the soil.

The hunt is up!

—A.V.