Yesterday was a glorious day weather-wise, so I went down to Murphy’s and bought the last big haul of supplies for this year’s garden. For $50 I came home with impatiens, spike plants, broccoli, cabbage, a flat of strawberries and another of marigolds, as well as 200 pounds of topsoil. (You might be surprised how far that much dirt does not go.)
I still have to get begonias and geraniums for the planters on my deck, but I’m really trying not to let my eyes get too big for my stomach. Ditto for my first trip of the season to the farmers’ market in West Lafayette, where I mostly bought breads and frozen meats.
There are times, later in the season when the produce really starts rolling in, when I’ll buy anything that looks good to me, regardless of how much I’ve already bought or whether I even know how to cook it. It’s not good to waste your money when you haven’t very much to start with. But fresh-from-the-garden produce can be so attractive, and I’m so eager to support the growers, that I sometimes make bad decisions. I’m trying to do better this year. I brought home an apple cinnamon danish from Klein Brot Haus in Brookston (“named Indiana’s Best Bakery”) and a loaf of “country French” bread from a Great Harvest franchise. The danish is over half gone and I’m eating my second sample of the bread right now.
I’m also a sucker for a friendly, outgoing vendor. They can’t sell me something I have no interest in, but a good attitude goes a long way at a farmers’ market. Not all the vendors have one; the young woman at Great Harvest was memorably warm and helpful. Unfortunately it turns out the owners are retired after 19 years with the Campus Crusade for Christ, which hates and persecutes Gay people, so I won’t buy from them again no matter how bright their smiles.
I bought my lamb chops from a farmer in Mt. Gilboa, which he said is in Benton County just south of me. I’m a native of this place and I’ve never heard of Mt. Gilboa, but a very detailed local map shows it’s not a town, it’s a hill (830 feet). Hills here are so few you’d think I’d know exactly where it was. Anyway he bought the sheep from someone else and “finished” them on grass, the right way. Had ’em butchered, wrapped and frozen at the Brook Locker Plant ten miles from my house; you can’t get more “locavore” than these lamb chops. I’m having them for dinner tomorrow night, after marinating in EVOO, lemon, curry, garlic and my own fresh oregano, parsley and tarragon.
I also bought bacon and a chuck roast from This Old Farm in Darlington, Indiana, south of Lafayette. You really should check out their website if you’re into Community Supported Agriculture. Erick and Jessica Smith, the owners, specialize in meats and eggs, but they’re also part of a 20-farm co-op of vegetable growers so together they can get almost anything. Jessica was working the booth this week and explained that I should expect a lot less marbling (fat) in my grass-fed chuck roast than I’m used to when buying commercial meat that’s pumped with chemicals to fatten up faster. I’m looking forward to unwrapping the roast, cooking it up and seeing if it tastes any different. I sure won’t miss the fat in the beef stew I’m planning on; I spend 20 minutes trimming all the fat out of a commercial chuck roast.
The other interesting thing about the Smiths of This Old Farm, besides all the awards and grants they’re winning lately because of their innovative methods, is that they’ve bought their own butchering plant in nearby Colfax so they’ll always have a safe, reliable outlet for processing—a crucial step for buying local meats. It doesn’t matter how many cute little piggies, cows and sheep are grazing in the field as you drive by if there’s no one local to process it. You can buy a side of beef or half a hog from the Smiths and have it cut to order. They also grow and sell chicken and turkey.
(In my forthcoming novel, young John Wesley Kessler aspires to run a similar operation. You can read it in progress here; adults only.)
Now for the marigolds! I live on a street where our backyards tend to flood. The land drops over a foot from the alley behind me to the street surface where the houses sit. A previous owner used gravel fill to create a terrace effect; I am reclaiming the area next to the alley as my vegetable garden, while a step below that has a semi-circle surrounding a young maple, with another 18-inch semi-circle below that. That’s where I put marigolds every year. This afternoon I got the last of them in, with 8 leftovers in a small bed under the window in my back entry, 36 marigolds in all.
That little bed under the window is the only place where my soil turns from loam to mostly sand and clay. I’m also nursing a day-lily back there, and the dill I planted last year is finally coming up, with half a dozen 8-inch fronds scattered about. Dill likes to spread, but it’s a lot later to arrive than my chives, oregano and tarragon. (The latter is taking over again as usual.) The chives are flowering already, so each time I pass by I pull off a handful.
Later this afternoon a cold front started through, so I didn’t work as late as I might have; Joshua does not do cold. It’s 53º now on the way down to 42 tonight. But I did get started with a long-desired project, putting lily-of-the-valley underneath my giant old maple in the back yard. Last fall I planted a dozen bulbs, but they didn’t do anything this spring, so at the farmers’ market I bought a big pot of them from a philanthropic sorority in Fowler. These ladies dig up surplus plants from their yard and sell them for five bucks. Lilies-of-the-valley like shade, and grass won’t grow under that tree (though weeds do). The pot turned out to be completely root-bound, so I had to take a knife and cut a few shoots at a time to plant them. I love lily-of-the-valley; it blooms in May (unless it’s root-bound, ladies), these gorgeous little Martha Washington hats that smell divine for being so tiny. My grandmother used to have them and I’ve loved them since childhood. I hope to get the rest of them in this weekend, then make up my hanging impatiens baskets and planters for the side porch.
Meanwhile the azaleas are in full bloom and the peonies are coming on early. It’s been a good year here so far; today I churned my compost heap and set my first symbolic handful at the base of a tomato plant. It’s good stuff.++