I have officially entered the Martha Stewart Phase of my life. Poultry. Vegetables. Neutral shades of paint. How did this happen?
After a childhood spent in row home Philly and almost 25 years in not-quite-urban, not-quite-suburban LA, I craved roads without traffic, sun without smog and a chance to walk in the grass, the woods, the snow. Westchester seemed to fit the bill—there are trade-offs, yes, and we live semi-close to a nuclear reactor but overall, natural and manmade disasters feel more distant when I’m digging in the dirt and not wasting time on the freeway.
Richard Louv calls it “nature deficit disorder” and, boy, did I have a bad case when I first returned back East in 2009. Hours spent in front of the computer or in gridlock left me anxious, short-tempered and skittish. (Nice, right?) I tried to get out and move around as much as possible but those brief respites were undercut by the rest of my wired and tired life. Then came the cure—relocation. Within months of spending most of my time either outdoors or just looking at greenery, I began to let go–one tightly gripped fingernail at a time.
I also saw this transformation in my daughter, Pamela—she of the fully-supervised playdates so common to her generation. At first, PJ didn’t know exactly what to do Outside. (What is this thing called Free Play?) But as we slowly acquired some basic tools—sidewalk chalk, hula hoops, butterfly net—she caught on. The pattern went like this: I, Mama, go outside and pull weeds or work in the front yard. Pamela, curious, follows. Friend from next door (*not* a playdate!) shows up to randomly have fun. Bingo! Next thing you know, you’re a champion firefly catcher in a make-believe fairy garden.
When we moved into the rental house in 2009, one of the first things I did was plant things. Crazy to put perennials into ground that was not our own? Maybe. But such pleasure watching those tiny tendrils emerging, tracking the tulip’s rise, waiting for crocuses to open…at least, until the rabbits decapitated them in one night. So I planted and learned. Nature provided a quick primer in how to take the good bugs with the bad, the poison ivy with the native honeysuckle. I read everything I could and put it all into the garden. I bought my own tools and did my own digging. And (as of the last time I went by the old house) most of it actually survived!
Our landlady graciously encouraged my improvements to the landscape and over a period of two years I learned:
- how not to grow pumpkins (don’t try it on a steep hill—the weight of the fruit pulls on the vines)
- which plants are invasive in NY state (too many to list here)
- don’t pick up a toad, especially if you’re not wearing gloves
- how much heat spinach will take before bolting
- don’t plant dill unless you’re prepared to share it with black swallowtail butterflies. (I was and still am.)
My daughter went from being afraid to go outside at all, let alone going outside by herself, to being a girl who loved to dig up worms so she could “relocate” them to the vegetable beds. I went from being afraid to enter a shed (spiders!) to someone who sees them as partners in vermin control (sugar ants!)
I stocked up on a bunch of homesteading guides and dreamed of having my own backyard, one where I could grow lots and lots of colorful, tasty stuff. Then one day, it came. One of those come-ons to try “Backyard Poultry” Magazine– free for one issue! Ok, just one issue. Soon the magazine arrived chockful of chicks and other ridiculously adorable critters. We subscribed. The rest, clearly, is history.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes