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The Village Idiot

Winter Babbling

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(2/2014) Iís at the computer composing a readable thought (Iím so optimistic) as the fourth load of laundry cycles through the washer, after Iíve carried the third load upstairs. (The downstairsí dryer died and a clothesline awaits me finding a pair of plies so I can run it tautly from pole to pole and watch my shirts freeze.) Oh, Iíve made a cream cheese pudding pie between paragraphs as well. (Which involved me washing down kitchen equipment and counters several times as well as having to wash my face twice and change my clothes.) Oh, Iím frying a mix of beef burger with sausage seasoned with cracked black pepper and allspice, salt, homemade garlic powder (from our garlic) and Bulgarian paprika for this eveningís meal of meat and broccoli over rice noodles, or somethiní. Oh, I need to order 10 or 20 pounds of leaf fat so I can render enough lard for the next six months.

In the midst of all that, what comes to mind?

"When are you going to start selling stuff at the farmers market?"

Iíve forgotten how many times people have asked this. At least twice or thrice these last few years. The question always overwhelms me. Fills me with dread it does, mostly at the thought of taking money for my efforts to tease something tasty from the earth. I canít get past a feeling that gardening is somehow sacred and not to be prostituted. While Iím struggling with this feeling Brook Elliott (a gardening writer) posts a letter on a Yahoo! board weíre members of. "Help people learn to grow their own food. Set up a seed library."

Brook goes on about a concept that is making inroads across the country. Public libraries are becoming seed libraries, public seed banks! The idea hit me like "Damn. Why havenít I thought of this? Duh. Because Iím me."

So I Google for seed libraries and discover they range in practice from a basket of seeds anyone can help themselves to (with everything working on the honor system) to systems actually used by libraries to check out books. The borrower needs use a library card and a record is kept of who takes what seeds and whether they return seeds at the end of a growing season.

I dumped the idea onto the best librarians I know (Emmitsburgís) and even agreed to supply the first seeds to the bank and run the effort if need be. While the powers that be at the library maul the idea I have to move along with my own gardening adventures.

Marty acquired a hobby farm tractor to mow his acre of a yard and is hunting a rotary tiller to use in working up DW and Iís garden. (Ainít none of us going to get through a winter eating what I can grow using a broad fork and a 5hp walk-behind rotary tiller!) If all goes as Iím plotting it out on paper (it never does so DW and I wonít be quitting our factory jobs until forced out of that work by some government, decrepitude, or loss of the building) Iíll have twelve 100í rows to plant and tend. (Iím thinking six rows will be about all I can handle and the rest will be green manured and turned under as needs be. "Feed the soil first!" is my mantra, especially if it saves me from haviní to bend over to pick beans!)

DW and I have been building our wants-and-needs lists of seeds since the first seed catalog arrived in November. Stokes is always first and seldom gets an order from us. Itís a great seed source for market gardeners, but my focus has been on heirloom and other open-pollinated varieties. Theyíll probably get an order this year because the Mad One recently asked her parents for an exact recipe for brine pickling whole heads of cabbage. She uses them to make cabbage rolls. She smothers the rolls in a yogurt sauce and bakes them with a sprinkle of Bulgarian paprika over all. Having eaten such pickled cabbage, stuffed and rolled, I just had to learn to ferment cabbages, which led to learning to grow them for the brining buckets! (The Mad One currently has cabbages fermenting in her basement while I have mine working in an unheated bedroom. DW makes gagging noises every time I aerate the bucket. I nearly swoon from the delightful fragrance of horseradish and dill permeating the ferment! And the brine! Oh that is so tasty Iíll be saving it as a seasoning after the cabbages are long gone!) So this year I have need of a special type of cabbage, those with thin leaf ribs that allow easier rolling of the leaves. Stokes has two hybrid varieties that meet that need so theyíll be getting an order!

So far the list totals around $200 worth of wants: Terrior Seeds (3 types of beets, two peppers and some French marigolds for keeping the munching insects at bay), Willhite Seed Inc (the TX homesteaderís neighbor specializing in watermelons, which Iíll be ordering several varieties of), Territorial Seed (offering an interesting cuke for brining, a paprika pepper and a hollyhock mix DW finds irresistible) and Seed Savers Exchange (more melons, tomatoes for canning, winter squash, a red-stalked corn and a Romanesco broccoli/cauliflower Iíd grown years ago and have lusted after ever since! And the Mad Oneís favorite Bulgarian pepper which is likely to become the only non-pickling pepper Iíll grow in 2014!)

As soon as we clear the tables in the living room, weíll empty the seed fridge and go through what all we have in storage from past seasons. (There are three bins in the fridge, each packed tight with seed packets and one-pound bags of beans and peas. On the shelves, I see 5 pounds of cereal rye and several bags of clover. Mixed among those are bags of okra pods and unidentified flower pods. I sooo need to start labeling and dating!)

Having gotten hold of the seed library idea Iím thinking I can quickly thin my stock down to maybe two bins as I sort out seeds for wannabe gardeners. Simple things to grow as I expect mostly little kids being interested in a seed library at first. More tricky to grow offerings would follow once the kidletís parents see how easy gardening can be, at least as I do it. (DW has other thoughts about that, but she doesnít have a column so they donít count.)

Emptying a seed bin would of course necessitate my refilling it, preferably with newly purchased seeds. DW thinks Iíll be lucky to convince her we can afford $100 worth of new seeds let alone the watering system I am looking to buy and install.

Yep. Anyone wondering when Iíll set up at a farmers market had best petition the library to let me set up a seed bank. Given my track record for having any plan go aright, the seed library is the safer bet anyone will get anything tasty from my efforts at gardening! Theyíd just have to do a little work themselves.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.