Around Imbolc, I began researching every idea that popped into my ever-planning keeping-me-up for hours mind: which plants to grow, which vegetable grew well next to which vegetable, which herb and flower bloomed at which time of year, how to construct raised garden beds, how to keep insects and critters from destroying crops, the proper placing of bat houses and bird houses, the ins-and-outs of composting, various ways of constructing fairy houses. All of these questions, concerns, and day-dreams were whirling around my head. In complete OCD mode, I made list after list, rewrote list after list in my better handwriting, and jotted down note after note, sometimes on Post-It notes and sometimes on pages of a yellow legal pad and, if no other paper was available, on my very own hand.
In early and mid-March, I cleaned garden beds of Winter debris and mulching, excited at the sight of earthworms galore and my spirit lifted by the heaviness and richness of soil. I delighted in planting a huge tray of varied herb seeds like thyme, cilantro, marjoram and tarragon. I giggled with glee as I discovered the joy of taking cuttings of shrubs, dipping them in rooting compound and planting them in small pots for next year's already-in-the-works garden projects. The barter system was put in place. I traded tiger lillies and irises for butterfly bushes and holly. In return for some technical landscaping advice, I handed over mums, ornamental grasses and more tiger lillies. I excitedly told neighbors of my plans and invited them to take vegetables and herbs when the time came. Some offerred cash towards the project (which I refused but still found a couple 20-dollar bills stuffed into my hand insistently), some asked for advice on what to do with plants or flowers in their own yards, and some volunteered to help with the upcoming Summer months of weeding and watering. I must note here, however, that there are just some neighbors with whom I didn't even bother discussing this simply because they don't talk to me or my kin, who live a few doors down, not even a hello now and again, and are known trouble-makers, busy-bodies or just plain evil-spirited people.
Then it was time for the hard labor. Last weekend, in a spot shared with my neighbor's property, sort of an in-between place, and with his blessing, I began the tedious job of excavating a grassy and weedy 20' x 4' area, first on my own and then with the help of my husband, my brother-in-law and even my 11-year old nephew (my teenage son opted for video games instead because we all know that XBox 360 takes precedence over all things!). We pulled all the grass out, removed as many stones and rocks as was humanly possible, and even unearthed odd items like a wooden doorknob, an old ham bone, assorted nails, a C battery, old marbles, and a taffy wrapper from the 1960's. We laughed, sweated, grunted, groaned, and laughed some more, at ourselves, at each other. It was a great dirty time! I moved on to other garden clean-up projects when it came time for construction. The men set about building my two-tiered raised garden beds where the vegetables and herbs will be planted in a few weeks. My vision of the "community" vegetable garden was coming into reality!
The remainder of that weekend, and, believe me, there wasn't that much time left to it, my husband and I spent time behind my neighbor's garage and the garage that adjoins it (we live in an area of rowhomes), which is accessed from my rock garden, removing years of fallen branches, stones tossed by the kids into the area, and other assorted trash. While there, we came upon a wondrous thing. For years, there have been a couple of trees behind the garages, one tall and slender and the other short and husky. I'm not sure what types of trees they are. (I'll have to research that sometime.) The third and largest tree came down during a windstorm several years ago, decimating my backyard but that's a story for another day. Both of the existing trees have always bloomed every Spring, full of leaves. The taller tree we designated for hanging our bat house. The other tree? Well, it's quite frankly amazing! The majority of the trunk has fallen away, with six-foot long pieces laying around on the ground, eaten away by what I assume to be some boring-type insect. The tree continues to stand though on two great "legs" of what remains of the trunk, the center completely hollow. I mean you can stand inside this tree! And the tree continues to live! Its branches and leaves continue to grow! As soon as we saw this, we knew it was sacred space and must remain untouched. So we left the area around it alone. We placed our new compost bin in the area right before the tree to sort of block it, obstruct it, from anyone who might want to disturb the area. We cleared anotehr area that would become a path of stepping stones to lead to the compost bin, left a small oferring for the spirit of the tree, and finished our work for the day.
Part two of the hard labor came this past weekend. Again, it was me, my husband, my brother-in-law and my nephew. More laughs, more grunts and groans, and more laughs! The boys made three trips to the county compost yard, each time returning with 5 bins of "black gold", beautiful rich fertile compost. As they worked it into the vegetable and herb garden beds, I worked on reconstructing our rock garden. My husband, thank the Goddess, had taken every rock of the existing wall down and lined them up for me early Saturday morning. By Sunday afternoon, there was a new and improved retaining wall, rocks set randomly here and there to keep the soil in the sloped area from tumbling down, steps of natural rocks up to the area behind the garage and a stepping stone path from those steps to the compost bin behind the garage. Compost had been worked into every single garden bed behind my house. The bat house was hung in the taller tree behind the garage. The trunk of our Yule/Christmas tree was placed into the stone retaining wall and turned into a bird feeder. Existing bird feeders were moved or taken down altogether and birdbaths were cleaned and filled with water. We retreated with aching muscles, stiff and sore joints, and battered and bruised hands and knees, covered in dirt, that glorious rich dirt, to hot food, hot showers, ibuprofen, and bottles of Biofreeze with satisfied smiles.
And now I wait. Wait for the start date of our next project, a patio where we'll barbecue, entertain, and create sacred space for seasonal and full moon celebrations slated to begin at the end of April. Wait for the fence around this soon-to-be patio area to be repaired after two long and very harsh Winters which will happen as soon as the materials arrive some time this week. Wait for planting time, wait for growing time, and wait for harvesting time. There's always something to be done in the meantime. Each time, I head outside, a new lightbulb goes on in my head. It's April, I'm in full gardening mode, I still ache from head to toe, and it feels so good!