Rural Life

Mystery Patch

Plant, then ignore.

That’s been our modus operandi when it comes to establishing berry bushes, grapevines and hops.

And it has not served us well.

Martin and I set out with the best intentions — we nurture a fledgling plant, water it as needed, and track growth. And then… that’s it.

We ignore said bush, tree or vine, leaving it vulnerable to parasites, disease or marauding, munching sheep.

The pumpkin patch would’ve been another victim of neglect —

–had we’d known that it existed.

A couple of months ago, Martin was planning to take another whack at the mystery weed marching through the lawn. (I’d already mowed over it once before.)

But on this particular day, he spotted a yellow flower among the weedy leaves.


The flower led to a leafy vine and a line of pale-orange orbs the size of tennis balls. Not far away were larger growths, like basketballs, nestled in a hard-to-mow spot between the boxwoods and the deck.


Google “how to grow pumpkins” and you’ll find a wealth of gardening guidance. Tips about soil pH and fertility, how to plant with adequate spacing and depth, and tips on weeding and watering.

Our pumpkin patch was the product of one simple act: Hadley stuck some seeds in the ground.

“Remember when I told you that I was going to plant pumpkin seeds?” Hadley asked me.

Not really. In my defense, the kids are constantly burying things in the yard, in “Jack and the Beanstalk” fashion. Who thinks that anything will come from it?

Hadley’s patch proved us wrong.

All summer we marveled at the little heirloom squash and the hulking carving pumpkins growing in size and deepening in color, with absolutely no assistance from us.

By September, however, I noticed that the leaves were withering and a few of the pumpkins were suffering from soft rot.

I gave a vague description to a local pumpkin grower and he triaged the problem: a combination of powdery and downy mildew. Any efforts to fight the pathogens would be too little too late, but we could spare some of the squash by harvesting them early.

And that’s what we did.

I’d say that in the future, we’ll take better care of Hadley’s garden but let’s be realistic; we’ll probably apply the same “technique” that we’ve used with other plants.

In this particular case, neglect actually worked.

Pumpkins are a hardy crop!

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Mud weary


Now that I’m done complaining about snow, it’s time to gripe about mud:

Thanks to snowmelt and rain, we are mired in shoe-sucking muck. In every direction.

It looks like we’re farming it — planting and raising mud as an agricultural product.

Certainly, the horses are doing their part, tilling the pasture and stamping out the last dregs of green.

Maisie is advertising our product, with dreadlocks clotting her belly and legs.

Muddy conditions have made an impression on our trash service; they won’t empty the dumpster, because our property is “inaccessible” at present time.

And that’s kind of ironic, because we’ve lost all semblance of a driveway/lawn division. Winter has been a vehicle free-for-all, judging from the wheel ruts browning the yard.

Earlier this week, mounds of unmelted snow put another loss in the “team grass” column.

That day, I was startled when the UPS truck flashed by my office window, trundling past its normal stopping point. By the time I realized the driver wasn’t our regular, he’d gone counter-clockwise over the snowy land between barn and house.

Stunned, I met the guy outside as he surveyed the truck’s loopy trail of mud and slush.

“This is a circular driveway, right?” he asked.

Well it is, now.



Photo note: I don’t do mud, so I pulled this image from the archives. Back in 2009 we had a thriving pothole population, but the driveway wasn’t up for debate.

Finally: The Roof!


The barn roof. I promised “after” photos and a rebuild synopsis weeks ago — way back in 2014.

What can I say?

Sometimes life derails your plans.

If you missed the first chapter on the barn roof, you can play catch-up here.

Otherwise, here’s the finished product.



John, our Amish contractor, did a great job. He estimated that roof replacement would require a month, give or take weather woes. And he was spot on. He and his crew dismantled the original roof, circa 1910ish… 1920ish… and rebuilt it within four weeks.

Well done!

There were, however, a few dicey days.

Initially, John planned to tackle the roof in bites, shelling a small section and replacing it, before crabbing along the framework to the next patch of real estate. That’s how construction proceeded for the first few weeks.

But near the end of the renovation, the guys changed their game plan: they stripped the roof naked, in one ambitious, magnificent gulp.

Behold, the belly of the beast:



Unfortunately, this bold declaration of roofing nudity coincided with a shift in the weather forecast: meteorologists swapped their fair-sky guarantee for a wavering prediction of “maybe rain.”

Maybe-rain is a huge motivator. John and the boys moved fast.

Here’s the roof on a Thursday afternoon in mid-December:



And here it is the next day, with rain imminent. See? A flurry of activity when precipitation is breathing down your collar.




So, the barn roof roof is done. Mission accomplished. (Note: when the kids pine for anything, I point to the roof. For example — Brynn: “I wish I could sleep in my own bed.” Me: “You want your own bed? Look at that barn. See that nice shiny roof? There’s your new bed!”)

I’m relieved that this project is completed. I won’t miss the construction scene… living amidst a cast of pickup trucks and a crew of boom lifts and skid loaders. I’m tired of counting the throng of rutted tire tracks snaking through the muddy yard.

But I’ll miss you, John.

John would’ve made a top-notch regular among the Funny Farm cast.

His Amishness was entertaining. Granted, at times he was totally high-tech. John worked off a cell phone and I watched him maneuver earth moving equipment and pilot the boom lift to raise roofing panels skyward.

But in other ways, he was refreshingly clueless. There was the rubber snake incident.

And when he pointed toward a distance cell phone tower — so obviously a tower, thinly veiled to resemble a silo.

“Wow,” marveled John. “They must have a lot of cows at that farm.”

Martin was quiet, before stating, “John? It’s a cell phone tower.”


So many good John lines… so little time.

My favorite exchange?

John was standing beside the barn, trying to make small talk with Martin.

“So,” John said to Martin. “You play polo?”

Martin looked blank. “No, I don’t play polo. Why would you think that I play polo?”

John shrugged, then gestured at the pocket of Martin’s rugby. “Because of your shirt,” he said.

Hey Ralph Lauren, here’s a tip off: the Amish community is unchartered waters.

There’s a final frontier for your Polo brand…