First Harvest

RadishesRadishes fresh from the kitchen garden.  Perhaps whoever compiled the table of yields I used to decide how much to plant didn’t like radishes, or only intended radishes to be used one per salad as a garnish.  I used this in a raita – or rather, used the raita dressing – yogurt with cumin, raisins, lime juice – as a dip.  There will be enough radishes for garnish, but not to eat as a vegetable.  Time to plant more.

The Walk

Path  beforeAt the bottom of our garden is a retaining wall and a line of trees, mostly Norway spruces and hemlocks.  The inspector took so many pictures I asked him if there was a problem with them, but he said no, he just wanted us to know they were there.Path  beforePath  before

Last spring when I started cleaning up the vines and weeds at the steps at the end of the retaining wall, I realized there was a stone landing at the bottom.  Then that it was a stone path, laid with bluestone pavers, about 3 feet by 6, trimmed to fit the curve of the wall, all hidden under a couple of inches of dirt and needles.

Path   after
Path  after
Path  after

I spent several afternoons clearing it off with a hoe, up to the last spruce, where it seemed to end, although there were what seemed to be stepping stones that had slid out of place beyond that. This spring, we cleared out at the far end, below the garage, and there were more large stones. Poking around the “stepping stones,” we found they were large stones, half buried, although not as nice as the ones at the beginning. The large chunks of gravel all along turned out to be broken cinder block. From the paint, we decided were the broken blocks from the time a car hit the garage and knocked the car in it through the back wall. We have heard various versions of this from neighbors and tradesmen. There are probably a dozen wheelbarrow loads of those to haul off, and we have no idea what we will do with them.

One day, we gathered up a large copper pipe to use as a roller, a pick mattock, hoe, shovel, and broom, to see if we could shift the slipped stones back into place. It was surprisingly easier than we had feared once we got the hang of it (easy for me to say, since Robert does the heavy lifting – only one or two so far have been small enough for me to move). We have leveled another 20 or 30 feet, with more than that to go. It is a task to do in the shade when it is warm and sunny, two or three stones in an afternoon. Eventually we will plant ground cover along the wall side, and plantings under the trees on the downhill side.

The Pool

StepsPool  beforeOne of the surprises we found was a pool, with an area of flagstones around it, buried under all this rubble and ivy.  That pile of logs peeking out turned out to be a whole tree.

Pool and stepsWe still have a long way to go, but at least we know what we have to work with.

Reduce, Reuse

GarbageThe Recyclegarbage can was sitting beside the back porch when we moved in, definitely unlovely. The area behind the hemlocks at the side of the house was a mess. Last spring, in the process of trying to get something else done, we discovered the old garbage area, cleaned it up, and built a compost pile.  We got a huge recycle bin and a small garbage bin, but this spring our service provided everyone with a new garbage bin (no recycle).  We couldn’t fill it in a month.

This new area isn’t visible from the street, the house, the back porch or the rest of the yard; just a glimpse from the path to the back gate (where the bins are hauled for pickup.)

Look and See

People ask why we don’t hire someone to do the yard work.  We like the exercise, we like being out in the fresh air and sunshine, but most of all, we like to look and see.  Doing all the cleanup means we have walked over all the ground, studied how it lays, and found the best paths over the hill.  Hand-weeding a patch of ground means you have really looked at everything there.  There were enough terrace stones buried under the grass in the front to make a landing at the bottom of the front steps.  We found a concrete pool, filled with bricks and rubble and grown over with ivy, and a hundred yards of stone-paved walk along the bottom of the property, covered in inches of dirt and vines.

We have been told that once upon a time, the garden here was a showplace.  Little trace is left, but if we had paid someone to haul away the log pile at the bottom of the hill, we would not have found the peonies, and they would probably have been trampled.  Hand-pulling the garlic mustard and grapevines from the hillside under the elm, we found what is probably Autumn Joy sedum – we won’t know for sure until it flowers in late summer – and a lilac bush.  Painstakingly pulling the plantain from under the red maple, I found a semicircle of four evenly spaced clumps of something.  Last year we must have mown over it; I think it may be forget-me-nots.  When I finally got to clearing out the tangle under the bottom-most spruce, it turned out to have mock oranges and a climber I haven’t identified yet.  Star-of-Bethlehem has appeared in the grass on the lower terrace.  Clearing out along the upper retaining wall, I found bulbs of some sort.  Some were grape hyacinths, but I suspect that there are others that haven’t bloomed because they have been buried in weeds so far. Every stint of weeding is an opportunity for a new discovery, of hidden things or just to look and see how things are and how things grow.

Back Porch

Back  Porch BeforeThe back porch was sadly neglected.  The inspector identified a broken joist, which became part of the required repairs before we bought the house.  Today it is a staging area and resting spot for gardening, and a pleasant sitting area in the rain or sun.

The patio off the dining room isn’t covered, so a shady and dry alternative is good, and there is a better view of the riverBack  Porch After.  We hang the laundry here, too.

The Pringle Tree

Most of my ancestral families at one time lived on or near Hackers Creek, spread from the headwaters in Upshur Co. to its mouth west of what is now Jane Lew.  Some of them were among the first settlers, and some came later, just after the Revolution. Being back in West Virginia means that on any afternoon, we can wander the back roads and find places that I only knew from documents.  Going on the back roads makes it much easier to imagine the settlements and the relationships, since the big towns and the highways are much different now than then.

In 1761, the Pringle brothers, John and Samuel, from the South Branch of the Potomac, deserted from the British army at Fort Pitt.  They explored the Monongahela country, and worked for John Simpson, a trapper and trader, who was later based at the mouth of Elk Creek, which eventually became Clarksburg.   The Pringles fell out with Simpson, and went up the Tygart Valley and Buckhannon Rivers, to the mouth of Turkey Run, where they lived in a hollow sycamore tree until 1767.  They returned to the South Branch, spurring a migration of some of their old neighbors there, who became the first settlers along the Tygart, Buckhannon, West Fork, and Hackers Creek, the first permanent settlements across the mountains in this area, along with the Morgans’ settlements in what are now Morgantown and Fairmont.

We had driven by the sign that said “Pringle Tree Road” many times, since we had moved, and on vacations over the years.  I had always, and as late as last month, said, “Oh, no need to go up there, the Pringle Tree is gone and it was just a tree in a field, anyway, I’ve seen old pictures.”  But last week a query from a fellow researcher started me looking at Revolutionary pensions, one thing led to another, and I finally realized that Bush’s Fort, where my 4th great-grandmother, Susannah Radcliff Stalnaker, spent her teenage years, was on the Buckhannon at the mouth of Turkey Run.  So our Sunday afternoon drive was down to Buckhannon.  As it turns out, there is a county park along the river, with a “third generation” Pringle tree at the end of a lush meadow full of wildflowers – forget-me-nots, gill-over-the-ground, tiny white daisies, and a creeper with small lavender and yellow orchid-like blooms that we think is one of the many penstemons.Pringle Tree

Progress of the Kitchen Garden

We added the warm-weather plants – tomatoes, cucumber, squash, eggplant, basil, and a border of marigolds – this weekend.  Everything is growing madly, and it is starting to look like a real garden.  We haven’t pulled a radish, the earliest crop, yet, but they should be ready.Kitchen Garden

Level Paradise and Put Up What?

I mentioned when we were lost in the south Pittsburgh suburbs that “Those who claim the mountains of southern West Virginia need to be leveled to provide building space should go visit the Pittsburgh area.”  Today two studies were announced, on the extent of mountaintop removal in central Appalachia, and on the sites that have actually been used for economic development.  Details here.View from Dolly Sods

If you have been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you know what these mountains are like before.  If not, this picture does not begin to capture it.

Over 500 mountaintops have been removed, mostly in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.  During, they look like this.

Fewer than one in ten of the 500 mountains has been used for economic development:

“The so-called beneficial development projects include: industrial parks (4); oil and gas fields (3); golf courses (3); airports (2); municipal parks (2); hospital (1); ATV training center (1); county fairground (1).”

Most “reclaimed” sites look like this, at best – from a mining industry brochure on mountaintop removal mining:

Since the topsoil has been removed, it will no longer support the rich mountain forests it once did, and the streams fed from the runoff do not support the life they did, even far downstream in the valleys.  Over 100 miles of streams have been buried so far and the land is ruined for timber production.

Please read the reports, and consider contacting your power company and your federal legislators and telling them that we must find another way to keep the lights on.

Theme Days in the Garden

Every day in the garden seems to have a theme, driven by the weather, the season, and sometimes by chance or whim.  Spraying poison ivy must be done when it is dry and going to stay that way.  Pulling weeds is easier after a rain.  Second-year garlic mustard needs to be pulled before it blooms, but the seedlings are easier to pull once they are larger.  This time of year, the vegetation is so enthusiastic that contemplating all the weeds at once is overwhelming.  Concentrating on just one – pulling all the thistles, or dandelions, or dock, or curly dock, or garlic mustard – helps.  Of course, each weed requires a slightly different style, too, so you can get into a rhythm rather than switching constantly.  Garlic mustard is very satisfying because it can be pulled up easily with no implement at all.  Dandelions pop right out with the implement I call a weeder and Robert calls an asparagus fork.

Last week, we started resetting the half of the stepping stones from the back porch to the back gate, which we hadn’t gotten to last spring, although we had uncovered them.  I was digging out all the dandelions and plantains which were fast replacing the grass along the path, when our neighbor across the street came by and we talked for a bit.  It got late, it rained, and days later, I couldn’t find the weeder.  I was sure that was the last time I had it, but we both walked the entire yard looking for it.  Grocery day came, we still hadn’t found it, and we stopped in Big Lots looking for something else entirely.  There were weeders, these with a built-in lever, so we got one.  I tackled the plantain, which has covered huge stretches, so much that a plantain theme day is not “All the plantain” but “All the plantain on the left side of the slope under the red maple.”  The new weeder is much better for plantain, because of the better leverage, but I still wanted the old one because it is great for sticking in deep to find grown-over stone paving and stepping stones.  We got back to finishing the back path, and there, right where I thought I had left it, but under the leaf mulch along the fence, Robert found the weeder.