A few weeks back we began the construction of a chicken yard in which to house our previously purchased chicken coop and future chickens. We framed it out, which took the better part of a weekend, after which we stepped back and then decided to undo what we had done and go at it again, this time setting the roof up at about a 9 degree angle sloping yard to alley. About that time, though, we realized this structure would be far more permanent than we first imagined. This brought about the discussion of our aging chain link fence–which does little to hide the snarling neighbor dogs–against which we were going to set the yard. That’s when the project stalled. We figured if we were going to do things right, we ought to first get the fence situation squared away, meaning we had better build it before we finished off the chicken yard. At that point the seeds which we had started in the garage made clear to us that in the time we had deliberated about the fence, spring had come and with it the constant needs of seedlings.



It has been a wet week and a half and it doesn’t look promising for the next week and a half either. The radishes we planted two weeks ago are sprouting fine, though. And we’re still eating off the spinach plants in the front yard every morning. Judith makes smoothies for us before work: spinach, blueberries (picked over the summer and frozen since), banana, carrot juice, apple juice, and occasionally kale. There are only two stalks of the Redbor kale in the front that have overwintered, but there are close to ten spinach plants producing sizable leaves. As such, I only harvest the kale about once a week. There are still two cedar barrels full of leeks grown from last autumn, so some of them went into a soup with potatoes for lunch today. Using the wet weather to our advantage, we set the four seed trays—that we started when we planted the radishes—in the garage under plant bulbs, rather than keeping them on the kitchen table in front of the window. Progress comes slowly, but progress comes.



Seeing as how some of last week’s overnight lows fell into the teens,* we covered many of the garden beds with straw. To be honest, this was a weak precaution and we figured most of the vegetables would go on a good way towards freezing to death and some of them did. Most of the merlot lettuce, which was well-established and had been producing since mid-September, wilted badly after the fifth consecutive day of frost and daytime highs in the 20s and is pretty well gone by now. The frigidity also had its way with the beets and mustard greens. We don’t have any cold frames in place yet and so out of curiosity/lazy resourcefulness, and knowing that kale and leeks are the hardy type, I threw up a makeshift sort of hoop house over one of the beds in the backyard reusing an old plastic painting dropcloth and 1x3s. Even though it seemed to bring the temperature up a tad inside, the small plants stalled, cold licking at the thin plastic tarp all night and their soil frozen solid. There wasn’t any reason it should work and sure enough, it did not. In this first year of its establishment, it’d be half right to say we’re coaxing the garden on through the end of fall. But it’d be half wrong, too. We’re working at it, watching closely, breath swirling and mingling in the night, seeing which stems and leaves buckle before winter. Looking for that, we’ve seen garlic and shallots and onions carry on undaunted. There’s arugula, spinach, Redbor kale, and leaf lettuce that froze stiff for days and then came through the spell just fine. With that last evening, five nights before the winter solstice, behold: a fresh salad from the garden.

*The coldest was a streak of 22, 19, 24, 15, 12, 14 from December 4 – 9; not cold by any real standard, other than that of the temperate Pacific Northwest, where if even a dusting of snow sputters out of the fog, a lot of folks cry wolf and about shut the city down.


My hands and jacket still smell of boiled linseed oil, which yesterday I spent a good amount of time working into my axe handle. While I was at it, I also applied it liberally to an old hickory hammer (which was either left in the garage when we moved in, or that my father-in-law gifted me from his infinite roaming storehouse of battered tools that he drives up and down the coast for work; at present I can’t remember which) and into the handle of the sledge that I procured at the same time as the axe (along with a 4-pound splitting wedge). After the handle had absorbed the oil, I wiped it with a cloth and ran it over the axe-head, whose blackness shined steely as a result.



Tonight, in the near-dark, I split a piece of wood. It’s nearing November. I don’t have anything to split wood on yet, like an old stump or an established pile of woodchips, so I set the log up lengthwise in the middle of the green, thinning grass beside the firepit and Adirondack chairs and made a few unsuccessful passes with my new axe after the sun had set and the sharpness of the fall air had come on for the night. I missed, bruising the axe-handle just below the beard when it connected with the log. But I went at it again anyhow. I gripped firmly, wrapping my fingers around the belly of the handle, then squared my feet and shoulders and swung, splitting the piece of fir more-or-less in two.