Friday, July 07, 2006

The Day the Circus Came to Town

I have been spending a lot of time in my garden lately - mostly weeding and thinning out the perennials. This year I only put in a small vegetable garden and probably half of it is devoted to annuals for cutting bouquets for my house. At the end of the summer, I love to wander around the flower beds cutting flowers in the early evening. I bring them inside and strip all the leaves off and then fill my antique vases with flowers – lots of them. It’s kind of silly because I barely ever have any company come to visit. But I like my house to be full of garden flowers - it just feels right.

If you’re a gardener, you know about the value of well-rotted manure and how it can make a garden grow. I must admit, one of the big reasons I keep my chickens is for the chicken poop. My chickens aren’t free-range – if they were, they wouldn’t last around here with all the wild animals. So the not very fancy pen I keep them in becomes its own composting system. I feed them all the edible scraps from my kitchen and all the weeds that I pull from my garden. When (if) I rake the leaves, they all go into the chicken run and they pick over them finding grubs and bugs but mostly scratching them up into little bits. I add some wood chips once in a while. My chickens are pretty low maintenance just the way I like it. Every spring when I’m weeding and planting, I sneak into the pen and extract some of their black gold. I don’t worry about it being hot – nothing ever seems to die. Then I sprinkle it over my garden and boy does it grow. Chicken poop is great stuff for a garden - high in all the essential nutrients.

As I am bending, pulling, and tossing all those weeds, my mind always wanders. I think about my Dad who was an amazing gardener. He was so enthusiastic about flowers and veggies. All summer long we ate from the garden. Sometimes we were pulled into service – like when the string beans threatened to overwhelm the entire town – but mostly Mom and Dad puttered around making our yard beautiful. They didn’t live close enough to any farms to get manure but they always had a compost pile going full of leaves, coffee grounds, eggshells and more.

My grandmother Nicholas (of Cookbook Fame) was also a great gardener. She had a little plot of land so every inch counted. She had it divided into all kinds of gardens – a rose garden, a rock garden, a perennial garden, a sitting garden (with beautiful old pink metal chairs and table) and in the nooks and crannies she grew tomatoes, lettuce, squash, herbs and more. Talk about efficiency in a small space. Her method for composting was efficient too. She collected the kitchen scraps in a plastic container by her sink. Then she’d climb down the stairs with a kitchen tablespoon and the bucket and dig a hole somewhere in her garden and bury the scraps. Once in a while a cantalope or two would sprout. Try this method if you don’t have the space for a compost pile. It worked for her for over sixty years.

Every time I start hauling manure, I think of a story Gram told me when we were working on Gram's Cookbook. Back in the 1920’s, the circus would come to town – as it probably did in every major town in the USA. My great-grandparents lived within walking distance to the field where the circus performed. The morning after the circus left, my great-grandmother would get up before dawn and walk to the field, buckets and shovel in hand. She’d pick up all the elephant poop and haul it back to her garden a few blocks away. She had to get there very early because there was a lot of competition for the elephant poop. The neighborhood was full of German immigrants who all grew gardens for food and beauty. I can just imagine, the fierce competition. All the immigrants, right off the boat, looking for some black gold for free to make their garden grow. How the world has changed. I wonder what the circus does now with their animal manure. I’m sure it is regulated and disposed of in some manner. Or maybe there’s still a gardener looking for a little black gold making a side deal with an employee of the circus.

I’m 5/6th of the way done with a new line of kits for JCA. They’ll probably be out in a few months – after photography, screening, kitting and more. Here’s a sneak peak at the elephant I just finshed.

Julia and I found the cute plastic elephant watering can at Streeter's for $2.79. It was made in the USA. I wonder how long it has been there.

Check this site out for a chuckle. It’s pretty cute.


Connie said...

Elephant poo! That is hilarious. We just moved last year for my husband's job and are starting over with our garden. We could use some "black gold" for sure...I wonder when the circus is coming?

patty bolgiano said...

Here in Baltimore it is horse manure. We had mounted police (we still do but they are rare) and as the police rode through the various parts of Baltimore the horse would naturally leave its poo behind. The German, Luthiuian and whomever else would argue as to who was getting the poo.

Oh, the pigs are cute. The part of the city I use to live in was called...Pigtown. It's official and unofficial name. The name comes from when pigs were gathered into freight cars of trains, and the trains came to the city to deliver the pigs to the slaughter house. The pigs would actually run through the streets to the slaughter house. Of course a few pigs were lost along the way by means of pigs getting too close to basement windows and people waiting for them there. Dinner was pork that night.


Lee said...

Another method for Instant Composting...done by both my Danish mother and her sister. They both had wonderful gardens!

They kept small pails (i.e., a gallon ice cream container) into which went all vegetable scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds. Every few days (all year round) they would place the compost-to-be into their gardens. If it was summer, they would chop up the scraps with the hoe and work the small pieces into the garden. If it was winter, they would share the scraps with the critters for a few days (they were urban and didn't have to worry about excessive critters) and then do the chopping about every ten days/two weeks or so.

I do this with a too-much-clay area of my garden and can see the difference....very little standing water after the Noah-esque rains about two weeks ago!

somebunnysloveDOTcom said...

That elephant watering can is adorable! And for me, since I have the 4 houserabbits, I have "bunny gold" (mixture of bunny manure and wood stove pellets broken down by their urine) to use in my flower beds. The black gold is a great idea though and much more interesting!

Sara in WI said...

My mom's Uncle Charlie was an elephant trainer in the circus. He could have probably fertilized the garden just with what he "wore" home from what I've heard! Cuuute elephants!

BrooklynMom said...

When my mom was young (mind you, this was in the late forties, early fifties--and in London) her job was to "get the bucket and spade, Pamela!" when the ragman came 'round with his horse and cart. My Nana did have lovely roses in her small garden!