A week ago the rains fell, and fell, and fell, and fell. I seriously thought that they would never quit falling. I was committed to a market stall at our local farmer’s market, and with all the rain, I had nothing to take out.
Oh, sure, I had seedlings I hadn’t put out before the rain, but the soggy air and knee deep floods meant that I couldn’t put the plants out now either. Thankfully, I lived on a bit of a hill, or else I wouldn’t have even been able to stay in the house. About the only good thing is that I don’t have to worry about hauling water from the hose to the garden shed. Our water catchment system worked like a charm. I have enough water in the cisterns to last all summer, even if I water the soil garden four hours a day seven days a week. What farmer wouldn’t love to have that?
But, this isn’t a tale about traditional methods, this is about my experiment. I set it up because there’s rumbles on the ‘net that things are going wrong – way wrong. Talk of war, of food shortages, and of riots that are about to break out over the entire political mess. So, I wanted to see if it was possible to set up a way to ensure my family and I could eat comfortably out of our back yard.
We had the big gardens – two of them that spanned twenty-five by fifty feet each. Lots of room, right?
Yeah, until they can’t get water, or get flooded. What good do those plots of tilled soil do if they are knee deep under water? I’ll tell you – none.
So, back to my experiment. I’d seen somewhere about this thing called an “Earth Box” – a system that let you water a small container once, and then the plants would draw on a reservoir that was under the roots for up to a week. That was a good idea, as far as it went. I wanted to see if I could take it a little further. The biggest Earth Box I could find for sale was only good for one or two of the size tomato plants I grew, with no room for anything else. The small size also meant it didn’t use water that efficiently. The soil garden did better there.
So, I went back to my other long time gardening interest – hydroponics. The downside with that was I couldn’t make the chemical cocktail necessary to support the plants and keep them healthy. I could probably find one or two things that came close, but if I mixed them together, I would wind up over feeding some element and burning the plants.
Back to the drawing board.
A little more digging brought me around to this wonderful contraption – the aquaponics system. Not only would that grow my plants, but if I could find the right type of fish, it would also provide us with meat. I like that idea – a multipurpose garden! So, off I went into the details of making it work. I was lucky – two of the city ponds had just been stocked with fry for the summer fishing season. A small fee for the license, and a couple hours with a dip net meant I was in business. I had the frame already, with the lining in it to create the “pond” part of the set up. When I dumped in the fish fries it was time to start working on the rest of the experiment.
I made sure the seals were good, started the water flow, and then left to give things a chance to settle into place. I knew that there would be a few leaks I’d have to find and fix up front. Just like anything else mechanical, it’s never fluid tight right off. I was actually surprised the next morning when I came out to see what type of work I had to do. There were a few places that showed signs of fresh caulk, all my seedlings had been set up in the ‘ponics chambers, and the fish had been fed. Did I do this in my sleep?
I set the timer, the only thing left for me to do, and headed back to the house for my normal house chores. When I stepped through the back door, I heard something clatter to the floor. Suspicious, I fished around until I found the old hanger rod I used as a quarterstaff. Not the best choice for inside, but better than encountering a thief barehanded.
Slipping from room to room, I kept my eyes open for anything that appeared to be missing. Nothing was disturbed, unless you counted the missing dust.
Now I’m not someone to look at gift horse in the mouth when I’m told it’s a four-year-old, but I had to investigate this. No one, I don’t care if they are the most abjectly poor illegal in the world, is going to come into a strange house and deep clean from rafters to sub-floor. They even managed to get the old black marks off the tile, for crying out loud! I’d only been in the greenhouse for thirty minutes! What tribe of house cleaners moved in?
I finally found the source of the clatter when I reached the living room – someone must have dropped my old straw broom on the floor. What I’d heard was the handle hitting the floor.
Puzzled, I picked the broom up, and returned it to the cleaning closet on the other side of the house, under the stairs that led up to my room in the attic. There was a little extra hesitation when I tried to open the door, but I guessed it was from the house settling. There was no reason for me to presume it was from something supernatural.
With the day now freed from any of my normal chores, I decided I would take the chance and get in some baking and reading. I headed to the kitchen, and found all the supplies I needed to make my bread goods all laid out neatly on the counter. Freaked, I returned to the living room to see if these mysterious events were reading my mind, or if I had just been sleep cleaning, gardening, and walking.
Nope, the book I intended to read – one I had been intending to read for ages, but never bothered to – was laying open across the arm of my chair. This was worse than freaky – I’m downright scared! The last I had seen this particular book, it had been stuffed into the storage cubby at the head of my bed under two or three pillows, and a few other odds and ends. I lived alone, so no one else could have brought it down for me, and it had not been there when I went out to the garden shed this morning.
Agitated, I started signing to my self. Something, I’m sure if anyone else would have seen I’d have been committed to an asylum without question. It’s one thing for a verbal person to talk to themselves. A mute? We could wish!
Then I heard the mixer kick off in the kitchen. Holding onto my staff, I rushed the kitchen. What I found caused me to sit down abruptly without looking for a chair. Two young men were in the kitchen baking. I could smell the scent of fresh break rising, and the mess on the counters around them said more than words that more than one batch was in the oven.
“Who?” I signed, “Who are you?”
They babbled back in forth in a language both musical to my ears and grating on my nerves. I had no idea what they said, and they seemed to not realize I had discovered them. Then, one of the strangers turned enough to see me sitting in the door way.
“Oh, dear. It seems the game is up.”
With a puff of flour, both men vanished, leaving behind a disaster – half mixed bread on the counter, rising bread in the warmer, and four loaves in the oven. That’s not counting all the flour that was slowly settling over the kitchen.
“Who are you?” I signed again, then climbed to my feet.
In awe, I wandered through the mess. I checked the bread in the oven, pulling out the loaves that were golden brown. I moved the other tray up to the op rack before I checked on the dough that was proofing. Seeing that it was trying to spill over the sides of the bowl, I quickly split it out into several blobs to work into new loaves. I moved the bread I’d just taken out of the oven onto a cooling rack, and worked the new dough into loaf shapes to go back in the oven and start baking. Then, I carefully sliced one of the fresh loaves into neat, thin slices.
To thank my helpers, though I did not know who they were, I dug the honey out of the pantry and drizzled each slice to give it a thin honey glaze. I set a plate of the prepared treat outside on my patio table, and returned to clean up the mess that was left. It took me the rest of the afternoon to get all the flour cleaned up. The main problem with baking in a small house – no matter how careful you are, flour gets into every room.
Over the next week, I made sure to leave a little thank you out every evening. By morning, the thank you gifts were gone. Had my mysterious friends come back, or was some animal coming by to eat it for them? I couldn’t tell, though I’m guessing it was my friends because the garden experiment was growing faster than it should.
Day one had seedlings. Day two had young plants that looked to be about three weeks old. Day four I had to start harvesting unless I wanted them to bolt. Day five I had more than enough to stock my market stall. Day six introduced an entirely different variety of plants, many of which I would never have voluntarily planted. Day seven, I was at the market, and sold out. A pickup bed full of lettuce, snow peas, snap peas, black eyed peas, onions, turnips, turnip greens, collard greens, and Swiss Chard – gone. What a day.
Following the same schedule, I was surprised to see a second ‘ponic set up appear beside the first. This one had more root crops than ones to pick, though it did have my favorite leafy in the mix. Who can turn down cabbage? Nice, big, loose heads that make peeling the leaves apart for wraps a breeze. But, it also meant I was now spending most of my Thursday in the greenhouse picking, rather than in the house working. And, that is what started the misstep I took with my helpers. The money from the market was nice, but without more people (or mysterious helpers) to step in for free, it could never replace the income I earned from my real job.
Four weeks into this new venture – more diverse crops for new ‘ponic set ups every week – I finally had enough. The help was nice, but it was no longer help. It was now torture to go out in the morning to see what else had cropped up. I wrote a brief note that I left on the table in place of the thank you gifts, and that was when I learned the old truth mother had tried to tell me way back when: “Never upset your faerie helpers.” It was polite, I swear. Here’s what I said:
“To my helpers,
Thank you so much for all your help around the garden. However, it would be greatly appreciated if you could tone it down a little. 3 of the ‘ponic set ups is more than I can keep up with, and I am afraid some of the produce will spoil.
A housebound mute”
The next morning, the note was gone. So were all signs of my helpers. I had grown accustomed to having them come in and clean the house, feed the fish, and tend the garden. I was not ungrateful for their help, they had just been helping too much, and I hoped they would scale back their gardening a little.
What I had not counted on was the pair thinking the garden was for them, and I was being allowed to harvest out of it like a pensioner. I’m afraid that is exactly how they felt though, because the next day it started raining. And, that is where this whole story began – with the flood they caused, and me going out to check on the ‘ponics units.
So, if you ever get a helper in the garden – let them do whatever they wish. Trust that they will use the vegetables you do not harvest, and will not let anything spoil. I’m sure you do not wish to start living in a swamp, like I am now.