Planning for Future Harvests

The bucolic view from our deck.

The green corn is starting to turn brown and dry and the sky has become gray more often than not. Fall is here and I expect the trees to start turning quickly in the next few weeks. The grass in the photo above will become a pollinator meadow and several garden plots: I’ve already laid out the borders and will be removing sod soon to prepare the beds.

In late October or early November, I’ll plant the quarter-acre pollinator meadow with carefully selected perennial seeds and a nurse crop of sterile wheat. More delicate species will need to be started inside and transplanted and still others will be sown in spring. In a few years, with some luck and a lot of work, I’ll have a fully established meadow habitat to host pollinator insects and other creatures (and have less grass to mow).

Each of the six garden plots covers 500 square feet. One plot will be planted with smaller garden vegetables and the other five will be put into rotation with space-consuming crops like potatoes, squash, and sunflowers. Other plots will be given over to blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and lavender and a small orchard of six apple trees will round out the harvest. Herbs and salad greens will grow somewhere yet to be determined.

Here’s hoping that gardening books and magazines and thoughts of fresh, ripe, homegrown tomatoes will help me get through my first long, snowy Michigan winter.

A New Adventure

Our new (old) house on move-in day.

Over the summer, Emily accepted a nursing position in St. Joseph, Michigan—the culmination of three and a half years of graduate work. With this news, we quickly embarked on our first homebuying adventure. This turned out to be what is perhaps the ultimate exercise in marital compromise. While I’ve enjoyed a lot of city amenities over the last decade, having grown up in a small town, I had been wanting to move back to the country for some time. Emily was not so sure of such an endeavor but we were very lucky to find a rural property in close proximity to several towns, Lake Michigan, and within an easy drive of Chicago and Grand Rapids. Despite the horror stories we heard about first-time homebuying, our experience was as smooth as could be expected.

Our new house is a circa 1920 farmhouse on five acres in Royalton Township, Michigan. The area is mostly agricultural with specialty crops like grapes, hops, tomatoes, and fruit trees. We’ll have plenty of space to start a garden and perennial pollinator meadow and I plan to expand my beekeeping efforts. Emily will be just a few miles from work and we’ll be five miles from Lake Michigan when we need to kick back and relax.

Of course, we are feeling mixed emotions about all of this: sad to leave friends, colleagues, and neighbors in Columbus but excited to start a new chapter in a new place.

Shaker Oval Boxes

My completed Shaker oval boxes.
My completed Shaker oval boxes.

Aside from building a tiny plywood boat in 2012, most of my woodworking projects don’t feature curves. They’re all straight lines and right angles to make my life easier. This year, however, that changed when I attended a class on the making of Shaker-style oval boxes with the expert on the subject, John Wilson.

John’s shop is in Charlotte, Michigan, four hours from Columbus if you drive the most direct route. Since the first session of the class started at 5:00 PM on a Friday, I took most of the day to meander along scenic two-lane highways through some of the small towns and countryside of northwest Ohio. I passed through Marysville, Bellfontaine (Ohio’s highest point), Ada, Kalida, Defiance, Bryan, and a host of small towns I can’t remember. After continuing into Indiana and turning north at Angola’s lovely town square, I arrived at John Wilson’s workshop right on time.

My classmates and I spent the first evening exploring the history and techniques of Shaker oval boxes; preparing the wood; and heating, bending, and assembling the sides for five different sizes of boxes. It was a long night for me: five hours of driving followed by five hours in the shop (and after all that, I didn’t even sleep well at my hotel).

On the second day, we completed assembly of our boxes by cutting, sanding, and installing top and bottom boards. I finished in the early afternoon and, before hitting the road, bought supplies so I could make more of these boxes in my own shop.

John’s parting words to the class were: “Whatever you do, finish these boxes.” Five months later, I did just that with Old Fashioned Milk Paint and three coats of spray lacquer and I couldn’t be more pleased with the finished product. I suffer from a common problem among woodworkers: incomplete projects however, had I known how beautiful these boxes would be, I would’ve prioritized them.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a class with John Wilson, I highly recommend it. If you like the boxes but can’t make them, check out the Shaker Workshops’ offerings.