A final tour around Horsefeathers Farm

Several years ago I introduced The Olympian readers to the place I call home in rural East Olympia, a hobby farm just shy of three acres whimsically named Horsefeathers Farm.

The name comes from a 1932 Marx Brothers movie that I’ve never seen. I thought the name fit because we used to have horses when my daughter was a teenager — she’s 24 now — and birds are always flocking to the feeders scattered around the yard.

A quick Google check Wednesday uncovered several other Horse Feathers Farms spread across the country — horse farms in Belville, Texas; Middleton, Maryland; and Astatula, Florida; plus a farm in Clarksville, Ohio, that specializes in breeding the endangered Parma wallaby. So much for the clever, original name for my farm.

With the horses gone, does my East Olympia home qualify as a farm? Not really. There are vegetables, berry bushes and fruit trees growing with varying degrees of success, but nothing of commercial quantity. There are three cats and a dog residing there, but no chickens, goats, pigs or other livestock. There’s a barn, but it’s more like a storage shed. There are two pastures, but a John Deere lawn tractor, not four-legged creatures, tend to it.

But I did learn early on through feedback from readers that my occasional dispatches from Horsefeathers Farms, typically tied to the seasons, enjoy a following. I’ve written about gardening failures and successes, home improvement and maintenance projects, milestones in the family life of a single dad, and any variety of topics that resonate with people. I’ve been surprised by how often people stop me on the street or in the grocery store or at the post office and ask: “What’s going on at Horsefeathers Farm?”

Well, here’s a final mid-spring update because I’m stepping away from newspaper journalism at the end of May. I’ve been working under newspaper deadlines for 40 years. It’s time to channel my writing in other directions.

But before I do, here’s one last walkabout, complete with random observations, at Horsefeathers Farm:

The rosemary and lilac bushes are in full bloom like I’ve never seen before. Next to the rosemary, the garlic plants stand two feet tall, the 100 Walla Walla sweet and red onion sets are making vertical progress, and the strawberry plants are trying to recover from a deer invasion three weeks ago — on the day after I put two dozen new plants in the ground, then forgot to spray them with organic deer repellant. The two does were discriminate browsers, eating all the flowers that, left interrupted, would have had a chance to become berries.

I dug up and separated my dahlia bulbs on Monday. All but one of 16 bulb clusters survived the winter under a blanket of compost and leaves. The tender shoots are encircled by cages and a liberal sprinkling of cedar bark to dissuade slugs from chewing them to the ground. I’ve never tried cedar bark as a slug deterrent before, but I’m also using it to form a border/barrier around the entire garden perimeter. If it works, it will be a lot cheaper than commercial slug bait.

The first vegetables I planted in early April — peas, spinach and arugula — are in their infancy, but growing every day. The second planting of spinach two weeks ago has almost caught up with the first one. I guess I should have spaced out the successive plantings a bit more.

Kale, beets, mixed greens and romaine seeds that went in the ground about 10 days ago are beginning to sprout. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in seed packages: fewer seeds at a higher price. I think it’s a trend that extends to most consumer products. I need to be a bit more judicious when I hand sow the seeds.

The potato hills don’t show any signs of life yet, but I’m definitely not worried about them. The chives are now adorned with seed pods and the rhubarb needs another burst of sunny weather to reach harvest size.

The lily of the valley are blooming next to the stone walkway to the garden and we’ve ripped out the blanket of goat weed that covered the soil under the blueberry bushes, which are attracting plenty of bees these days.

The Japanese rose bush we purchased at last year’s Master Gardener plant sale is showy with bright yellow flowers, a far cry from last fall when the neighbor’s goat ambled into our back yard and ate the plant down to a stub.

The wild trilliums in the forest have disappeared as suddenly as they appeared, and the venerable big-leaf maple tree is an explosion of leaves and pollen pods, all turning golden in the rays of spring day’s setting sun.

I still have a few columns left in me, but this is the last time you’ll be reading about Horsefeathers Farm, at least for a while.