Updated: Dec 10, 2021
It was 10am before I made it outside with an unsuspecting storage tub and a shovel. I quickly filled the Sterilite with some precious alpaca beans I had been saving for just this day. My top dressing. My secret, low-salt sauce that I was going to fold into my rows with some mycorrhiza and perlite. Why? A hunch. It wasn't expertise. My secret sauce may be just raisins in potato salad; I won't know until I know, but I did it anyway. Because today was THE day. The day when I dragged my poor sister and her husband onto a ferry in a Subaru with a tub of manure and assorted sharp fence stakes to help me create mini-mountains out of some serious vole hills.
But before we made a hill (or row in this case) of beans, we had to check drainage. The best way to do that, I'm assured by google, is a perk (percolation) test. We hopped out of the loaded why-isn't-this-a-truck-already-Subaru and dug the requisite 12" deep hole. Unlike my secret sauce, this method has serious backing amongst growers. The perk test is simple. Fill the hole with water, wait, repeat, and watch it drain. This is important for any garden, but immensely so for a peony field. The most assured way to kill unkillable peonies is to drown them. They say. For more details, here's one of them saying it. I believe them.
While we waited for the waiter to drain, we got to work hilling the rows. My sister cheerfully posed for pics and relocated rocks. And more rocks. And some more. I think moving rocks is 90% of farming. The rest, this time of year, is apparently trying to move concrete dirt that aggressively resists relocation despite deep tilling. I needed to do 8 rows, 150' long and 24" wide. With the extra help, we just barely managed 2. They looked nothing like the deliberate rows plastered on every "so you want to be a farmer" site I'd seen. Instead they looked like a wonky interpretation, which is, I'll admit, very on brand for me. I realized almost immediately while staking that a 100% manual approach this time of year was going to take far more time and energy than we had available. It was time to pony up. I needed a rear tine tiller with a hiller-furrow attachment, or I needed to call Herb.
Despite our laughable attempts to create rows and paths wide enough for a you-pick field without damaging peony stems, (grab field prep details here), the day was not without huge successes. I had launched the VPC website and introduced us on the local Vashonites and Vashon LGBTQ+ Facebook pages. I was met with overwhelming welcome and support for our endeavor. And I do mean overwhelming. I heard from people who were excited because peonies were their favorite flower, or reminded them of a loved one, or that they traveled by every day. I received advice and support from former Vashon growers and people who had traded with others to build out their collections. Some recognized that I had been named after an obscure LOTR character and I even heard from Herban Bloom, the incredible local Vashon florist shop I stan on instagram. It was a joyful welcome and one that is unique to Vashon. To learn more about why that is, visit the Vashon Heritage Museum Website.
By the time we were ready to stop pretending we were making any reasonable headway towards the rows, the perk test had completed. Despite the incredibly wet November and our call (on Herb's expert advice) to deep till the test field rather than plow it over as well, the perk test showed a fantastic (I think, google says many things) rate of just under 3" per hour. We will do additional perk tests throughout the year for the rest of the 3-5 acres which will be planted next Fall. These will be 18". Hopefully this will give us a great idea of how best to approach amending them prior to planting.
I tossed the empty poop tub back into the beleaguered Subaru and loaded up my very hungry brother in law and sister. We headed for the ferry by way of The Ruby Brink. I had been dreaming of their bone both since I'd had it months prior. I had tried to make every version of bone broth I could find off-island into something vaguely similar, but hadn't come close. It couldn't be as good as I remembered. Except that it was. I sat on the ferry and closed my eyes. The car quiet except for our occasional sipping, my eyes backlit by the Vashon sunset. And no worries Greg, I snagged extra to make sure some makes it home to you.