RSS

Tag Archives: gardening

Dig it, if you know how

There’s no shame in asking how to use a shovel, or, especially, its less known but much more useful cousin, the spading fork. But the young person didn’t know what she didn’t know, so I showed her. Still, she tended to stick to scraping away at the top inch (not knowing much about roots or worms either, apparently), and needed another tutorial. I hope I get the chance. Not likely, though, as she’s part of a youth team volunteering to help out in the community, including at our school, and although I went in today to help get them started on cleaning a space for a garden (a garden!), a have boundaries, and probably won’t commute the hour round trip on my vacation again.

We were allowed a small plot, not quite, but almost, the worst soil around. That’s okay, I thought, we can experiment–it can be the “before” condition–hard packed, dry, leached of nutrients. We’ll see how many wild plants can grow there anyway–which ones, and how adapted they are (and how they exemplify “grit”). Then we’ll lay down the compost, add some fish meal, and see what happens.

The plot is about 16′ by 20′, if I stretch the boundaries as much as I can without having my knuckles rapped (again). We have to border it so the mowers will steer around it, but no permanent structures, please. They were expecting a garden fanatic like me would want to build foot-high raised beds, I guess, not knowing anything (but who does nowadays?) about what raised beds are for.

The principal had his knuckled rapped too, by me, for suggesting I’d probably want to cut down the elderberry bush at the side of the site. I said I didn’t think so, since it was the only tree for a mile (I was exaggerating), and had miraculously escaped mowing by these blade-happy Dutch Reform descendants. He was humble, and accepted the jibe with good grace, although he’s of the same lineage. Even unused fields aren’t allowed to turn to meadows in their fallow years, and evolution strongly favored short, fast-reproducing plants, animals, and fungi here. Just a theory, of course.

 
 

Tags: , ,

Will it be the hot water bath or the pressure cooker? Or hung out to dry?

Will it be the hot water bath or the pressure cooker? Or hung out to dry?

An uncle in my husband’s family, now deceased, made it his mission to collect all the family records, photos, and news, and organize them into albums. Now and then my mother-in-law would forward a request from him–she was the one most in tune with my husband’s branch–for current photos or dates of significant events. It pleased me that someone was taking the time, and that he extended his attention to anyone grafted in to the branch of the family he had married into (he was probably keeping records of his birth lineage also). Someone might want this information some day, even need it, and he didn’t want it to be lost.

I am in the thick of preservation of a different kind this fall, as the tomatoes, plums, and apples pile up and I boil up sauces and jam and pack and boil the jars, slice and array fruit on screens, bunch herbs to hang from the light fixtures, roll seeds out of their crackling pods and blow off the chaff. As well as putting food by, I am preserving the tradition of my parents, who did this kind of thing. Instead of settling in the suburbs and shopping and the superstore, though their children tried to drag them into the late twentieth century where life looked so much more socially acceptable. For some reason the subsistence of my dad’s parents on rabbit, fish and salmon from the Gander River watershed never left him traumatized and clamoring for economic progress and a “higher” standard of living. He still had Shakespeare and art, and the salty bay to swim in. My mom’s folks weren’t exactly subsistence, but living by the river with a teacher mom and a journalist/gentleman farmer dad, she caught on to the handwork that makes a home from scratch, and being a hardworking, creative person, used it as a creative outlet. Said the best wool for dying and hooking into rugs came from her dad’s old stump socks. Living in the sticks between the St. Nicholas River, she still picked up Acadian French culture at the hardware store and overheard interviews her dad conducted in the living room with the reel to reel, heard the clacking of the typewriter on the roll top desk. It was all a kind of free range parenting, I guess.

Because of my parents’ decision not to get a television–it really hinged on that, which makes me very skeptical now of the rush to get all children “connected,” I picked up a few things too. Not so much through being formally trained, but because I saw that using the sewing machine, paint, pen, wood and whatever, was a way to get things done–to create, capture, produce, build, get a meal without getting a ride into town. And other than being coerced into helping with weeding or grinding or winding wool now and then, I was free range, too.There was school, but homework wasn’t demanding and could be done on the bus, and sports was floor hockey or touch football with the principal and vice principal before the late bus came, so it didn’t take up much time. Time, a world of books and the outdoors, free of so-called twenty-first century essentials, was for the mind of a child like warm, damp compost to worms.

In the old days, seasons came–fishing season, planting, haying, harvesting, hunting, storing away, and winter trapping, and someone was around doing similar work and able to lend a hand—neighbor, spouse, child or uncle. Now, when anyone an be anything they want to be and we lean on a college education and the world economy for our livings, seasons are interchangeable in the global economy, and there’s always something more fun and entertaining to do than hoe the garden, weed, pick berries, shell peas, or make apple sauce. So I’m often alone in the garden and in the kitchen. Alone experiencing the satisfaction of accomplishment and sense of security and good sense (as I add up the savings in grocery bills and fuel costs, and possibly health costs) of a job well done. Here’s to home economics and shop.

Here’s my justification for the reintroduction of home economics shop into the curriculum: No matter whether robots take over our carpet cleaning, factory work,  telemarketing, and lab research, being capable of growing food (along with finding wild food) can never completely become obsolete. Nor mechanized—it’s both too complex, requiring intelligence, adaptability, physical strength and endurance, and creativity, and too simple, relying on fundamentals like sunshine, microbial life, rain and air, all of which have no technological substitute. The temptation to modernize, mechanize, and outsource is there, but one soon finds that the costs outweigh the benefits. Growing and storing food handy to the house is immensely satisfying, meeting the human need to labor and build, providing great opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth, and enhanced by team work and community. There is rhythm, change, beauty, and surprise. There is the call to be creative and innovative within the complex rules of ecology and the limits of conditions and available supplies. There is abundant life, from the succulent Swiss chard and rambling pumpkin vines to the daily visits of hummingbirds, discoveries of multicolored varieties of leaf hoppers and spiders, pollinators large and small. In this season, there’s a sense of the miracle of such abundance, as I go back again and again to fill yet another bowl or basket with produce. Then as the shadows of the trees lengthen across the yard I heat up water, slice and blend and boil and hope that this time we can get through an entire winter without buying store potatoes, frozen beans, or dried oregano. Certainly we’re good on tomato sauce and applesauce.

.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

While the bread rises

I was in a serous mood, having just read some thoughtful, intelligent writing, and so inspired, started writing this post. It was about how I have been kidding myself that there’s a Reality, after all, beyond subjective interpretation. That there are time, and space, and atoms, and biological and ecological imperatives, and even something above all that and both superior, higher, and, sadly corruptible at that higher level, resulting in detestable, shameful, manifestations of human free will, and fates worse than death! But that I would, by choice–faith, if you like—continue to believe in  this Reality, or Truth, because I can’t think of any beliefs that I like better.

I took a break, noticed that my store of tomatoes and zucchini were growing, and decided to get on Facebook to ask a friend for that vegetable chowder recipe. Facebook, which I had abandoned over a year ago for reasons of principle as well as personal weakness. I set up an account again a few days ago, because I missed being in contact with some really old friends I couldn’t reach in any other way. Told myself I’d just get back on for a month or two, post a minimum of information, find friends enough to build a network, then say good bye and invite them all to try out MeWe, the private, no ad social network alternative I use.

I got sucked in. Yes, Facebook worked its magic, and soon I was clicking Send Friend Request on names of people I lived near, saw often, or was related to, instead of just my long lost. I started reading, remembering, laughing, deciding which old friends I still might have enough in common with, trying to remember which ones to avoid because they were always liking commercial links and posting photos of their meals, political and religious videos and news items, and rescued dogs. Or because there was am uncomfortable mutual memory I wasn’t ready to hurdle yet. A never ending list of “you may know” names got me scrolling, looking for familiar faces.

Then I came back to WordPress, and my words here appeared to be in a foreign language by comparison. Facebook by its very nature calls for cheery, impersonal, generally acceptable images and phrases, and anything unique, flavorful, provoking, personal must be shared with caution, for it’s bound to irritate, cause concern, or confuse some. Posting for the kind of group I’m now connected to is a strange and artificial act. Maybe the best strategy, besides saying almost nothing and sticking to personal messages, would be to mimic a certain farmer friend who posts gorgeous photos of farm life and landscapes, with a few of his children playing and working. Seems like everything else could irritate or worry the folks on my friend list. On the other hand, it could be a wonderful challenge, like a game with lots of rules, which necessitates strategic thinking and creativity. Would it be possible to get a hmm or a smile (a like?) from both the conservative Christian relative and the beer-happy former school buddy?

That’s enough of that. I think I’ll be okay. It’s good to be back. I haven’t sat down at the writing table much because I’ve switched to food growing mode. My garden is now overflowing with beans, Swiss chard, tomatoes, beets, berries, herbs, and some flowers, and everyone knows about that sort of thing–its just the turning of the seasons. Every year I get more in the swing of this, less likely to neglect the plantings, prunings, feedings and thinnings needed to keep everything growing strong, better at keeping up with the harvest and preserving so not much gets wasted. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that the youngest half of the family prefer microwave popcorn and quick snacks when there isn’t a full course meal on offer. For the rest I cook up or cut up two or three vegetables or put out salad ingredients, and now and then bake some muffins or bread. Every day I dump the kitchen compost pail, pick a big basket of beans and a few tomatoes, and stop to watch the hummingbirds zip over and rest on the wire fence, and admire the honeybees and other pollinators who sip at the ever blooming borage and crocosmia. The spring plantings are at the maximum, early summer plantings coming on, and the next phase of planting is here, the fall crops that will be set in the ground as soon as the summer crops are done. Chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, carrots, beets and salad greens will stand well into fall and some overwinter. Meanwhile it’s almost time to take a child or friend or tow to a hedgerow to gather wild blackberries, and after that I’ll pick my first crop of apples from the new trees i planted year before last, as well as the golden sauce apples and Italian plums from the older trees. I never get tired of this–it’s the same, but also new every time, and I can become more and more in tune, more in harmony, if am given and make the opportunity.

This Reality that I spoke of before has to do with this cycle, as reflected in the seasons, but also with something linear, a journey of learning, with an option of growth. In my education days, and before that studying biblical exegesis, it was represented by a spiral, each lesson or concept being revisited in turn at a higher level, with the general trend being cumulative and integrative learning. I turn away from that option of growth often enough, as if there is no purpose in this after all but to amuse myself and keep from letting my circumstances give me too much trouble. I certainly resist being shown the error of my ways by anyone close to me, preferring approved, and impersonal, sources. Still, I hope, I hope and try and try to yield, if that makes sense.

 

Tags: , ,

The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon, with Erica Reinheimer

The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon, with Erica Reinheimer

As described in my gardening blog, this spring my husband and I built some nice, tidy raised beds and put up a greenhouse (see post here). I supplemented the clay with sandy soil for better drainage and amended with partially composted horse manure/sawdust from the local riding arena, and figured that with the addition of the right compost and some rotation, the beds would be good for the duration. The garden grew great into the summer, then my dad gave me a copy of Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts (2006). I learned that I had set up an unnecessarily water-hungry system that would give me more individual vegetables but of less health and quality for the same biomass than if I had everything more spaced out, and that I needed way more land since seasons of fallow were essential for soil regeneration. I also got advice on growing better seedlings, creating high quality compost (doesn’t just happen) without adding excess CO2 to the air, mixing a complete fertilizer, “fertigating” with fish emulsion, and opening up the clay soil with gypsum. So there was hope for the next five years or so, when our neighbor’s cedar trees (planted while we were overseas, without consulting with us about impacts) would shade our garden so much that vegetables would be out for us anyway. More reason to move out into the county.

Back at home I ran into JW, co-owner of our local urban farm/nursery/local produce market and former next door neighbor. Told him what I was reading. Of course JW knew Solomon’s work, being an eager, lifelong student of farming knowledge, but he asked if I’d read his latest, The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food (2013). Said the author had learned a whole lot more and had discounted some of his earlier teachings. He grabbed a copy  off a display and put it in my hands–“Here, read this one.” Wanted me to take it free. I protested, said I’d buy one when I was finished the other, but he insisted and so I thanked him, let him get back to the field, and paid for my fruit and potting mix. Not the first time JW has refused to accept payment over the years of our friendship.

Solomon wrote about what he’d learned about the way soil mineral content affects health, based on old studies of dental health and old military draft medical records  (when people still ate from their regionally grown foods). He linked this with the way minerals become available to plants and are depleted over time, affecting produce quality. Areas where rainfall (or irrigation) is highest experience the most leaching of minerals, and land continuously farmed further loses minerals, noticeably affecting plant health (and dependence on agriproducts). Farmland constantly sends plant and animal products and the waste materials (humanure and urine) of those that consume them off the land, never to return, and nothing, not even all the composted materials left over, can replenish the minerals in them–even the compost is depleted, because it’s grown on the same land. So farming and gardening is not a closed system. Today I read the proud statement of a local organic CSA that their farm was nourished completely by on-farm materials, and I have a mind to warn them of the error of their ways so they won’t run into trouble in the long term (how long depends on the mineral reserves of that particular land).

The historic response to this mineral depletion was to move west and start again in newly cleared land. The modern response is to go for overall productivity in terms of sellable biomass by using fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and industrial scale machinery, and add whatever minerals keep the land producing. Food grows, but with ever decreasing resistence to disease and pests, ever decreasing nutrient values, and sometimes, in the case of organic farming, harmful buildup of certain elements in the manure and compost added. It’s not about organic versus non-organic products, Solomon explains, because many organic farms and gardens fail to remineralize their soil too, and so consumers get low nutrient food. As in high carb combined with, low protein, vitamins and minerals.

Hence the need to bring in minerals from sources downstream in the form of sea products, seaweed, and slow release mineral deposits that include trace minerals only lately recognized as essential to plant and human health. And hence the hope that humans can come to their senses about composting their own manure, urine and bodies instead of wasting all those accumulated minerals.

On the home gardening scale, this means mixing up a custom fertilizer with all essential plant nutrients, including trace minerals and enough nitrate nitrogen (originally derived from atmospheric nitrogen gas) to drive rapid plant growth. Compost is also important for opening up the soil, feeding plant flora and fauna that create good soil tilth, and moisture retention in sandy soils. But it’s not the be-all and end-all that gardeners have been led to believe. There’s even such a thing in some regions as too much compost, as I found out by ignoring Steve Solomon’s warnings that it could harbor seedling-eating pests.

I just mixed up Solomon’s latest version of Cascadian Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF), and yesterday I fed my broccoli seedlings with a dose of fish emulsion. They grew over a half inch overnight–that’s about 20%, at their size! I expect that once the COF is taken up by my other crops, I’ll see improvements in flavor, disease resistance, and nutritional value. I told my dentist today that this checkup would be the baseline and that he should see improvement. Hard to believe, but a person can grow leaf lettuce that’s 20% protein!

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 26, 2014 in Beautiful Earth, How to, Writers & Books

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

We splurged on a big one, hoping it would help us all center somewhere in the home landscape, be a spot of choice for our teens, fun for the younger ones, and an attraction for all their friends. They are all using it, for exercise, for fun, for a dry place to lie and chat while scanning the sky and fir tree silhouettes as the dark falls, and for sleepovers after that.

It took me about a week to get up on it myself. Just didn’t get around to it until then. I was surprised how good it felt, how uplifting. And a good workout. Keeps one accountable in the area of remembering to do one’s Kegel exercises, too, which one occasionally neglects, doesn’t one? It’s kind of modeled after a pelvic floor itself, in a way. I remember the feeling of my son trampolining on mine in utero.

The city children’s hospital has a vegetable patch in the picnic area by the cafeteria. We looked at growing chard, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, and ate fish and chips. My son expressed the hope that some of it would be served in the cafeteria. Been thinking a lot about food lately, since starting listening to the audiobook Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Carefully researched, clearly articulated, gently communicated, and illustrated with stories from their family’s year of eating food produced as locally as possible. I understand better now the true cost of the low prices I’ve been paying for food, the ways I’ve participated in the system that drives small farmers into bankruptcy.  Time to be more proactive in my food choices for the family. And to try to take the author’s gentle approach at attempting to coax themy into better purchasing and eating habits. We use our share of processed foods, feedlot meat, and vegetables from megafarms which destroy living ecosystems, impoverish soils and guzzle fossil fuels, all subsidized by us, the taxpayers. Time for me to research what to cut out and ways to replace those things, or not.

There’s the garden, of course, containing the most local food of all. We are blessed with a sunny, fenced back yard which is now graced with a large, organized, productive vegetable patch, complete with greenhouse (formerly a large, muddy, productive garden that needed a lot of upkeep). I’m recording the expenses and inputs (labor aside–that’s a pleasure and free exercise anyway), as well as outputs in the form of seedling and food production. So far, though we started late, we’ve had abundant salad greens, onions, beets, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, and a few berries. As soon as we use our store bought potatoes I’ll dig some of our own reds, yellows and bakers, which always mature before I expect them to. The tomatoes are just starting to produce little green balls, and in a month or so there will be cucumbers, squash, beans, cherries, aronia berries, and eventually peppers and apples. My goal is to have the family eat and preserve all we can use, as well as save seeds, and give away all the rest. I’m also planning to be more insistent that the children participate in this, so they can learn at least the basics of harvesting food. That’s the fun part, which I hope will help interest them in the planting and cultivation aspects later on. Not much time now to refine the seed-to-table techniques of my oldest, and to expand their healthy meals recipe repertoire.

Now I shall jump to my conclusion, leaving you with the link to the site related to the book, with seasonal recipes for your garden or local farm produce: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

If earthworms can do it, so can you

If earthworms can do it, so can you

I’m slowly making friends, building a partnership, with my clay soil, gradually over the last seventeen years. I no longer criticize, complain, despair over my native allotment, but marvel at what is possible. Guess I was attracted to the challenge of growing in the stuff, or I would have carted the stuff away years ago and bought a few cubic yards of sandy loam, which can be had from formerly fertile valleys now paved over with malls and car dealerships.

This morning the sun was angling in the kitchen windows, and though I had cleaning and packing to do, I took my camera out to record some frames. On the surfaces of the paths, which had been trampled by many feet to a slick, water-bonded foot of clay, I saw tiny piles of worm castings, like little brown squirts of toothpaste escaped from tiny tubes squeezed from underground. How the creatures managed to plow through is a wonder, but plow they did, and in the clay I could see their work, though it was invisible in the crumbly, dug beds. Something has switched on this week with the warming of the soil, as if it has reached the biological equivalent of a melting point. Two weeks ago when loosening the soil with a spading fork I came upon many an earthworm and night crawler, but they were sluggish and waiting. This week, suddenly there are castings, the grass has started to send out new shoots, and the groundwater is sinking away. The earth is gripped by a mighty force of many little muscle fibers, root hairs, dividing cells, capillary forces, swelling buds, as the earthworms labor to aerate and each kind of plant in turn reaches its appointed budding, leafing, flowering time.

20140326-1888 GMG 20140326-1892 GMG

 
 

Tags: , , , ,

Don’t forget to play hooky once in a while

Don’t forget to play hooky once in a while

My son and I took time off from lessons today, which was the proper thing to do under the circumstances. Sunshine, quiet, no appointments or errands to do until 4:15 pm. While I thought he was sleeping in because of restlessness in the night, I went outside into the October sunshine to work over and plant a few more rows of winter peas. Loosen soil, pull, shake off and back-hand weeds into the compost, rake smooth, hoe long grooves, pour seeds from the jar into one hand, pinch and drop an inch and a half apart. Spacing by instinct–peas like to be close, and an inch and a half suits the size of these.

My daughter’s half grown husky trotted over to watch, stepping around and directly on my work, dog-smiling, sniffing, trying to figure out and participate in the fun. Must be digging of some kind, she thought, but what’s the prize? She’d stop in front of my kneeling form, crossways a few inches from my face, sniff, look at me, and wait for a clue. I had to push her aside several times or distract her by tossing something. She got particularly excited by pulled up plants with lots of soil on the roots. She’d grab them and shake wildly, soil flying in all directions.

I work around a few grown plants which, propped up with stakes and ties and now framed by rich, smoothed soil, look colorful and regal, making their last stand. A few sunflowers, seeds ripening for the chickens or jays, three pepper plants laden with green fruits which I hope will turn red before rotting, a few speedwell and other flower volunteers which promise an early spring bloom, and some broccoli plants, looking worn by several months of production. I’ll feed and mulch them and hope for more side shoots this fall. A few strawberry plants have to be weeded, and it takes concentration to tell berry plants from the roving buttercups that have the same habits and almost the same leaf shape. On closer inspection, the buttercups’ hairy stems give them away. They pull up easily if grasped just below the soil’s surface, with a satisfying, muffled pop.

Finally I take a break and check my son’s room. He is not asleep after all, has not been for some time, but is reading in his upper bunk, no doubt hoping I will not call him for table time formal academics. But we’re playing hooky today, I tell him with a smile, and explain what that means. Why not? There are teacher work days, snow days, holidays, sick days, mental health days. But even at my age I take pleasure in walking away from the routine, the obligation that has become oppressive, the to do list. The lesson today: the importance of hooky. No one wastes a hooky day–we suddenly realize what we really want to do, and independently go about it, with quiet delight.

Some time in my grade school years, I remember asking Mom to wake me up on Saturday as if it was a school day, just so I could realize it wasn’t, and sink back into delicious sleep. These days, sometimes making a list of what I should get done has the same effect–I realize it can all wait, and off I go to accomplish completely different things, which I was not allowing myself to tackle because they weren’t urgent enough. Only important. True, one ought to fulfill duties, set goals and pursue them, take care of mundane and practical responsibilities. But it’s important to take one’s mental health days too. If only I could have a whole week of hooky.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Education, Places & Experiences

 

Tags: , , , , , ,