Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

We've Hilled The Leeks

Milestones occur, often, unexpectly. Simple acts or accomplishments that seem, at first glance, to be somewhat mundane do, in fact, at times, represent a major step forward in one's existance.
We've been in work frenzy of late, trying to beat a rainstorm that just won't come. A forecast for several days of solid rain that was announced a week ago put us in constant work mode, and we've been in the fields non-stop ever since (but for a brief holiday fete yesterday.) And the fields do look good. Things are green. They're in strait little rows. The weeds are at a near record minimum. Stuff that's supposed to be planted out is (pretty much) planted out. And, today, I hilled the leeks.
Leeks, you must understand, have never been hilled on this farm before. Ever. It's always on the list of things to do, but never seems to jump into the Top 10 in terms of immediate priorities. That all changed today. I hilled the leeks. With a hoe. With dirt. Around the leeks.
What that does for us, as well as our beloved customer, is provide more succulant white leek part than a non-hilled leek. In my mind, it sort changes the leek from something that was stuck in the ground into a gourmet specialty item, provided to you with loving care from your friendly organic farmer. It's just that type of care that I want to bestow upon all my vegetables. It's, to me, the difference between dirt farming and craft. The difference between planting and poetry, if you will.
And it happened today, at about 10:30, under a slight overcast haze, with a gentle breeze from the north-west, after a squoze a lemon wedge into a glass of ice-water and said, "Leeks are done. Let's move on to the bok choi bed. Wait, let's take an extra minute and hill the leeks."
I still don't know why. I've been feeling, of late, bereft of that wolf-at-the-door sensation. That excrement-quickly-approaching-the-12-inch-oscillating-fan sensation. That one-more-flat-tire,-one more-broken-tool-and-we'll-lose-it-all sensation. I've been feeling, in fact, on top of things and together. So together, in fact, that I hilled the leeks.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

It's a holiday and I'm feeling patriotic.
It all started halfway through the afternoon, when I realized it was Memorial Day.
Memorial Day! The unofficial start of summer! When kids get out of school and families take vacations and fish are jumpin' now! I'm a summer kind of a guy, and, moreso, am a guy whose life is thoroughly integrated with American tradition. And I'd almost missed Memorial Day ....
I acted fast. Got on the phone and called a few people ... who could come over? It was time for a cookout.
I realized I didn't exactly have any food around, but I have plenty of lettuce in the fields and a box of Duncan Hines cake mix on the shelf, and that was a start.
T* & S* called back. They were on their way, and they were bringing hamburgers and buns! It was all coming together.
J* came home early, and she had some potatoes.
My intern found a bottle of wine.
It was all coming together.
Folks started showing up, and we all went for a walk around S**'s pond. It seemed like a nice, leisurely thing to do on a holiday. We saw some goldfish and a snake and a coyote.
Back at the farm, we were ready for a cookout!
But the grill was out of propane.
The weedeater had gas, so I weedeated around the old firepit, and we had a blaze a-roarin' in no time. We let the coals simmer down a while, and then started grillin' burgers.
Ah, a summer afternoon in America. There's nothin like it. Kids were running around and katsup was being spread and smoke was getting in everyone's eyes and cake was being eaten and as it got later and the light got softer, I started to think about my days aboard the freight trains. My days when I rode across praries and mountains and through sunny fields of wheat, and looked out a boxcar door at backyards and crossroads and baseball diamonds and factories, and watched the sun get lower and lower in the summer sky until the light got soft and the grass glowed, somewhere outside Marysville, Kansas, or where-ever. And I swiped some more katsup on a hamburger bun, and I couldn't help but think of Fitzgerald. It's toward the end, where Gatsby's made his stab at his dream and failed. It's where Fitzgerald refers to the fresh green breast of the new world, and says that man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood not desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

There's been a lot going on here at Let It Grow, lately. I'm looking for the time to set it all down. Until I make that discovery, here's a bit of what you've got to look forward to:

We're fishmongers. We've suddenly got more interns than we know what to do with. If I sell Christmas trees again this year, I've been threatened with a supervisor's position. S** wants me to dig up his septic tank. I've now got experience with an Alaska sawmill and know how to put lawn mower wheels on a firewood cart. A driveshaft from a Toyota makes a good stand for a thirty-five year old drill press. We're exporting nasturtiums to the Outer Banks.

Yes, I'll find the time.


We’ve all had that thought, haven’t we? It comes after we realize that what we’ve done just can’t be undone. It comes after we’ve thrown something away, or after we’ve said what we really think of someone at Thanksgiving dinner, or after we’ve crawled into our car early one morning when we’re someplace we really never thought we’d end up. Or when we trade vegetables for macrobiotic meals.

Sometimes it’s accompanied by a seemed like a good idea at the time, and sometimes it’s accompanied by a what was I thinking? And sometimes there is the regrettable realization that we’ve no idea had we got into such a fix and couldn’t have possibly avoided it.

The macrobiotic lady used to work at Blue Moon Bakery. She’s from Portugal or Spain or Alsance-Lorraine or someplace where people ride around on bicycles with loaves of bread in the front basket. That’s how she’d come to market – on a bicycle with loaves of bread in the front basket. She’d trade bread for vegetables. The stuff they hadn’t sold at Blue Moon that day, she’d put in her basket and peddle down to market. That was a good idea. She kept me in bread for years.

Then she opened a macrobiotic catering business. She asked me if I wanted to trade vegetables for a macrobiotic meal once a weak.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Then she started bringing me my meals.

They’re not exactly digestible.

This has nothing to do with macrobiotics. I’ve had plenty of macrobiotic food that was perfectly edible. It’s more like … this particular macrobiotic food. Or … this particular macrobiotic cook. And, well … it’s not exactly digestible. Sometimes it’s just bland.

Bland like it needs a whole bottle of hot sauce.

And sometimes it’s just plain foul.

I don’t know how to get myself out of this.

Say: Thanks, but I really don’t get hungry at market. I mean, nevermind those donuts there, usually I really don’t get hungry at market.

Say: This trading thing isn’t really working out. Maybe you should just pay for your vegetables. Nevermind the half dozen other people you know whom I trade with.

Say: My doctor says I should eat nothing but animal proteins.

In the back of mind somewhere is the thought that this catering business just can’t last that long.

In the meantime I’m stuck. The fridge is getting fuller and fuller with little plastic clamshell trays full of pickled black-eyed peas and raw kale and some sort of barley looking substance.

And, as I say, I’m stuck. Maybe she’ll move, or go out of business, or just forget about me. Maybe macrobiotics will be proven to be bad for you, or her bike will get a flat tire.

In the meantime I’m stuck. I just hand her a little bag of vegetables. "Oh, that looks good," I say. "Look at those little black things in there. And, um, those green things. And, um, those, um, seeds."

"I know how much you like," she says. "I bring you more next week."

And she rides away.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The White Board's Not White

The dry erase board we write prices on. Or used to write prices on. It’s dirty and the frame fell off last year and there’s a green cabbage $1 LB that just won’t erase.
J* decides she needs a new one but hasn’t had time to buy one. And we can’t use the old one anymore.
It’s just not up to the very high standards that the general public has come to expect from Let It Grow.
She’s gonna improvise today – just get a piece of posterboard or something.
But -
And those of you who have been reading this space faithfully knew damn well there was going to be a but in this tale somewhere
-but there’s no place to buy posterboard in downtown Asheville. Julie walks all over. None of the artsy fartsy shops have posterboard or anything you can improvise with. Hell, you can’t even buy paper downtown. Earth Guild doesn’t even sell paper.
J* says, "I can buy a statue of some Zulu god with eight arms but I can’t buy any paper."
Time was of the essence. It was mid-day Wednesday and we had to set up for market. I hit the dumpster behind Hot Dog King and found a Lays potato chip box. I sliced a panel off it and – oh shit do I have a magic marker?!?
Yes. Under the seat in the truck. Where else?
So we had a sign.
We might be white trash, but we get shit done.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Looking For the Poem That Explains It All

by David Kirby

Someday I hope to find the poem
that tells me what is wrong
with everybody, why the beautiful
young girls in horror movies
turn to hags whose skin drips
from their faces, for instance,
or why people drive down the street
with looks of unbearable smugness,
as if to say, "My kids are better
than your kids, they will grow up
to be doctors and lawyers,
and I will always drive this big,
expensive car," and all the while
their coat or skirt is hanging
out of the door, torn and greasy,
dragging the ground. Sometimes
I myself hang up the receivers
of pay phones and tickle
the coin return, a furtive, almost
sexual gesture, only nothing
ever comes out except, once,
a small octagonal coin with a hole
in the middle and markings
no one could understand.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Tales From Organic Agriculture Part II

Exit, pursued by a bear
-stage direction from A Winter's Tale (1611)
William Shakespeare

Strawberries are in
Kale is big
Lettuce is sweet
The peas died

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

You've Got To Be Kidding

My friend B* is in for a big surprise. He's an environmental type - studied all the -ologies and is into trees and birds and things. He’s gotten a grant to go off and study - get this - yellow bellied sap-suckers.
You'd think that with his education he'd know that such creatures don't exist outside of SJ Perelman essays and vaudeville skits. But no. He's home right now packing.
I have a little bit of trouble imagining how the whole thing came about - no not really - it must have gone a bit like this:
Some Save The Everythings Foundation somewhere must have had a little bit of grant money left after some project, and decided to spend it on a laugh. The ad they ran in whatever paper must have gone a little like this:
Wanted: Bright young idealistic student who likes snakes and mosquito bites and wants to save endangered species. Must work for low pay. Must like birds.
Then B* calls, and whoever answers the phone struggles to stifle his laughter.
"We want you to - gasp - study bird migration. You'll be - humph! ah- ah-hem - climbing to the top of a mountain with six-hundred pounds of gear. Then, spend six months alone looking at -ha! er- gasp! Um - yellow bellied sap-suckers! A-ha. (Wheeze.) Ha! Ah, yes, yellow bellied sap-suckers! We'll pay you when you get back."
B*, while admits to never actually seeing a yellow bellied sap-sucker, is certain of their existence and is exited about the project. Stay tuned for more details.

On a completely different note, the farm operated at astounding efficiency today. (Don't ask me how.) Up early, I had all greens harvested before the sun hit the fields. They all got packed into boxes and stacked in the shade with-out any real screw-ups. I even fixed myself breakfast. The truck got loaded with plants starts - no. Let me start from the beginning. The plant starts that needed to go to market were all organized onto a specific table in the greenhouse, and got carried to the truck without being dropped or lost or forgotten or anything. They went right into the truck, followed by all other market paraphenalia: stand, scale, tables, tablecloths (washed,) and a cooler full of snacks and lunch.
Just then J* got home from bringing I* to daycare. Her truck got loaded with similar efficiency. There was nothing to do for like, half an hour. So I sat in the sun and drank tea. Then I got into the truck and left. A neighbor had called to tell me another logging truck went over a cliff, so I knew to take an alternate route to A'ville. I did. Got to market with plenty of time to spare. Relaxed and took my time setting up. Hadn't forgotten anything or broke anything or encountered any catastrophes. Just sat there on the truck all day and sold lettuce and plants. And sold quite a bit. J* even sold out of fish. Got packed up and went into the Co-op to buy some noodles and some tofu. Went up the road to have a beer with S* and B* and I*. Came home. Alright, somewhere on Leiceister Hwy the shifting fork fell off the truck. But I found it and put it back on. Even had an extra cotter pin. Here I am.
Sorry if this is kind of dull. I blog better during disasters or when I'm pissed off or when I'm in the midst of a mad scheme. But all I did today was what I was supposed to.

Monday, May 16, 2005

We're Being Strafed Again, It Must Be Time To Blog

The C-130 just flew over.

Today, we've experienced many centuries, nay, eons, at Let It Grow.

That paragon of 21st Century air power is just one example.

This morning, I carboyed up some locust mead. I feel home-made wine making (especially mead making) has a certain medievel quality to it. Don't you?
Something about opening up the little foil pack of starter yearst spoils it, though.

Out in the fields, it was time to pick up rocks. The rocks are probably a million years old.
The reason I need to pick up rocks is because tomorrow I'm going to run the rototiller beside the rows. Nothing like internal combustion.

Around about lunch, I discovered the starter on the tractor is cracked. Thinking about mules some more.

When I* got home, he reported that dinosaurs were chasing him.

Out in the fields, you feel like you're in touch with a two-hundred year tradition of Appalachian farming.
'Course, people have only been eating organic beet greens since 1972.

The farming work isn't done until I get on the internet a bit.
I'm going to need a better scale if we open our new seafood subsidiary. Something digital.

The fish subsidiary is something I'm really looking forward to. It will start a whole new phase of the business.
I'm trying to not get carried away with it though. I'd rather be a fisher of men.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Come One, Come All!

O’er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,
Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free
Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam,
Survey our empire, and behold our home.
The Corsair
Lord Byron

The cannons ceased. The ships had fired broadside. The pirates readied to board. Errol Flynn said it all: It’s cutlasses now, men!
Tailgate customers are in for a few surprises. I’m turning my stand into an undersea theme park. Coral reefs, sharks, Ester Williams, everything.
You’ll enter through Anemone Land, where fluffy little aqautic creatures will perform pas de deux around your ankles and welcome you to the oceanic delights to come. Oversized sea-dwelling hosts, like Toothy, the lovable killer whale, and Huggy, the wacky octopus, will pose for pictures with your kids and then lead you aboard the Titanic. You’ll go below deck and watch lovable Oompa-Loompas carve up the fatal iceberg and deposit the shavings in a series of coolers, all full to the brim with fresh seafood. Crabby (that’s me), a foul-mooded crustacean, will take your order, ably assisted by Lobby, a true Newport lobster who always seems to have his nose in the air!
But the fun has only just begun. Topless Tahitians will pack your order with a smile, singing melodic South Sea ballads of endless sandy beaches and eternal sunsets. Blackbeard himself will relieve you of your doubloons and cast you adrift in a lifeboat. You’ll float with the currents, standing on the poop deck with a little plastic bag of fresh flounder. You’ll follow the route of Ulysses himself, tied to the mast as advertisements for frozen fish sticks are channeled into your cranium. From there you transfer onto your choice of the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria where you will enjoy weeks of Puritan proselytizing as you drift through the Doldrums.
Okay, maybe my history is a bit confused, but for ten extra tickets you get to introduce smallpox to the Indian village of your choice.
You’ll wash up on an uncharted desert isle and enter into comic situations with the millionaire and his wife, only to be rescued and transported to Pearl Harbor. From there, you’ve only one way out. You’ve got to cross the River Styx. Like Errol said: It’s cutlasses now, men.

Filling Empty Spaces

My mind should be on more significant things, I know, but I prefer to think up ridiculous seafood marketing strategies and reminisce on the old Asia days. I got home from market and, after trying to smooth out my usual assortment of daily social faux pas, settled into an evening of reading Gurdjieff. So entranced was I that I didn’t hear the phone ring, and missed a call from my friend L*, who is about to go off to China. I called back, then she called back, then – well, it’s the phone tag thing. So I decided to obsess on the three Frenchmen in the dorm, and the need to fill empty spaces.

It was longer ago than I care to remember, and I was in Thailand. I had just been kicked out of Uttamo’s swamp monastery down in Sungai Golok and decided to go up to Buddhadasa’a temple for about a month before heading up to Chiang Rai. Buddhadasa’a place had a lot of Western people doing the spiritual tourist thing. He started conducting retreats after a while, and that led to even more Western people showing up. A misguided sense of altruism made me volunteer to help for a while.
There were three or four old building used as dormitories back then. Westerners started showing up a few days before the retreat and were shown to the dormitories. Two Frenchmen ended up in one dorm. Then, another Frenchman showed up. I put him in the same dorm as the other two Frenchmen. I don’t know why. It just seemed like a hilariously funny thing to do at the time.
Anyway, the district sheriff showed up the next day looking for one of the Frenchmen. He was brought all the way down to the provincial capitol and we just hoped he wasn’t in too much trouble. He came back a few days later. Here’s what happened:

He had forgotten to fill out one of the lines on his tourist visa application. That got through a few clerks, somehow, but finally got redlined. Some clerk somewhere was looking at the empty line and he didn’t like it. A manhunt was launched. They tracked down the poor little Frenchman and dragged him in. Empty spaces must be filled.
The next day the meditation retreat started. A roomful of smelly western tourists sat in front of a few monks and tried to not think. The monks lit incense and rang gongs and the tourists tried to clear their minds. Their knees locked up and their backs ached. They had traveled halfway around the world to try to find what immigration clerks most abhor.

Friday, May 13, 2005

When it rains ...

It comes fast and furious, sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all.
I heard the thunder for most of the afternoon, rumbling in the south, like it was over the flats of the Creek, or maybe up in Freizeland. It was moving my way, whatever it was, some huge anvil shaped thunderstorm or something. Good. I need rain. The soil in the upper field was so dry this morning I couldn’t sink a plow into it, and the tomatoes are waiting to go into the ground. A good thunderboomer is just what a need – a inch or two, all coming down at once, to loosen things up.
The rain got here at two or three. Not a whole lot, but fun just the same, accompanied by a little thunder and some wind gusts. It cooled things off nicely, and left the fields looking just the way I want them.
Around five I headed down to S**’s for a little porch time.
"It’s comin’," K** said. "It just passed the Methodist Church at the head of the Flats. You just sit there another ten minutes, and watch it come. I’ll make you a cup of coffee."
The phone rang and she ran inside.
"Oh, it’s comin’, son," S** said. "Sit tight. It’ll be here directly."
Upper Spring Creek, I found out, got a downpour. Sheets of water fell all through Sugar Camp. The bridge up Jimmy Moore road was under water. The creek coming down from Doggett was muddy, brown like chocolate. And the water was coming our way. People kept calling S* and K* to let them know of it’s progress.
K* came out with my coffee. "That was J*D*," she said. "It just passed their house."
I looked down at Spring Creek. It was fast and it was muddy, but really didn’t look unusual. We didn’t get that much rain.
"Oh, it’s comin’. I’ve seen this happen before," S** said.
Through the trees I could see a small stretch of the Creek up near S*’s old cabin. The water was tumultuous, white as it poured over the rocks, moving very fast.
Did it look like that a minute ago?
I could hear it.
"It’s comin’,"S** said.
The creek started to move much quicker beside the house. It started to rise. Then it was just as fast and tumultuous and frothy next to the house as it had been up near the cabin. It kept rising. It carried pieces of wood with it, and old soda bottles and then a basketball. It got faster and faster and browner and browner. Logs came down. And an old barrel. It rose up against the sandbar and then covered the sandbar. It had come up several feet in just a few moments. The barrel bonged against rocks and we could hear it round the house and continue downstream. More logs came and the water got higher. It crashed against the rock cliff below S**’s shed and bounced back in a white spray. K** showed me how the main current of the creek was going over the sandbar now, and the bank near the house was an eddy moving backwards. The water hit up against the cliff and bounced back upstream. It left debris on the edge of S**’s yard and pushed a few logs up past the bamboo patch.
It got even higher, and started to back up the tractor road against the sand bar. More plastic bottles and pieces of wood and logs raced past us. Another barrel bonged past..
"Gonna make a hell of a racket goin’ through the gorge, isn’t it, son," S** said.
K** brought me another cup of coffee and some pineapple upside-down cake.
"Lordy, it came up fast," she said.
"Sure did," S** said. "Reckon it’ll be in Hot Springs by dark."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Fable of the Lawnmower and the Volkswagen

The internet sucks when it rains. At least it does here on the Creek. You kinda just assume you aren’t gonna get on and you don’t even try.
My real problems started last September, when the what was left of the hurricanes passed through. There was rampant flooding, as you may recall – whole villages being swept downstream, millions of gallons of diesel oil spilling into the river, Asheville losing all electricity, general destruction on a Biblical scale. And the internet stopped working. At least for me.
I couldn’t get on at all and chalked it up to the storm. The flood waters will recede someday, I told myself, and life will return to normal.
No such luck. The computer wouldn’t connect to the outside world for the greater part of the autumn. Oh, I could get on about once every two weeks, but, for the most part, I was as isolated as Robinson Crusue, bereft even of a virtual Friday.
Ever since the hurricane, I kept thinking. What cataclysmic atmospheric circumstance could have effected us so? What unknown forces of nature have worked their way on the very Chi of cyberspace and knocked it flat on its back? Were the isothermals that bad? Was windspeed too high? The gusts too gusty? What demon did those clouds suck up out of the Brazilian rainforest and deposit upon our phone lines?
Things improved a bit when I got back from Texas. I connected readily. Easily. Dependably.
For a week.
Then it was back to the way it was: Sometimes you can get on. Sometimes you can’t. Keep clicking.
All the local experts blamed the phone lines. Too much static. Too much distance. Connections too old. The Verizon guy, here for the hundredth time, said, "Sounds like a wet line."
What does a wet line sound like?
Anyway, the hurricane waters were obviously following me. Here to stay, an albatross around my neck.
Then, a friend drops by, just happens to have a laptop, and plugs in. And gets on.
Signs off, and gets on again.
So, twenty dollars and a new modem later, here I am. Was that what it really was the whole time? A modem on the fritz? While I made obeisance to the hurricane gods?
There was a time many years ago when J*’s lawnmower broke down. She took it to the repair shop and left it there.
I showed up, fresh from the road in my old Volkswagen, and decided to mow the lawn.
I retrieve the mower from the shop, drive it home, and leave it in the bus overnight. Next morning, with errands to err to, I unload the mower. And tip the thing over in the process and spill gasoline on the floormat. I few paper towels later and I’m on my merry way.
Then I smell gas. More with every passing mile.
I curse the old mower and just keep going. Until I notice the needle just about on "E".
I go back and pop the hood and discover a cracked fuel line. Spurting gasoline all over the place.
(Never had a cracked fuel line in that or any other vehicle. Never spilled gas out of a lawnmower but for that one time.)
So there you have it. The cause of the problem is not always what is most obvious. The simple solutions can sometimes throw you for a loop, even maintain a distance between you and the real cause.
Back in the fourteenth century, a gentleman from Occam in Germany employed a handy little razor in solving complex problems. Easy for him. He didn’t have a computer.

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