Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bookish Meme

Okay, I'm game.

RoseMoon at Moonmeadow Farm tagged me for this meme.

The Rules:
Take the top name/link off the list below. Add your blog (with an embedded link) to the bottom of the list and paste the blognames/links into your post.

1. Third World County
2. BTW
3. It's Raining Again
4. Moonmeadow Farm
5. Let It Grow Organic Gardens
Number of Books Owned:
There's 77 books on the shelf to my left. I have eight such shelves. That's, um, 616 books. Plus two or three cardboard boxes full in the closet. And a few more in the schoolbus.

Last Book Read:
Fussell, Paul The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1975)
Loaned by my friend A*. An analysis of the poetry that came out of the First World War.

Last Book Bought:
Cranshaw, Whitney Garden Insects of North America (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2004)
I just read the interviews. I never look at the centerfolds, honest.

New To This Meme Thing, I Am Brazen Enough To Start A New Catagory:
Last Book Checked Out of A Library:
Cather, Willa O Pioneers (New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1913)
Because life ceases to be fun without a little agricultural literature thrown in from time to time.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:
Wolfe, Thomas Look Homeward Angel (New York, Harper & Row, 1934)
The first "grown-up" book I ever picked up and read of my own volition. I plowed through the whole thing in a week-end. And became an avid reader and have been one since.

White, E.B. The Second Tree From The Corner (New York, Harper & Row, 1954)
It's so simple, but it's so profound. It's so profound, but, it's so simple.

Nanananda, Bhikku Concept and Reality (Kandy, Buddhist Publication Society, 1971)
The farm is named after themes from Buddhist scripture explored in this book. (No, it's not named after the Grateful Dead song.)

Wolfe, Tom The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamlined Baby (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1965)
You mean you can analyze modern society and make it fun to read? Thanks Mrs. J*. I don't know how you got away with teaching this to tenth graders, but, thanks.

Kerouac, Jack On the Road (New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1957)
Need I say more?

New Victim:
Spiral at Blue Tape

(List as many victims as you dare.)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Animal Crackers

This is me being Marlin Perkins:

I stopped on the road this morning to help a box turtle get to the other side.

It rained cats and dogs (ha-ha) this afternoon and just about flooded everything for a brief time. A little timber rattler (I think) made it up to the high ground near the shop.

I was distracted a moment ago by the sound of a possum walking across the living room. Does that mean it's time to fix the hole in the floor?

There's a lightning bug crawling on my windowscreen. Everytime it lights up, I think it's headlights coming up the drive.

And, oh yeah: Let's watch Jim, now, as he attempts to count the cats on the farm.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Fuck 'Em and Feed 'Em Fish Heads

Our little town is reeling after Biker Week-End, but I'm laughing all the way to the bank.
It happens once a year, or something like that. Like the World Series, the 4th of July or Election Day. The local campground sponsors biker week-end, and, as you guessed it, bikers from all over come for the week-end. They roar around on their cycles, drink beer, crash, get arrested, and engage in other activities enjoyable to their ilk. Then they go home.

Most of my liberal, health-food eating alternative friends turn a disdainful nose sky-high and say, "I think I'll avoid town this week-end."

Not me. I ordered extra shrimp. I knew the hibachis would be strapped to the back of those bikes as they wound their way through the mountains toward our sleepy hamlet, and I knew the campground store would run out of hot dogs. "An extra couple of bags of shrimp," I told D*, my seafood guy down on the coast. "Hell," I said, "Send anything you can grill when you're drunk."

The bikes passed me in all directions as I came back from my Asheville market. They were joy-riding around the mountains and making a lot of noise doing so. Their numbers increased as I neared town. I came down the big mountain, over the river, and passed the campground. It was full to overflowing: all manner of bike, biker, biker spouse, biker wannabe and biker hanger-on. I went into town to see a few folks first. They were all shaking their heads.

"Do you believe it?" they queried.

"All this noise!"

"This is stupid!"

In noise and stupidity, I see business opportunities.

I went back to the campground and parked next to the zig-zaggy fence made of railway ties. I made my way into the morass, approaching anyone about to douse the coals with lighter fluid.

"Shrimp," I said. "Fresh from Kitty Hawk."

"Came up this morning," I said. "Couldn't be any fresher."

I got rid of all I had in less than half an hour. One bearded gentleman in a black vest even gave me some roasted corn on the cob. I pocketed the money and went back to my truck. I had no need to stay in town any longer. I wanted to get away before things got too crazy, wanted to get out of town before the road-blocks got set up. I had no further use for the drunken bikers. I headed up Meadow Fork. B* and H* were having a little get-together. I arrived as the bon-fire was being lit. The pickers were already there. A goodly crowd had gathered around B*, at the grill.

"Watcha got," I asked.

"Chicken wings," he said.

"Let's grill up some shrimp, too." I said. "I saved you a bag."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Everything I Need To Know In Life I Learned in Home Ec Class

This is from Food For Modern Living (J.P. Lippencott, Philadelphia, 1967):

Attractive table settings are problems in color and design. However, instead of using a pencil and paint to make your design, as you would in art class, you use china, glass, silver, and table linens. Just as in any design, the elements that make up the whole must harmonize. Therefore, all elements should be chosen to go together and planned as a unit. The individual elements in your plan need not be expensive. Good taste is often simple. Care and patience often mean more than price. Edward J. Wormly, who is often referred to as the dean of American furniture designers, gives this excellent advice in this respect: "Just because something is old, imported, expensive, or published in a magazine, is no sign it's of intrinsic value or suited to your way of life." With the prevalence of status symbols in our lives today, it is wise to remember this idea.
A noted designer, Peter Muller-Monk, recently gave this advice to teen-agers. "Avoid the two extremes of being scared to be different or trying to be different for the sake of being different." Find what you, yourself, like best. It can be fun as well as a lesson with lasting usefulness. What is more, your selection of a good design that particularly appeals to you will bring you lasting enjoyment. A cup and saucer can be a thing of beauty. They need not be elaborate - good design usually is not. They need not be expensive - a graceful shape has no price tag. But beauty, in any object no matter how commonplace, adds to your enjoyment in owning and using the object.
Aside from studying the table arrangements in stores, you can also train your eye and discover your own natural taste by visiting the nearest art museum. Here you will find whole rooms done in authentic detail for a given country and period. How you feel about living in one of these rooms may tell you a great deal about what you really like. Often, it won't be the most elaborately furnished room that will really seem like a home you'd want to live in.
After visiting the art museum, take a trip to your local five- and ten-cent store. Look for things in the store that give you the same feeling you had about the things you saw in the museum. It takes a keen eye to find the exact things because in these stores there are many trashy designs along with the good ones. But the good ones are there; simple honest fine designs uncluttered with poor ornamentation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More at 11

We're a week or two into hurricane season; there's a ferocious thunderstorm roaring directly above my head right now; the weather was a favorite topic of conversation at market today, and so, of course, my thoughts turn to Bob Caldwell.
Bob Caldwell, for anyone who has been living in a cave for the past twenty years, is the weatherman on WLOS and probably the most trusted man in America since Walter Cronkite bid us all farewell oh so many years ago.
But there's a lot more to Bob Caldwell than even many weather junkies know. He's more than a figure on the screen explaining the movement of high pressure systems. Yes. The man is also a connoisseur of epicurean delights, and, an all around regular guy.
A friend of mine, a caterer, was interviewed on a cooking segment that Bob does for the midday news update. That's how I learned that Bob can identify bread from a wood-fired brick oven by taste alone. "That's a real connoisseur," my friend said. Bob, as everybody knows, is a Madison County native. And the most important thing to him, he reports, is leading his grandchildren up into the woods and teaching them to identify ramps. This all gives me a new found appreciation for this simple man from the mountains. Perhaps he isn't relying on the National Weather Service, as I always suspected, but, perhaps, his forecasts are so superb because he has the ability to intuit weather patterns. I don't know. No one ever will. Bob would be too modest to say.
Bob was simple and down to earth as he interviewed my friend. Lights and cameras were all around, staff people were running here and there, Doppler radar was sweeping it's ever so regulated arm around the greater Asheville area, but Bob didn't act the star. He sat down and talked about food. And when it was all over, he helped with the dishes.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Interns Are About to Mutiny

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
T. S. Eliot

All I wanted them to do was start some lettuce seed.
I made the mistake of letting them see me add blood meal to the potting mix.
Nitrogen, I explained. Makes stuff green. Makes it grow. Makes pretty plants.
What blood is it? they asked. Where do they get the blood?
I knew there wasn't a right answer.
Slaughter houses, I said without hesitation. Never let interns see fear. I continued: Cows they're killing to make hamburgers. They collect the blood and dry it. I buy it and put it in my starter mix.
Intern #3 and Intern #4 are vegan. They asked about plant based sources of nitrogen.
This stuff comes in a little bag, I said. You go to the store and buy it. Put it in the starter mix. Makes pretty plants.
Intern #3 asked about nitrogen fixing bacteria on legume roots. He asked if that could be added to potting soil and made available to plants. Intern #4 suggested I get a bunch of rabbits and collect their droppings. Intern #3 asked what company was slaughtering the cows.
A bag, I explained. All you do is buy the bag. It's at the store.
I sneaked off behind the house to smoke a cigarette. As I returned, I heard them talk about farmers they had heard of who are vegans. They must have vegan potting soil, the interns concluded.

I've failed them miserably, and I now must confront that. All they wanted was for things to be perfect, and I reached out and gently balanced their bubble on the tip of my finger, gazed at it momentarily as the sunlight danced around it's surface, and burst it, unmercifully.
They work for someone who buys things in bags.
And I have become , I now realize, someone who buys things in bags.
Any dream that I once had of perfection was lost in the check-out lane. The farm that I once had in my mind to construct, a farm of self-sufficiency and ecological balance, fell victim to hard economic realities. No, there are no bunnies on this farm, and, no, I do not collect their droppings to feed my lettuce plants. Such a system, though appealing on many levels, has not been constructed here. Not yet. Because I'm too busy and too tired just keeping my head above water.
The vegetables are planted like soldiers in straight little rows. I cannot run this place without diesel and electricity. And I just don't notice anymore. I go through the same old motions, scrambling just to get things picked and loaded into the truck twice a week, and get a little bit of sleep and get up and do the same thing all over again. And barely break even. And then do the same thing all over again. The time I need to push through this envelope and create something better eludes me. Sometimes, it seems, the vision and the motivation elude me. There was a time, it seems, that I operated on nothing but vision and motivation. Now I count how many heads of cabbage I need to harvest just to pay the light bill.
I like having them around. The interns, I mean. Not the cabbage. I need their youthful idealism and exuberance to remind me of what all this can really become. I need them to prevent me from sinking into a rut. I want to do something more than count cabbages. We're here for more than that. We're here to feed each other.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wonderful Sight

It was one of those things that keeps ya goin'.
It was time this afternoon to disk some new ground for a squash succession.
I bring the tractor down to the shed to deisel up, then take it up the side of the field. I'm going past the high grass that has grown up around some fire-wood logs - tryin' to steer clear so as not to nick the logs with the disk (or, vice-versa,) and, there, through the grass, I glimpse the first day-lily of summer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Perhaps It's Only A Matter of Syntax

We trellised the tomatoes today, and made inquiries into their emotions.
Every so often we'd stop and reflect, and say, "Boy, do they look happy."
It's one of those things you say when you can't think of anything else to say.
Finally, Intern #1 wonders if tomatoes can be happy.
"You're right," I conceded. "Perhaps we're wrong to anthropomorphize the tomatoes."
Intern #3 asked what anthropomorphize means.
Intern #1 said I just made it up.
"Wrong!" I countered, on high ground. "To attribute human thought patterns or emotions to animals or inanimate objects. Hah!"
"I thought that was 'personify',"Intern #1 said.
"Excellent point," I allowed. "I don't know the difference between 'anthropomorphize' and 'personify'. I know a research librarian, though. I bet she knows."
"Is she cute?" was Intern #1's immediate response.
"Yeah," I said. "And knows the alphabet, too."
It was just another day at Let It Grow.

Monday, June 13, 2005

What's That At The End of the Tunnel?

I looked at Earl and his eyes was wide,
his lip was curled, and his leg was fried.
and his hand was froze to the wheel like a tongue
to a sled in the middle of a blizzard
Wolf Creek Pass
CW McCall

A few things have happened here at Let It Grow over the past week that seem indicative of this whole farming thing, and I'll try now to recount some of them in some kind of coherent fashion.
Everything's kinda calmed down over the last day or two, and I've lost that bottom of the adrenaline reserve edge that would have made this post a lot more entertaining. Anyway, I'll try.
Saturday last was our best market in about two years. And we had nothing. A few cases of greens, a few cases of lettuce, some broccoli, a few herb plants, and, of course, fish. I shut down the market having made more money than I have in a long, long, time. An hour later it was all gone.
All gone on nothing. A jug of motor oil, a bag of irrigation supplies, a tank of gas, a few groceries, various tools and replacement parts, and I was right back to where I started. Flat broke and waiting for the next market.
It leaves me wondering just how it is that I'm ever going to get ahead. Even after an outstanding market I'm still flat broke.
Work harder, is my usual response to any challenge. Home with the interns, we got the fields looking better than they have in a long time. No particular crop is hopelessly lost to weeds. The summer planting, though a tiny bit late, is in and looking healthy. Nothing really, really important is broken. The state of things always looks good. Wednesday coming home after market the truck lost all power, coasted a little ways, picked up power again, and then lost it all. I managed to coast down an off ramp. Near midnight I gave up on trying to fix it. I was close enough to MB*s ex-roommate's place to beg a place to crash, and then called J* the next morning. She brought me home, I returned to A'ville with Intern #1, and nursed the truck home. I fiddled with it until dark and seem to have it running fine. Everything I'd made at market, again, was gone.
Next day we're up early to pick, and, that all in, I head into Hot Springs. I'm gonna get J*s car, pick up our fish, pick up I*, and head home. Only J*'s car starts acting up. We scramble to make arrangements to get I*, I take the truck into town to get the fish and get home by dark. We load the truck and fall asleep. Up at four the next morn to get into market. Another really good day. And another intern shows up. Intern #3 is wandering from farm to farm this summer, and has ended up here. He'd like to stay a while. More help in the fields. Another mouth to feed. Maybe we'll manage to break even.
I limp home and collapse.
The truly sad and tragic part of all this is that there is not once in the past week that I've regretted a thing or for a moment wished I was somewhere or someone else.
There's a country music song about a couple of truckers who lose their brakes going down the Great Divide with a load of chickens. They have a series of misadventures along the way, but, somehow, manage to stop safely at the bottom.

We went down and around
and around and down
'til we run outta ground
at the edge of town
and bashed into the side of the feed store
in downtown Pagosa Springs.
CW McCall
Wolf Creek Pass

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Straight and Narrow

We untangled the string. That's what we do here at Let It Grow. We untangle. Unravel. Untwist. We straighten things out and set thing in order. We help. We heal. We feed.

The string got itself all tangled up sometime around the cabbage planting. Maybe it was the kohlrabi. Anyway, its been in a twisted pile in the middle of the field since sometime in April. And ever since then the rows have been kind of wobbly.

Today we finally got around to getting the peppers in the ground, and I was going to be damned if the row wasn't straight. There's an aesthetic quality to a row of peppers that is all the more enhance if they are laser straight.

It all started sometime after lunch. The string, brought down from the brassica field, lay on the edge of the table, mocking us in its disorder. The last bite of burrito munched, the last leaf of lettuce chomped, it was time to get to work.

Intern #1 seized the coil and began pulling on different ends. He showed remarkable aptitude. Intern #2 sat on the edge of his seat. He clearly wanted to lean over and and yank on part of the string, but he bided patiently.

We're all about some team work here at Let It Grow.

Intern #1 untangled about fifty feet, and decided to snip. He coiled that length up nicely, and set to work on another. Intern #2 refrained from offering helpful advice. Intern #1 snipped and made another little coil, and then another. With a little time and patience, he untangled the prescribed 183 feet and we were ready to get to work.

Up at the solanacae field, we drove a stake into the ground and unfurled our string. We tied a few lengths together, pulled it all taut, and tied it off to another stake. There before us on the ground was a precise linear reference that we would follow when planting the peppers. It all went beautifully. The peppers now stand in two perfectly straight rows, getting rained on tonight and (hopefully) sun shined on tomorrow.

They're beautiful. And will become more beautiful as the grow to their full height and become laden with big, sweet bell peppers. It all shows you what a handful of motivated people can do together.

That's what we do here at Let It Grow. We turn chaos into order.

Monday, June 06, 2005


Never did write anything about the interns, did I?
Okay, what do I say without getting really self-conscious because one of them could possibly read this sometime.
(Actually, only one of them can read.)
I guess I blew it already and should shut up before I go any further.
But, dammit, something must be written about them and the time is now.
There are two impressionable young men on the farm and I've taken them under my wing so as to teach them the ancient art of organic market gardening.
That's about it. They've learned to weed.

On another note, we ripped the wall out of the bathroom of the intern house yesterday. No: Walls. It's now a portico.
Then we mowed the lawn.
And scrubbed the aluminum siding.
It's pretty cool: I tell them to do something and they do it. It's like being in the army, only I don't have to worry that one of them is going to get shot or blown up.
The atmosphere around here is a bit different. I've had to establish something of a schedule just to keep everyone on the same page, and I have to act like I know what I'm doing. It's nice to have some company while I work - I usually do this solo. And, generally, thoroughly enjoy it. But one of the sings Bob Marley songs in the fields all day and they other likes to look at bugs. It has been, overall, pretty entertaining.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


I haven't yet paused for a complete analysis of this whole blog thing. I do, from time to time, attampt to define it in my mind, to consider it's purpose and try to integrate that into the greater meaning of my life. I ask myself its best use and how it may be optimised. I consider whether I do my utmost to realize its greatest potential. I ask of its place on the farm.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I have a notion of a running commentary on the farm. An idea of a portrait of a season on an organic farm. I sometimes think others in far flung places will read these posts and come to an understanding of family run sustainable agriculture. That when I'm old, I'll review these posts and find them to be an accurate portrayal of this portion of my life.
I sit to type, thinking I'll represent my day, its labor, all the plants and insects around and the people who I see. How could I best record this day, I ask myself. And I find myself writing about the intern's house, and how the floorboards fell apart when we pulled the linoleum up. The idea was simple enough. Get rid of the linoleum and expose the wood planks underneath. More pleasant to look at and more pleasant to walk on. It'll take half an hour at most. What I didn't anticipate was how the linoleum was holding everything together. The floor fell apart under us and we spent the rest of the day ripping up wood. Tomorrow will be spent putting a new floor down.
All this to help a new intern get moved in. It was an afterthought, really. Let's get this linoleum up before before you move your stuff in. And now we're all into it for two day's worth of labor. Not doing work 'cause we're fixing broken stuff. It's just that kind of pattern that prevents you from hilling leeks.
I'm grappling with Maxwell's Demon, I've discovered. I'm searching for perpetual energy. I'm attempting to violate the very laws of entropy. (Yes. It's that bad.) I've got this idea that when interns are here, they'll work for me and help me get a lot of stuff done. Wee-ell, they do. But they require attention and energy, too. And so do their houses. Hopefully I invest a wee bit of time with them and parlay that into greater vegetable production. Hopefully I don't spend too much time ripping up linoleum. Maybe everything is alright and fine. The leeks are hilled and the floors are rotten. Maybe the glass is half full. Maybe a fifty per cent chance of rain means it won't rain. Maybe it means it will. Maybe I need a weatherman to say which way the wind blows.

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