Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Seeds Arrived, But They Forgot My Mug

The shiny little Fed Ex truck came rumbling up the driveway yesterday, and the man inside stepped down and handed me a large heavy box.
E & R Seeds of Monroe, Indiana has been one of my favorite companies for several years now. They’ve a wide selection and the best prices around for most varieties. They’re catalog is a low-key newsprint affair infused with Mid-Western wholesomeness. They’ve pages and pages of corn, and even more on beans. And lately, they have features more and more organic seeds. I get so much from them that my order drags over onto a second page. Two pages that I faxed to their office – they don’t take online orders.
I poured the contents of the box out onto the floor and sorted my little seed envelopes into their appropriate family. And came across the paring knife.
You get something free with every order – a paring knife, a coffee mug, a Farmer’s Almanac, jelly jars, just something they send out to you. You just have to check the box for the gift you want. I always go for the coffee mug. That’s the box I check. For the coffee mug.
It seems the fax pages got mixed up somewhere along the line, and page one became page three, or something. They never saw my check.
I went through the little envelopes again, madly tossed the little styrofoam peanuts across the room. I turned the box upside down. I stared at the paring knife in disbelief.
They tried to guess at what I would really want and they failed. I will farm this year without my complimentary mug. I hope this isn’t an omen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


In observance of Darwin's bicentenary, I am posting an image of a small tree finch.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In Other Good News, We Live in a Democracy Again

and these folks are doing good work.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Put That Rag On the Floor, Dear, It'll Help Keep the Draft Out

Another in our History of Appalachia series

The shop was the first farm building that I was going to do right. I had it all planned out. Made some blueprints and everything. I'd spent about a year gathering materials. A logger across the ridge who I used to do occasional work for had saved me some locust logs. Big ones. More than a foot in diameter. Sam and I had milled the beams. We planned on using 6x6s. A lot of 'em. (At one point during the process, Sam said, "Are we overbuilding it?"
But I had all this stuff that just kind fell towards me, and I planned on using it. Even bought brand new roofing tin. And all the while, feeling so proud that at last I wasn't just slapping something together. I was building something sturdy, something that would last, and I'd see it through from start to, ah, finish.
Well, that was seven years ago, and it still isn't quite complete. But that's alright. What's there is finished.
One of the shop's more striking feature is the tool board, where, on neatly spaced nails, I hang my shovels, hoes, rakes and other implements of destruction. And it comes about every year that it is time to treat the handles of these tools, to oil them, waterproof them, keep them shiny and nice.
My gunk of choice is boiled linseed oil. A small dose rubbed vigorously into a handle will keep the wood from splitting, cracking or rotting. Once a year is good. Some do more, some less.
I usually apply the oil with an old rag, one that can be sacrificed for the cause because the stuff will not wash out, and because it solidifies and hardens when it dries out.
Take an old rag, pour a dollop of linseed oil onto it, rub down a rake handle, then set the rag down and look at it the next day. It's stiff as a burned tortilla. Oh, it's a bit pliable, but not much. It's reminiscent of, well, a rag soaked in linseed oil is reminiscent of linoleum. And the early settlers, after caring for the handles of their tools, would lay the rags down on the floors of their cabins and it would keep the cold air and snakes at bay. After a few years, the entirety of the cabin would be covered.
Fancy easterners travelling through the area, usually to establish a missionary school or something, saw these floors and had to have them for themselves. Thus, what was common sense to any Appalachian dirt farmer became the latest fashion in the big cities.
Don't be fooled if some cursory fact-checking appears to disprove this theory. I know its true.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's coming down hard out there, but I'm well stocked with provisions. Plenty of flour in the pantry, and plenty of green beans in the freezer. I've cans of tomatoes on the shelves, and braids of garlic hanging from the rafters. Let it snow. Let it pile up to my waist and let the drifts cover the vehicles and the outhouses. I'll survive.

My mind is in a far-away place, though my corporeal form is sitting at this desk, in two sweaters, watching the snow come down. Half-way around the world the sun shines on dry, coastal mountains, and there grow a myriad nasturtium species. Blossoms of every color, leaves of every shape. Growing gently on the hill-sides, waiting for butterflies. They fear not the frost, for the frost never comes.

I'll be growing a few more nasturtium varieties this year, including, if I can find seed, the elusive T. polyphylla. The collection grows and grows every year. Diversity is the cornerstone of organic farming.

I'm trying a few new tomatoes varieties, based on recommendations from friend, will be growing more turnips (believe it or not) because of customer requests, am giving up on an eggplant that sucks, and will by trying a new variety of cantaloupe, because the picture in the catalog was really cute. Thus we forge ahead.

I’m trellising the peas the way I always have, ditto the tomatoes. I’ll stake the peppers a bit differently, and plant the winter squash earlier. Live and learn.

It's the nasturtiums that I'm most happy about. I'm happy because I've got new colors. I've got a subtle refinement on what I've done in the past, one that makes me warmer.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pfizer Lays Off Scientists

It’s getting bad out there. My options lessen with every news cycle. The bail-out plan, the oh shit plan, to turn when the farm finally went under was to join the rat race. Banking seemed choice. I would join the legions of out-of-work farmers eking out a living on Wall Street. The option, it is now clear, has been cruelly removed from my plate. The back-up was to retreat to a laboratory. I would invent things. Or, better yet, research things. This still seems to be a possibility, but it’s not looking good. Scientists are showing up in bread lines in astonishing numbers. They’ve probably put it into an equation.
More and more, it is becoming clear that this farm has to make it. That means I have to make at least as much as I spend. And sometimes I have to make more than I spend. And no where, from Virgil’s Georgics to The Grapes of Wrath to the oeuvre of Micheal Pollen do I find an example. No matter. It’s not the first time I’ve been thrust into the lead. I’m no stranger to blazing the trail.
It’s only January and I’m in the hole three figures. Seed, potting soil, fertilizer. Odds and ends. It’s the odds and ends that get you. A new shovel. A case of oil. A new tire. It adds up.
CSA money should start trickling in soon, and that will defray some of it. Markets start in April….
I calculate the season’s expenses with the case of lettuce method and it does not look good. I need to grow five cases of lettuce to pay for this, twelve cases to pay for this, eight cases for that. I run out of field space before I pay for the necessities. I run out of time to take care of all the stuff I need to grow just to pay for the stuff I need.
A new business model is evolving. The form is still nebulous and undefined, but it is starting to take shape and its encouraging. Out of the ashes of the economic meltdown rises the bird of a new agriculture. It’s going to happen here. Need a case of lettuce?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Latest in Yard art

The larva of the fly is a power in this world. To give back to life, with all speed, the remains of that which has lived, it macerates and condenses corpses, distilling them into an essence wherewith the earth, the plant's foster-mother, may be nourished and enriched...
The Life of the Fly
J Henri LaFabre
Professor of Philospohy

I draw the line at hanging carrion from the branches of trees.

Nonetheless, I enjoy fresh foods and can only assume that my chickens do, also.
I’ve been stymied, though, in my recent attempts to provide the hens with a better diet. When they’re cooped up, they tear up the grass and consume all the bugs in their pen pretty quickly, and when they’re loose, well, they eat better but they get into mischief. They thus stay cooped up. Fine accommodations, I must say, but they ground inside the coop does not have the species diversity it once did.

Traditional cultures, once again, have the answer.
You hang some carrion from the branch of a tree, it seems. Flies lay their eggs in the decrepit meat, and maggots start swarming around in no time. In due course, the maggots start falling onto the ground and the hens take care of it from there.
Yes, disgustingly brilliant.
Alternatively, one can spread kitchen scraps across the back yard. Leave them there a few days, let the flies impregnate all of it. Then gather it all up and let it sit in a barrel for a few days. Let all the maggots hatch and really start crawling around. Then throw the whole mess into the chicken coop.
One trusts all of this is more appealing than the extruded industrial by-products that come in the 50 pounds sacks at the farm store. It’s more appealing to me, at least, to produce the chicken food locally than to purchase 50 pound sacks from the farm store. The smells gonna be different, but I think I can get used to it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Here we go again.
The deer are eating the rye in the back field, the rain is sitting upon the chickweed in the front.
The greenhouses are still standing. They're busy overwintering potted herbs. One still clings to the remains of some hot peppers that wee supposed to be planted out last May.
My driveway is lined with the bones of yet another greenhouse. It awaits resurrection.
The shop is packed full of equipment. Some of it works.
The chickens are bathing in the mud. The bees alternate between hibernation and short-tempered nectar gathering forays.
Seed is ordered.
This is a time for assessment. It is a time to reflect on all that lies before, all that has been built in my years here, all that I have that I use to feed people. the view is pretty good here, at mud level. The soil is rich and ready to be warmed. The tools are ready to be worked. I await Spring.

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