Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Friday, April 23, 2010

Market 4/23/10

And where the marjoram once, and sage, and rue,
And balm, and mint, with curled-leaf parsley grew,
And double marygolds, and silver thyme,
And pumpkins neath the window used to climb;
And where I often when a child for hours
Tried through the pales to get the tempting flowers,
As lady's laces, everlasting peas,
True-love-lies-bleeding, with the hearts-at-ease,
And golden rods, and tansy running high
That o'er the pale-tops smiled on passers-by,

John Clare

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I-40 About to Re-Open!

Continuing on the theme of the inexorable pace of Nature so recently examined in this space, we will now consider the will of ten million pounds of rock. We reflect on the 250 million years the Appalachians have been here (250 million years, folks, where I come from they call that Permian) and the gradual rate at which they fall back to sea level.They care not for interstate commerce. Holiday traffic is of no concern to them. Your next business meeting? They can't be bothered.
They take their cues from molten lava at the earth's center, and from the steady pace of raindrops.
And from gravity, which is pretty hard to avoid.
It is in fact all quite joyous, to me at least.The inevitable, cyclic and predictable arrival of Spring is to me as are volcanoes erupting, mountains eroding. As the earthworm pokes itself up out of its burrow just one more time so is a bit of rock dust swept away by a rain shower. As magma erupts from the Earth so is the greening of the grass. I loose sight of the big things as I go through my day, though. The little things I can keep track of a wonder about for an eternity:
Mason bees sometimes nest in sap-sucker holes. Sap-suckers poke holes to get at beetle larvae. Beetles lay their eggs in trees. No beetles, mason bees.
It would be folly to even try to conceive of interrupting the cycle, but not to put a road through a mountain. We all know damn well we can't get the grass to stop growing or the crows to shut up, but we're convinced we can stop a mountain?
Myself, I wish I could be there. I wish I could be an onlooker when the governor or whover cuts the ribbon and the first semi exceeds the speed limit.
On second thought, I don't wish to be there. I would, however, like to be there, at that day in the distant future, when the highest most point on Clingman's Dome finds itself lapped by the waves of the Atlantic. I'll pick up any trash or spare hubcaps and just sit there a while. Cause sooner or later the ground will rise back up.

Monday, April 19, 2010

With the Cabbage Come the Cabbage Moths

Not one day. Not twenty-four hours. Not a complete news cycle. The cabbage has not been in the ground for one day yet, and already the cabbage moths have found it. Hell, sometimes even I for get where it is. Not the little white pests. They’ve visited the transplants already, ovipositors at the ready.

There’s no fooling a bug, you will often heard said, and that was once again demonstrated outside today, in the middle of my fields. There is something vaguely comforting in the regularity and expectedness of it all. In the persistence and predictability of the little bastards. My last post mentioned a litany of spring symbols; I neglected to mention the sight of the cabbage moths. I also neglected to mention the smell of B.t., the preferred control of cabbage moths. I neglected to mention, because I wasn’t thinking of it, the annual ritual of breaking out the backpack sprayer, of mixing it with B.t. and trudging up to the fields to coat all the cabbage plants with the deadly mix that was sure to wash of with the next rain. And repeating the process the next day.

The appearance of the cabbage moth (they didn’t waste any time) brings me to the half-empty counterpoint of my last post. For, yes, there is a long list of spring rituals that don’t make us all cheerful and joyous. That don’t make us fill our lungs with warm air and greet the changing of the seasons. That don’t make us want to frolic through a meadow and give thanks to lush green life returning to the planet.

The pagans probably had some ceremony or dance to welcome the coming of the cabbage moths, but it had been forgotten by history. Instead, there’s the pumping action of a backpack sprayer. It may seem a bit awkward at first, but you get used to it. Just like the May pole dance.

Stay tuned for exciting news from the bee world!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spring, And the Farm Takes to the Air

I reached into the ash at our feet, picked up a stone, and juggled it in my hands like a hot potato. Magnus said,"Dig two inches into the ash, you can bake hot-spring bread. Some housewives do it. It takes four hours."
John McPhee
Cooling the Lava, 1989

Now came the dust, though still thinly. I look back: a dense cloud looms behind us, following us like a flood poured across the land ...We had scarcely sat down when a darkness came that was not like a moonless or cloudy night, but more like the black of closed and unlighted rooms.
Pliny the Younger AD79

It smelt strongly like rotten eggs. Initially, I thought maybe it's something to do with my young daughter, or the animals in the field.
Iceland resident Jane Matthews
quoted in The Guardian

Recent events in Europe remind us that Nature will do as it pleases, sometimes regularly, cyclically, and sometimes randomly and unexpectedly. Air travel is shut down over an entire continent, and all due to activity so old it predates continents themselves. It reminds us that even our highest technological achievements -
Stratoliners and the like - are no escape and are unable to master the ground we live on. We live, forever, as children of the world that begat us.
The unexpected and the random in Iceland is coupled by the predictability of springtime in the Appalachians, and all the appropriate harbingers are checked off. Daffodils. Dandelions. Fruit trees. Honeybee brood. Equinox. Maple blooms. Peepers. Poplar leaves. The final symbol of Spring, the winged frenzy of insects, had been building slowly and recently reached its high fervor. A clump of dandelions just outside the house this afternoon were host to more species of flying insects than I could name - honeybees and tiny little wasps and the most welcome of all: little bee flies. Carpenter bees have been squabbling around me for more than a week now. Swarms of gnats make little funnel clouds above the lawn. Mason bees are peeking out of their nests. Saw a dragonfly up by the pond. And the butterflies - swallowtails mostly - are floating over the road and lighting where they please.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Anise Hyssop, Baked Potatoes, and Carol's Sh*t List

Note: I will use asterisks at appropriate places throughout this post, to make it more family friendly. I apologize to those who may be offended.

It all started about a week ago - it was opening day of fishing season, as I recall - when the big red dump truck rolled up the road. My neighbor Carol and his son got out and motioned me over.
"We got a whole load of sh*t here. We figured Jack could use it. Where do you think he'd want it."
"I'd go up and put it on his front porch," I said.
"That's too much work," Carol said.
"Well, right here on the edge of his walnut field would probably be best," I said. "That's where he usually makes his compost piles. Right upwind of my house."
His son stomped on the ground a bit, and then stomped again. Confident that he wouldn't get stuck, he drove the truck forward, then backed it up, then went forward again, then backed up again.
"You might want to put some of this on your fields," Carol said.
His son had the truck right where he wanted it.
"I could use it. But I don't have a manure spreader. Just a five gallon bucket."
Carol pulled the rear latch and sent his index finger skyward. His son raised the bed and and the load started to slide out.
"A manure spreader," Carol said. "The only tool that Sears won't stand behind."
He said that three more times until I got it.
His son lowered the bed and pulled forward, then backed up and then pulled forward again.
"Well," Carol said. "We'll be right back with another load."
They'd wintered their cattle in a field just up the Creek from me, and had just brought them back to their place. Carol and his son were cleaning up the feeding area - a huge steel ring that hay is dumped into. The cattle can eat the hay but they can't walk all over it. They were scooping up the spilled and dropped hay, all well mixed with cattle droppings, so that grass could grow in that spot.
"We were just gonna dump it in the creek," Carol said. "Then we thought: Hell, those boys could use this sh*t."
They came back about a half an hour later and dumped my load on the opposite side of the road.
I side-dressed the blueberries with it that afternoon. Then, today, decided to side-dress the anise hyssop. (My little anise hyssop stand is getting stronger and stronger each year. This year it is really coming back with verve, and I am inclined to pamper it.)
I used what I call a "rock sled." Not really a sled, it's a flat platform on the back of the tractor. I can lower it and raise it. It's most common use, as you may have eponymously guessed, is to get rocks out of the field. Today I used it to move sh*tty hay. I got uphill of the pile, put the tractor in reverse, built up a little speed, and slammed into the pile. The rock sled sunk in about two feet before the wheels started spinning, and I lifted up what I could and started to take it to the anise hysop. That's when I noticed the steam. Coming out of the pile. At a vigorous rate. I walked over to the pile and held my hand up. It was hot! Very hot. Like, really, really hot.
There's a potato in the middle of it right now, all wrapped up in foil and baking nicely. I don't exactly know that I'm going to eat it; I just want to say that I did it. As for the anise hyssop, it is very happy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, ..
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
Eliot, Prufrock

The greenhouse is filling up, emptying out, and filling up once again. Plastic trays get filled with potting soil, and a single seed gets placed, one at a time, into each cell. Then on to the next tray. The trays stack up next to my table, and then spread out in the greenhouse. The little seeds emerge from the dark soil one at a time, and open themselves to the sun. They grow and grow, and get transplanted into the fields, one at a time, down long straight rows.
Other plants will be brought to market, and sold to customers, one to this person, and one to this person. Every plant now on the greenhouse tables will find a home, one customer selecting one plastic pot, over and over.
Greenhouse days can be long. I start early and keep seeding until everything on that day's list is done. And that is sometimes long after dark - the whole day spent, one seed at a time.
I start to associate the conditions of a given day with the seeds that are started: I look at the kale and remember a cold and windy day, seated inside. I started the thyme outside, the table set up in the sun, the day marked by a rising stack of trays and the number of Cannonball Adderley CDs I worked through. The peppers I associate with Democracy Now! reporting about something from the Mid-East. I potted on the lettuce while Isiah watched "Ice Age."
I can measure out a day with basil seeds. The pace of a season is marked by plastic trays. The years are marked by the names of the interns.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


I've put this off long enough. It's never been possible to write about the spring plowing because so many aspects of the process have changed so quickly they don't make sense except for the half day after the fact. And then everything changes again.
The state of the soil is not so good. It was turned the first time in early March, and the lingering effects of last year's heavy rains was immediately apparent. As I turned furrows I was turning up weed stalks from last year, untouched and undecomposed, sometimes with leaf veination still visible. The bacterial life in the soil last year suffered greatly - all the little guys suffocated, basically. The soil went anaerobic, meaning there was not enough oxygen to support healthy microbial life. Another type of bacteria flourished, the deep, deep underground kind that need no oxygen. As I plowed, the smells that greeted me were not the rich spring soil smell, the garden smell, the plant lots of things and be happy! smell, rather it was the construction site basement excavation smell. The netherworld smell. The subduction smell. The Virgil, why did you lead me here? smell.
I took solace in the amount of little spiders scurrying across the turned dirt - they must have something to eat. And those things must have something to eat. And those things ....
The garden bacteria will recolonise, of that I have no doubt. Bacteria get to where they want to be. But, it will be slow, and I need them there now, munching down the fertizer I've been spreading and making little bacterial excrement compounds that are available to plant rootlets.
Hurry up! Eat! Shit! Die!
That's what the plants need the bacteria to do.
The warm dry spell we're in has got me weeding my early planting already. (I've never needed to weed this early. Sometimes it needn't be done until May.) I went up and down the rows with a hoe yesterday, and still got the occasional whiff of anaerobic creatures. It's not over yet.
The wet last year led to a wet cold winter, of course. Too wet to plow early, as everyone noticed. I seized the first opportunity I got, and plowed in borderline conditions. Just a bit too wet, in fact, but I plowed before another rainy period settled in. Had we a freeze or two since then, it wouldn't have made a big deal, as the soil clods would have frozen and expanded and frozen again and expanded and fallen into tidy little aggregates. But no, not only did the soil not freeze, and not only are we beyond all chance of a hard freeze, but it is now baking in a record setting heat wave. The field is cloddy, and will be for the rest of the year. I've disked and disked and disked again, and gotten it so that I can at least work it, but again to the detriment of our invisible little friends. There are years when the soil rides up the moldboard like potting mix, and lays down flat and smooth with one pass of the disk. Not this year.
Does anyone now remember the ten straight days it did not get above freezing? Does anyone now remember soggy driveways and muddy shoes? I've irrigated twice this year. Sometimes I don't set the pipes up until June.
I could use a little help with knowing the future.
If it's gonna continue to be this dry, I'll turn the summer fields at the first opportunity, so to not risk the ground getting so hard it will not take a plow point. And kill the cover crop and leave bare soil exposed much longer than I'd like to. If we're going to get rain that even approaches a normal amount, I'll let the rye grow and let the microbes mate and turn the field when I need to.
It's just so hard to figure out what's normal anymore.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Maybe It'll Be ... Um ... Paul Dirac

I thought today how distressing it is that I have faith in nothing. I thought about how much fun it would be to share with everyone in their holidays, in their celebratory banquets and their ritual gatherings. United, everyone, with a single purpose and I single faith! There is an intense loneliness in being a non-believer. I don't want rich costumes and special effects; I want to believe that he parted the Red Sea. I don't want a bunch of psychological mumbo-jumbo and some well-researched thesis about ancient peoples morphing their cultures together, I want to believe in the cave and the rock and the ascension. I no longer want to be on Barnabas' side. I want to liturg.
I began to reflect on the things I do believe in, and they didn't seem like a lot of fun. Darwin? Soil science? Genetic determinism of cultivated plants? People don't have holidays for that kind of stuff. There are no songs nor holiday specials. And while many people may actually believe in those things, most don't care. People don't crawl for days on end to Mendel's birthplace. People don't go live in caves because nitrite reforms into nitrate. Requiems are not inspired by potassium cations.
I believe in a few more prosaic things. Equality of sexes and races. Opportunity for all. Aid to the underprivileged. Noble ideas, perhaps, but they do not inspire cathedrals. And while those things l are rare, perhaps non-existent, a continued belief in them does not put one on ar with, say, Job.
I want to be among the flock, but I just can't seem to manage it. There's got to be something out there. Not the Holy Trinity, perhaps, but something that will make me want to roll eggs across a lawn for reasons other than childhood nostalgia. Something that will make me gather with my brethren on a Sunday morn. Someone who will welcome me into Heaven.

Powered by Blogger