Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I first thought I would save myself the trouble of posting by reprinting something from a previous winter.
Then I decided: No. Let's have one more go 'round!
It's winter and I'm (re)building a greenhouse.
This is the long one near the road, the one that got squashed in the Christmas blizzard year before last. The deja vus in rebuilding a greenhouse are too many to keep track of.
Lining up these two pipes. Again.
Clearing the weeds from this area. Again.
Wiggling the pipe and hearing water slosh around underground. Again.
Running out of the right size bolt and needing to go all the way to town. Familiar.
Wondering who's gonna help me stretch plastic and if it's gonna be a windy day. I have been lucky but I have also been very very unlucky on this count.
Nonetheless I have not the time for such reflections, for I must start seeds soon and thus the greenhouse must be built.
The nice thing about building things out of scrap is that you don't really expect it to last. You just want it to get you through a season or two.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Elixers For Sale. Cheap.

Dare I?
Dare I order lavender plugs, say, from a quaint little herb nursery on the Olympic Peninsula or the Oregon Coast or outside of Brattleboro? Tiny little sprigs packed twenty or fifty to a tray, their little roots just forming and their whole lives ahead of them? I could have my choice of varieties: mysterious hybrids from the Mediterranean coast, native varieties enjoyed by Pliny himself, medicinal varieties guaranteed to mend a thousand ailments, and, alas, varieties that do not come true to seed.
They are replicated only from cuttings, cutting that trace a lineage through mother plant after mother plant straight back to the old country.
I've grown English lavenders from seed. Wonderful varieties like Munstead, Hidcote, Vera. Perfectly wonderful little plants covered in sweet smelling blossoms. Happy little plants that do everything a person would want of a lavender. They are varieties that are perfect in every way save one: their pedigree.
Namely, they are not Provence.
Provence is the name dropper's lavender.
It is believed to be higher in essential oils. More healthful. More therapeutic.
It is the prized varietal of the cognizenti, the must-have for those knowing themselves to be in the know, and is certain to create a favorable impression on plant vendors when it is asked for in hushed, knowing tones. Every year I have my Provence requesters. Less than once a week. More than once a month. Always answered with a negative. I sweep my hand over the plants I have and list the varieties. Which are always described as "nice" and left unpurchased on the table.
Provence garnered for itself the reputation of being the traditional variety, and is prized by those seeking to buy, for the price of a 4" perennial, an alternate identity. It is the variety for those who wish to believe that the very same plant growing outside their home is the same growing outside homes in France, great bouquets of which are scooped up by elderly peasant woman in kerchiefs and placed into wicker baskets on the front of bicycles. I, sadly, am able to provide my customers with neither the plant nor the costume drama. I'm wondering if I should change.
The backstory of flowers and herbs makes for a large part of their essence, as presentation does the meal. Today's lavender, alas, does not originate in the colorful settings we might wish it did. Plenty comes from the French countryside, but the lavender in your salve or soap or cookie is more likely to have originated in Texas, or Holland, or Japan. It's grown by the acre. Hundreds of acres. The commercially popular varieties change every few years, but the varieties chosen for today's herb farms are not those recommended by medieval herbals or village elders. They are the varieties that are most disease resistant in today's monoculture farming operations. They may not have the richest oil content or the most soothing aroma; they will stand up to mechanical cultivation.
I'm leaning toward growing on a few trays of Provence. They'll be a nice addition to the mix. I don't want to use them as a time machine, though. I don't exactly want a magic herb that will transport me back to the past. I just don't want to live in the present.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


The snow is deeper than a stack of seed catalogs.

That’s the lede.

It handily disposed of two obvious subjects: the current winter storm and the annual task of ordering seeds. I am fortunate this year in that the two are synchronized; the deeper the snow gets the more engrossed I become in the seed order.

The list is a general replication of last year’s – but for the higher prices – with a handful of additions and even fewer subtractions. Even so, it takes a few days to go over every item and then a few more to write everything down on an order sheet. (That takes a lot more time than you would think: filling out forms.)

The scene before me as I work is a long sheet of white from my back window rising up to the highest point in the fields. Blank. Utterly empty. Clean.

The same space is represented on a long piece of butcher paper, equally stark and clean to begin with but soon filled with obvious landmarks, field measurements, and then lists of cultivars, noted with planned seeding dates and row lengths.

I look from the paper to the field, from the field to the paper. From the paper to the field.

The catalogs are stocked with nifty images of vegetables. Perfect glossy representations of flawless vegetables.

I look from the catalogs to the fields. From the fields to the catalogs. From the catalogs ….

Hope is a snow covered field. An undisturbed white canvas. A frozen tabla rasa upon which we project our own idea of glossy perfection.

The forecast says it won’t melt for a while.

Monday, January 10, 2011

More Thought Provoking Q & A From the University of Illinois

Q. What is a "potomato?

A. Although both potato and tomato plants can be integrated, the "potomato" (sometimes called "topato") commonly advertised is simply a tomato seed inserted into a potato tuber and planted together, producing both a tomato plant and a potato plant in the same hill. The results are not likely to be particularly successful.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Standing as it does for coercion by the State versus the freedom of the individual, Toryism remains Toryism, whether it extends this coercion for selfish or unselfish reasons. As certainly as the despot is still a despot, whether his motives for arbitrary rule are good or bad; so certainly is the Tory still a Tory, whether he has egoistic or altruistic motives for using State-power to restrict the liberty of the citizen, beyond the degree required for maintaining the liberties of other citizens.
Herbert Spencer
The Man Versus the State, 1884

This isn't about blackberries.
It's about organization, conformity and anarchy.
I have in my position a very detailed plan on the proper planting of strawberries. I have an itemized budget for all materials needed. I have a timeline - a schedule of tasks organized in bullet point fashion.
I have goals.
And I must admit to myself that though this is all of my own doing, it is a result not of my own exemplary work skills but of government intervention. Though I can humor myself into believing that I am, if left to my own devices, capable of such professionalism, the truth is I did this only because I was forced to do so by the state.
I have received an Agricultural Options Grant.
I filled out all the forms and impressed all the important people and wowed all the appropriate committees. I dotted all the i s and crossed all the t s. I tricked them into thinking that I know what I'm doing.
I embark now on a blackberry journey, better prepared for what lies ahead than I have ever been before. I am motivated less by the thought of eventual blackberry pies than I am by the need to complete my stated goals. I'm not excited by the thought of rows of healthy blackberries. I'm afraid of letting down the bureaucracy.
I have to do this. I already filled out the forms.

...the State is but an agency entitled to use power and coercion, and made up of experts or specialists in public order and welfare, an instrument in the service of man. Putting man at the service of that instrument is political perversion. The human person as an individual is for the body politic and the body politic is for the human person as a person. But man is by no means for the State. The State is for man.
Jacques Maritain
Man and the State
, 1951

Where Does Your Food Come From? Updated.

Read this.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


It’s January, and so I am rebuilding a wrecked greenhouse. It’s an event that comes around every January, not unlike President’s Day or the Super Bowl. Though with considerably less hoopla.
The priority is what we call the long greenhouse, the 20 by 100 baby plant greenhouse I inherited from a neighbor some years ago. It was crushed by the great Christmas snow of ’09, and has laid scattered across the front field ever since. I’ve sorted through the mess and come up with a 20 by 60 ish structure, sort of straight and sort of plumb, that will be serviceable once there’s some plastic on it.
After that the perennial greenhouse, the pitched roof one made out of old well pipe, needs quite a bit of attention, meaning a bit of structural reinforcement and new plastic over the top. It may have to make due with new plastic on the sides and nothing else.
Fate may not allow me to do anything else this year. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to cover the big growing greenhouse. That’s the one that sat in my neighbor’s field for a few years and has stood, in skeletal form, in the lower field since the year before last. Yes, it needs plastic, too. And some purlins and some cross braces …. Then it will be ready to grow tomatoes.
Then there’s the propagation greenhouse, the one with the stone tables and the radiant table heat. That one is still a few years from completion, especially since I’ve diverted stones from that one to going to the new floor for the house. But more on that later.
The point of all this is that the new year brings with it greenhouse work, and greenhouses, like the new year, bring a sense of rebirth, resurgence and resurrection. They start barren and devoid of fruit, cold and sterile, seemingly unable to ever stay warm and get green. Sometimes they lay scattered about in pieces. Sometimes they are several years worth of building blocks that have not yet taken recognizable shape. Yet the bare dirt with-in soon warms and sprouts seeds. One barely remembers the emptiness of just a short time before. They become lush and green and provide plenty to eat.
That’s hardly news. The message here is that after the green, after the bounty, they get torn apart by wind, placed asunder by snow. They rot and collapse. They sink in the mud. They fall victim to apocalypse. Then, and here’s the thing, you get to put them back together again. And again.
That’s the true meaning of all the pieces of greenhouse I have scattered around. Not just death. And not just rebirth. Continued and cyclical and eternal death and rebirth is what all this means.
It all makes more sense with pictures.

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