Monthly Archives: July 2012

Its a beautiful day in the neighborhood

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Pear Tree of Giving

Being involved with the sustainable backyard tour has helped me connect with my community.  Last week I walked my neighbors over to a wonderful gardener who lives nearby to introduce them.   My neighbor is from Mexico and is interested in growing sunflowers.  The gardener has a great collection on his property.  They talked and will be getting some seedsfor some stunning teddy bear sunflowers.

On the way home, we walked the alleys and found a ton of neglected apple trees and a huge mature pear tree.  Earlier today I was talking to a gardening friend and mention this pear tree.  We walked over to see it and decided we were going to pick it, because the property is uninhabited. 

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This thing is huge!  We pulled up and I saw someone sitting in the neighbors yard.  I mentioned to my friend that we should probably ask the guy if he thought it would be ok.  We get out and low and behold its a former coworker of my friend and he’s the caretaker for the property with the pear tree.  After some catching up we got to work.  Soon neighbors from all over the block turned out with bags and we all had a lovely time picking pears together.  We managed to clean out the pears up to 6 feet off the ground and get permission to come back tomorrow and pick the rest.  We didn’t even get the big ones yet! 

In exchange, we are going to prune up the tree and make it easier to deal with.  Some of the pears we were pulling off were easily a pound each.  The maintenance guy tells us that he throws out 50 bushels a year.  We got back home and I think we ended up with 8 bushels.  I took 4 for canning, my friends us going to keep two, and the rest are going to the neighborhood gods pantry. 

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Looking back at the tree, it appears as if we did not even get a quarter of them. 

In my book this is yet another reason to live in the city.  Gardeners have come before us and their legacy can still feed us.

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Sad Conversation

So, I tool around on the internet when I suffer from my insomnia and last night was a big winner in the insomnia department.  I adore Reddit sadly and find it a great way to kill time when I can’t sleep.  Last night this link came up:  Congress Delays Farm Bill as Drought Spreads

I am very fond of politics and sad at the state our nation is in related to politics at the same time.  I know I am terribly, terribly liberal and I feel that the Democratic party is too moderate for my tastes.  I don’t feel like there are real choices in our political system and it’s a choice of voting for who is pandering most effectively.  That is not what this post is about though.  I feel that I need to give fair warning where I stand politically though because these issues have somehow been wrapped up in Republican vs. Democrat debates and good solid science is just left to the winds.  Each person enters into this debate with different emotional afflictions though and I can’t say that I am not.

I’m frustrated at the farm bills.  I’m frustrated because with my limited understanding of them, it seems that they support all the wrong kinds of farming.  We subsidize foods that are not the most nutritious, but are fillers.   There are other problems, but I don’t want to belabor my point.  I have a degree in plant and soil science from SIU-C.  My focus was horticulture and landscape design, I don’t want to misrepresent myself.  Part of my program however was to take courses that covered the scope of American farming.  Crop sciences, Agricultural economics, etc.  I did an externship at a seed supplier who distributed seed to rural farmers in Illinois.  My father worked for my grandfather on the family farm when I was little.  I worshipped the two of them and even at such a young age would love to sit and listen to the men talk about how they were running the farm.  My grandfather always brought people home for meals and distributed Badger equipment and Purina feeds.  I remember sitting at the back of the family room during some kind of meeting about pork production and raising hogs on concrete pads.  I loved the farm and that love of working with food stayed with me.  My brother owns that farm and that family room now and I am constantly amazed at his stamina in working full time, having four kids, and producing some of the most delicious meat I’ve ever tasted.

The above article lead me to respond in a sarcastic manner about our congress and the influence that big farming has over our nations farmers.  I remember watching commercials during the evening news from my grandmothers bed on all sorts of herbicides and other chemicals playing over and over and over again.  I never questioned the necessity of them.  The indoctrination started as far back as I can remember.  I went through my externship never questioning the seed production in our country.  I watched signs go up on test plots in the country and thought those test plots represented real progress in my lifetime.  Then I went to work.  I got my chemical applicators license and sincerely believed that Round Up was so harmless that you could probably drink it.  One of my coworkers accidentally drenched his clothing in it and kept working, by the end of the day he was silly and hallucinating and we all thought it was a funny incident and terribly harmless.  I hate to think of the long term effects of that.  I dutifully went out and sprayed peoples landscaping beds and trees with who knows what.  No mask.  Long sleeves, long pants, but breathing it all in as I sprayed above me.  I thought the chemicals were a god send.  It saved so much on labor.   I could make so many people have pristine yards.  I watched my now husband spray all sorts of crazy chemicals on things.  He is still breathing in who knows what to this day.  He is now an IronWorker and builds things like oil refineries.  Soon, he will be leaving to Canada to work on the pipeline coming through Alberta.  We all get up and go to work and do what we need to do to get by, but sometimes I think it deadens us to what is going on around us.  Should my husband go build a pipeline and support big oil?  Ethically, probably not, but that is a hard decision to make when you have bills to pay and children to feed.

It’s difficult to gain perspective and see what is actually happening around you and try new things.  You want your time to be most effective at meeting your needs and it is easy to walk willingly into bad ideas that are seemingly cost effective at the time.  Take Round Up ready corn for example.  This is the product that started to open my eyes.  One thing I learned in college was that nature constantly changes and adapts.  I’ve used Round Up, I’ve watched certain weeds in certain yards get harder and harder to kill after multiple applications.  I could see that weed seeds that resisted the Round Up survived my applications and inevitably, nature would find a work around if I kept it up.  Then Round Up Ready Corn hit the market and it was a wake up call to me.  I couldn’t understand how that could work.  Nature would adapt.  It seemed entirely obvious.  That was a while back, now we see this from two years agoFarmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds.  Have we done anything with this knowledge?  Why, yes:  Losing the War on Weeds.  We are often choosing to go back to tilling, more chemicals, and other practices that roundup ready was supposed to save us from.  I don’t see how things have really changed, we just keep reinventing a type of farming that isn’t proving to be viable.

Anyway, that brings  us to this:

My sarcastic comment was responded to by and earnest and hard working farmer.  I don’t want to belittle him.  He is doing what he feels is right and trying to do best by his land and his family.  The problem that I see here and was commenting about in my first comment is that sometimes, salespeople and culture get into our heads and undermine what we think we know.  This man would not intentionally harm his land, he wouldn’t hurt his profits, and he wouldn’t try to harm anyone around him.  The frustration for me comes in that we are not speaking the same language.

Part of landscaping and really the majority of my career has been sales.  I’ve been to so much sales training it’s not even funny.  There are so many seminars out there to teach you how to use vocabulary and perks to sell anything.  Part of the main goal of most is to emphasize what the product will do for you.  Save time, save money, increase comfort.  This process of sales develops a vocabulary with your customers.  Your customers learn this vocabulary and use it with each other.  They then become in the know and it increases the difficulty of discussions with folks outside your normal parameters.

This man believes he is farming sustainably.  My sustainably and his sustainably are not the same.  His definition:  “producing profit on a consistent basis and not degrading the land.”  “includes GMO crops, chemical herbicides and pesticides.”

My definition:  Utilizing nature’s own mechanisms for control of pests and invasive weeds without the use of fossil fuels or other limited quantity substances.

Here is Wikipedia’s take on Sustainable Agriculture.  I really like what it says there.  I suspect the other guy wouldn’t disagree too much with it either.  We have commonalities in our goals.  I want to make money at farming.  I want to improve my soils and provide for my children.  I’m choosing a vastly different path.

Our beliefs about this definition don’t come from our politics necessarily, but the same mechanism has created a gulf in our vocabulary that makes it difficult for our minds to meet.  How do we bridge this gap as a nation or as just humans and work past it to make a better world with better soil?  We all want to feed people, we all want to provide.  We are the nurturers and the farmers and the keepers of this earth.  How do we bridge the divide in our current culture?  I find this a monumental and sad question that I have no answers for.

Heat wave and new layers

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Its too hot here.  Its also too dry.  My chicks started laying two weeks ago and I have stopped locking them up at night or taking them out of the tree.  Its just to darn hot.  That has led me to a weird sort of daily egg hunt.  My husband and I noticed a preference for laying in some of the cooler areas of the back yard like the back porch.  Instead of forcing them to stay in the coop, I’ve converted some boxes into temporary nesting boxes.  This is working out very well.  I’ve placed the boxes around the yard and the daily egg hunt is over.  Hope the heat doesn’t keep this intensity much longer.

New layers

Today we got one of the first eggs out of the new batch of layers.  Later eggs start off small but get bigger right away.generally I have not experienced this because I don’t have very many chickens.  The large egg in the photo is from a one year old naked neck, and the small egg is from a naked neck born march 25.

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Quiet after the storm

We are still recovering from the tour.  It went well and we estimate we had 300 folks through.  I really appreciate my friends that came and sat with me.

After, we found lice on the kids which immediately buried me in all the laundry on the planet.  Glad I’m paranoid and caught it early.

Then the fashion label I work with decided to really get on top of things and need to deliver their product so I need to get on top of that. 

Its been 110 degrees here no joke, so I end up having to schedule everything I need to do around watering.  Last year I watered 4ever times all summer, this year, its more like for times a week.

We dug all the potatoes and thanks to my friend mark, sold some produce to a chef.  Petty awesome.  The farmers market is still being stalled by the city.

Somewhere in there I hand fed a baby parrot for a friend which was an interesting learning experience for all of us.  I’m still not on the right sleep schedule.

I learned to make kombucha and it is awesome, so now there are weird things fermenting every where in the house.  Very interesting and wonderful new taste adventures.  I even put a scoby in a gallon of mt dew, so far so good.  I accidentally made hard lemonade and a sour dough starter that might be sentient.

Oh oh and I decided to make dim sum while sleep walking and set fire to the kitchen, so still trying to get that cleaned up.  I have to get that done tomorrow so the cabbage I picked up to make a crock of kimchi so it doesn’t rot.

pigeons are great, garden is great.  I suddenly need a rabbit hutch for prisoners of gardening war. Some chickens from this springs batch have started laying.  My there year old hens got weirdly broody so I’m letting then suit out of curiosity.  If they make chicks it will be interesting how they treat the mutts. 

Tonight I put corn to soak in water so I can make hominy from scratch tomorrow.  So excited!

Them I need the magic night end elves to complete the sweater orders, weed the garden, replant the garden, make a giant garlic mascot costume, take my kids to the pool for lessons, make meals, do laundry, and change the rabbit litter.  Ufff.