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Archive for August, 2018

3. July 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

While all the building and socializing was going on, of course, the garden was doing what gardens do: growing things. July sees the first steady harvests–early tomatoes, peppers, greens, cucumber, early beans, garlic, the first of the carrots, herbs.

Home gardens have become a leading edge of the fight to save the planet. Gardeners are rescuing habitat, propagating native plants (and therefore saving native insects and birds), and providing food not just for ourselves, but for the wildlife, even as more and more of our urbanized landscape succumbs to concrete and sprawl. I had to do some research for a client once that suggested that their network of community gardens, serving just a thousand families, reduced “food mileage” (the distance your food travels to get to you) by 30,000,000 miles. Yes, that’s thirty million. Imagine if every family with a sunny space grew just some of their own food.

I started growing vegetables and berry fruits when my kids were small, from that typical urban mom’s idea that wouldn’t it be cool for the kids to see where food comes from. Nearly three decades later I grow most of my own produce, resorting to the grocery store only rarely, and mostly for guests.

07- July (3a)All summer I “grocery garden”—that is, I eat what I grow, as it matures. Where I have too much (like 3 gallons of beans) I preserve by canning, fermenting, or freezing. The goal is to get through from harvest to harvest, a 12-month cycle, without buying anything green. It all comes from the garden. I have a chest freezer and an extra waist-high fridge to store it.

I like to think of this as a special diet, let’s call it the Food Diet. It works like this: eat food.

If it comes in a bag with a lot of writing on it, it’s probably not food. If you can’t combine it with a couple other things to make a third thing it’s probably not food (for instance flour+yeast+milk+shortening=bread. Try doing that with Flaming Hot Cheetos.). Anything in a box or a bag with a lot of writing on it that you combine with water or milk to make a third thing is probably not food (for instance, instant potatoes).

For that matter, if it says “instant” it’s not food. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what is meant by “instant oatmeal.” Not sure how much more instant you get than just regular oatmeal. What are they doing to that stuff that it needs to be labeled “instant?” I’m thinking of starting my own brand of Instant Fruit! It looks like, um, fruit. Comes in its own package! Just add chewing.

If it’s in a superfluous package, it’s not food (think McDonald’s apples). Any meal product (as opposed to snack or dessert) that lists high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient is not food. (For instant, major-label bread.)

You get the idea. You don’t need a list of “acceptable” foods. When you’re on the Food Diet, if it’s food, by the above definition, then you can eat it.

After being a food gardener for so long, I take for granted what vegetables taste like, and when I, rarely, buy non-local produce at the grocery store I’m always struck by how tasteless and mushy it is. One forgets what they pass off as food in our carbon-dependent culture.

07- July (3b)By July, I had planted all my food: 20 tomato plants, 15 peppers, 4 eggplants, two full beds of beans, plus the corn, celery, pumpkins (which succumbed to squash vine borer later in the summer), carrots, kale, chard, leeks, onions, herbs, and potatoes, as well as strawberries and raspberries. I planted a pear tree and a grape vine, but they won’t bear for another 3-4 years. (Leaving the fruit at the old place was one of the really wrenching losses, because they take so long to mature.)

A lot of home gardeners, like me, started by thinking about where our food system had gone off into the chemical wonderland, and trying to climb back out of that rabbit hole. I moved the process back into my home, making my food system not just consumptive, but also productive, because I am the producer of the raw ingredients, and the artisan behind the meal.

We’ve been encouraged by the food and advertising industries to think of ourselves as helpless and stressed—no time, no expertise, no access—especially as regards our food. They don’t even call us “people” or “citizens” anymore–we’re “consumers” or “viewers;” our lives reduced to passive acts. Consumption is what defines modern life. And it doesn’t count unless you spend money on it. We have in fact, been blamed for various moments of economic woes, because we stopped buying things we didn’t need, and moving into houses too big and expensive for our needs.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be defined by forces that do not have our interests at heart, to become part of the processing of ourselves.

Consumption is a fatal disease. There are lots of foods you can easily process yourself. Illiterate peasants and pre-literate cultures have done it for tens of thousands of years.

My little farm, and the creatures who live there, are part of that.

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2. July 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

Creatures are a garden’s fourth dimension, moving through the rooted spaces. Humans, insects, worms, microbes, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and all sorts of less desirable rodents.

Early in July, with all my transplants a little too shocky for a good bloom, there weren’t many insects other than the ground-dwelling bees in the mulch, and lots of fireflies. However, the vertebrates found me.

The gardening books will spell out for you when to transplant—before the bloom, after the bloom, when your plant is this size or that size, when the root ball is new, or when it is formed. They’ll tell you how much soil you need, and what amendments to put in and and and

And I’m here to tell you it’s mostly bullshit. Transplant when you need to transplant. Except for avoiding long dry spells, you can really transplant any plant at any stage in its life cycle. The first year, you’re going to lose the bloom, and some growth, no matter how carefully you follow the instructions. Transplants get sullen and shocky. Very much, come to think of it, like transplanting humans. I should know.

There are some things you need to do: If you’re digging it up, rather than planting something already potted, bring as much soil with it as possible—use a large spade to dig out a very large area, and try to keep that chunk of soil together, so you retain the whole root system. Make a hole twice as wide but exactly as deep as the dirt or root ball of the plant you’re moving. You want the hole twice as wide so that new roots are encountering loose soil rather than hard walls.

Flood the hole you’ve dug with water, wait for it to drain, then flood it about a quarter full again and put the plant into the standing water. Back fill with a little compost and the soil you removed. Create a small berm around it to hold the water in for the next few weeks, and water it every day (except if it rains) while it reestablishes its roots.

I’d say it’s another metaphor, but I mostly water myself with beer, so I don’t want to push it.

The rabbits remained unaware of the Farm and the Breezeway, but they loved the shady Botanic, where unfortunately, they chowed down on some of the smaller and more tender transplants, costing me all of my annuals and a lot of the diaspora and scavenged plants. Once the Botanic fills in, they and the grackles are going to really love the privacy the plants will create, but hopefully will stop eating the plants before they have a chance to grow. I have chipmunks as well, a creature that was absent in the city, even though I was just a mile away, and unfortunately rats, living under the sidewalk in the farm. I haven’t seen the larger wildlife–raccoons and possums–likely because of the protected railroad right of way just a block away. Why hang out in peoples’ yards when you can hang out in the forest?

In addition to the animals, birds, and insects, my July garden hosted other sorts of helpers. Hobbled by the wrist injury, I enlisted my young friends Mealah and Ben as well as my daughter and her boyfriend to do some heavy lifting, and to rebuild (for the last time, we hope) the Breezeway patio.

Of course, along with the god and the helpers comes trickster Loki, in the form of the squirrels. The squirrels love the breezeway wall, winding in and out of the blocks, and climbing on and sitting in the baskets. As at the old place, they use the top of the fence as an express monorail. They proceeded to help themselves to my corn starts, destroying not the ears (which hadn’t form yet) but the stalks themselves. I ended up doing four separate plantings of either seeds or starts trying to get enough corn going, and ended up with 15 good stalks. But it was touch and go.

With the fence up, I put out my inanimate garden friends, too- the Breezeway wall now hides a Chinese soldier and a little beehive, a shell, an iron gazelle, and a cast iron squirrel. In the Farm I made a little shelf for another Chinese soldier, and hid verdigris frogs and turtles.

The clay goddess now protects the garden from outside the front gate, and the tiny concrete god guards the back.

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1. July 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here 

07- July (1b)The Breezeway garden is in the territory of a mated cardinal pair.

They visit several times a day, landing in the tiny native patch, or on the wall, or on the tree stump, bringing a bright flash of color before they fly off again.

At the Touhy garden, it was robins. They would always be the first birds to visit me in the spring, often sitting fearlessly close while I worked in the soil. I used to call one bold male “the god in the garden” because he seemed the manifestation of the god returning to earth for the Equinox. In their hope for worms from the disturbed soil, the robins would tolerate the human and her tools.

The cardinals are more skittish. Even small movements from inside the Breezeway itself cause them to startle and fly off. It seems somehow fitting for the rarer cardinal to take the god’s role now, and ironic to have a mated pair adopt me in my singlehood.

I didn’t see too many robins in the new year in the new space—mostly starlings, juncos, jays, and woodpeckers. The grackles that were a mainstay at the old house are also absent, probably because there isn’t enough ground cover yet with all the plants so new. Grackles like to be under things.

In July my fence got built—a 6-foot privacy fence with key-locked gates that encloses the Farm and the gangway, making the back of the house more private and secure.

07- July (1a)I contracted for the fence back in April, but bad weather kept pushing me down their schedule. Finally, just two workers showed up and built it in two marathon 16-hour days. There was only supposed to be one lockable gate with a metal frame, but they accidentally put in two, so I got the second one for the cost of a standard gate. Nice.

The gate encloses the “backyard” of this property which doesn’t really have a backyard—it’s got two side yards, a narrow gangway off the kitchen and breezeway, and a very narrow front yard that is mostly the city’s easement. Because of this, I had been meeting everyone walking by, no matter which part of the garden I was in; they were intrigued and fascinated in particular by the Farm. Gardens by their nature are social places, attracting not just insects and mammals and birds (and even reptiles) but people too. Even gardens as solitary as mine are social places. With the fence up, I miss the casual conversation of people passers-by.

I make it a point to sit at the open Breezeway patio in the morning and the late afternoon.

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