Category Archives: politics

On home vacations

One of the vacation projects was putting cement board siding on the outside of  Loven.  Ick; that cement board is nasty, but the cladding needs to be fireproof.  Now to paint it all and put the galvanized roof on…maybe I need another vacation?

Ah!  A week off from work.  The place looks really spiffed up (projects begun, projects completed, chaos swept away).  And:  I have bruises in strange places.

About a third of my work as an architect is designing second homes for Chicagoans keen to have a spot on this, the better, side of the lake.  You’ve heard about second homes, right?  They are acquired because the first home is wanting.  But me, I find it hard to ever leave my first home!  And why should I?  I would rather be home than anywhere else.

And it is just as well. There’s plenty to do.

Greenhouse #3 is even big enough to have a place to sit.

The new greenhouse layout is perfect for growing long rows of indeterminate tomatoes.  It is no secret that I abhor staking tomatoes; I have devoted many posts to this dislike, yet I still grow and stake them.  So I tried a new method on Thursday morning, as it was the best time to do it:  cloudy, breezy, and the Supreme Court was due to make its final rulings.  Instead of sitting by the radio being pissed off, I took to the greenhouse to change what I can.

This is 17 gauge fence wiring.  There are many uses for a roll of this stuff; in point of fact, I have never set a current to this wire…and I have gone through an eighth of a mile of it since I bought it.  I stretched the wire between the bows, using self-tapping screws held off from the bow just enough to allow a wrap of the wire.  Then, I stake the tomatoes by tying sisal twine to the base of the plant, stretching the twine up and knotting it over the fence wire, then draping it back down (for when the plant gets taller/more unwieldy).  Pretty simple all around.  I have plenty of screws, plenty of wire…but I ran out of sisal.

I trim to one main stalk, and am maniacal about trimming all future suckers until the plant gets about five feet tall.  Wrapping with the sisal is fairly easy.  Up twisty up, avoiding the fruit branches, loose enough to allow it to grow.  At its biggest point a plant might require up to four strings to hold it aloft but sisal is cheap.  The wire shouldn’t bend much under the weight; between the 4′ span of the bows there are only two, maybe three plants.  And they will all grow to hit the roof sooner than later.

And by the time I finished with this task (yes, doing 76 plants takes a bit of time) I turned on the radio and surprisingly wasn’t angry by the rulings!  Ah, a morning well spent.

On sweet things

P1010310Get the biscuits!

When I was in New York earlier this month, the governor put forward an initiative to tax all sugary sodas by 18%.  “Sugary” is a relative word.   If you follow the sweetened beverage industry at all, you know that sugar is kind of hard to come by in a carbonated drink:  it’s all corncorncorn in the form of HFCS.  Indeed, any pop (yes, POP, as I am a Midwesterner) that actually contains sugar has been spun as a retro beverage, a throwback to better days:  it’s even hawked in old-fashioned small bottles.

My daughter and I are big fans of Antiques Roadshow, and on a rerun recently someone questioned the original purpose of a small chest their family owned.  It was a sugar safe.  Yes, I explained to our girl, at one point in time, cane sugar was so precious that one would lock it up in a chest, using it only for special occasions!

I thought of that chest when I roasted a ham in the smoker on Saturday morning.  The glaze with which I basted the meat was a sorghum/mustard/garlic glaze.  Way back when sugar (from cane or beets) was expensive, Southern and Midwestern families tended to grow their own sweetener in the form of sweet sorghum.  Sorghum is a tall, corn-like grass (minus the cobs) whose canes are stripped of their leaves and then put through a wringer to extract the juice.  Much like maple syrup, the resulting sap needs to be boiled/evaporated to get the concentrated end product, sorghum.  And fall was traditionally the time when the stalks were harvested, the evaporators fired up.  And as things would have it, the upside-down world we live in now has my jar of Indiana sorghum about eight times more expensive than the beet-derived Michigan sugar in the same pantry.

Is taxing sodas the answer to our ills?  I am unsure, mainly because, like cigarette taxes, the tax disproportionately affects the poor, the ignorant, and the addicted.  Perhaps if we ceased to subsidize corn production at the levels we do, we wouldn’t need these kinds of taxes.  Perhaps there’s something to that sugar safe, to the idea of growing your own sweetener, that shouldn’t be discarded too:  if it’s precious, you might not guzzle it.

On being food renegades

P1000178The U.S.D.A. in its infinite wisdom pays farmers to NOT produce food.  To keep the prices high, the consolidation of growers of (let’s give a relevant example) sour cherries all stick their fingers to the wind and decide how MUCH of their harvest to pick on a given year.  This year, it’s 60%, which means that 40% of your crop is not to be sold and must rot on the tree.

Rot on the tree!

Well, we fruit renegades did a bit of patriotic tea-dumping and picked 150 pounds of cherries on the Fourth of July for our school.  We in no way even dented that 40% of this particular farm’s trees. Having the full support of the farmers, we pickers had to be surreptitious about it, parking our cars way out of view and picking in the dead middle of the orchard early in the morning.  At one point a plane flew over and I had a true Goodfellas moment, getting somewhat paranoid.

P1000186About a third of our harvest

So for the price of pitting them at another farm, we have a nice huge stock of cherries to make into snacks for the school.

P1000193KathunkKathunkKathunk:  This 1937 pitter can process a ton of cherries in an hour

On being shovel-ready

img_9746Nearly 7′ of the white stuff climbing up the sides of the greenhouse:  this crap does pile up

img_9750It makes sense to clear the sides of some of it, at least down to the 3′ level, if just to let more light in.

img_9745Hope:  while it’s +15*F. outside, here’s what it is inside.  The worst it’s gotten inside is +20* despite the deep freeze of the last week or more.

I’m one of those foolishly idealistic people who actually thinks politics is a higher calling.  Despite the fact that it’s mostly practiced by people with an inflated sense of self worth (and sycophants aplenty to encourage this view), the actual job is to be a servant to the people’s business.  I had no foreknowledge that 11/07/2000 was the start of one of the darkest eras in my life, and it is just as well that I did not.  I do feel, though, that we’ll soon wake from the nightmare that has been the last eight years.  Today is a great day to start a new dream, and it’s time to start digging.

Seedy thoughts

img_9262-1Sugarloaf chickory

Many of us are poring over gardening catalogs at this time of year.  It, admittedly, is a fun exercise, this paper gardening:  such potential!  Such success, if it’s all on paper!  And not to knock all those catalogs that come in the mail, most unbidden, but…have you considered the alternative?  You know, seed houses that are either so small they haven’t a catalog, and/or seed houses that are actually trying to do the world a bit of good by preserving diversity?

The longer I have lived on this farm the more I do try to walk the walk:  I am a seedsaver, but I am not yet entirely self-sufficient in seeds.  This year I am doing a bit of seed-trading with some local gardeners, so I anticipate new additions in the form of both seeds and rootstock from these trades.  But there are a few other outfits that I think should get more traffic because of what it is they are trying to do.

Into growing the grains for your daily bread?  The Heritage Wheat Conservatory both sells grain and is a great advocate for the preservation of heirloom grains.  Recipes included!

The child and I experimented with leather breeches beans last year with a usual green bean variety that I grow.  Trouble is, this variety is not grown to be preserved this way!  Beans are a vastly varied species of edibles, and the average seed catalog barely budges beyond green beans and the occasional heirloom dried bean.  I will purchase some creasy (greasy) beans from Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center this year.  The objective of this organization is to recover and encourage Appalachian heirloom tomatoes and beans.

Nobody beats the Sage of La Honda for preserving seed and plant biodiversity.  His catalog is a botanical education.

Sand Hill in Iowa is a family-run organization that preserves rare seeds and poultry.  I will be getting our Chantecler chickens from them this year, but their seeds are also quite notable.  Don’t be put off by their byzantine ordering process.

NativeSeeds Search aims to preserve the seeds and foodways of the American southwest.

Amishland Heirloom Seeds is a one-woman seed store based in Pennsylvania Dutch country.  She’s stingy with her quantities but her heart is true:  you are to preserve the entirety of your first crop for next’s year’s seed.  Word of warning:  she hasn’t updated her catalog for 2009 so I have no idea if she’s even still doing what she’s doing.  UPDATE, 1/8:  seems she’s just a little slow getting her website running!

This year, I think I will give my beloved Fedco a pass and order all of my seed needs from Turtle Tree.  This company, based in upstate New York, suits both my latitude and growing expectations and is ALL open-pollinated, a necessary step in my own adventures of seed saving.  They also have forage crops for the expected four-legged additions for the farm this year.

And finally, there is one fruit tree company you should all know about.  They’re local to me so I do have a bias, but their catalog is much deeper than either Fedco Trees or Trees of Antiquity.  The problems he has had with an embezzling employee are over, so he’s back to providing the best fruit tree diversity in the country.  Shop Southmeadow Fruit Gardens!

Holiday season came early this year


Ugh:  yet another photo of a page out of a book that you probably can’t read!

I curled up in bed with my highlighter and my 2009 Fedco Seeds catalog yesterday.

I will not claim that this outfit is all things to all gardeners, because it is not.  Even if Fedco has a nationwide reach now, it is avowedly pro-Maine in its seed selections as far as climate goes.  The seeds it sells that won’t reliably perform well in its home state tend to get a big disclaimer in their description, to the effect that the variety “will grow in a good season.”  Point taken.  And every year, I always have to go to another seed outfit or two to retrieve all that I need for the homestead, but every year, Fedco reliably adds a wanted item to its catalog, usually a year after I have bought the variety elsewhere.  (Good King Henry is this year’s addition.)

But I will show you why I love this catalog so:  Here is a photo of the example page showing how people should fill in group orders. As an example, it used the Wall Street recipients of the government’s $700B federal bailout, and addressed the order to The Bail Outs, c/o Henry (Hank) Paulson.

Now who said gardening wasn’t a political act?

On polling


The peppers are on the fence: still alive in the old greenhouse

Now that the election has passed, I readily admit I face a void without my daily dose of polling.  Dang, but there is something quite addictive about verifying a candidate’s status on a regular basis.  Polls can be misleading, of course.  If I were to poll my garden plants, for example, I am quite sure I would hear wildly different things from each vegetable about how I, their representative, well, represents her constituents:

  • From the tomatoes:  “She’s generous with compost, but we get eaten by hornworms and aren’t trimmed and tied often enough.  Only a few of us were fortunate enough to live in the greenhouse so she doesn’t equally represent us.”
  • From the root crops:  “She’s generous with the compost, but often thins us too late and we get crowded.  Oh, and she spends too much time with the tomatoes.”
  • From the potatoes:  “We can’t see, we’re underground.  This clay soil sucks, though.”
  • From the lettuces:  “We are far too numerous and need different housing plans.  And she spends too much time with the tomatoes.”
  • From the beans:  “She is generous with the compost and spaces us correctly.  We don’t mind being ignored by her.  She’ll get us if we’re dried out, if we’re shelling, or if we’re fresh; we don’t really care.”
  • From the entire brassica family:  “Keep her away from us with that sharp knife!”
  • From the squash:  “She is stingy with the compost and we get eaten alive by squash bugs!  Throw her out of office NOW!”

Polls are often misleading in terms of what one actually does versus what one says one will do.  If I were to fashion a pie chart, say, of my time in the garden, I am quite sure I will be horribly inaccurate.  Self-delusion is a wonderful thing. Let’s say the categories of time are 1. dealing with the soil (mulching, composting) 2. planting 3. weeding 4. harvesting and 5. screwing around, usually with the compost piles.  I would guess that this breaks down as such as a typical season of gardening for me:  10% soil, 15% planting, 20% weeding, 50% harvesting and 5% screwing around.  In reality, it’s probably 30% soil, 5% each planting, weeding and harvesting and 55% screwing around.  But I could be wrong.

You will hear almost every candidate for office say that s/he doesn’t pay much attention to polls.  That’s bully, and we all know it:  even the most blithely bubbled candidate (GWBush comes to mind) certainly knows how s/he is faring in terms of opinion.  You can’t take on the job without answering to somebody!  I think in our heart of hearts we know our elected officials have our needs on their radar:  whether these needs are met or not is why we have elections, after all.  For me, I think about how much there is to know and how little it is that I actually DO know about gardening and all I can say to my veggies is a Clintonesque “I feel your pain, and I am with you.  I am trying my best.”

That, and I’m also glad they’re all annuals with memoires as short as their lifespans!  Next year’s crops won’t know what a slacker I really am.