A time to put back what was taken

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Fall comes to the garden. November 2016

As I look around me I see huge trees, dense thickets, fields of grasses and herbaceous plants.  They grow without the help of man.  No one goes out and spreads fertilizer; no one sprays for pests; yet they grow.   They grow wild, they grow tall and they grow strong.

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The leaf pile is beginning to take shape. November 2016

As leaves fall off the trees and plants die back from the frost they slowly decay and return nutrients back to the soil.  What was removed is returned. A cycle that has repeated itself since life first appeared on this earth.

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A layer of leaves was added to the worm bin.  November 2016

Fungi, bacteria, and other living things assist in the decomposition.  It is life itself that assures this process continues.

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Lambs Ears. November 2016

Nature will provide everything plants need to grow; if only we let her.  I live in the suburbs and have found that fall provides the perfect opportunity to begin putting back some of what has been taken out.  To repair some of the damage that has been done through the years.

 

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Getting My Neighbors Leaves, November 2016

I’m hauling my neighbors leaves home again.  They will protect the soil from erosion, help stabilize temperatures, provide food and shelter for a host of living things, and as they decompose add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

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The last rose of the season. November 2016

This system is a capitalist’s nightmare.  The need to buy bags of fertilizer and jugs filled with pesticides no longer exists. It allows those without capital to grown their own food.  It allows people throughout the world to provide wholesome food to their families and local communities.   There is beauty to be found in this system; we just need to open our hearts to it.


“When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”   Madeleine M. Kunin

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

October

On my way up to the garden I had a nice surprise.  The camellia’s are in bloom!!!  I think the bee in the image below spent the night on this blossom.  It’s the end of October, she’s cold and waiting for the sun to warm her joints before starting another busy day.

Bee on Camellia flower. October 2016

Camellia. October 2016

In the garden this has been the year of the peppers  They have really done well and for that I’m thankful but there is a but.  The but — it’s feast or famine. We go through a long spell when we really want peppers but none are ripe.  Then OH MY we have peppers, and more peppers and can’t keep up with them.  It seems that five pepper plants for a family of two is just too many.   I’m going to have to do some soul searching and if I don’t change the number of plants maybe I need to change the varieties we grow.  We do not need 4 bell pepper plants.

Bell Peppers. October 2016

Bell Peppers. October 2016

See the peppers in the basket below.  The green ones.  I have no idea what type of peppers they are but they  really taste good.  Someone very dear to me is going to create a wonderful dish tonight and they are part of the recipe.  Just out of curiosity: Do peppers cross pollinate?

Peppers and figs. October 2016

A few peppers and figs from the garden. October 2016

If you look in the basket you’ll notice that I also brought in a few figs.  As they ripen the squirrels, birds, wasps, beetles and ants have a field day.  The fig tree is a popular hangout for local wildlife.  Right now there’s not enough ripe fruit for both humans and wildlife.  For now I’ll let the wildlife enjoy the sweet fruit.  I think they need it more than we do.   This year I will not fight them for access to the figs.

Fig tree with unripe figs. October 2016

Fig Tree. October 2016

While the fig is covered with fruit I don’t think much will ripen before a hard frost.  It had been protected from the cold by the garage and a grove of large pines.  The first winter without the pines was a real shock to the fig and most of it died back to the ground.  It’s come back nicely and is once again over 10 feet tall.  Slowly it’s re-acclimating.  I’m thinking we’ll have a bumper corp next year.  Then I will confront the wildlife and let them know I also will be looking for ripe fruit.  We love fig preserves.  And these figs are wonderful in preserves.

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Sorting and sifting compost. October 2016

The last week of October brought a break in the heat.  It was less humid and a little cooler so I took the time to clean up the compost pile. It’s a two day process.  On day one I pull everything out that hasn’t broken down yet, fluff it up and set it aside.  Then I dug around in the finished compost and get the ants good and mad.  They need to realize that their home is going to be severely damaged if not destroyed.  I want to give them time to leave, to move their eggs, or at the very least, go down deeper and hopefully out of the finished compost.  It’s the end of the season and I’ve had my fill of ant bites.  If you’ve never experienced the alarm that sets in when you realize the burning sensation on your belly, around your waist band, or on your neck is the result of ants clamping down and stinging the bejesus out of you you’ve missed something.

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Finished compost ready to spread. October 2016

In the end it’s worth it.  Look at the finished compost that came from just this one pile.  As I clean the beds it will be spread.  Right now it’s piled where the cucumbers and squash were growing.  This bed will play host to tomatoes next year.  I hope to plant at least two rows that are 16 feet or about 5 meters long.  Tomatoes are the one crop that no matter how many I grow I’m told that I should grow more.

The days are getting shorter and I’m going to get the garden ready for spring.  Strange thing to say isn’t it.  But I find that the work I do now helps to set the stage for the following season.  My attempt at a fall crop in the garden has been a bust.  Cabbage worms and aphids had a heyday with the young broccoli and collard greens.  Lesson learned.  Cool season crops do not like hot weather and it’s been both hot and dry.

Thanks for stopping by.  Until next time…

All we need is love

If this post appears a little disjointed let me apologize in advance. It’s been a long time since I last talked with you and a lot has happened; both at home and in my community. We had a flash flood in August that hit the neighborhoods along Free Nancy Creek pretty hard.  It includes an area with doctors offices,  the town’s high school, several parks and older homes.  While the water was gone within a day the damage, especially to homes, will take much longer to repair. The city did not sustain a lot of damage and for that I’m grateful.  But it should be a wake up call.  We are not immune from flooding.  And for those whose homes were destroyed it’s hard to hear people talk about the event like this wasn’t a big deal.  For them it’s a very big deal.

Photo by David Jenkins

Flooding in Statesville NC August 3, 2016 (photo credit: David Jenkins)

At the house we had almost 10 inches of rain in 24 hours. The rain was accompanied by a good deal of wind and a rotten limb fell off a tree in what I affectionately call the back forty.  It’s the lot next door where I have the vegetable garden and one of my compost piles.  When it fell it crushed several privets, a locust, and my compost pile.

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Wind damage was limited to the compost pile. August 2016

What a mess but I’m not complaining.  That’s all the harm we sustained and I consider us to be very fortunate.  I’ll clean it up later this fall.  While there was a lot of overland flow our house sat high and dry; our property did not flood.  What concerns me is that despite the flood it has been a very hot, dry summer. August was miserable and September hasn’t been any better. Temperatures hover in the mid 90’s (35 celsius) and coupled with the high humidity my ability to work outdoors is severely limited.  The air is so wet I joke about growing gills and after an hour in the garden I have dishpan hands.

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Dinner. Green beans and potatoes. August 2016

I neglected the garden this summer.  I think I watered it once.  I know… I’m horrible.  So far this September we have had less than a tenth of an inch of rain. It’s hot and dry and I’m not watering.  The moisture you see on the plants is dew.  It’s often noon before the dew is off the plants. The garden would have been more productive if I had watered.   But I didn’t and it’s still provided well for us.

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Peppers and butternut squash. September 2016

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Getting some tomatoes ready to roast. September 2016

Now I’ve noticed the days are getting shorter.  Slowly I’m pulling out plants, adding them to the compost pile and getting the garden ready for winter.  I’m planting a few beds with cold hardy plants like collards and kale.  Hopefully I’m not getting to late a start but it’s just been to hot.

In addition to the flood an old hospital filled with asbestos was being demolished. The section they knocked down was filled with friable asbestos and now it was all over the site. An apartment complex sits right next door.  The risk posed by the asbestos was being minimized by all parties (City, County, and State).  It felt like the emphasis was on getting it out of the news and to make light of the situation by either ignoring it or making the citizens who cared look like idiots.  It is only because of the determined and unrelenting efforts of the people living next to the site that the EPA finally stepped in.

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The EPA stepped in and removed debris filled with asbestos. July 2016

The demolition debris was misted, dumped into trailers lined with plastic and wrapped to secure it before hauling off site.  I can only wonder whose neighborhood hosts the dump it was sent to.  One community rejoices in the removal of a hazard while another laments.   The building, filled with asbestos, still stands.  Cleanup will cost more than the land is worth.  As a result it is highly likely that it will sit there for years a blight on this West End neighborhood.  I wonder if this would be allowed  in a wealthier community?  I wonder how the powers that be would want this handled if they lived next door to the site?

There is much that happens in this world and in my own community that is beyond my control. To preserve my sanity I’ve limited how often I bang my head against the wall.  On my next birthday I will be 60 years old.  I feel that I can do more by living a life that leaves  what I touch a little better than how I found it.  Planting fruit trees, berries, flowering plants, a vegetable garden.  It brings me peace and lets others see that it is possible to have a beautiful and productive garden without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. .

I’ve also started making soap.  I’m amazed at what is in the soap offered for sale in the big box stores.  A little time spent researching soap on the internet and I’m able to make a soap that contains wholesome ingredients.

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This is what went into my first batch of soup. September 2016

Organic extra virgin olive oil. organic extra virgin coconut oil, grape seed oil, 100% lye and distilled water.  That’s it. And it looks great.  My first batch used a box lined with a trash bag as a mold and made 5 lbs.  I’ve gotten some smiles as it seems I’ve already made more soap than we use in a year.

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For my first batch I used a box as the mold. September 2016

I have a good life.  Our home is an oasis providing shelter from the drama that surrounds us. I think the world would be a much better place if we would treat people as we wish to to be treated; if kindness and compassion were seen as strengths and not something to be exploited. If we understood that all people want to be loved, appreciated, to have the ability to provide for themselves and their families, to be treated with respect and afforded their dignity.  If we understood this and acted on it the world would be a much better place.  Rather than spread fear and hate we need to start spreading love.   Most of the world’s problems could be solved if only we were willing to love our fellow man and the creatures with which we share the earth.  All we truly need is love.

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without
leaving happier.”   Mother Teresa

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
― John Steinbeck

Don’t let others stop you

We each are on this earth for just a brief flicker of time so be kind to one another and live your life.  Don’t let others tell you what is and isn’t possible.  Explore.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Don’t be afraid to be different.  And just because a book, or research center, or professor say’s this is the way something should be done doesn’t mean you have to do it that way.  It doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

Hyssop and Volunteers. July 2016

Hyssop and Volunteers. July 2016

I’m told quite often that the way I garden just doesn’t work.  Yet, it works for me.  In the picture above you’ll find hyssop, winter squash, tomatoes, and a hint of marigold.  Look how nicely they’re getting along.   We’ve had temperatures well above 90 degrees fahrenheit for over 30 days.  And while it’s rained all around us, we’ve had very little.  It has been hot, dry, and humid.  Yet the plants in this picture look happy.   Guess which ones I planted?  The hyssop and marigold.  The rest are volunteers.

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Bell Peppers and Volunteer Tomatoes. July 2016

This year our bell peppers are producing.  Bell peppers can be temperamental.   I think they like growing with the volunteer tomatoes.  The foliage shades the soil, keeps it from drying out and helps to keep it cooler than if exposed to the intense heat we’ve been having.

Zucchini and volunteers. July 2016

Zucchini and volunteers. July 2016

The zucchini above has produced more than I ever thought possible.   We’ve eaten it fresh, pickled, and in bread.  We also have it grated and frozen for use throughout the winter.  I pulled it out Sunday.  It was time.  The center had long since been devoured by squash borers and I wanted to clean up the area for a fall crop.  What’s that?  Yes, we had squash borers.  But we had a bumper crop despite them.

Second planting of green beans. July 2016

Second planting of green beans. July 2016

I wish I had planted more green beans.  We’ve had enough to eat but not enough at any one time to can.   The beans planted this spring are slowing down but still producing.  The ones in the picture above are about two weeks old.  It won’t be long and they will flower and produce more beans for the dinner table.  Next year I’ll plant more so we have some to can and enjoy over the winter.

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Unknown Sweet pepper with asian long beans. July 2016

The asian long beans got off to a slow start but once the ground and nighttime temperatures had warmed they took off and were very prolific.  Unfortunately, they were not a hit on the dinner table.  I gave quite a few away and let the rest go to seed. The pods are being shelled and we will try them in a soup.  The vines have been pulled and the bed is ready for a winter crop.  The sweet pepper above is wonderful.  It’s our first time growing it and I can’t say enough about it.  There’s just one problem.  I have no idea what the variety is.  Time to pull out the catalog.

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Leaves and kitchen scraps. July 2016

The way I garden works for me.  But I’ve been gardening most of my life.  Overtime you develop an instinct, a sense for what’s needed.  If you’re new to gardening learn the basics.  But most importantly learn why something is done.  If you understand ‘why’ then you’ll know when you can improvise or come up with another way to accomplish the goal.  If you choose to garden without chemical fertilizers learn patience.  It takes time to build a soil capable of supporting vegetables without purchased fertilizers or amendments.  And remember the goal is to have a garden that is productive not one totally free from pests or disease.

Life is short.  Don’t let the naysayers stop you from living your life, trying new things and having the garden you know is possible.

Why?

Why?

Do you really want to know?  Would you believe me if I told you?

Why.

Because  I care about my home, my family, my community.  Because there are things in this world that I value, things that I treasure.  And because I value them I want them to flourish.  So I’m not going to shout or belittle anyone. But I will share with you another perspective, another approach to life. One that is less violent, more nurturing, and presents an opportunity to make things just a little better.

When I watch the nightly news I’m overwhelmed by the violence within my own country, the violence in our communities, and the justifications used to minimize the atrocities flashing across the screen.  But what really upsets me, what often has me in tears, is our willingness to harm those who are least able to defend themselves; and the violence man commits against the earth.

The seeming lack of care. The oh well attitude portrayed by  individuals, corporations, businesses, and governments as they contaminate the air, water and land we share and is basic to our survival.  There are times when I want to run into the street and yell at the top of my lungs STOP!   But would they listen. I don’t think so.

So why? Why am I pouring my heart out here.  Why am I exposing myself to the world in this format?

Why?

Because  I care.  And I can make a difference.

We can make a difference.

 

July 4th, the garden and independence

Much of my life was spent outdoors.  As a child I remember being happiest when I was outside covered in sweat and so dirty the water ran brown when I got in the shower.  I found a sense of freedom and independence outdoors.  Well I’m no longer a child or so they tell me. However, I still take joy in being outdoors and getting my hands dirty.  I still believe that mother nature will provide everything we need if only we let her.

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A tote full.  Basil and winter squash.  July 4, 2016

I see proof of this everytime I step out the door. There are ‘volunteer’ plants everywhere.  The  winter squash with the white veins on the leaves is a volunteer.  I didn’t have the heart to pull it out. And why should I.  Look at how beautiful it’s growing.  Do you see the first of the many squash it will provide us?

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Volunteer Winter Squash.  July 4, 2016

There it is.  It found a nice little bench to lay on.  We ate some of these last year (they were growing out of the compost pile) and they were absolutely delicious.

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And these tomatoes look so darn happy.  Can you see the fruit.  It won’t be long before they turn red and sweet.  Yep, these are also volunteers.  Rather than discourage them I take joy knowing that free wholesome food is just outside our door.

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“Sweetie” after the rain.  July 4, 2016

Of course most of the plants in the garden were planted.  This is the ‘Sweetie’ tomato we grew from seed.  ‘Sweetie’ is an open pollinated variety.  You can save the seed and rest assured that any plants you grow will be the same as those from which you picked the fruit.

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‘Sweetie’ ready to pick.  July 4, 2016

This is definitely an early tomato.  We’ve been eating them for at least two weeks.  I think we have 18 of this variety.

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Zucchini.  July 4, 2016

We planted one zucchini plant this year.  I bought it on impulse after I saw it on a shelf in front of a hardware store.  I think it’s called ‘black beauty’   It’s already given us at least 12 zucchini’s (I lost count).  Here’s one I picked this morning (see below).

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The start of a good dinner, fresh from the garden.  July 4, 2016

While I have good intentions I’m not always on top of things.  I have a trellis for our european cucumbers.  You know those long, seedless varieties sold in the store wrapped in plastic.

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European Seedless Cucumbers.  An F1 hybrid.  They’re taking over!  July 4, 2015

Well, only about half of the plant is on the trellis.  The rest is taking over the aisle space.  Those on the trellis are nice and straight.  Those on the ground tend to curve a bit (or a lot).  I planted 3 seeds.  We have 3 plants.  And more cucumbers than someone I love very much thinks we need.  We eat them fresh each day and also pickled and soon as a relish.

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Normal Size and I forgot to pick you size on top.  European Cucumbers.  July 4 2016

They mature quickly.  See the picture above.  This is what happens when you tell yourself to wait another day.  The one on the bottom is how I like to pick them.  The one on the top was waiting one more day and enjoyed 2.5 inches of rain in 48 hours.   It weighed 2 pounds 4 ounces and is being made into relish as I write.

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Goji Berries, first year. July 2016

Now remember: We do not buy fertilizer.  We feed the soil through the use of leaf mold and compost made from whatever organic matter is at hand.  All of our kitchen scraps are mixed with leaves and allowed to partially decompose.  This partially composted material is dumped into a bin where the worms happily finish the process.  Our store bought fertilizer cost is $00.00 (Zero). Our fertilizer cost is the cost is our labor.

Gardening doesn’t need to be expensive.  A rake, hoe, garden fork or spade and a little space with sunshine.  Some seed or plants.  That’s really all it takes in capital.  What a garden really wants is a little of your time.

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Long beans. Something new this year. July 2016

Time well spent.  Time spent observing; learning to hear what the plants and soil are telling you.  Time spent outdoors getting your daily dose of vitamin D; placing kitchen scraps in the compost bin rather than the trash;  gathering up the fall leaves that others have set out as trash; getting some exercise; feeding the soil…so that the soil can feed you.

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Potato: German Butterball, something new. This is a late season variety. July 2016

I’ve always enjoyed working with plants.  I’m fortunate in that my mother allowed me to dig up half the backyard when I said I wanted to plant a garden; when she came home and found a truck load of horse manure in the driveway (this was in the 1970’s) she told everyone her daughter wanted to plant an organic garden.

My love of nature was fostered, it was encouraged. I learned to observe; to be patient; and quickly realized that no one spreads fertilizer or pesticides on the forests and meadows which surround us.  Nature provides everything they need to grow healthy and strong.  Knowledge born of experience and observation is the source of true independence.   As is the ability to save seed; and to feed one’s family.

Today those in the U.S. celebrate Independance Day or the day the 13 colonies declared themselves to be an independent nation free from the British Empire.  Today I celebrate independence day by making sure we have the ability to save our seed, to grow our food.  Happy knowing that not all seed has been patented; not all seed is owned by multinational corporations.  Declaring the right of all people to be independent of patented seed; the right of all people to grow their own food; the right of all people to save seed.

The day we lose the right to save our seed is the day we truly lose our independence.

Happy Independence Day everyone.

“This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.”
― Susan Polis Schutz

“The myth of “free choice” begins with “free market” and “free trade”. When five transnational corporations control the seed market, it is not a free market, it is a cartel.”
― Vandana Shiva

 

 

Tomatoes and faith

When I built the trellis for the tomatoes a few people wondered why on earth I made it so tall.  The middle bar is about 4 feet above the ground and the top bar is at 7 feet.  I  told them that this is as high as I can comfortably reach.   The looks I got said it all.  They thought I was crazy.  No one but me thought they would benefit from a trellis this tall.

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“Sweetie” open pollinated cherry tomatoes.  That’s me admiring the potatoes.  June 7, 2016

Remember we don’t use commercial fertilizers,  nor do we spray.  Co-workers think that’s about the silliest thing they ever heard. But is it?  Look at the forests, the meadows, the diversity of life in natural areas left untouched by man.  They team with life and not a bag of 10-10-10 insight.  Just the cycle of life.  When something dies (be it plant or animal) the things it took from the earth are given back to the earth.  In death they provide nourishment for the living.

How many of the products lining store shelves are truly needed?  How many do we think we need as a result of marketing and peer pressure?

Have a little faith.  Compost your food scraps, the weeds you pull, and the autumn leaves.  Feed the soil.  And don’t expect miracles the first year.   Soil that has been severely depleted and abused may take several years to recover.  But recover it will and as you look over the seeds you have sown you will begin to wonder why there are so many items on the shelves of the garden center when all you need is a seed, a little rain, and a little faith.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry