28 July 2009

We interrupt this chicken and puppy report to bring you an outbreak of middle age angst

Although it may seem as though I haven't been thinking about anything but chickens and puppies and vegetables for the last few months (which does cover most of it, certainly) I actually have been pondering my usual end-of-the-world stuff as well. Mostly, I've been an interested observer of the decline of industrial civilization with occasional spells of anger, sadness, fear and guilt.

I read Derrick Jensen's What We Leave Behind this summer. I agree with much of what he says about what a mess we're making of the world, but I got so turned off by his pining for some kind of pre-civilization eden and talking to trees and piously shitting in his backyard that I know I'm one of the kind of people he despises. The ones who aren't prepared to fight for every salmon and who don't actually mourn every fallen tree. I guess the problem is I can't generate a lot of enthusiasm for his vision of a post-collapse but prehistoric lifestyle in total harmony with all of nature. He advocates a resistance against those who would harm the natural world, like developers and industrialists and politicians but he makes a false distinction between us (presumably anyone reading his books is a victim) and them, the evil nature destroyers. No matter how much I side with the good guys, the fact is by participating in civilization to any degree, I'm contributing to the destruction of the natural world. Leaving aside the problem of unintended consequences, I don't think tearing down a cell tower or blowing up a dam is going to change a thing.

But I also know that my own utopian fantasy for the future, which looks strikingly like my present - where everyone gets to live in a modest house surrounded by beautiful food gardens and wild space not far away - is at best impractical and at worst greedy. I have no illusions that the world will be saved by my personal pursuit of an anachronistic idyll. Effectively, I'm trying to find a comfy seat from which to watch the economic, energy and environmental circus that's going on all around, because quite frankly, I can't think of anything better to do. And for that, I'm sure, Derrick Jensen would be very angry.

26 July 2009

Meg and Patty getting along

Buckwheat love

I'm starting to have an unseemly number of chicken pictures on my computer. They make much better models than kids or dogs because they aren't shy, hold still while their picture is being taken, and don't make silly faces (um, they always have silly faces). Edna and the gang have discovered the buckwheat cover crop and they love, love, love it.

25 July 2009

The rain is over*

I brought my camera out on my usual walk-about this morning to document the rain we've had over the past couple of days (well, all summer). The saturated soil on top of limestone bedrock in the alvar meadow is unable to absorb anymore rain, so we'll just have to wait until the water flows away or evaporates. This top picture is me standing in water to near the top of my boots in the labyrinth.

I think the garden will survive as everything but potatoes and buckwheat is in raised beds or straw bales, and the mosquitoes are certainly thriving. It is rather nice to see the sun peek through clouds from time to time as I write this. I am wishing for a few days of sun and heat to help ripen the tomatoes and peppers, but the forecast isn't very promising.

*I'm taking a lesson from the Bank of Canada's making-it-so by saying-it's-so book. Just like Mark Carney, I've had to make a few assumptions to arrive at my optimistic statement, but unlike Mr. Carney, I'm not depending on you to believe my wild assertion and go shopping, preferably with borrowed money, for it to actually be true.

05 July 2009

Kitchen Garden Tour

In the foreground is the first proper compost pile of the season. It's currently hosting a hill of Atlantic Giant pumpkins. The pile in the background was assembled the day before this picture was taken and already you can see that it has shrunk significantly from the top of the chicken wire. At the depth of my soil thermometer it was 50 C.

This picture shows the wooden raised beds filled with soil as well as the strawbale beds. I've planted strawberries, winter squash, peppers, tomatoes, salad greens and herbs in strawbales for the first time this year. I did this because there are only a few inches of sandy topsoil on top of limestone bedrock throughout most of the garden area, and I blew my wood and topsoil budget last fall while building the 9 raised beds. So far, most things are doing well, but I'm reserving judgement until I successfully harvest everything.

A closer look at the wooden raised beds. They're simple 4 ft. by 8 ft. rectangles the height of two 2 x 6's. The standard size makes it easy to move my portable 4 x 8 ft. hoophouse onto any bed in the fall. The chicken coop is also designed to fit on top of a bed so I can enlist the chickens' help to clean and fertilize.

My Delicata squash plants appear to be doing well in their strawbale. There are lots of male and female blossoms, as well as a couple of small fruits already.

The cabbages are just about ready to eat. I had carefully covered them with row covers to keep out cabbage moths, but I wasn't diligent about making sure the edges were securely fixed as they grew, so moths did find their way underneath. I removed the row covers to allow birds to find the tiny caterpillars and I picked a few myself. So far, it appears that only the outside leaves have holes, but I will wash them carefully.

I planted two hills of summer squash from a seed packet promising a mix of varieties. So far it looks like patty pan, crookneck and plain old zucchini.

I have one bed devoted to garlic as well as a couple of smaller plantings. We've been eating garlic scapes for the first time this year and I have a new favourite vegetable. Perhaps this fall I'll plant more, as garlic is something I can never get enough of, and the Chinese garlic in the grocery store pales in comparison to the locally grown stuff.

My tomatoes got off to a bit of a slow start in the very cool basement and still aren't the great leafy jungle plants I'm used to growing. However, they are loaded with blossoms and small fruit as are the peppers. I expect that this may be because my home mixed organic fertilizer which I've been using with manure tea may be particularly slow release in the nitrogen department. I started fertilizing and watering the strawbales about a month before planting anything in them to start them breaking down.

I'm growing Penta potatoes in straw mulch right on the ground. I flattened last year's weeds, sprinkled some organic fertilizer and tossed the seed potatoes on top. I covered the whole thing with straw and have added straw as the plants have grown. This is another experiment inspired by a lack of topsoil and aversion to hard work. So far I can report no major bug problems, but no major potatoes yet either.

The portable chicken coop is currently in the garden, but the chickens spend their days wherever they want. I occasionally shoo them out of a bed or the garage, but they generally occupy themselves foraging in the grass, or resting amongst the trees.

The bare looking bed has recent sowings of beets, chard and carrots. I had Asian greens and spinach, planted in mid April, there throughout the spring.

I've started a few cabbage plants which are waiting for a spot to open up somewhere for planting out.

I started everbearing strawberries (Temptation) from seed and I'm pleased to see that I have a few blossoms. They seem to be doing fine in the strawbales and are not bothered at all by weeds there.

Apparently you can get good help these days.

Lisa the chicken keeps an eye on things. I think of her as the spokeschicken as she is certainly the boldest and most vocal of the gang. They're almost 10 weeks old, so we have a few weeks to go before we see any eggs. I'm a little concerned that they're getting so comfortable all over the property that they'll lay their eggs everywhere, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.


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