Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Local Food. . . at Walmart

Holy mackerel! Another evil empire is dabbling in something good. . .

"Walmart says it wants to revive local economies and communities that lost out when agriculture became centralized in large states."

"Even if the price Walmart pays for local produce is slightly higher than what it would pay large growers, savings in transport and the ability to order smaller quantities at a time can make up the difference."

Through this new local-foods program, Walmart "could do more to encourage small and medium-size American farms than any number of well-meaning nonprofits, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with its new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign."

I'll still shop at Whole Foods out of sheer snobbery, but to have Walmart offering such competition is a giant win for local farms.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What's Growing Right Now

From top to bottom: pussytoes; two plants in the mint family, perhaps bee balm and lemon horsemint; and common cinquefoil.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Solar Cone Environment Data

Right now it is 46 Degrees with 56% Humidity outside.

Inside the Solar Cones it is 71 Degrees with 70% Humidity.

When you stick your arm inside the top its like placing your hand into summer with the 25 Degree difference in temperature. Cool.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Solar Cone Project - How To

I'm going to start at the end of this process, and that's when the cone is in the garden doing its job. Gabe is just about as tall as the finished cone, which is not quite three feet tall. I was amazed at how quickly the cone fogged up once it was placed on the garden and loosely sealed around the bottom with dirt. This cone is currently over the lone Swiss chard plant that by some miracle made it through the winter. It seems to be happy in its new home.

Assembling the four solar cones took an afternoon, and it was an afternoon filled with flying fiberglass. I made it through the process without any splinters, but the fine powder produced by sanding down the edges made me very reluctant to grab the camera, so there aren't any pictures until all the basic cone shapes were cut out. Still, I learned a good deal, and hopefully I can pass on some advice if anyone else out there should try this at home.

Here are all the tools I used in the making of the cones.
  • 1 - .040" X 3' X 24' Sunlite HP
  • 20 - 1/4"-20 x 1/2" Stainless Steel Machine Screws
  • 20 - 1/4"-20 nuts
  • 2 - 20 Tooth Jigsaw Blades
  • 1 - Black Sharpie Marker
  • 1 - 36" Long Metal Ruler
  • 1 - 8" Long Flat Metal File (medium grit)
  • 1 - 4" Long x 1/4" wide triangular file
  • 1 - Tin Snips
  • 1 - Jigsaw
  • 1 - Drill
  • 1 - 1/4 " Drill bit
  • 1 - Pair Safety Goggles
  • 1 - Face Mask (air filter)
  • 1 - Pair of Leather Gloves
  • 1 - Package of Medium Sand Paper
  • 2 - Small Padded Quick Grips
  • 1 - Set of Work clothes that you don't mind getting really full of fiberglass grit
The cones are not cheap, coming in at around $60 each, assuming you already have the tools. Unless they fail to show some big advantages over the control plants, which I doubt will happen, I suspect that they're worth it, because they're said to last twenty-plus years. We shall see.

In the Solar Gardening book the instructions call for a 36" Radius Cone. In the instructions on the website above they call for a 35" cone. Since the material is 36" I saw no reason to cut off and waste an inch. The instructions in the book call for Nylon or Aluminum Machine Screws with nuts. They say use 3/8" machine screws. Great. That's really helpful. Is that length or width? I could only find enough aluminum screws/nuts for one cone so I used Stainless Steel, I'll let you know how it works out. I found using the 1/4"-20 x 1/2" machine screws worked just fine for assembly, and the first cone has already been out for a week with no signs of suffering around the screws from expansion/contraction. Since we've swung from 75 Degrees down to below freezing I think I'm probably safe.

Step 1 - Drawing out the pattern

Since I haven't seen or used a compass since High School I used a nice low tech approach to drawing out the pattern of the first cone on the fiber glass. I used my ruler to measure in 36" from the edge of the roll as my center point and made a mark with my sharpie. Then I measured out the 5" inner radius by placing the edge of my ruler at the mark, and the sharpie tip at 5" and proceeded to slowly spin it in a half circle about an inch at a time. Stopping every inch to make sure the edge of the ruler stayed at the center point. I then did the same thing for the 36" radius outer edge, which took a bit longer but worked out nicely.

I will point out that I was rather paranoid about getting my measurements as near to perfect here as possible, and it turned out that I really didn't need to. When I finished cutting out the first cone the inner half-circle varied between 5 1/2" to 4 3/4" and the outer edge varied by a half an inch, and the world didn't end. I sanded down the edges to a more uniform length, but it was still not perfect and the cones assembled just fine.

The screw hole markings do require a higher level of accuracy, however. I once again used my ruler to measure in about an inch from the edge of the cone and an inch from the base of the cone. Then I worked my way towards the center 7" at a time. At this point you should be ready to start cutting! We're going to use the first cone as a template for the rest.

Step 2 - Cutting out the Cone

At this stage you'll want to make sure that roll of fiberglass is on a non-abrasive surface. I cut it out on my lawn, which seemed to work fine. I used two 4"x4" lengths of wood to raise the part I was cutting off the ground. This stuff scratches easily so if you do this on concrete you'll have lots of marks on your cones.

You can use either the Tin Snips or a Jigsaw to cut out the pattern. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. The Tin Snips are way easier to use, but will fracture the fiberglass along the cut. Since the edge of the Solar cone is going to be underground this probably doesn't matter. The Jigsaw will allow you to cut a fairly smooth edge that will require minimal sanding, but at the same time will vibrate the fiberglass if you don't brace it properly. If I had to do it again I'd probably just use the Tin Snips.

This is a pretty straight forward step. Make sure you have your gloves and safety googles on for either approach and a mask if you're going to use the jigsaw. Then go to town cutting out the pattern.

Step 3 - Drilling the Holes

I used a 1/4" wood drill bit. There may be better drill bits to use, but this worked fine for me. The best advice I can give here is do not push down on the drill at all. Set the bit in place and use the weight of the drill to press down on the fiberglass. I ran the drill at medium to high speed and it would take around 30 seconds to drill through a fairly smooth hole. The first hole I pressed down and made it through in a second, and had crazy jagged edges and spidering around the hole. Just keep going through all ten holes until your done.

Step 4 - Sanding

Ugh. I hated this part. I would definitely suggest a mask for this one. Since I had some pretty wide variance after cutting out the first pattern with the jigsaw (oh how I wish I had tried tin snips first) I used a metal file to grind down to my sharpie line on places where I was far off. After that I moved to the sand paper to smooth out all the edges. I tried using a block of wood to start, but in the end I just folded over the sand paper and ran it along the edges. This smoothed out both side at once and made quick work of the task. You're not looking for baby bottom smooth here, you're looking to get rid of any snags that might cause splinters. Ouch.

After the edges are done you'll need to smooth out the holes. I used a pencil thin triangular metal file for this part. If I had a narrow round one I imagine it would work better. By placing the file in the hole and spinning the edges would smooth out fairly quickly. In a few cases I needed to use the sharp edge to gets some nasty snags filed down.

Step 5 - Test Assembly

At this point you will be covered in fiberglass dust and if you're anything like me, ready to just cut out the rest and be done with it. I highly suggest you try assembling your first cone before you use it as a template. This will help you ensure your screw holes line up.

The first screw is fairly easy, just roll up the far edges and put the screw through. I positioned the screw head outward, but you could orient it either way. It is also slightly easier if you push the screw through the first layer before trying to get through the second. Then place the nut on the other side and tighten it just enough that the two parts being connected by the screw can rotate freely.

When you go to lineup the second screw hole you'll be facing the hardest part of the assembly. I ended up placing the cone upright and bringing the two holes together. Then I punched the screw through and with my left hand I kept pressure on it. Then I reached through the top opening and screwed the nut on loosely. The first time I tried this I did not use this approach and wrestled with the cone for ten minutes before I got the nut on.

With the second screw in you should be able to insert screws into the rest of the holes fairly easily. That is, if the screw holes line up correctly. In my case some of them were a bit off. In these cases I used the narrow file to expand the holes slightly until the matched. I had to do this for the top hole on all of my cones. Nanometer precise I am not.

If this were your final assembly I'd suggest using a wrench to tighten the nuts up. This may cause minor spidering if the holes aren't well aligned. I did not put any pressure on the screw as I tightened the nuts, and once they started spinning I let them be.

Step 6 - Template Time!

At this point you get to disassemble the first cone and use it as a template to mark out your other cones. I used the two quick grips to hold the template in place as I drew out the sharpie outline. Make sure you mark all of your holes. I managed to miss one on two of the cones. Since you've cut out a cone shape you'll spin your template around 180 as you work your way down the piece of fiberglass.

Once you have all your templates drawn you get to go back to step 2 and repeat the process for all the others. I did each step for all the remaining cones before moving to the following step and things went smoothly. By the end I was coated in a fine dusting of fiberglass, but it came out of my clothes in the wash.

Now that I've finished assembling the four solar cones they out in the garden warming various patches that will be used for the first experiments. Peas, Beans, and Salad Greens will be my test subjects. I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Save the Environment by going Naked

Matt has a good post over at Going Backward, Moving Forward, about a book I may have to read, called Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things. The book documents the origins of everyday objects that we take for granted, or more specifically, what they are made of and what was used and wasted getting them made and into your hands and maintained. Matt used clothes as an example in his post, and even knowing much of what he covered, I found the information shocking.

Matt suggests nudism as a means to reduce our dependence on clothes. As much as the idea amuses me, from a utilitarian perspective I can't get on board with going entirely without. Partially, this is because I get cold easily, and I sunburn easily. There is only a narrow window of conditions in which I personally would be physically comfortable going naked.

Having a toddler, I find that going shirtless is dangerous, because the curious little monkey likes to grab things - such as my nipples. Ow. I don't know how I would be able to wean him without shirt, either.

Speaking of nipples, I am not large-breasted, but even still, I need support. Bouncing flesh hurts.

But my main objection is sanitation. We females have moist nether regions. Sitting naked on a chair that has been sat on by another naked woman is like wearing another woman's underwear. Eww eww eww eww eww. Not hygienic!

I propose, instead, going with minimal clothes in the closet, minimal clothes on the body, minimal washing, and maximum clothes use. Most of my son's clothes, for example, come from yard sales. My own pants are worn between washings until they are stained or smelly, and they aren't retired until the knees tear open. And I rarely dress up, so my hoard of clothes is small.

As far as possible I stick with cotton or wool clothes. We also have a high-efficiency washer and dryer.

So far I haven't re-used worn-out clothes as rags as often as I would like, but this weekend I did clean the bathroom mirrors with an old pair of pajama pants.

Monday, March 22, 2010

RIP Wildlife Gardeners

Please accept my apologies. The following is just something I had to get off my chest. It’s grade-b forum drama, nothing more. You can skip it and come back tomorrow for our regularly scheduled program of photography and plant lust, and you won’t be missing a thing.

Okay, you’ve been warned.

Some background: I have participated regularly in at least eight Internet forums in the last decade. Four times I was asked to become a moderator. Twice I accepted the responsibility. I have never until now left a forum except by my own choosing.

I was invited to Wildlife Gardeners in late 2008 after a member read my posts in another forum. In introducing myself, I mentioned my blog, and immediately got in trouble for self-promotion, which was against the rules.

In my zeal to help add content to WG, I posted all of my relevant bookmarked websites. I started threads on my various relevant projects and on native plants I had photographed, duplicating my blog work for WG’s benefit.

After being reviewed by WG, my blog was included on their official (and very short) list of acceptable blogs, and I was allowed to keep a link to it in my signature. However, it was still against the rules to link to my own blog, so I was careful not to.

Oddly, one of WG’s moderators became convinced that either someone was stalking me through the WG forums, or a virus was on my computer. This lead to a month of paranoia for my husband and I, as we changed our passwords and reviewed our virus defenses. I consulted two friends who admin at large, professional forums. The consensus was that we should take all precautions but that it was likely just the WG moderator’s inexperience spooking him. He meant well.

But the fun was still continuing at the forum. I started a post stating that I was planning on planting bamboo in my yard (and that I had already spent money on materials, and dug a large hole in my lawn) and asked if there were any reason why I shouldn’t go through with the project. One considerate person took the time to have a polite and rational discussion with me, and I did something that never happens on forums: I let her convince me. After declaring that I wouldn’t go through with the project, another forum member, by the name of Prairiefreak, tore into me for ever having considered planting bamboo.

I tried to start a discussion in the Permaculture forum about the book Gaia’s Garden, which is a book about permaculture, but I learned the hard way that the author, Toby Hemenway, is despised by the WG crowd for his promotion of invasive plants. This left me feeling like the Permaculture forum was a cruel joke played on the novices.

Around the same time, I attempted to offer advice to the moderators, because I had spent time at another site as a moderator, and I knew it to be a tough job. I turned down an offer to become a WG moderator because I didn’t have the time to devote to it, but I accepted an offer to be WG's "Hospitality" person, tasked with sending private welcome messages to the new members. I was also told in a somewhat scolding manner that should I be allowed to moderate at WG, I wouldn’t be allowed to moderate the Permaculture forum. Not that I had asked to do so.

After a month or two of being WG's Hospitality person, I bowed out of the position, due to time requirements, and because a bot could have done the job better.

Shortly thereafter, for the purpose of educating myself, I questioned the site’s stated definition of a “native plant”. The group’s response was instantly and intensely negative. There was no logical debate permitted, and I was spoken down to as if I were a child. I got irate for being handed something to believe in, rather than facts to consider. Temperatures rose, and I was banned, permanently, along with my husband, because they suspected that his account was a puppet account of mine, which was against the rules, and that I would be using that account to cause trouble. (Never mind that my husband had always been far more polite at WG than I had.)

At the time of my banning, I had in excess of 1000 posts at WG.

I exchanged e-mail with the WG staff, making apologies. I shelved my anger

for my husband’s benefit. I was told that against the wishes of one of the top WG staff, I would be allowed back.

Before I was un-banned, one of WG’s moderators contacted me, asking advice on an issue that he feared would be the end of WG. (It was just some jerks from a competing site making trouble.) I got in touch with friends who are admins at two larger, older forums to ask advice for him, and I relayed their advice.

After drifting back, I wrote an article for publication on WG’s website, which seemed greatly appreciated by everyone.

I continued to post at WG, but my zeal to contribute had waned. It appeared to me that more often, members were posting unsubstantiated assertions and rants which I disagreed with, but which were being supported by the founding members, if not being posted by the founding members themselves. I feared that any disagreement with these posts would bring retribution, so my participation was minimal.

I got in one spat with Prairiefreak when members were bashing a news article about hotdogs being a choking hazard for children. I had chimed in to suggest that a reasonable discussion would be more in order. She responded with snide comments, to which I recapitulated. The two of us were issued warnings.

Eventually, I wrote an article for Garden Rant, which is a gardening site, rather than an environmental stewardship site. The article was in the spirit of WG’s environmental-stewardship policy, and I was finally starting to feel good again about the WG community, so I posted a link to it at WG. My intent was to share a personal victory, as well as to share a tactic for spreading WG’s viewpoints. Instead, I was asked by a moderator what affiliation I had with GR, and I was presented with links to all thee posts in which I had ever mentioned GR.
My post total at this point was in excess of 1500 posts. Feeling like I was being presented with a loyalty test, I replied with a cranky message, and was immediately banned, with a final message that was short, incoherent, and appeared to be the work of a single person acting in haste and anger.

I sent one immediate e-mail telling them that I was in tears and wanted an explanation, and, later, when I had composed myself, two additional e-mails, requesting an explanation for my ban, and pointing out that WC’s new transparency policy should compel them to tell me why I was banned. After a week of no response, I sent a dignified farewell, pointing out that I had been repeatedly and unfairly been treated as malicious when I had only been clumsy and emotional.

As the punchline, a friend visited WG to look at their publicly-posted wall-of-shame list of those who had been banned and why. WG's reason for banning me consists of one perplexing falsehood: "astroturfer". In their language, it either means one who promotes the use of astroturf instead of grass, or one who posts anonymous comments on a blog or other website to advertise an idea.

My conclusion: The WG staff and founding members are inexperienced at running forums, and are making numerous mistakes that will adversely affect them, including having a wall of shame in the name of transparency; treating longstanding contributing members with the same robotic heartlessness as spammers and others who join with malicious intent; failing to issue warnings before bannings, or otherwise give members an opportunity to redeem themselves; using "ban" ineffectually as a tool to "cool off" angry members; letting their founders and those who agree with them have preferential status; using a set of rules as cover to ban those whom the staff personally dislike; promoting "transparency" of their rules while simultaneously lying about their reasons for dismissing members and failing to offer transparency to those who have been banned; and paranoia towards members who debate the "wrong" side of an issue.

After 1500 posts, I have to say, that was positively the most time-consuming act of astroturfing ever committed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

After the Flood

Our epic rainfall ended with a final day of drenching on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I snapped photos from the car as Chris and I drove to work.

Barrels mark where the water had been crossing the road. . .

. . .and where it continues to cross the road. Or in this case, loiter.

That's a hayfield, not a pond.

That backyard is knee-deep in water.

Almost everyone with a basement had flooding. In many cases, the depth could be measured in feet.

We, however, were lucky. Our grading and down spouts kept up with the water, and our basement stayed dry.

Our house sits only a few feet above water-level, but it is the water-level not of a river, but a wetland. Wetlands, by their nature, are wide. A rainfall that turns a steep-sided stream into a torrent will barely raise the level of a wetland.

This whitewater pours through the foundation of an old mill. What the photo doesn't show is the enormous overflow cascading through the woods off to the left.

We had some puddles along our paths and under the shed, and the vernal pools filled, but beyond that, in skunk-cabbage land, nothing appeared to change.

Our piece of wetland is a finger of this: the Charles river floodplain. What you are seeing is not the river itself, but the wide, wet area around it that usually looks like a field full of bushes.

It is unusual to see any rise in this water level. I have watched the water in local ponds go up and down by ten feet as the rainfalls and droughts come and go, but it takes a massive amount of water to put the trees under water here.

Back at the ponds, mature trees are toppling into the water now.

It is significant to note that the day after the rain stopped, the road that crosses the wetland was still high and dry. But the second day after, the road had flooded and had to be closed. Wetland water moves slowly.

We would need a kayak to get to the kayak-launch area right now.

With the warm, sunny days that have followed the rain, my winter-sown seeds are starting to germinate, and the peepers are serenading us at night. Spring has come!

My Continuing Education

Well, it looks like my vague idea of writing conservation gardening articles for my local paper might become reality soon! Ironically I won't be able to share the results with Wildlife Gardeners. Too bad.

But they wouldn't have appreciated the following, anyway. In an effort to broaden my horizons, I'm trying to look more at the other side of various environmental and farming issues. At the top of my list: genetically engineered foods, and the companies who make them.

My previous assumption was that Monsanto was the Evil Empire. However, that assumption was based almost entirely on other people's opinions - and rather left-wing opinions, at that. As a favorite teacher of mine used to say, "get to the source". To that end, I have been following one of Monsanto's blogs.

Okay, so for the most part the articles there smell like highly sanitized corporate tidbits - but no large company with half a brain would publish a blog of anything *but*. However, the most recent post caught my eye.

Some months ago there had been rumors going around that Monsanto was actively squelching outside research on their products. This originated with an article in Scientific American, which in turn originated with a group of disgruntled scientists. And it turns out, those scientists made a mistake.

Oops! So Monsanto is not squelching research - or if it is squelching research, it at least isn't doing it in the manner that was reported by Scientific American.

There are other scary issues with Monsanto and GE foods and plants that I need to look into yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some of them are similarly based on mistakes, slanted journalism, or poor journalistic research.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whitlow Grass

The epic rain finally stopped. I feared we would have to build a boat, but the road crews had enough barrels and detour signs to get everyone home safely.

The whitlow grass, Draba verna, always seems to bloom first just outside of my workplace. I take great joy in pointing them out to the people who otherwise would never have noticed the beautiful flowers right below their feet.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Solar Gardening Experiment

Last year I received a book on Solar Gardening for Christmas, and once I finally got around to reading it I was very intrigued. Then I went and looked up how much it would cost to build some of their solar equipment and I quickly decided it was an interest I could put on hold for a while. Thanks to some generous gifts for my birthday I've decided to invest in the materials for a single solar pod and four solar cones.

The Sunlite HP glazing for the cones and the pod arrived today and this weekend I plan on heading up to the Home Despot to purchase the other components I need for the pod. Then I'll get to take lots of pictures of my attempts to put the pod together. I'm sure it'll go seamlessly...or not. I think I may try to build the cones this weekend, but the pod will have to wait until I can enlist some help and tools from friends.

I plan to do some controlled experiments with some seeds being under the cones and some outside the cones. I'm especially curious to see how they influence peas and tomatoes. The pod will be home for the hot weather plants like melons and I know they don't work otherwise up here so if I get any it'll be an improvement.

Many more posts on this to come I'm sure.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some Good, Some Bad

Well, I got to write a guest post over at Garden Rant, which was pretty cool. And then as a thank-you I was banned from Wildlife Gardeners. Because, it seems, they think I'm being paid by Garden Rant to be subversive. Or something.

Their motives over at WG are actually quite good, so be nice to them if you visit. My handle used to be Stoloniferous. Maybe someone more level-headed can tell me if I was being an ass-hat, as I am rather upset and incapable of making such a judgement right now.

As my husband says, since I have had an article published at Wildlife Gardeners as well, that Garden Rant should ban me, too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Garden to Watch

Here is a garden I'm itching to see unfold: a suburban yard that has been rebuilt as a native plant habitat, including wetland. Kory and Emily are yard-novices like Chris and I. They did their overhaul the scary way: in one fell swoop, with big equipment. Follow this link to see photos of their yard as it was transformed, and be sure to read the captions!

I am particularly intrigued by their use of a pond liner filled with dirt to create a wetland. Our yard has plenty of wetland, but it's all back in the shade, so I can't grow cranberries or carnivorous pitcher plants. Nor is there much I can do to it, legally, since it is protected land. Not that I mind: it's perfect already. Perhaps there is a full-sun wetland patch in my lawn's future, instead. . .

If Kory and Emily's yard had been mine, I would have done a few things differently. Being a lazy cheapskate, I would have mostly built up instead of digging down against those nasty roots. Here's a fantastic example of a prairie built up on a pile of free fill. (And I do love free fill!) And I would likely have chosen to develop the yard in bite-sized chunks, out of some irrational fear of living in a temporary construction-induced moonscape. But that's just me, and I know my approach to ecosystem gardening is only one of many.

I envision Kory and Emily's garden in the future being filled in with ground-covers instead of mulch, dotted riotously with flowers, and perhaps including a little meandering path so that visitors can get up close and personal with the wetland plants. Please continue to post photos of your yard, guys! I'll be eagerly watching.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Last Cold Day, Hopefully

Here's Gabe, exploring his garden. The photo was taken on February 27, when it was still cold out.

The bowling ball now appears to be hatching. We'll have to find a replacement when it splits into pieces or when Gabe finds the pointy side.

Signs of Spring

It feels like someone flipped the Spring switch here. I'm hesitating to take the warm weather seriously. It might still snow! But in defiance of my hesitation, the crocuses are popping up from the ground. Even better, my favorite harbinger of Spring is blooming: Whitlow grass!

My parents were visiting over the weekend, and everyone but me decided to take a nap all at once, so I took the opportunity to do Spring cleaning in Gabe's Garden. Under a slough of old leaves and strawberry runners that were slumping onto the walkway, I found this shockingly green, plump caterpillar.

I said "Spring!" Chris said "cutworm". Mom said "cutworm". They both said "kill it".

I was rather busy taking care of toddler and parents, so the pest went into a mug on the counter. And, um, I'm afraid it's still there. Cutworm raisin, anyone?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Novel Christmas Tree Disposal

In the novel American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, a car is parked on a frozen lake for the purpose of placing bets on when it will fall through the ice. The ice on our ponds gets thick enough for hockey games around here, but I'm not so sure about whole cars. . .

However, some enterprising person thought to set up their Christmas tree on a pond sometime around the new year. It stood upright for a couple of weeks, and then wallowed on its side. This past week the tree has been a high point of our commute to work. "Has it fallen through yet?" "Nah, it won't go through today."

This was the tree as of yesterday.

It hadn't occurred to me before, but trees that fall into lakes are a normal part of the North American pond environment. In some areas, clean Christmas trees are deliberately sunk to provide fish habitat. I imagine young pines are a bit better for the environment than the rusty, oily, paint-chip-shedding ship carcasses that get sunk as "fish habitat" in the ocean.

Two days of fifty-degree weather finally did the job. Today there was only a tree-shaped hole in the thin scum of ice.

"Get off my lawn!"

I try to keep my ranting to a minimum, but if you excuse me for a moment, I would like to bellow a bit.

I hate, *hate*, that segment of the population that yells at the neighborhood kids to "get off my lawn!" In moving out to suburbia we have pushed our neighbors to arm's length and fenced off our own little pie-slices of territory which we rule like tiny countries. We eat our meals alone and learn so very little about our so-called "community". As adults we are very shy about going into our neighbors' tiny domains without permission. But kids range freely. And they should! They need more space to explore than their own yard. They should get the chance to learn about their neighbors by the yard equivalent of climbing around through the ventilation shafts.

I have seen footprints left in our yard by "nosy" kids, and it makes me glad! I can't even complain about the occasional Yoohoo bottle in the back yard. At least they are exploring. Manners will come later.

Recently I have been baffled by adults who want deeply to make changes in public attitudes about native plants and animals, but who harbor rather sneering attitudes towards other peoples' children. How do they expect to pass their memes along to younger generations? They are missing a glorious opportunity.

We had our weekly Sunday Dinner last night, and had our biggest crowd to date: fourteen people, including three generations and a brand new baby! Our group feels more and more like a tribe. *This* is the way community should be!

The weekend brought some stunning warm weather, and all the kids were out. When two of them came by on bicycles, I encouraged them to practice riding up and down the curb into our front lawn, which I know they can't do at their own homes. Go ahead, kids, tear up the grass! You are far more important than a lawn.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sweet Potato

Yes, this is a sweet potato growing in a mug.

Last year we ordered sweet potato slips from Sand Hill Preservation Center. Even though they assured us that their oddly late ship-date would be fine, our sweet potatoes indeed did not have enough time in the ground by harvest-time to fully mature. The plants were lush and large, but most of the tubers were runty little things.

It's too bad about Sand Hill, because they look like the sort of company that I would like to support. They are dedicated to the preservation of genetic diversity in food crops and poultry. I may order other plants from them in the future, but this year, I'll be growing my sweet potatoes from last season's runty tubers.

I kept two jars of runts. One went into the fridge, and the other went under the sink. Sure enough, the cold of the fridge killed that jar. They went all nasty with mold. (Note to self, don't refrigerate sweet potatoes.)

The jar of runts under the sink have some perky nubbins of growth on them now. They also have some tiny white bugs in the jar with them, which I need to research. Those might be a bad sign. But for now I'll assume the tubers are okay to grow.

But back to the sweet potato in the mug! In mid-December I was dying to grow something, and one of my better mugs conveniently developed a perfect drainage crack, which incidently caused me to unfairly scold a friend's daughter for spilling her milk - sorry about that! - so. . . I grew what I had on hand.

And for the greater good, I sacrificed it today.

The verdict: two and a half months in a mug-sized container is a bit too long. This little guy is looking root-bound. A month just might be about the right amount of head-start for sweet potatoes.

If I'm not mistaken, in their native habitat (where they don't have to be ripped out of the ground to survive a winter) a tuber seasonally loses it's roots as well as its foliage. Seeing the actual root-mass of this plant, I begin to understand how such a growth cycle affects poor soils. A plant will extend a non-insignificant quantity of root material into sandy or clay soil, and then leave it there to decompose into humus. This slowly improves the soil, and it doesn't just happen at the end of a plant's life-cycle, nor I believe does it only happen with tubers.

Looking at this sweet potato's roots, it really hit me how much is going on under the ground.

It's interesting to see that roots grew out of the same points as the foliage.

Ahh, sweet potatoes. I have childhood memories of the baked sweet-potato vendors hawking their wares in Japan, sounding like a call to evening culinary prayer.

Compostable "Plastic"

I can't wait until I can throw all of my food packaging onto the compost heap!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This makes me angry!

Some responsible citizens in Orange County are being sued by the city for removing their lawn to save water. You can lodge a complaint with the city on their behalf here.

A Real Permaculture Yard

I exchanged some seeds recently with a fellow out in Portland. Out of curiosity, I plugged his address into Google and found this:

Taa-daa! There is his yard! I've never seen a real suburban permaculture yard before. And from the looks of the overhead photos, it looks like he has several neighbors who are doing the same thing. What a delight to see a neighborhood that isn't devoted to the oh-so-standard lawn-and-meatballs.

The fellow's name is Norris Thomlinson, and he and his yard are featured in an article here on something I would like to see in my area: a "depaving day".

Monday, March 1, 2010

Okay, the mess has been tidied.

*Phew!* I got the crow-picked garbage mess all raked up just in time for a virus to go through the house. I seem to have gotten off easy with just a headache, but Gabe was a puke-monkey all day, and Chris just headed upstairs to have a chat on the porcelain throne.

But back to the compost. Under the midden of moldering bits was gorgeous black dirt! I estimate there to be between five and ten cubic feet of the stuff, including the chunks that the worms haven't finished digesting yet. This represents most of a year's worth of avocado rinds, orange peels, banana peels, moldy bread, uneaten pasta, old leftovers, stale pizza, pizza boxes, junk mail, table scraps, lobster shell, Burger King wrappers, apple cores, paper napkins, mango seeds, squash rind, waxed paper, yogurt, tomato sauce, toddler rejects, snotty tissues, coffee grounds, eggshells, egg cartons, and my husband's constant stream of bloody-nose tissues.

Our kitchen wastes have averaged about a cubic foot a week. That's 52 cubic feet of waste diverted from the landfills. It's also 52 cubic feet of waste that didn't waste power and water being put through the dispose-all.

I'm not finicky about what goes in the pile. Some people don't add meat or cheese; I only keep the chicken bones out because cooked bones splinter, and I don't want to hurt the wildlife that stops by for a meal.

The pile includes last season's weeds, and a few autumn leaves. But just a few; most went onto the flower and veggie beds as mulch. When this pile needs "browns", it gets paper products that are too soiled by food to be recycled.

During the warmer parts of the year, Chris contributes pee. I would do so as well, but as I mentioned before, this pile is in view of the neighbor's house, and there's no way I could squat on it discreetly.

On a gardening forum a while back there was a discussion about strange objects people had accidentally composted. My list now includes a pair of wire cutters and a titanium spork.

My mother doesn't put orange peels in her compost pile for fear that they won't break down. I am happy to report that orange peels were not among the undigested bits. Nor, for the most parts, were the pizza box chunks or ripped fast-food papers, although the bits that got loose admittedly made a nuisance blowing around the yard. The most repetitive whole objects in the soil were avocado pits. These will be screened out when Chris uses the compost, but I'll just leave them in and call them fertilizer pellets.

Poor Chris. He's back on the couch now, moaning. Time for me to administer some hugs.