Sunday, December 20, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
" A single visit to a flower by a single bee may not seem like much, since it only brings back a tiny bit of nectar. But if thousands of bees each visit a few flowers each hour, and if they do that for several hours each day, soon they can make enough honey to ensure the survival of the hive."
So when you feel like it's just not enough, remember that there are LOTS of bees out there working fo the same thing you are. Do what you can, every day, and soon we'll have enough honey to get through whatever lies ahead.
(LR's message to the world on our front walk ...)
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
There are people who get it! We're just not satisfied with what the global marketplace wants to sell us. We'd rather see our money stay in the community and help friends and neighbors.
The thing that caught my attention the most about Whidbey Island is the monthly potlucks. Neighbors get together, actually. How many of us do that, even within a community like Bioneers? We see each other at meetings, but when can we just get caught up? I'm thinking we need a way or a place to, how shall I say, gossip! That is, gossip for the greater good! Have you ever been in a local restaurant with a table of local guys (I guess women have too much work to do) who sit around and talk over coffee every day? I know of one such place where the table is occupied from before 7 a.m. till after 9 with a changing parade of regulars. Those guys end up knowing everything that's going on in town.
Yes, Bioneers and social movers, we need a place to sit down over coffee or herbal tea and share what's going on. Had I known about cherry farmers dumping their crops on the ground I would have dropped everything and made buckets of cherry jam! How shall we keep each other informed? I suppose Facebook and Twitter have evolved to fill that role somewhat, but I hold them to be very poor substitutues. So much good stuff comes up in casual conversation. How much trust and relationship can you build posting 140-word tweets? The only tweets I want to hear come from my bird neighbors on spring mornings!
So where shall we meet? Let's keep posting, because few of us are retired or self-employed, or are full-time farmers who "take a break" about 9 a.m., but let's find a way to come together once a month, just for fun, with no agenda. If you can only drop by for a minute, that's fine. The pot of shade-grown, organic, fair-trade coffee is always on!
The garden is basically done except for a few greens in the cold frame. I picked parsley for a lentil & sweet potato casserole the other night. As Thanksgiving approaches, we're contemplating how to celebrate. The usual over-indulgent dinner with family just doesn't have any appeal. We're thinking of trying a 100-mile Thansgiving in the spirit of Michael Pollan's homemade local dinner in Omnivore's Dilemna, eating only things we can get from a 100-mile radius. There goes the sweet potatoes!
In the tradition of Thanskgiving, I'd like to publicly thank some of those who fed us this year. Some of you are good friends, and some are becoming such. We owe you much, farmers, so thanks to you (in no particular order):
- John Sullivan for eggs
- Jim Moses and Linda Grigg of Forest Meadow farm
- Sandy & Bernie Ware for strawberries, potaotes, and many other good things
- the kind folks at Second Spring Farm
- Laurie Brown for honey, fruit, and tomatoes
- Jayne Leatherman-Walker for tomatoes and great vibes
- Hochstettlers for peppers
- Alan Jones for those fantastic pears
- Maple Ridge Farm for grass-fed meat and granola
- another local organic farm for cilantro
- Shangri-La farm for apples
- Ebert March for carrots, squash & beans
- Millie Hathaway for rhubarb
- Marty & Michelle of Birch Point farm
- Good Neighbor Orchard for organic apples that went into some of my finest applesauce
There are many, many others, of course, who provided us with grains, flours, oils, all those things we buy at the conventional grocery. Thanks to you all; we'll help you keep up the good work! It's a joy to hand my hard-earned dollars to someone who has worked even harder for it.
Last but not least, I'd like to thank the soil of Snowy Hollow, my own place, for providing us with tomatoes for sauce in spite of the anonymous fungal disease, carrots, tons of raspberries, cabbage, parsley, peas, and especially maple syrup! Rest well, and next year I'll try to give back even more.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Dear _________:(insert name of your representative)
We are approaching critical moments in the debates on three major issues before the U.S. legislature: climate change, health care reform, and food safety. Fortunately, there are actions you can take as an elected representative, that affect two, if not all three issues simultaneously.
Most immediately, world leaders will discuss a new climate change treaty this December. We need to bring atmospheric CO2 levels back down to 350 ppm! Levels above that could lead to irreversible, catastrophic changes for humans and many, many other species. Please visit www.350.org for more information.
Localizing food supplies is a very effective way to reduce carbon emissions. Did you know that it takes approximately 26 ounces of oil to produce a double quarter-pounder with cheese? This product generates 13 pounds of CO2, as much as a typical car generates from driving 13 miles! Local food generates less CO2 since it travels, on average, less than 150 miles, and it is much more nutritious. Local food is produced by small farmers and sold through farmers’ markets and other direct-to-consumer avenues.
By now it must be intuitive that the above-mentioned quarter-pounder is chronic disease waiting to happen. Over the past several decades, what we have saved in paying for food, we have paid in increased health care costs. Some savings! With “nay” votes on H.R. 2749, or The Food Safety Enhancement Act and H. R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act, you can help save America billions on health care. These bills place unbearable regulatory and financial burdens on small farmers who produce the healthiest food, and who are not part of the food safety problem! The recent food-borne disease outbreaks have all originated on factory farms, in feedlot-style livestock operations, or in centralized processing facilities. Several of the farmers who grow my food are very worried about staying in business if these bills pass in their current forms. Please, remove small farmers and direct sales from under the regulatory umbrella! They are some of the folks actually doing some good.
These days, people in Michigan need any advantage they can get. The western side of the Lower Peninsula is second only to California in the diversity of food crops grown. Small farms are one of the few growth areas in Michigan’s economy. Passage of H.R. 2749 and H.R. 875 could snuff out that growth as effectively as a pesticide. If the government will make room, small farmers in Michigan will flourish, bringing with them nutritious local food, fewer CO2 emissions, and better health for all.
In summary, I ask you to:
1. only accept a carbon emissions treaty with levels no higher than 350 ppm,
2. revise the pending food safety legislation to remove regulatory burdens from small farmers and direct sales.
By taking these simple steps, you will be doing a great service for many, many people in Michigan and all over the world.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
After thinking more about my wrinkly shirts, I can see them as an environmental statement: I care enough about the future of the planet to look like I slept in these clothes! Am I really ready to say that? After all, pressed, neat shirts are just a part of the uniform of professionalism, just a social expectation. I've flauted these before. The hard part is that people judge you in nanoseconds by your appearance, and first impressions are hard to overcome with reasoned arguments. Even if I explain why I'm wearing a wrinkly shirt, in their eyes, I'm still a crackpot slob who doesn't know how to iron!
Perhaps I'll start by wearing the wrinkly ones on days without meetings, or Fridays when there are few people around at work. Perhaps I could throw several shirts in the dryer just long enought to "de-wrinkle" them. Am I caving in? How committed am I? Damn, it's tough being so far ahead of the curve!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I was only four when Woodstock happened, but it feels all tingly to be a part of something so much bigger than one's self. We were in the "3", buffeted by a cold rainy breeze. "This is weather, not climate" they told us. Still, we were there!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Peace and 350!
Monday, October 19, 2009
LR came with me on the back part of the property, and while I prepared to staple a sign to a big basswood on our eastern boundary, she looked up in a maple nearby. "Hey dad, look up there!" On a branch about 15 feet up sat a snoozing porcupine! We watched for a minute while I stapled up the sign, then headed back to the house for the camera.
She was absolutely tickled that she had just seen her first porcupine, and she spotted it! That's my li'l half pint!
The garden has made its transition to fall: some kale still standing, a few collards, the cold frame is out with spinach and more kale, and the garlic is in (followed cabbage in the rotation). Now for blankets of leaves over a sprinkling of rock dusts, soft rock phosphate and a light dose of wood ashes. I put it to bed like I do the children, with a prayer that spring will come and all will be well.
The real power of a conference like Bioneers is in bringing together people who strive and struggle, day after day, to get something done, sometimes alone. In one big room, we recharge, exchanging energy until we can go out and work one more day, or one more year. Often, what moves us to cheers and tears is music: thanks to Seth and May and the other amazing Earthworks musicians for their gifts of song.
Some sites I learned about:
http://www.350.org/ - actions regarding climate change worldwide on OCTOBER 24th! GET OUT THERE, or start an action near your home!
http://circleofblue.org/ - water news from around the world
http://www.storyofstuff.com/ - Annie Leonard has even by demonized by Fox News! (She must be doing something right!)
http://www.nrec.org/ - the Neatawanta Center's site, thanks to Bob & Sally or whoever put this together!
The Great Lakes Bioneers in Traverse City had a water-oriented theme, and I came home after the first day with plans to make a shrine around our well head. It's squeezed uncerimoniously between the driveway and the woods, just a few feet upslope from the propane tank. The spot is currently a "weed" patch, with some catnip, motherwort and burdock (all good friends). I don't know what I want it to look like, but I want something to remind us that this hole in the ground is the source of our life, our blood, our energy. The little pump down there brings us something sacred. Winter is bearing down on us, so watch for news and pictures in the spring.
Over the weekend, we heard from several amazing elders, from familiar places like California, and unfamiliar ones like the North Sope of Alaska. Our region's own John Bailey challenged us with a very important question for this time in the existence of human civilization: "What kind of ancestor do you wish to be?"
What kind of ancestor do you wish to be?
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I found several interesting tidbits this summer:
- three grass fed beef links:
- an article on the impact of air pollution of the dispersal of floral scents
- Want to scare yourself? Check out this search tool for finding out what chemical residues have been found in your food. All the more reason to eat organic or grow yer own!
- I also asked the manager (?) of our local feed store about products with a common insecticide that has been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (imidochloprid). He said since the patent came off, it's showing up in everything. To pull it off the shelves would leave him with virtually no OTC insecticide products. PLEASE be careful what you spray, if you have to spray at all!
That's enough to share for now. As you walk and ponder, pause at the goldenrod and watch for pollinators. Slow down and look for fungi in the moist places of your world. And if you're around my corner of Michigan, I'll see you at BIONEERS in October!
Monday, June 15, 2009
All this is in nine circular keyhole beds about 10 feet in diameter each. Hmm: five squared times pi times nine equals ... (pop), another brain cell explodes. Not too much space, compared to the old rows of plants between great swaths of weed-free dirt.
Oh yeah, there are 2 varieties of strawberries, German chamomile, calendula and teddy bear sunflowers on the slope nearby. And a few culinary and medicinal herbs in a perennial garden. In the words of Dave Mallett, "Someone bless these seeds I sow, till the rain comes tumblin' down."
Monday, June 8, 2009
My rain harvesting plans are starting to flesh out here at Snowy Hollow, after learning how easy it is to hook up a barrel. We have a barrel on the hill above some transplanted raspberries, rigged up to water the bee garden by gravity-fed soaker hose. I put out another barrel today to catch rain pouring off the roof where two pitches come together. For now, that one will just fill watering cans.
The big issue here is most of the useable space is uphill from the house and pole barn. The barn could catch almost 1000 gallons from an inch of rain, but I need to get it up to where the plants would be. Fishing for ideas like battery-powered sump pumps from RVs, bicycle powered pumps, ... anything but buckets! I'm hoping to host a cistern-building workshop someday that will end with a BIG cistern of ferrocement and fieldstone behind the barn. The garden in the front yard will have it easier; it's downhill. That old septic tank will take care of things there. Like I said, everything is an asset!
The difficult thing about harvesting rainwater in Michigan, I'm realizing, is we get plenty in June, but not much in July and part of August. Could we store enough to get though a month or two? That 100 gallons at work will water a small herb garden thoroughly one time. The barrels drain out in under 2 hours. If it doesn't rain every other week, I'll be out there with a hose. I think the best bet is to catch what rainwater we can, but also make use of gray water to get us through the dry months. It's easy to catch water while the shower warms up. It's easy to divert washing machine water, but we'll need to do something about the soap. One doesn't take up homesteading if one doesn't like challenges!
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Early last winter, between Samhain and Yule, we were looking forward to cutting our Yule tree (Christmas for ye folke from the Dominant Culture). When we bought this place, we were told the big blue spruce growing very close to the septic tank should come out, since the roots would foul up the workings of the septic system. Being cheap (OK, poor), I suggested that we use the top of the spruce for our Yule decoration. All assented, though I would have hoped for more enthusiasm.
The first Saturday in December has been the Appointed Day for several years, but on that day, we all woke up surly, grumpy and ready to bite off each other's heads. After a morning full of arguments, we decided that perhaps today wasn't the day to cut a tree. End of story? Not quite. Being the stubborn male with the chain saw, I was still game to cut 'er down, especially when the grumpies had faded by mid-afternoon.
I dressed in my warm coveralls and ventured forth in the ass-deep (almost) snow. It really was over my knees, though. The chain saw was, of course, sluggish to start, but aren't they always? Finally, it roared (coughed) to life. I trimmed a few branches, then made my box cut on the side of the trunk away from the house. As I made the back cut, with only inches to go, the saw got pinched by the weight of the tree. As I studied it again, with the added eight of the snow, the tree was leaning back toward the house.
After some futile tugging on a couple branches, I gave up. Time for a mechanical assist. I tied a rope around the trunk as high as I could reach, stretched the other end toward the driveway, then backed the van up toward the rope. Not quite long enough. I fired up the trusty snowblower and cleared a bit more driveway. Just as I finished, the damn thing ran out of gas. For a normal snowblower, this would not be a big deal. But mine has an electric start. Only. The pull rope was missing. I had to drag the damn thing backward all the way to the garage.
By now the wind was howling as if to say, "How dense are you? We told you not to do this!" I had my wife back up the van, and I tied on the rope. With a bit of pull the tree finally fell! Now I had a tree top to cut off and drag through ass-deep snow. I made the cut, looked at our Yule tree lying on its side, and cut off another foot. Then came the dragging, rolling, cursing, and dragging.
The sun was sliding over the western hill as I got the thing to the front porch. After the usual 2 or 3 attempts and fiddling, I got the stand on, and it looked OK. Now the base of this tree was about eight feet wide, but we have a double front door. So with cold bare hands, I took out the center post (removeable) and opened the other door. Soon the snow-covered tree was inside! There it lay while I ate supper, and the snow melted into giant puddles on the entryway floor.
Refreshed and energized, I dragged and lugged the tree monster to the family room, with its cathedral ceiling. With a bit more tweaking and snapping at my wife, I got the thing to stand up. Minutes later, for the first time in my life, the tree fell over. More adjusting, and I tried again. This time it stood up! But the base was way too wide; we couldn't move through the room. With a pruning saw, since we were inside, I took care of the giant lower boughs. Looks great, I thought. Then my wife noticed the fresh cuts were dripping sap onto the carpet. I guess that happens with really fresh trees. Soon, the cuts were bedecked with tufts of cotton. Looked just like snow!
The next moring, we decided to tackle the lights. Yes, I tested all the strings before putting them on the tree, but by the time I was half done, two strings were dead. Not just one like in a normal year! Thank goodness for lights on sale after Thanksgiving.
As long as that tree was in the house, we felt uneasy. There was a general agitation, as if something or someone was not happy. There were strange noises, flashes of movement, and breathes of air on the back of one's neck. As I write this, the lower trunk of the tree still rests where it fell.
Now every good tale has a moral, right? This adventure taught me to heed those instincts! If you feel like you shouldn't do something, don't do it! If something is harder than it needs to be, there may be forces at work against you! Call them faeries, tree spirits, or what you will, they can make life difficult if they want to. Next year, we're going to BUY a tree. A nice, SMALL tree. Let me be the first to wish you a happy Yule!
My world-view has changed too. Right now, we're in a blooming gap between cherries and apples, and the almost-open raspberries. No horse-chestnuts in the neighborhood, and bees don;t seem to visit lilacs much. Aren't there some old-fashioned single types? I've located two honeysuckle bushes that I might move, and if I can make time, I might plant a patch of buckwheat.
Lately, my eye drifts to flowering shrubs and trees, looking for the clouds of bees that should be surrounding them. All too often they are untended. No hum greets the ear. Where are the bees? Have all the urban bees fallen victim to CCD as well, or do they suffer from insecticidal attacks by paranoid, "all bugs must die" homeowners?
I'm ready to scream to the world, "Wake up! We need bees!" I've only had bees a couple weeks, but it doesn't seem too complicated to just play host to Apis mellifera. If more folks in town had hives, and if everyone in the "country" had hives, we'd be in much better shape. Witness what happens if there are only a few BIG banks, or a handful of auto companies. Let's not put all our hopes for pollination in a few traveling commercial beekeepers. If one out of every three things we eat comes by way of pollination by bees, then our future is much more impotant than letting someone else worry about it.
I see it happening, though. This year, there is a huge jump in the number of people planting gardens. The Slow Food movement is taking off or well established, depending on where you live. Once people make a few connections, there may be honeybee colonies in many more backyards. In the meantime, I wish more people would put a few bee-friendly plants in with their petunias. We need to provide for these brave ladies! If you're listening, here's what I'd have you do:
1. Stop using insecticides, especially anything with imidocloprid. It's been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder.
2. Plant a bee garden, or add pollen and nectar sources to your existing gardens
3. Identify and preserve "weeds" that are important food sources for bees (goldenrod for example; go to Urban Bee Gardens for a West Coast list, and here for a more general list.
4. Start keeping bees, but do some homework first. The biggest cause of CCD may be the way we're keeping bees!
All I need is a digital camera and some photos, and I'll hit the garden club meeting circuit!
The rain brought the pond back up after it had dried to mud. It's only about as big as a bedroom, but last year we had frog and toad cacophonies, I mean choruses, for weeks. So far this year, it's been spring peepers and a couple nights have been warm enough for gray tree frogs. The ducks are happy again. They don't seem interested in nesting, but they love to scarf up seed from under the bird feeders.
The garden is pretty much in; it's still too cold to put out the basil and peppers. We went permaculture this year, following the keyhole garden strategy outlined in Gaia's Garden. While digging one of the circles, my spade hit something hard. (Damn!) After several more hits, we got curious. Turned out to be an old septic tank! That explains the chunks of black plastic pipe I kept digging up. No sign of water, so I'm assuming it's an old tank.
In homesteading, I've come to realize that everything you have is an asset! The lead pellets and blocks and wheel balancing weights I found are actually trade items for a muzzleloader hunter. The old doors covered with lead paint can be sliced up into covers for a cold frame. Maybe I should paint over the lead first. Still working on what to do with the 2 dryers left behind in the pole barn. Any ideas? The motors ought to be good for something.
In keeping with this philosophy, the newly discovered septic tank became an in-ground cistern for collecting rainwater! All I need to do is lift the lid, clean it out, run a couple downspouts into it, drill a hole in the lid and fit it with a hand pump from Lehman's catalog, and we'll be all set to water the garden all through those dry Julys. Add some filters and we could drink it! That all sounds soooo easy.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Within a couple hours, and with the help of my knowledgeable beekeeping partner (he had a hive several years ago), we installed "our" bees safely in their new homes. Things went smoothly,and I was amazed how easy it was to stand in the middle of a cloud of buzzing insects. Perhaps this was because they were in a state of confusion, not a state of rage. Perhaps it was the veil and bee suit! Our daughter is often in the middle of things, and this was no exception. Dressed in a veil and gloves, she dove right in, brushing bees into the hives, and holding a queen cage at one point.
In the middle of the excitement, a bee landed on my shoulder, and I looked down into those compound eyes. It was one of those beautiful inter-species moments where we somehow connected. It felt like my admiration and adoration was returned in the form of trust. I know I'll do all I can to ensure the health and well-being of the hives, and not out of obligation. Somehow I know I'm gonna love these little ladies!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
I did leave two patches of dandelions, however. Heresy! How could I do it? It was sooo easy; I have much more respect for dandelions than for grass. Dandelion greens are great in a spring salad, their blossoms can be made into wine (need to try that!), the dried roots can be used as a coffee substitute. As if that's not enough the tap root pulls nutrients up from deep in the soil. Can grass do all that?? Just say no to Roundup, and say yes to a yard full of sunshine.
As I walked by those patches of dandelions, I checked for any bee activity. True, the high of the the day was maybe 50 degrees, but there were no bees. It's just spooky to see so many flowers blooming right now, and so few bees.
We have 2 hives set up and the bees are due to arrive any day by U.S. Postal Service. Neither rain nor snow, nor buzzing boxes .... Stay tuned!
My daughter and I are going to participate in a bee survey this year, too. We found it at www.greatsunflower.org . Sounds like fun, and we're waiting for our sunflower seeds to arrive. If anyone actually reads this, check it out and participate. The bees need you!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
If you're willing to read my rants and such, so much the better. I'll try to offer something worth reading. As a disclaimer, those with minds like steel traps (i.e. rusted shut) should click the back button right now. We all need to stretch our minds with some intellectual yoga now and then. If you're unwilling to do so, well, you already know everything you need to know.
Snowy Hollow is a small acreage in northwestern lower Michigan, on a north-facing gentle slope, just down from one of the highest spots in the county. We moved here a year ago, almost to the day, with the dream of growing some of our own food and raising our kids where they can get dirty in a good way. Most of the place is wooded, but some of that was thinned heavily and sloppily. Several trees were "barked up" in the logging operation. Our habitats include mature maple, some middle-aged bigtooth aspen, a power line swath, and a bit of grassy front yard.
Our big adventure here is raising a family and nurturing a relationship with this piece of Mother Earth. In so many places, the spirit of the land has been driven into hiding, or it has abandon hope and deserted us. Perhaps, over the course of a lifetime, I can create or restore a place where that spirit would feel welcome. For me, that presence makes the difference between occupying a plce and really living there.