Saturday, July 30, 2011

Three Sisters - Part 4

Well,... I gave up on "Organic" this time around. The three sisters were being overrun by bugs. They were doing a number on the Zuchinni...

The corn was still keeping ahead, but...

I panicked and turned to chemical solutions. I sprayed the whole thing down with Sevin. That was about a week ago. It is looking much improved already...

Check out the Bean climbing the corn! How cool is that?!
I am looking into getting either a couple chickens or a couple ducks for next year. Hopefully they can manage the pests for me (With the possible added bonus of fresh eggs). I have been told ducks are less expensive to keep (Not to mention they look cooler). But I don't care for duck meat. Chicken on the other hand is quite tasty, but chickens are messier, and- I am told, more expensive. I have quite a few more months to do research. Opinions anyone?

"Organic" Gardening

Warning: Boring personal philosophy post ahead…

I like the idea of "Organic". I would like to be more organic in my gardening, lawn care, etc… I am a little leery of the word “Organic”. Once a word has been buzzed into marketspeak, it tends to be a bit unreliable. For instance, the USDA qualification for organic is:

Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95
percent organically produced ingredients (excluding
water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients
must consist of nonagricultural substances approved
on the National List including specific non-organically
produced agricultural products that are not
commercially available in organic form.

That sounds pretty good. Other than what is on that list of "non-organically produced" products that can make up 5% of the ingredient list?
The rules for Organic certification vary from one country to the next as well. The U.S. classifies copper sulfate as an organic substance (used in organic fungicides and pesticides), while many countries have completely banned it due to health and ecological concerns. Just how organic is ”organic”? And just because a pesticide is “Organic”, does that actually make it safe for human consumption? 
So, setting aside the word Organic for the moment, I like the idea of using strategies which are natural and sustainable. Well, that didn’t help either. Both of those words have been converted to marketspeak as well. One more try…
I prefer to use homegrown compost for fertilizing (Though since I have no cows or chickens, I am happy to acquire manure from elsewhere. Straw also, as I don’t have space to grow much of that). I prefer non-chemical pest controls when possible (wasp traps, manual elimination of squash bug eggs, hand weeding, lady bugs, chickens, ducks…).
There are two key reasons for this. First, I’d prefer to avoid things which have the potential to be harmful to myself or the local ecosystem. Law of unintended consequences and all that. Sure, the stuff has been deemed safe, when properly used, but how safe is it really? How thorough are the studies? I’d rather play it safe and avoid the stuff altogether, if possible.
And there are those little environmental issues as well. I have a friend who lives in an agricultural area – big commercial fields which get sprayed with pesticides. The up-side to this is he doesn’t have many pest issues in his garden. The down side is there are very few bees to pollinate his garden.
Another example, A (different) friend of mine moved into a new house and sprayed for spiders. This killed off all the little common house spiders. Four months later the place was overrun with hobo  spiders. The little spiders he got rid of hunt hobo spiders, with them gone, the hobo’s moved in from nearby fields and multiplied.
The second reason is purely economic. Fertilizers and Pesticides cost money. Using them means an increase in the price of the produce I am growing. So, if I can save on the costs of fertilizers by re-using my table scraps, if I can save on the cost of pesticides by spending a few minutes pulling weeds, and squishing squash bug eggs…
Not that I am militantly opposed to the use of “non-organic” things. I’d just rather not, if I can. Of course my challenge is in finding really smart people who know the best tricks for dealing with various problems and pests, so that I can use them. Not a bunch of evangelizing – I’m not going to expend twice the money and three times the effort just to say I’m “super green”. I am too much of a pragmatist for that. I just want a good compendium of tried methods, tips and tricks. That would be a book worth having.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Below is a thought I had a about a week ago, that I decide to write down. The prose is fairly marginal, but hopefully the point will survive that…

Anyone (or very nearly anyone) can run. Pick up one foot and put it in front of the other. Now repeat. Now  faster. You are running. Not that difficult.

Now running at a world class level – 4 minute miles, 2 hour marathons- that isn’t quite so easy. To do that isn’t just a matter of picking your feet up and putting them down fast. You have to run efficiently. Your form must be perfect (or as nearly as possible). Little details become important, like how you hold your hands and head, how you lean, how to take each step.

To run at that level really requires the help of a coach; a subject matter expert, someone who can observe from the outside, someone who can see and correct your mistakes, adjust your method, elevate your intensity. A good coach is able to see where you are weak and develop training programs for you, specifically designed to help correct those weaknesses. A good coach pays attention to all the little things you might miss; adjusting your stride, reducing bounce, relaxing your fingers. I have had the pleasure of being trained by a few good coaches. I can attest to the difference a good coach can make.

Now, when you consider how valuable a coach can be in such a simple activity as running, imagine how absolutely indispensible a coach is for a more complicated activity, such as basketball, or soccer, or… loading a dishwasher, or folding laundry.

Yeah, how many years did it take ‘til you could fold a shirt satisfactorily? It takes a good deal of training and encouragement to manage a thorough cleaning of a bathroom- all those nooks and crannies. Who knew dust collected on baseboards? Just how full is ‘full’ for a trash can?

So next time you are standing in the middle of the kitchen, on the verge of screaming, as your racecar driver extracts herself from a major collision involving oatmeal, yogurt and peas, your two star forwards attempt to determine who touched who first, and your shortstop wanders about aimlessly with his sisters underpants on his head. Just remind yourself. This is still the preseason. There is still time to pull this team together coach.  Repeat to yourself  “Patience, Practice, Proper Form, Proper Discipline”  (A few extra Jumping jacks never hurt). Go team!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Three Sisters - Part 3 - and a small diversion in Red Currants and Gangsta Robins

First, My third update on the Three Sisters.
Here is a bean beginning to climb the corn...

It is later in the day as I am writing this, and a strong wind has knocked over several of my corn stalks. *sob*
Hopefully tomorrow I can add some dirt, prop them up and get them going again. How did such a tall skinny plant end up with such a wimpy root system?

And now for something unrelated to the sisters... Red currants!

Aren't they beautiful? They are now 6 pints of gorgeous, semi-transparent red-currant Jelly. A perfect blend of sweet and tart. The tragedy is that there is less than half a loaf of bread in the house. Toast will have to wait until to tomorrow (That or the kids can go without lunch... hmmm.....).

So... the robin... I was harvesting these currents night before last, my head down amongst the branches of the currant bush, many of which are bent right to the ground under the weight of berries, when I hear a rush of wings and look up to see a medium'ish robin make a low pass just above and to my right. It lands on the fence, about 10 feet from me, with its back to me, and looks over its shoulder (do robins actually have shoulders?). It just sits there, looking at me. I am pretty sure it thinks I am interfering with its dinner plans. The following conversation ensues.
Me: Go away.
Robin: Chirp.
Me: Get lost. These are my berries.
Robin: Chirp.
Me: Have you been out here watering this bush? Clearing the weeds around it? Taking care of it?
Robin: (Nothing).
Me: Yeah, didn't think so. Take a hike.
Robin: Chirp.

At this point, I accidentally pick a cluster of green berries. I toss them at the robin. Amazingly, I hit the robin, right where the tail feathers join the body. There is a satisfying thump as they hit. The robin, doesn't fly away though. No, he jumps down off the fence TOWARD me, and Chirps. Then he just stands there, looking at me.  I go back to harvesting berries, trying not to draw attention to myself, and hoping little gangsta robin doesn't decide to put a cap in me...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Three Sisters - Part 2

My Three Sisters garden is a little over a month old now. It is coming along quite nicely, I think. There are only two problems, really. But first, a couple pictures:

The bottom center that doesn't look very mound-y, nor plant-y, didn't take on the first planting. Well, that's not true, the squash I planted didn't take. the weeds took very well. So I took a stirrup hoe and decapitated it, to serve as an example to the others. I really think the threat of violence encouraged the other plants to grow. (that's a joke. Don't call PETP on me).

Here is a close-up of a corn and bean mound, which also illustrates one of the problems.

It may be a little hard to see in the pick, but if you closely, you will notice several holes in the bean leaves. One of the features of the three sisters garden is supposed to be predator management. The beans are supposedly a deterrent for deer, who like corn but not beans. The squash is supposed to keep racoons and other critters out of the corn and beans. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem the Native Americans accounted for grasshoppers and other itty-bitty bugs in their design. They seem particularly fond of my baby bean plants, one if which was chewed right down to a nub. I was going to try and do this garden non-chemically. But I don't think the beans will survive the hoppers if I don't take drastic measures.  You may notice in the first picture, at the very back, a large sheet of black plastic. until a couple days ago, that was a rather large, weeded area - an unfinished part of the yard. As a quick fix, I whacked it down, and covered it, until I have the resources to finish developing that spot, hopefully that will reduce the grasshopper population next to the garden.

The other problem has been that the corn keeps tipping over. Perhaps I planted the corn seed to shallow? At any rate, the  roots are rather fragile, considering the height corn achieves, and as I water (Using a cheap watering can), the soil from the mounds erodes a bit. I have been re-packing soil as needed, so I haven't actually lost any corn yet. I am think of a modification to the design for next year though. Instead of creating mounds, I plan to create holes. My thought is to dig a hole eighteen inches in diameter and 1 foot deep, then fill it back up with nine or ten inches of the soil-manure mixture, leaving a two or three inch hole in which to plant. That should solve the eroding mound problem, as well as make it easier to apply heavier watering as the plants get bigger (i.e. Fill the whole and let it soak in). And I will be one step closer to earning by garden hacking cred.