Sunday, March 20, 2011

Celestial Dawning in our Living Room

We decided we needed more light.  It wasn't so much an existential realization, but yet another gardening one.  It had been that kind of a day.  Earlier, we had tangentially filled up the 18 deck tubes with soil in preparation for their planting in the upcoming weeks.  In the living room, the four-foot table supporting the seeding trays was busily soaking up the sun with a little reinforcement after sunset, but the grow-lights we had purchased were only marginally covering the seedlings -- and that only if we continued to move them around on the table every day or so.  Given the facts that we were in the process of planting a few more seeds that Steve had mailed us, and that in the next day or two we would need to separate several of the already-leafing sprouts currently sharing space into compartments of their own, more light was going to be a necessity.  The recent issue of Urban Farm magazine had a design for a build-it-yourself model, constructed from basic florescent shop light fixtures and 1 1/4" PVC pipe and connectors.  We decided to give it a try.

Thanks to the helpful employee at Lowe's who was willing to saw our two 10-foot lengths of pipe into the prescribed permutations, and gather up the various "T's", "angles" and "ends," all we had to do was assemble and place.  Now, with this addition of these 4 four-foot florescent bulbs to our previous 2 two-foot ones, our living room is aglow.  It remains to be seen if the new light will coax seeds out of the soil, but it almost certainly is drawing neighbors out of their houses to ponder this new celestial phenomenon:  the Aurora Borealis of Crown Colony Court.

Crop Report:
Cucumbers -- adding second generation of leaves
Brandywine Tomatoes -- strong, with true leaves
Green Zebra-striped Tomatoes -- questionable
Leeks -- wispy, but sturdy
Beets -- Hanging in there
Chard -- withered
Peppers -- encouraging
Flowers -- mixed bag

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Site in Sight

Yesterday was "Selection Sunday" -- though not for me in the same sense that it was for the rest of the country.  While basketball teams from coast to coast were biting their nails in anticipation of NCAA tournament invitations, Lori, Harold, Sandy and I were were tromping over the Ladd's property evaluating options for siting the garden.  I felt like Goldilocks tasting porridge.  One site was too wet.  One site was too near the corn field that receives regular chemical sprays.  One site was too shaded by surrounding trees...

...but eventually, one location seemed "just right."  Nearer the house, the human activity might discourage at least some of the deer, the pellet evidence of which was ubiquitous around the property.  Nearer the house also means nearer the water; and the storage building is easily accessible, as well.  Once accomplished, the selection almost seemed to have selected itself.  Yes, perhaps it is narrower than some of the alternatives, but it compensates in length.  In any case, it offers plenty of space -- 40 X 20 feet was how we stepped it off, plus or minus.  Good sun in both morning and afternoon, little shade; a slight slope for drainage; water, existing turf, and -- most importantly -- an invitation.

I deposited my new lawnmower (still in its box), and my new roll of net fencing (still in its box) in the storage building, took one last anticipatory look at the site, willing its fertility, and rejoined the others inside the house.

Later that evening I could hardly keep my mind off the seedlings busily sprouting under the lights on the table in the living room.  Earlier in the weekend Lori had commented about how protective she has come to feel about the delicate little stems creeping above the soil.  Ditto for me.  Already we have a great deal of emotional energy, affection and anticipation invested in them.  The prospect of freakish frosts, abusing winds, nibbling rabbits and deer and burrowing squirrels and moles feels a little like it did to drive out of the college dormitory parking lot the first time, leaving my children behind.  Exposed; vulnerable; subject to all the vicissitudes of real life's independence; hoping -- praying -- that the parts over which a parent has any control in their raising will prove to be strong enough; praying that the parts over which parents have no control will not prove too destructive.

To be sure, "dropping off" my little seedlings is still some time away.  It's weeks, yet, until the frost threat is safely past, and my wispy little green children still have lots of growing and strengthening to do.  There will be thinning, yet, and separating and re-potting to allow for still sturdier roots.  

But that eventual day is, nonetheless, approaching; and it's fun to move forward with a mental picture of where their roots will finally stretch.  Rooted, stretching, and hopefully producing something edible.

All the odds against it, notwithstanding.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tracing the Seeds of the Seeding

Progress Report:
Swiss Chard sprouting wildly
Beets running a close second
Leeks whisping skyward
Green zebra stripe tomatoes progressing nicely
Brandywine tomatoes coming along
Finally some movement on the cucumbers
Marigolds, calendula, and sunflowers showing strength
Only two pepper sprouts.
Chiles holding firm at zilch.  Zero.  Come on, Anaheims, Anchos and pimientos!  Do something!

So how did this madness begin?  So far I have invested more in seeds than I care to confess.  I have purchased grow-lights, net fencing, a reel mower, organic potting mix, seeding cells, and base materials for 18 growing tubes to be positioned on our deck.
               ...And untold numbers of books.
                       ...Plus subscriptions to a couple of magazines.
 And let me just add that none of it has been cheap. 
Which is to say that I'd sure like to see some chiles.

How did all this begin?  It's hard to untangle the threads of it all to isolate that single one.  Indeed, perhaps it wasn't any single one, but rather the thickening accumulation of several.  It certainly reaches back a couple of years to our burgeoning interest in cooking.  Our culinary experience in Italy focused new light on real and fresh ingredients, which led to some heightened sensitivity to nutrition and health.  Reading about the industrial food system added a sickening feeling about the meats and vegetables we routinely used, and our involvement in two Community Supported Agriculture farms honed my appreciation and my intrigue.  More reading deepened my appreciation of agrarian values, and the grant work on terroir has put me intellectually spiritually in the thick of this passion.

But two awakenings dislodged me most violently from the relative safety and simplicity of my observational recliner.  I have no recollection which came first -- or if, more likely, they simply confronted me together like friends and family at an intervention.  One was the comprehension -- midwifed by the work of environmentalists armed with forecasts about peak oil, and readings about the simple mechanics of modern agriculture and its utter and complete dependence on cheap oil -- that food production as we have come to know it is unsustainable.  I don't expect it to happen in my lifetime -- maybe not even in my children's lifetime -- but not very far down this road we will reach an agricultural dead end.  If we can't any longer produce the fertilizers on which we have come to depend; if we couldn't transport it to or spread it on the fields it wouldn't do us any good even if we had it; if we couldn't fuel the equipment to harvest and transport it, it wouldn't do us any good to grow it; and then we would be stuck.  Empty fields.  Empty shelves.  Empty pantries.  Chances are that, shortly thereafter, we will get hungry, and hopefully somebody -- hopefully a lot of somebodies -- will still be around who remember how to grow something edible the old-fashioned way.

That is when the other hand slapped me:  I wouldn't be one of them.  I don't have a clue how this stuff happens.  I grew up in the Hamburger Helper, blue-box mac and cheese generation quite thoroughly trained to gratefully receive my meals from the ever helpful food engineers at Betty Crocker, Duncan-Hines, General Mills, Swift, Kraft, Hormel, et al.  They took care of all that "dirty work" and hassle; mine was simply the delicious job of boiling a little water, browning a little meat scraped off the styrofoam tray, microwaving a little of this or that, and enjoying.  Well, at least eating.  I have no idea how food really comes to be.  In fact, save how to put some words together, and some musical notes, I don't know how to do much of anything.

And that sobering reality started keeping me up at night.
Until I couldn't stand it anymore.
I had caught a bad case of farm envy.  Hatched in the deepest recesses of my soul was the disruptive determination to gain the holy experience -- to participate in the sacred synergy -- of putting food on the table, from literal start to finish.  Soil to supper.  Dirt to dinner.  Bat guano, worm casings, sphagnum, patience, attentiveness and all.

And so the education has begun.  Already I am unspeakably blessed.  Not every guy has a wife so loving, so supportive and indulgent as to allow a seeding operation in the living room.  And no nascent farmer with such a total absence of knowledge has any right to expect even a single germinated seed to give him such hope.  But there this table stands:  front and center in the living room, sprouting.

There is this other problem, of course.  A loving and supportive wife I have; organic nutrients I can get.  Grow-lights I can plug into a timer.  But patience?  That, shall I say, is a "growing edge."

That will have to be enough said for now.  It's time to mist my crops again.

And pray.