Monday, May 16, 2011

Farmland and flooding

That is a NASA satellite image of the Mississippi River in March and on May 4th or thereabouts. That's scary. They've opened every dam they can, and they've blown levees in order to try and save Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And yet... I have to ask...

And please note, anyone who lives in those cities, I wish you no harm, nor do I think you are the least bit wrong in trying to save your city. If I were in your shoes I'd be doing exactly the same thing! But in trying to look at the bigger picture, I DO have to ask...

How do we reconcile this? People can move, and cities can be rebuilt. Yes it's expensive, and it's damn inconvenient, and this is a terrible tragedy. But that farm land you see being engulfed by the water? We can't move that! Every field that gets flooded is one less that is growing food to feed me and you and the people in New Orleans. We've chosen to save the people (who, frankly, can load up in buses and go elsewhere) and drown the land (which provides food for all those we've just saved... except now it doesn't).

I see thousands and even millions of acres of prime farmland, farmland that feeds a vast majority of the United States and even other countries, disappearing beneath silt and mud. With the coming of the water, we're not just seeing the possible degradation of the soil (as a matter of fact, the yearly flooding of rivers was one reason farmers chose to plant along them, because silt is a great fertilizer), but the drowning of plants already growing.

I'm scared. Last year, I'd have been nervous but ready. I had an acre worth of garden planted, and food on the vine ready to preserve. I had hundreds of pounds of our own produce taken out of our farm and put into freezer, jar, drying rack... This year, because of the timing of our move to the new house and because of my broken ankle, I don't have a garden. A few tomato plants in pots is just not going to make up for a million acres drowned. And so I'm scared, because I don't know that my family can afford the inflated prices that all that underwater farmland is going to cause.

Because you know that the more scarce an item, the higher the price. Some people like myself were watching prices inch up long before the flooding, but this is the worst flood we've seen since 1927, according to some. That corn you see in the right hand image? That was your corn chips, your bag of frozen kernels, your Reddenbacher popcorn, your breakfast cereal, and a million other things. Now it's just rotting in the fields. When the waters recede, they might leave behind rich silt and fishy fertilizer in the soil, but that won't help us for two full years. What do we eat in the meantime?

I look at our little 5 acre plot we just purchased, an acre of which is filled with house, barn, and other such buildings... and another couple of acres which are fully and thickly treed and which we will not clear because it will provide us with wood for our heat and cooking. It's not going to be enough if the food is as short as I'm afraid it will be.

Are you prepared?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pretty pots, all in a row...

Well, several rows, actually. Those are my beautiful tomato seedlings! There are two varieties here. In the red containers are Bloody Butcher tomatoes, which are my meaty ones for sandwiches. They're an organic heirloom variety, but one that has continued being produced up to the present day by local farmers (and, I assume, those around the country). There are 12 pots of these, 8 in red pots and 4 in blue because I had overflow. In the green pots (and remaining blue pots) are my San Marzano paste tomatoes, an indeterminate variety which produces a lot of medium meaty fruits for sauces and canning. There are 12 of these, as well, thinned from as many as 3 seedlings in the cell to the one strongest. I'm very pleased with how well these came up, because I used no artificial light and no heat at all. I just stuck 'em in the window and prayed a lot. Apparently that works!

How do I know it works? Because these perky li'l guys are the thinnings. Yes, I managed to thin them out with roots intact in almost every case. Friends of ours didn't get a chance to plant seedlings this year (they're in the moving frenzy as well) and so I said if I managed to get any thinnings I would give them the best. Well, I got 12 Bloody Butcher thinnings and 4 paste thinnings, all of which seem to have survived the transplant. I put them into this black container because I thought it might be a better thing to hold them until they're picked up (black holds the heat and it also is high enough to keep the worst of the VERY strong wind off them). All in all, I'm very pleased with my work today.

My iceberg lettuce needs to be in the ground, too, as it's overgrown and wilty in its little cells. I found an old used milk carton (big plastic thing with holes on all sides and the bottom) that I hope to transform into the lettuce bed. The idea is to put a plastic garbage bag in the box, then fill it full of dirt. I'll poke holes in the bag through the carton's holes, about an inch above ground level, to allow drainage of the dirt but also allow a space for water pooling down below, to encourage root growth and combat container-dry-out. I'm thinking the container I found (which isn't a traditional square one but a rectangular one) will probably house all 8 lettuces that survived without any problems. We'll see!

The zucchini are doing very well in their new pots. I've watered them a few times and they're perky and green and growing. I'd like to get them in the ground soon, but until we move, they'll have to wait in their pots. In the mini greenhouse, I have cucumbers left (only five made it) and green peppers which are only just now starting to come up.

What I want to do with the cukes and peppers is to put them into a children's wading pool and grow them there. The idea is to get a used kid's pool, make holes about 2 inches up from the bottom along the sides, and fill it with decent quality dirt (we have access to well rotted and composted manure). Then you plant the cukes down the center and we put one of our metal frames over them (so they can grow up) and plant the peppers in the two halves of the pool on either side.

I've seen a few gardens online done this way, and it intrigues me. People grow tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, flowers, beans, and all other manner of vegetables in these pools, and often you can get them for free when people's kids outgrow them or they get a little crack (which we don't mind!). For people who don't have good ground, or for roof top gardens in cities, this is a great answer to garden space. I like it for this year because, with my broken ankle, I'm not going to be able to walk around a whole garden. However, if I have a couple of milk cartons, a few pots, and a wading pool to tend to just outside the kitchen door, I should be able to take care of things largely on my own.

The other thing I want to do is make one of these hanging herb containers. Basically you take a dollar store shoe holder and fill the pockets with soil, then plop in your herbs. I've seen a few YouTube videos on this technique, and it seems both fun and practical for someone who can't be going all over creation to snip herbs.

In a lot of ways, moving to this new house makes me feel like we're taking a step back. After all, this is the third summer, the year when the strawberries at our current house are ready to eat. And this is the year that my asparagus is edible, too, after 2 summers of hard labor and care of it. Instead of us eating them, our roomies will get to reap the rewards of my hard labors, and it stings a bit. I'll be back to square one, making a brand new strawberry bed and a brand new asparagus bed, which we won't get to touch for another 2 years. Maybe even three years, if I can't get them into the ground before mid-June.

Still, we're moving to a house that is much better suited to us. There's more room for everyone (and less people to share it!), and there's space for activities. There isn't as much land, but there's enough room for a garden and orchard to keep us fed, as well as a bit more for chickens and some animals. The house is in better condition than this one, and the few problems are being fixed by contractors before we even move in. We'll have no repair worries for years, maybe never if we pay attention to upkeep well enough. It has two barns, a couple of mature fruit trees already there, and lots of woods. It's on a country road, gravel in type, and so we never have to worry about cars going fast (we're in the middle of a long gravel and dirt road, so anyone going 'fast' would lose their transmission before they reached us lol). There are lots of other kids around, and a YMCA camp within walking distance. There's a local lake, fishing holes, town festivals, and best of all, we have friends who already live in the area.

Sometimes it's three steps forward, two back. This is our moment for "two back" but I know the three forward are coming. We just have to be patient!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Cups of Coffee 

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls . He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions--and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else--the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first--the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked.

"It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."