Monthly Archives: March 2010

Simple Life, Community Life

Big CrappieAround 5 pm yesterday my uncle Ron (and neighbor) showed up at my door with a very large fish, a 16 inch Crappie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Crappie of that size. As he walked up I thought he was carrying a good sized bass. He offered him up and I happily accepted. I’d planned on having a bit of pesto pasta for dinner and now that would be complimented with fried fish. I watched the sunset while I ate and listened to the emerging frog song and the chickens as they wandered off slowly towards their coop. I was just about finished when Petunia (the deer) showed up for an evening snack of corn and a sprinkle of chicken scratch.
Pesto pasta and fried fish
I’ve happily lived well below the poverty line for my entire adult life and have always been very content with living small or in shared spaces with others. Of course this is easier with no children but is still entirely possible with them as I’ve confirmed with a bit of research. But it requires a different outlook on life. I’m not the least bit interested in a huge house full of material possessions. That generally requires a life long commitment to wage slavery. Give me a part time job or freelance work and I’ll enjoy the free time gardening or working on a community project. I can’t enjoy the pesto if I don’t grow the basil and sharing it at a potluck almost always makes it taste better!

Strangely enough living the “simple life” allows for the freedom to become a much more complex person through on-going self-reflection and education. This is not to say that those with large houses and full time employment cannot continue to learn, but to say that there is something important about the pace of living. When I lived in Memphis I mostly got around by walking or riding a bike. Yes, it took me longer to get where I was going but along the way I picked figs and literally stopped to smell the roses. I learned the local bird population and met neighbors. I also got the health benefits of the exercise.

Out there in the nation trouble continues to brew. The fundamentals of the economic/financial/energy system have not changed and we’re still headed for collapse. The political system of the country, guided by corporate media, become more divisive and less constructive. It is a system which has served the wealthy elite for far too long but most working people, be they “conservative” or “liberal” don’t seem to get the fact that they are being used. The two party system should be destroyed. Our sense and understanding of what is possible is far too limited. We’re letting ourselves be emotionally manipulated by a cultural process designed to divide and herd us around like livestock.

I think we need to slow down. We need to stop listening to the party lines, stop aligning ourselves with the party lines. We need to remember what it is like to be humans. We need to remember what it is like to grow and harvest food and then to share it in community. We need to remember what it is to feel connected in community. Community is like a complex tapestry with many weavers. We all share the task and add our bits, we weave it together. It is our work, comfort and support and it tells our history as well. It’s long past the time that we get back to this task and that we remember that it is up to us to do it well. It is up to us to do it together.

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Keeping the Peace

With each day spring becomes more evident. The Yarrow, Self Heal, and Lemon Balm that I planted in the food forests are all waking up with great energy. The Autumn Olives are full of buds about to open to leaves. The white and red clover seed I scattered a couple weeks ago has sprouted into carpets of green in the original chicken run and around the fruit trees. Spring is always a busy time on a homestead!

A week ago I had to harvest the Guinea rooster. I’d not planned to do that anytime soon but he suddenly decided it was time to mate with the chicken hens and was quite violent about it. I woke up last Saturday to a hen that was terribly wounded with several large holes pecked into her and a bloody, bruised back. The minute I got out there to let them out to range he was after her. I put her in the greenhouse and began the process of getting her back on her feet. I kept an eye on him the rest of the day and he was on a tear. He wasn’t like this two weeks ago. I’d noticed a bit of increased aggression but in just a few days it was like a switch had been flipped. So, I butchered him Sunday morning and made a big pot of really good guinea curry coconut soup. Thanks Mr. Guinea and I’m truly sorry to see you go.

As crazy loud as those Guineas are, I still adore them. Oh, and they’ve started laying their eggs right in with the chickens so I’m getting 2-3 little guinea eggs a day!! The shells are so much thicker that they don’t break when dropped. I have to SLAM them into the cast iron skillet to break them open.

After a week in the greenhouse the wounded hen has recovered very well and I put her back with the flock Saturday. During her time in the greenhouse she did a great job of tilling up the bed. I’ll get that planted with something this week.

Other news, Petunia the deer has been back quite a few days, often several times a day. The other day she laid down right in front of the front door. Adorable. I’ve got the chicken coop all cleaned out and set with fresh straw. The garden has been planted with a big bed of potatoes, 2 beds of onions and multiple beds of lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, radishes, carrots and, along the fence, sugar snap peas. The broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi are about ready for transplanting. Tomatoes were a bit slow to sprout but seem to have woken up. No sign of the eggplant yet. Next to start are peppers and various herbs: lemon balm, comfrey, oregano, lovage, borage and a few others, medicinal and culinary.

I’m doing all this planting in the garden extension that I mulched last spring. The soil in that half has far fewer rocks and after a year of worm activity is really looking fantastic. The straw and cardboard mulch is still thick enough that I won’t have any problems over there this summer. The garden fence improvements I did last year seem to be keeping the rabbits at bay so I should have a good harvest this year.

Last but not least, thanks to Juli I’ve got a nice new patch of about 40 strawberry plants. My guess is that with the three rhubarb plants I put in last year we’ll be having quite a bit of rhubarb strawberry pie next summer, if not a bit this summer. Next year I expect to also be harvesting blueberries and the year after that hardy kiwis. Add to that mix the juneberries, currants, gooseberries, apples, peaches and plums and, well, there should be lots of sweet fruit for the picking!

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Geek in the Garden

Please excuse this momentary lapse into a bit of geekitude. A few years back I started using geekinthegarden for email and various account user names because I was, after all a geek who spend a good bit of his time in the garden. These past two years living at the homestead I’ve been much less a geek and more a gardener. In fact, a big part of my push to move to the homestead was to get my hands back into the soil and to finally learn more about permaculture and put it into practice. Beginning in 2005 I’d started to see a pileup of evidence that peak oil and general collapse were finally at the door and felt it was time to get serious about growing my own food.

As I’ve gotten a bit more involved in town via the Fredericktown Revitalization and in working with the city on their website this past winter I found myself at the computer more often and have really enjoyed the work. I’ve built a few new websites as well as a pretty extensive FileMaker database. Something that I’ve really taken note of is the lack of local utilization of technology by the small businesses and non-profits around main street. Most people know the basics but VERY FEW get beyond the web browser. I’ve met lots of folks that could benefit from knowing more about the available tools. Small businesses should not be tracking inventory with a spiral bound notebook in 2010.

It was easy to sit at the computer during the cold days of winter but now that the weather has warmed it is increasingly difficult and the internal conflict has gotten me thinking a bit about the future. What is the role of technology in our lower energy future. Is this kind of work to build the digital literacy of a community a wasted effort given the kind of future we have coming? Just how important will laptops and iPads be in two years? Five years? What about websites, spreadsheets and databases? While I really like the idea of sharing the knowledge I have about these kinds of digital tools spring suddenly reminds me that this is the time to grow food. Should I also be shifting my community time in the same direction?

I’m also thinking about this in the larger context of the FRI and the larger Main Street movement. I strongly support the general idea of building the local economy as well as the preservation of historical main street architecture. Neighborhood and main street revitalization is a good thing but there should be a balance in our efforts to build (or rebuild) the local economy within the context of a limited energy future. Peak oil is here and will only become more obvious. Have I spent too much time thinking about building/stabilizing the local economy and not enough time thinking about the local food and energy system? I realize that it does not have to be either/or, there can be a balance. When I joined up with the FRI I knew it was a Main Street group and had (have) no problem with that but I was more interested in the Transition Towns idea. Main Street is in the right direction but I’m impatient with our lack of progress and what often times seems to be a lack of interest in the local business community.

As an anarchist I’m not all that interested in the profit motive or volunteering my time to help others make a profit. I don’t have a local business, they do. They don’t seem to understand the interconnection between their business and their community. That said, I AM interested in building the self reliance and resilience of the local community and that means working with business owners to some degree. I suppose what this post comes down to is that I’m trying to find a balance in how I spend my time. I’m wondering what folks in this community want and need most, trying to understand how I can have the most meaningful impact.

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Fun with Bees

Every so often we have moments of spontaneous comedy here at the homestead. Serious comedy. No, really, you don’t want to have a mouthful of coffee while reading.

This is a two part bee story. Part one. Last week I was out to feed the bees on one of our kinda warm days. I went out with the jar of sugar water but no gloves or head gear. I’d done this before but in the early spring bees tend to be a bit more aggressive. I remove the entrance cleat (a piece of wood that keeps out mice and cold air) and put the feeder in place. A couple bees popped out and I backed up a bit. No problem. Except that one of them continued to buzz me. I backed up more… another 15 feet. Still buzzing so I backed up further. At this point I was a bit puzzled because I could not find him and the buzzing was pretty loud. So I start with my shirt and sweatshirt. Yes, I took them off. Still the buzzing. Then the shoes quickly followed by the sweat pants. Still the buzzing. At this point I’m a little freaked out and jumping around a bit looking for this very angry bee. I’m wearing socks and boxing shorts and jumping around in the woods, hands flailing through the air. Then I realize where my little friend is. The beard. So now I’m pulling at my beard trying to comb him out with my fingers. Still angry buzzing. More frantic pulling at the beard to which turns into a kind of squeezing of the beard and then smacking of the beard. Yes, mostly naked, jumping around and smacking myself in the face.

Just another picturesque morning in the country.

Okay. Ready for part two? Tonight I go out to gather up the empty sugar water jar. Yes, I’m wearing the gloves and head gear. I pull the feeder and slide the entrance cleat over. A few bees come out. All done I turn and walk away. Buzzz. Buzzzzzzz. I keep walking, not too worried as I know my beard is safe. Then I realize a bee had somehow made it into my boot. Okay buzzing getting angrier and I move more quickly towards the cedar bench over by the chicken coop. I plop down quickly to take my boots off and yes, I, along with the bench, tip right over. So now I’m on my back trying to kick my boots off.

After a few minutes I get them off and push myself and the bench up off the ground. For a brief moment I and bench almost fall back over but I make the save. The bee is gone and I retrieve the boots. End scene.

All that said, I do love my fuzzy little buzzing friends and am looking forward to the summer honey harvest!

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