Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Kingsolver’

Heirloom Gardens Big Dig

Lots of jobs to do

Happy Earth Day! I don’t think there’s a better way to celebrate the Earth than to spend a day covered in it.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to hang out with the Heirloom Gardens crowd. Today was a mostly physical day. We met for about three hours to do the initial prep work for a garden they have been using for several years. I am no good at eye-balling sizes, but there is a lot of room for veggies in the plot. It even has a gnarled peach tree that has set fruit to be used by the CSA. There were almost a dozen of us there, so there was lots of work to go around, but we weren’t overwhelmed by it.

It was nice to run into a couple of familiar faces, but I met some new people as well. Including a young woman who had also been raised in Pennsylvania/Maryland and was now living out here. It was really interesting to hear that someone else just didn’t feel at home until she moved out here. I had always supposed that was just me. There wasn’t

Digging in the spread manure

quite as much talking, as we were spread over a wider area, but conversations ranged from the lack of right-corners in permaculture to the fact that Barbara Kingsolver reads her more recent books for the audio-books. Again, I didn’t hear any philosophy or reality TV discussions, but there were things to talk about, and there were quiet discussions going on all over the garden as people moved around and worked near different people.

In the gardens I’ve been playing in so far, I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t really had to deal with a winter’s worth of weeds. The first step was to dig and pull up the biggest chunks of weeds that would be likely to foul the rototiller. Once most of us had gotten a good start on that, someone was assigned to measuring and plotting the long beds. Sundari plants in beds rather than individual rows, as it is a much more efficient use of space. That meant that each section was four feet wide, with two-foot paths between them. When the garden is planted, each row will then be divvied up into sections for each type of plant that is to be grown.

The tulip and the grape hyacinth under the peach tree were to pretty to disturb.

Once each bed was measured out, the tiller was run down both the beds and the paths to loosen the dirt and dig the remaining weeds into the ground to finish killing them. Most of them, anyway. The manure, chicken and goat, was laid on each bed and dug in by hand, as it seems that tillers and straw don’t get along very well. It did give me a chance to work more closely with some of the people, as they are in the habit of each person digging in half of the bed and working in pairs down the row, and have some interesting conversations. Someone mentioned that you got used to the smell. I’m more accustomed to cow, but manure smells like spring to me. Growing up in Amish country, you knew when planting season had come if you drove anywhere with your windows down. Sure, the smell was . . . not roses, but spreading manure was part of their farming practices to use what they had for all it was worth. Unlike the almost sterile agri-business farms, there was no hiding where this fertilizer came from.

The last step was to scatter clover seeds along each path and scratch it into the soil a little bit. If you use clover as a cover-crop or on your paths, don’t expect a clover-free lawn right beside it. Apparently, along with being a nitrogen-fixer and green mulch, clover is tenacious and willing to spread.

The lilac wasn't so lucky.

I ache, my feet are killing me from jumping on the shovel to dig out weeds and dig in manure, and I’m wondering if my palms are going to actually bruise from the “T” handle on my shovel. Fortunately, the tank-top worn today helped to even out the farmer’s tan started yesterday. I doubt I’m the only gardener nursing these pains and loving the fact that they signal the beginning of another season.

P.S. It seems that the garlic we planted in March is coming up nicely. If you haven’t gotten yours in yet, it might not be too late!

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A couple of weeks ago a friend handed me Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. Since it’s winter, it’s the season of reading and learning more than doing. I have been pouring over all sorts of non-fiction gardening books that focus on “how to.” She handed me this one to help remind me of the “why.” Why is a question we don’t ask often enough after we get out of the perpetual “Why?” stage as children. I am actually considering re-aquiring that phase. There are altogether too many answers that we’re given that should be challenged with a five-year-old’s tenacity.

The story is about a family that moves to Appalachia to grow their own food for one year. They aren’t new at this. In fact, they’d been gardening in that particular farm for years during the summer as a break from their lives in Tucson, Arizona. It wasn’t just gardening and hen-raising that they were already familiar with. The family hadn’t been eating CAFO meat for years by the time the story started. Barbara has a degree in evolutionary biology. Her husband, Steven Hopp has a Ph.D. in animal behavior and has taught everything from ornithology to natural history. Their older daughter, Camille Kingsolver, was, at the time of writing, in college for biology, anatomy, and dance. She also had the benefit of being raised by a family that took food and science seriously. The younger daughter, Lily, has fewer titles, given her age, but the story wouldn’t be the same without her.

The bulk of the story is told by Barbara. It is nonfiction, but she does have a flair for making it a story anyway. Gardening and eating what they produce is not a totally new concept, but they learn a lot along the way. Things like, when to start? After all, the beginning of the calendar year is not the beginning of the growing year. Steven adds more scientific and factual asides. Camille offers a young adult’s prospective and quite a few recipes for each season. Each person, including Lily who wasn’t old enough to actually contribute to the writing, added skills and insight into the whole process. At the end is an impressive list of additional resources.

The book was a great read. I intend to pass it on to my mother because I think she will get a kick out of the story, having fed a family out of a vegetable garden herself. The story also made me seriously nostalgic for the family meals that I don’t have any more and probably didn’t appreciate enough when I did. It made me think about the bar Mom put in when she redid the kitchen. That way everyone could still gather there like they always did, but she would have space of her own for the cooking and other kitchen chores that seemed to be neverending. I used to bemoan the fact that my mother’s world seemed to revolve around food. Feeding a family of six on home-made meals will do that to you. Now I’m beginning to think that there are far worse things for a world to revolve around. After all, how else would you aquire memories of the women in the family gathering in the kitchen for canning and gossip?

I will say that by the end of the book, with her descriptions of the trials of her breeding-stock turkeys, I am thinking about possibly starting with turkeys for my own fowl experiments. After all, they did almost become our national bird, so they shouldn’t be allowed to die out. If all else fails, they taste good, too.

“How to” is very important. I will continue reading up on that, but it’s good to be reminded of why we need to learn how. The end result. While I don’t have the need, or at the moment the ability, to harvest 400 pounds of tomatoes, I do have the need to be reminded that food grows in dirt and that tomatoes are best eaten during tomato season.