Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Call me Crazy - Weeding

Call me crazy but I like weeding my garden. I don't like mowing, weed-eating, or digging out rows. But weeding? Once the bed is established, the soil is dark and loose, and moist, I find weeding from hands and knees with my trusty one piece spade (bought for $5.00 at Tractor Supply - see My Favorite Tools from 2010 or thereabouts) in one hand slightly lifting the soil while the other hand rips the invader out, leaving it in the walk way to compete/kill the weeds we let grow between beds.

There is no more satisfying an experience than the smell of good soil, the moist feeling of dirt in one's hands, and the quiet "tear" sound as the weed's roots are ripped from their place among my vegetables, leaving a clean, orderly row of edibles.

I am reminded of Michael Pollan's Book "Second Nature, a Gardener's Education" wherein he discusses the middle ground between letting things grow completely wild (we would all starve to death or be a lot thinner) and taming the earth brutally with foreign turfs, herbicides, and compulsive mowing.

That Middle Ground is in between the extremes - a place for nature being nature and a place for man carving out his little bit for those nutrients he needs as well. Afterall, a weed, is just a plant, that we have not found a use for. At Shamrock and Thistle Farm we are beginning an experiment in permaculture where portions of the property are allowed to grow wild. When the rose hedges bloom, I'll post pictures of the bird sanctuary we have established.

When it comes to my garden, weeds also have their place. And when I give up hope I remember Mr. Pollan's encouragement.

Every time I pull a weed, I am cooperating with nature, not subduing it. I am aerating the soil as the weed's roots are pulled from the ground; I am allowing nature's bounty room to breath and grow; and I am free.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Fall of Civilisation - Lamenting my Craftsman Lawnmower

This is a house. A house we tried to buy whilst living in Corinth Mississippi. It is a four square. Beautiful with a quaint stone walled garden in the back just a couple of blocks from Borroum's Drug Store. We used to walk there to eat at their old fashioned Soda Shop - the premier place to buy a local delicacy - the Slug Burger. The house was also haunted. It came complete with a blood stained pair of ice tongs, creaking radiator heating system, and spooky basement. We always felt that this basement was where the previous owner hid all the bodies. We had some good times there. And then we had to leave due to a lien placed on the house that was not discovered until the day of closing. Whew! That really started our journey to where we are now. But, I digress.

This four square home was trimmed in spruce and had three stories and the spooky basement. The kitchen was small but large enough for Patt to throw dinner parties for friends who lived all along Franklin Street or within a block or two. We researched the origins of the house and found that it was built in 1902 and trimmed out with spruce from a local wood mill. The plans and the house itself was ordered out of a catalog, packaged, and shipped to the site, where it was assembled, board by board. It's slate roof, by the time we came along had grown a thin veneer of moss which gave it no little amount of character. It was a sturdy house. And, it was ordered from a catalog! Sears and Roebuck to be exact. It is still standing and is up for sale for $100,000. It was but in 1902, for get this, $1890.00!

It was quality engineering, quality products, long lasting high dollar items that made America and companies in America great.

I now move back to my childhood. Its one of many Christmases where Mom spent to much money on presents. Dad opens a ratchet set and exclaims "And its a Craftsman. They have a life time guarantee!"

That was the thing and I grew up believing Sears and Roebuck and their Craftsman line of tools, though expensive, would last forever because, and this is important, they were American made.

When I got married and moved into a rental house, it was in Bayou Liberty Louisiana, we had to borrow my boss' lawnmower to keep the yard mowed. I think this was too much for Dad to handle so when we moved to Corinth, in a surprise visit, he brought us a brand new Craftsman Lawnmower. This was back in the mid to late 90s. I can't say for sure, but I suspect he told me then, "It's a Craftsman. They have a life time guarantee."

Well 15 years later, we still have that lawnmower and in spite of my diligently storing it the correct way every winter, it fails to start. I attempt to fix it myself, but end up taking it to the shop for repair. It'll run off and on all mowing season but then die. I have pulled the rope of that lawnmower so many times I have hurt myself on occasion and then I finally give up.

Last time I took it to the shop I decided to take it to a Sears service center. Mostly because I blamed its frequent failures on the local shops I had been taking it to. I won't go into the details, but in the end, I loaded the mower into the back of the pickup, made a scene in the Sears showroom, and stormed out never to return. In short, Sears, like most all American companies, making "American made" products, sucks!

While researching the best way to get my mower fixed, I ran across a complaint filed on the internet from a guy who went to Sears to ask a technical question because, he too, was trying to fix his mower himself. He claims he was told by the front desk attendant that she could ask a technician to come out from the back but it would be a $110 appraisal fee to do so.

I have been very hard on Craftsman's fall from glory in this article, but it is not just Craftsman, its a sign of the fall of our society - this general apathy. Another sign? An aging manufacturing work force. Young adults, if they are looking for careers, are increasingly flocking to the virtual worlds of information technology. I say virtual because the real hardware is being manufactured, cheaply, by some one else. The average age of Biomedical Equipment service engineers is 49 years old. Many of this age have found that "technology" has passed them by and they are too tired to learn IT. The days of the mechanical things of physics are passing us by - vacuum, pressure, hydraulics, pneumatics are becoming a thing of the past. But the opportunities to learn and practice these very real, physical skills, are being shunned by the young would be careerist. These physical positions are being held onto tenuously by the over 45 crowd who are finding the virtual world of bits and bytes has taken over.

This is why the local Sears service center no longer has on site technicians in their stores. The technicians have died or retired, no one is wanting to take their place and my lawn mower must be sent to Memphis for repair. Furthermore, in the name of increasing profits, Sears no longer sells parts at their stores. One must work their way through websites matching obscure model and part numbers to find what one needs. Shipping for internet orders now is never less than $7.00 for the slow way and shipping via Fed Ex or UPS no longer means the drivers of the company's respective vans deliver the part to your door. Fed Ex and UPS now send these types of shipments, you guessed, through the post office. So my choices come down to waiting weeks while my mower is being shipped to Memphis for repair, paying for the repair itself, and shipping or waiting weeks while the parts I ordered on the internet finally reach my postoffice and paying, sometimes, twice the cost of the parts to get it here. The entire system is designed to make me wait and to cost me money. Meanwhile, the Craftsman mower that my father believes is still the best made, American made, mower in the world, sits in my barn, because, yet again, it will not start...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gardening Tips- Asparagus

I read somewhere that 90% of all asparagus sold in the US (organic or otherwise) is imported from South America. Peru to be exact. I can not abide store bought asparagus. It is tough. It retains a small amount of asparagus-ness, that asparagus taste, that "asparagus effect" several minutes after ingestion, but little of the sweetness one should find in a spear of asparagus. And of course I failed to mention the frozen or canned varieties that are cooked down to sludge - hard to swallow - literally.

The following is how we grow asparagus. It is simple and it is hard. That is, simple steps but hard work, and it requires a certain amount of patience that Patt and I have only recently been able to achieve. But the pay off is a fresh, crispy, sweet asparagus cooked within minutes of its cutting. We've found also that within a few days of cutting, kept in a jar of water in the fridge, the asparagus still retains most of the asparagus-ness of the asparagus.

 We start with an untouched portion of our garden. We've decided to expand our asparagus crop so we have enough to sell. After two years of dormancy this is what it looks like. Tall weeds, bermuda grass, and other weeds.

We then dig a trench two feet wide and a foot deep. This photo shows the end of one of the recent trenches we've just dug. The center weedy portion we still have to go through and weed out by hand. We try to use no petroleum in the production of our produce so all trenches and weeding are done with hand tools or bare fingers.

Here is the finished trench. You can see the remnants of a former planting of Purple Asparagus. Only two plants survived the drought of last summer and the weeds. Over the next few days we will mix in some well composted manure from in front of our chicken coop (seen in the back ground) and then plant the new 2 year old asparagus crowns, spreading the tendrils out in the bottom of the trench and lightly covering with soil. As the initial shoot grows and begins to branch out, we will add more of this composted manure until the trench is completely filled in and mounded up around the plant. Next spring we will be able to cut fresh spears once or twice and then we will let them all leaf out into ferns. Another year of photosynthesis and strengthening the roots will provide a bountiful harvest the year after next. (this is the patience part)

Here's what it looks like as it sprouts. These spears are in our original bed, now 5 years old (counting the two years the roots had been growing when we purchased them.) We simply cut them off at or below ground level and eat them within minutes. Awesome!

This is a spear we decided to let leaf out. Once the spears you harvest get to be pencil thin, it is time to let the root rest. This spear will grow out into a big bushy fern which we will let stand until the first heavy frost turns it brown. We will then fertilize the bed with some goat and sheep manure, mulch with old hay or straw and then cut the fern down and lay it on top of the mulch to keep the hay in place throughout the winter. Next spring about the time the Irises in our flower garden start developing buds, we will pull back the thick layer of mulch and find, God willing, a new spring crop of asparagus.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Just a Little Advice for the Tea Party/Republican Party

Since I can't tell you all apart anymore, I have lumped you all in there together. Here's some advice that I think might be useful to you. But I realize that the worst thing in the world is unsolicited advice, especially that which comes from someone who for 45 years has tried to figure out what he is and has failed.

These are in no particular order.

* Schedule some training from some hi-tech firm, not the leaders of the firm with which you so well identify but from the front line tech-geek, preferably someone who uses the gear they have developed. This may be difficult at first, because they are most likely, at worst, tree-hugging, come-as-you-are Northwest liberals, with those little bushings in their ear lobes, or at best crunchy-conservatives who like the whole tree hugging thing but with out the piercings and ear-bushings. Ask them to bring you up to speed on modern technology. Now listen very closely, Mitch McConnell. Right now you are an embarassment to your state, your country, and the legislature. The Mr. Magoo thing ain't working now (see suggestion #2) Following this advice will save your career, if that's what it is you call it.  Recording devices no longer look like this.:

 or this:

They are now much smaller and more powerful than you can imagine. In fact, they are magical things that can record hours of audio and video. Ask Mr. Romney. Really, the tea party's inability to adapt and learn is quite shocking.

* Mr. McConnell, and others, the Mr. Magoo thing ain't working.

*Please, for the love of God. Just stop. Please, please, just stop. Okay, you were instrumental in pushing through the new raw milk law in Arkansas. Thank you. But if I had any suspicion at all that you did this because it was the right thing to do and not just pandering to your Tea Party constituency, if I really felt like this was more than just a political ploy to get a republican in the Governor's chair, I would be a little more sincere with the thank you-s. But, I guess, since you haven't learned your lesson from the tape recorder, you still haven't learned you lesson from the 80s and the Moral Majority. Falwell, Dobson, Terry, Colson and their ilk proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Religious Right/Moral Majority movement in the 80s failed to "take America for God" back then and it is failing now. There is already too much noise, too many stressors. Your talking head's Gospel of the American Revolution is a part of the problem. It is not a solution. Do America a favor and just be quiet.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

1st Spring Chicken Poppers

There are several things throughout the seasons that I really look forward to. The first batch of Pasta Fresca, a creamy bow tie pasta with fresh tomato, basil, and garlic sauce, topped off with chunks of mozzarella. Pair this with cold white grape juice or a Vouvray, and it is the very picture of a midsummer meal. The first cold front blowing through, at or around, September 14th every year is another one of those seminal moments that remind you what the heat of summer is really for - to prepare you for fall. I think one would not appreciate the fall so much without a blazing August. The first snow fall or the first morning when a wood fire is absolutely necessary but you didn't realize it until you get up that morning- and the feeling once the fire really gets going as you sit in front of it thinking "yes. this is it."

In the spring, for me, it is the first shoots of asparagus, for sure, but even more than that, it is my first batch of Chicken Poppers. This is a delicacy little known to anyone. I think it is an old family recipe from my Grandma Hutchins, an austere, frugal woman, who never wasted anything, and who also always filled me with fear when we visited.

We had a hen get broody 3 weeks ago. She refused to leave her nesting box like the other chickens, so we set her aside in her own maternity-ward/range shelter, placed a dozen fertile eggs beneath her, kept her stocked with food and water, and 21 days later 8 baby chickens hatched.

Patt wanted to raise them up to eventually put in our freezer or to replace some of our older hens eventually but I convinced her to let me try something a little different. Chicken Poppers. I share the recipe with you now. I hope you enjoy!

This recipe is really simple and can be easily scaled to the amount of chicken one has. There is no prep work for the chicken at all as it is cooked whole.The best taste comes from fresh chicken off the farm, but you can source the bulk of the ingredients from a local Tractor Supply or local Co-Op/Feed Store.

In a large cast iron dutch oven bring 6 cups of oil to a boil.
 Dredge the chicken in egg yolk mixed with milk and flour to create a simple batter. You may salt and pepper it to taste if you like, or even add some cajun seasoning.

Much like lobster or crawfish, the best flavor is acheived by gently placing the chicks into the hot oil while they are still alive. Don't worry, at one or two days old, they do not feel anything.

Remove the one or two day old chicks from under the mother hen and drop them into the oil. Deep fry for about 3 minutes or until the chicken begins to float to the surface. Remove with a slotted metal spoon and place on a stack of paper towels to drain.

The outside (feathers and skin) of the baby chicks will become very crispy while the insides stay nice and moist and cooked through. When cooled, place the Chicken Poppers on their backs, on a decorative plate with feet sticking up. These provide "handles" eliminating the need for toothpicks, etc. Simply pick one up by the feet and pop it into your mouth like a lolly-pop, close your lips around the Popper and pull. The handles pull free and you are in Chicken Popper heaven.

We have always found that these Hors d'oeuvre are the topic of intense conversation at parties where we have served them. So people must really like them. I know we do. We need to have another one of those parties again, it has been such a long time. So I hope you enjoy the recipe...

(This article is rife with satire and should not be considered the truth at all. That's kind of what satire does. If you are of that unfortunate group that can not mentally process satire, I apologize and probably should have made this disclaimer at the beginning of the article.- the author)

Monday, April 8, 2013

God's Dream

It has occurred to me that perhaps the world did end on December 21, 2012 as prophesied by the Mayans.

It's not just that time is out of joint. It's not just that the overall stupidity in the world has magnified in its intensity and frequency. It's not just that there seems now to be a prevailing sense of apathy about anything.

People I have known seem to have given up. There seems to be no higher purpose driving them on. There seems to be an increase in the zombie-like muddling through one's day and the next guy be damned if I am late, or don't respond to an email, or do not return a phone call. And I don't care what sob story you have about how much you need my help, or who is going to die, or what you expect from me for the money you pay me for service.
The Zombie Apocalypse is here. Just look at anyone in the customer service, food service, or hospitality industries

When once there was a clear cut, in focus world, perhaps not filled with, but not impossible to find sense of honor, dignity, duty, resolve, selflessness. Since that fateful day in December 2012, I have found these things non-existent -- except for the rare few that one runs into in one's day, and they seem as befuddled as I am. "What has happened to these things?" they ask.

In a recent conversation I had with a coworker who was also lamenting the disappearance of selfless customer service, senses of urgency, a smile while selflessly serving another, we postulated that perhaps the world did end and those that muddled through life asleep or angry or selfish don't know it yet because, for them, the world had already met its end. The rest of us - those who walked about in wonder, those that felt the pain, those that strove to make something better, those of us who had a higher purpose for what we do and who we are and how we act, are the only ones that have really noticed. Because for us, the world had not already ended. And now, where before, we lived in expectation of the hope of a better world, we find ourselves alone, only rarely passing one another, shooting each other quizzical looks as if to say, "What has happened? Am I the only one?"

Our conversation went on to the metaphysical and we questioned whether the world up until the end of the Mayan calendar was just us living within God's dream and on December 21, 2012, He awoke and now we are just a distant memory, vivid but unclear. What if those of us who are still awake are simply those fragments of a dream - we've all had them -- that seem perfectly clear and retain a spot in our memory throughout the day, but this time it is not ours but God's; and those who did not notice anything amiss are simply fading away.

I think, and this sets up my next post, the makers of Craftsman lawnmowers, and others ( I feel compelled to  mention the Tea Party infested Arkansas Legislature), are a part of God's fading dream and those of us who are awake will have to, with renewed purpose, dedication, and unfaltering faith, keep the dream alive.

Appropriate Self Righteous Responses #2

Perry County Farmer's Market on any given Saturday.

Old woman approaches the table, looks over the ornately displayed fare.

"How much for the turnip greens?" she asks, "I can't eat lettuce because of my gall bladder."

Not knowing exactly what she means by this and not a little turned off by the discussion of her endocrine system, I keep silent.

"So I have to eat turnip or mustard greens. There turnips at the ends of those greens?" she continues

"No ma'am" I say. "The turnips feed our pigs, we just sell the greens".

"Well how much for a bunch?" as she picks up one from the container. "Why there ain't enough here to make a mess -a- greens!" she criticizes.

I make an attempt. "Ma'am, there's more greens in that bunch than you'll get at the store. You can always buy more than one bunch. In fact, there's more in this bunch than you'll get from anyone else here."

"Alright. How much?"

"Two dollars."

"Two dollars! Heck! I can grow my own turnips for that!"

Insert Appropriate Self Righteous Response Here.

"Then grow your own damn turnips!"

Another satisfied customer.