Monday, July 25, 2011

Global Rupture?

The pigs are doing a good job roto-tilling a garden bed, their test site.  We're getting a little sweet corn from the field garden, which will be their next project.  Some winter squash seems to be doing all right in that garden, too.  If we put the pigs out there, will they stay inside their electric fence?  We plan to gradually move them around the big garden.  A fence break could badly mess things up.  Hitting a deer is no fun.  Hitting a pig wouldn't be, either.

If the field garden experiment works, then we may move the pigs or their replacements around the field.  Bit by bit we might be able to plant the field with native grasses and animal food, such as oats and barley.  Or blueberries, pumpkins, strawberries, etc.  I don't know about monoculture planting though, a quarter acre or twenty-five.  How big does it have to be before it becomes monoculture?

Reading Silent Spring, including Rachel Carson's account of the use of DDT on elm trees in Michigan and elsewhere, leads me to wonder if, 60 years later, the robins have returned.  Have we learned from that experience or are we doing the same sort of thing with "safe" treatments like Roundup?  There's so much we don't know.  We should be wary of introducing any inventions into our planet's ecosystems.  I'm inclined to apply the grandmother test -- if grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it, and think ten thousand times before spraying it on plants. 

"Hey, what's it matter?" says Virginia.  "The rapture is coming soon."

She's a kidder.  Too bad many other people aren't.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mirrors and Tombstones

Imagine looking in the mirror every morning (for a week or two) and seeing this:
You might hear, "Dahling, quit dilly-dallying."

Or this might be cool, sort of Fonzarellian (think Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, "the Fonz" on Happy Days):
Here are some pretty bugs -- pretty darn nasty.  Our chickens have been getting most of them this year.  If you don't have chickens, I understand spraying them with a mixture of warm water, vinegar and some dishwashing liquid will send them to la-la land.  They suck, trying to destroy all the brassicas before moving on to other crops.  These two Harlequins are enjoying Brussels sprouts.  Aren't they beautiful? 
Here are some German Cushaw squash I trained to hang on the fence.
"Are you sure?" says Virginia.

Well, the seeds came from a Southern Exposure Seed Exchange packet labeled "green-striped cushaw."  A Google search of cushaw brings up several pictures of what I thought were Georgia candy roasters, which happen to be growing to the left of these guys.  Here's one:
Whatever, these are giant winter squash.  Cut one open and it feeds two people for two weeks.

If you read my blog entry from yesterday, about cleaning up the greenhouse, here you can see what I've been doing -- pulling weeds, then covering with a layer of black plastic under a layer of black mesh cloth, and in the aisles, a rubber mat.  The wooden 2 x 6's will form the back sides of two more beds -- I'll be cutting and removing the plastic to the rubber runner -- in which I'll plant, who knows, maybe lettuce, broccoli, artichokes?  In each corner, I covered the black mesh with mulch and then four 2 x 6s that hold a broken marble tombstone that's intended to keep the greenhouse from blowing away in a storm.  No grave robbing;  a friend of ours who digs graves brought us four rejected broken tombstones.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Greenhouse Reconstruction

A rush job almost always has to be redone, doesn't it? 

On our 22nd anniversary last October, having received an email that a local business was shifting gears and selling their greenhouse, we checked it out and bit.  Two weeks later its pieces were in a pile near our older and littler greenhouse.  Then in a few more weeks it was up and ready to go, except I hadn't given much thought or attention to the floor.  That was fine until this summer, when the place entered the first stages of becoming a forest. 

This week, after meeting pressing deadlines, I attacked the weed patch, put down black plastic covered by black mesh cloth and, in the two aisles, laid long rubber mats, all despite 110+ degrees even with big fans blowing.  I was not about to plant fall garden things and winter greens while having to push aside wiregrass growing like cobwebs.  I also began to close gaps in an attempt to get the place ready for cold weather.  I'm not finished yet, but it's looking civilized again.

"Fans blowing?" says Virginia.  "In your greenhouse?"

Umm, haven't I mentioned that for our birthdays this year, we had electricity installed in the barn and the greenhouse?  Now my plants can listen to classical music.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gotta Live in the Present

My cellphone's on the blink.  It didn't work for a couple days.  I could send out, but couldn't hear anything coming in. 

"Not so unusual," says Virginia, "for you."

She's right, as usual.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dodd-Frank!

Most of us have awakened in the middle of the night and fretted.  Something about the peace and quiet of a dark space often invites focus on something, anything, that suddenly takes on incredible importance.  Next time this happens I think I'll turn on a light, in the hope that seeing other things will turn my thoughts to more realistic matters.

I used to wish that aging would turn me into the kind of wise man people liked to visit.  Phooey.  What a self-centered thought, like the patient who wants everyone to know what he's going through!  I have a feeling wise men have other things to do than hope people want to visit them to learn their secrets.

"Where are you heading with this?" says Virginia.

All right.  You probably don't care one bit that tomorrow, July 21, 2011, is the first anniversary of the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a/k/a the financial reform bill or the banking bill.  I, on the other hand, who has been immersed in it day in, day out for the entire year, see the day almost as light at the end of a tunnel, albeit a temporary end.

But yes, I get it.  It means nothing to most people.  It's time to pull weeds in the greenhouse.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Today, I dug holes for a couple peach trees.

"You should plant trees in the spring or fall," says Virginia.

Yes, maybe.  Anyway, I lifted a shovel of dirt and dropped it onto the pile I would later return to the hole, and a tiny stone caught my eye.

"How do you know which was front and back?" asks Virginia.

Picky, picky.  What do you think happened a few thousand years ago when this arrowhead dropped to the ground?  Squirrel, rabbit, bird?  Maybe not.  I understand even projectile points of less than an inch could drop a deer (

The stone may be worth 87 cents.  The experience is not.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Feeling A Draft (Draught, Dray)

When we lived in our cottage and cabin 4 miles up the road, the relatively unusual sound of a car would announce that someone was coming several minutes before they arrived.  We had time to prepare.  Now, comparatively, we live in a city.  Everyone coming into or going out of the valley drives past our house, and you can't get to Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park without sending at least a little road noise our way.

Maybe we keep getting more animals because we hope they'll drown out the engines.  They're pretty effective at slowing down traffic, as people gawk, "Hey, look at the cute goats.  What is that, a mule?"  Many people think a donkey's a mule.  More and more often, it seems, strangers drive down our lane, as if it's a petting zoo.

When I read this ad in the local paper, I had to call: ""Farming with Horses -- I am seeking a working farm and farm family in Rockbridge County who could be interested in, would enjoy, and whose farm would have work for and might benefit from a pair of light draft horses and horse drawn equipment, wagons, harnesses, tack etc. ready to go to work farming, logging, giving wagon rides and being ridden.  Along with the horses and the needed equipment would come their owner several days a week, ready and wanting to go to work and pitch in to the best of his ability.  I'm on the lookout for a working farm family that will be real particular about any addition of livestock or people to their farm, just as I'll be in finding the right farm and family.  I will greatly appreciate hearing from anyone having possible interest, thoughts or leads regarding this quest."

I can picture traffic slowing way down if a man and a horse were working our field.  It might be necessary to open the gate so folks could park and watch, rather than frighten the horse with screeches, screams, sirens and ambulances.  Maybe in 5 or 10 years, I'll be ready to try a draft horse.

"It'd be so cool," says Virginia.

Hmmm, maybe not on a summer's day like today.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Garden Grocery

Olga doesn't feel lonely for long this time of year because she has frequent visitors.
Eleven young chickens peck around all day, attacking insect pests and occasionally, young seedlings, which I try to overlook because I think generally they're doing a good job, especially on the Mexican bean beetles.  We're fattening a few rabbits, too, the worst of the pests.  A few humans show up quite often, because the garden's in full production now and if all goes well, will supply our table with fresh groceries until October or November.

Of course, she has cohabitants, from towering sunflowers to prone garlics.  The garlic has been gradually saying goodbye.

The sunflowers want to stay around a while.  Their seed pattern reminds me of running with John Zerger, a mathematician, who in turn reminded me of Fibonacci from a college mathematics class, maybe group theory.
You might notice two series of curves, one winding one way, the other winding the other way.  As I recall, the number of spirals going each way is different -- typically 34 and 55, 55 and 89, or 89 and 144 -- part of the Fibonacci sequence -- 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144.... (notice that each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers).

"Whoopee!" says Virginia, "and why is that?"

I understand it's the most efficient way of filling the space, but we'll leave the proof of that to someone else some other day.

My sister might be envious of this row of vegetables.

This year, for fun, I planted some spaghetti squash.
 "I guess you planted this next guy for the squirrels?" says Virginia. 
Yes, for the giant squirrels that live in the manor, this vies with butternut as their favorite squash.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


The biggest challenge of growing your own wheat is harvesting it.  So, knowing 30 young people would be camping in our field a few days before setting out on a "teen adventure," we invited them to help out.  To get ready, Karen and I cut off the tops of our wheat plants and stored them in giant plastic bags.
Trimmed wheat; already being converted to a sweet corn garden.

When the young people arrived, we laid out plastic and set them "a flat-footin.'"
Stomping on the right; separating the wheat on the left.

The separated wheat went into a bin, where it was washed several times.  The chaff and straw floated to the top, while the grains of wheat (wheat berries) sank to the bottom.  Then we spread the grains out to dry.
Sun drying wheat berries.

Soon we'll be able to grind it in the NutriMill and turn the flour into bread (or pizza dough).
"Wouldn't that have taken days by yourselves?" says Virginia.

Exactly.  With all this help and conversation, it was fun for all of us.

Friday, July 1, 2011

One-Third, not One-Twelfth

Someone stuck a summons on our front door a couple weeks ago, for me, to join a panel of peers at the courthouse.  Karen's been wondering why I haven't blogged about this, since I returned to Elk Cliff at 7:30 Wednesday evening.  She could tell right away my day hadn't been pleasant.

The prosecutor had finished his rebuttal about 3:30 and a couple hours later I was afraid the others, anxious to go home, one of them to work, would be throwing darts at me at midnight.  By the time I left the parking garage at seven, I was very grateful for the three jurors who had come to the same conclusion as I.  Hopelessly deadlocked, the judge called us "hung" and declared a mistrial.

Two days later, I'm confident four of us arrived at the "right" answer, although I'm sure some of the others think we wasted their and the government's time.  In fact, near the end, the foreman gave a little speech about how a hung jury would disappoint him, that it would mean our system of justice had failed.  I couldn't let that one go and added my own speech that, no, the system had worked just fine.  If the prosecution wanted to try again, and perhaps do a better job, it could do so and might learn from it, or it might decide the matter wasn't worth another twenty or more person-days of effort and learn from that.  Another fellow pointed out that one reason we require a unanimous verdict is to help prevent like-minded people from railroading a conviction or acquittal.

"Hmm," says Virginia. "I bet you voted not guilty."

Now why would she think that?  Was it something I said, the tilt of my head, a glint in my eyes?  Let me just say, one of the attorneys might regret not kicking me off the jury.  I would have bet I'd be one of the first disqualified.  If there's a next time, I'll probably disqualify myself if given the chance (as we were this time).

Words.  Recently I observed that the Federal Reserve Board writes regulations that contain more than 10 times as many words as the underlying statute.  If that's really necessary, it might seem peculiar that criminal statutes, and jury instructions, tend to be quite short, leaving lots of gray area -- especially when you consider the drastic penalties they entail.  Please don't blame other members of your jury who read the same words differently.