Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the gift economy, the abundance of community

When the universe smiles on you, it really smiles. This has been our experience as of late. First, the gifts of time spent working from our friends Badger, Mike & Abby. Mike and Abby weeded out Kaleigh's playhouse which enabled me to replant it with scarlet runner beans and morning glories. Badger was a double digging machine, as well as a stump removal man. We now have two deeply dug garden beds, free of stumps, going all the way out to the grape arbor that borders our yard. (And yes, indeed, it is thick black loan three feet down.) I pulled up a pile of weeds for the compost pile & was able to get the rest planted in potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, carrots, beans, basil, and sage. We also got the wonderful gift of community often, kicking it, the general sharing of having fun and general enjoying of one's self and friends.

A more material gift, our futon frame was overslacked, and my friend Mary is giving us a couch. I am excited about that, because the futon mattress will soon be on our bed, and we may wake up without back aches soon.

My friend Bill dropped by tonight with this homemade bike trailer (next to the hydraulic log splitter we got from our neighbors), made by a guy named Joe Kozak. I don't know the welder, but he works at the pizza machine, and he seems like he'd be a good guy to know. The bike trailer is made out of a champagne rack, and it easily holds a 55-gallon drum. Kaleigh wants to take it on a test ride tomorrow. I'm glad Bill thought of us!

And tomorrow, my friend Mindy is dropping by a pond liner. What an incredibly useful thing to have! We're thinking about graywater modification, or having a pond, or wetland--so many possibilities. We are going to the farmers market in the morning, and then we're dropping by her house to talk about a thousand gardening questions. It'll be fun!

The gift economy works beautifully--someone's abundant surplus becomes another's need or want fulfilled, usually without money exchanging hands (and certainly no taxes paid on it!). This is the kind of wealth a functioning community generates. The great thing is that the more this kind of wealth is given away, the more abundance there is for all. Much nicer than the scarcity economy that we exist in now. We all knew this different world was out here, didn't we.

Potato flowers are surprisingly haunting. I have a thing for nightshades. Potato flowers produce highly variable seeds. So if you're wanting to experiment, and produce new and personal varieties, playing around with highly variable seeds (like potatoes and apples) is fun. Luther Burbank could tell you more. I like Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire. It goes into a lot of detail about four particular crops: apples, potatoes, tulips and marijuana. Great book, and full of arcane knowledge that fascinates plant geeks like myself.

And so, back to doing the dishes and hauling out graywater I go.


Monday, June 9, 2008

remembering community

So far this year, we've logged at our house almost 24 inches of rain. We also got some 20+ inches of snow since January 1. Our normal average is 37 inches. We're fortunate to be getting all this rain, to recharge our land after last year's moderate drought. Everywhere around us, it is flooding.
Our good friend Badger is here visiting, and yesterday he turned the compost piles and stomped down our woody compost. Both are smaller & working more efficiently. He and Kaleigh helped extend a garden bed a few more feet, and if it dries out, I'll plant some more tomatoes & seeds. Kaleigh said, "I want to stay out here & work with Badger!"

Don was working on our diy ghetto-style graywater system. He unhooked the pipes to flow out to the sewer & installed a bucket. We are quickly learning how much water we use & have a great incentive to conserve. Even though we are getting a lot of rain now, I am sure this summer our garden will be thankful for the extra moisture.
I have been working on making wine--23 gallons so far, I think. We have three carboys of strawberry, one of strawberry rhubarb, and some small gallon jugs of mint, lemon balm and one mixed.

I also made some laundry soap, and I will share the recipe. Melt one bar of soap in some water on the stove (alternatively, wait for a stinking hot day & it will melt on its own). Transfer to a 5-gallon bucket, and add 1 c. washing soda (like baking soda, but specifically for washing) and 1/2 c. borax (available in the detergent aisle also). Add water to fill to make 5 gallons of soap. I'm still trying to figure out how nontoxic this stuff will be for our garden. The laundry water still goes to the sewer so far. At least the soap is locally made without dyes & perfumes & other nastiness. And it's way way cheaper than 5 gallons of laundry soap, and we also don't have to lug it home on the bus. My mom told me that was how my gramma made laundry soap.

We are delighting in friends from afar this week. Not only did we have our good friend Merry here this weekend, and Badger here now, but also Mike & Abby are rumored to be on their way back, or possibly here already. We are looking forward to seeing them also. We have a lot of hanging out to do!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

spring is crazy busy

We've been spending the last couple of nights in the basement and some last week, huddled on the floor beneath a table, while funnel clouds swirl over town. Storms have been popping up suddenly and turning nasty. Our ears have been glued to the weather radio and our eyes peeled for dark clouds. We've been getting a fair amount of rain, often an inch or two a night, but not so much as a few miles north of us, where they have been getting 3-5 inches a night. Normally rain is a good thing, but in the low drainage lands of central Illinois, it can get ugly fast. Our basement is wet, but manageable.

And we've now reached the point of "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" part of summer where I scratch my head and try to remember why I am fond of central Illinois. I've been attempting to dry lambs quarters leaves, ridiculously so, in a week of near 100% humid stickiness. We've also been getting the porch ready for painting--cleaning and scraping. Hakim has been doing most of the scraping. I don't believe the fridge has stopped running today. And enough about the weather.

The yard is lush and moist. We've eaten a few strawberries from the yard. The raspberries are just loaded with fruit, more than I have ever seen. The peaches have put on fruit also, tiny and fuzzy. The potatoes are awe inspiring, and the tomatoes and peas and herbs actually started visibly growing, with all this heat and rain. It's been like early spring until this last week, and suddenly bam it's summer. My gramma's roses have finally bloomed in my yard after appearing to die when I planted them years ago. They smell like ROSES. The flowers/weeds are blooming beautifully, the dame's rocket, a mustard (yellow rocket?), spiderwort, catmint, pinks (dianthus), and everything else is growing beautifully.

I've been reading some books to Kaleigh by Robert Burch. They are really good rural stories, without schlock or violence or Drama. He has a very good way of writing about people and their thoughts and feelings. Good kid lit seems to be hard to find. Or maybe it's that we read too much, and we're running out of good stuff.

The farmers market downtown has opened up, and we have been enjoying it. We got 12 quarts of strawberries today, two flats. Kaleigh ate one at the park, sharing with new friends at a homeschool get-together (even though we are not Catholic, we were welcomed, and they are a great group of moms and kids). I am in the process of making the first carboy full of strawberry wine, and hopefully a second will follow tomorrow. I made a small batch of rhubarb wine, and we'll see how it turns out. I am cranking out the wine. I'm very motivated when I have no wine to drink, and we ran out night before last.

The neighborhood kids are cranky, which has been unpleasant for everyone. Kaleigh's been having almost daily meltdowns, not just because of them, but it sure isn't helping. The last month of school is always like that with them. Their bodies need to be outside in the fresh air running and they are trapped in small rooms with teachers who need to be outside just as much. School ended today, hooray.

Springfield's food not lawns is going well. Our number has been published in the paper along with news stories, and we've been getting a lot of phone calls. People are not only interested in the group, but have a lot of questions about gardening. It's difficult being an experimental chaos gardener, and having to answer exact questions about standard gardening. Lots of people are interested in growing at least some good food for themselves. Even my own brother is planting some tomatoes. His wife doesn't like produce because it's "dirty", but I guess food prices are getting expensive enough for him to want to at least grow his own. Or maybe it's the utter lack of taste that store produce has.

Our vermicomposting workshop went well and we've given away about 15 bunches of starter worms. We also harvested three kitty litter buckets full of rich worm castings, i.e., poop. I spread some around the garden plants right before all the rain started. I guess it's working.

My friend Kaya came into town last week from Colorado, and I spent a great day out with her. We went up to Funks Grove & got our year supply of maple sirup (they spell it that way). We had a fun time, visiting and talking, went to a greenhouse, walked around, and came back. She and her husband just bought their 20 acres in Colorado, and she has been thinking about and making plans for a self-contained mini farmlet with massive woods. They have about an acre or two of open flat land with black soil and a spring. What luck. I am excited for them, and I know they will be fortunate in their endeavors. Kaya is interested in permaculture, and she has already helped raise free range chickens.

Ah, I think the dirty rice for supper is about done, even though I nearly filled up on ice cream (today was the day for it). I need to finish making wine, do dishes, destem and stuff almost dry lambs quarters (finally) into jars....the homestead work is never done. But it sure beats being hired out for a living.