Monday, February 25, 2008

Updates from the homestead

I've gotten a lot done around here in the past few days. Most of the spring garden is in. This weekend I planted onion sets, cabbage, and cauliflower. I tried growing onions last year from seed, but had a total crop failure. It didn't matter when I planted them -they either didn't come up or died. So this year I decided to step back and start with onion sets. If I can master them, I'll move on to seed. I would like to plant perennial onions, but can't currently afford the upfront outlay. I also planted a small, softball size variety of cabbage and some self-blanching cauliflower. These were seedlings, as I haven't ever grown them before and in the quantities I'm planting a set of seedlings was about as cheap as good quality seeds and potting soil. I planted the smallest cabbage variety I could find, because while I love cabbage, I am only one person and can only eat so much!

The rest of the garden is growing well. The lettuce, carrots, garlic, spinach, beets, collards, and turnips are growing again and wonderfully. The winter wheat is also beginning to emerge from dormancy, and some of it is nearly 6 inches high! The experimental patch I planted last fall may work out, after all. I am concerned though, because it is early for this part of the South. But with the wacky weather we've had- who knows. In another month I'll plant some more beets so that I can harvest them before the hot weather sits in. A lot of people say they don't like beets, but most of them have never had anything but store bought canned beets. If you've never had real pickled beets, you don't know what you're missing!

The future garden schedule goes like this: Around the first of April, the fruit trees will begin to bloom. Between April 15 (our frost date) and May 1 I'll set out the tomato seedlings and sweet potato sets, and plant the squash, beans, etc. The end of April through the middle of May will be strawberry season. Now, I only have the one strawberry plant, courtesy of a friend, so I'll be buying strawberries. Strawberry season is pretty much my favorite time of the year (for a lot of reasons other than strawberries).

I have been doing more around here than just playing in the garden of course. I bought a food dehydrator with a gift card to It is delightful, and I can all ready tell it is going to be a godsend this harvest season. Drying is so much easier than canning -and the food lasts just as long, and takes up less space. It's really good for herbs and soup mixes, as well as fruit. I've all ready tried out the dehydrator. I used it on some banannas I bought on sale (breaking my no bananna vow because they were cheap and I couldn't afford to sink a lot of money into an experiment) and some left over citrus fruit I was given. It has been several weeks now, and the dried fruit is still good.

The nice thing about winter is that, while things are slow around the outside, I can catch up on things inside the house. I don't just mean maintenance type things, but those too. I've had the chance to do a lot more reading the past couple of months. Novels, magazines like Countryside and National Geographic, and several books. Among them I'd recommend The Forest Gardener, Putting Food By, A People's History of the United States, and anything by BarbaraEhrenrich and Michael Pollan. I've also had time to to necessary but monontous and time-consuming tasks like scrubbing out and re-seasoning some old, nasty cast-iron cookware.

My little spread isn't much (not even a quarter-acre) and while I hope to have more land someday, right now it's home -and I'm glad to have it!

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Why didn't I take the blue pill?

Why didn’t I take the blue pill?

I don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself that question –or some variation thereof –over the past few years. I expect I will ask it even more often in the years to come as the full implications of our situation begin to show and reality hits hard and heavy. For those who aren’t familiar with the reference, it comes from a scene in the Matrix wherein Morpheus offers Neo a choice between two pills, and he has to take one. If he takes the blue pill, the adventure is over and he wakes up none the worse for it. If, however, he chooses the red pill, then things will really get interesting. (Obviously, he chooses the red.)

This situation is repeated thousands, if not millions, of times throughout mythology, literature, and history. The details and the participants vary infinitely, but the base of the situation remains the same: that is, someone must make a choice between changing, opening their eyes, or leaving on an adventure, and keeping things the way they are. The one offering the choice might be another person, circumstance, or (especially in myths) something of the Divine. In these stories the protagonist always chooses to go, to take the assignment, to swallow the red pill. Frodo accepts the ring from his uncle; Luke Skywalker goes off with Ben Kenobi; the young high school kid joins the army. Otherwise, things wouldn’t be interesting and you wouldn’t have a story.

These situations happen in real life as well. In fact, they are so common that every person has several of them in their life. We usually refer to these as turning points, or forks in the road. The fate of the world usually doesn’t hang in the balance, but the course of our lives certainly does. Many of these choices radically alter the path we will take. Do you go out with Betty or don’t you? Do you take that archaeology class? What about that summer internship in South America? Joining little league baseball? As common as these things are, a person’s entire life revolves on the outcome. Some have more import than others: what job to take, where to live, who to marry.

One of the defining moments of my life was definitely the decision to look in-depth at our environmental problems, at climate change, and at Peak Oil. I definitely took the red pill on that one. And sometimes, I want to kick myself in the pants for it. Not because I’m sorry I did it, or because I want to take it back. But because it is so damn difficult to know.

I’m sure you’ve felt it. The roiling sensation in your gut when you read that the plastic garbage pit in the Pacific Ocean is now the size of the entire continental U.S. The faint nausea when the full implications of the latest climate change projections kick in. The awful sense of foreboding that comes upon reading that sea levels are now rising at an inch a year. The panic, the denial, the confusion, the horror, that comes from realizing the full weight of what we’ve done to the planet and ourselves –and the fear of the consequences. Your emotions might be slightly different, but I bet you’ve felt something like these.

It is so very, very difficult to know these kind of things. Especially when everyone around you is either clueless or in denial. I look at these people I see everywhere and I shake my head. How different my life would be if I had never looked into these things! I could be just like them –oblivious, happy, blissfully in denial, just going about everyday life without feeling like my head is about to explode. Sometimes I feel like a time traveler from the future and I’m stuck in a city that’s about to be destroyed. I’m torn between trying to warn people –and running for the hills to save my own a**.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m glad I know. I wouldn’t put the genie back in the bottle even if I could. I’m one of those people who would rather know the worst and face things head on than be surprised or deny the truth. But it is a very, very hard burden to bear. Everywhere I turn I am pressure to conform, to get back into line, to deny the truth of what I know to be fact. These pressures come from many sources: society itself, the government, the media, my family and friends, even the longing of my own inner heart. I am as susceptible as anyone else to desires for the things possible in our society –fancy clothes, trips to Europe, nice furnishings, tropical fruit, and on and on. I am sure that everyone who reads this has felt these same pressures.

What is the best way to deal with these pressures? Here’s a list that I think will come in handy.

1.) Turn off the TV, the radio, and other forms of mass media. Limit how much you allow yourself per day or week. These are the biggest sources of misinformation, pressure to conform, and pressure to consume that you will encounter. That’s what advertisements and product placements (not to mention the evening news) are designed to do. Besides, you can’t envy the 10,000 square foot McMansions on the sitcoms if you don’t see them and everyone around you has ordinary houses.

2.) Stay away from the malls, and when you go to the store take a list, stick to it, and get out as fast as you can –avoiding everything you possibly can. The longer you’re in there and the more of the store you see, the more likely you are to get suckered into extra stuff.

3.) Don’t argue with your family and friends. Sure, you want them to agree with you, but arguing may cause a whole lot more harm than good. You might alienate them, and that’s the last thing you want to do. Instead, change your own life slowly, and when they ask, explain to them what you are doing and why. Go slowly. Be gentle. Leave copies of articles on the kitchen table for your wife to read. Coming to terms with the problems in the world is like coming to terms with your own death or that of a loved one –in fact, the process is the same. Look up Elizabeth Kubler Ross for more info. It is a grieving process in a lot of ways –only the death is that of a culture, a worldview, a civilization, even the future you thought you and your family had. That’s why it’s so hard to deal with. For those with children it is even worse, particularly if the children are young. We are hard wired to protect our kids and there is no way to protect them entirely from this. This is why so many parents (in my experience, particularly mothers) are so much more susceptible to remaining in denial.

4.) Take care of yourself. Eat right. Exercise. You’ll be surprised how much this helps.

5.) This is most important –Change your life. For your own health and sanity, do this. You can’t go on as you were after discovering these things. You have to start making changes. The reasoning behind this has to do with a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. Humans have an intrinsic need for all our cognitions –our thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and actions –to match, or be in harmony. When this isn’t the case, we experience stress and a desire to reduce the disparity. This is known as cognitive dissonance. It can be extremely discomforting and stressful. In fact, it is impossible for someone to remain in this state for long. If you believe that flying is really bad for the environment but are flying every week, that will give rise to cognitive dissonance, and you will do one of three things: change your beliefs –from flying is awful to flying isn’t so bad; change your habits, and stop flying so much; or rationalize your behavior, such as ‘I have to fly for my job, and if I don’t do this someone else will.” The human mind can’t handle that kind of stress for long, so one of these three avenues will eventually be taken, and/or the stress will build to harmful levels. So how do you reduce it? As I said before, change your life. Even small changes will help –stop buying paper towels, plant a tomato bush, carpool, buy a smaller car. Your mind is screaming at you that it needs to be done anyway –so do it all ready.

On the whole, my life would be much easier right now if I’d taken the blue pill. I could be working as an engineer making nearly 60k a year and vacationing on a beach somewhere. I could have a lot less stress in my life. But, I’m glad I didn’t it. There’s no turning back once you’ve come this far. So, where’s the door out of the Matrix?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An Inch a Year

Sea level may be rising by as much as an inch a year, according to this article:

Some relevant quotes:
“But a 2006 study by Australian oceanographers found the rise was much higher, almost one inch every year, in parts of the western Pacific and Indian oceans.” “the invading waves last year forced some villagers to move their houses inland 20 or more yards -- taking along their pigs, chickens and fears of worse to come. It did, on November 25, when the highest waters yet sent them scurrying.”

I'll write a more substantial post later this week; I am swamped with school stuff right now. How long until December?

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Spring is coming!

Spring is coming. It’s not quite here yet, but it’s close. We’ve had those first deceptively mild days where you can go without a sweater for a short while. We’ve now had that first mild night where you wake up and the house is nice and warm, and the furnace has been off all night. I can feel the change in the air, feel the land start to stir. Soon, soon. My body senses it as surely as do the birds who live in my backyard. I got up this morning to find the crocus blooming, and the daffodil stalks poking up from the soil. We will still have a few more cold spells, but here the worst is over. It’s time to plant peas and order seeds.
I’ve come along way since last spring. In many different areas. I am closer to finishing graduate school, my gardening skills have increased many fold, I have reduced my emissions significantly, and the list goes on. My goals for this year include learning more about food preservation, and growing a better garden. I recently picked up a good dehydrator on the cheap and I intend to learn how to dehydrate.
What are the goals of others for this year? Now is an excellent time to begin planning a garden. There’s plenty of time left before planting, even here in the South. I do have one recommendation for you: if you’ve never grown a garden before, start small. I’d say the number one mistake of beginning gardeners is biting off more than they can chew. I know I made it! Even a plant or two is enough to get started. I’d like to challenge everyone who reads this to grow something this year, even if it is just a lonely petunia.
I found some pictures recently from when I was putting the first of my garden in. I’m planning to post them soon, so watch for those.

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