Saturday, July 26, 2014

Use what you have

On the principle of Use What You Have, I am eating steamed zucchini, dried zucchini chips, zucchini waffles, and zucchini bread. I grate zucchini into just about everything but the coffee. I slice the zeppelins into thin wedges that go over all the poultry fences, where they soon disappear. Occasionally, I have beans. Tomatoes are still a treat, though.

When I collect my empty basket and zuke knife and head out of doors, I stop by the Bonshō to give it a ring. (It's nice to live far enough from the neighbors to have this option.)

Bonshō = Buddhist bell.
In Zen there is a fair amount of bell ringing, drum thumping, stick whacking, and so on, generally at set times, and sometimes accompanying the chanting of the Heart Sutra.

That's all well and good, but if I clattered the bell much it could get old for the neighbors, and I'm awful at keeping to a schedule. My own attitude toward the bell is that when I notice it, I invite it to ring, as explained by Sister Dang Nhiem who lives at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

The bell is a piece of steel pipe about two feet long, which I've hung in a lilac by the path to the barn, and the "inviter" is a handy piece of rebar that's lodged in the same tree. I hold the pipe and give it a light tap to let it know an invitation is coming, then inhale slowly, clear my mind as best I am able, exhale, release the pipe, and bring over the rebar smartly. The tone is acceptable without my having spent a bunch of money on a religious artifact -- use what you have.

The first order of business after a bell ring in the morning is the poultry check. I let them out of their coops, check feed and water, gather morning eggs (these are duck eggs generally), make sure the gates are shut behind me, and return to the house for breakfast.

Then I head out to see what's happening in the garden. If there are zukes and beans, I gather zukes and beans. If a small apple tree needs its apples removed and placed at its base to give it another year of root-building before demanding a crop from it, I do that. I cover weeds with handfuls of straw. And always I pull some morning glories, which I know will defeat me, but, please, not yet. If it's a dehydrator day for greens, I may fill the basket with large side leaves from kale, collards and the like and bring them to the potting shed to dry up in the Excelsior. If I need to do a lot of this at once, I may bring out the solar dehydrators. They were made from scraps yet seem to be holding up very well. Use what you have.

I also check to see if the irrigation should be turned on. We're using the center pivot sprinkler again this year, which allows too much evaporation of our precious well water, but helps to not buy too much plastic. We have it, and we have the tall pipe on which it stands, so we use it. The corn patch is within reach of the sprinkler, so I look at the corn. If the leaves begin to fold, I water, either early in the morning or at dusk. About every third day in the 80s, every day in the 90s.

Dogen said: "The body and mind of the buddha way is grass, trees, tiles, and pebbles, as well as wind, rain, water, and fire."

That sounds kind of comforting, and it is, but thinking of one's natural surroundings as benign smacks of privilege. Grass can take over the garden, trees can fall on the house, tiles can slide down and hit you, pebbles can dull your shovel. Wind can knock down the barn, rain can carry away the soil, water can drown you, and fire can wipe ou the whole neighborhood. None of these events are malevolent. We are not more important than the world. We're just part of it.

It's with this perspective that one respects all these things, rings the bell, and uses what one has right now. As the sun rises over the mountain, all things become possible.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Things as they are and things to come

There is a hint of fall in the air here for a few days -- with rain, which has been hard to come by -- and some signs which I am used to ascribing to the arrival of late August, such as the bloom of the chickory, and September, such as the croaking of Canada geese flying low in vee formation toward the south.

We have been promised high eighties and nineties next week, but it's too late for me; something has triggered my nesting instincts and I've become interested in battening down the hatches! I'm not the only one; at the worker-owned Bi-Mart which I frequent (in lieu of bigger boxes), the aisles where one finds weatherstripping and caulk are being mobbed.

My big project this year was the barn; that's slowing down now.

I've checked its interior rooms, of which there are now four, and it looks like my roofing efforts, for once, have been effective. I found the polycarbonate relatively easy to work with, and I hope I can still say that after the coming winter.

There has been a spate of effort in the garden at last; drawn there by the advent of hundreds of zucchinis, I discovered the effect of neglect on the weed population and have begun trying to keep up. paper and straw are the tools of choice. 

As the pea vines died back, I cleared away both them and their trellis and prepped that part of the "bean" bed for some new plants, which are coming up in the newly remodeled potting room. This has opened up the view from the kitchen window considerably.

We are still adding a lot of material to the compost heaps. As we do so, we turn around to check the grapes, which are having a banner year and coming along well. From time to time we are narrowly missed by falling apples, which we give to the compost -- they're not quite ready to use for much, though they aren't too bad steamed with hot cereal and such.

Speaking of compost! We have gone back and forth about a composting toilet for years. The established rules: not expensive, not in the house, not in the dark (light switch and magazine rack), easily reached at night, no fighting through gates.

This one was given to us. I have built a throne room for it between the tool wall in the potting shed and the poultry room (reducing their space, but acceptably). The floor is framed, with ground cloth, sill plates and joists. The recycled storm door is white and the barn and potting shed doors are red, so you can see where to go at night (important as the days shorten), and the poultry fence is out of the way on the left. Potty is vented through the rear wall and the fan has power.

We managed to mangle the seat cover (it was getting brittle) and the step (ditto), hence the homemade lid and cinder block step. These should be fine.

Potatoes and squash are looking good. Cucumbers failed. Tree fruits good. Blackberries almost nonexistent. Seeing very few pollinators. Tomatoes very sparse. Plenty of wind, but still no ears on the eight-foot cornstalks (Stowell's Evergreen). Never a dull moment.

The foot valve died on the well, an d the pump men were here today. One of them eyed our woodpile, and asked who our "wood guy" is. (I put up about two thirds of it myself, from ice-storm wood). So I am not the only one thinking ahead to long dark nights!

The fall plan will be to keep walking around with the caulking tubes. And make a lot of grape juice and apple butter. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wide awake

"If you want to attain just this, immediately practice just this." -- Dogen.

After a week in the 90s, it's become difficult for me to realize I can once again work outside all day. But it's nice enough out. I could go. But my habit now is to hide indoors at midday. Often I take a nap.

When you're over 65, you watch the thermometer more, and also the cloud cover. If it's over 86F (30C) out, and clear, with a hot wind, rural folks my age know they may do poorly at work with what's left of their "large muscle groups" in the direct sunshine. It's why we were, in former times, so often found sitting together in the shade shelling beans and offering pearls of wisdom to hard-working youngsters as they passed by.

The garden got huffy about all the time I spent on the barn, and in a fit of jealousy sprouted weeds all over. I'm putting in shifts now with paper and flakes of straw, playing catch up.

I can hear the zucchinis growing. I run with armloads of them to the steamer, the dehydrator, the grater, the bread bowl, and the oven. Blimps that got past me are sliced and heaved over the fences to the various flocks.

I yank out pea vines and drag importunate pumpkin vines away from tomato cages. I water corn and worry over the few, few blossoms on this year's tomato plants. it's good that we did not use up all of last year's sauce.

Whenever I pass the bonshō -- the "temple bell -- actually a length of steel pipe hanging from a lilac -- I may tap it with my fingers, politely, and give it a small bow. It now has a little white patch painted on it, with, in black:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Mid-year report from Stony Run Farm

The open three-sided shed that was here when we got here had been built with massive beams, 8X10s and the like.. The whole things is mounted on large stones that had been clawed out of the creek bed, and is settling over the years as the posts dry-rot on top of the stones. Our site is a north facing wetland, and wooden buildings here are even more ephemeral than usual. In 1994 I laid on a skin made up of salvage -- fence boards and old windows -- and we got by for two decades. We surely don't have another two decades in us, but we do feel we need a "barn" for awhile longer.

Enough leaks had sprung, and walls sagged, that it was time this year to tear down and start over, but the roof beams are just too heavy to move safely. So it was decided we would pull out what dry rot we could, shim the rest, and just put a new skin on. Also we wanted to tuck in a small "throne room" for the composting toilet we'd been given.

The first order of business was to fork bedding out of the indoor construction area, move some nesting boxes,  lay a ground cloth, then install a sill plate, floor joists, floor, walls, and door for the throne room. We need a new storm door for the front entrance to the house, so I unzipped the old one from the door frame and zipped it to the new doorway in the barn, using the same screws. 

This is a very low barn, so the throne room has rather a low ceiling for us tall people, but it will do. I built a wall right behind the toilet and will make a storeroom in the space created.

I then moved windows from the west exterior wall to the east wall and vice versa, so as to be able to add more glass to the west wall, which is part of a combination potting shed and "greenhouse." Then put new plywood and furring strips all around the exterior. The trim is the best of the old rotten fence boards, de-nailed and re-purposed.

I like a white barn, which is cooler for the animals, and Beloved likes to have a red barn to look at, so we have compromised. The east, north and west walls will be painted red with white trim, and the south wall will be white with red trim. Today it will be in the nineties, so I am blogging instead of painting.

On the roof, I will try white polycarbonate for a change, as roll roofing has proved unsatisfactory with the low pitch.

A disadvantage of being engrossed in reconstruction is the weeds get ahead of me. You can see a bad patch in the corn bed. To the left is the tomato bed, to the right is potatoes. In the background, sunchokes and apple trees. It doesn't look so bad in the photo, but these areas are filling up with grass and there are also (drum roll of eventual doom) morning glories. I'm too old to keep up with the morning glories. They will win.

Here are tomatoes on the right, squash on the left, and blueberries on the left. Grass perking up in the foreground. The big ragged thing in the tomatoes is a last year's Fordhook Giant chard going to seed. I want these seeds as it survived a -9F deep freeze in December. Seed savers have ragged gardens even if they do keep up with the weeds.

In the other direction we have the peas/beans and greens/roots bed, with grapes on the left. This area got fresh mulch recently, but the grass is gaining on the greens. Some things have bolted, but there is a lot of food in that bed, so, I'm not unhappy.

Green and runner beans are at last beginning to catch up with the peas and broadbeans. These do a decent job of suppressing their own weeds.

Mr. Sun presides over the entrance walkway, facing north, with Egyptian onions, elephant garlic, goumis, chard, and a fuchsia. He gets about half an hour of sun at the solstice; by August he's back to full time shade.

Update, 7/3:

Still not terrific, but better than it was. Should last us.