Friday, November 13, 2015

Earth to Paris - The Ocean

The #earthtoparis tag is trending, so is the desire for the human species to continue to exist on this planet. I recently saw a series of videos that draw a new perspective. Mother Nature doesn't need us, we need mother nature. You can see what I mean here with Harrison Ford narrating The Ocean.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Earth to Paris

The #earthtoparis tag is trending, so is the desire for the human species to continue to exist on this planet. I recently saw a series of videos that draw a new perspective. Mother Nature doesn't need us, we need mother nature. You can see what I mean here

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A literal explanation of how I got here today

I had an epiphany this week, a sudden realization about how I got myself into the Edgewood College Sustainability Leadership Masters program.

We have a lot of reading, as you can imagine. A feeling of familiarity with this week’s concepts started as I read through “Getting to Maybe:” (Westley, et al) with it’s opening message of “Assume hope, all who enter here.” It grew as I read through the very practical ideas and solutions in the “Sustainable World Sourcebook” (Sustainable World Coalition). But it was while reading through “Sustainability Design” (Van der Ryn, et al) that the epiphany erupted from subconscious and I realized why I’m in the program today.

Many of you know I grew up on a farm, but did you know that my parents and their parents were fully entrenched urban dwellers? Back in 1976, it was pretty much on a whim that my folks bought a farm “to raise you boys in the country” as my mother later explained their idea. They would never describe themselves as hippies, but they were “back to the landers” and my early childhood reading consisted of a steady diet of Mother Earth News, architecture books about Frank Lloyd Wright, design books by William Morris and Charles Rennie MacIntosh, and most importantly, the Whole Earth Catalog.
I read the Whole Earth Catalog cover to cover (and if you’ve ever seen it, that was no small feat for a 12-year old). It was that AMAZING publication where I learned about the Peace Corps (and applied at age 14 not knowing the college graduate requirement), Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti (where I first learned about natural building systems) and the concept of local economies (and immediately created a club with my cousins and brothers to create our own curency). This is also when I began collecting poems about rain, and today have a collection of more than 500 poems.

I now realize that it’s no surprise, and in fact, simply one more plot on a long-drawn trajectory, that I’m in the program - and glad to be here indeed.

Friday, September 4, 2015

What's with this (crab) apple tree?

I was at a meeting today and noticed a beautiful crab apple tree with apples on the ground under it.


Had to take a closer look, and this is what I found.

Large apples on the same branches as small crabapples.

What's going on?

This does not appear to be grafting magic, because apples and crab apples were growing on hte same branches!

Can anyone shed some light on this wonder?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Welcome to the plant zoo

There are a few corridors at work that have wonderfully large windows overlooking lush gardens with flowers, shrubs and trees. I was walking through one of them today and discovered new signs, stuck on the windows, just in front of each type of plant. AND, they have QR codes if someone wanted to learn more about what they saw. Here's what it looks like walking past the plants and signs. Neat idea and nice use of mobile technology.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chickens discover gooseberries

This weekend I harvested gooseberries and learned several things.

  1. One variety has thorns, one has less. The thorny bush is scheduled for departure this autumn. I have visions of using layering to propagate a living edible hedge around my community garden that may have holes big enough for ground squirrels and rabbits, but may deter deer!
    This variety seemed to produce slightly smaller berries, many more berries and ripened before variety #2.
  2. The other variety is not quite thornless but awfully close, had larger, fewer berries and ripened later than it's thorny cousin. I hope to again use layering to propagate a few more of these and add them to the front yard. It wasn't nearly as painful harvesting this variety.
Gooseberries ripen and then fall off the bush as easily as mulberries do. This means there were a lot on the ground. I scooped up many of them and fed them to the chickens. The girls seemed to love them!

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Good Farmer's Husband (and the inherent perils)

Guest post this evening—this is Jay, Josh's husband. Josh is off on an adventure that I'm quite sure he'll blog about soon. In his absence, I've had a couple of small projects he asked me to do, including harvesting the garlic in the front yard and hanging it in the garage to cure with the rest he harvested and we hung together, and picking the remaining pea pods. I did that earlier in the week.

I noticed the grass was getting long in the back yard (the only grass we have). Josh does most of the mowing—heck, he does most of the outside stuff. I am the "yes dear" with the outside projects. That is, Josh says, "Let's build an orchard in the front yard." "Yes, dear." "Let's build raised beds in the back yard." "Yes, dear." "Let's add two hugelkultur beds in the back yard." "Yes, dear." And I jump in and help. I help with preparing beds and planting in the spring, and harvest in the fall. Josh does most everything else.

Anyway, I thought I'd be a good husband and mow the back yard while he's gone. While I was mowing, I noticed the ever-present Creeping Charlie was encroaching on the asparagus beds. So I circumnavigated each bed, pulling it up. Between the bed and fence it was so thick, I literally rolled it all up from the dirt like carpeting.

Then I checked out the hardy kiwi Josh planted, for which we built the trellis. I saw that it was doing a great job of vining on the asparagus, shown right. I teased it apart from the asparagus (no small feat!), and trained it up on the wires of the trellis.
Hardy Kiwi and Asparagus at war

Much better
Nettles, right?
I then continued weeding around the beds. When I got to the east end of the beds, I grabbed a weed and tossed it behind me. It felt little thistle-y. Within moments my right hand started stinging. What the...! I ran into the house and washed my hands several times with dish soap. Must have been nettles.

OK, now the Farmer's Husband knows what nettles look like. Be careful with nettles. No more nettles stings. [Yeah, I probably should have warn gloves.]

I come back outside and continue my weeding. A few seconds later, "ow, OW. OWOWOW!" I got two bee stings, one on the back of my left hand, the other above my left elbow. I went in—again—and washed, and checked for stingers. I didn't find one.

I went back out again (can you see it coming?) and got stung AGAIN by a bee—this time below my left knee. There must be a beehive on the east end of the asparagus beds. All bad things happen on the east end of asparagus beds. I took a Benadryl.

I'm attempting to NOT have my lesson be to avoid doing yard work. :o) However, we will need to do something about the bees, I think.

So, I have a lightly stinging right hand, and three stinging welts. What an adventure! However, it's very gratifying to see the kiwi vines getting trained on the trellis. I can't wait for Josh to post pictures in the future when it's really established in a couple of years. Fresh kiwis here we come!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Kiwi trellis installed

Hardy kiwis are vines.

In Wisconsin?

You betcha.

Hardy kiwis are a sprawling plant that, given time and neglect, can take down a building with heavy vines and fruit. Mine are wispy things that I fear won't survive the summer, much less the winter. But with faith and a credit card to buy new ones next spring should something die, Jay, friend Dale and I built one heck of a trellis last weekend.

The kiwis are planted on the north side of my asparagus bed. They are in the raised bed because Dale told us they don't like to be in compacted soil, so I put them where they won't be trod over.

Using cedar 4x4" posts and fencing supplies from Farm and Fleet, we put together a handsome trellis that should last for years to come.

For now, the plants are merely staked, they haven't even reached the lowest wire. As they grow, I will train them along the wires.

Kiwis are male and female, one male for up to nine female plants. I have two varieties of females, and each has it's accompanying male. They all flower and smell divinely. This will be an exercise in patience however, it will be some years before we taste the delicious fruit.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

One good thing about the cool summer

Peas and lettuce are very happy. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant however are not.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Flowers in the terrace

I took a walk around the front yard to see what was in bloom. It started to sprinkle lightly, just enough to make the flowers look a little more magical than they already are. Here's a visual tour. While I'm good at identifying my veggies, if you're able to help ID any of these, THANK YOU. I'll put a number in the caption line under each, see how many you know!








Monday, July 6, 2015

How to build community - getting a few out of the way

Now nearly half way through 2015, I've been pondering my New Year's Resolution and want to take stock and see what else I can check off my list.
  • Turn off your TV
    Done. Well, sort of. I haven't owned a television for nearly a decade, and Jay and I sold his TV when we left our apartment three years ago. And while I did own a TV for awhile, I haven't regularly watched "broadcast" or cable TV in decades. The last time I recall actually sitting down to purposefully watch TV was in Milwaukee and a gang of us watched "The X-Files" on Sunday nights. We got together an hour before for a pot luck, watched the show and called it a night. It was a delightfully social evening. I'm not a Luddite. Jay and I enjoy watching Star Trek shows and movies on Netflix. These are measured doses perhaps twice a week. No ads. 40 minutes. Together time. I can't imagine my life with any more TV than that.
  • Look up when you are walking
    I made a decision about a year ago not to look at my phone, nor listen to music, while walking around. I want to see what and who is around me.  I want people to see me. And when my head is looking down or I've got music in my earbuds, I may as well be invisible. And I'm too interested in my surroundings and the people in them to disappear.

    My neighborhood, city, state and world are too wonderful not to notice and relish.

Do you have any thoughts about how limiting television or screen time helps build community?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Welcome to Little Mifflin

Today Matt Hirsch, our next door neighbor, installed the Little Free Museum on Mifflin Street. The grand opening is Saturday, July 11, 3 p.m. on the 1900 block of E. Mifflin St., between 1st and 2nd streets.

While talking with Matt, we looked down our street and saw the Little Free Gallery, a Little Free Library (charter 2805) and our own Little Orchard on Mifflin. Taking all this in and noting the "little" theme, Matt suggested we call our block "Little Mifflin Street."


Jay, Matt and I all had the same thing in mind, one of those decorative arches like you see at the entrance to every Chinatown in America that says "Welcome to Little Mifflin."

While we won't have the grand entrance in place just yet, please come to the Little Free Museum's grand opening, which will host refreshments and the "tiniest ribbon cutting you'll ever see!"

Thursday, July 2, 2015

First cherries

Our front yard orchard was installed three springs ago, so this is the third summer for our fruit trees and bushes. We harvested our first cherries on June 20! These came off the North Star pie cherry tree, which is a tart variety and very hardy in our climate zone. It is also self-fertile, so it doesn't need a nearby partner to fruit.

The other day I noticed that birds were eating the cherries, so apparently my Wren defense system isn't fully armed yet. I did have some tree netting, and successfully draped over the tree, but I can now see that if the tree gets much bigger, this will be an impossible task.

We now have a small bowl of cherries, though honestly, I don't know what we're going to do with it. Not quite enough for a pie, to turn to eat on their own. Maybe a smoothie?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rhubarb juice?

...that's right, rhubarb juice, and it's surprisingly refreshing, tasty and does NOT need a lot of sugar to be delicious.

1) pick loads of rhubarb. I tend to slice off the leaves right at the plant, and I place them around the base of the plant to mulch it. They break down pretty quickly.

2) chop into one or two-inches pieces.

3) fill a big soup pot

4) add enough water to cover the rhubarb

5) boil until all the pieces have broken down. This is a surprisingly short time.

6) stir up until you don't see any chunks left

7) ladle into a colander over your biggest bowl

8) I found I had to stir the soupy mixture around a bit to speed up the draining process

9) Put the liquid through a finer sieve if you want all the solids out

10) I added filled a quart and added 2 tbs sugar. When serving, I filled a glass half way and filled the rest with cold water. Tastes great chilled.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chimichurri sauce - what to do with extra cilantro

The best way to have a consistent supply of cilantro is to plant a few new seeds every week. Theoretically sounds great; practically nearly impossible.

Last autumn one of my cilantro plants went to seed. Didn't think much of it, harvested some of the seeds and ground them into coriander and called it winter. This spring all those seeds I didn't collect germinated (unlike the ones I try so carefully to plant and nurture in my basement) and I ended up with hundreds of cilantro plants in my herb bed.

Seeing all these plants flower and soon to seed, not only did I see the impending disaster I also saw potential deliciousness. Unlike basil, however, I wasn't sure what to do with such an abundance of cilantro. I looked up a recipe for chimichurri sauce and discovered it was wonderfully simple, I had all the ingredients and it would use a lot of the cilantro.

I went out and snipped with a scissors all of the cilantro except one, so it can go to seed, and went to work for a couple of hours picking leaves off the stems. I ended up with nearly 25 cups of packed cilantro, I felt like a king who had just discovered a cave of emerald jewels.

I then peeled nearly 50 cloves of garlic, which mostly exhausted our supply from last year, a good thing to since most of the garlic was starting to go dry and nasty. I then peeled the rest of the onions we had in the basement, also just in time because they were starting to go bad.

The recipe is as follows:
  • 1 cup packed cilantro
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • five cloves garlic
  • one small onion

I put everything in a food processor and whirred for a bit, and then pulsed. The recipe calls for the end result to be a bit chunky.

After the first batch, I discovered that there was far too much salt for our taste. Jay and I discussed this, and realizing that chimichurri sauce is usually a meat dressing, often found in Brazilian barbecue, it didn't surprise us that the recipe as called for was a bit salty.

So I added more of everything but the salt. After tripling the other ingredients, the salt got back to where I could enjoy the sauce. And is it delicious!

We made many batches, and froze them in 1/2 cup containers with snap on lids. I'm hoping it as delicious this winter as it is today.

Monday, June 22, 2015

How to build community - greet people

The proposed Mifflin Street Little Free Museum.

My 2015 New Year's Resolution is to work through the popular "How to build community" poster. This week, "Greet people."

Last week, my friend Liz stopped over to pick me up to go to a community theater production. She asked to come over early so we could walk around the gardens and visit the chicken coop together. As we were approached the front yard, Dave waved from across the street. A few minutes later, we talked with our next door neighbor Matt about his newest project, a Little Free Museum.

As we drove away, Liz remarked that her neighborhood was similarly friendly, chatty and open to conversation. She contrasted this with a story a friend of hers related not long ago. He had been visiting Liz and noticed how friendly people were, that they gardened together, had shared backyards for pets and children and even had community meals together.

His neighborhood, however, isn't as friendly. He told Liz that neighbors didn't greet one another, they didn't look up when they were walking around and to top it off, dogs had to have DNA tests done "So they could identify who's poop was being left around." My jaw dropped.

"Seriously?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"Who has the time to scoop poop and check it's DNA?"
"Apparently they have hired people who do that," she answered.

My first thought was that with a little more greeting, there would probably be a little less poop leaving. It's hard to let your dog leave a turd on the lawn of someone you've gotten to know, who you'll see tomorrow or the next day, who will wave across the street.

My second thought was that some people simply don't want what Liz and I like about our respective neighborhoods. And, that's ok. However, there is growing evidence that as society moves toward more online "social" interactions, we're missing actual human contact and some people end up feeling lonely.

A simple hello across the fence or across the street could turn into a delightful, social interaction.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

How to build community - A Little Orchard

I have the coolest neighbors on the coolest block in Madison.

Before Jay and I bought our house on Mifflin Street, I knew I wanted to install a Little Free Library in the front yard of our future home. During the first spring at our new house, Marilou, our neighbor across the street, let the block know she was planning to build one. Little Free Library (charter #2805) AWESOME!

That same summer, Rachel, our neighbor down the street installed a Little Gallery in her front yard, featuring small installations of locally created art. Rachel works with artists on monthly rotating exhibits.

This spring, our next door neighbors (and chicken co-parents) Matt and Marisa announced a kickstarter for a Little Free Museum to be installed in their front yard and feature small science and technology exhibits. There is a nice article about the project in Madison's Isthmus newspaper.

[NOTE: stop by for the June 11, 3 p.m. grand opening]

These kinds of projects remind me that community building doesn't have to take place in a community center, doesn't need a folk singer in a park or any other massive installation, intervention or investment. These slow foot traffic (and even some car traffic from what I've observed), encourage conversations and inspire inventiveness. Matt and Marisa were inspired by the gallery. And I'm inspired by them.

During our first spring at our new home we installed a front yard orchard. I've always had the vision to install a sign to explain the trees, shrubs and flowers, and point out the mostly hidden but very effective water harvesting system in place. Marilou, Rachel and Matt and Marissa have inspired me to design and install that sign.

My goal is to show people that permaculture design can be practical and beautiful, inspire people to plant perennial food crops and design yards to collect and store water in their yards.

I look forward to showing you what it looks like.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The new chicken run

Thought you'd like to see the new chicken run Jay built last weekend.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Today I found a secret garden in my neighborhood

Shortly after moving to our home on Mifflin Street, and expressing my interest in neighborhood community gardens, I began hearing about an abandoned garden just down the street from our home. I've heard it called "Marge's garden," and people have given me various instructions on how to find it.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a walk around the area I thought people were talking about, but found nothing but a few scraggly trees, certainly not worthy of being called an abandoned garden.

I again heard someone describe where this was at a community meeting a couple weeks ago, and tonight I further investigated the area and found it!

All I know so far is that a woman from the neighborhood actively gardened this area guerrilla style, and the city didn't seem to bother her or the garden. Even today, it's an overgrown mess with lots of wonderful evidence that someone had done a lot of work at one time. I'll let the following photos tell their own stories.

The approach, doesn't look like much at first

Looks like a sunken bathtub



Hundreds, or more, walking onions

Tomato cages in a raised bed
Looking at the neighborhood from the garden shows how close it is to the street.