Sunday, April 30, 2006

Assorted Spring Photos

Dirtbikes and Dandelions
The sun was doing interesting things
with the dandelion seedheads
and the dust kicked up
by the neighbors' dirtbikes

Amelia's Wheels
The warm spring weather afforded us
a trip to Slate Run Historical Farm,
where Amelia found some of her
favorite objects -- wheels!

Shiny Happy Rooster
A shiny, happy rooster
who lives at Slate Run.

Amelia in the Driver's Seat
She's perched on top of some kind of
farm implement. A hay rake maybe?
I just don't know.

Relaxation I
What's better than lying in the grass
on a warm spring day?

Relaxation II
Maybe it's sipping a drink
on the porch swing...

(Yes, we did get it fixed,
with a little help from a handyman.
He put some reinforcments in
so we could orient the swing
the way we wanted.
Thanks Handyman Solutions!)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Hey look! Titles!

I found the checkbox that puts titles on my posts. In the words of Homer Simpson, "I am smart! S-M-R-T!"

In other news....


After three weeks of studying a cryptic shop manual, taking things apart and putting them back together, tracing the paths of various tubes and wires, and consulting with a friend on the far side of the world, I finally got the tractor running!

What bit of mechanical wizardry was it that got the engine to start, and the wheels to turn? Filling up the fuel tank.

You're laughing.

It's really not as bad as it sounds.

Okay, you can stop now.

No really.

When the tractor would turn over but not start, I started at the spark plugs and worked my way backwards. Well, that's not entirely true. I tried to start at the spark plugs, but I didn't have the right kind of socket wrench, so I started at the carburator and worked my way backwards. The carb was dry. The fuel line was dry. The fuel wasn't flowing through the line, or even the filter. I finally opened up the tank and it was empty.

Why it was empty is a mystery. I had put quite a bit of gas in the tank late last fall, along with some fuel stabilizer. So I mistakenly assumed it would still be there this spring. I've come up with some possible explanations:

* Gasoline evaporates much faster than I ever knew.

* I didn't put nearly as much gas in the tank as I thought last fall.

* There's a leak somewhere.

* The kids have been sneaking out for rides when I wasn't looking.

* Somebody decided that siphoning fuel from an old tractor was more appealing than going to the gas station

* My wife has been providing hay rides to the neighborhood and forgot to tell me.

I'm sure there are some other possibilities.

So my next few tractor-related tasks are: Find out if there's a leak in the fuel tank; get a new alternator so the battery will stop going dead; and get a mowing deck for the tractor so I can cut down some of the weeds and grass all over our property. We have lovely pastures, but without any grazing animals, they get overgrown pretty quickly. Even the clover is about two feet tall at this point. That's despite a very dry spring so far.

At least now I can do something about the encroaching wild greenery. Some of it anyway. I think I may go for a "meadow" look for some areas. And if I have any more tractor problems, at least I know my way around the fuel system now.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Green, Blue, Brown: Interactive

Did you ever read a book that changed the direction of your life? Or that changed the way you see the world? Did you ever run across some piece of writing that made a lightbulb go on in your head? That set some wheels in motion that led you someplace wholly unexpected?

There's a writer named Gene Logsdon who's had a huge influence on me over the past couple of years. He writes about small-scale farming. He actually lives in my neck of the woods, near Upper Sandusky, Ohio. This is a nice bonus, because I can apply some of his ideas directly, without having to make adjustments for climate.

I think I've said this before, but if you had told me a few years ago that I would be living out in the country with almost nine acres and an old farm tractor to my name, I'd have said you were crazy. It wouldn't have seemed possible. Then I read "The Contrary Farmer" and "All Flesh is Grass."

Now, here I am. My wife and I are going to meet a goat farmer tomorrow, so we can take notes about the specifics of raising goats. This isn't just a casual visit. We know that we're interested in a herd of nubian does and a boer buck in the not-too-distant future. (Why? I'll save that for another time...) We have six acres of pasture already fenced. We don't have any shelter yet, but that's not far off.

Now, if that's not an influential writer, I don't know what is. The scary thing is, Gene Logsdon doesn't write about goats. With the exception of one chapter in one of his books, he barely touches on them. I'm pretty sure he's never raised goats.

Now I'll admit that before ever reading a single word he'd written, Lori and I had already casually visited working horse and alpaca farms, and I had tried my hand at organic gardening and lawn care (yes, organic lawn care. Another time...), and we'd gotten our back yard certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Habitat. So I wasn't coming into this from left field. But there's quite a big gap between there and here.

I actually got hooked on Logsdon by reading his book about ponds. Now, he spent a fair amount of time talking about fishing, and eating fish, which are two things I have pretty much zero interest in. But I liked his writing style so much, I picked up another book. Then another. And another. He writes about grazing animals, organic (or nearly organic) farming and gardening, open pollenated corn, local ecosystems, the Amish, birdwatching, wildlife, small towns, baseball... He writes about some of the inherent flaws of modern farming, and modern life. He challenges conventions, from the advice of his county extension agents to the national organic standards. He led me, directly and indirectly, to a host of other fascinating books and subjects. He is funny, insightful, and a joy to read. I wasn't overly interested in a lot of his subject matter until I read his books. Now I've read just about all of them, and I'm on a second pass.

But I digress. (You expected otherwise?)

I want to hear about any writers that had a similar effect on you. You can write something long, or just mention a name or a book title. You can leave a comment, or write something in your own blog and just leave me a link.

I'm just intrigued by the idea that words on a page, written by somebody removed in time and place, can have a significant impact on the course of the lives of complete strangers. Plus, I'm always looking for fresh reading material.

Playing Hooky

After working three weekends in a row
and a 3am to 5pm shift yesterday,
I decided it was high time
to blow off my job for a bit
and have some fun.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Frog update

The amphibian symphony has settled down a bit, but I have started hearing a new frog call: The green frog. They go "k-tung, k-tung". Often described as the sound of a loose banjo string.

Here's a picture (not taken by me):

What a train wreck of a weekend!

I put my rain barrel on top of some cinder blocks to give it a little elevation, so I'd have a tiny bit of water pressure. Unfortunately, the weight of 55 gallons of water caused the cinder blocks to sink into the mud, which caused the rain barrel to fall over onto my newly planted, six-inch high clumping bamboo. "A pint's a pound the world around," so 55 gallons is... hang on... about 440 lbs. Poor little bamboo.

I got the truck running briefly, but I had to turn it off and it wouldn't start again after that. I think the batteries just need a charge (again) but it's still annoying. I bought a little solar charger that is supposed to deliver a trickle charge to the batteries all day through the cigarette lighter. I don't know if it will be able to keep up with whatever is draining the batteries though. At least it'll help a little, I hope.

I worked on the tractor for a while, with some help from a friend on the opposite side of the planet. I did narrow down the problem, but until the tractor is running, it's hard to feel like I accomplished anything.

Our worms have been trying to mount a daring escape from their bin. Well, at least some of them. We had moved the bin into the kitchen because the garage was getting too cold over the winter. They were out of the way, and it was convenient for adding scraps (though it still didn't keep me from waiting until the "fermented satan" stage from time to time). But when they started climbing out, crawling off the counter, dropping onto the floor, and drying up, something had to change. E5 went on some "rescue missions" to put the worm jerky back in the bin. Actually, that's probably not a bad place for them to go. I don't know if they are overpopulating, if they aren't happy with their environment, if we're not feeding them enough, or if it's just in their nature to explore. Regardless, they're back in the garage for now.

I bought a porch swing. It was a frivolous purchase, but ever since we moved into this house I've wanted one. At our first house, I used to love sitting on the one we had there. I'd had my eye on one, and Sunday I finally brought it home. I put it together, and then got out the stud finder to find where I could hang it. There weren't any beams going perpendicular to the railing, just one running the length of the porch. I didn't want to put the swing facing the railing, but I didn't see a lot of options at that point. So I drilled some holes, put the hooks in and hung it up. It worked ok, but there wasn't a lot of leg room before you ran into the railing. Lori and both kids came over to try it out with me. With all of us sitting on it, we swung about one full arc before the vinyl ceiling material, the beam, the porch swing and all of us hit the deck. Yes, it all came crashing down. So now I have a diagonal porch ceiling that makes it pretty hard to open the front door. And a porch swing that isn't very fun or relaxing.

At least now I can see what's up in there. Maybe we can put in a support beam to mount the swing the other way.

But I did get some more fun plants in the ground: A black currant, a red currant, and a gooseberry. I've never had any of their berries, as far as I can recall. But my new favorite place (a garden center / farmer's market / seed exchange that's not too far away) had them, and I'm a curious guy. I'd considered getting them from my fruit catalog, because they make everything sound good, but these were cheap, they didn't have to be shipped, and they're grown locally. So we'll see how that turns out. I got a few little herbs and stuff too: Lemon balm, sage, one spindly lavendar plant, and some creeping thyme. (See what happens when I read a new book? In this case, it was "The New Healing Herbs" by Michael Castleman. I've never been into the whole herbal medicine thing, but this was really interesting because for each plant, they give some history, what people used to think they did, and what scientific research has shown. They're not all herbs, in the sense we think of them. Just a variety of plants that have been shown to have medicinal benefit.)

At any rate, I should not be allowed in that garden center unattended. I could have gone home with twice as much stuff. My mental checklist of plants, and especially trees, that I have homes for on our property is still pretty long. I still need a couple sycamores, at least one thornless honeylocust, black tupelo, maybe a Kentucky coffeetree, maybe some hybrid poplars, any nut tress I happen to run across... Sorry, I think I was an arborist in a previous life.

That trip was actually a bit of a disaster too. Amelia was with me, and she suddenly decided she needed to take a nap RIGHT NOW. Since that wasn't possible, she started crying piteously, and continuously. I rushed through the checkout and headed home. Maybe it was for the best though. Our bank account does not magically replenish itself.

I think the main problem was just that almost everything I set out to do ended in frustration. And with my job keeping me busy through much of the weekend (including a 4:30am - 11:30am stint on Sunday) I'm beat.

It's not often I say this, but boy am I glad the weekend is over.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Inside the Mind of a Three-Year-Old

What must it be like to be with very few pre-conceived notions? How does it feel to experience so many things for the first time?

I'm really enjoying that aspect of parenthood - seeing the world through the eyes of my kids. They just see things so differently. They notice things that we walk right by. They come up with ideas from an entirely different place.

My son has started making up names for his toys. It started a while back, when we got this squishy, spiny, stretchy thing that looks like the love child of a koosh and a shower cap. Well, when you put it on your hand, it becomes a monster. At least to my little boy. So after we played with it for a while, I gave it a voice, and a name. It was just some made up word. But Edson told me that wasn't it's name. So I tried again. Nope. I went through quite a few names, but none of them were to his liking.

So finally, I asked him what the monster's name was.

"Gargwoj," he replied. So, Gargwoj it was. And is.

A couple weeks later, he was playing with some weird little doll with orange hair.

"What's that?" I asked.

"It's a girl."

"Oh, ok. What's her name?"

Without missing a beat, he said, "Carlit."


"Yeah, Carlit."

A few days later, he came to me, saying "Daddy, daddy, come look. He's Humby."

"He's hungry?"

"Humby! This is 'Humby.'"

"The caterpillar toy is named Humby?"


I have to say, the names suit the toys pretty well.

A couple days ago, Lori got him a toy parking garage. Not knowing what it was called, he dubbed it a "car director."

The other funny thing he does, when he forgets which parent he's talking to, is alter his sentence on the fly.

"Look at this mm-my daddy."

"Come over here daa-t mommy."

He's a funny kid....

Friday, April 21, 2006


After six months of dial-up Internet service over some pretty shaky country phone lines, we are finally getting a high-speed connection.

We didn't realize when we moved out here that we were moving back in time. We went from high-speed Internet plus unlimited local and long distance phone calls and multiple computers online at the same time, to single use, 28k dial-up and expensive, bad phone service.

I was an early adopter when cable modems came out. I had been on Roadrunner for, let's see... about eight years. When we moved into our new place, we discovered that there was no cable, no DSL, and the only satellite provider was Direcway. They wanted $300 up front, plus $100 a month for pretty mediocre speed, and from everything I've heard, horrible customer service. The one person I knew who had it told me that if you try to use VPN over Direcway, it slows it down almost to dial up speed. (VPN is a way to securely connect to somewhere, like I need to do for my job pretty much all the time.)

Then along comes Wild Blue. They are a satellite Internet provider, but their prices are half of Direcway's, their speeds are faster, their service is great, and they can handle VPN. I was on a waiting list to get signed up with them, because, not surprisingly, they had filled up the capacity of their satellites for my region. Yesterday they called and said there were 48 slots open, and my name came up on the waiting list. Did I want it?


So Monday morning we will rejoin the world of the (semi-) high speed Internet. I won't have to hesitate before clicking on photos, downloading software updates, visiting high-end web sites... and I can actually be more productive when I'm working from home (which is four days a week).
And Lori will be happy because she won't have to wait until I'm eating lunch or done working to get online. And we can drop our overpriced, staticky second phone line.

I know this is very close to meaningless to y'all, but I'm excited. I'll come up with something more interesting tomorrow...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bye-bye Wendy & Ron!

You know, my love for gardening is obvious. My interest in sustainable agriculture grows with every book or article I read about it. I love the idea of home-grown fruits and vegetables, farmers' markets, organic and natural farming techniques...

I talk a good talk, but the truth is, I have an Achilles' Heel: Fast food. It tastes good, it's quick, and I don't naturally have a lot of food guilt. I eat stuff that tastes good, I enjoy it, and I don't regret it. Well, at least not mentally.

But fast food also tends to make me feel like crap later on. And actually, as often as not, it doesn't even taste as good as I think it should. It's about as unhealthy as any food can be. It's based on some pretty scary farming and processing practices. It costs money that could easily be spent on something useful. It's a waste of gas. It makes a mess of my car. Based on the trash I clean up out of our roadside ditches, it's got to be the #1 or #2 source of litter. (Aluminum cans are the competitor. I'm troubled by how many beer cans I find. Are there that many people drinking beer in the car?)

I had to drive to Cincinnati today. I had fast food on the way down, and again on the way back. I don't feel very good tonight. While I was taking the garbage cans out to the street, one of them spilled. As I was picking up the stuff that fell out, I was appalled at how much of it was fast food bags, wrappers and cups.

So I've had enough. I am publicly stating here and now, that I will not eat any fast food for the next month. None. Cold turkey. After a month, I'll see how I feel.

Wish me luck. Keep me honest.

I shall now go read Fast Food Nation....

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I don't have a lot of words to pour into the keyboard for once, so instead...

Pictures from a lunchtime stroll around the property:

Dandelions - What's not to like?

A tree swallow with nesting material,
sitting on our brand new birdhouse.
The male and female both dive bombed
me while I was taking pictures.
Their cute little twittering as they
buzzed me didn't come across as
very intimidating though.

A baby killdeer.
Mother and Father were squawking and flailing around
with faux injuries to lure me away from the chicks.
I think I counted five. They're the cutest little things.

A red-winged blackbird among last year's cattails
(Looks better if you click for a larger image)

Sorry, no frogs. They hear me coming and
sound the alarm about 30 feet ahead of me.
All I ever see is the splashes.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sometimes You Need to Get a Little Mud Between Your Toes.

The forecast didn't look good - low 60's and thunderstorms.

But even weathermen make mistakes. Even the ones with super- mondo-triple Doppler and supercomputer climate simulators.

The sun was shining, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The thermometer was in the high 70's. The windows were thrown open. The air filled your lungs automatically, and washed away the last memories of winter.

Yesterday was one of those beautiful spring days where you just throw out the rulebook.

You know what? Sure, you can go outside in the muddy back yard. You don't need your shoes and socks. In fact, you can just wear your PJ's out there. I'll go turn on the garden hose so you can really make a mess.

My son loves to play with the hose, and my daughter loves to get sprayed by the hose. She doesn't even care that it's cold well water. Any water will do. She can spot a puddle the size of your hand a quarter mile away, and she will splash every drop out of it if you let her. We have to keep her under the closest supervision if she's outside of the fence. Otherwise she would walk directly into the pond without hesitation.

While the kids were in the back yard making a mess, I was getting a few things done arond the house.

At some point my son yells for me.

"Daddy! C'mere Dad!"

"What's up? You need some help with something?"

"You come out here and get dirty."

Who could resist? So I emptied my pockets of anything significant, kicked off my shoes and socks, and stepped into the quagmire.

I'd encoraging anybody reading this to find an opportunity to go out and get dirty. Make a mess. There's not much in this world that makes you feel alive like warm squishy mud between your toes. I don't think you'll regret it.

Yet another rambling garden post.

I finally got some seeds planted this weekend. I'm a little late with the carrots and peas, but we'll see how they do. I also got some bush beans, lettuce, mesclun, sweet onions, and Swiss chard in. (If you like salad greens and you've never grown Swiss chard, give it a try. It's super easy to grow, doesn't mind the heat of summer, it tastes great, and the stalks grow in a rainbow of colors.) The farthest bed has nothing but Tri-Star strawberries. There's a two-compartment compost bin at the end.

I also got my sad little tomato and pepper seedlings moved into bigger pots. They are struggling big time. In fact, I bought some transplants at the garden center the other day, because I have very little confidence that my little seedlings are going to make it at this point. On the advice of an article I read, I tried starting my seeds in pure perlite instead of a soil mix. Don't try this at home. I think that writer was drunk or something. Maybe I did something wrong, but a lot of my seeds didn't sprout at all, many died, and the ones that didn't are small and sad looking. They are in potting soil now. We'll see if they recover.

I bought a little Brussels sprout transplant too, just for fun. I've never grown them before. In fact, it never occured to me to grow them before. A total impulse buy.

After reading about various gardening methods, from French intensive gardening to the keyhole beds of the permaculture world to wide-row gardening, I decided to go back to square foot gardening. It just seems like the most straightforward to me. I had some success with it before, on a very small scale (4ft x 4ft). Now I've got two 4x8 beds. It's amazing how much that adds up to in the square foot gardening world. That's 64 different slots to fill, and each one can be pretty productive. And no thinning, so that'll save some effort later.

Weeding is going to be bad though. This property was just fallow field for at least a couple years, so it's got lots of weed seeds floating around. And the straw I spread to try to get some grass established probably brought more with it.

I've discovered that gardening and landscaping out here in the wide open spaces of Pickaway county is much different than I'm used to. It's so windy out here all the time. In the fall I cut in some flower beds around the house, put in some shrubs, bulbs, ornamental grasses, etc. and filled in with mulch. Then I spread some grass seed over the bare dirt of the yard areas. Now, most of the plants are windburned, a good portion of the mulch has wandered off, and the grass seed migrated from the lawn to the flower beds, or just left the area altogether. In late winter, I tried again with the grass seed, but put some straw down in hopes of giving it a little buffer from the wind, and to get a little organic matter into the soil. Within a week, the straw was gone. Well, except for the straw that ended up in the flower beds.

So now I have grass, and straw in the veggie garden, and the flower beds, mulch in the "lawn" (a.k.a. hog wallow), and weeds everywhere. Did I mention it's windy out here? Luckily, I happen to like dandelions. We have literally (I'm guessing) tens of thousands of them in bloom right now. I've never really understood our culture's obsession with eradicating them. Apparently the leaves are chock full of nutrients too. Maybe I'll try some one of these days. I'd say a dozen little yellow blooms per square foot in some areas. How much does dandelion wine sell for these days?
Okay, enough rambling for now...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Frogs Frogs Frogs (and a Toad).

We have two man-made ponds on our property. The larger of two is probably 3/4 of an acre in surface area. The second one is probably 1/4 of an acre. Pseudacris crucifer (spring peeper)They are joined by an overflow pipe, so that if the big one gets full, the little one starts to fill up. But as a rule, the smaller one is more of a large hole with a marsh in the bottom than anything you might call a pond. They are both a bit overrun with cattails, some kind of willow, some small beech trees, and various other brushy growth.

As far as I can tell, even the big pond doesn't have any significant fish. I'd like to stock it some day, but the "how" has escaped me so far. I know it's not hard to acquire fish to stock a pond, but I just haven't tracked down the details.

At any rate, the lack of fish means that tadpoles are free to roam the shallow waters at will. And apparently the two ponds are an attractive frog habitat. Last summer, while the house was still being built, we wandered down to the edge of the pond to see how it looked. Rana catesbieana (bull frog)It looked like an ocean wave, rolling in reverse, away from the shore, as the frogs splashed back into safer depths.

So far this spring, I've heard three different frog calls. Maybe four. There's one that may be a frog, or may be something else. The first one I haven't been able to identify yet. It's a fast staccato vibration, like a door slowly creaking open. Sometimes even a bit like a woodpecker. Bufo americanus (American toad) I've also heard what I now know is a spring peeper. These are the ones who usually yell at me if I walk anywhere near the edge of the pond. The peepers fill the night (and much of the day) with a sound somewhere between a cricket and a bird chirping. Just in the last couple days, I've started hearing bullfrogs. Sometimes they sound like somebody playing the cello. The other sound I hear often at night (besides the peepers) is a high trill noise that lasts 5-10 seconds.

After writing this, I became more curious, so I went to Google to see what I could find. (This kind of scenario plays itself out several times a day. Rana palustris (pickerel frog) I think I have a Google addiction.) I was right about the peepers and the bullfrogs. I think the trill is the American toad. I think the creaking door is a pickerel frog. Either that, or it's those aliens from the movie Signs...

Someday maybe I'll get a microphone and record some of it and post it on here. They've got quite a symphony going out there. It's refreshing to hear when you crack the windows before going to bed. At least right now. We'll see how I feel by the end of summer.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Food goes in you belly button.

My son has this funny stubborn streak. Well, it's not always funny. But it's funny when it comes to language.

He has amazing language skills for someone who hasn't even turned three yet. He constantly surprises me. But sometimes he gets the wrong idea about the meaning of a word, and he cannot be convinced that his definition isn't widely accepted. Many months ago, he twisted his ankle a little bit. Somehow, he thought that "ankle" meant something that hurt - a sprain, a boo-boo, any type of injury. He'd fall and hurt himself, and he'd say, "I have an ankle." I'm not sure that we've ever really cleared that up.

Last night I had a fifteen minute debate with him about whether your belly button was the little dot where the umbilical cord used to be attached, or the entire front of your torso. He assured me that "all of this is your belly button." I tried to make my case, but I think he ended up winning.

Gosh, I hope he doesn't grow up to be an attorney.

Apple trees

Here's E5 hiding behind a tiny apple tree, after a busy day of "helping" me plant them. The lighting was bad, but I did my the best I could in Photoshop to salvage what I had hoped was a great shot. I'm still learning to use my camera.

I tried an interesting trick with the apple trees. We'll see if my botanical instincts are worth anything. I remember reading that if you are trying to root cuttings from azaleas, forsythia, or any of those plants that will tolerate such things, that you could improve your success rate by soaking your cuttings in water along with some willow branches. The willows release some enzyme or hormone or something that encourages root production.

My trees were bare root, and I knew that soaking the roots in water before planting was a good idea. I also happened to be planting them right next to a weedy stand of wild willows. So I cut off some willow branches and stuck them in my soaking bucket. I wasn't even sure if my memory was accurate with regard to the willows, but I figured it was worth a shot. Couldn't hurt, right?

Since I have all these willow wisps that I'd like to clear out (tangent alert! tangent alert!), I'm tempted to try a neat trick I read about somewhere. You can make a "living fence" by criss-crossing willow branches in a weave pattern and sticking them in the ground. If you can get them to bind at the intersections (one suggestion was to use small nails to secure the crossovers, but that sounds like an awful lot of work), the bark will fuse them together over time. The roots will intermingle and fuse also, and you'll essentially end up with what amounts to a single plant. They share a robust root system and a vascular system throughout the length of the "fence", making the whole thing a lot less succeptible to drought, disease, etc. It sounds like a fun little project. Because I need more of those...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I hope I'm not boring y'all with the gardening talk, but I've waited so long for spring to finally get here, I just can't help myself.

My current philosophy for plants is that they need to multitask. Good looks ain't enough. You gotta bring something more to the table. In Show Biz, they talk about a triple threat; In baseball, they talk about a five-tools guy; even cooking geek Alton Brown preaches against uni-taskers. Who doesn't love a beautiful rose or a flowering cherry or crabapple? But why not plant the tree that will give you both the flowers and the fruit? Why not plant the rose that will give you edible and/or medicinal rose hips? If you don't fancy eating rose hips (I'll admit I never have), maybe they'll attract some new and interesting wildlife.

So what are some of the possibilities? For me, producing something edible is huge. Attracting wildlife is a nice benefit, especially if that wildlife will benefit you as well, by say, keeping the insect population down. Producing something useful is a plus too, like bamboo, or even quality lumber if you expand your horizons a bit. Trees are good for more than just lumber though. Their roots penetrate deep into the soil, which can draw nutrients and trace minerals up to the surface. When the leaves fall in autumn, they provide some of those nutrients, and lots of organic matter, to help improve your soil (well, unless you bag 'em up and ship 'em off to a landfill). Well placed trees can keep you cool in summer and let the sun shine in during winter. They can slow down the cold winter winds. They take gobs of carbon dioxide out of the air, and put out gobs of oxygen back in. They cut down on erosion. They can even cut down on pollution. Some, like willows, can take up enough water from the soil to lower the water table if you have excess moisture. Others, like locusts and redbuds (a personal favorite) can take nitrogen out of the air and add it to your soil, to share with other nearby plants. But that trick isn't limited to trees. In fact, most people know of this effect from growing legumes in the garden, like beans and peas. Even big corporate farmers have figured out that if you rotate corn and soybeans, you won't have to dump quite as much chemical fertilizer on the ground.

You can even set up symbiotic relationships, or "communities" of mutually beneficial plants. The classic example is the "Three Sisters." Native Americans used to plant corn, beans, and squash together. Tall growing corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb, while the beans add nitrogen to the soil, and the squash give some much-needed shade at ground level, keeping everybody's roots cool and cutting down on moisture evaporation. And all three produce food. For more examples like this, just look up permaculture. They have some pretty cool tricks.

Given the right circumstances, even something as mundane as grass can be turned into meat, dairy products, and wool, via grazing animals. Heck, you can even take it a step further and get some pulling power or transportation out of them if you pick the right grazers.

In case you're wondering, I grew up in suburbia, playing computer games, mowing lawns, working fast food jobs, and trying to blend in. Now I find that I've morphed into some kind of nerdy redneck hippie who writes too much...

It's much more fun this way though.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Not again.

For the second weekend in a row, I am sick. This time it's a cold. And not a fun one. I've got a sore throat, a cough, and a head full of congestion. Okay, I'll say it - a head full of snot. This just isn't funny. I thought a cold was supposed to move from congestion to cough to sore throat or something like that. Not everything at once!

The good news is that before I started feeling like death, I got eight fruit trees planted. Four more to go. (I thought I had one more than I actually do...) I'm sunburned and sore, in case the cold wasn't enough.

I shall now go take some Nyquil, have some hallucinogenic dreams for six hours, and then wake up and do it again. Well, phase 2 probably won't last six hours. There is no such thing as sleeping in at my house, no matter how bad you feel. It just can't be done.

See you on the other side...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Speaking of gardening, does anybody not love Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit? I mean, what a great movie. If you haven't seen it, check it out.
And also, it's real. Turns out they accidentally made a documentary.


All of my fruit trees, berries, and assorted other goodies arrived all at once. It was also the same day that my rain barrels and gutter diverters arrived. And the same day that Lori went to the library and got me a bunch of books off my wish list. And I've got a whole mess of seedlings in the basement that need attention, and more seeds and asparagus crowns in the fridge, ready to be planted.

Too many things to do at the same time! Not enough hours in the day! AAAAAHHH!

Of course, the one free night I had after work, it was sunny all day, until 5:00, when the thunderstorm came in. And this weekend, next weekend, and the following weekend are all booked for work. I should be able to turn those weekend hours into some days off in the middle of the week, but still...

So I got the strawberries in the ground yesterday. Today I filled up the planter box with my soil mixture for the picky little dwarf blueberry bushes, and I got them planted. I also got the mock orange and the tiny Chinese chestnut seedling planted. I dug eight holes for fruit trees. Five more to go. (And all this while upgrading a bunch of Oracle databases, and then moving them from a server in Columbus to a server in Dallas. Wheeeeee!)

It would probably have helped if I'd figured out where everything was going to go before I ordered it. Or at least before it arrived. But where's the fun in that?

Hopefully I can get at least some of those fruit trees planted tomorrow, along with, gosh, planting various seeds, getting the asparagus crowns in the ground, finishing up the last garden bed, building a small trellis for the blackberry bushes, deciding where the serviceberries and clumping bamboo are going to go, getting the rainwater collection stuff set up...

Man, I love spring.


In case you're interested, here's some product placement from today's episode of 'AAAAAHHH!':

Raintree Nursery
Stark Brothers Nursery
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Park Seed
Garden Watersaver
Eagle Peak Container

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Life is Good.

A year or so ago, I was the victim of a corporate restructuring that turned out to be a nightmare in every respect. I didn't like my job or my boss, I was part of a work culture that encouraged finger-pointing, back-stabbing, shirking responsibility... I was actually told to conceal the truth on a regular basis, and lie on more than one occasion. It went from being my favorite job ever (well, other than that scoreboard animator gig in college) to my least favorite. Even worse than emptying the trash cans and cleaning out the fryers at Wendy's. The only small bright spot was that it let me and my family move back up to Columbus from Cincinnati. From a company standpoint, the restructuring was awful too, resulting in terrible service, way too many outages for the customers, and roadblocks to any kind of progress. So now, they've decided to undo much of what they did, and put a few of us back where we came from. And the best part is, I don't have to move back to Cincinnati. I will be working from home four days a week!

Add to that the fact that the sun is shining, things are finally starting to turn green, I'm done being sick, and I am a happy guy. Now if I can just get a little more time to spend on the veggie garden...