Friday, August 22, 2008

Gardens for Victory

“You might wonder where our culinary cornucopia has gone when you enter any town or city strung out along an American interstate highway....
They feature Angus beef from feedlots, factory-raised chicken, frozen cod, confinement-raised pork, hothouse-raised turkey, russet potatoes, genetically modified corn and soy, hybrid wheats and beer barley, iceberg lettuce, hydroponically grown Big Boy tomatoes, industrial-strength coffee, cola nut syrup, and cane sugar.“
from: Renewing America’s Food Traditions:
Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods

Edited by Gary Paul Nabhan

Lots of talk these days about Victory Gardens. How it’s an idea whose time has come – back. Call it reviving a sustainable practice or hiding your head in nostalgia’s sand. Those thrilling days of yesteryear when Mom wore an apron over her shirtwaist dress and pearls, and when chemical bread fortified with 48 nutrients was a good thing.

I’m sure Victory Gardens are a good thing. The problem that Victory Gardens pose to my blog is that this two-word topic is at the nexus of gardening and politics. In particular the politics of war, terror and global fear.

I try to grow what I eat because I like the taste. Because it is my personal stand against America’s corporate agricultural lobbies. Because I don't want poison in my food. Because I’m trying to get away from eating mass-produced, artificially fortified, genetically modified food. I do not cultivate my vegetable garden because of some twisted logic saying it’s the patriotic thing to do and supportthetroops.

If I try to blog on the subject of victory gardens, I fear my personal politics of gardening will be co-opted by my outrage that politics has co-opted gardening. I reject anything that might be yet another feeble flailing attempt to whip up support for the war. My blogging topics may reach critical mass and my politics will triumph over my gardening. I don’t have any magic insights into the politics of international (or intra-national) war and peace. The world needs another political blog almost as much as it needs my tomato bushes.

What I’m supposed to be blogging about is my continuing gardening education. I want to record my attempts to grow in understanding of the mysteries of growing one’s own food. I want to blog about how that wisdom seems to offer a way to my own peace. It’s way more than gardening. Maybe it’s gardenopoly (somebody else has probably copyrighted that word). Candide wasn’t speaking in a metaphor when he said cultivating our garden is the best of all possible worlds. I just want to cultivate MY garden for My reasons.

In all the talk of Victory Gardens, I’ve observed, there is something about a political advertising campaign, something about a certain mass appeal, or about how the campaigns sometimes read like talking points to brainwashed unwashed masses yearning to be proud and victorious against evil enemies. Grow a garden to help support the troops in some manner way too complex to explain to you. So this is why I won't garden for victory, or petition to grow a victory garden on the White House lawn.

The last time Americans cultivated vegetable gardens as a political statements (first “Victory” - and second “Garden") was what my Dad called The War. Some have called it America’s last “good” war.

It is therefore, pure coincidence that at this particular point in time, I decide to take a brief blog-cation. I’m going on vacation for two weeks. I’ll spend one week at a luxury resort with a day spa while Tech Support Guy waters the garden. He’s not politically, horticulturaly, or blog-ily inclined, so kids, get up, go outside, and play.

Upon my return, the Democratic Convention will be over and maybe I’ll be able to hide in the Garden and ignore politics and opinions about Victory Gardens. I may be able to blog and garden until the regional fire season begins, or maybe even until the elections are over.

Meanwhile, and especially when you garden, remember the rallying cry of the Firesign Theater: “Shoes for Industry!”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Habeas Pocus

'Twas he had summon'd to her silent Bed
The Morning Dream that hover'd o'er her Head.
Dante, Paridiso, Canto 1

I saw Habeas Pocus as a headline on Countdown the other night. It got me thinking, and here’s what I dreamed I read in the year 2020. (Disclaimer: this post is not about my garden.)

Habeas Pocus
is the legal principal whereby smoke is produced in lieu of direct proof of a defendant’s case. This legal theory was established by the U. S. Supreme Court in People v Mukasey, 2009. At issue in the case was whether blatant high crimes and treason by members of the Executive Branch would be pursued by the Attorney General (Hint: the AG is also a member of the EB). Asserting the Government’s right to protection against self-incrimination, then-Attorney General Mukasey refused to prosecute criminal action by the White House – from the President down to the guy with the floor buffer in the Oval Office when the call came at 3:00 AM. The People, in an unusual class action, sued him. The Supreme Court decided the case in 2009.

Pursuant to People v Mukasey, Habeas Pocus is the right to conclusively prove innocence by submitting spurious lies and smoke. The majority opinion, by Justice Roberts, also denied opposing council the right to submit known and objectively-verifiable evidence as proof of guilt. The majority opinion ended with the now-infamous: “Problem solved!” The equally famous dissent, by Justice Ginsburg consisted of a single acronym: “WTF?”

It remains to be seen how this legal theory will stand the test of time, although certain legal experts think it won’t. American voters, after forgiving the Supremes for electing the Criminal in Chief in the first place, were not so much consternated after hearing the verdict, as they were seriously pissed. History will remember this moment with garden blogger Weeping Sore’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo of the President, Vice President, and Chief Justice, hanging upside down in the foreground, with the Supreme Court in the background.

The picture also includes the spontaneous pyre beneath them. Instead of creating a shrine of plush toys and wilting flowers, melting in candle wax at the site of the Upside-down Trio, Americans created a bonfire of SUVs and burned the logos of Big Oil, Big Pharma and other assorted war criminals. The fire charred the torn robes of the hanging bodies, making the picture look almost black and white, reminiscent of Mussolini hanging out with his gal back in the bad old days.

While times were uncertain for a while after this decision, it turns out most people were better off with this precedent in the long run. The legal theory of Habeas Pocus was seen by many pundits afterwords, as the last straw that broke the back of the capitalist pigs. While initially permitting war criminals to go unpunished by the justice system, this decision was later seen as the first step in making the world safe from corporate greed, self-interest and corrupt politicians.

In my dream, I read this in Wikipedia, so I’m not sure how accurate it will be.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Grow, Cook, Eat, Repeat

“You might wonder where our culinary cornucopia has gone when you enter any town or city strung out along an American interstate highway....
They feature Angus beef from feedlots, factory-raised chicken, frozen cod, confinement-raised pork, hothouse-raised turkey, russet potatoes, genetically modified corn and soy, hybrid wheats and beer barley, iceberg lettuce, hydroponically grown Big Boy tomatoes, industrial-strength coffee, cola nut syrup, and cane sugar.“
- from: Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, Edited by Gary Paul Nabhan

I took all the tomatoes harvested at the veggie garden yesterday and made a killer cream of tomato soup. I can’t provide a recipe, because I was operating under some divine inspiration at the time. I roasted the tomatoes for almost an hour with garlic, onions and two tiny jalapeno peppers with the seeds removed. I doused them in white truffle olive oil, salt and tossed in some fresh thyme, mint and oregano.

Then I blended the tomatoes, sieved out the peel and seeds, added some sour cream and later some cream and lots of basil. I also added some pomegranate syrup to offset the somewhat sour taste. It was delicious, and the house smelled like tomatoes and garlic – one fragrance air freshener companies are neglecting.

I also made some rye bread. I used the new wicker brotform and it was an abject failure. When the bread filled the basket, I gently turned it over, whereupon it simply deflated and spread out all over the plate like my svelte cat when she lays down on my lap.

But although it looked like crap, the bread tasted great. I had brought a half pound of dark chocolate wheat from the home brew store. I ground it very fine using my coffee burr grinder (which made my morning coffee taste like crap by the way) and added a scant 2 teaspoons to the dough. It made the entire loaf a lovely dark pumpernickel color and I think it added a mysterious rustic note to the bread.

I’ve been reading lately (see above quote) about how monoculture has kicked the ass of diversity in our wheat crop (and potatoes, onions, tomatoes etc), and how most of the grain we eat has been carefully processed to remove all nutritional value, and then fortified with high fructose corn syrup and too much salt. I think the home-brew places are an untapped resource (pun intended) for bakers. The stuff they sell to craft brewers is wheat and barley, ranging from dark browns, to nutty reds, to golden grains. You have to use a good mill to grind it to flour but it’s certainly culinary grade stuff. Once I get proportions figured out, I’ll post a recipe.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One Free Flight Above

The Summer comes, the Summer dies,
Red leaves whirl idly from the tree,
But no more cleaving of the skies,
No southward sunshine waits for me!

You shut me in a gilded cage,
You deck the bars with tropic flowers,
Nor know that freedom’s living rage
Defies you through the listless hours.

What passion fierce, what service true,
Could ever such a wrong requite?
What gift, or clasp, or kiss from you
Where worth an hour of soaring flight?

I beat my wings against the wire,
I pant my trammeled heart away;
The fever of one mad desire
Burns and consumes me all the day.

What care I for your tedious love,
For tender word or fond caress?
I die for one free flight above,
One rapture of the wilderness!

Rose Terry Cook, "Captive"

What price would you pay to rise above adversity? How hot does the fire of thwarted rage tinge the air your parched afternoons? How many flowers, how much gilding does it take before you forget that we are all caged?

Beyond the door, the lilies of my field reap not; nor do they sow. The flowers doze away as summer dies. But before they die, they live in an endless garden. They inhabit a wilderness so vast they escape all responsibilities. While we are caged with tropic flowers, weighed down with responsibility.

I love the way anger connects with freedom in this poem. Bitterness simmers hour after listless hour. There is more than a desire for freedom, there is a consuming rage.

The poet says: you can make me stay by you, but you can’t make me love you. Like the cat when Tech Support Guy captures her and holds her to his chest – she won’t scratch, but she won’t relax. She won’t make eye contact. Her honesty is all that’s left to her, her saving grace.

Walk 2 Write got me to thinking recently, about why some women are complicit in their own slavery. They not only live in cages, they enter them willingly, and often go so far as to insist the cage smooths and comforts them, protecting them from a Bad World. I was, I confess, feeling a bit superior: I would never wear a veil, serve my spouse like a slave, sacrifice my wild independence of spirit.

Well, this poem says: good for you, you hypocrite. My cage is no less real because I deny it as passionately as these other women I accuse. I know they make it work, although it’s beyond me why they would chose to do so. And I know how: they lie very, very well.

I’m as much a captive as they. I too, must negotiate compromises, must tell little lies to my friends, my family, my self. Lies cushion hurt, gentle lies soften the relentless captivity, where I usually pant my trammeled heart away. There are the times however, when the cage shows behind its gilding, when I’d give anything for that one free flight above it all: my own cage, others’ cages, responsibilities, interpersonal relationships. (I overheard an elderly man in a restaurant recently, speaking to his adult children, “Sometimes I can’t think of a polite way to say, it’s none of your business.”) We’re all in cages.

That’s when I escape my captivity by going into the back yard. And fierce feeling of freedom is what I’m looking for in the shadows beneath the bushes. I’m looking for a respite from the oppressive heat that makes my eyes itch and my nostrils desiccate.

I love the recurring images of heat in this poem; such perfect accompaniment to the garden beyond my door. Shriveling to death in the harsh glare, the captive in the poem longs to fly above cool wilderness, rapture, The mad desires fever the brain. What I wouldn’t give for a sip of cool, moist wind, to blow the dust thoughts from the corners of my mind. Some icy water, silver flowing, into the stone of a bone-dry fire pit of my weary heart.

If you’ve never heard it, go google the lyrics to Patti Smith’s Babelogue. It is a fierce narrative of clipped, bright, angry thoughts. It is a controlled spiral, describing a descending helix: from brain, smoothly sliding through the heart, down into the guts and out. The words disintegrate into almost babble, only to end with a soft clear voice of reason: I have not sold myself to God.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Piece of Rock is Full of Statues

The title quote is from Ursula K. LeGuin, "The Question I get Asked Most Often" from The Wave in the Mind. The rest is from my garden.

An empty pond is full of sky.

An empty pond is full of life.

Heavy air is haunted
By the kiss of Autumn's growing shadow.

The golden sun skulks resentfully west.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Martha's Japanese Beetle Problem

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven...
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up..."
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3

Martha and I grew up together in Maryland. We both fondly remember our brother tying threads around the necks of Japanese beetles in the 1950s, letting them fly around him in circles on their leashes. Now living in Michigan, Martha writes the lamentation below on her current (not so fond) experiences with Japanese Beetles. Looks like it's time to kill.

"I thought the JBs had disappeared after that, and chalked it up to DDT. Now, however, I realize that I was just out of the East Coast gardening loop for decades. Maybe they didn't go anywhere except off my radar screen -- and, at 1/4 mile per year, westward. A research proposal from 2005 noted, 'The Japanese beetle has now spread across most of eastern North America from Maine and Georgia west to Minnesota and Louisiana. Isolated infestations have now been found in many states west of the Mississippi River, including Colorado.' So, they're headed your way.

They reached Michigan in large numbers some ten years ago, and my roses in particular 3-4 years ago. I've tried traps, which caught thousands without appreciably thinning the numbers on my roses. I've tried Milky Spore on my lawn for the past two years, to no avail. (That could be for two reasons: I learned Thursday that the commercial products may not contain the actual effective milky spore, according to DNA testing; and my non-irrigated turf is likely not the home for their grubs anyway. My next-door neighbor, whose retirement has become full-time lawn care, has likely created the perfect conditions for them to thrive.) I've flicked them onto the patio or driveway and stomped them (satisfying but not effective on a grand scale). I've squirted them with Rose-RX and Safer Soap solution. They are still winning. My only success has come from planting double knockout roses that are resistant (and not all are!)

Now I am into biological warfare. One corner of Connecticut, scientists discovered many years ago, had a protozoan pathogen (Ovavesicula popilliae) keeping the beetles under control. It both kills close to 60% of the grubs (once established) and causes infected females to produce only half as many eggs. David Smitley of Michigan State University Extension (your tax dollars at work!) has been introducing them to public golf courses here and studying them since at least 1999. (An early layman's report notes that pathogens worked but parasites did not. Smitley has also done a lot of research on natural controls for the emerald ash borer -- too late for Michigan's ash trees, but maybe in time to save the baseball bat as we know it.) He held a Biocontrol Field Day about 15 miles from my home last week, to hand out dead and live beetles collected from his 'infected' sites. The dead ones are planted in the ground, so that grubs can be infected. Since my dry yard is not a great site for that (and my neighbor might shoot me if he saw me digging holes in his fairway), I got a Ziplock of a dozen or so live ones to release in my yard.

I am not the only one who came early so as not to miss out. Half of the 300 bags had been distributed before the official start time, and huge numbers of cars were still arriving when I left. Obviously, SE Michigan is ready to engage the enemy. The Judas beetles have now been spread much farther than they could have flown in a year. Optimally, it will take five years for heavy infection with the protozoan to become established and ten years for significant reduction in plant feeding damage. Perhaps I should start watering my lawn, to encourage egg-laying and the survival of the infected grubs. I'll have to lay off trapping and spraying for a few years, but it wasn't working anyway. I guess I could continue to flick and stomp, if I bury the remains. ;-)

I am attaching a photo of the buggers ravaging my roses ten minutes ago [expletive deleted]."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Learning to Grow: Ten Things About Me and My Gardening Blog

"This is the dandelion with its thousand faculties
Like an old woman taken by the neck
And shaken to pieces.
This is the dust-flower flitting away.
This is the flower of amnesia.
It has opened its head to the wind,
All brave and weakness
As if a wooden man should stroll through fire."
Alice Oswald, Head of a Dandelion
See Spacecraft Voyager I.

1. This is not a blog for me to keep up with my extended family, my support group members, or my Superfriends. But, to be clear – me and Rainbow Bright? – we’re friends. Just friends.

2. Although I’d rather be famous and adored while I’m alive, I’ll settle for posthumous recognition, with one condition: any posthumous account of my life can’t be one of those documentary cautionary tails, dramatizing my early tragic death, at the height of my fame, under creepy circumstances.

3. If this blog needed a disclaimer it would be that I don't endorse or recommend the practices I preach, and that I'm not responsible for inducing any flashbacks to single parenthood, careers as underpaid attorneys, or to once-desperate closet drinkers now sober but troubled sometimes with bitter regret.

4. I believe we need to include “spiritual” conditions to parole. You shouldn’t just have to check in with your PO, and wear an ankle bracelet. You should also have to write a composition about how you were rehabilitated during your incarceration. Just kidding.

5. If this blog was a movie, it would be a cross between a suicide video and an Edwardian comedy of manners, directed by Sinan the Greek, produced by Time-Warner and promising less than it delivered in the way of plot integrity and production values.

6. I have a favorite spoon, and too many aromatherapy products.

7. As for my gardening expertise, I happen to know that cannabis and hops are in the same exclusive botanical family. Which means I know you could grow the very hempen ropes you could then use to train your hop vines, and I bet that never occurred to YOU until I just said it. But talk about companion planting. Am I right?

8. If this blog was a cry for help, a messianic theology, a conspiracy theory, or a mere apology for the stupid crassness of joining a Christian Singles Group, I’d be sure to let you know right about now. ‘Nuff said.

9. If this blog was a clearing house for misused or misspelled grammatical abortions that somehow make cosmic sense, I’d talk about my “esprit décor” in a tone of righteous indigestion. But it’s not, so I won’t.

10. If this blog was a drunk co-ed passed out the morning after beneath the dining room table at the frat house, it would be a rather sad, overweight, desperate, passed-out drunken adolescent, subject to increasing mood swings, and beginning to catalog her regrets.