By Rebecca Hammond
Neighbor Kate Fox is growing a masterpiece in her backyard, with vegetables planted directly in bales of straw. She bought six bales straw from a farmer who told her they are selling briskly, this idea being the rage among city dwellers. The straw is pushed gently aside to make a basin for a soil-less mix, and into that go the plants. An ordinary kitchen thermometer is used to keep daily track of the temperature inside each bale, which rises over time to hit 120, then heads back down to 80. The conditioning process that causes this rise in temperature alternates watering with fertilizing, turning each bale into a mini-compost bin.
The bales are already slowly disintegrating, and will continue. They’ll be next year’s mulch. She found the idea online along with books on the subject, and loaded one, Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales by Craig Lehoullier, to her Nook.
The small garden looks thriving and healthy, although Kate told me that next year she’d put fewer plants in each bale. She’s growing cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, squash, peppers, onions, cilantro, and green beans in a very small space. She’s hooked up an automatic watering system as well.
Daniel and Katie Tanner replaced, with two raised beds filled with vegetables and herbs, what some of us in the ‘hood joked was “The Big Blue Litter Box” in their new front yard. Dan told me when he and Katie were house-hunting and saw some of the yards nearby (weird ones), he knew he’d found “my kind of people.” The
“litter box” was a cute, fake pond with bright blue sand instead of water, but sand which neighborhood cats didn’t recognize as decoration. The bright sun in the Tanners’ front yard has produced a fast-growing gar-den. Katie thought this was a great opportunity to show their two young children the growing process, while
“making the most of the space.”
In Seattle, where the Tanners lived until recently, this approach to yard space is common, she said. Dan built the frames for the raised beds, the kids’ grandmother helped them plant, and the family guinea pigs are enjoying the lettuce (which they know is coming when they hear the fridge open).
FERNDALE IS FULL OF MILKWEED. Has it always een here? I now look for it almost obsessively, everywhere, so I’m not sure. Now, if we were only seeing monarchs! We took a new hike a month or so ago, the Lost Twin Lakes Pathway deep in the Au Sable State Forest south of Houghton Lake, and experienced a mysterious phen-omenon: Notice one of something, then suddenly you’ll see it everywhere. In this case, Lady’s Slippers. We saw one hiding in the forest’s understory, and suddenly saw perhaps hundreds. Once we were off the main loop and re-traveling the spur to the parking lot, we realized we’d blindly walked past dozens there alone.
The first time this happened to me was on a nature hike in Mentor, Ohio, part of the Great Lakes convention was held in Cleveland that year. The guide told us that we, being surrounded by swamp milkweed, were also surrounded by monarch caterpillars – big ones –and that once we saw one, we’d see many. They were everywhere, but effectively invisible until one popped into one’s vision. (By the way, out-of-staters on that hike insisted on rhyming Mentor with “centaur,” but this is Ohio, where Rio Grande is “rye-o grande,” and Bellefontaine is “bellfountain.” It’s “Menner.” Toss a hint of T in there if you’re a purist, but don’t let Ohioans hear too much of it.) There seems to be an important life lesson in this being-blind-till-we-see phenomenon, but I have yet to put it into words.
Any daily perusal of Facebook will surely bring you some stress remedies, our culture seeming to loath stress as much as we brag about it. In speaking with people who’ve Gone Weird instead of toeing the Normal Line, I notice that while many may initially choose to use a retro rotary mower or clothesline for green reasons, most continue for meditative reasons. It is surely wiser and more time-effective to use whatever meditative opportunities arise through the ordinary course of the day than to cram in modern solutions to longstanding human problems, and then also cram in yoga and meditation on top of them. Hanging out clothes is pretty darned good meditation, and not bad exercise, either.
Convenience may have caused more stress-requiring-antidotes than is apparent, and advertising is powerful. Who hasn’t had hammered away at them the message that dryers and dishwashers are time-savers, for example? I remember the first time we lived somewhere that had a dishwasher and being disappointed, even dismayed, that it obviously saved little time. Eventually, we obeyed subliminal orders and agreed the dishwasher was convenient, dang it. Then again, noticed otherwise.
But here’s another thought: Most of us are also looking for meaning, as well as convenience/stress antidotes. Hanging clothes is both. Tossing clothing in the dryer is merely one more task to get over and done with; all meaning has been stripped from it. But hanging them, you have mindfulness of avoiding the CO2 footprint of the dryer, smelling clothes as you take them down, watching birds, the sunset, talking to neighbors. Maybe we’re spend-ing time replacing what ordinary life used to just dole out. Odd to also observe that what used to be ordinary is now, well, weird.
Keep Ferndale weird. We’re surrounded by ordinary, and that’s fine, but our fabulous, fashionable weirdness is a magnet, and we should revel in it.
Rebecca Hammond accidentally kicked a baby robin that was hiding the in semi-darkness on her porch, not harming it, but sending it into a shrieking tailspin, and was then further horrified by its mother’s ear-splitting attack. She didn’t mean it, Mama.
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