Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.
My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.
A few weeks ago we got 10 little chicks from the kindergarten class at the boys' school. They quickly outgrew the rubbermaid tub in the kitchen, and have since moved to a temporary chicken shack in the back yard. I'm going to move them into the big chicken coop this weekend. So far, they've free ranged in the backyard with the big chickens a few times. Scratchy, the boss chicken, wasted no time waddling over to the chicks and asserting her authority. Aside from a few disciplinary pecks on the head, things weren't too violent. I'm hoping that it will stay that way once they're in the confines of the coop/run. I also hope that the stress of new coopmates won't further hamper their egg production. 4-5 weeks ago I managed to fend off a possum attack in the wee hours of the morning. (My neighbors were treated to a sight of me in my tiny shorts running around my yard with a flashlight and a stick). The chickens escaped unscathed, but the ordeal apparently stressed them such that they stopped laying eggs. I expected this for a week or two, but it's been over a month. I told them that if they didn't get their act together, it would be the soup pot once the chicks start laying. We'll see how that brand of motivation works.
This past Friday I transplanted a bunch of pepper seedlings into the raised beds that wrap around the side of our house. All told it was about 35 plants, mostly red and orange bell peppers with some sweet Italian, paprika and hungarian wax varieties as well. They were mulched pretty well with straw. We're well past the average last frost date for St.Louis, so I didn't think much of it. Then a cold front came along bringing rain and dropping temperatures about 15-20 degrees below normal. The night time low was supposed to get into the low 40's for about 3 nights - no danger of a frost, but I was concerned that it might be a bit too cool for the newly transplanted peppers. What did I do? I used some wire brackets to float a sheet of clear plastic over them. Things were cold, wet, and miserable on Sunday; and the pepper plants looked fine. This would have been no big deal if I had pulled the plastic off of them on Monday morning before I went to work. Alas, this is the last week of the school year - ie, things are a zoo, and my mind was elsewhere. The weather cleared up, and it got into the 60's with a fair amount of sun. Tuesday was the same, and it wasn't until Tuesday evening as I was mowing grass that I realized the plastic was still over the raised beds. I pulled it off and almost fell over.
They were all dead...completely fried.
I was so pissed off at myself. The only possible survivor was one Hungarian Wax on the end of the bed that had a couple wilted leaves left on it. Everything else was a shriveled brown mess. The seedlings had come up so strong this year, that I was really looking forward to salsas, relishes, and all sorts of other stuff this summer. Oh well...I broke down and bought a couple of bell pepper plants at the grocery store today, and I'll probably hit up the nursery for some more this weekend, but it won't amount to anything close to what I had in the ground.
Two things occurred to me as I was putting the store plants in this evening:
1. Growing your own food comes with a definite learning curve. I've been gardening seriously for 5 years now, and I still feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing most of the time. Anyone who thinks that they can go from 100% dependence on the grocery store to living off the land overnight is in for a rude awakening.
2. It reinforced how lucky we are to have the resources available to us that we do. Make no mistake, the modern industrial agriculture/food system is unsustainable. I fully expect to see it fall apart in some way during my lifetime. Even if it doesn't, I'd want to get out as much as possible anyway. That said, it's nice to know that my family won't go without peppers this year simply because I'm a friggin' idiot.
The weather here in St.Louis has been miserably soggy for the past 2 weeks. There have been only a handful of days where the sun shined enough to go outside and do much of anything. While this has put a bit of a damper on working i the garden, it did facilitate what has become a tradition here at the 'Burbstead: Mud Day. Every year, before the garden is completely planted, I give the kids one chance to make a big mud hole and wallow around in it. Is this good for the dirt in that spot? Probably not, but I don't mind. A childhood is not complete if you haven't, at least once or twice, gotten so dirty that you must be hosed off before you can enter the house. The kids always have a blast.
Now if we could just get a sold week or so of 70's and sunny...