The Milkweed Diaries

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hoop House Raising

Earlier this year, for my birthday, we had a hoophouse - raising party and friends and family helped put up our new-used hoop house, bought at bargain basement prices from friends who were moving.

(Above: the Hoophouse Raising)

It was a beautiful day, it was easy work, and of course there were many opportunities for "hooping it up" puns for those so inclined, and we got the whole skeleton raised so we could stretch the plastic cover over it the next day.

Now the hoophouse is all ready for its new life on our land (below), and we have many plans for it, of course.

We had already been thinking about putting raised beds in the hoophouse for season extension and winter crops that need a little protection, using it for seed starting in the early spring, and so on, when I read this inspiring article: Growing Trust in Mother Earth News.

The article is an excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable Miracle, but with photos .... including this one (below) of a hoophouse at Amy Klippenstein and Paul Lacinski's farm. In this hoophouse, the hoops are trellises to grow pole beans during the summer. In winter, the bean vines come down and the plastic goes up and salad greens in grow in the hoophouse through the cold months. So now we've added trellised beans to our list of hoophouse plans.

Temperatures have been in the teens this week, and we're fast approaching the shortest day of the year. Not much is growing in our small garden this month, but visions of early tomatoes, greens through the winter, and a tunnel of beans dance in my head.

Bright Solstice Blessings.....


More information: The Hoop House Handbook is online at Growing For Market (click on "books" from their main page)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Eating bright green basil all winter long

We planted a few Italian Large Leaf and Genovese basil seedlings in the spring. Though I restrained myself from biting off more than we could chew in terms of gardening this year, we had to have basil. It's so good, and so easy, that there was no excuse not to grow some.

Despite the drought and our neglect, by August we had huge shrub-like basil plants crowding bursting out of one of the new raised beds. (Above: some of our harvested basil).

For C's birthday in September, we invited a few friends to a pesto-making party, and preserved our basil bounty (at left) with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and sunflower seeds, with the help of a lot of hands washing, picking through, and de-stemming, and a borrowed 12-cup food processor.

We gave all of the guests ample pesto supplies for eating fresh or freezing, and froze a bunch ourselves...Now we're eating those bright green leaves gratefully as the temperature drops.

Gratitude to the pesto-making birthday guests, and to the abundant basil plants, and to the soil, sun, and (not much) water that turned those tiny seedlings into spicy green food for the winter!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I came across this fabulous article by Madhu Suri Prakash in the Winter 2008 edition of YES! Magazine:

Compost Toilets and Self-Rule

"The ecological toilet is one of today’s most hope-filled expressions of people’s power and people’s science. These toilets—which celebrate Gandhian simplicity and ecological sensibility—recover and honor traditional practices of healing and agriculture, related arts of non-violent living.

In contrast, the abuse of water via flush toilets renders it toxic as well as globally scarce. More than 40 percent of the water available for domestic purposes is used for transporting shit."

Read MORE of Compost Toilets and Self Rule....

More info & technical details at Joseph Jenkins, Inc (he's the infamous author of The Humanure Handbook) and in this interesting document out of Bangladesh: Decentraised Composting for Cities of Low and Moderate Income Countries

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dreaming in Color: winter seed catalogue fantasies

Circled in our Seed Savers Exchange catalogue for spring planting:

5 Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard (left) This gorgeous and tasty riot of color is apparently one of Barbara Kingsolver's favorites too -- she sings its praises in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

There's a little of this variety growing in one of the raised beds in our garden now, and we could have it coming in all winter with cold frames or the hoop house, but since we're not quite to the point of a Four Season Harvest, we'll have to wait till spring.

Water catchment, consumer culture, and living systems

AT LEFT: Our 2,500 gallon cistern arriving at its new home!

This tank will hold rainwater for all of our household and garden needs. Every 1,000 square feet of roof catches more than 600 gallons of water per every inch of rainfall.

In this time of drought, more people are thinking about water conservation. But what if local governments, neighborhoods, and individuals looked at water as a whole system? Thinking of water as a "resource" implies that it is a scarce consumer product--a hot commodity--in our economic system. A lot of people pay for drinking and household water, in a paradigm that makes water a consumer product like most everything else.

In the meantime, we treat other water (which is just the same water at a different point in the natural cycle) as "waste" -- runoff, stormwater, and grey/black household water. This water is thought of as something we have to get rid of.

In other words: even if you're doing all of the usual things like turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth, most water systems are based on using energy to move water from place to place, either as a product or as waste. This is part of the whole way of thinking that informs our economic system and our culture: extract resources, create products, transport and distribute them, consume them, and dispose of the (abundant) waste --otherwise known as "the materials economy," otherwise known as predatory capitalism. More on the materials economy at The Story of Stuff and more on alternatives to this model at The Story of Stuff: Another Way.

Anyhow, back to water. In thinking about water systems for our land, we wanted to replace the cycle of extraction, distribution, consumption, production of waste, and disposal with one of conservation and reuse. In our river valley/wetland home, we wanted to shift from thinking of water as a troublesome problem to be battled to thinking of it as a valued life-sustaining ally. We also liked the permaculture idea of producing more resources than we consumed. While we are not technically PRODUCING water, we are capturing it and using it on our site, rather than just thinking of it as something we have to get rid of or bring in from off-site. The water is part of living systems on our land -- and by retaining it, we can use it to support life rather than treating it as either waste or consumer product.

Part of how we're doing this is by making ponds and rain gardens to retain and recycle water back into biomass, or plant life. More on that later.

Once the monster-sized cistern above is hooked up to gutters, we'll be catching all of the water from our metal roof and using it for drinking, watering gardens, bathing, washing dishes, and etc. By supplying household and drinking water from a low-impact collection system on our own home site, we'll be responsible for meeting our own needs in a sustainable way.

By catching water in ponds, rain gardens, and our cistern, we'll drastically reduce runoff, ameliorating stormwater issues and at the same time retaining water to support living systems on our land --gardens, wild areas, human habitat, animal habitat.


More information:

Harvest - the online water harvesting community

Urban Permaculture Guild

Permaculture Principles

Sunday, December 9, 2007


After a delightful visit Friday to Haiku Bamboo Nursery, today we're planting Buddah Belly Bamboo (the photo at left is our first bamboo baby planted today). This kind of bamboo, the first of 3 or 4 varieties we'll plant this winter, grows 15 or 20 feet high and is also known as "fishing pole bamboo." Apparently it does make great fishing poles and it's also good for making all kinds of pretty crafty things. I love the beautiful "rolls" of buddah fat on the stalk.

The bamboo forest at the Haiku nursery was a lovely place to walk -- quiet, open, and green, even in December. We're excited to get some bamboo growing -- with rhizome barriers to prevent it from growing TOO much. Besides providing green privacy, we hope the bamboo we're planting will create a creekside microclimate that will help with flood prevention and offer animal forage and habitat similar to the areas that used to be thick with river cane in this valley.

River cane, the only kind of bamboo native to the US, once grew in floodways and near rivers and creeks all over western NC. Some sources say there were 5 million acres of river cane (native bamboo) in the Southeastern US before Europeans arrived. Almost all of the native river cane has been cleared in the years since European settlement. We're lucky to have a stand of native cane growing on our property down between the pond and the river, and we're letting it spread and grow and mature, providing habitat and flood protection in the riparian zone. The Cherokee people and their predecessors used this native bamboo for all kinds of things (including baskets and blowguns), and recently the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians embarked on an exciting collaborative river cane restoration project with WCU.

But back to these other bamboos we're planting: just like river cane, these bamboos are beautiful, strong, and incredibly useful. You can build with bamboo, eat the shoots (of some varieties), and use it for all kinds of things. And of course it grows very fast, so is a great renewable resource. Here is the site for the American Bamboo Society and the International Network for Bamboo, obviously made up of serious bamboo diehards who know a lot more than we do about bamboo. And here's some more information about bamboo nutrition and uses from another bamboo-promoting government organization in India--I thought it was quite interesting.

This week we'll order some timber bamboo and some other tall varieties from our new friends at Haiku and we hope to have them all in the ground before Solstice.

Over and out!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Hanukkah: garlic sprouts, wilted greens, and freezing weather

The garlic is up--soft green sprouts that don't look like they should be able to make it in this cold--and the chard and mustard are soldiering on, but they've seen better days. (The photo is garlic planted a year ago, harvested in July.)

Still, we're eating greens from our own garden and from across the river (WWC garden) -- the bok choy from the college has been super-yummy these days. I always forget how sumptuous those big chunky white stems are with a little ginger and coconut oil. Mmmm.

It's winter for sure, and yome living is more challenging than in the summer and fall months. We're hunkering down with the seed catalogues, especially my favorite, from the fabulous Seed Savers Exchange, which came in the mail this week.

Happy Hanukkah - CP and LJ and I lit the menorah the other night on Houston Street, and the warm little flames felt so welcome. And bring on the solstice....I'm ready for the return of the Sun!

Next year we'll have cold frames set up, so the garden won't be quite as dejected this time of year.