Monday, May 28, 2012

Absent Friends

Today is Memorial Day, and people all across America will be firing up their barbecues and getting their grill on. Someone, a visitor to our nation, once asked we why we 'celebrate' on this day. He pointed out that it might be better, and more appropriately spent, as a day of mourning, spent in somber reflection. It was my honor to educate him...

Memorial Day is the day in which we, as a people, remember and pay respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom and our liberties. Among these liberties is the right to peaceful assembly. Peaceful does not mean 'silent'. It means 'without violence or intentional harm'. We have the right to come together and celebrate anything we want. This is one of the liberties these men and women traded their lives for.  It seems disrespectful to us not to use that very liberty in their honor on this day that we have set aside for them.

It may seem crass or callous to some; to those who do not understand. But these people, these fallen heroes gave their lives so that we would continue to have the right to do as we wish, to spend our time with who we wish, how we wish.

To those who are younger who think this liberty is a given, that we are not in danger of loosing it, I say this... there was a time, not so long ago, when the loss of this liberty was a very real danger. This danger existed within my lifetime, and I remember it very clearly. It was before your time. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Before the fall of The Wall. It was a time when the more oppressive elements of communism threatened our shores, and consumed many nations. A time when many people throughout the world did not have the right to assemble in any number for any reason that was not approved by their State. They did not have the right to come together for a good cause, much less for the sake of food, fun, and sun.

This is what our fallen heroes, our absent friends gave their lives for.

Freedom from oppression.
Freedom to assemble.
Freedom from undo persecution.
Freedom of choice.
Freedom to defend ourselves.
Freedom to worship as see fit.
Freedom of speech.

In other words, their lives bought us (and many others) the right to party our asses off any time we want for any reason we want.

Today we choose to party in their honor. And if you have a problem with that, thanks to them, you're free to  leave.

Freedom does not come free.

To everyone else, don't forget to set a place for those we honor today, and lift your glasses for absent friends and those who died to give these rights us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ideas for raised beds and accessible gardening plots

Here on the farm we’re working on our handicap accessibility this Spring. Regular fields are impossible for Her Majesty to get into, and I’m certainly not getting any younger. While we do plan to spend the next year bringing the ‘good’ field up to speed we’re also looking at ways to transfer quite a bit of our growing power into raised beds and smaller, more accessible gardening plots.

I spent the morning out planting parsnips and tomatoes into a small bed I put in several days ago. This is the second bed of this kind that we’ve put in so far. They are small enough to reach across, or at least to the center of without much effort, and are surrounded by blocks of broken concrete that was salvaged from an old building several years ago. The blocks not only frame off the area, but add a stable place to sit or brace ourselves when working the plot.

These particular beds are in-ground, meaning we dug up the ground, and back-filled it with real garden soil and appropriate augmentations like peat moss and fertilizer. In-ground beds are good for plants that will end up getting big, like these Burpee Big Boy tomatoes. But, we also plan to do some raised beds as well. These will also be framed in broken concrete, though we plan to re-mill the blocks a bit to make them fit together better when stacked.

Side Note: You can see the Cane Forest in the background of this picture, and that we've used some of the cane as the initial stakes for the baby tomato plants. This cane is another thing we have an abundance of that we plan to utilize. Ever time Hippylady and I go a garden center and see the bamboo shafts for sale for up to $5 each we laugh our tooshes off!  

There are a lot of other ideas for building these kinds of beds. My friend, Jaipi, a sister writer, recently pushed a great article on what she’s doing in her own garden called Cheap alternatives for raised bed gardens. I really like her table garden idea, especially for smaller plants that don’t need as much soil depth, like salad greens and herbs.

Another idea, that Hippylady came up with, is to use old refrigerators by taking the doors off, and gutting the interiors, then putting them on their backs. The outside can be painted or framed in for decoration, and the refrigerator boxes offer insulation to keep the soil a stable temperature. That last is important here in the desert where temperatures can fluctuate between -10 in the Winter and +110 in the Summer.

Other cheap ideas for raised and/or accessible garden beds are:

  • Old tires, stacked or by themselves
  • Wooden milk crates
  • Pallets
  • Dresser drawers
  • Opaque storage tubs
  • Old hats (I’ve seen it!)
  • Reclaimed bricks
  • Salvage lumber
  • Small boat hulls (we plan to do this)

Basically, if it holds soil, can have drainage installed, protects the roots against sunlight, and can be made safe from toxins that might have been used in it’s construction  it can be used. Some things works better than others, obviously. A cardboard box, for instance, can be used, but it wouldn’t last for very long. On the other hand, it will break down and became compost relatively quickly, enabling you to transfer it to a bed, container and all, at a later date.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Supermoon looking at Grossmond.

Grossmond looking at Supermoon.

In German the words "gross mond" mean "grand moon", more commonly used to mean "full moon".
In this case it refers to twins separated at specie.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When Fire Thorns Attack

Yesterday the girls and I went out and attacked the overgrown and previously neglected Fire Thorn hedge. It attacked back!

We didn’t expect it to be easy. We did expect to get scratches, and took precautions. Long sleeves, long pants, hats and neck coverings, and even face shields. Everyone wore thick gloves with rubber palms, shoes that covered our ankles, the whole nine yards. We were covered head to toe, and used long handled tools as much as possible  in dealing with the debris.

But, these things have something more than a life of their own.  Fire Thorns, also known as Pyracantha, seem to actively fight back. They have brains.

I always thought they got their name from the bright red and orange berries they grow in mass quantities, as well as the fact they have larger and more densely packed thorns than monster Grandfather Roses. I knew that some people claimed they were poisonous, but that modern science says they are not. I found out the hard way that they got their name for what their thorns scratches to do to people with arthritis.

Pyracantha don’t have poison in their thorns; not in the traditional sense. What they have is a ‘hyper allergen’ that only a few people are sensitive to. If you’re allergic to Pyracantha and you get stuck with the thorns you will end up feeling pain in your joints for a few days. This pain can range from a very mild stiffness to sever, agnizing pain accompanied by visible swelling. What it does is begin an autoimmune reaction that lasts for a few days. This reaction attacks the joints, but doesn’t usually cause any permanent damage.

Unless you already have arthritis. Especially if that form of arthritis is already caused by an autoimmune problem, such as RA (rheumatoid arthritis). And yes, that’s means me.

I’m in the very early stages of RA. So far it only effects a few joints, and even then it’s very mild. When it flares it really hurts, but modern science is a wonderful thing and we now know how to slow the progression of RA to a barely noticeable crawl if it’s caught early. Mine was caught early.

Despite the amount of gear I wore I still got a few scratches. If I hand't worn protective clothing things would have been much worse. One, in particular, on my left knee ended up being a bit deeper than the rest. It hurt, but I didn’t think anything of it. Scratches are scratches and, as farm manager, I get them all the time from hundreds of different kinds of plants. I’ve never had a negative reaction to a scratch, even when raked horribly by overgrown blackberry bushes that gave everyone else shingles.

The Fire Thorn, on the other hand, I am now afraid of. Very, very afraid. My left knees feels like it’s in a constant state of explosive expansion, my right hand is so stiff I can’t grip anything with it, and my upper back refuses to bend. These are all joints that I have RA in. Every other joint in my body simply feels like they’re on fire, but at least I can use them. I spoke with my rheumatologist on the phone and he said to take it easy, but don’t become stagnant. Don’t give my joints a chance to completely freeze up. Take my anti inflammatory meds, stay hydrated, and make sure to get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour, and let him know how I’m doing tomorrow. Basically, take two Aspirin and call him in the morning.

It's important to note that permanent damage is extremely rare and usually only happens to people who are already suffering from advanced RA or some form of advanced active brittle bone degeneration. In other words, people who aren’t capable of wielding an 18-volt reciprocating saw with one hand to knock down a 12ft tall hedge in the first place. And since that’s exactly what I was doing when I got scratched my doctor chuckled and told me not to worry too much about it. The only time I should start worrying is if the industrial strength anti inflammatory meds he keeps me in stock of stops working to reduce the swelling.

Since I can’t move much today I plan to do get a lot of writing accomplished. I was considering moving the tomato seedlings into their own 4-inch pots today, but then I remembered that involves bending over to fill the pots with soil, shuffling around the greenhouse, and doing other little things my body won’t currently let me do. And those seedlings can stay where they are for at least another week (or more) anyway.

So, while I have lots of publishers I can be catching up with, I might go ahead and get up a few posts for Reclaiming The Farm today. There are lots of things I’ve been meaning to talk about, but haven’t had the time and brainpower simultaneously to do so. Maybe this is the universe’s way of saying “sit down and write!”.