Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Small Christmas

I sit here on Christmas morning waiting for my wife to stir, or my daughter's great patience to finally run out. Behind me stands a bank of book shelves, mostly full of books. Behind that is a Christmas tree.

The tree is a short thing of about four feet including the pot. Around it are huddled presents, mostly from outside our immediate family. It has been tight this holiday season, but we are not destitute. I would have liked to have gotten a little more for my family, but not much. As is, it is about the same as in years when my income was better. 

I can't help comparing what I have to tales I occasionally hear from friends who tell me that they can't deny their children anything. I don't know what life is like for them. I simply can't imagine it. I do know when my wife and daughter come down, and we gather around the tree, we will be happy. We will be together. And we will love each other all the more.

I hope your Christmas is as happy and as peaceful as mine.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sustainable Work Ethic


Despite being committed to sustainability and better home food production, the financial core of my business is mowing lawns. While it is disappointing because it is so far from my goals, I do find it satisfying to to take tough projects and make them look better.

Most of my mow jobs are on foreclosed houses. The lawns are often all dead and I have to hack through hip high weeds on a regular basis. 

The results are an ugly, unevenly short lawn after the first mowing, but after the third mowing I'm bringing it in to where it could compete with the neighbors for quality. If I had living turf with some water on it instead of weeds.

The quality of what I do was brought home as I visited a former job that the property management company reassigned to another contractor. The fences had tall weeds lining them, as did the house and shed. There were lines in the center of the yard where the mower skipped parts. Really, there was just an air of laziness around the place.

Honestly, I don't mind the height and weeds that much. What I do mind is taking a job and not giving it the best you can. I will never make a prize winning lawn out of these tough jobs. But I will always do my best to walk away with my head held up high.

This all has taught me some important lessons about sustainability:

  1. It is sustainable to feed your family and provide a place for them to live.
  2. Sustainability requires hard work, just like anything else.
  3. It doesn't matter how hard you work if you don't understand the job and what you need to do to get it done.
  4. It is not sustainable if you cannot make something you can be proud of at the end of the day.

Sounds like a great way to live, doesn't it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Choosing to Remove Trees

Removal of a tree is always an emotional decision. Usually the one wanting the tree removed is passionate about why he wants to remove it. There is almost always opposition to the removal that is equally passionate. Sometimes that opposition is silent, but the bigger the tree, the more the conflict and trouble that is likely.

Some of the legitimate reasons to remove a tree are:
  1. Competition with another tree that has greater financial, esthetic, or emotional value.
  2. Competition with a man made structure, whether it be a house, power lines, or sidewalk.
  3. The tree is dying.
  4. It has lost the value it was originally planted for.
  5. The tree is a weedy species.
  6. It is creating a bad phycological impact on those who live and work around it.
  7. The tree has become too much of a safety risk.

The last point is the most important: safety is the overriding decider in anything with trees. 

I don't think I need to list the reasons to keep a tree, I think we all have plenty of our own. I do ask that you respect the property owner's right and responsibility for his trees. While there are trees worth fighting for, they are not as frequent as I would like.

Too often I see that the trees that are being fought over are in bad shape and causing problems for the whole neighborhood.

A particular case in mind was a lot with large Siberian elms. These elms were dripping slime from a bacterial infection, had weak limbs that were a risk to the neighborhood kids, and were spreading seeds that were growing in every crack and fence line within a mile radius.

In this case the preservationists won, but I have to wonder if at this point, ten years later, they would be happier with what the property owner wanted to plant as part of the project, or the sick trees they stuck themselves with.

I know I would have chosen the healthier, safer trees.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gardeners and Santa

A friend of mine told the truth about Santa to his kids a couple of days ago. This admission received a wide chorus of 'how could yous' with a few, quiet 'at-a-boys'. The 'how could you' crowd seemed to focus on how this friend was robbing his children of some 'vital experience' for growing up healthy.

My wife and I have never taught our child that Santa is a real guy flying around the world with reindeer and a red suit. She knows the stories, but she knows them in context of reality. And honestly, I think she knows them deeper than many of her friends.

Many of those friends spend horrific amounts of time putting together long lists of what they want Santa to bring them. The larger the family tradition of Santa is, the longer the lists seem and the more time the kids spend making them.

My daughter, on the other hand is much more likely to ask what work she can do to earn money to give a well thought out gift. Yes, she has a wish list. But it never makes it to paper unless she is asked. And while she has fun opening her presents, she is more excited to see the reaction to the ones she is giving.

Somehow I don't think she has missed that 'vital experience'. She has, however, gained several key traits for a gardener. Humility, a realization that one must give, and deep caring about others.

After all, where would our gardens be if we didn't put so much into them? If we didn't realize that we are subject to the greater power of the elements? And that our vegetable and fruit gardening always leads to helping someone else?

And aren't all these traits the same ones that make all civilizations work?

No, I am sure that teaching the truth about Santa will lead to much more magic in the lives of my friend's children.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Making Permaculture Better

A well pruned peach tree that will provide lots
of good sweet fruit. It is trimmed low enough
that my elderly client will have little problem 
harvesting it.
Many people jump into permaculture head first when they finally find it. This is not a bad thing, if they realize that permaculture is primarily a design art and that much of its effectiveness is based on experience and observation.

A good example of this is a friend of mine last summer. She put a couple of dozen apple shoots in water. When they seemed to be healthy, she proceeded to plant them, only then to reap disappointment when they all died.

Observation of a bouquet of flowers with lots of greenery might have given a hint at how difficult it can be to start a plant from a cutting. A quick chat with an experienced gardener might have have given her some tips for a better outcome. A well worded internet search also would have given her some things to think about.

A reasonable knowledge of practical gardening wisdom would have been enough to lead her to a highly successful apple propagating experience. This knowledge can be gained a number of ways, and I will cover that in later posts.

Here are three key areas permaculturists will find especially helpful:

Plant Propagation 
Most of us get how to grow a plant from seed, a few have successfully save seed, a couple are willing to pollinate flowers by hand, but who knows how to graft a favorite apple tree? What about getting a cutting from a peach tree to send out roots? By expanding our knowledge of creating new plants we create better opportunities for quality food.

Soil Science 
Of all the permaculture and home gardening books I have read, only one does justice to the soils of my home state. And that book is dedicated to flowers. With the complexity of soils extending from pH to soil structure to water infiltration to nutrient availability, no permaculturist can afford to have a less that professional scientific knowledge of the soils they rely on.

I know Fukuoka preached in favor of no pruning on his citrus, but not pruning doesn't work well on peaches and many other temperate fruit trees. A permaculturist must not only know how prune a fruit tree for best food production, for the health of the tree, and safety of those who work and play under them.