Talk Dirt: Mattress-dumping Knuckleheads
Jan28

Talk Dirt: Mattress-dumping Knuckleheads

Most of us in this country generate a lot of trash. I spend a lot of time feeling guilty about it, but it turns out that doesn’t actually decrease my trash production. With a tiny amount of effort I can recycle all the paper and plenty of the glass and plastic. Even my non-recyclable, non-compostable trash only costs a tiny tipping fee. The fee is vanishingly low when you consider that the garbage is going to stack up somewhere...

Read More
Talk Dirt: What’s Creeping in  Your Compost
Jan21

Talk Dirt: What’s Creeping in Your Compost

I, like most everyone who can read this, am a proud endotherm. I do a pretty good job of maintaining a constant internal temperature. It’s something I’m pretty good at, so why shouldn’t I be proud? All birds and mammals are endotherms. There are even some large fish that maintain their temperatures, most notably swordfish and the dreaded white sharks. I guess they can be proud, too. Endotherms must expend energy to maintain internal...

Read More

Making Middens

Most of us in this country generate a lot of trash. I spend a lot of time feeling guilty about it, but it turns out that doesn’t actually decrease my trash production. There’s very little incentive for cutting down other than ideology.  With a tiny amount of effort I can recycle all the paper and plenty of the glass and plastic. Even my non-recyclable, non-compostable trash only costs a tiny tipping fee.  The fee is vanishingly low...

Read More
Poking at Bird Poop
Jan15

Poking at Bird Poop

We’re in the midst of the good New England weather that keeps the weak away. It looks desolate and lifeless out there, but it most surely isn’t. With temperatures staying below freezing the little snow we have is sticking around and treating us to the signs of the animals that we live with all year. My avian livestock have no interest in this sort of weather. They are, in their fowl little hearts (sorry) Republicans and would rather...

Read More

Staghorn Sumac in the Snow

We’re in the midst of the good New England weather that keeps the weak away. It looks desolate and lifeless out there, but it most surely isn’t. With temperatures staying below freezing the little snow we have is sticking around and treating us to the signs of the animals that we live with all year. My avian livestock have no interest in this sort of weather. They are, in their fowl little hearts (sorry) Republicans and would rather...

Read More
Like a Lycopod
Jan07

Like a Lycopod

This winter we haven’t gotten enough snow. “Enough” is what allows for cross-country skiing. Even in New Hampshire, where I spent part of the holidays, the snow cover was patchy or absent. We passed a wet hour tubing at a ski resort. The wet snow and underinflated tubes, which we paid some embarrassing amount for, made for slow sliding. As disappointing as the snow experience was, it made hiking easier. The lack of snow meant that the...

Read More

Why I'd Rather Be Farming

Each spring right after my garden beds thaw, little green spears of garlic poke through the leaf mulch. The warmth awakens my compost and the smell begins to draw the neighbors’ ire. I love it: to me it’s the smell of sedition. By producing some of my food I fancy myself a revolutionary refusing to yield to the easy trip to the store for all my needs. But, sadly, this is a fantasy. I’m no farmer: I rely on the(shops...

Read More

Re-imagining a liberal art: science

Although the plight of the humanities occupies the ever fretful academy, the sciences also face a dilemma. Are the sciences just technical training, or are they intended to broaden students intellectual horizons? In my experience, current practice in most undergraduate science curricula does neither. The natural sciences are generally described as practical disciplines. But the scientific curriculum is not a technical or professional...

Read More

Reader's Companion

re-reading with electronic bi-focals Unlike most years, II made resolution this January: I’m re-reading some of the many books that have meant something to me over my not quite four decades of reading. As I do this I learn something about the person I used to be at several different ages. I’ve also discovered how online resources can replace something that I have missed in reading as an adult: the college seminar. Not...

Read More

Music in Middlemarch

As I mentioned in this forum a few months ago, I have been re-reading books this year (http://valleyadvocate.com/blogs/home.cfm?aid=13576). In particular, I have been revisiting and enjoying some favorites from the eighteenth and nineteenth century.George Eliot’s Middlemarch was a particular joy. I’ve been told that my parents hoped for a hard working man like Caleb Garth, so they hung the name on me. I’m afraid I...

Read More

Eating in the Cold

Access to food or the land to grow it on has often been a weapon used to assure the poverty of a subjugated populace. Think of the Irish, the Native Americans, or the North Koreans. But we live in a time of immense surpluses of food in the developed world. We in the United States spend very little of our income on food and eat a great deal of energy intensive calories. Before cheap oil and industrial farming, no one could take food...

Read More

Aspirational Gardening

I used to live in Texas. Well, Austin. We didn’t have quite as many seasons as we do in the north. Up here, you’ve got spring, summer, fall and winter — generally in that order. In Austin there were essentially two seasons hell and bliss. Hell was punctuated by ferocious thunderstorms that would cool the air to a frigid 85 degrees after the sun went down. During the bliss season there were occasional ice storms to...

Read More

Seeding Onions

It’s early March, the robbins in my part of Northampton never left, so I can’t say that they’re a sign of spring. This year, though, we’re getting a traditional New England mud season. We haven’t had one of those in a while. Good thing I got some great new rubber boots for the mid-winter consumer extravaganza this year! I’ll no doubt be mucking about in my new boots some cordorouy pants and a pair...

Read More

Dungeon Surprise

This time of year I head down to the basement at least twice a day to check on my onions or other seedlings. This evening, I was greeted by a peculiar smell. I sniffed and stepped, then stepped again. I thought, “that smell is very familiar.” Not exactly pleasant, but not entirely nasty either. It smelled, well, it smelled like pot. Though I often joke about the grow lights in my basement, there is not nor has there ever...

Read More

Genetically Modified Fodder

I am no fan of big business and I certainly would like to see our country go in the direction of sustainable agriculture. At the same time, I’m not as rabidly against genetically modified crops as many in our not-exactly-humble valley. It’s partly the fact that I work in a branch of science that relies on transgenics to answer questions, but it’s also because I just tend to be a contrarian. Most folks I talk to are...

Read More

Pig Farm

As I will hopefully convince you in these blogular entries, I’m trying to live a more “sustainable” lifestyle. I’m really not particularly impressed with my efforts. Yes I bike to work (or take the bus), I grow a fair amount of my vegetables and put up as much as I can. When it is not too inconvenient I source things locally. Ultimately though, I’m fully enmeshed in the system. I’m plugged into the...

Read More

Children hate vegetables

People who don’t eat their vegetables are only fooling themselves. Animals can’t do the magic. They can’t take CO2 and turn it into sugar. The magic of taking an inorganic gas and turning it into an organic nutrient didn’t make it into the animal kingdom. Even worse we can’t make lots of the amino acids — the plants have got to do it for us. You may not eat your vegetables, but something else did...

Read More

Plant of the Week: Welwitchia mirabilis

I’m sure many of my legion readers are familiar with the blog Badass of the week or the more subtly titled F.U. penguin. I would like to introduce the plant of the week. What a clever name, yes? This week’s plant could really be a bad ass of the week: Welwitschia mirabilis. Apparently one of the “common” names for this Welwitschia is tweeblaarkanniedood . I guess I’ll go ahead and stick with Welwitschia....

Read More

Chaos, order and gardening

I didn’t know them personally, so this is hearsay, but when the first westerners arrived on these shores (oddly coming from the east) they saw untrammeled wilderness. They were misinformed. According to William Cronon in Changes in the Land, it was actually a semi-tended forest (semi-trammeled I suppose). The local Americans managed the forests and meadows for hunting and gathering. But it looked like a wilderness. And...

Read More

Something there is that doesn’t love a lawn.

Perhaps it would be more acccurate to say “someone there is who doesn’t love a lawn: me” The lawn of the American house is a new thing. Before the advent of the gasoline mower it really was difficult to keep a perfect mono-culture going in the yard. In rural areas you could always use ruminant power, but your average farmer probably had more pressing concerns than the grass in front of the house.. I manage with my...

Read More

Peregrinations

Peregrinations Many Saturdays I have the job of keeping the six and three year olds from causing irreprable harm to themselves or others. So far I have succeeded. I usually try to find other children of similar ages and pen them up together with plastic bags and other appropriate toys. This morning the other near by friends were otherwise engaged and I was forced to improvise. I decided we’d have a forced march. I wanted to go...

Read More

Symplocarpus foetidus

How could you not love a plant named skunk cabbage? It’s one of the first flowers of spring and the blatant eroticism of the spadix and spathe would make Georgia O’Keefe blush — perhaps it did picture of flower from the online? It’s an arum, so in the same family as the aptly named Amorphophallus titanum. This family really has got the corner on great names amorpho phallus? And of course titanum! Skunk cabbage...

Read More

Planning

Planning overhead picture of garden Good planning=good gardening Good fences=Good neighbors Practice=way to Carnegie hall I’ve been lax on planning. I’d much rather be standing in the garden than drawing a picture of it. For me this is even true when the garden is under three feet of snow or frozen solid. But this habit is bad, bad, bad and I should be shunned from good gardening society. Every book and blog warns you that...

Read More

Cross cycling

A house near me is getting the architectural equivalent of a boob job and botox: vinyl siding. It’s also getting new more efficient windows; that’s probably more like a gym membership. It does look a lot nicer though: it’s all gleamy and has plump lips. It’s gotten me thinking about my own asbestos clad abode. The asbestos was just fine in the ground. Now that someone dug it up, mixed it with concrete and put...

Read More

Orchids

I don’t think people’s passion for orchids can be overstated (c.f. adaptation). I do not collect orchids; in fact I own no orchids, but they do thrill me somewhere outside of the concious mind. This week’s New Yorker features an article by Jonathan Franzen (sorry behind a pay wall) in which he writes about coming to terms with his friend’s death. His friend was David Foster Wallace (DFW), one of my favorite...

Read More

The Birds and the Peas

The Birds and the Peas Garden pic The other morning the older of our two indigent boarders noticed a “black thing” near the swingset. Closer examination revealed a decapitated robin. Good morning, happy spring! Bird watching was not a popular past time for serfs and peasants. They favored drinking hooch or forming mobs to attack monsters in spooky castles. When people moved to cities then to suburbs, birds became...

Read More

Fagus sylvatica

Fagus sylvatica Thus far in my ruminations about plants, I have kept my dorkitude focused on smallish plants. True Welwitschia (http://valleyadvocate.com/blogs/home.cfm?aid=13287)can get pretty big, but it’s kind of a weird shrub really. The dominant plants in our world are trees, and my favorite tree, at least at this very moment is the European Beech. It is a non-native, but not an invasive one. Kind of like Canadians really....

Read More

Peas in a cup

Peas in a cup The peas are in a cup because they germinate much better if I soak them overnight. This seems to work with all the big fleshy legumes: beans and peas. I mentioned the peas last week because I’d been worried about birds. One variety has come up. The other is taking a bit longer, probably because the seed is two years old. So I soaked some seeds to fill in. Speaking of peas in a cup, I am growing grass, but this...

Read More

Critters

critters According to most dictionaries, the word “creature” was pronounced “critter” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — when the colonies were being founded. It now has a sort of jokey valence and brings to mind creepies, crawlies and all manner of little organisms. Strictly speaking, though, we’re talking about “creatures.” That is, things created. It refers to the creation...

Read More

Trillium erectum

This spring beauty has some very peculiear adaptations and some really lovely common names. Pointy-headed taxonomists call common names “trivial names.” Some don’t strike me as trivial in the least. These names are often informative. TheTrillium erectum you see above is sometimes called “stinking benjamin.” In this case it refers to the fact that stinking benjamin, well, stinks. This is how it attracts...

Read More

Solanum lycopersicum

I think the proper botanical clasification is in fact Lycopersicum esculentum. The beloved garden tomato. It goes really well with this other favorite that’s looking good at the moment: garlic. Last night I finally got around to seeding my tomatoes. The process is pretty much identical to the seeding of onions except that I plant the tomatoes a little deeper and anticipate them a little more. During the winter months our hardy...

Read More

Maple Pollen

The last few weeks have been very rough on the boss’ respiratory system. She is allergic to tree pollen. Many of the trees around here do their reproduction in the spring and a lot of these trees use wind to spread said pollen. That’s all well and fine except that a lot of that pollen doesn’t wind up on stigmas (the first of the female tissues), it winds up in our noses and our lungs. Based on a few conversations...

Read More

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed

WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. http://www.bartleby.com/142/192.html Bllooming lilacs remind Whitman of the civil war because the smell represents a time of year and that time of year is imprinted with traumatic events. People used to...

Read More

Gallus gallus

I have long shown myself incapable of resisting any little breeze of conformity. And so it is that on Thursday I drove to Amherst Farm Supply to pick up chicks: six buff orpingtons to be exact. Here’s a picture of red hot chick on chick action. Well a few of the chicks are on top of each other. I’ve got a red heat lamp on them because chicks like it hot. OK enough with that stupid pun. I really do feel as though I’ve...

Read More

cut worm

A few weeks ago I transplanted several lovely brassicas to the garden. I put in 10 or so broccoli plants, ran a soaker hose (hasn’t really been so necessary) and mulched with leaves. I also put in some flowering kale (Happy Rich F1 from johnny’s), cabbage and brussels sprouts. They’ve been growing well: Look at those happy leaves! They’re like little pearls of water look like they’re made of plastic. Oh...

Read More