Pictures? Maybe not.

So the internet here was rather overwhelmed by my demands…I will try again when I am home (in 6 days!). And if that doesn’t work, well, you’ll just have to come to my internship presentation.

This past week we have been working on wrapping up everything. I’m not entirely sure what we have left to do this week. Transplant some irises, daffodils, and periwinkles. Continue to battle pests. Put the final touches on the garden plan. It’s all starting to wind down. There is a new intern coming in the fall that will be part field course instructor and part garden intern. We’re going to have everything ready for him to jump in, and Anna will be here for another week, so she will help orient him.

But we have been talking about how frustrating it is to plan for the future here. We have learned a lot in these past 9 weeks, about what works here — what struggles to grow, what loves to eat our squash, what the soil needs, etc. And we’re writing it all up in our plan/report. But when it all comes down to it, if our supervisor wants to do something, it’s going to happen no matter what we have to say about it. So maybe all of our advice may be in vain, but we want to share our knowledge nonetheless. Until later, peace.

Quick Update! Pictures very soon, promise.

So mandatory vacation went quite well. We got to explore so much of West Virginia and see a lot of the Smithsonian in D.C. In our West Virginian tour, we passed mountaintop removal and the GIANT windmills constructed on the devastated mountains. I took a “Eurotunes by Ear” course at the Augusta Heritage Festival, so I have learned about 6 tunes on the mandolin. And we went to two concerts and Ceili dances (Irish square dancing, basically) and a contradance. I had hoped to find 6 different farmers’ markets for our local food initiative, but we only found three. I’m pretty sure two of them only exist in a parallel dimension. But I got similar advice from everyone I talked to: find a good produce auction or establish a tight relationship with a farmer. We had figured that much already; in fact, we’re scouting out the produce auction in Harrisonburg, VA on Friday. That should be really interesting.

I have pictures of the garden before and after the vacation — things grew a lot. And other things were chomped to bits. We HAD lettuce. And kale. But now we have stumps of lettuce and stems of kale. And something is eating away at the squash…but hopefully we’re going to ID these pests tomorrow. We put out some ash (for the flea beetles), mouse trap (to see what small rodent is tunneling around), and beer (for slugs). We’ll see what that’ll do.

I promise pictures by the end of the week. There are a lot of the garden — it will be a time lapse adventure! Until then, peace.

Building, budgeting, and ~400lbs of plywood

Well the Earth Shelter has lost its earth, but we still don’t have our wireless internet yet. So I shall update on the past week. Anna left for our “mandatory vacation”* early, on Tuesday, so I got some things done by myself.
On Monday, we finished our potato storage box. That one box took a loooong time, but it looks damn good. Tuesday I planted some more sunflowers in the path leading up the garden and varmint-proofed them even more (they kept getting eaten!); spread mulch around our raspberry patch; some other random garden chores; and got the pig back in the pen. That was a story of true happenstance. I was headed up to the garden to start drawing an updated garden plan when I felt the need to check on the pigs. Kaiser Soze (the male pig) ran up to greet me as usual…but Squatpump (the female pig) was missing…I was really concerned until I saw the silhouette of a pig in the woods. Of course. She had done it a week before, but we figured some added barbed wire would put an end to that habit. She ran up to greet me, and we had a talk about it. I eventually found a loose-ish spot in the fence to herd her under after I threw in some fireweed (they really like the stuff). So that was an eventful afternoon.
Wednesday I did some exciting budgeting stuff (I’m being serious — I enjoyed it!). I look at the receipts of our food orders from US Foods since March and made a spreadsheet of everything we order, how much and how often. I then looked at Frankferd Foods, a natural foods supplier in Pennsylvania that we already get a few things from, to see what we could possibly get from there instead. A lot of it would be unreasonably expensive, but there are definitely some items we could get from there. So that was good to see.
Thursday I improved the chicken wire protection around the flower boxes by the kitchen. They’re home to tomatoes and herbs…and the deer love the tomato plants. However, for an hour and a half that morning I helped Tommy and Chris at the Earthshelter – moving the GIANT tarp off the roof and relocating ~1 ton of plywood. So. much. plywood. And then I returned to my chicken wire and scrap wood (the garden intern’s best friends). I meant to get started on writing up our garden plan, but this week was busy enough.
So now I’m on mandatory vacation, touring West Virginia with Zach. We’re going to visit 6 farmers’ markets and hang out at the Augusta Heritage Festival (Appalachian music and crafts!). We went to the market in Morgantown today…not much there, but some good info for future contacts. This afternoon we’re going to scout out Mason Dixon line markers — my most culturally-relevant line on a map. Until later, peace.

Securing the Future with Scraps

I know: it’s be a while. But I have a valid excuse. I was home unexpectedly last week for my grandpa’s funeral (his laughter will always echo in our thoughts though). So Week 5 was spend in Georgia. I came back that Saturday. While I was gone, Anna rabbit-proofed our fence (something has been eating our beans!) and made rabbit stew (made out of the culprit), planted some sunflowers along the path to the garden, and seeded some more lettuce and kale. There was a big important Mountain Institute board meeting that week, so she helped out with that most of the time. So I didn’t end up missing too much garden work, which is nice.

This week has been more random projects. Many of these has involved planning for the future here at Spruce. We’ve been thinking about the second garden plot we are going to start. Should all go as planned next year, it will produce 200 lbs of potatoes, 200 lbs of onions, and 30 lbs of garlic. And some rhubarb. Yesterday we started constructing storage crates for the potatoes and onions…out of wooden slates that we had to take out of the garden fence. We had to take those out because they weren’t aesthetically pleasing enough for our supervisor (but she put them there in the first place), so know we’re a little concerned she won’t find our boxes “pretty” enough. Everything we do has to be “beautiful.” But that’s hard when we have to build things out of wood from the scrap pile. And we may not even have enough scrap to build all five boxes that we need. But the one we started looks rather nice, I must say. We also build a water trough for the pigs because they had been using a pot from the kitchen which they pushed around and flipped over. I got to dig around in the muck with the piggies for a bit; Anna says I’m a pig whisperer and should have a menagerie. I like that idea.

On Tuesday, we took a field trip to Polyface Farms. I was surprise how normal it was. It wasn’t a big production or fancy at all. It was just…a farm. We got a free tour from Andrew, Joel Salatin’s four-year-old grandson. He was awesome and surprisingly knowledgeable. It definitely is a transparent operation; you can wander wherever you like. But it didn’t seem like the holy ingenious farm that people make it out to be. Sure, it was efficient and the animals weren’t in the deplorable conditions that many are these days, but it was just a farm. Our grandparents would not have found it worthy of gawking at. I have pictures, but I can’t share them now…I’ll explain later.

What else have we been getting into…? We transplanted the lettuce that was growing randomly in the garden. I turns out that we had much more lettuce that we thought. We also thinned out/transplanted kale and arugula and covered it with row cover to keep out flea beetles. The arugula doesn’t seem too happy about the move, but hopefully it will perk up. Oh! And big news: we had our first harvest this week! RADISHES! We harvested 23 radishes (1lb 6oz) on Monday and 34 more (2lbs 2oz) on Thursday. We also cut some kale when we were transplanting. The staff here has really appreciated it. The first batch of radishes was almost gone at the end of the day. It was really gratifying to be able to supply something to the kitchen.

Next week, Anna leaves early for “Mandatory Vacation.” That’s when a group rents out the facilities, and we have to leave. I’m going to hit up some more farmers’ markets, explore Monongahela National Forest, and hang out at the Augusta Heritage Festival. But that’s not for another week. In the meantime, I’m going to work on garden plan stuff and budgeting. So the other reason why I’m so behind on this whole blog thing is because our building with the internet is having its roof scraped off. Yeah, you heard me. It was an Earth Shelter, meaning it looked built into the ground, covered in earth. But it leaked a lot. Now it’s just a Shelter. Or it will be when they’re done. So I have all kinds of neat garden pictures and Polyface stuff to share, but that will have to wait until we get our wireless back. I will update sometime next week nevertheless…on this singular computer in the office with a dial up connection. Patience is a virtue. Until then, peace.

Beautification: Under Construction

This past week has been filled with many random projects. Thursday of last week we built the birdhouses and flower boxes with the summer campers; they look great! It really is time for some up-to-date pictures of the garden…not only is it more beautiful, it actually has things growing in it. The kale is awesome, the squash has loads of blossoms, some tomato plants have tiny green fruits. Our lettuce hasn’t really decided to germinate – we may have to reseed. However, the back left corner of the garden seems to have attracted all kinds of random things. We have discovered radishes, beets, lettuce, and random squash plants in the cucumber bed. Very strange. So maybe the things we don’t think have germinated have really only migrated.

Last weekend and today we went to the Farmers’ Market in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It’s about an hour and a half away, but it filled with possibilities. There’s word of a produce auction in Harrisonburg which could prove to be a wonderful resource for TMI (bulk wholesale produce!). There’s also a co-op in the works that is supposed to start in the fall; no one knows much about it, but it sounds promising. And I just stumbled upon a dairy today, which is fantastic because we were told there were none in the area. And they deliver, which is fantastic for us on the mountain.

On Tuesday we talked to the Pendleton County Extension Agent about many of our projects. He was pretty helpful, particularly with the topic of grazing. TMI is interested in grazing much of the surrounding pastures to keep it from returning to forest. He suggested small mobile goat or sheep herds. That seems like a much better idea than fencing much more of the property and filling it with big steers that may intimidate small children. We also talked to him about tilling with pigs and composting in bear country. So now I know a good bit about electric fencing…

This past week we have been chipping away at various projects. This week we have sown a wildflower garden (we’ll see how that goes…note the skepticism); transplanted ferns and mountain laurel at the front entrance (using willow water to encourage root growth…I hope that works…we felt like little kids planting sticks in the ground); built a small tumbling composter (to prove our point – many people here are wary of composting because it may attract bears, but our research suggests otherwise), adjusted the water system in the pig pen (it was a pretty nasty scenario before), and we are beginning to strip some black locust logs to build a flower bed in the front of the Earthshelter (but there is skepticism surrounding this project too; we get lots of mixed signals from our supervisor). So we’ve been busy. We’ve learned to use a lot more power tools than we had anticipated. We are now masters of the table saw, circular saw, bow saw, drills, power sander, and chisel. It’s impressive.

Hopefully the next post will include pictures of the garden. It looks pretty nice. Not as much lettuce as we would like, but it still looks good. Soon the front gate should be covered in morning glories and the path up to it should be lined with sunflowers. OH! And on next week we are going to Polyface Farms! That should be fantastic. We’re turning it into a staff field trip because so many people were interested. It’s only 2 hours away from here! I imagine we will learn a lot there. Until next time, peace.

Conservation? Erm, maybe.

Walk up hill; pick up logs; carry logs down hill; throw logs in truck.
Repeat until bed of truck is overflowing with trees.
Drive truck on ridiculous road farther into canyon into pasture.
Throw logs from truck into pile.
Drive back up ridiculous road.
Repeat process about 6 times each day.
*insert some ATV driving up hill and around conservation area*

So I’m back from working for the Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Smoke Hole. Bug bitten, sunburned, but satisfied from some good ‘ol fashion manual labor. It was 3 of us (Jeff, Anna, and I) plus Mike, the guy from TNC. He was cutting down trees to maintain the unique prairie community. There were some rare grasses, a species of orchid, and some other species uncommon for the area. But I couldn’t help but wonder if all of the fossil fuels burned, all of the walking back and forth, back and forth was really for the best. He was concerned about minimizing our path of disturbance and everything. But who is to say what “belongs” in the community? And who is to say what makes a “community”? I understand that they want to preserve these rare plants, but we were essentially making a floral zoo, a little plot of land that conservation people can point to and say, “hey check this out – it’s special.” I talked to Mike about it a lot, and it sounds like conservation people don’t quite have answers to these questions either. In fact, they ask the same ones themselves all the time.

Nevertheless, it was a good break from the mountain. We got some good river swimmin’ in. And tent sleepin’. And Mike and I did talk about a lot about conservation, ecology, and land management. So while I’m terribly itchy (so many bugs!), it was an enriching experience, I suppose. Hasta luego, paz.

Frustrations, Aunt Phyllis, and Botany

Anna and I have noticed a trend with our position: something has to be just slightly wrong with pretty much everything. Just enough little things to drive one crazy. So the latest one: we thought it would be a wonderful idea to have the summer campers build birdhouses and flower boxes to decorate the awkward garden fence posts. What a lovely, innocent idea, no? Attract birds and pollinators, get kids involved. Nope. Terribly wrong. We spent an entire day cutting the plywood for 6 birdhouses and 6 flower boxes. Granted, we became masters of the table saw and circular saw, but it was a looong day. The next day, we planned on building 3 of the flower boxes (seeing as there will only be 9 campers) to test it all out. Evil, evil, f*&%$ing boxes. We tried nails; we tried drilling holes for the nails; we tried wood screws; we settled with wood glue. We figure we will end up drilling countless holes for the kids on Thursday, and they can slather it all in paint to cover up the failure. It will all look nice from a distance, I suppose (and hopefully serve the intended purposes).

Yesterday Anna and I went to Marlinton, WV for our first farmers’ market stop. It was about an hour and a half southwest from here and quite a small shindig. But we made some connections. We got the names of two farmers who may be able to supply us with some produce and eggs and talked to a girl from an Americorp VISTA program working on creating a local foods database for the county. Awesome. We also bought some peach rhubarb and strawberry rhubarb jams and apple butter from “Aunt Phyllis,” a friendly old Southern woman. We talked to her for awhile and know a lot about her life now (and have some delicious preserves!). Our adventures in Marlinton left me with that warm, fuzzy feeling of genuine human interaction. It was great to connect with people and experience a small town that is showing signs of proactive community development.

I’ve spent the morning collecting plants in the pastures and along the roadside. There is a lot blooming right now. I’m not sure how well my giant book is working for pressing them, but it will have to do. I sure couldn’t have fit a plant press amongst my stuff. And the plants are preserved enough for recognition, just maybe not indefinitely. But it’s still fun to observe the diversity. I’m looking forward to keying them later today :)

We leave tomorrow to do some conservation work for The Nature Conservancy. They are cutting down trees to preserve an endangered species of prairie grass. I’m not sure how I feel about the effectiveness or validity of such an activity, but that’s what I can ponder while I’m chucking logs into a truck. We’ll back in time to “build” birdhouses with the kids…any suggestions on how to best build things with crappy plywood would be much appreciated. So until then, peace.

It’s a garden!

Everything is planted! HUZZAH! On Monday we had the perfect day for transplanting – overcast and not too hot with a bit of a drizzle every now and then. We transplanted some lettuce, kale, spinach, squash, and cucumber seedlings and planted our experimental tomato (and jalapeno) bed. We also seeded more greens, bush and wax beans, and snap peas and planted potatoes. On Tuesday we seeded carrots and radish (…out of my pocket…the seeds spilled, but we’re hoping it will be fine). We also planted three vines around the garden and a couple of butterfly bushes – it’ll be lookin’ mighty fine when we’re through with it. It also rained some that day, which was great. Today we did some more sprucing up: adding more chicken wire to the gate to make it varmint-proof and a flower box to eventually grow morning glories on the gate. We also put some more tomatoes in some buckets because we had so many leftover. I have pictures of the seedlings, but they’re not much to look at at the moment. I’ll post some later when they are bigger/germinated.

We worked today in the midst of a lovely rainstorm. I’m rather filthy right now, but that’s okay – at least it was raining.The weather changes quite frequently here. It is so breezy all the time that clouds just pass through. It tends to threaten rain, only looking dreary for a couple of hours. The temperature changes rapidly in Maine, but the cloud cover changes like crazy here.

Now we’re thinking about our other projects: researching the best way to keep pigs, compost in the wilderness, graze the pastures, and establish local organic food supplies. We begin our tour of nearby farmers’ markets on Saturday. We’re hoping to find some local people who could supply TMI with lots of fresh produce.
I also plan on collecting/pressing some plants this weekend and hiking up to the Spruce Knob summit with Anna.

Yay for plant life and rain! Peace.

As I promised: Pictures!

How I found the garden my first day...uplifting, no?

Up close and personal with the weeds

Learning how to control the beast: the TILLER

Final touches: trellis and raised bed

Finally! Ready for planting!!!

Birthday Productivity!

We got SO MUCH done today! It was work weekend here at Spruce, which is when people come to help out on various projects. And I dare say, we were quite the successful project. My parents drove up here to lend a hand (and be here for my birthday), and they were a lot of help.

Anna and I did some major soil-turning yesterday, but it doesn’t compare with what we got done today. We pulled out the big guns: the tiller. We reached this point in the garden where turning the soil before tilling seemed a waste of our time because it was so thick with rye. So we burned some fossil fuel and ATP and got it done. It was amazing the difference it made. Before tilling the back end, which hadn’t had the TLC the rest of the garden has had, we added some “compost.” I put it in quotes because it wasn’t really humus. It was ash and leaves and eggshells. But it’s what was there and what was called compost. So it went in. And it’s surely better than nothing. The soil here is ridiculous. Thick, compacted clay chock-filled with rocks. Not to mention the condition we found it in: filled with plantain, daisies, thistle, burdock, clover, rye. And junk. String and styrofoam and plastic bits. And a random burn pile smack dab in the middle.

But it’s beautiful now, and that’s all that matters. All the beds are set for planting.  And I do have pictures, but, of course, I don’t have that stupid cord. But very very soon — I promise.

I should go socialize with the parents — who were awesome enough to drive the crazy distance up here to be with me :)   (thank you by the way; I love you guys)

Until next time (when I WILL have the magic uploading cord), Peace.