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Weedsday

F O R A G E R

19 March 2014

On Wednesday we celebrate the dead God Wodan. Thursday goes to Thor. You might have thought that long before now the Christians would have banished references to the heathen pantheism of our Nordic heritage, yet Wodan’s Day it still be. Ralph Reed must be napping.

Wodan is a Germanic drop down from Mercury, the Roman god of communication in whose honor I frequently down a nice cold pilsner, sometimes in order to whet the dull blades of thought. Because he wanders, Wodan is also a bit like John the Baptist and paradoxically a precursor to Father Christmas, but I think if you stood Saint Nick and Wodan in the police lineup there is no way you would get a conviction.

“ I said he was skinny. This other guy looks like Yosemite Sam!”

We decided to change the name from Wednseday to Weedsday in honor of that bitty bunch of Lamb’s Quarters you got in your share today. Eat them chopped with your eggs tomorrow or in your salad tonight, but eat them soon in order to feel the power of wildcrafted goodness coursing through your veins. The Lamb’s Quarters is akin to spinach and beets, but more identifiable as a relative of Quinoa as are all the edible amaranths. including Kalaloo and Red Root Pigweed.

You also have the first Bok Choy to be seen in a month of Wodensdays, which would be a better spelling. I have thought ever since I could read that the spelling of Wednesday with that damn S sitting there lisping the D while your ears have only heard it pronounced as WeNsday, ignoring the first D entirely. And the English are supposed to be good spellers. If there was ever a day that should be renamed it is Wednesday. In Spanish,  Miercoles,  named after Mercury,  is another slurring, jamming the extra I in front of the E. I like the Italian Mercoledi better, nicely formed and more melliflouous than the French Mercredi.

That may enough etymology to go on your linguini, but there is enough for seconds. Carrots persist, as well as new salad mix. Arugula and Fenyl,  as they spell it outside of Spilsby, near the English Channel, repeat their performance from last week. I don’t think the word fennel appetizes as well as tomato, for example, or asparagus. If we should change the name of fenyl to the Greek word, Marathon, no doubt it would increase that vegetable’s desirability, at least among long-distance runners and anyone put off by the lower echelon implications of the common word might be emboldened to give Marathon some run.

We got the squash and the cucumbers planted but this morning Jack Frost almost paid us a visit. I never knew he was still around here. There was a bit of ice on a cuke, just enough to singe it, but these frost intolerant varieties survived long enough for us to effort some row cover out once again to further their season. We have 27 extra days of production already invested in these 1200 feet of Summer produce, which is ample reason to float some cover on them. The task should take around two hours. Don’t worry. I won’t ply you with more senseless math again. Just because we do a lot of mindless counting should be no reason to inflict the obligation upon you.

F O R A G E R

12 March 2014

 I decreed I would not wander in the tall weeds with faux fictional exploits, but I can feel the permission already weighing heavy on my keyboard. Stop me before I lie. I want to talk about the farm and what grows there, but after looking at it all morning the mind urges to take flight. But I won’t talk about surfing. I won’t talk about Angelica Huston. I won’t delve into The Crimea, Google, The Bagrada, The Symphyla, The Health Department or The Drought, all of which could invest reams of copy. But somebody else has already covered these topics better than I can. Except maybe The Bagrada, of which I wish I was not so expert.

Instead, we can describe what happens out there on the rain-packed soils, where hoeing suddenly evolves into a tool-endangering enterprise. I have seen more than one blade snap out there, no matter be the operator trained or novice. Our transplant set is doing arguably better than our direct-seeded crops. The bok choy is jumping while the beets and chard linger. 2488 heads of mixed lettuce show an admirable vigor after the rain. Superhuman rows of fennel, smarter than any patch this side of Lancashire, thrive into maturity alongside red kale, broccoli and Lacinato kale. Turnips are so-so, owing to underground menacing of the minute root-devouring centipede known as Symphlya. Veronica purple cauliflower is pushing on amid the fancy planting of kolh rabi.

The croupiers are going to plant cucucucucucumbers and zzzzzuchini early again. If the freeze lays off, the early work will yield mucho casino. If it’s going to be 90 on Saturday all I can say is “ What took us so long?”

Peas be planting as do potatoes, more onions and leeks. Another round of cabbage and carrots are in. The six beds we planted to seed with the dark clouds issuing from Drenchtown on the horizon fare better than expected. Our lettuce scarcity is so dire that Wiley Connell could not contain his opinion of our sloth. So we got some heads from Stroke Grove, home of the Stockbridge Miracle. Can’t get more local than The Stroke. The Sunshine grapefruit you think are navel oranges came from Carol Vesecky in the River Bottom. Everything else is from the Us of you, not the Them of they.

Today we got tired of throwing away perfectly good kale leaves that the bitty finches have been murdering. Wes Jones is going to get his mow-jo working on the tractor in the big tangle formerly known as the Pepper Patch. Now it’s Nettletown, population ouch. We dare not tromp there further. That’s where the finches and sparrows secrete themselves from the swooping raptor perched in the oaks nearby. They need the safety of the calamitous growth, where they can wing into when a special shadow darkens their ground.

Nitana really, really wants to drive the tractor badder than a nine year-old boy so we will set her on the new Kubota and watch her crush some weeds.

Today’s share includes Wiley’s lettuce, kale, carrots, chard, cilantro, fennel, broccoli, arugula, and that bitter leafy you thought was lettuce last week. They are Italian chicories, so good for you, and better served with plenty of garlic and lemon, salt or anchovies, mayonnaise, yogurt, macaroni and cheese. braised chard, carrot juice, rice pudding, or some of that Sunday Evening Pizza they started serving at the Farmer and The Cook. This week’s special pizza will be the “Katy Gray”, which goes very well with fine beverages and Daylight Savings.

 

The aphid will be due like a stiff blow out of the west in March. No doubting if, just when, the little things will show. They are scheduled and come in colors. Black on the beets and chard, gray on the kale and broccoli, greens and gold on the lettuces. Last year was bad for aphids on the kale and Brussels Sprouts. We did not notice them much this year because the cruciferans, the favorite food of the aphid, had already been consumed beforehand by the Bagrada, who allegedly is just beginning to rear up and smite anew hereabouts. So we had no fall overwintering kales and other sweet cruciferous Brassicas for the aphid to infest. Turned out the aphids cared as little for celery and parsley as do the Bagrada, and that be good.
A month ago we began to observe some feisty aphid action on around 2000 linear feet of lettuce. We set to thinning it into salad mix, but one morning Wiley alluded to a distinct lack of stoke in picking said mixed lettuce so we moved on to something else not overwhelmed by green aphids. It’s nice to be able to move on to something else, like fennel or carrots, which rarely are visited by the depradator. We thinned the lettuce with blades, threw it on the ground, and shuffled off to the next adventure.
I vowed to hit the aphid with a dose of Neem* and time-tested farm sauce*, featuring kelp in dilution, and eventually I did load five gallons on my back to douse the withering plants. From afar you could tell the aphids were now sucking at a rate close to Full Vampire. Yet when I hiked over to the home of the lettuce on beds 57 and 58, I was revulsed by the idea of spraying anything disturbing because the lettuce was crawling with ladybugs, adults as well as larvae in various stages of growth.
 On such occasions I will lay off the intervention. Sometimes I don’t spray because it is futile. By day I see clouds of perfectly pregnant adult aphids hovering hungrily near a target crop. I can surmise that there is little to achieve with a single fusillade out of the end of a spray nozzle because they are relentless as Mongols and more numerous. Often what the backyard geniuses and ecologists say about beneficial insects turns out to be true. The ladybugs can clean up a crop if given a chance, which is why buying a couple gallons of them for the farm can be useful. Growing your own ladybugs is even more pleasing and cost effective. The result makes you feel like a sage natural alchemist, but for a moment. Something tediously humbling is bound to show up right when you imagine yourself strolling the garden with Rudolf Steiner.
Evan Kleiman, the NPR host for The Good Food Show out of Santa Monica (KCRW) says the ladybugs are scarce this year, but the only reason why she and her peoples haven’t seen them is because they are all over at my place, breeding in the flowering jungle of what we euphemistically enjoy calling our 14 acre Beneficial Insect Habitat. Iconic bugman Everett Dietrick (Rincon-Vitova) taught us about growing crops for the good bugs when we were at Chismahoo in Carpinteria thirty years ago.
“ You know, if you don’t till in that cilantro running to seed the flowers will attract a lot of beneficials to your farm. Afterward you can even harvest the seed.”
In time, the miracle of Beds 57 and 58 came to pass and the lettuce was proven free of aphids because I had done nothing except wait. However, when we went in to pick on it some we once again encountered The Curse of the Ladybug Larvae. Harvesting was a little compromised by our own good luck. Like many crops now in the farm, the lettuce has metamorphosing larvae clinging tenaciously to many leaves, slowly being transformed from a soft bodied devourer, rampantly consuming its body weight in aphids every day, to a more patient winged adult, calmly munching on aphids and the eggs of other unwanted species as they await that magical moment when they will all fly off to the ladybug gatherings in the Sierras. The larvae are not merely stuck on the leaves of chard, Romaine and Kale. They can be found by the thousands hanging from aluminum irrigation pipe, on cement walls, tractor tire rims, discs, harrows and tillers. On boxes, chairs, fence posts and tools. In times past, we have imagined that the ladybugs adapt to our flowering generosity and return to the farm like salmon running up narrow streams in Mendocino, so we tend to be careful with the sleeping larvae so we can continue to depend on the yearly ladybug run.

*Neem is an East Indian word for the tree azideracta Indica, which provides insect repellent and antimicrobial properties, so safe it is used in toothpaste
* The farm sauce features fermented vegetation, kelp, and occasionally Bacillus Thuringeinsis for the caterpillarsImage

IMG_07027 May 2013

 

We could see there was juice, an onrushing tidal bore of pulp-free power, taking hold of every trend- seeker panting for New. We’d heard Los Angeles had been turned into a green swamp. In San Francisco, juicers were powered by batteries of bicyclists, pedaling with tubes full of fresh nectar in their mouths. There was a national strainer shortage. Apple growers were finally flying first class. Juice Grade became a desirable marketing category in the fresh trade.

We’d done juice, grew juice, made juice, but never taken it to an extreme. When you have goofy forked carrots and stubby cukes, the juicer will equalize them easily. Tommy Jackson gave us a shiny Nutrifaster back in Year One, but we abandoned it when the motor burned up. We couldn’t afford to fix it or pay people to shove celery and carrots down it for penny income. There was no longer any room for it amid all the sugary cookies and cakes, the raw balls and chocolatessence.  We never claimed to be a health food joint, knowing how fun it can be to sin. But when the juice storm loomed on the satellite, swirling offshore, we made ready the machines. We thought we were prepared, but we’ve been naïve before.

There always had been juice, way before Gwyneth, waves of frothy richness, induced by every decade’s health guru, from Paul Bragg to Jethro Kloss to Jay Kordich to Jack Lalanne. They chugged it on Muscle Beach in the days of Vic Tanny and Buster Crabbe. The practice dates from the Ayurvedics, who promoted fasting to steady the being and for juices to coax and eliminate the unwanted. Before the flood, purists sipped their wheat grass jiggers and circumspect codgers clutched their carrot-brimmed chalices like Ponce De Leon had poured it for them.

Personally I had always been into chewing. I said my jaws will do the juicing and besides, the belly was built for the whole carrot, not merely the ethereal sweet squeezings of the sturdy root.  I was the buckskinned frontiersman, looking down my sunburnt beak at the effete juiceterians, imbibing their dainty condensed feasts in a glass. I’ll take yer money, but I want to munch my kale right off the stalk while I am bunching it, before it knows what happened.

Then The Smoothie Prince stepped from his cloud and like Merlin transformed the staid juice menu into a dazzling hipster’s treasure map to tummy pleasure. Rory Austin named his concoctions Summer Fling, Figgy Stardust and Scarot Cake. He custom juiced, he prescribed like Hippocrates, he re-invented the common and poured it from somewhere in the 22nd Century. Before the days of the Juice Prince, you’ll laugh, but cashiers made the juice. Now we have a Juice Team and a battery of Vitamixes whining like F-18’s on the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln. Oh yeah, the Team has Japanese knives, and if they want fresh tumeric, fennel or bush-ripe Gogi berries picked by saffroned robed nuns in Lekhnath, they don’t have to ask twice.

With all of this I was pleased, but from a distance. I still insisted on my roughage but did drink the little glasses of extra Lucuma Puma when Rory waved them before me. That was enough. I figured I would go over the edge if I started ordering Green Gaias to go. But then a little elfin creature started dancing through the town, Natalie Hawker, The Juice Girl. British she was and beguiling, bright and healthy, tanned and pirouetting beneath her curls. She came to give us The Cleanse. She asked me for the organic produce. At the end, I was left spinning like a Breville 800. After the first round of cleansing, the recently purified throng turned to me and asked if I was next, like I would be bungee jumping, or obtaining a tribal tattoo.

There was no escape. Lymph therapist Alisha Soto, who was trying to manually rid me of 63 years of excessive behavior, had already decided I was loaded with Cadmium and Mercury, the latter no doubt from my decomposing dental work. She would never be so blunt, but I was a gluttonous, filthy vessel, ready for rehab. And so I plunged into the liquid life. For five harrowing days I drank cilantro, spinach and limes. Beet, apple and arugula. I could deny myself. I could burn the unspent fuel packed on my backside and jellied waistline. Then the real swell hit. The one from north of New Zealand. On empty, I paddled out. Three days in a row, frolicking on fumes -in between filling boxloads of produce, hucked into the truck and headed for the hungry. Downstream I waded, drained, slamming cashew/cocoanut blends and ignoring the fingertip bounty that once had been mine for the taking. It’s one thing to fast in the desolate confines of your home, but pure treacherous torture to cleanse when you own hundreds of pounds of walnuts and raisins, and none can you eat. Think of the tortillas, the eggs, the steaming chai! And oh, the cheese, el queso sagrado, how every cell yearned for a bite of curdled cow fat. But none would be mine. That and a 170 million other prepaid calories, out of reach.

And now that I am done, and can eat at will, I discover my appetite has gone and so have 11 pounds. Food seems as attractive as a sack of ready-mix concrete. I reel from potatoes. Dream naught of cheese. After just a few bites of sauerkraut I feel fat. Wandering my own former culinary Fort Knox, I not only ignore the ice cream and cookies, but shrink from them like a runway model waiting to audition for Alexander McQueen.

 

1 May 2013

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Patty Cake Smith rolled into town a few weeks ago, by chance. But in Clairvoyant Ojai everybody knows there is no such thing as an accident. Smith was born “Ray”, not Raymond, which is a common rendering in Texas, except he was born in Los Angeles and was moved to Forth Worth when young. But he belonged on our latitude, drawn from afar like a migrating bird. Ray was on a bike, hauling peculiar road gear, including a typewriter and a tent, flowered shirts, orange canvas shoes and an unforgivably pink water bottle he found in the dust at Lucidity.

 

The bike has shiny chromed mud guards, which I thought antique, but perhaps useful since he said he was headed to Oregon. He claimed he had been a bicycle taxista in Texas and wrote automatically. Though never an author, he is proud to be a “correspondent”. The heavy typewriter, which does not work, marked him as a Luddite, but he protested that it was not true. We believed him even less when we found out he had never learned to drive in all his thirty years when he went off to the barn to pick up some boxes in a wheel barrow.

 

When he first showed up he asked me if I was Steve. He told me that Rory, Smoothie Prince of El Roblar, had told him to look out for somebody “ big, loud and dirty”.

 

Ray said: “ You’re not that big, and I can’t tell if you’re loud, but you are dirty.”

 

I know what Rory meant by loud, but what about big? Girthy, or large in character?

 

Ray once said he had not been on a date for five years, suffering a long recovery from a broken heart, but he can’t fool us. He doesn’t seem that rusty to me. He always seems to be entertaining some new female friend while rejuvenating over lunch after a morning’s toil on the farm. He’s a handsome, well formed fellow, ripped from hauling all those fat Texans to barbeque joints. Ray picked up that Patty Cake nickname when I busted him in the hallway at the Farmer and the Cook “learning” from a suitably admirable woman how that child’s game goes. I was about done being surprised by Mr. Smith.

 

I said, “ Now Patty Cake, you can’t tell us you don’t know your way around womenfolk when you’re pulling a stunt like that in the queue to the bathroom.”

 

“ I must have learned it earlier when I was a boy. But I guess I forgot how the song went.”

 

“ You seem to catch up to speed quick. Some things you never really forget, like how to ride a bike, no matter how long you’ve been out of the saddle.”

 

“ Heh-heh,” Patty Cake replied. “ Heh-heh-heh.”

 

Ray is a game worker and fits right in with the tribe. He’s not working some angle, is as he appears, and his blarney is harmless, even entertaining. Like that business about him being shy and out of practice. He walks around the farm in the afternoons enjoying the Pacific air, marveling at the mountains, and when he runs into dirty me on my hands and knees setting another gopher trap he says:

 

“ Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I can’t get over how gorgeous it is here. Do you ever get tired of it?”

 

“ No. Were you ever in Colorado?” I know he is infatuated with the mountains, because Texas has few except in Marfa.

 

“ Well, yeah. But it was too cold for me. This is perfect.”

 

“ Don’t get too comfortable, Tex, things are about to change once that high pressure sets in over the Great Basin. It may be 64 today but by Thursday you’ll feel like you’re back home in Texas.”

 

 

 

Today’s shares offer gold beets instead of red, the usual overload of chard and kale, cilantro, green onions, some salad mix, turnips ( probably the last) and the dwindling celery. I lucked into a heck of a short celery market this week and sold $2,000 of juice grade stalks into Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. They took it even though it was shooting to seed because the juicers, and called to ask for more. It’s so nice to be wanted. Summer is on the sunflower horizon, with those squashes drifting ashore like the first jelly fish on the Davidson Current. There will be more, oh don’t you know, there will be squash.

 

I see that north east wind kicking in right now, so I best close and head down to Oxnard Shores to sample some of that swell the Southern Hemisphere has been so kind to bestow. The weeds will still be here when I get back.

 

IMG_1284

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The children were late by half an hour, so we tuned into the roar off the road, fathoming for the telling moan of a bus creeping into the lot, the unmistakable throb of a deeper diesel. A diesel more authoritative than the potato vendor hustling in over the hill from Santa Barbara, a diesel more dense than the steady thrum of the faithful brown delivery legions, a lower groan than the cement truck, far steadier than jerking trash truck, bucking and hucking in short bursts. Those big Blue Bird school buses throb like tug boats straining at the hawser, usually loaded sixty strong with overly vigorous youth, ignorant of the present, yearning for whatever’s next as long as it’s next. If they averaged 150 pounds a piece, a full load would be four and half tons of glimmering teens.

As long as they aren’t asleep. You can catch your high schooler at far ends of the spectrum, either fidgety as a ground squirrel or laid back as a salamander. But we only bagged five from Carpinteria High, and only one seemed somnambulant (he was just shy) plus their charming Future Farmers of America sponsor, Holly. They came in a van instead. We showed them our finest chard and eetsy beets poking through the crust, displayed our crop of bell beans, oats and vetch that we are eager to thrash, and had them dig carrots so they could carry off a souvenir they could eat on their way back home. We sensed they obtained honest stoke, which is our duty, delivered with all the joy of a punchline in a joke.

Later the fair-haired Gromulon grimly rode the old green machine north to open vacated soils in the wilds of Meiners, diesel flaring through the pulsing mob, besieged by an onrushing future of debt and doubt. On throbbed the Deere. There’s a pride one feels astride the tractor, trespassing on public asphalt where Fords and Chevies reign. Grommie ripped through town at his own regal speed, a rate allowed only to heirloom pilots treading through quaint burgs as once did many, on horseback and smoking three wheelers, on thousands of once narrow thoroughfares. The dwindled farmers churn their dwindled acres on the tattered fringes of the boom. Yet now their numbers grow. Statisticians rapturously report that grommet farmers do increase. And these are the small farmers, or rather small farms, because some of the new farmers are rather huge, either in body or in spirit, splashed with hope dashing against the doubt.

One must be ever humble when partnered with nature. There will always be hunger. But will rain fall, bad, bad bug fly by, bitty birds cease their incessant pecking? Is there craft enough to trounce the dumb rabbits whose shadow never leaves their finicky hole? Can we pay for the water when each drop seems to be brought by golden pipes? Water under pressure, pushed by the common power we all plug into, is like the blood in our veins. What coefficiency relates powered water to oil, or to all carbon, firing silent diesels far away, victorious over unrelenting gravity and an equally unrepentant sun?

The proud Gromulon, striding giant, drags dead branches from the field with scant thought to mean and selfish grinders of people, trapped like addicts in a forest of needles. He wants to admire his own simple carrot, bunch a radish for Pete’s sake, with small energy wasted on abstract monoliths from which we all live downstream. The brazen youth hack into their days as if knowing treasure can be found at nightfall, buried under all the sad weeds dead behind them. Whack and hack, making sense of the earth’s exquisite chaos, planting in straight lines when the spirit beckons to draw circles on the ground, enticing divas and fresher spirits to play amid his green dreams.

We Bought the Lot

 

ImageWe bought the lot. It’s the one next door that everyone told us to buy.  I wanted to buy it ever since I started working on The Farmer and The Cook. It’s what I’ve seen smart people do. It was for sale back then for eighty-five thousand. I was broke from building the store so I told Olivia’s mother she should buy it. She owns the building where the store is located. But Ruth is too smart. She’s a self-made real estate tycoon.

She says: ” It has no building on it so how can I make money?  You can not buy property that will not pay.” She speaks like Solomon with a Colombian accent. If Solomon was an 80 year old woman. But she doesn’t look nor sound 80. When she says “property” it comes out sounding like coins being counted, quickly. Or somebody rock hopping across the river to a gold mine.

That was thirteen years ago, when I first saw the ancient FOR SALE sign wagging in the breeze in the middle of the grassy lot. Even back then I thought it would be a natural progression. Not long after we opened the store a man who owns much property on El Roblar bought our lot at the corner of Padre Juan. The new owner had it surveyed. One of the survey men bragged that a two story business office was going up. I heard table saws and smelled roofing tar. But nothing happened. There was a moratorium on water meters from the Meiners Oaks Water District. I like nothing better than a good strong dose of No Growth. Coincidentally the moratorium lead me to think I was going to farm on the 33 for longer than I did, but that got finessed. I don’t think I am ever going to figure out how that gets done. I am no finesser.

The real estate man tried to sell the lot for Three Hundred and Thirty-Five.  A rip tide of debt. That is four times money, honey. That’s how it’s done, son. Either you learn how to rock hop across the river or take a fancy to calluses and hierarchies. But that price was raised during the Madness, the days of the unchained mortgage writers, photocopying pictures of Ben Franklin at noon, right in front of the cops. So like plenty of lots, ours did not sell. You remember the days of crumble, when everything melted except Dick Cheney’s Halliburton stock. 

When the coast was clear, many El Roblar parcels were put back on the market. Word was out that the trendy path to the horse corrals and Stoner’s Smog Check was on the official desirable list. Break out your jodhpurs, Carmen, and find the keys to your Camaro. Word was that the lot on the corner of Padre Juan would now be affordable. Trent helped me get a good price. He made sure I got it done too. You gotta sign a lot of papers, ask a lot of questions and Ask Now. The owner was glad to let it finally go. Those properties are a ball and chain. You can’t get a bank loan on empty commercial dirt. The banks already own plenty of those bummers. So we pulled a pri-fi and the owner gets to make banker’s interest unless we dig up some big nickels.

I confess, I wanted the lot primarily because I was afraid of what was going to happen to it if somebody else got it. The lot was defenseless. Olivia didn’t think it was a great idea. She said: “ Well if you’re going to invest that kind of money, you should make it pay off somehow.” I heard that before, but less diplomatically.

I just couldn’t bear the idea of having some auto repair unit installed next door, with Wally dropping wrenches and eleven air drills frumping nuts on and off all day. You know: “ Frump-frump. Shang! A shang-shang shang.” Then “Clang!”

Something like that, or maybe a careful cabinet maker, finely sanding smooth the grain while the Eagles incessantly warned about bedding down in Hotel California. Or how about a dog boarding outfit, pooching us out upwind under a warm summer sun?  I know, I am the last guy you thought could be a paranoid. But I lie awake at night scaring myself to death over what will never happen.

After we bought the lot, it was like it wasn’t ours. It was almost too easy. All of a sudden, we were safe. I stared vacantly at the green grass, empty of concern. I did some mind drawings. I planted apricots, basil and rosemary in various rows, then moved them around-in my mind. I really did buy 400 mint plants from Lucio down at Suncoast, and the basil is also ordered. I knew I had to be judicious about the horticulture. This ground would not see carrots or spinach planted on it.

 

OVER à

 

 

 

I am wary of the promise of Urban Agriculture.  The city is dirty. The desire to plant does not merit the faith in eating. Factories once spewed where condos now gleam. The lead and asbestos linger in roadbed environs; the cadmium dust coats the geraniums at curbside. Of course, one can not defend the country because farmland has been intentionally polluted with toxic chemicals for 60 years. Want to see some lead? Check the cotton growing regions. Nonetheless, according to due diligence, our farmland at Help’s West Campus must be cleaner than El Roblar because it is 200 feet further from the river of internal combustion engines, and all they haul.

I knew flowers would be desirable because they are attractive, lucrative, and not eaten. The herbs are above ground, do not accumulate toxins as readily as winter squash or beets and serve our interest in feeding bees. The flowers and herbs would invite and hopefully better withstand the errant stompings of the toddler or unwitting adult. There would be two picnic benches, a temporary shade structure, an organic arch made of flowering beans. But nothing permanent and everything ephemeral. Nothing that would incur the coming of the badges, they of the clipboards, permittings and fees.

In advance of the rain of 19 February, I drove the smaller tractor up to the lot and began tilling it for the first time, as tentative as a sophomore attending cotillion. The sky was dark over the western peaks. The wind was up. Vandenberg radar was painting some green flecked with yellow.  I had to knock that grass down. I had to lay out the ground for apricots early. I knew there might be debris in the ground because some of it was mine. Stuff wanders. And because we had utilized the perimeter as a de facto compost pile for years the border was greener. There might be forks, knives. And there might be a chunk of stabby metal lurking beneath the surface waiting to attack my tires.

The lot is one of the few wild places remaining on Mr. Meiners’ pig farm. I knew there would be gophers because they have wanted to eat my landscape. There might be moles. Earthworms no doubt have felt safe there for decades, perhaps centuries. I did find a big red snake. But it was already dead or Mack the Plumber wouldn’t have thrown it out there when he busted the handle back in ’79. I figured it was a Pro model because of its girth, and you just don’t find cables encased in industrial grade plastic like that anywhere.

There were stones and asphalt of course. Vacant lots just beg for asphalt and busted up concrete. But Meiners Oaks has been kind to our lot over the years. I found little plastic or evidence of carelessness. I did remember to haul out 30 feet of black drain pipe the county made me take out when they discovered our first tentative foray into Permaculture at the store. They caught us red handed washing beets in an outdoor sink one day, with the water draining around the corner into the landscape. Man they were hot about that. They red tagged the store on the spot and an official with a clipboard and a picture ID came the next day to check on our “open sewer”.

It was only a few years later that the county started giving out merit badges to people who had installed such gray water rigs in order to not waste so much water.

 

 

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