Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Earth Hour

This past Saturday, people all over the world turned out the lights for an hour between 8:30 pm and 9:30 pm, for Earth Hour. The idea was to make a statement on behalf of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. I thought that it also offered an opportunity to practice for the post-petroleum era. We turned off our lights at 8:30 and I took a long, luxurious, candle-lit bath before getting into bed. I didn't turn the lights back on at 9:30 because I was asleep!

I enjoyed this so much that I did it again last night, on Monday night. (I didn't do it on Sunday night because we had a dinner party, and it wasn't over until about 10 pm.) One thing I like about Earth Hour is that it decrees an end to your work day. When the lights go out, you have to stop working. I suppose you could cheat and turn on your computer, but it has lights in it, doesn't it?

The experience made me think about the fact that until pretty recently--as recently as the 1930s in the rural South--work just ended at dark, pretty much. No matter how poor you were, and maybe especially if you were poor, you probably at least always got enough sleep. Or at least, you had time to think about things, as you lay in the dark not sleeping. Or time to talk, or play music, or...whatever. That's a luxury that many very wealthy people no longer have.

One thing I didn't think about during my candle-lit bath was the fact that candles themselves emit greenhouse gases! But an article this morning in the Christian Science monitor says that the average Earth Hour observer is probably not replacing all her electric lights with candles, so her overall emissions are probably less during Earth Hour than when she has all the lights on. Just to be sure, however, it's best to burn soy or beeswax candles, which are not made from fossil fuels. Or better yet, just enjoy the dark.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Broadfork

Today I'm using a new tool . It's a tool that was developed by Eliot Coleman, one of my gardening gurus, and its purpose is to aerate the soil at a deeper level than normal tilling or surface cultivation allows. In his book, The Four Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman says that he doesn't dig his beds any more, but rather just cultivates them shallowly on the surface to remove weeds. The natural soil structure is preserved that way, and the soil drains more easily and retains humus and good crumb structure better. That is also my experience: there is no need to double dig your beds. In fact, doing so probably destroys more soil structure than it creates.

But when we grow mostly annual crops such as vegetables, the soil does not get deeply aerated by perennial roots. One way to fix that is to grow deeply-rooted perennial cover crops, such as alfalfa and clovers. But those crops are difficult to dig out by hand when you want to follow them with vegetables. The broadfork also accomplishes this deep aeration more conveniently sometimes.

It takes a while to get the knack of using the broadfork. Mine has five tines that are angled slightly to the front of the user. So the gardener has to tilt the handles of the broadfork slightly forward, in order to get the tines perpendicular to the ground so that she can step on the crossbar to force the tines into the soil. This can be a bit of a balancing act.

Once the tines are down in the soil, the gardener then gets off the cross bar and pulls the handles toward herself and then pushes them to ground if desired. This lifts the soil and exposes the clay subsoil to air.

The bed I was digging had perennial weeds in it, mostly asters. I debated whether to broadfork first and then remove the weeds, or remove the weeds with a little fork and then broadfork. The former course seemed to work better: the broadfork loosened the roots of the weeds, making it easier to remove them with the little fork. Of course, you could also till and then broadfork, or broadfork and then till.

Back in the eighties, I had what was called a U Bar digger, designed by John Jeavons. I had it fabricated at a metal shop in town, from John Jeavons's drawings. This was a huge, heavy thing that I could barely lift. Its tines were much longer, and often they wouldn't go all the way into the ground. The broadfork is a much more human-scaled tool, easy and pleasant for me to use.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


It's time to think about starting seedlings indoors for transplanting into the garden later. This year, I'm using
biodegradable pots
from Johnny's Select Seeds. My grandmother loved peat pots, and these are like the ones she used in the sixties. Mine are the round dot pots, but next time I think I'll get square ones, because they will stay upright better. The round ones tip over a bit in the flats.

I sowed cabbages, leeks, parsley, cutting celery, and foxgloves in these pots and placed the pots in a cold frame in the garden. I will put a piece of Agribon spun-bonded rowcover over the cold frame so that air and rain can get in and out while I'm in Houston. If I were going to be here, I would cover the cold frame with the storm door that fits it and vent and water it manually every day.

I also started tomatoes and peppers from seeds that I saved last summer. These pots will go in my neighbor's attached greenhouse. She is generous enough to give me some space in her greenhouse and water the seedlings for me while I'm gone.

I also went to a local nursery that does custom seed-starting for its customers. I talked to the man in charge and showed him my seeds.
He said, "Well, we do this, but we don't look forward to it or enjoy it very much. Sometimes it makes us really mad, or it makes the customers really mad. Once I started a whole batch of hot peppers for some people, about thirty dollars worth. The packs are $1.75 normally, but if you buy ten or more, they're $1.50. So I'd started about ten packs for them, and they tried to argue me down to a dollar a pack! I just wouldn't do that. It's a matter of principle. They went off to the parking lot to discuss it, and then came back and told me that they weren't going to buy any of the plants! I said, fine. I also banned them from the custom seed-starting service. But the next year they sent their wives, thinking I wouldn't figure out it was the same bunch of people. But they didn't fool me: I knew it was them."

I promised him I wouldn't get mad if the seed-starting didn't work out and that I would buy all my plants.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brangus Lane Dogs in San Francisco!

Two dogs from Brangus Lane are in a plastic camera photography show in San Francisco. The dogs are Sally and Isayah.

There is a picture of the photos in the show.

You can see the photo of Isayah larger in a previous post in this blog.
The picture of Sally is above.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Society of Sloth

James Hansen, the eminent climate scientist, wrote the following:

"With modern technology, probably less than 5% of the population could produce all the goods we really 'need'. A certain number of 'producers' could be drafted and trained by society to produce for two years. The rest can stay home and sleep, sing, dance, paint, read, write, pray, play, do minor repairs, work in the garden, and practice birth control."

Heh, heh. I know what that "practice birth control" really means. However, birth control is no longer necessary for most of us on Brangus Lane.

Maybe the "producers" could be drafted right out of high school and they could produce for their community service, and then retire like the rest of us.

I found this quote in the context of an article about the four-day workweek, something that businesses and even universities are contemplating to cut back on energy use. People would drive to work one less day, and perhaps buildings could be less climate-controlled on those days. The lights could be off.

Best of all, people would have more leisure, as Hansen says, and more time for the things that make life really worth living.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dog Fights

Today there was a dog fight on Brangus Lane. This is not terribly unusual, and usually the fights are not serious. But there are a lot of dogs, and a lot of male dogs, and a few of these dogs are always contesting the dominance hierarchy.

Today a dog who used to live on Brangus Lane came back for a visit. He had been living in town for a year. He was in his yard when I came walking up followed by five dogs from the neighborhood. One of these dogs is a big yellow mutt who is normally not particularly aggressive. But for some reason, he and this "new" dog got in a fight.

The fight stopped when a human threw a book at one of the dogs and I kicked the other one. That was lucky! But what is the right way to stop a dog fight? I did a little research on the internet and found out that there is some consensus about what to do and what not to do.

First, yelling at the dogs doesn't help. In fact it can make the fight worse if the humans get upset. That tends to escalate the dogs' aggression.

It is not advisable to try to pull the dogs apart using their collars. Neither of these dogs were wearing collars, but putting your hands near the heads of the dogs may result in a bad bite, even from a dog you know. The dog is upset and not thinking straight and may accidentally bite you.

The method most recommended requires two people. Each person grabs the hind leg of a dog, raises the hindquarters of the dog into the air, and backs away from the other dog, making circles, so that the dog has to concentrate to keep his balance. That takes his mind off the fight. Don't let go, or the dogs may start fighting again. Put one dog in an enclosure first.

If you are alone when a fight happens, get a leash, loop it around the back leg of one dog, pull him away from the fight, and tie him to something or put him in a pen. Then get behind the other dog, and grab his hind leg, backing away in circles, as described above. This may take a long time, but it's the safest way to break up a fight when you're alone.

Let's hope it never comes to that! My observation is that dogs resolve most of their dominance issues well, without violence, if people don't interfere. If you see two dogs displaying dominance body language and posture, and possibly growling, don't start yelling. Usually the less dominant dog will back down. That's what you want! Let them settle it peacefully. Also I have observed that most dog fights are brief affairs where neither party is injured. Again, usually the dogs can work out their issues without "assistance" from humans, which usually makes things worse.

This is not to say that humans should never interfere when dogs fight. But assess the situation first; stay cool; and don't stick your hand into the fight!