reflections from the southeast PA rural underground

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Autumn Meditation

All hail the mighty Red Oak! Thank him for his long lasting units of heat. All HAIL!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Soil Amending

The first rule for producing healthy vegetable plants is to feed the soil. Read any organic or naturally grown manual on raising veg and this golden rule will be right there at the beginning. The soil needs to be amended just as the body needs replenishing of organic matter. For all the micro nutrients, organisms, and structure of the soil to remain strong, some inputs by the grower is unavoidable. In the fall most growers, at some point or another, add limestone to raise pH and calcium levels. This need be done only every 3 years in most circumstances. Having never added anything but organic matter to my soil, the pH is significantly lower than I would like. Horse manure will grow the soil's body and nitrogen content but to raise the pH it'll need calcitic lime or something similar. I chose aragonite which I have been told is roughly 3 times stronger than the lime and helps to add even more calcium. Like anything in growing it's to a certain degree an experiment. The reaction time of lime or aragonite is supposed to be around 6 months. I'll see in the spring if my veg grows better and my soil structure seems improved.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Meat Puppets

Welcome back to the sonic circus revelry. Conjuring up all that is guitar laden and desert washed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Where did the Summer go?

It's raining. Again. It's raining. . .er. . .again.

For those of us in the growing community (no, not OWSers--vegetable producers) it may seem that summer never happened at all. Or if it was back there in August, it came without sun for half of its annual reign. Today is another humid, wet, sticky, August. . .wait. . .it's October!?. . .day in the good old growing season of 2011. Surely a victor over the last wettest of the 2000's, 2006.

And surely by a long shot. Two hurricanes and many thunderstorms later, the tropical summer fatigue has now invaded even the autumn. Stealing my favorite season's cool lucidity and replacing it with dank mugginess. Bah. Humbug.

For what it's worth, let us look back on some of those few sunny days of July and August and remember that before the rains came we thought we'd headed into a down right drought of a summer season.

Ah but such is the fickle weather and her daughter Nina! Thank you summer for your Cercospora and for your theft of the second half of the tomato season and lastly your mildewed blankets that ended the lives of many a winter squash and harvest pumpkin. Be gone and don't come wafting through next year!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Art in Tamaqua, PA

John O' Hara leans heavily on the town of Tamaqua, in the coal region of northern Pennsylvania, for the literary backdrop of his novels. While never surpassing his use of the fictional Gibbsville aka. Pottsville, "Taqua" looks like a miniature version of Pottsville. With an old train station at the center of town and a red brick flat iron building just off to the right of the convergence of rt 209, rt 309, and Broad St., the town is an atypically historical one. Indeed, as one drives through town its almost as if all the buildings, parks, and churches are life-size train set models.

A bunch of us drove up to Tamaqua from Berks and Schuylkill Counties to celebrate the work of our scene's much beloved 'patriarch' at his gallery opening on Friday night. He had told us many anecdotes of Tamaqua's St. Patty's parades and night time haunts. It's plethora of gin joints, speak easies, and old time neighborhood bars that hadn't really changed since Prohibition ended. But this night wasn't centered on spirits of that sort as much as on the art work of three generations of the Rimm family. Hailing from Hometown, a small suburb of Tamaqua, Mr. Rimm Sr. and his wife, their two sons, and, if only represented in her bright orange paintings, one granddaughter, were all in attendance. We strolled around the gallery in among the wooden blue fishes, priests, naked women, and suns, that hung in the form of 'dream' mobiles. The sculptures seemed like they could only have been made by this particular artist. Having known him for years I could see his whole personality in the objects. This is folk art, I thought. Icons of Michael Rimm's mindscape. On the walls were black and white photos of street chess players in Reading, Pa. Old trucks and fall foliage montages with trains on sky high tracks passing through the leaves. Couples sharing laughs and moods in the night. Life shots of the region.

In the back room were most of this family communing together, their heritage oozing from their bodies in smiles and good conversation. I spoke with the elder Rimm about last deer season and the most perfect buck I had ever seen. The delicious flavors of halushki, macaroni salad, angel food cupcakes filled with white icing, and ham sandwhiches to wash down with red wine. Everything so simply laid out for the guests with the subtle care that seemed so much a family affair. We were partaking of this cultural line. Soaking it all up in the old Polish, Ukrainian, Catholic coal town that time may have forgotten if it weren't for the arts that now had to supplant industry for the peoples' life blood.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Salad Days

I went up to turn the water on at 5:30 am. This had become the usual routine. There hadn't been any rain for about three weeks. To say nothing of the August-like temperatures of high 90's in this first week of June. My vegetables, especially the salad greens, were surviving on a daily (and often nightly) dose of sprinkler and drip tape action. After making sure the potatoes were indeed getting a drink, i kept walking passed the deer fence to the edge of the woods. I stopped suddenly as i heard that familiar rustling of ground cover, not too far from where i stood. My heart beat faster and i tried to stay as still as possible. I knew they were there. One of them at least. As I stood there, filled with an excitement that never tires, waiting to catch a passing glimpse of the wood's most magical of creatures, i saw a white flash. I always seem to catch that first. The white tail of the Pennsylvania doe. Flickering upwards as they shift their bodies spasticaly, deciding if to run. They always run when spotted by a human. The question is how long will they tarry before leaping into action, stealthly and sleekly darting away from the outsider.

I had put the fence up because, like most vegetable growers, i did not want to see my potential profit eaten up by any of the various gourmands of the outdoor world. I even attached a low strand to deter groundhogs and racoons. For months now it had seemed to work. I thought of all this strategy as the does took their leave and i began to cut mesclun mix for the fifth week of the season. I'd be up over 20lbs if the stuff this week. Did they know what was just beyond their realm, waiting to be devoured just beyond two strands of easily passable rope fence? Had they touched their noses to the strands, as i had hoped, and gotten enough shock to create a different path around my acre? I cut and cut and figured i was lucky so far. Lucky to have had Kim to erect this light but sufficient boundary for my lettuces, mustards, and spinach. Lucky so far. But will they realize eventually that the strands are a mere 3 feet apart and only just over 4 feet high?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kutztown Bloc Party with Total Quality Institute

It felt like Spring had finally sprung down on Main St. USA. Complete with a climbing wall and live music. I drank a chocolate shake and watched kids run around with painted faces. Oh, and some band spewed noisy, angsty, dissident garage rock that reminded me of The Minutemen or Television or The Talking Heads perhaps. The clouds hung low but spirits were up and the gray fuzzy back drop held community out there, on the ends of great tentacles, invisibly flapping from their origin in 1979 London or New York. A fabric affair sans leather. Or, so to speak.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day

Not really knowing the history of this holiday of yore, suffice it to say that I've seen the excellent and terrifying 1970's version of the film The Wicker Man and read enough Wiki entries about children dancing around the May pole to get the gist of it. So. . . guess that makes me somewhat of an expert on pre-christian European folk religion, right? C'mon, it's the information age. You don't have to know what you're talking about. Just say more. Oh, and definitely put it officially ONLINE!

To this newly solo, sole proprietor, on-his-own, little guy farmer, the first of May means that yesterday, the last day of April, not everything got done. Was it ever any different for any farmer anywhere, big or small? I've got a wee patch of vegetables that I'm calling Epic Acre Farm.

It's just that. About an acre on my home property that I figured I'd max out and produce for a market since I was planning on growing food here anyway. There are also some beautiful apple trees (morels!) that are in dire need (did I just say dire?) of pruning, a couple little pear trees that are in full, white flower bloom, and about an acre and a half of woods in addition to the "epic" acre of growing space.

Having gotten the "yard" mowed - that is, everything else green that doesn't constitute woods or grow space (thanks, Jen) - the beets and radish in the ground, the deer fence started, the trees cut or limbed outside the to-be-fenced area, earlier radishes hoed and covered and the last of firewood trees felled, most of what I wanted to accomplish in the last two days of April got done. Now it's May. Oh joy. Oh more to do.

May 1st happens to have dawned on a partly sunny, beautifully cool, mid 50's morning here in the southeast of PA. But before I get to the block party downtown to check out my friends TQI, I've got to get the rest of those loose ends from yesterday tied up. It's Sunday, the old order neighbors I have would say a day for rest and church. But as a small farmer (I would use the term market gardener, but then, I guess I'm just stuck back in the 90's with Andrew W. Lee) I don't have the minions of extended family hands to pitch in throughout the long growing season's work load. No kids. No cousins. No Pop with endless acreage and know-how and tractors. Nope, just me and sometimes my partner to remember the details and hoe the rows. And of course, in my case, good neighbors that'll swing up the hill just in the nick of time (again those oh so solid old order people), between endless April showers, with their three bottom and plow the rest of my field.

And then there's the friend who is helping with the deer fence. And the other friend who helped log the first big tree I felled two weeks ago. And of course the former boss who called and said I'd never get those clods broken up if he didn't bring the tractor roto-tiller over on Sunday and. . . wow. I guess I'm not really alone in this endeavor after all. All these fine people, eager and willing to lend two hands. Whether out of friendship or a simple common interest in rural life and activity. Being outside. Seeing the dogwoods bloom in May. Spring movement. Awake again.

I'm gonna put beets up for winter in the cold cellar room anyway so why not grow a few extra to take to market? At least that's what I keep telling myself when I get that first taste of being a bit overwhelmed with my Epic Acre.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shamans Among Us

What kind of musical artist creates a mood in sound? One might say that all art carries a mood and that surely all music too, speaks with a sensibility of some kind or other. But the artist that seeks to evoke a truly ambient sound that summons the spaces between soil and air, breath and life, water and sun, light and dark, frenzy and contentedness, or melancholy and ecstasy, reaches beyond the obvious. The obvious, spirited, foot stomping gaiety of an Irish jig or the back beat groove of rock n' roll, while commanding a listener to their crescendos, may lack the ethereal subtlety of sound art. Even when the art bleeds itself ever so closely to the brink of pop. Thanks, to an on and off again friend and long time acquaintance from up northeast PA way. Cheers to him and his lads who gave us a February Sunday of afternoon splendor in the city of brotherly love. Music to while away the hours and dream in deep beauty. All hail the Sun King. Long live Lewis and Clark.

I cruised down Rt. 76 along the Schuylkill, my soft mind buzzed from the previous night's pints and filled with local inspiration, and turned up the radio when I heard the familiar voice mention her guest, author Sherman Alexie. I had been thinking about this present digital age with its virtual creations and social networks for months and wanting to say something. But I kept coming back to a phrase from my youth. It was a bastardization of the Exploited's cry, facebook NOT punk! As the modern-day Native American prophet laughed and described himself as "politely arrogant" to the radio show host, I became energized and all ears. "We are animals. Could anyone imagine a pack of wolves living on the internet? Ha! Ha! Imagine trying to live on the internet! This can't be!" Spot on.

After the interview, the radio turned to another artist of letters. Is it Maya Angelou's deep well of humanness that makes her black voice so steady, clear, rye, classical, and intoxicating? Surely she has the wisdom of age if not also the ages in her smooth mountainous tones. The way she said the very word poetry. Stretched it out, as if over a calm sea. Lolling and rolling. Speaking of her people's month of remembrance and bringing to mind the standard slave hymn Roll Jordan Roll. An antique quality in the fragile cadence, every syllable enunciated and timed with rhythmic perfection. To you, deep woman. Shamaness. Truth giver. Let us always have time for reflective thought.