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Archive for June, 2009

Martha My Dear

My new swiss chard box

My new swiss chard box

I got this idea from Martha Stewart, while watching her show at some point this spring.  Maybe it was a late snow day, or a Saturday rerun, or I was on the stairmaster at the gym.  Probably not that.  But I like Martha, actually, as perfect and cloying as she is, because once you get past the construction paper cutouts of bats and spiders stuff and coordinating colored everything, she has some good ideas sometimes.  Anyway, watching her show also reminds me of when my commute brought me past her farmhouse compound in Bedford.  I think she spent some time there after getting out of prison, and I’m pretty sure I saw her one morning on my way to school, although I wasn’t close enough to see her ankle bracelet.

On this episode, she had a guy on the show to explain how to make this salad table.  Basically, it’s a shallow planter that you could put on the porch, patio, or in the back yard.  It’s small enough to be able to move it if you needed to, and it stands at waist height, so it’s a convenient place to grow your fancy salad greens for the summer.  It was much bigger that I needed, so I took the general idea and changed it.  I was looking for a window box-sized planter to put swiss chard in.  The chard from Filanowski’s farm in Milford had been sitting in the plastic tray since I got it last week, and it needed more room.  (I also got tomatoes and zucchini while I was there, which they’re practically giving away at this point.)  The salad table has a wire mesh bottom for good drainage, and I kept that idea.  (It’s a combination of aluminum screening and galvanized wire mesh, stapled to the bottom.)  Using some pine boards that I had for making basement shelves, this came together in about an hour, and the happy chard is growing away.  The box is 12″w x 36″long, 7″ deep, and it stands about 5″ off the ground.  So it’s not exactly urban gardening, but I think we should have some good vegetables and herbs later this summer.  And since zoning laws apparently frown on the keeping of livestock here in town, I guess we’ll have to wait on raising pigs and chickens and goats.

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With summer break here, I’m looking forward to reading several books that have been in the stack for a while.  Just before school ended, I got several recommendations on books to read, and I’d like to get through some of those (see Books page for the complete list, ever evolving).  I’m sure I’ll add more to the pile before I’m through it.  Please leave suggestions in Comments if there’s a book you think I should read.  I’m always happy to have new recommendations.

I’m also planning on doing some reading on gardening, starting with the Michael Pollan book.  If I’m feeling adventurous, I might build a planter or two to see what vegetables I can grow in our small back yard, beyond the standard chives, basil, and parsley that we have going so far.  There are several reasons for wanting to do this, and most of them have to do with moving myself along the continuum from completely dependent, to only somewhat independent of traditional food systems.  This might be just an idealistic drop in the bucket, in the grand scheme of things, but I’m okay with that.  I came across this idea in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook, and it makes a lot of sense to me.  Another reason to garden is that it’s an extension of the reason that we bake our own bread, cure our own bacon, or do anything from scratch.  We get creative control, and the feeling of satisfaction that comes from seeing a project through start-to-finish.  I imagine that might be an order of magnitude greater for someone who builds a house from the ground up.  Since I’m definitely not going to build a house, I think I’ll stick with growing vegetables.  I think I could be a good gardener, you know.  Another reason is that I’m going to enter Ruhlman’s BLT-from-scratch Summertime challenge, which I can totally win.

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To complicate matters — clearly going against the plan of simplifying and shortening the book pile — I just got back from the book store.  I got the Pollan gardening book, Second Nature (see link above); The Reluctant Mr. Darwin by David Quammen; and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, which I’ve been reading a lot about.  (I’m considering keeping tabs on the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, where folks are working through the book one recipe at a time; details at the blog Pinch My Salt.  That’s a lot of food challenges for one post, so I might just observe this one, learn a bit, and pick up the baking in the fall when it’s a little cooler out.)  Lastly, I had the Helprin book Digital Barbarism in my hand, but I didn’t get it.  I really like Helprin’s novels — a topic to fill a post of its own — but I’m going to hold off on this one for a while, until I really get the itch to read about copyright law in the age of the blog.

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After some general Q & A about organic food, some excellent points on so-called “elitism” of organic food; directly related to USDA subsidies (or lack thereof) for organic farmers, via Marion Nestle.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/06/21/FDRJ187G2S.DTL

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greenwashing

This is upsetting, but not surprising, unfortunately.  All natural, fragrance free, non-toxic??  Ah… no.

From the Guardian:

American Shoppers Mislead by Greenwash

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“The foreseeable outcome is that in the year 2150, when human population peaks at around eleven billion, alpha predators will have ceased to exist — except behind chain-link fencing, high-strength glass, and steel bars.  After that time, as memory recedes and the zoo populations become ever more genetically attenuated, ever more conveniently docile, ever more distantly derivative from the real thing, people will find it hard to conceive that those animals were once proud, dangerous, unpredictable, widespread, and kingly, prowling free among the same forests, rivers, estuaries, and oceans used by humanity.  Adults, except a few recalcitrant souls, will take their absence for granted.  Children will be startled and excited to learn, if anyone tells them, that once there were lions at large in the very world.”

– David Quammen, Monster of God (2003).

This passage has been bouncing around in my head in some way or another since I read Monster of God a few years ago.  It certainly hooked me into the book.  The idea that animals we know now could be/will be remembered or mythologized after their disappearance is a powerful one, of course, for a biology teacher or anyone concerned about these things.  Wolves coursed through these forests; buffalo roamed these plains.

This morning I Googled “once there were lions,” to see what else was out there, to see if I’d have to choose another blog title.  I think it would also make a good album name, by the way, perhaps for a solo project.  More on that later.  Anyway, Quammen’s passage from MOG showed up online through Google Books.  You can preview most of the chapter here.  Other references to O.T.W.L online included an article in SWARA by Lawrence G. Frank with the same title.  But the most interesting connection I found was that Richard Louv cited the Quammen passage in an article called The Nature-Child Reunion (published in “National Wildlife” Magazine, June/July 2006, by The National Wildlife Federation, http://www.nwf.org. ©National Wildlife Federation.)  I’ve been meaning to read Louv’s Last Child in the Woods for about a year now, and I’d already moved it up on the “to read” pile for this summer.  This strikes home for me as an educator and a father, now, since raising a child has moved from the purely theoretical to practical reality.  We want to make sure he plays outside, in the woods, in the dirt, and with the dog.

So the plan isn’t to limit myself to writing about ecology, teaching, or child rearing, or to lament the disappearance of alpha predators.  Those will be part of the blog because I care about those things.  But I’d also like to keep track of anything I’m reading, playing, listening to, and thinking about.  It’s time to gather these ideas all together in the same place, disparate as they are, because people might be interested.  Even if they’re not, that’s okay.  It’s certainly a broader outlet than Facebook status updates or Twitter tweets.

Thanks for reading.

Scott Lilley, June 2009

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