We are nearing the Ceremony of Impermanence on November 20th (rain date December 3rd), when we will once again transform the GANG. We, the community supporting GANG, will remove the structure in the SW corner of the garden in order to come into compliance with a city ordinance that requires structures to be more than 25 feet from an intersection. This structure includes a ferrocement wall, a cob oven, the table on which the oven sits and the roof over it.
I have received a number of emails and phone calls and visits from neighbors and others about this action that we are required to take. They all voice dismay and sadness, even incredulity; and they also support our decision to absorb and integrate this difficult situation in order to creatively transform it. Borne of conflict, the action is an opportunity for the individuals, the neighborhood, and the city to become more aware, more conscious about projects such as GANG that can bring us into greater health. Rhonda Baird explored the tension and the potential between individual and community in this blog post: vitalconnection.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/working-the-edges/
During the week a number of us have been talking about various ways to repurpose the ferrocement wall, and the final decision is to move it to the northeast corner of my back yard, where it will serve as the background for a community meditation area to be created in the spring. (How about that for fostering health!). My son Colin and my permaculture house guest Jim have already prepared the ground for the wall, leveling it and removing a number of small trees and bushes.
We have also talked about what we might do to replace the cob oven, so that we can still have the capacity to cook food, truly a foundational aspect of a magnetic neighborhood commons. We are looking into the idea of a rocket stove (see, for example:www.rootsimple.com/2007/11/our-rocket-stove.html), a nearly-smokeless structure which we would build during a workshop near the picnic table and pond.
Plans for the formal gate to replace the wall and cob oven are also starting to jell. A beautiful and more functional gate is planned which will welcome people and serve as a landmark within the neighborhood. We are currently envisioning an archway made of the stone for the gate. This would provide a feeling of weight and stability and serve as a dramatic and clear invitation to spend time in the garden.
Friend and permaculture teacherRhonda Baird and I met Friday over lunch to finalize the plans for the Ceremony. We talked about the juxtaposition of creating places of “permanent culture” and the need to do the Ceremony of Impermanance. Here’s the plan we came up with:
Meet in the garden at 9:45 AM.
Please bring with you something for the potluck, goggles, gloves if you have them, and a piece of paper on which you have written something about your own life that you thought was necessary, but turned out not to be a source of difficulty, and which you are now willing to sacrifice to the altar of impermanence.
We will begin with opening remarks, the story of the garden, fence and cob oven, why it must be removed, and welcome comments from each person present. Then we will do a few other brief ceremonial things, not yet decided, prior to the actual process of “destruction.”
We shall destroy the cob oven first, and dismantle the structures that support it. Each person shall be invited to take a piece of the cob oven to bury in their own garden, as a symbol of rekindling the living fire of community in all Bloomington neighborhoods.
Then we shall remove the wall. WE SHALL NEED AT LEAST EIGHT STRONG MEN TO DO THIS, PREFERABLY MORE. TWELVE WOULD BE BETTER, EVEN SIXTEEN!
And finally, we shall string up a temporary fence in the gap that we make, and anchor it with some kind of small item that symbolizes the rebirth of the transformed entrance to the garden in the spring of 2012.
Then, we’ll retire to my house for our potluck.
One final consideration: for those who are interested, after the potluck we will hold a discussion of the possible metaphysical, esoteric, “exopermacultural” meaning of both this garden and the process of transforming its SW corner.
So, if possible, plan on being here with us from 9:45 a.m. through about 1:45 p.m. — or any part thereof! The more people who participate in this wrenching process, the more we can transform loss into the living ground of creativity in spring 2012.
I think it was Bill Moyers who recently said that “the news is what they keep from us, and all the rest is publicity.” Well, that way of talking about news strikes home. I too, have had “news” that I’ve kept from you, all the while writing this blog! And it’s not the first time this has happened.
Sometimes it strikes me, and always with the same kind of wonderment — how I may be consciously looking and dealing with one set of challenges and meanwhile, another set of challenges lies just under the surface, germinating, even fermenting in secret, since it can’t yet be addressed in the open. This fact that I sometimes lead two lives, one for the public, and the other very very private, troubles me, since I am a “double Sagittarian” (Sun and Ascendant), a sign known for its commitment to transparency and truth-telling above all else.
Over the course of my nearly 69 years, I’ve had to learn other values, including those of discretion, compassion, and empathy. And in order to learn them, I’ve had to open my heart — and that, it turns out, is an ongoing process. Each time I think I’m “open,” something zings in from outside to make me flinch. It’s what occurs after that, that counts. Will I close up again, or will I learn how to open even wider. The first is so easy, and reflexive, reactive. The second, much harder, feels ultimately mysterious, even miraculous.
So, during these past six months, I’ve once again led a double life, which only now am I able to make public. I say that with some relief, since the hidden set of challenges has required that a great alchemy coalesce within me. Never have I attracted a conundrum of such complexity in terms of harmonizing different levels of both myself and the various circles of influence within my community. What I have been going through reminds me very much of what Occupy is going through now, in its efforts to integrate and harmonize with the homeless, the police, and those who seek to, or who cannot help but, create chaos in the midst of an already historic movement dedicated to non-violence. I too, am dedicated to non-violence, and during this period of time, have had to become acutely aware, once again, of the difference between my fiery, combative personality and my harmony-seeking higher self.
Yesterday and today I emailed the following letter to members of my community. It speaks of the current challenge that faces the GANG garden, a neighborhood garden commons that I started on my private land three years ago.
Perhaps you have heard the scuttlebutt: that the educational activities associated with the garden are “on hold” while we work out problems with the city. It’s true. Back in June a complaint was filed with the city due, at first, to the fact that smoke from the first (and only) firing of our new, lovingly-designed-and-constructed-by-SPEA-students cob oven wafted into a neighbor’s house. One thing led to another. The city got involved. The garden, which had been flying pretty much under the radar, went under the microscope. It was determined that one law was being broken and another law placed the garden “in a grey area.” These are:
• A City zoning regulation that any “structure” must be at least 25 feet from an intersection. Both the wall that surrounds the cob oven, some vegetation, the woodpile, and the cob oven lie inside this 25 feet jurisdiction
• While community gardens are okay in areas zoned residential, the educational activities of the GANG garden place it in another category that requires a “conditional use” be granted.
As you can imagine, I did not welcome this new attention placed upon the GANG garden. In fact, as a result, we scratched the final two workshops of this season. (Unfortunately, the final workshop, “Putting the Garden to Bed” went into the Co-op Newsletter before I could stop it. If anyone wants to help us Put the Garden to bed on that day, we’ll do it then, not as a workshop, but just as neighbors. If you don’t know how, I’ll help show you.)
Over these past five months I have been in regular communication with Tom Micuda of the Planning Department to see what we could do to resolve these difficult issues. Tom and I each appreciate the role the other plays — Tom to make sure the laws are enforced while working cooperatively with all involved for the fairest solution to any problem; me, A.K., as agent provocateur, here to challenge the city to look at its old laws in the light of new realities. Our relations have been cordial. Tom has graciously allowed me enough time to absorb the impact of this complex challenge on the GANG, its neighbors, the neighborhood as a whole, and its relations with the city. I have agreed to the following:
Remove the wall, the roof, the tables,the woodpile, cut back some vegetation, and destroy the cob oven (since it cannot be moved without structural damage, which would endanger any firing.)
Beginning in 2012, cut back the workshops to three per growing season rather than six to eight.
Limit the number of attendees from outside the neighborhood (as well as the number of cars).
Additionally, the SPEA class partnership project, or some educational partnership project per semester, will remain, with extremely limited parking privileges. In those semesters where there is not an education partnership project, one more workshop would be allowed.
The construction of the wall and the cob oven represent literally hundreds of volunteer hours. Quite a few more volunteer hours will be needed to remove what is happening at that corner. Removing the wall will require eight men to make the job easy and safe; if fewer, the job will be more difficult and less safe. . . The oven itself will be destroyed with hammers and picks.
These activities will take place during what we are going to call a “Ceremony of Impermanence” on November 20th. Please save that day and be there with us as we perform the first phase of this wrenching transformation. Details to follow soon.
For this winter, we will construct a temporary fence for that SW corner where the wall and cob oven had been. In early spring, we will construct a beautiful, formal, arched gate that spans that space diagonally, 25 feet from the corner as measured by Tom Micuda and myself one hot September afternoon.
We welcome your ideas for the design of this gate.
While it may seem amazing that one neighbor’s complaint could cause all this commotion, be aware that this is the currency of community, this sometimes conflictual intersection between the perceived needs of individuals and the perceived needs of the group as a whole. How we work with these kinds of archetypal situations determines the tenor and atmosphere within which we live our lives together in shared space and intention. It is in the spirit of cooperation — with this neighbor, with the city, with each other, with the continuing evolution of the GANG garden and the neighborhood as a whole — that we move forward. Hopefully, in this manner, we continue to evolve in our understanding and compassion for each other in these exciting, and difficult, times.
Notice all the lotuses in the pond. I keep clearing them out so the fish get some sun, and they really appreciate it, flashing up to my hand as I pull out vines along the edges. This fall we will have to go in and "muck out" the pond for the first time, after three years.
. . . except that we forgot about seed saving. And we only got part-way through the garden in our assessment. We did plant a few beds for fall, with greens, tatsoi, beets, radishes, and peas.
Well, it’s been so damned hot and humid for so many weeks, night and day, and frankly, I think we’re all enervated. The last thing any of us needed was to spend an entire day in the blazing, wet heat. So we didn’t. Note to self: never schedule an all-day workshop in the heat of summer. Three hours in the morning is plenty.
Oh, and there’s more! Nathan had a late evening paid music gig an hour and a half away on Saturday evening, so asked if he could come at 10 rather than 9 am. A couple of people who were signed up, didn’t show up. A couple of people who didn’t sign up did show up. On and on. Rhonda was supposed to co-teach with Nathan, but her daughter Maya won best of class with one of her rabbits (congrats, Maya!), so they had to go to the state fair. Luckily, Stephanie (who taught the Children’s Workshop) was able to come and assist Nathan.
(And, wouldn’t you know, the class was held during a Mercury Rx period (happens three times a year, for three weeks at a time, and tends to foul up areas involving communication and transportation. Best for going inwards and communing with one’s muse; not so good for connecting clearly with others.) That wouldn’t stop me from doing what I plan to do, unless it would be signing contracts. And, BTW: that “debt deal” was signed on the very day Mercury turned to go retrograde. . . .)
To top it off, the class was held on Sunday, the day before everybody knew the stock market would crash, triggered by the S&P downrating of U.S. debt in a year when the Arab Spring seems to be hissing up from a thousand cracks in the rigid hierarchial global control system.. The economic/political atmosphere, I think it’s safe to say, is downright uneasy, even eerie, worldwide, and of course, we’re all breathing that air, whether in fear or love, depending on our level of awareness.
We spent the first hour sitting in my living room, talking. Talking about what it’s going to take to feed the world during the coming difficult years of climate change and most likely, at least partial collapse of the systems that have maintained us unsustainably since the industrial revolution. Susan, Doug and I had read an article that I put up on my www.exopermaculture.com site the day before — do read it — and it alarmed us all. The difficulties we face, especially in growing enough staple crops (cereals, grains which require either huge labor or at least small machines) are formidable. Then there’s the lack of awareness, the entitlement attitude, the fact that old-time farming and “putting up” skills have just about gone extinct within one generation, and any romantic view of the future dissolves into fairy dust.
So, that was the context of the class that did take place! And we had fun. Nathan is a wonderful teacher, and Stephanie his bright, smiling, knowledgeable assistant.
Notice the giant sunflower plants behind Nathan. The entire garden is sprinkled with them this year, all volunteer (three plants were planted last year). We decided to just let them do what they will, and boy did they!
He did get a bit carried away by some subject, which I can no longer remember, but it was in response to someone’s question about why their garden isn’t doing so well this summer. I do remember him saying that whatever the problem is with your plants, the solution is usually to keep feeding the soil. That plants do better, and fend off pests, when they are living in a rich enough environment. When asked what kinds of amendments to put on the soil, he recommends human urine, diluted five or ten times, about once a week up until two weeks prior to harvest. Best to use what’s at hand, rather than buy more stuff. . .
Nathan noted, as part of an overall summer assessment that, while sunflowers are gorgeous, they are “heavy feeders,” taking a lot of nutrients from the soil. So. That’s the last time we’ll let them get so unruly, and we’ll make sure to put lots more compost in the soil near where they’ve been. We did remove a number of them during the workshop.
The big lesson of the day was how to deal with squash borers. A number of the squash plants have already died, from what looked to me like a kind of yucky squishiness at the very base of the plant. Last year, we also had squash borers, but they had entered a few inches up the stem in each case, so I didn’t recognize the same problem when I saw it. So much to learn in a garden. A zillion details, and all depending on close observation.
Here’s a plant with a squash borer problem, notice the yucky part, right at the base.
He cut this one open a few inches up, because the borers travel up (you can tell how far by whether or not the leaves are dead at that point), and he wanted to find them. The trick is to slit the hollow stem vertically without going through the other side. That way, the plant may still live after the borers have been removed. Someone told me last year that you needed to make sure you found two of the little buggers, because there were usually two, and if one remained, the problem would, too. Nathan said that there may actually be more than two . . . At any rate, here’s what one looks like, on the tip of his knife, a whitish slug, with a tiny, very black dot at the tip.
I had heard that if you then make a tin foil sleeve for the place where you slit it, the plant might be able to live on (and a couple of plants that I got borers out of last year did live with this technique). Nathan said it’s best to put the tin foil around each plant before the squash borers come, because they usually do, eventually.
Lesson: besides the number of critters that can munch on plants, there are also lots of different ways to deal with them. How to garden is not written in stone. But it is overwhelming for anyone who has no experience. For example, Doug, in the middle here,
who confessed to me as I was about to pick off dead leaves from a bed of chard plants for composting and live leaves for our lunch, that he felt completely overwhelmed, didn’t know what to do . . . As he stood there, looking stricken and lost, I invited him to kneel and join me; I showed him how to discern which leaves could be eaten, which were too far gone. Hint: lots of tiny insect-made holes are okay, rotting blackened areas are not.
I know exactly how he feels. I felt the same way not so long ago. In contrast, here’s two young ones, Ash and Jessica, who seem to come by gardening naturally.
Jessica has just returned from part of her summer in Puerto Rico, where she was on a wwoof program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), staying with a young couple and their child, on an organic farm by the sea. So glad young people are becoming farmers. We’re going to need millions more as we relocalize industrial agriculture everywhere.
BTW: I am really glad to see these two Indiana University students in the garden, because they live (or, I should say, they lived, both having now moved to other digs) right across the street, and after all, this is supposed to be primarily a neighborhood garden, not just a teaching venue. They had joined our weekly workparties in the spring, and Jessica wants to continue through the remainder of the growing season.
After thoroughly working that old chard bed (which has fed a number of us for at least three months now), we planted greens in and around the plants that were still viable, punched bamboo stakes in the ground and hung string for a little pea garden, planted the peas and other beds we prepared into a rich compost/top soil concoction that my son Colin had mixed and laid out on the picnic table for us like a feast in the early morning.
By that time it was high noon, hot and humid. We gathered our bag of chard leaves and basil, came into my house, and stir fried chopped chard and onions with freshly made pesto (garlic and pine nuts and olive oil blended with basil), and served it with slices of the first gorgeous ripe tomatoes.
After an hour or so, everybody but Nathan and me went home. He and I spent another hour in the garden, planting, removing more sunflowers, and talking. A good day. Here’s the lordly okra plant, with blossom.
And here’s the pond, with fish, looking cool and refreshing, but, in reality, the water is quite warm.
The garden is now in full array . .
We can even play hide ‘n seek . . .
This is to announce the upcoming workshop, an all-day affair, when you will learn A LOT! If you want to join us for all or part of this day, please let me know. 334-1987 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you decide that very day, it’s okay, but would prefer to know in advance. Also, please car pool or bike or walk or bus, if possible. Donations for teachers gratefully accepted. If you want to harvest some of the veggies, bring a sack!
Summer Assessment, Seed Saving, and Planting the Fall Garden
Sunday, August 7, 9 am – 5 p.m
Led by Nathan Harman and Rhonda Baird. Just as summer crops are planted in spring, fall crops are planted in summer. This workshop will focus on caring for the garden in the high heat of summer, planting the foods that will be harvested through the coming cool, and seed-saving techniques.
This is the hay-day of the garden and we will hopefully have yields galore. But, the weeds and insects and drying sun are also trying to make their way, so mulch, shade cloth, row cover and other techniques will be employed as we keep the summer crops vibrant and give our fall crops a running start. BYO lunch. Snacks and beverages provided.
This morning I went out into the cool grey morning and took some shots of the GANG garden now, after two weeks of heat and a bit of rain. Whew! The cob oven is no longer visible. Instead, corn, squash, chard, beans, berries, onions, kale, broccoli, greens, beets, cabbage, herbs, radishes, okra, peppers, tomatoes (finally greening), basil basil basil . . .
Four or five of us meet on Thursday evenings for a workparty. Jill brings her daughter Ceclia, who calls it a “magic garden.” Her job is to keep clearing out lotuses from the edge of the pond so that the fishies will swim over to check her out. They do! She’s delighted.
She delights us with her presence.
The pond, with its fish and frogs, adds immeasurably to the feeling of tranquility in the garden. It also helps me as I continue to move through the deep grief attending the loss of my soul companion, Emma, only one week ago.
Chard (actually planted fall 2010):
Squash blossom: still don’t have that many zucchinis. Surprised. Huge, prolific greenery. Too much nitrogen?
This year, we’re growing more flowers, for the bees, and for their profligate beauty. Here’s hollyhocks.
We dragged one of my son Colin’s Garden Towers out into the garden and planted it with seedlings less than two weeks ago. With worm composting down the center tube, it really cooks. Incredibly fast growth. Here’s the website. He has yet to widely publicize it, but will soon. 50 plants in one recycled food-grade 55-gallon drum . . . Yum.
Now, here’s a silly story that shows my own learning curve.
I was out watering one morning, when I noticed that there were hundreds of little tiny long white things on the squash leaves. (Here’s a photo from today, though not nearly as many on the leaves.)
Freaked, thinking it some kind of pest, I washed off every leaf. Then I noticed there were thousands of these things at the tops of some of the corn stalks. Yeeks! Did whatever this pest is infest the corn too?
So I went inside and googled: “tiny long white thingies and corn” and of course, learned that this is the corn pollen! And that it drops off suddenly, usually mid-morning or late afternoon, to fertilize itself. Some of course, landed on the squash as well.
Somebody said that they didn’t think we had enough corn plants growing to actually get any corn. But she was wrong. There are at least 30 ears growing already. Question: is this ear of corn (leaning, off to the right) ready? I guess I’d better google to find out.