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.
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.
About six months ago, my friend and fellow Transition Bloomington core group member Scott Routen accidentally ran over the cast-iron bench that I had cemented into the ground out by the street of my house. Here it is, back in 2009.
The bench is in the foreground, right next to the street.
(Looking at that photo I’m amazed at how fast things grow in Indiana (I come from Wyoming, a colder clime). The trunk of that tulip tree to the right of the bench is now, two years later, three times as thick.)
I placed the bench, surrounded by plantings, as a place of respite for those who walk by. At the time I put it in several neighbors looked on, saying that I was placing the bench in the wrong direction. And why did I have it by the street?
Over the years, I’ve only seen a few people actually sit on the bench. But even when they don’t, having the bench there communicates friendliness and adds interest to the streetscape. I was inspired to put the bench there by a talk in Bloomington given by one of the founders of the wonderfully inventive City Repair group, in Portland. Check it out! I viewed the bench as an experiment in community-building, and I swear, within even the first year, more people were walking my street.
About six months ago, after a Transition meeting at my house, Scott had gone out with a friend, having asked if he could leave his truck parked in front until he got back.
The next morning, when I went out to walk the dog, the bench was wrecked! Bent back and caved in. Of course, my heart sank, thinking it vandalism of some kind. But my son Colin wondered about Scott’s truck, since it had been parked so near it. “That truck is so huge and loud,” Colin said, “that if he hit it he wouldn’t have known.”
So I called Scott. Sure enough, he had felt some kind of slight ping when he rolled out of there late that night, but so slight that he just thought it one of the weird noises his truck makes.
We agreed that come spring, he’d replace the bench.
By the way, the same man who thought I was crazy to place a bench facing the street got hopping mad when he looked out the window that morning and saw the smashed bench. It had become part of his streetscape, too.
About a month ago, Scott came over and said he wanted to do a workshop around the project of making the bench. An “Earthen workshop,” he called it, on the flyer he designed for it. Click on earthworkshop.
“Scott Routen invites you to explore Earth itself as a material for timeless building. The ground beneath our feet holds a building material so advanced, so sustainable, and so healthy, that modern people might not believe it could be dirt cheap. The gentle power and beauty of Earth rises from the holistic integration of its many positive qualities. We will explore these qualities in the hands-on construction of an earthen loveseat or ‘neighborhood repair’ miniproject. An afternoon screening of the film “First Earth” offers a sweeping overview of the movement towards a paradigm shift for shelter in locations around the world.”
“First Earth” film website: www.davidsheen.com/firstearth
Well, it didn’t turn out quite as we expected. We didn’t have time to screen the film, for one thing. Also, though a number of people had expressed interest in the workshop, most of them were otherwise engaged on this very busy first Saturday after the Summer Solstice when just about every consciousness and/or progressive group in town had some kind of an event planned.
Three women pre-registered. Only one of them, Gloria, who drove down from Indianapolis, actually appeared. And she was a trooper.
Scott, I found out later, had stayed up all night the night before constructing the form for the earthen bench, which he decided to design in the shape of a vesica pisces! Very beautiful. And it makes up for the statue of the goddess that I decided not to put on the stump of a dying tree that I had to cut down in my front yard (thinking it too tempting for college students not to steal it).
So, Scott (on no sleep), and Gloria (a little slip of a thing), started to work, at around 10 am, Saturday morning, and finally stopped at around 4 p.m, both exhausted. Here are three shots to give you the flavor of what they were up to. BTW: you can’t see it, but the bench sits on a cement and rock foundation that goes down two feet below ground.
I was surprised at how long it took to get only part way done. But Gloria told me that she was not surprised, since she had worked with a large group of women over many weekends to build some kind of a (more elaborate) earthen structure.
Scott says that a number of people stopped their vehicles as they drove by, asking about the bench. So the educational process continues.
Scott thinks one or two more days of his labor should do it. We’ll show you the bench when it’s done.
At the party that evening (the third event of the day), an old man came up to me and said he was glad the bench was going to be replaced, since he’s used to sitting on it when he walks by! (I’ve never seen him sitting there.)
We’re going overboard at the GANG garden on June 25th — hosting three events, and all on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice. First, two workshops, one all day, the other for two hours in the afternoon.
Earth Building Workshop: 9-5, with architect Scott Routen. We will build an earthen bench and learn techniques of building with earthen materials. Click on this link for the flyer, and further details:
Children’s Workshop: Inviting the Little People into the Garden: 2-4 p.m., with IU students Stephanie Partridge and Emily Ginzberg. We will introduce the children to fairies and elves, and encourage the fairies to come into the garden by gathering little sticks, stones, and leaves, painting them, and make little altars. Again, click on this link for the flyer, and further details:
Then, in the evening, we will gather folks from the neighborhood and their friends for our second Summer Solstice Celebration. The first one was a few years ago, held at the end of East 7th Street, formerly an empty lot, and now filled with bulldozers for the Bypass. . . This year, we will hold the event in the GANG garden.
Summer Solstice Celebration: Cob Oven Pizza Party — with Music: 6-9 p.m. Neighbor Jelene Campbell and David of the David Gohn Band will play for 45 minutes. We welcome other musicians — and children! Come join your neighbors and friends for a fun time. Again, click on flyer for details.
Hope to see you in the GANG garden for at least one of these events!
For the workshops: it helps us plan in advance if you pre-register; also, donations for the teachers are appreciated. Bring lunch, if you are participating in the all-day Earthwork workshop.
For the Solstice Celebration and pizza party: bring your lawn chair, one ingredient for the pizza, and your beverage. And a musical instrument, if you wish to play. And children, if you have them! We will supply pizza dough, sauce and cheese. The GANG will supply the wonderful cob oven, thanks to Nathan, Colin, and Melissa’s SPEA class!
Questions, call Ann at 334-1987 or email email@example.com.