Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I'm not sure, but I think he may be winning her over.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


The thermometer read 24 this morning, a hard freeze at last.  I cut this vase of roses yesterday knowing what was to come, they bring great cheer to chores at the kitchen sink.  I cleaned out my neighbors chicken coop and brought a wheelbarrow brimming with poop down to add to the compost pile. Anticipating the freeze, I pulled out the last of the beans, zinnias, nasturtiums and peppers and layered them all into a big hoop of fence wire about four feet across and three feet high. Along with the garden refuse I layered the chicken poop and freshly raked leaves.  Greens, poop, browns, water.  Greens, poop, browns, water... until I had filled the entire bin. It should get nice and hot and cook up some excellent compost for next summers planting.
Jackson Wonder Lima Beans
We enjoyed a first freeze harvest dinner that included a pot of lima beans and the last of the green beans all simmered up together, roasted long island cheese squash with lots of chopped peppers and a little pork tenderloin cooked up with a mustard cream sauce.  mmmm, mmm. We've now got a bushel of mixed peppers in 4 paper grocery sacks ripening up in the kitchen!
A Favorite Spot
It being the week of Thanksgiving, I gotta say I've got loads to be thankful for, not the least of which is plenty to eat and a roof over my head that's paid for.  I've enjoyed being home the past week, not working at the outside job, just focusing on the home place.  I cleaned the house and did tons of laundry, worked in the yard for many hours, took lots of long walks through the cold sunshiny woods and down along the creek.  It's been a very pleasant week.  Tomorrow- back to the real world, well, as real as my world gets anymore.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Still there are flowers blooming.  Still only the slightest frost the other night and no real freeze yet.  Everything is lingering, long and slow going down.  Still leaves hang on trees, red, gold, even green.  Still peppers are ripening on the plants, covered on the coldest nights with a little blanket of remay, hanging only half way down the 5 foot tall plants.  But its been enough to keep them going.  Still several dozen peppers out there. 

In earlier years we would rush and pick all the peppers at the first sign of frost, no matter how small, no matter how green.  Then we learned that wasn't necessary.  Pick the ripest ones and wait, they will keep going, often to November or later.  And if you grow peppers and you don't know this you should.  Put the under ripe ones in a brown paper bag with the top folded over and leave them at room temperature and they will ripen up over the course of the next few weeks, just don't forget to check them now and then and put the ripe ones in the fridge.  I really don't like green peppers at all, so I want all my peppers to ripen fully to red, yellow, or orange.

How swell to continue to have roses in November.  Still a few flowers here and there, adding color.  The mums are finally withering and I've begun to cut them back and weed beneath them, they harbor all sorts of little weed seedlings hiding under the fallen stems. The forever job of weeding and mulching, never ending. 
Ginger lilies, I have been cutting them and bringing them in, they give off a light gingery scent and continue to open.  The torpedo like buds hang down on a spindly thread, somehow they have the strength to lift up and another flower opens into miraculous bloom.

Still I am waiting for the leaves to come on down so that I can start raking and cleaning up in earnest.  Still there is wood to cut and split.  Still there are gutters to clean.  I took a coil of our local hot Italian pork sausage from the freezer today, tonight- stuffed peppers for supper with a fresh green salad. Still happy to be alive, lucky to be in this place, grateful for the bounty, despite the chores that still remain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Garden Club Mob

A very tidy garden, peppers and zinnias in the distance, still going in mid-November!
With a little help from our friends, the veg patch is looking very spiffy right now.  There was an amazing stretch of warm weather last week with Sat-Mon  in the 70's,  nothing like warm sunshine to motivate outdoor work.  On Saturday our besties John and Michele came out in the afternoon and together we cut back the dead fern and weeded the two, forty foot asparagus rows that we share.  Yesterday I picked up a scoop of compost from the landfill and John and I worked together to top the beds with a couple of inches of that black goodness and finished with a few more inches of composted leaf mulch.  I said to him "These are some of the best cared for asparagus beds in the world".

In between the asparagus marathon, my friends Diana and Celeste and Celeste's friend Weegy came out on Sunday for the first of what we hope will be an ongoing joint gardening effort among friends.  Locally and  now nationally there is a crop mob movement.  More geared towards large scale sustainable farms, a big group of folks work together at one location on major projects to help the farmer, they share a meal and each time go to a different farm belonging to one of the members of the mob.  As I toiled away on the homestead here I kept thinking how nice it would be to have help on certain projects, just to make more headway, and isn't it sometimes more fun to do work with friends to talk to? Not to mention more hands always make daunting jobs feel lighter.  When my friend Celeste said she was wanting to form a garden club, I proposed we combine the two ideas and the garden club mob was born. 

The sad news is that almost everyone we know that has a garden seems to also be too busy to share time in this way.  But I still have hope that our little garden mob may grow.  If you're in the vicinity and want to join the group let me know and I'll plug you in.  We are scheduled to meet at Celeste's house in early December and take on some weeding, mulching or whatever she deems most useful for her.  
Lettuce, spinach and beets, blankets ready for the frost, if it ever comes...
The group helped me tackle a corner of the veg patch that has gone to ruin over the past couple of seasons mainly because its gotten too shady to really grow veggies, so we've just been neglecting it. The result; lots of weeds, some various overgrown flowers that got tossed there on their way out of one spot but without a new home to go to, some very rambling tomatillo plants that actually put on quite a few late season fruit.  I just cooked up a couple of quarts to freeze for green salsa this winter.  The crew also helped weed and mulch the winter veg.  It was really nice to have help and company to face a job I had been avoiding for months, moral support is a wonderful thing sometimes.
Fall greens; weeded and mulched and ready for harvest and cool nights
Work done, we took a tour of our place which continues to show lots of fall color.  We still have not had a frost so mums, ginger lilies and roses are blooming.  We finished with a little potluck luncheon including home grown salad greens. Everyone came and went from 10-2 and there was still time for people to do more with their days.  I hope we'll be able to keep it going and get more folks involved, seems a very civilized way to see some great gardens, help each other out, and hopefully share plants and garden knowledge too. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Play Work

We can heave a big sigh of relief for the nation (perhaps) as a result of yesterdays outcomes, but North Carolina seems to be deeper in the mud than ever now.  It remains to be seen what impact the new NC republican administration will have on areas like education and environmental issues.   I'm not sure but I think I could have some problems in terms of finding work in my areas of interest in the future.

But I want to think positive and share another great experience I had last week when I attended a workshop on Spaces for Play, part of the Playful Pedagogy certificate program offered by the NC Zoo.  While the term Play worker sounds like an oxymoron, it is in fact a growing field promoted in England and other European countries over the past few years and is slowly being promoted here in the States.

The problem is that children these days are apparently only spending 1% of their time in free play.  This is the kind of stuff that as a child I and my contemporaries spent most of our time out of school engaged in.  Riding bikes around the neighborhood, building forts, climbing trees, exploring the woods and ponds, making up games and engaging in free, creative play, with little or no adult supervision.  Now most of a kids time is spent in organized activities like sports, music or ballet lessons, homework and clubs and what little free time kids do have they are often glued to a TV, computer or other screen-centered device that doesn't promote creative thinking, let alone any physical activity or movement that would promote good health.

Risk-taking, learning social skills, determining how to think freely and decide what's safe and what isn't are integral parts of free play.  We are generating a world of kids who are scared of being outside, raised by parents who are afraid of their kids being out of their sight.  Helicopter parents is a term that I've been hearing recently to describe the hovering worry wart types that won't let a kid have any fun.  Many folks at the conference that work with families said their role was mostly to distract parents so the kids could have some adventures while their folks weren't looking!  Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and his Children and Nature Network tell much more about these issues and the website has great ideas for getting outside with kids.

At the workshop I got to network with cool folks from the Philly and Phoenix zoos and childcare workers and others from across NC.  Together we learned about play theory, about creating spaces for play that provide a sense of safety for the parents, like fences in the distance, but opportunities for the kids to have some fun.  The term "affordance" refers to objects in the setting that afford opportunities for creative play.  In natural settings these could be creeks, fallen logs, sticks and branches with which to build forts and other structures. They might also be stuff like manufactured objects such as Styrofoam noodles, PVC pipes, buckets, balls, clay, tarps, and nets that kids can use to construct things or create games.  Seems the main goal of the play worker is to provide a safe place for kids, with objects that can become "affordances"  and then get out of the way, only stepping in if it seems someone is actually on the verge of getting seriously injured.
Here I am inside our "fox den".  Working as a team we had to create a habitat for play.  We took advantage of the natural placement of rocks and used sticks, branches and a blue tarp to create a roof for the den.  Then we covered it all with leaves for camouflage.  It even had a back escape opening.  We managed to get 10 people into this space which was actually pretty cozy.  I had a good time, learned and networked and look forward to part 3 of the training, hopefully coming up in 2013.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Growing Community Gardens- "KALE Yeah"

Given it's election day and I don't really want to think about the possibilities of how wrong it could all turn out, I've been avoiding the news all day and trying to distract myself with cooking and other chores.  That said- I feel it would be good to do a post about something really positive that I was involved in recently.
 Hopes and dreams of community garden organizers
Dozens of flip chart pages surrounded our group two weeks ago at Walnut Hall in Tanglewood Park.  I was pleased to help co-facilitate an exciting and action packed training workshop in Winston-Salem where 50 community garden leaders from across North Carolina came together to learn and practice information and training workshops as a part of the Growing Communities curriculum produced by the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA).  It was a tremendous couple of days that I had been working on pulling together for a year with a group of folks from the NC Community Garden Partners.  The planning committee raised money to give 10 scholarships and offer the workshop at a very low rate.  Thanks to many generous folks including NC and A&T State Universities' Cooperative Extensions, Forsyth Farm Bureau, Carolina Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and Take Step Two of Pitt County among others.

People came from all kinds of gardening projects; some run by churches and food pantries to help feed the hungry, others from school-based gardens, traditional allotment style gardens, senior center and public housing sites.  Some folks were seasoned, others very new to the world of community gardening.  A key lesson is helping people to understand it's not enough to build some beds, put up a fence and find a water source.  You have to build a community group strategically and carefully in order for the garden to really succeed.  It is recommended that at least 10 committed people are ready to come to the table before even beginning to organize a community garden.  Half of those will probably drop out or fade away over time and the people with a "fire in the belly" are the key to long term success.

We worked intensively for 2 solid days and I think the folks were really energized and inspired to get back home and put the learning into practice.  The goal of the Growing Communities training is to teach gardeners how to be better organizers. It is often said that community gardens fail not because people can't grow beautiful tomatoes, but because they are poorly organized.  And as a person that has been trying to make 3 community gardens successful for about 5 years now with mixed results, I can say this is very true.  This was the second time I had attended this training and I carried back lots of new ideas and reminders of old knowledge too. All will help me continue my work of making the Growing Healthy Kids gardens with which I work more successful, more community driven, community run and organized entities.

One of the strategies of the training is to throw the participants together into small groups where they are  charged with developing an 85 minute presentation on a garden organizing topic to be presented the following afternoon. Not only do they have to do this with a group of strangers, they have to familiarize themselves with the educational info and workshop materials of the Growing Communities training manual in a very short time frame.  People really came through and in the session on Communications and PR we were left with the rallying cry "Community Gardens- KALE Yeah!!"

Nuff said.