Mother and Daughter Reunion in the Garden

Some gardens are wild, and grow wherever they want, like this nightshade.

Some need lots of prep, and then grow, if they want, like this nightshade.

Welcome to my new garden, Potato!

It won’t be long now!

Mom will take longer.

And she’ll kill you, the dear. Stick with the kids!

Gardening in the Petro State…Is that Possible?

How do we save the planet? By planting rocks in our gardens to “prevent global warming?” Isn’t that murder?

Or by planting rhubarb?

The second garden is mine, across the road from the firs, which is the global warming it is trying to invent. It is amazing what a country addicted to oil will think of next. Actually, we don’t save the planet. We ask it to save us. Then we listen. I planted this salad one day between snow storms a month ago.

Gardening in the Land of Peak Oil

How do we save the planet? By planting rocks in our gardens to “prevent global warming?” Isn’t that murder?

Or by planting rhubarb?

The second garden is mine, across the road from the firs, which is the global warming it is trying to invent. It is amazing what a country addicted to oil will think of next. Actually, we don’t save the planet. We ask it to save us. Then we listen. I planted this salad one day between snow storms a month ago.

Gardening in the Okanagan in 2017

Some things are sobering. Here’s a cold frame (a glassed-in seedbed, for early growing) from 1978, updated for the new Okanagan in the age of vineyardization. Before 1978, this was an orchard, that supported a family and grew apples, peaches, cherries and plums. After 1978, it became a place where people could raise that food for their families themselves. As people turn away from the land today, hire Mexicans on special temporary permits to do “their” agricultural labour (actually, the produce is for export, a series of capital-intensive cash crops; the produce locally eaten comes from California and Mexico), and pressure the water system with overpopulation (yet blame the water deficit on global warming) while continuing to extol the fruitfulness of the land (heavily-taxed wine, affordable only to tourists and the wealthy), gardens transform into a new image of society. 
A couple things to notice: the black cloth is intended to allow water through but to prevent weeds (or life of any kind). It has been augmented by some rocks, likely formerly a decorative garden wall, to keep it down, and has been growing some cheatgrass (like the green stuff in the foreground) in the fir needles (the tree is an important local hawk perch) that the stones have gathered. The yard is decorated with a pre-fabricated aluminum garden shed. The yard next door, which has replaced its garden with a small, decorative  patch of lawn amidst a vast swath of rocks and gravel (because of that global warming, but also because yards are now large barbecue entertainment areas, not spaces for gardens, i.e. they are now interior spaces), has collected un-needed garden equipment behind its new (large) garden shed, which mustn’t be for garden tools. It’s likely for general storage. Welcome to Canada in 2017. It took us some work to create this, but we managed in the end.

Spring Wild Harvest Begins!

Sure, the snow was here two days ago, but, pshaw. It’s salad time. Some desert parsley, maybe?

Or some balsam root shoots, when they’re tender and sweet, before they get their throat lozenge bite (which is fine, too)? I ate one of these, oh my. Forget asparagus, beans, peas, you name it!

Heck, even a choice of colours!

The flowers will be a bonus. Here’s one from late March, two years ago:

Look at her there, just calling for the bees with all that pollen!

Eliminate Black Plastic Now

This is today’s post on creating a sustainable Okanagan. Like the others, it is archived above.
Black plastic sheeting serves 4 purposes, but all look like this:

  1. It warms the soil for earlier crops.
  2. It keeps trickle irrigation from evaporating.
  3. It replaces human employment for weed control with profits for the petroleum industry, and rural economies with urban ones.
  4. It makes the investment in an expensive tractor worthwhile (tractors lay this stuff.)

The thing is, at the end of the season the plastic is taken to the landfill, the soil is depleted, people have no income, huge public investment is made in separating water systems so that there is no back suction of fertilizer-enriched water into freshwater systems (yes, every house owner subsidizes farmers on this one), weed seeds in the uncovered strips are laid down astronomically, and the difference between the actual labour cost of growing food and this enhanced cost becomes the farmer’s profit, minus the inputs of supplies and machinery, rather than the profit being the farmer’s labour. In other words, the whole system pays for the supplies and machinery, in order to replace farm-based economies with bank-based ones. That’s simply unsustainable.

Are there real reasons for farmers needing to sell their souls like this? Of course there are. But let’s just look at it: we need to efficiently distribute and conserve water, we need labour costs in balance with prices, we need heat, and we need healthy food and healthy growing conditions. What we don’t need is plastic. It’s amazing that society can subsidize, to the tunes of trillions of dollars a year, infrastructure to move more-or-less unnecessary automobiles …

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…. when the same infrastructure could heat tomato plants, and feed us. Now, I’m not proposing that we ban automobiles or plant tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the asphalt, but imagine if we built permanent fields, using rock to gather heat, and planted tomatoes there. I did it with wood. My tomatoes will be ready in 3 weeks.

Sure, some efficiencies of scale would be lost by a rock wall method. Farmers wouldn’t get to drive around on tractors, so much, either, but, hey, the darn things cost major coin, and, besides, what I didn’t tell you was that the farm I showed you above was a self-pick operation. Farmers aren’t doing the labour of harvest in the first place! In short, no tractor is  actually necessary. Walking tractors would do …

Or maybe just a wheelbarrow. What would you need a tractor for? Moving manure once a year? Moving tomatoes four or five times? Tractors are useful machines, but I reckon that if we’re going to sell tomatoes as healthful products, as better than industrial tomatoes sold in supermarkets, we shouldn’t be compacting the soil with heavy machinery and killing it, reducing our yield rather rapidly over time, or growing tomatoes on plastic, destroying the soil, using unnecessary hydrocarbons, creating tremendous waste (it’s cheaper to lose 50% of a crop than to pick it yourself) …

… and hauling all that plastic to the dump at the end of the season, just to provide income for farmers on the difference between the potential cost of their labour and the actual cost of their supplies and equipment, on a pricing structure that incorporates all this waste and charges more than twice the cost for self-picked fruit than for fruit picked by the farmer. That is a way of moving wealth from the land to manufacturing centres, on the backs of the land. It might provide an economy on paper, but it doesn’t provide my black krims…

… or my late season Christmas tomatoes, protected against frost by a reusable (and recycled) tarp, months after the plastic-grown tomatoes are all finished and the only thing available is industrial, from the supermarket, shipped in from thousands of miles and grown there by people using walking tractors.

By the way, my insect control system is that marigold. That’s it. I don’t need more than that. One other point, if I may: I have these late October tomatoes because I don’t prune off the extra branches from my plants, to ensure even ripening in a concentrated season on a single stalk, which is the recommended method. I’d rather have fresh tomatoes for 5 months, a bucket every three days, than all of them at once and then nothing. What I’m proposing is a ban on black plastic. We don’t need it. I’d love to go further, with public infrastructure for growing food. Supermarkets, with their huge parking lots, are already displacing huge amounts of growing space. Community gardens and farmers markets already exist, on a small scale. It’s time to be done with the myth that farmer’s knowledge and cleverness can solve these problems, when the problems have to do with forcing agriculture into a non-agricultural business model. If we want food, the movement has to be the other way: the society provides the infrastructure; the framers fill it. That’s what’s happening right now, but the infrastructure is incapable of providing healthy food or of using the common resource of water wisely. It will take a lot to change this, but it’s not really that complicated, and the first step is simple: outlaw the use of black plastic for agricultural production, period. Let’s get smart again. Let’s stop doing this:

Call this removal of unpicked self-picked (and overpriced) fruit what you like, but if you call it farming you’re romanticizing the growing of money. We can’t afford this. There are too many of us in a small space.

 

Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.

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Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.

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Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.

 

 

 

 

So, You Don’t Like Plastic Bags, Right?

Let me show you the problem with that. Here’s the hill.P1000621

Nice, huh. Voles till it. Gophers. Weasels from time to time. Coyotes. Yes, Coyotes. Rototillers of the West! Nothing to complain about. Keep those plastic bags away, right?

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You bet! Then comes the next step. Fence.

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If you wonder where the rain forests went, those are the ancient red cedars rich there. But the story of the plastic bag doesn’t stop there, no no. Then there’s tilling, aka “breaking ground.” See?

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You could plant some tomatoes there, right? Wrong!  The following image shows where you plant tomatoes:

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I mean, what’s the use of tomatoes ripening in September? People want them in July! In August! Yah! So, plastic heats up the soil and speeds that up, and the fertilizer gets spread through that water tube you see there. Very nice. And at the end of the season? Off to the dump with this stuff. You see, there’s no way around the plastic bag. Even if you put on your grandmother’s apron and cradle the tomatoes in that on the way home, the plastic has already been used, and it’s soon to be in the landfill, too. Late in the year? Well, as you can see, once the U-Pick, save the world from plastic home canners are gone, the farmer has his own rituals…

A couple weeks after pulling out all the plants and discarding the tomatoes, things are almost back to normal.

It’s not, you see, about a plastic bag. Meanwhile, on the edge of the farm, amidst the discarded plastic irrigation hoses of past years, life carries on …

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The lambs quarter weeds there (not the feathery cheatgrass in back or the forgetmenots up front) make better eating than spinach, but does anyone here? No. No plastic needed. Early season. Crop off long before the water dries up. Across the road, where the apple trees are torn out because the money is not in them? Same thing!

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Down the road a kilometre-and-a-half, where a replanting scheme (see yesterday and the day before) has gone all wrong, well, what do you know…

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No plastic bag. See that? That’s the way. But tomatoes in the Okanagan? I hardly think so. This is one of the prices we pay for the myth that it is hot here. Canada needs this myth. We need to stop talking about plastic bags.