Thursday, May 29, 2008

bean teepee...wider than a mile

For some reason whenever a phrase has enough syllables to fit into the refrain of Moon River, that song pops into my head. Like this: "Bean TEE-PEE...wider than a mile..." or this: "RumSHPRINGA...wider than a mile..." or this "ChinCHILLA...wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style, someday..." (Merci, Mancini!)

So to get back to my lovely friend, Hausfrau's, request to hear more about my bean teepee, I though I'd write a bit about that today.

So essentially I looked at a couple of pictures in Rodale's, bought some bamboo poles, and got started. That was the essence of my prep.

So I decided I'm going to start every sentence with so...

So I took three poles, banged them about 8" to a foot into loosened soil:

Then I wrapped the entire thing in kite string to give the beans more places to crawl:




This is after I first planted everything around April 20 or so. You can see the tiny little tomatoes inside their cages in some of the pictures and one larger one that was a transplant (the rest were seed starts). I'll have to post updated pictures later this weekend because now the plants are seriously tall.

This is in our front yard and my partner and neighbor are convinced that most of the tomatoes will end up stolen or smashed on cars and houses. I certainly hope not. That would be discouraging. I'm trying to think of ways to deter people from taking them and have come up with netting or some sort of cheap baling wire fencing. We have a motion sensor flood light that should take care of night time vandals, but I don't know about the daytime. I'm tempted to put up a sign that says "Please ask first" but that might just be inviting trouble. Thoughts would be appreciated! I'll post new pictures soon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

primordial weeds

Okay, chickens, I need answers: What the hey is this weed-tree-thing? (And, no, it is not a pecan tree. I promise. Really. It's not.)

It grows super-fast and sends up tons of underground shoots that we constantly mow down:

It comes up in cracks and corners:

When you break off plants taller than 8"-10" it stinks like bug guts. And bag-worms love it, which is double-gross. Plus, in no time at all, it grows into this:

ARGH!!! This weed-tree is my bane! It grew around my old duplex in Norman and now here it is again. Boo!

The only thing is that I have to admire it's tenacity. It's like the cockroach of trees. I'll bet dinosaurs were munching on it hundreds of thousands of years ago. Mmm - bug-guts tree! Delicious.


And on the edible tip, at least with something like bamboo you can eat the new shoots. This things is just a major pita.

In looking around the web for info on this "tree," I found this website, which is pretty darn funny: Noah and the Tree Race. Very creative family!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

That was quick!

These two sites are awesome!

Bob Moul's caterpillar gallery

University of Georgia bug identification page

Apparently, I have this dude:

Cross-striped Cabbageworm (Evergestis rimosalis): The adult moth is small and yellowish-brown. The larvae are green and have numerous black transverse bands across the body.

So it turns into a moth. Why am I more readily able to think about killing moths than butterflies? I ask you.

seed saving novice-style...

It was a soggy, humid Memorial Day weekend around my place, but I still managed to do my transplant surgery on the zucchini and two cucumbers, laid out more hay on the gardens, trimmed a hedge (actually, my lovely neighbor did the whole thing and she just had me hold the leaf guard), and clipped back some trees. It was nice to check off so many things!

I am definitely not getting enough sun on the tomatoes and peppers in the summer garden (pics in last post). Compared to the tomatoes out front, which are getting 10 hours or so, these guys are small. That's why I decided to plant in the front yard, but hopefully I'll still get something out of the back garden. All of the peppers are there!

I also took some pictures of my radish and spinach plants that are bolting. I recently bought Seed to Seed and have been planning to save some of my own this year. I've harvested easy seed-things, like zinnias, marigolds, black-eyed susans, tomatoes, and peppers, but somewhere between the harvesting, drying, and storing, they have typically ended up on a dusty shelf somewhere as food for the scavenger bugs. So that means that this year a prime goal will be organization and thoughtful storage. What's the point, otherwise but a lot of wasted work??

I also want to try saving some seeds that are slightly more difficult. For instance, I learned from Seed to Seed that in order to get spinach seeds you need a male and a female plant. So I went out to the backyard, and what do you know?


The seeds will form along the stem. There are clusters of small white hairs that are lustily waiting for pollen from this guy:

This picture didn't turn out as well, but you can see the male flower stalk sticking up in front - my camera didn't want to focus on it but hopefully you get the idea. It looks sort of like a goldenrod spike.

I also noticed that some of my radishes, which have been flowering for some time, are finally developing their seed pods! Yippee!

I'm not sure that I'll be able to save viable seed this time, but I have a much better start than I did before (no book, just some curiosity and an envelope!).

I think most of the cabbage is a wash. I've been pulling cabbage loopers for weeks now and didn't seem to make a dent. I tried diatomaceous earth (nada), hot pepper spray (nope), and the manual pull-and-remove method (huh-uh). I may try bt (bacillus thuringiensis) but couldn't find any at Lowe's. I'd be interested in reviews if anyone's used it.

In my (uber-)brief research, I see that "in a purified form, some of the proteins produced by Bt are acutely toxic to mammals. However, in their natural form, acute toxicity of commonly-used Bt varieties is limited to caterpillars, mosquito larvae, and beetle larvae." (

Which I guess means the pretty butterflies and useful lady-bugs, too. I could be careful and just spot spray the problem crops, though, maybe?

I also found this: "The beauty of this popular control is it only attacks caterpillars in the Lepidoptera family and doesn't harm other insects, bees, pets, and humans. The downside is that all butterfly and moth larvae are susceptible to this pesticide, so use it sparingly and avoid it on butterfly larva plants, such as parsley.

There are also strains of Bt that attack Colorado potato beetle larvae (Bt 'San Diego') and mosquito larvae (Bt israelensis)." (

I noticed that now it's not just the cabbage loopers but these guys, too:

The white powder you see is leftover residue from the diatomaceous earth. So if this isn't blatant caterpillar scoffing at my attempts at playing god with their lives, I don't know what is.

Sadly several of my cabbage are now in the compost (notice the volunteer squash!).

Live and learn, right? Once I've identified my latest interloper, I'll be back with results. I suspect it is a the fore-bears of something beautiful. Quelle conflict! Beautiful but deadly to my food!

Friday, May 23, 2008

picture pages, pictues pages, time to get your picture pages; time to get your crayons and your pencils!

I loved that Bill Cosby Saturday morning doo-dad. I never did buy the activity book or the fun pen that made noises, but I watched him every week!

So today I finally got around to pulling the pictures off my camera and onto my computer. I also laid down some more hay and planted Burgundy Okra, New Zealand spinach, and Black Futsu, Jumbo Pink Banana, and Chicago Warted Hubbard winter squash. I've never grown okra or winter squash before so we'll see what happens. I grew New Zealand spinach in Florida and it went gang-busters, turning into more of a ground cover than a vegetable. I doubt it will do that here, but time will tell all fortunes...

I had to transplant some cukes and the zucchini due to a truly sophmorish mistake! In my experiment planting beans and cukes under a tree, I didn't take into account that this particular tree would be super-slow to fully foliate. So now that it's completely leaved out, I only get four hours sun underneath. Boo! I feel dumb! It's humbling! And it's fine... I chalk it up to the infinite learning curve and say meekly, "Whatev."

I left all the beans under the tree. The soybeans, which are slightly more shaded, will probably do nothing but they can grow the season, just to see (and to be, they live, after all!). The Provider beans might get enough sun to provide a small crop - we'll see. But I moved one each of the cukes and the zucchini. I don't know if they'll survive the transplant, but if they don't, that's okay, too. It's all okay until the days of true gardening guerilla warfare brought on by high-peak-oil. Until then, it's all practice, babies.

Now for the 2-penny nickelodeon!

First, I present to you le jardin c. April 19 of Anno Domina 2008:

I planted most of the spring bed out in late February, although the spinach went in in January and the beets in March, etc. Notice the "homemade bird scarer" which is a steel can suspended over the bed by braided plastic sacks. There are several more that have been pushed over to the side of the yard. Incidentally, I don't think they worked that well. Hanging the wind chimes on the clothesline overhead did a better job of it, I think. That, and the recent addition of a stray cat who has adopted us. Rigby is my watch-feline (and in search of a more permanent home...).

About two weeks later, the miracle of sun+water+soil+seed transformed into this:

And then today here we are, miracle of miracles:

The sunflower you see at the far left of the summer bed (the less grown of the two) is a volunteer, and from whence it came, I know not. I had a bunch of volunteer peppers, too, that came out of the compost. Of course, if I were composting correctly, seeds wouldn't survive it...but I'm not turning it often enough and the snails are mostly taking care of the decomposition, so oh well. Why turn the compost pile when you can have snails and earth worms do it for free? :) I do have to be careful when using the compost, though, being sure to pick out the grubbies to protect my plantlings.

I also have a volunteer squash that I let go for it. I know, I're not supposed to let volunteers grow unless you're sure of the seed - which I'm not. In fact, the peppers and the squash are most likely from store-bought produce (horrors!) and therefore from hybrid seed (double-horrors!). I let a squash go a few years ago in similar circumstances. It produced three amazingly shaped squash which were ugly but completely edible. Plus, I dig experiments, so volunteers - grow on! (And, I admit, I have a really hard time killing anything, which is the truth behind the euphemism "thinning." I need more of a spine to be a better gardener...I still feel guilty when I kill a cabbage worm here and there. Mostly I just move them to other habitat. I'm nowhere near hardcore.)

Here are a couple of pictures of our recent harvests:

In terms of actual planted produce, here's the complete list, and just FYI, unless marked by an asterisk, everything is grown from seed:

  • Early Market Copenhagen cabbage (still growing, probs with loopers)
  • De Cicco broccoli (still growing, see above)
  • Early Purple Sprouting broccoli (still growing, very slowly, but very beautifully, probs w/ loopers)
  • Bull’s Blood beets (still only 6" tall, not sure why)
  • Golden beets (same)
  • Swiss Chard (delish!)*
  • Blood-veined sorrel (beautiful, slow to fill out, but perennial!)*
  • 1015 yellow sweet onions (great, although flowering)* (sets)
  • Red short-day onions (great)* (sets)
  • White short-day onions (great)* (sets)
  • Purple top white globe turnips (turned out hot and not sure why; still good)
  • Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi (delish!)
  • Dragon carrots (delish!)
  • French Breakfast radishes (delish!)
  • Little Marvel peas (needed innoculant to get a good harvest, but those that are there are awesome!)
  • Buttercrunch lettuce (fantabulous)
  • Viroflay spinach (fantabulous)
  • Sylvetta arugula (which was remarkably slow-growing but very tasty!)
  • Opalka tomato (fine and feathery, looking forward to a harvest)
  • Golden Queen tomato (growing great)
  • Green Zebra tomato (growing great)*
  • Amish paste tomato (growing great)*
  • Mexican Midget cherry tomato (growing great)*
  • Sweet Million cherry tomato (growing great)*
  • Paul Robeson tomato (growing great)
  • Roberto's Cuban (low-heat) habanero (growing great)
  • Regular high-heat habanero! (growing great)*
  • Jalapeno (growing great)
  • Tabasco (growing great)*
  • Red Bell (growing great)*
  • Ancho (growing great)
  • Hungarian Wax (growing great)
  • Cayenne (growing great)
  • one little lemon-drop pepper (the rest either didn't sprout or died, so I hope he hangs in there!)
  • Slicing cucumbers (transplant fiasco, I'll keep you posted)*
  • Pickling cucumbers (transplant fiasco, I'll keep you posted)*
  • Suyo Long Chinese cucumber (transplant fiasco, I'll keep you posted)*
  • Romano pole beans (Bee-U-tee-full on the bean teepee out front; pics to follow)
  • Provider bush beans (under the tree fiasco, I'll keep you posted)
  • Soybeans (under the tree fiasco, I'll keep you posted)
  • Okra (growing great!)*
  • Burgundy okra (just planted seed)
  • New Zealand spinach (just planted seed)
  • Chicago Warted Hubbard winter squash (just planted seed)
  • Jumbo Pink Banana winter squash (just planted seed)
  • Black Futsu winter squash (just planted seed)
  • Eight Ball zucchini (transplant fiasco, I'll keep you posted)*
  • Ichiban eggplant (growing great!)*
  • Turkish orange eggplant (growing great!)
  • Chartenais melon (probably not getting enough light)
  • Herbs: Dill, tarragon, basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme, sage, chives
  • Flowers: Nasturtiums, Dwarf French (tagetes) marigolds, echinacea, sunflowers (2 types), black-eyed susans, morning glories.
I got all of my seeds from Seeds of Change, Pinetree, Territorial Seed Company, and - my favorite - Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I got a few plants from the Sands Springs Herb Festival and Lowe's (but I probably won't do that again).

Well, that's the (super-long, loquacious) scoop, chickens. I'll keep you posted on the happenings and many more pictures to come! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

spring abundance and the onion flower mystery

We've been getting a lot out of the garden recently! Last night we tasted our first kohlrabi of the season and made a salad with peeled purple kohlrabi slices, buttercrunch lettuce, spinach, arugula, green onions, and beautiful orange nasturtium flowers. Since it was all picked fresh I could almost feel the nutrients joining with my body as I ate. Yum!

We've also been harvesting plenty of greens - cabbage thinnings, turnips, kohlrabi greens, radish tops, and the above-mentioned spinach, lettuce, and arugula. We've had turnips, baby carrots, onions, radishes, and snow peas, too. I'm letting the radishes and some of the spinach bolt their beautiful seed heads for me, too. Those and some of the peas will get saved for the fall (and beyond!).

This year I grew red, yellow (1015), and white short day onions from sets. Some of my onions have fallen over, which means they're done growing even though they're only a few inches wide. I'll let the tops of those brown up and then pull them for drying and storage. Others are sending up flowers and some are just growing along normally. I've grown onions a few times, but it seems early for them to quit. So I did some research. Those agricultural extension folks are quite the powerhouse source of good information. Here's what I found:

Failure in onion production comes in two forms - - complete annihilation of the young seedlings during a cold winter or an abundance of spring onion flowers which decrease bulb size, weight and storage ability. Onion plants which are small and rapidly growing when the cold temperatures of winter arrive will probably not survive. Yet, if you plant earlier and the stem of onion plants are larger than a pencil when exposed to cold temperatures, the onion will initiate and produce a flower during the following spring. This flowering is termed bolting...Fall seeded crops are susceptible to bolting the following spring if warm fall temperatures, allowing excessive growth, are followed by low winter temperatures and slowed growth. Many gardeners believe that early removal of the onion flower stalk will cause onion bulb enlargement but this has not proven to be the case.

So perhaps it's due to a faulty planting date on the part of my onion set source (I have yet to have the patience to try onions from seed, although I just bought some leek seeds from Baker Creek a few days ago! Woohoo!). I read on and found out a little more related to bolting onions:

What causes bulb onions to send up flower stalks? Flowering of onions can be caused by several things but usually the most prevalent is temperature fluctuation. An onion is classed as a biennial which means it normally takes 2 years to go from seed to seed. Temperature is the controlling or triggering factor in this process. If an onion plant is exposed to alternating cold and warm temperatures resulting in the onion plant going dormant, resuming growth, going dormant and then resuming growth again, the onion bulbs prematurely flower or bolt. The onion is deceived into believing it has completed two growth cycles or years of growth in its biennial life cycle so it finalizes the cycle by blooming. Flowering can be controlled by planting the right variety at the right time.

Well, I thought I did plant the right variety at the right time, but then again, how much do you really know when you're getting your onion sets from Lowe's??? I knew I needed short-day varieties and that's what I got...I thought. The temperatures have been surprisingly temperate here in OK and we haven't had the wild hot/cold/hot swing we usually have in spring, although it has been quite windy this year. In any case, I'll order my future sets from a reputable source or try seeds!

Over the weekend I covered the path between my two garden strips (summer and spring) with first brown paper sacks, then cardboard, and finally hay. Bermuda grass, crab grass, I will vanquish you! If only between my two gardens. I still plan to make a cardboard collar around the whole thing, but one step at a time. I also put diatomaceous earth on everything (damn snails!) and sprayed on some nice and stinky fish emulsion. Interestingly, the diatomaceous earth seems to work on the snails, but I've found those crafty little cabbage loopers still thriving. What gives? I need to know more. More research on this and info in the future. Along with pics, I hope. I have so many!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Green Wedding??

Hmm - a green wedding sounds like an oxymoron, given that all the flights of fancy and sentimentalism might lead conscious consumption to take a back-of-the-bus-seat. I've tried to think of how to make my wedding more green, but I'm drawing a blank or a void, rather.

For instance, I'm getting married in a small town in Oklahoma. There are two florists there - which for a smallish town is pretty good. Neither offer green options on flowers. I thought about going out in the fresh early morning spring dew and harvesting a wildflower bouquet but that would probably net me a handful of Indian paintbrush, some clover, maybe some violets and a bunch of mosquito bites the day of. The other problem with this, besides the iffy nature of a resulting bouquet, is that my mother would have an attaques de nervios (i.e. a good old-fashioned cow), and I understand - I love a pretty bouquet, too. Yet I'm kind of surprised at how tradition and sentimentalism prevent solid, environmentally healthy decision-making, on my part, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the planning of something as culture-bound as a wedding.

Another problem is that the wedding is out of town for most people. We're having it in my parents' backyard, which is 1/2 acre of beautiful flowers and shrubs. Beautiful and low-key - perfect for this impromptu wedding. However, it's also 200-ish miles away from most of my friends and 90-ish miles away from most of our family. On the other hand, I think only one person is actually flying in, so that's good, given that almost everyone else has a hefty drive in front of them.

But we are trying some things to keep it even remotely green, and I guess that's primarily by keeping it small. We're mainly inviting family and a very few close, close friends. I'm wearing a sundress that was cheap, cheap and he's wearing his stand-by suit. We used one sheet of paper and a partially recycled envelope for invitations, rather than the card stock, inserts, and double envelope typically used. We didn't register, although we did note where people could purchase gift cards/certificates, if they chose to (such as Seeds of Change, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Lowe's, and Target). We also included an option to make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund, The National Resource Defense Council, or the The Sierra Club. Any gift cards will go toward things that we need, not want, such as garden tools, a pressure canner, blankets, etc. We might get more dishes, but we haven't bought dishes in 9 years, so that's saying something, isn't it? We might be pulling off a green party favor if I can find what I'm looking for in the next two weeks. We'll see!

Some things I would change if I'd had more time (and money, unfortunately):

  • Considered a different floral option (expensive to get real, green flowers unless I grew some of my own, which would've taken a lot more planning but would've been WAY cooler).
  • Found a way to have enough silverware, dishware, and cloth napkins (mix and match a couple of sets belonging to my mother and other people in the area).
  • Purchased completely recycled paper/envelopes for invitations and thank you cards (this would've been easy! Damn).
  • Bought available food from local sources (easy but expensive).
Originally we'd planned to elope. There was going to be carbon-emissions galore as we flew to Greece, but it would've been just the two of us. Unforeseen circumstances prevented our anti-planning strategy and led us to the impromptu wedding planning I've been describing. I wonder if the energy used is balancing out this way, given the nastiness of long distance air travel? I don't know.

I'm kind of surprised at myself that I haven't done more. I guess I fell into the "let's do it small, no-fuss, and easy" mindset that led me to make some dumb decisions (ex: I didn't want cloth napkins b/c that would be too formal. What was I thinking??)

I guess in some ways I've fallen prey to the consumerist mindset that dominates our culture. I've tried to balance what I believe (and want) with what tradition (i.e. family) would like. But I've also been less aware than maybe I think I am sometimes. Hmm. Food for thought. I'll say one thing, though: ethically I feel much more comfortable with what we're doing than with some of the ridiculous throw-downs people feel compelled to host. I read that the average wedding costs $28K. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!?! There must be some insane outliers that pull up the average, but still! I can take heart in knowing that my wedding will cost considerably (much, much, much!) less than the "average."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

350 ppm

Okay, so I hope this fits with fair use copyright law. This opinion piece masterfully captures a complex topic in a succinct way. Very well written and very scary.,0,2392815.story
From the Los Angeles Times

Civilization's last chance

The planet is nearing a tipping point on climate change, and it gets much worse, fast.
By Bill McKibben

May 11, 2008

Even for Americans -- who are constitutionally convinced that there will always be a second act, and a third, and a do-over after that, and, if necessary, a little public repentance and forgiveness and a Brand New Start -- even for us, the world looks a little terminal right now.

It's not just the economy: We've gone through swoons before. It's that gas at $4 a gallon means we're running out, at least of the cheap stuff that built our sprawling society. It's that when we try to turn corn into gas, it helps send the price of a loaf of bread shooting upward and helps ignite food riots on three continents. It's that everything is so tied together. It's that, all of a sudden, those grim Club of Rome types who, way back in the 1970s, went on and on about the "limits to growth" suddenly seem ... how best to put it, right.

All of a sudden it isn't morning in America, it's dusk on planet Earth.

There's a number -- a new number -- that makes this point most powerfully. It may now be the most important number on Earth: 350. As in parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A few weeks ago, NASA's chief climatologist, James Hansen, submitted a paper to Science magazine with several coauthors. The abstract attached to it argued -- and I have never read stronger language in a scientific paper -- that "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

Hansen cites six irreversible tipping points -- massive sea level rise and huge changes in rainfall patterns, among them -- that we'll pass if we don't get back down to 350 soon; and the first of them, judging by last summer's insane melt of Arctic ice, may already be behind us.

So it's a tough diagnosis. It's like the doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high and, if you don't bring it down right away, you're going to have a stroke. So you take the pill, you swear off the cheese, and, if you're lucky, you get back into the safety zone before the coronary. It's like watching the tachometer edge into the red zone and knowing that you need to take your foot off the gas before you hear that clunk up front.

In this case, though, it's worse than that because we're not taking the pill and we are stomping on the gas -- hard. Instead of slowing down, we're pouring on the coal, quite literally. Two weeks ago came the news that atmospheric carbon dioxide had jumped 2.4 parts per million last year -- two decades ago, it was going up barely half that fast.

And suddenly the news arrives that the amount of methane, another potent greenhouse gas accumulating in the atmosphere, has unexpectedly begun to soar as well. It appears that we've managed to warm the far north enough to start melting huge patches of permafrost, and massive quantities of methane trapped beneath it have begun to bubble forth.

And don't forget: China is building more power plants; India is pioneering the $2,500 car; and Americans are buying TVs the size of windshields, which suck juice ever faster.

Here's the thing. Hansen didn't just say that if we didn't act, there was trouble coming. He didn't just say that if we didn't yet know what was best for us, we'd certainly be better off below 350 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

His phrase was: "if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed." A planet with billions of people living near those oh-so-floodable coastlines. A planet with ever-more vulnerable forests. (A beetle, encouraged by warmer temperatures, has already managed to kill 10 times more trees than in any previous infestation across the northern reaches of Canada this year. This means far more carbon heading for the atmosphere and apparently dooms Canada's efforts to comply with the Kyoto protocol, which was already in doubt because of its decision to start producing oil for the U.S. from Alberta's tar sands.)

We're the ones who kicked the warming off; now the planet is starting to take over the job. Melt all that Arctic ice, for instance, and suddenly the nice white shield that reflected 80% of incoming solar radiation back into space has turned to blue water that absorbs 80% of the sun's heat. Such feedbacks are beyond history, though not in the sense that Francis Fukuyama had in mind.

And we have, at best, a few years to short-circuit them -- to reverse course. Here's the Indian scientist and economist Rajendra Pachauri, who accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year (and, by the way, got his job when the Bush administration, at the behest of Exxon Mobil, forced out his predecessor): "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment."

In the next two or three years, the nations of the world are supposed to be negotiating a successor treaty to the Kyoto accord (which, for the record, has never been approved by the United States -- the only industrial nation that has failed to do so). When December 2009 rolls around, heads of state are supposed to converge on Copenhagen to sign a treaty -- a treaty that would go into effect at the last plausible moment to heed the most basic and crucial of limits on atmospheric CO2.

If we did everything right, Hansen says, we could see carbon emissions start to fall fairly rapidly and the oceans begin to pull some of that CO2 out of the atmosphere. Before the century was out, we might even be on track back to 350. We might stop just short of some of those tipping points, like the Road Runner screeching to a halt at the very edge of the cliff.

More likely, though, we're the coyote -- because "doing everything right" means that political systems around the world would have to take enormous and painful steps right away. It means no more new coal-fired power plants anywhere, and plans to quickly close the ones already in operation. (Coal-fired power plants operating the way they're supposed to are, in global warming terms, as dangerous as nuclear plants melting down.) It means making car factories turn out efficient hybrids next year, just the way U.S. automakers made them turn out tanks in six months at the start of World War II. It means making trains an absolute priority and planes a taboo.

It means making every decision wisely because we have so little time and so little money, at least relative to the task at hand. And hardest of all, it means the rich countries of the world sharing resources and technology freely with the poorest ones so that they can develop dignified lives without burning their cheap coal.

It's possible. The United States launched a Marshall Plan once, and could do it again, this time in relation to carbon. But at a time when the president has, once more, urged drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it seems unlikely. At a time when the alluring phrase "gas tax holiday" -- which would actually encourage more driving and more energy consumption -- has danced into our vocabulary, it's hard to see. And if it's hard to imagine sacrifice here, imagine China, where people produce a quarter as much carbon apiece as Americans do.

Still, as long as it's not impossible, we've got a duty to try to push those post-Kyoto negotiations in the direction of reality. In fact, it's about the most obvious duty humans have ever faced.

After all, those talks are our last chance; you just can't do this one lightbulb at a time.

We do have one thing going for us -- the Web -- which at least allows you to imagine something like a grass-roots global effort. If the Internet was built for anything, it was built for sharing this number, for making people understand that "350" stands for a kind of safety, a kind of possibility, a kind of future.

Hansen's words were well-chosen: "a planet similar to that on which civilization developed." People will doubtless survive on a non-350 planet, but those who do will be so preoccupied, coping with the endless unintended consequences of an overheated planet, that civilization may not.

Civilization is what grows up in the margins of leisure and security provided by a workable relationship with the natural world. That margin won't exist, at least not for long, as long as we remain on the wrong side of 350. That's the limit we face.

Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and the author, most recently, of "The Bill McKibben Reader," is the co-founder of Project 350 (, devoted to reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million. A longer version of this article appears at

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

There's a miracle in my backyard...

And it's not my garden, although I always think it's a miracle that a full plant can grow from a tiny speck of a seed.

No, this miracle is the matriarchal clan that live behind, catty corner, and next door to me. Apparently, the eldest surviving member, a woman of 101 whom I've not met, bought the property with her husband a long time ago. They owned quite a bit of land, which I'm assuming they farmed to a certain extent, before selling it off in parcels. Now they still have (at least) three properties which border me on three sides. Behind me is one of the daughters, probably in her 60s or 70s, who lives there with her husband (he calls himself the oldest "besides Mama," is rarely seen without his Veterans ball-cap, and is the lone male of the pack). The 101-year-old lives with them in an old yellow house. It definitely has the city-crept-up-around-the-country-house look to it. Another daughter lives catty corner (I haven't met her) and another to my side. She's probably in her 60s and I so envy her greenhouse. Her daughter comes to visit almost every day. All of their yards connect via opening fences. It's such an interesting living arrangement. They have a village!

And man, do these women work hard. They are out in their yards everyday for hours. And they all help each other, with each spending hours digging, weeding, transplanting, etc. in each other's yards. Despite their age they are enormously productive and have put together a huge veggie and rose garden and what looks to be shaping up as a new veggie patch. I'm not kidding, they will be out there in straw garden hats for 6 hours a day. I only get to do this on the occasional weekend, but they're out there almost every day!

Then they have tea or drinks or dinner on the patio of my side neighbor's house. She has an elaborate backyard entertainment area set up with a pond, a paved eating area with requisite umbrella, and a stereo system with the speakers coming out of decorative frog mouths. They play Patsy Cline and instrumental music. It's really quite idyllic.

I like this idea of close family living. You just don't see it very often anymore, at least in this country. And I absolutely LOVE that it's women dominated. They are so interdependent and efficient - it's truly impressive.

We'll all need our tribes if peak oil shakes out poorly. I haven't written about that, yet, but it's on my mind quite a bit. With $126 for a barrel who knows? And Goldman Sachs predicts $150-$200 by the end of the year (what is that, maybe $5.75 for a gallon of gas?). Better get those gardens a-growing. Better get those bikes in shape. Better buy smaller cars. Pronto.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Scratch that...

The Sioux tomato is now really dead. I don't know if the wind killed it off or if that speck of leaf just wasn't enough to pull it through. But she is now truly gone.
Maybe next year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Out of it...

Short gap in blogging...I passed my test and have been planning an impromptu wedding. We'd been planning to elope but various of life's curveballs sent us in this direction. So we're having an informal garden ceremony in my mother's beautiful backyard. Should be lovely - she has quite the green thumb.

The news about oil has not been encouraging. So many weather disasters, food shortages, whispers of methane "burps." It all makes for quite a bit of anxiety. For someone like me who rents and owes Sallie Mae my first born, it's not encouraging. Luckily, I do qualify for loan repayment programs if I go work in an under-served area. This has been on my agenda since I went to graduate school those many years ago. I just hope I have another two years before the SHTF (for a whole lot more on this, see the Hausfrau's blog). If not, we may be in for quite the money crunch at our little household. Might be moving in with Mom and Dad if the SHTF.

In terms of the garden, I haven't been as busy as I'd like. Everything is growing along nicely and I have some pictures to post, just not enough time to make that happen. The beans are about 6 inches tall now. Some of the tomatoes are getting to an adolescent stage. The cabbages are heading. No dice on the broccoli yet. The kohlrabies are starting to bunch up - they're such a pretty purple.

We've been harvesting the spinach, lettuce, onions, radishes, Swiss chard, and turnip greens for a while now. I tried some of the turnips a few days ago and they were nice but hot - not sure why. Ideas? Maybe the warmer weather? It hasn't been exactly hot out yet, though... We've also got basil, chives, rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, and tarragon we've been using. I dried some dandelion leaves for tea last night, too.

The cukes are doing fine. At first I kind of scared myself because they started to turn a yellow color around the edges and a few leaves died back. Remember this is my experiment bed which I threw together under a tree. I basically piled together some nice homemade compost, mushroom compost, and aged manure. Well, I thought the reaction was from salt scald, like perhaps I'd over-fertilized. After a lot of research, though, and the full recovery of my cukes and zucchini, I think it might have just been transplant shock. Or maybe it was mild over-fertilization but they've stabilized, because either way they're okay now. In my research I did find out that there is quite a controversy about using mushroom compost. Does it burn or not? Is it too dirty (chemically)? etc. I need more input before I make a decision.

My Chartenais melons are peeking up and my bush beans and soybeans are now all up from the ground. Had some of the okra die back and not sure why.

Oh and in terrific news, the Sioux is back! It had been clipped to the ground by some animal (I presume) but there is a tiny bit of leaf growing out of the node between the one denuded branch and the original 2" stalk left. Way to go Sioux!

Tonight I plan to dose everything with fish emulsion (been trying to do this every 2-3 weeks). I still need to add more soil to my potato bucket and trench around my garden (damn crabgrass!). I need to try some of the methods I've been reading about on my sustainability list - namely newspaper, cardboard, and hay covers combined. I need to take a weed whacker to the area behind the garden and the compost bin. It's a nightmare. I also need to chop down those tree limbs. Oh, and plan a wedding that will happen in 20 days. Lest I forget.

So yes, still a busy, busy time. Right now - I grade papers! Grades are due tomorrow!