Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hugelkultur

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I was recently turned on to a permaculture technique called hugelkultur where logs and untreated wood are buried under the soil.  As the wood decomposes is acts as a kind of slow-releasing sponge where it provides moisture and nutrients.  Supposedly after a year or so a good hugelkultur mound will eliminate the need for most irrigation or additional watering.  It is also supposed to deepen the flavors of the foods that are grown in those beds.  It’s really exciting!  I knew that keeping that huge pile of branches and debris from the storm this spring would eventually amount to something other than an eyesore.  I’m going to give it a try and bury the sticks in our raised beds below the compost.

A great tip if you live in an area that won’t allow you to have a traditional raised hugelkultur bed is to put the logs in a trench and cover with soil so that it ends up being ground level.

Check out the video below and I’ll make sure to let you know how it turned out in the spring!

 

The white girl’s guide to Diwali

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 दिवाली मुबारक 2012!

(Happy Diwali 2012!)

Technically all of Diwali started on Sunday and will continue through until Thursday (5 days), but today is the biggest celebration and the time that we try to observe in our house.  Prior to joining my life with Sammit’s I had never heard of Diwali and each year I learn a little more about it.  While someday I hope to present a scholarly look at the history and meaning behind this celebration, right now I’ll give you “The white girl’s guide to Diwali.”

I, the white girl, or rather white woman but that doesn’t flow in a title as well, have taken two years of Hindi at the collegiate level and two courses on Hinduism and Asian Religions.  I also married an Indian family several years ago (because you don’t marry into one, you marry the whole family).  So I’m an expert, right?  Alas, no.  India is a beautiful country that has an amazingly vast and complex history which I have not even begun to fully comprehend. Also, the only two phrases from my Hindi classes that stuck are:

  1. “अन्न आर्बर में हम खाना का चुके है” which is pronounced “Ann Arbor mae hum khana ka chukae hae” and translates to English as “We have to eat food in Ann Arbor” and translates into in-law as “No, I’m not hungry, please don’t feed me any….thank you so much this looks delicious.”
  2. Sentences that indicate I like things, particularly I like words that I remember in hindi, such as मुझे खाना पसंद है (Mujae khana pasand hae = I like to eat/I like food) or मुझे रोटी पसंद है (Mujae roti pasand hae = I like bread) or मुझे संतरे पसंद है (Mujae santrae pasand hae = I like oranges).  We learned a lot of food vocabulary.

I cannot hold a conversation in Hindi and I do not understand most Bollywood movies.  I’m convinced, to this day, that I earned an A for effort and because they did not want to discourage the only non-Indian person in the class.  I have been to India, twice, once for academics and the most recent to meet family and have a blessing for my future nuptials.  India is hot and smelly and beautiful, but I digress.

Here is my guide to Diwali:

  1. It’s kind of a big deal; it marks the Indian new year and comes complete with family, food, and fireworks.
  2. It is 3-5 days long, though I’ve only ever celebrated the 3rd day.
  3. It runs on the lunar calendar so while it typically happens in October or November each year it does not happen the same time every year.
    1. Next year Diwali will happen on November 3rd and in 2014 it will happen on October 23rd.
  4. Light, literal and figurative, is a reoccurring theme.
    1. In some places (Because remember, India is not homogeneous. It is home to many religions and even more subcultures and languages so holidays and social milestones are celebrated differently) it represents light overcoming darkness (read: good overcoming evil) and a reminder that light exists in each of us.
    2. All candles, lamps, and lights in the house are turned on – let there be no corner left dark.
    3. Pay particular attention to lighting and making your entryway festive (read: colorful) and welcoming.
  5. This new year celebration is the time to make sure your things, like your house or business, are in order.  This involves some serious deep cleaning leading up to the 3rd day celebrations; get all that dirt and clutter out  and renew your life!
  6. Prayers happen, Indian sweets are exchanged, and there is generous joyousness and love all around with lots of fireworks.
  7. I usually leave my in-laws’ house with a tilak (a smoosh of red powder/paste on my forehead), a monetary gift, and a smile.

I hope you’ve learned a little bit about Diwali and I hope to be able to tell you more about it next year.  Until then, have a happy and prosperous new year!

The Beginning of Om-Nom Acres

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“Are you building garden beds…or a house!?”

The Narrative

This Saturday I hosted the first ever Om-Nom Acres event.  We had gorgeous November weather! Eight people turn out in total, including those who live in the house:  Devin, Sammit, Katie, Hanuman, Lisa, Mike, Chantel, and yours truly.  Devin and I started our work nearly a month in advance, planning materials, tasks, food, etc.  I put her in charge of shopping and prepping food while I worked on getting all the materials to the house.

On Friday, Devin and I worked through all the daylight hours, moving cement blocks from the six pallets in the driveway to the back yard where we level the soil and lined them up according to a rough plan.  We managed to build and fill the garlic bed with compost.  We also built half of the garage parameter bed.  When it was too dark to work outside we ran errands, picking up equipment from my in-laws (a wheel barrow and a 3 piece crock-pot set), and straw bales from the garden center.  When the stores closed we cleaned the house and picked up a few of our hearty volunteers who don’t drive so they could spend the night with us.  We all fell into bed around 2AM after stretching and soaking in epsom salts.

We started Friday with eggs and coffee.  Devin, Hanuman, Katie, Lisa, and I worked in the chilly sun.  We moved more concrete blocks and compost.  We double-dug the ground, extracting and heaving chunks of brick and stone as we unearthed them.  We spread leaves and straw, and replanted the perennial herbs.  When the sneaking hunger could no longer be ignored we broke for lunch, a spread of salads, meats, and potato products, and warmed up on cider.

In the afternoon, Mike, Sammit, and Chantel joined us and our productivity increased exponentially!  Mike helped me address some structural concerns (like how to prevent all of this work from heaving during the winter or washing away in the spring).  As a result, Mike and Hanuman took turns war-hammering over 700 inches of reinforcing bar into the ground through the holes in the blocks, a task that left them bruised, swollen, and shaking.  These people are tough.

We worked until the light gave out on us, just before 7PM, and came inside to a warm taco bar and chocolate pudding!  We sat in the living room, talked, laughed, received updates on the football game (sorry MSU!), and ate delicious food.  Several people went home, but a few stayed and we massaged each other’s aching feet, hands, and back while drinking beer and watching documentaries on Netflix.

It was the most fulfilling two days I have ever had.  And the best sleep I have had in years.  On Sunday we rested.  Throughout this week we still have compost to move, but we’re taking it slow.

The Logistics

Materials:

  1. 450 Concrete Blocks from Lowe’s (+ delivery) = $569.85
    1. We’ve placed 300 blocks and have 150 remaining for a potato bed, an asparagus bed, and a cold frame.
    2. The blocks measure 8x8x16 and each contains two “pockets” roughly 6×6 for additional planting.
  2. 9 cubic yards of good quality screened compost from Tuthill Farms + delivery = $300.00
  3. 4 straw bales from English Gardens (near the house) = $25.40
  4. Sledge-hammer + 20 reinforcing bars (36 inches each) = $92.82
  5. 1 dozen amazing work gloves (4 small, 4 medium, 4 large) = $45.95
  6. 1 flat head shovel = $11.63
  7. 2 spade head shovels + 1 garden rake (already owned) = $0
  8. Borrowed Wheel Barrow = $0
  9. Borrowed Dolly = $0
  10. Several large plastic tubs (already owned) = $0
  11. Incidentals (food & beverages) = 249.26
    1. We bought so much food!  This provided 3 full meals for most volunteers and we have leftovers for the whole week!  I would say it actually cost us no more than 1/2 to feed everyone so really = 124.63.

Project Total: $1045.65 + $124.63 (food) = $1170.28

Work:

  1. This project has already taken 55 work hours and still needs another 10-15 for a total of approx. 70 work hours.The 55 work hours were divided into two days and done by eight people
    1. The remaining 10-15 will be finished by this coming weekend between three people.
  2. There were 6 primary jobs and people were encouraged to take frequent breaks and change jobs to avoid too much strain on their bodies.
    1. Block Mover: Used the dolly to move 5-10 bricks at a time from the driveway to the building areas in the back yard.
    2. Bed Builder: Used the flat head shovel and additional compost/dirt to level the ground and place blocks appropriately to build beds either 1 or 2 levels high.  Must know the bed layout plan and pay attention to detail.
    3. Bed Prepper: Used spade head shovel to “double dig” the ground in the beds and spread leaves and straw over bed areas.
    4. Compost Mover: Loaded and moved compost from the pile in the driveway to the appropriate location in the beds (on top of double-dig, leaves, and straw).
    5. Block Filler: Used a shovel or hand spade to fill the 6×6 holes in the edges of the beds.
    6. Reinforcer: Used sledge hammer to pound in reinforcing bars at 2-level-bed corners and 1/2 way between corners.
    7. We all kept house, taking care of our own dishes, and feeding ourselves or helping others navigate the kitchen.
  3. We added 591 square feet of gardening space to the garden (+ the 101 square feet we had before) for a total of 692 square feet for growing in 2013!

The Advice

  • I’ll have to see how the beds hold up over the winter and spring with the rebar.  If they need more reinforcing, I will make sure to post an update on what we plan to do.
  • Invest in good gloves.  The gloves I linked to in the materials section are the best work gloves I have ever used.  They fit well, kept our hands warm but not too sweaty, and provide great protection from and grip on the handles and cement blocks.  We are keeping ours around so anyone who wants to come help will have them.  Without them, we all would have been toast in a matter of hours.
  • Over and underestimate where it makes the most sense:
    • I overestimated on the bricks, which is a good thing because a few of them came broken (2), I didn’t want to have to interrupt the workflow to go buy more, I will find a use for them, and they don’t “go bad”.
    • I underestimated on the compost because I didn’t want to be overwhelmed and pay for more than I could move before it rained (advice from my mama).  I can always buy more in the spring if I need it, when it will have a bigger effect on my crops.
    • I overestimated on the food because I knew those of us in the house would eat the leftovers and I did NOT want my amazing volunteers to feel they couldn’t eat or drink as much as they damn well pleased.
  • Be flexible
    • The beds do not look exactly the way I had planned on the computer (though they are close), and that’s okay!  It was really hard for me to get a good grasp of size and space from the screen to the backyard.  We went with the flow of the yard, including making some adjustments for huge and unmovable underground tree roots.
  • Take Breaks!
    • If this is your project, take frequent breaks so you don’t wear out before your volunteers (no one likes being hosted by a zombie).  Also, encourage your volunteers to take frequent breaks, hydrate, and switch jobs to avoid boredom and repetitive motions on the joints and muscles (injuries!).  Make sure it is clear that people should not push themselves and everyone’s safety is important.
  • Stretch and Salt!
    • Stretch during breaks and when you close up for the night.  I’m convinced stretching combined with soaking in an epsom salt bath helped me do this for two days in a row and still walk to class on Monday without anyone being suspicious.

Vote 2012!

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I took a break from planting garlic to exercise the democratic right for which many before me fought. From Sojourner Truth to Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells to Alice Paul and so many more, thank you.

I encourage you to head to your polling place, too!  I hear a lot of apathy about our political system, especially from the many youth I interact with regularly.  Check out some political myths that might motivate you to get out and vote!

Closing up October 2012

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I start the month of October with my wedding anniversary and end it with Halloween!  It has to be my favorite month, November coming in at a close second.  I want to take a few minutes to reflect on and take record of the month.

The Celebrations

Fountain Street Church – 10/2/10

Here’s a picture of Sammit and me during our wedding ceremony.  This is only one of so many pictures that I absolutely adore from our wedding days. That’s right plural!  We had two wedding ceremonies and three receptions.  Whew.  But that’s another post.  For our first anniversary we had a mini-vow renewal at the Michigan Renaissance Festival.  This year, our second anniversary, Sammit had to work but he surprised me with a very nice dinner where he made a Lasagna and chocolate covered strawberries from scratch!  This is huge because up until this night Sammit barely knew how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.  His cooking lesson was a gift from my sister, Devin.  Now he’s going to make Lasagna once a month!

Then there was my trip to Chicago with Monica, but you’ve already read about all that fun.

Cabin Picture 2012

The fall is also a time for another annual tradition and celebration: FTRWW:  F–k The Real World Weekend.  Each fall a group of friends makes the 6 hour trek up north to the U.P. to a cabin in the woods where there is delicious food and general debauchery.  FTRWW started off as a friend’s male bonding event called, “Meat Fest” but as they matured so did the weekend.  Now it is a time where 20 or so people who are vaguely related by blood and common bonds eat, drink, shoot guns (safely and while sober), play guitar, soak in the fire, and play a heck of a lot of Euchre.  Oh and this year including watching the Michigan Wolverines beat the MSU Spartans.  Something Sammit and I, two UM alumni in a sea of green, appreciate.

The Sad-Faces

There are only two sad-faces for this month.  The first is that my field internship for school was terminated after they were unable to provide me with a licensed social worker to supervise my work.  I’m waiting in limbo right now for another placement while paperwork gets shuffled back and forth.  I’m excited to see where I might end up, but I’m sad to see my time with this last internship come to an end.

The second is my life-disrupting cold.  I woke up with a cold, literally woke up with it because the night before I felt great, the day before Sammit and I were scheduled to leave for FTRWW and before we had packed anything.  I was miserable and Sammit was a total champ about it and packed all the food, camping supplies, bedding, and dogs into the car with almost no help from me.  I was also miserable while at the cabin but tried to enjoy myself anyway.  It didn’t occur to me to take any sort of cold medicine until the morning we were leaving.  I’m 12 days into my cold now and just starting to feel better.  I believe it turned into a dual sinus and ear infection and I went on antibiotics on Sunday in hopes of finally kicking it.  I will be trying to catch up with school work for the rest of the semester.  The rest of this post will be dedicated to describe how I feel when I’m sick; I appologize in advance for previous blog readers, you’ve already seen this and can probably just move on now.

A GIF set to explain sickness better than I could ever do with words:

I don’t waste away like so many people I know.

My couch and pajamas get rather dirty.

When I try to focus on anything.

I am easily annoyed.

I just cannot sleep enough.

I am of no use to anyone.