Thursday, September 21, 2017

Short and slightly stupid sorry

Everything Leads to You

Surprisingly thoughtful. Unsurprisingly sweet. I enjoyed it, but kind of wish I hadn't wasted my time on it. Weird, right?

It's about the intersections of lives; about lust versus love; friendship of the best sort; and the bitter misunderstandings that occur when people stop talking to each other.

Highly recommended as an antidote to romance novels...but...I don't read romance novels much anymore and never really did.  This is more like...romance with brain engaged and (mostly) in control. 

I've got it!  As much as I liked all the characters, I didn't truly feel the thing--the mysterious fascination with the object of desire that I needed to feel to truly participate. I was a spectator and a spectator I remained.  Stupid me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

NO State of the Garden Report because September stinks

Sorry, but it's still in the 90s. I did finally discover a crop of radishes struggling out of the ground and mixed among them, a tiny sprig of carrot or two. And I finally saw one--exactly one--sprig of lettuce coming up. I should mark that one and save the seed from it.

With that in mind, I'll instead review a book about seed saving and much more.

The Third Plate
Field Notes on the Future of Food

Wow. Chef with a conscience. Does he overstate the importance of Master Chefs' ability to influence the direction of everyday eating?  Maybe, but he's onto something, too. When The Restaurant Scene turns its focus to a food, then everyone has to have it--from Ruths Chris to Golden Corral. And in the case of bluefin tuna, prosciutto, or even the kindly avocado, environmental destruction follows.

His journey in search of really sustainable agriculture and really tasty eats takes him all over. It's a delicious ride. You get to visit a fish farming operation off the coast of Spain; you meet the geese of Eduardo Sousa in Extremadura; you travel with wheat and corn over the ages and the continents. And best of all--you get to make up your own mind. No preaching. Well, yes, preaching, but no absolutes. There are many roads that lead to heaven...and on right through it. He's looking to the future--of food!

Points: where is this fixation on 'heirloom fruits and vegetables' leading us?  An heirloom variety is one that is uniquely suited to perform well and taste great in a particular time and place. Which isn't now and isn't here.  To have good tasting food, are we limited to living in the past?  My answer is easy--the Brandywine tomato plant I grew produced a great tasting fruit. I enjoyed it very much. Note my adjectives--'a' and 'it'. Wish there'd been a second one.

But we are not stuck in the past--we can go on producing great tasting, productive regional varieties of tomatoes in modern days, if we just choose to try our hands at selected the best seed and passing it around.  And the same goes for other crops--but we've got a difficult row to hoe.  Big Ag has the market cornered.

Here's a take on GMOs you probably never considered. One of the first successful uses of genetic modification was to put a gene in corn that let it withstand the herbicide roundup. Farmers could go on spraying roundup right on the corn, all summer long. That right there is enough to creep me out. But there's more--GMO seeds can be patented. What does that do to the traditions of farmers who want to save the 'best seeds' for replanting or developing new varieties?  Why do farmers have to give up their birthright--to save seeds, try experiments, and improve the crop? We've been doing it for 8000 years--let's not give it up without a fight!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Too much work but I envy his spinach

The Winter Harvest Handbook:

Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses

Way too technical for me, but required reading for any small farmer even if he doesn't plan to build moveable greenhouses.  (I'd love one!)  It's a textbook of greenhouse farming.  But it had a bit of information for non-greenhouse, non-winter producers too.

A very small chapter at the end speaks less of the how-to of organic farming and more of the why-do. And it reminds us of this:
The reason for this still very active attempt to villainize organic farming is that our success scares the hell out of the other side. Just like the fear of Nature that the merchandisers and scientists have worked so hard to create in farmers in order to make purchased chemical products and reductionist science seem indispensable, so has our success with organic farming created in the scientists and merchandisers a terrible fear--a fear of their own redundancy; a fear that all farmers will realize other solutions are possible; a fear that agriculture will learn the truth. Organic farmers have succeeded in producing a bounty of food through the simple means of working in harmony with natural processes, without any help from the scientists and the merchandisers.

Sorry, that's a horrid quote. His writing style is much better in other parts of the book.  But it's a reminder of a couple of obvious facts we tend to forget:

Human beings have been farming and keeping themselves fed for about 10,000 years.

For 9950 years of that time, he didn't have chemical fertilizers. Or pesticides. Or herbicides.

Farmers have been saving their own seed and improving crop varieties themselves, very successfully, without scientists.

And finally, beware when the person selling you something tells you that you have to buy his product because "if you don't, you'll fail."  If you don't buy his product, exactly who is it who'll be failing?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Long time on the to-read list and worth it!

Lab Girl
by Hope Jahren

Weird and wild biography...with trees.  Plants of all sorts, really, and a couple of crazy goof-ball scientists who can't sit back and contemplate nature without digging, stirring, cutting and centrifuging every thing in sight. You got to love 'em.

Mixed in with their adventures in science is some real science, often chapter for chapter. She'll discourse on the structure and utility of wood for instance, then switch to the laying on of rings of her life in the lab.  A discourse on plant sex and the rarity at which a grain of pollen lands on a pistil and becomes a new life, leads beautifully into a chance encounter with a man at an outdoor barbeque.  But none of this is forced--it's effortless and beautiful. Even the really scary parts are told without apology or hyperbole and only after you step away do you realize how close disaster really loomed.

Let me just sum up--there's a reason this book was so in demand at the library.  It's good.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

State of the Garden Report, sagging September

Depressing despite the fact I've got Brassicas coming out my rear end and there's a new swatch of shallots rising.  The four tomato plants are blooming, even though they're tiny.  But...the beets all vanished into the ground. Not a sign of a radish, carrot, lettuce or spinach. Why Would I be surprised?

It won't be the first time I've lost a crop. And yet...can't I even grow radishes?  Radishes, chapter one of Gardening for Dummies?

Nope, and it's not even my fault. It's the stupid weather. I forgot to take a soil temperature last weekend, but with highs over 90 and lows in the seventies, the temperature is probably jsut too darn warm for them to germinate. I can only hope they didn't start to germinate and then dry up and wither the beets.

The pumpkins are doing okay...I hope.

Harvest time for horseradish!  Now...what to make of it...?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Germany's baby boomer generation

Tearing the Silence: On Being German in America

Let me start with a rather long quote from the introduction.
Born in 1946, I grew up surrounded by evidence of war--bombed out buildings, fatherless children, men who had legs or arms missing--yet when I tried to ask questions, my parents and teachers only gave me reluctant and evasive answers about the war. Never about the Holocaust, "We suffered, too," they would say. It is an incomplete lens, but it was held up to many of our generation as the only lens to see through. if our parents had spoken to us about their responsibility for their actions or lack of action during the war, if they had grieved for the Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals and political prisoners who were murdered, and if then, in addition to all this, they had told us, "We suffered, too," their victimhood would have become part of the total lens.
Taken by itself, it is flawed. Incomplete. A lie.
What they tried to create for their children was eine heile Welt--an intact world. What was their motivation? guilt? Denial? Justification? The desire to protect the next generation? Perhaps all of these. But their silence added to the horrors of the Holocaust.
After a thoughtful and thought-provoking introduction, she goes on to interview fifteen other children of her generation who--like her--emigrated to America after the war.  Some had childhood memories of the war; some did not--but all were haunted by it, in visible and invisible ways. And all shared the loneliness that seeps out from silence.

It was brave of her to disturb the ghosts, but I'd expect nothing less from the author of Stones From the River. Not everyone she interviewed was admirable or  likeable or even slightly interesting, be we have something to learn from them all.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

This dude is a great storyteller!

Boy 21
by Matthew Quick

 While I'm waiting for Rainbow Rowell to come out with another knock-me-down YA masterpiece, I'll content myself with reading everything ever written by Matthew Quick.  I loved Sorta Like A Rock Star and so I went looking for Every Exquisite Thing but it appeared to have been checked out and instead I found this.

I can't explain why I became so involved in this tale of a boy who plays basketball because, he imagines, after the death of his mother, his Dad told him to go outside and shoot baskets.  And he just never stopped.

Now he's the point guard on the high school basketball team and he keeps out of trouble, but there are things under the surface, scary things, not to be spoken about. The Irish gangs and the black ones stay always present in the background, but he stays safe and protected, mysteriously, by his girlfriend's brother, Rod--the most unpredictable and violent Irishman ever to live in Bemmont.

Then the coach asks him to befriend a transfer student, Boy 21, a former basketball star who has dropped out of life after the death of his parents.  And by then you're (if you're me) sucked in and can't put it down until the end.