Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Thoughts on Community

This is an explication about my feelings about Earthy Day. There is a lot to be said about its origins and current effectiveness in actually changing public consciousness around environmental concerns. That is a good conversation but there are other issues too. Some of those issues are the reason why the Environmental movement stumbles so often.

It all comes down to politics. Maybe you remember PETA using models (scantily covered by leaves of lettuce) to advertise that they would rather be naked than wear fur. This is a noble sentiment, but it trades off the exploitation of animals for women.

Recently while attending an Earth Day celebration here in Portland I was able to experience this first hand, again. First the good things. The Earth Day celebration was put together by City Repair which focuses on sustainable community building. There were a lot of great booths there, with tons of good information, and it made me really want to push my ‘green’ boundaries. We saw some friends, chatted with everyone, and March Fourth played (eventually). A good time.

But for as much as a love that community of hippies, neo-luddites and primitivists, permaculture activists, back-to-the-landers, urban farmers, and all things sustainable, I am not welcome into that community. So my excitement for these topics is always tempered by the knowledge that my body and my identity aren’t as warmly welcome.

To out myself, I am a queer gender-queer transdyke. I do not try to pass, and so I often do not. Perhaps my sense of unease in this community is caused by their own unease with my identity. And that is the problem. They may have good politics around environmental concerns but are bad on issues of diversity.

On Saturday I saw a crowd of white, mostly young, middles-class, cisgender, and heterosexual people claiming to try to save the world and all its inhabitants. So there are issues around cultural appropriation (see emphasis on Native American culture and Eastern spirituality); around race (Portland is a white city unfortunately, and that crowd was whiter); around gender and sexuality (this includes stumbling attempts around my gender including being asked outright).

In a sense this is a call to all environmentalists to check their politics and their privilege. If you hope to save the world you need to include everyone, and most of the world is not white. If you want allies and progress everyone needs to be included, accepted, and welcomed. Simply diversity statements do not cut it. Unless you can make a culture that is inclusive Earthy Day will remain an event for the privileged.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

The garden has sprouted!

Hello all,

I figured a general update of how our garden is growing would be nice (and no, we aren't using silver bells and cockle shells).

The peas have all sprouted and are about 2 inches tall. We'll be putting in a trellis soon so that they can start climbing. The salad greens are all sprouted, but they've been having a hard time (the neighborhood cats have taken to digging in the bed of greens). To solve the problem we've put down a remay cover. We've found that with works two-fold, stopping the cats as well as our chickens from scratching up our tender greens.

Overall, we've had amazing success with seed germination rates! Every thing we've planted from seed has sprouted (which means we've had to do a lot of thinning and separating already).
The starts we have indoors are getting quite large too! The tomato plants have a couple sets of real leaves each, as do the cucumbers. The watermelon starts seem to be having some trouble, although we think it may just be that they needed more soil to sink their roots into. We've moved them to larger pots (out of the starter tray) and hopefully they should rebound nicely. We separated all the basils and parsley and chervil. It looks like we'll have an overabundance of these this summer!

In other news:
We were gifted some new shoots of raspberry. The owner doesn't know what variety they are aside from being an old vine raspberry. She reports that they yield lots of good sized berries that are very red and sweet.

I'm also planning a potted olive guild. I decided to plant an olive tree in the middle with tomato and basil around it and nasturtium and pole bean trailing over the side of the pot.

I'm also interested in an article I read today in the "Aprovecho" fall/winter 2009 newsletter. It was on a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) as part of their aquaponics greenhouse they've built. I've included a diagram and picture of their set-up here (taken from their newsletter).

They have it set up so that there are 2 tanks with a 1220 gallon total capacity. They plan to raise 1200 tilapia in it (tilapia needs about 1 gallon of water each to grow in). The water is pumped out and completely exchanged every hour with the water being piped to the top tray of their filtration system. It runs the length of the tray, or 68', through gravel before dropping into the second set of trays where it runs back through and other 68' of gravel and then into the tanks again. The gravel trays are used to grow duckweed and water hyacinth to remove the nutrients (fish poop and nitrates) from the water so that what gets put back into the tanks is clean water. They plan on using the duckweed to feed the tilapia. The entire system loses a minimal amount of water to evaporation and is otherwise a closed system. As an added use, they have put in another water tray that they will use to grow produce for themselves in.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Radical Homemakers Part 1.

There was an article in the newpaper on Tuesday called "Radical Homemakers". It was promoting a book, but the article featured a number of Portland area women who were taking steps to simplify their lives. We decided we wanted to do something like that for ourselves too.

Fauna, 26

"Growing up on a farm I couldn't wait to leave it. Today, I find myself closer and closer to living on a farm again but this time I value the experience, the produce, the struggles. This time its on my own terms and I love it!"

Then: Living in apartments from year to year. "I never had space to plant anything and always felt too transient to feel good about planning any sort of a garden.

Now: Living on a self-proclaimed urban farm complete with organic garden, chicken coop, rain barrels, and compost station.

The turning point: A little over a year ago she decided that simply trying to live a green life wasn't enough. She decided it was time to settle down in a permanent place and work on creating a more sustainable lifestyle including a local food economy.

Life on two wheels: She sold her car upon moving to Portland 2 years ago and hasn't looked back. While there have been some rough times relying on bicycles only, she enjoys the slower pace of life it creates. Today, she bikes everywhere, from market to work to Sauvie Island for berries, and even 60 miles toward the coast to visit a friend for the weekend.

Radical Homemaker Cred: She cans, pickles, and makes jellies out of as much produce as she can to minimize food costs through the slower seasons. She is also working on building cold frames so that she won't have to rely on outside sources for year round greens. She cooks in a Basque style that focuses on bringing out the foods natural flavors without using many sauces or marinades (most of which contain high fructose corn syrup if unknowingly bought at the supermarket).

Latest Project: A permaculture lunch to teach people how they can turn their backyards into a permaculture paradise too.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Transportation Issues

Transportation is an issue when trying to be eco-conscious. The most sustainable methods of transportation (walking and biking) come with many risks. The foremost being that while you have chosen to use that method of transportation, many other people don't. That means you are in a very vulnerable position around those who are driving cars, SUV's, trucks, and larger equipment. In the equation of pedestrian/biker plus vehicle, the vehicle is always the greater of the two.

I mentioned in a previous post that while riding my bicycle I got hit by an SUV. That was in mid-January. Fast forward 3 months and I had just about completely healed from the accident and it happened again. This time I was cycling along when an SUV that was parked swung its door open right in front of me. I had no time to react before colliding with it. I was thrown over my handlebars to the left and fell onto the pavement with my bike on top of me. After spending 4 hours in the ER afterwards, the results showed that I had many scrapes, lacerations, and bruises across my body, a sprained finger where it hit the Jeep door, and some torn muscles in my neck/cervical area.

I reported my accident on the website and saw that just since January 1st, there have been 16 collisions and 44 close calls in the Portland area. Further search found that there have been 99 collisions and 159 close calls in the last year. And those are just the ones that got reported on this website. You can see the results with their locations at the following address:

What should I get from all of this? Should I stop biking, as it clearly has been quite hazardous for me so far this year? Or should there be more pressure to eliminate vehicles, at least from residential areas? I feel it should be the latter. Portland currently has a large plan to put in bike lanes and pathways but can't afford to do so. I think they should shut down every 3rd street to all but bicycles and foot traffic. With vehicles taken off the streets, there will be less accidents happening where the cyclist bears the brunt of the injuries.

In conclusion, the future of vehicles is limited. Its time there was a swing back to walking, cycling, and horses to get everywhere. We need a slower pace of life, a more sustainable way of doing things, and a safer life.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Natives Woo!

I guess these days I am just a bloggin fool. Between catching up on our under reported winter adventures and all the excitement that this spring. Whew!

Because Fauna and I are great believers in permaculture models of gardening and agriculture, we would be remiss to not at least mention the importance of natives in any landscaping environment.

Recently we purchased several salal starts, a blue elderberry, wild ginger, uva ursi, and lupine. Salal is a native to Western forests and thrives in the undergrowth and produces a good amount of edible berries . Although more native west of the Cascades, sambucus curelea (blue elderberry) is drought resistant and its berries are known for their medicinal use in preventing sickness. The uva ursi (Kinnickinick (sp?)) is also a native to the West and is a natural estrogen aiding in women's health. Lupine is just pretty, but again because it is native to the West handles acidic, clay soils quite well and is fairly tolerant of a variety of conditions.

The moral of the story here is that native plants are truly wondrous creatures. Many gardeners, whether of ornamentals or produce, overlook the value of native plants. Natives are more adapted to local conditions including environmental and pest factors. Research also shows that there are many edible and medicinal uses for natives as well. The dominance of non-native species in any urban landscape is more of a testament to economic decision rather than ecological ones.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Teh Chickens!

(4 days old at right)------------------->

There has been much ado made on this blog by our dear sweet chickens. Between the trials and travails of keeping them in a cardboard box warm, happy and fed; to sleepless nights worrying about designing the perfect coop. So without further ado, let us introduce the girls.
On the top left we have Olivia our Speckeld Sussex, on the bottom is Eva ,a Black Australorp, and on the top right there is Regina, a Golden-Laced Wyandotte (they are 2-3 weeks old in this picture).

(1 month old at right)--------------->
I write this sitting outside on our back table watching the chickens decide if food is really worth the cold, so let me say that they are quite a bit bigger now. Two months old in fact with all their real feathers, in fact now they are no longer chicks but pullets (yes chickens have angsty hormonal teenage years too). When we first got them (two from the Urban Farm Store, one from Naomi's) we kept them inside a scavenged carboard box making sure they were plenty warm. Although I see my breath this morning they are big enough to be in their coop without much worry about their comfort. All three breeds were selected for cold-hardiness, good nature, egg-laying, and of course beauty. Their adult colors are showing up, but I would reccomend checking back in a few months to see how beautiful they really are.

These chickens are my pride and joy, and so far some of the best pets I have ever had. As Ms. Fauna and I are concerned with urban self-sufficiency raising chickens was an obvious first step in ensuring a healthy supply of protein. Note however, that just because this is a cool fad right now in PDX, don't get chickens unless you can commit to them for at least 10 years. I would be quite saddened if our fair city becomes overrun in wild chickens just because people realize they are a chore.

But for now *bok bok bok*!
~ Flora

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cool Season Crops

Spring is such a busy time here at our urban farm. There is such a flurry of activity between tilling, planting, chicks, blooms, and trips around beautiful Portland.

Yesterday we planted 3 "Hood" Strawberry plants. They are a medium growing spreading perennial. They will get about 8-10" tall with bright red berries. They like acidic soils, to they will do quite nicely near our blueberry bushes under the fir tree.

Having a freshly turned garden, I got to plant most of our cool season- direct sow crops this weekend and today. In addition to all that I planted (and wrote about in the last posts), I put more in tonight as soon as I got home form work. Here's what went in tonight:
Heirloom and/or Open Pollinated Varieties:
Alaska Nasturtium (6" bush)
Jewel Blend Nasturtium (12" bush)
Tall Single Blend Nasturium (6' vine)
Giant Winter Spinach
Winter Stem Bok Choy
Bright Lights Swiss Chard
Shiraz Tall Top Beet
Flat of Egypt Beet
Amaranth Een Chot Hiyu (edible red leaf)
Wando Shelling Pea (bush type, 68 days)
Mesclun Lettuce Mix
-Rocket Arugula
-4 Season Lettuce
-Romaine Cas Lettuce
-Red Salad Bowl Lettuce
-Tango Lettuce
-Blackseeded Simpson Lettuce
-Lolla Rossa Lettuce
-Oakleaf Lettuce
-Romane Cimmaron Lettuce
-Ruby Lettuce
-Bloomsdale Spinach
-Golden Swiss Chard
-Magenta Swiss Chard
-Broadleaf Batavia Endive
-Mizuna Mustard
-Red Giant Mustard
Red Crisphead Lettuce

Hybrid Varieties:
Carnival Blend Carrot

We've decided to sow the chicken run with a mix of fava bean, dutch clover, crimson clover, and "broomcorn" sorghum, and buckwheat. We'll be seeding it down soon and covering it with a remay-type ground cover to prevent squirrels and the chickens from eating all the seed before it can germinate.

Flora and I are very excited about the entire garden this year and have just recently reached the realization that aside from fruits, dairy, grains, and baking supplies we won't be buying any groceries this summer! Further, we're excited about being able to can as much as possible. We are working closer and closer to our goal of growing as much, if not all, of our own produce!

Expect pictures of it all as soon as things start sprouting!!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Double Digging

We had a garden party today! A few friends came over and together with Flora, the main garden beds got tilled using the "double digging" technique. Double digging is where you dig a 1 foot deep trench along one side of the garden bed. The soil that is dug out gets set aside for later. As one person moves along the garden digging the first trench, a second person comes behind them and digs another trench right beside the one that was just dug. The soil from the second trench gets turned into the side of the first trench. And this continues until the entire garden has been tilled across. When the last trench is dug along the finishing side of the garden, the soil from the first trench is dumped in to fill the gap. After its all smoothed over with a rake, the bed should be "fluffed up" and completely tilled. This really only needs to be done for the first year or two as you are building the soil with organic matter. Once the soil has improved enough, future years can be done by just turning under the cover crops.

This will be the second summer that our garden will have been planted after pulling up sod. Already we've seen much improvement in the soil. What is here has more loamy/organic matter to it with less clay. The clumps fall apart really easily and it can be worked by hand without a trowel as well.

After the garden was tilled up, I planted our first outdoor seeds of the season. I put in Red Norland and Yukon Gold potatoes (organic from the farmers' market), Alderman Shelling Pea (open pollinated, climbing vine, 120 days), Oregon Sugar Pod II snow pea (hybrid, short vine, 60 days), and Jerusalem Artichoke (also known as a sunchoke).

Our starts from a couple weeks ago are getting taller and some are already getting their first sets of true leaves. The garlic that we overwintered in the garden is a little over a foot tall, thick and looking healthy. Our leeks from the winter garden are also getting big- about a foot and a half tall although not very thick yet (only about 3/4 inch across on the largest ones). We've been diligent about keeping dirt pulled up around the leeks to ensure the bases get well blanched.

If the weather holds off, we'll be sowing our first rounds of cool season chards, spinach, carrots, and beets.

Also, asparagus are starting to come into season! We picked up some great looking stalks from the farmers' market this morning along with some nice raab. Spring is already shaping up to be a very productive summer!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Planning the Urban Farm

After reading back over some of our past posts, I realized we never followed up by posting about everything we said we were going to. Allow me to address some of that.

When we moved into our place, the lot was pretty simple. It had a lot of grass and mulched borders. It was quite unproductive. Here is what it looked like:
The box in the center left is the house. The odd rounded shape in the right was all lawn.

After some work removing sod and mulch. And after tilling, we managed to make some headway. Here is roughly what the lot looks like now:
We've increased the garden space, added the chicken coop and outdoor run (along the far right edge), put in a compost bin, and done some terracing out front for herbs (on the far left). In the parking strip between the sidewalk and the road we planted iris bulbs and 2 apple trees. Here is a shot of the back yard from late last summer:

This is far from being done. Ideally, we would like to remove all the grass, leaving just a pathway through the middle of the back yard. The entire north edge of the lot will have a permeable pathway (replacing the poorly drained sod that turns to mud with any rain and replacing the pea gravel that forms a path by the back door). We also want to put in cold frames along the west side by the sidewalk so we can take advantage of the sun in extending our growing abilities during winter and spring. Here is what it might look like:

There. That's the vision for our urban farm. As we work closer and closer to this we'll keep you all posted!