10-10-10: Viewed through the moving window

Headed back to Crystal Beach on US19 in Georgia. Cotton and Peanuts being harvested. On the way up we saw huge machines scooping up the cotton plants and then blowing the separated cotton bolls into a cage in the rear which appears to compress the stuff. The bolls end up in oblong shapes with a rain cover dotting the fields. When they truck them to the gin a large number of bolls will escape out the back lining the sides of the highway with white fluff.

Peanuts appear to be harvested after the plant has been lifted from the ground. Tractors then pull a device that frees the peanuts so that they can dump them into a yet another oblong conveyance. The peanuts do not appear to escape during transport.

Please note these are just observations made from a moving vehicle by two individuals who know nothing of commercial agriculture. Striking, though, is the mechanization of the processes, and the obvious dependence on the fossil-fuel infrastructure that has captured the attention of all the Peak oilers out there. I read somewhere that during World War 2 farmers used wood alcohol to fuel their machines owing to the scarcity of petroleum. How many trees equate to how many peanuts? How many cotton shirts? At what point does Georgia resemble deforested Haiti? The Second Law of Thermodynamics will raise the price of a commercial jar of peanut butter to infinity if this is carried far enough. Then again, maybe we will be saved by commercially-scaled algae-based biodiesel.

As the cotton harvesters ply their trade one sees the ghosts of a former economic structure associated with The Lost Cause. We wonder whether the peculiar institution that has marked the USA would have evolved out of existence as the machines improved in ability and price. Surely not as early as 1863, although there are historical revisionists who counter that the Civil War was unnecessary to eradicate slavery, that it would have died out on its own both because of technological progress and because of the moral progress that saw the English-speaking world take the lead against the institution.

That’s grist for another mill. As we descend from the Southernmost Appalachians through South Georgia we note there really is a world full of farmers and cash crops and weather so hot for so long that even with the occasional rain that pushes up the new green shoot, the soil beneath is baked hard and the dead brown pasture crackles underfoot. The Summer of 2010 was not kind to our gardens. Indeed, that big blob of oven-like heat from July through September impacted even the irrigated commercial farmers. What grew in abundance this year was Goldenrod. Yet amid the devastation Red Spider-Lilies inexplicably shot up at random out of the parched earth.

So the natural rhythms continue, and like boats beating against the current we planted onion sets and garlic this past weekend, punctuating our labors by gathering black walnuts now dropping from our two mature trees. We are told that it is possible to extract the meat by hammering the walnut fruit through an appropriately-sized hole in 5/8” plywood. We shall file a report later regarding this hypothesis. Continue reading

Tending One’s Own Garden

Food crops need sun, water, and attention.

Next year we shall be more careful choosing where to plant, as our efforts this year have been undone somewhat by planting in areas with too much shade.  I guess that’s why they call them “sunflowers.”

The small irrigated test garden received more water than the large plot but the shade cast by one of our several black walnut trees proved too much for the collards, beets, and second-planting onions.  We had success earlier in the season with turnips as well as first-crop onions, but as the sun shifted in the sky and the trees came fully into leaf the available photons diminished from our seat-of-the-pants calculus done in early Spring.

In the lower un-irrigated plot we have managed to harvest pie pumpkins, and there are melons ripening on the vines.  But all are scrambling to find more sunlight.  The corn and beans have been unimpressive, although their lack of enthusiasm we feel has as much to do with the absence of rainfall.

The yellow squash and recently the cucumbers have produced well.  They were planted in the locations with the most morning sunlight, away from the shade of the pines.

All respond immediately to water. The pumpkins and squash will flower overnight, and the bees will show up for work in the morning.  The challenge next year will be designing a second rainwater collection-storage-distribution system away from the already in-place roof collector of the little cabin.

We consider the Irish Spring soap suspended in the air around our gardens to be a success story, as there is no observed deer damage.   For that matter, there appears to be no other critter damage.  It could be that the quality of our produce did not meet their standards.  The experiment shall continue next year. Continue reading