Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rediscovering My Roots, or: How I Learned That We Have A Root Cellar

So yesterday was my first time back at the farm since the end of April. Now, at the end of April, it was pretty ugly… I mean, it's not the garden's fault that it can be so homely at times. It was not that long after the start of spring, so nothing was really growing or blossoming yet. A garden is prettiest in mid-late summer, when everything is brilliant and thriving and just reaching toward the sky. But one thing about a garden that is always constant, is the way it smells. It smells like promise; like life and possibility.

Anyway, I was excited to be back in the garden again, especially when it is thriving. It was full and lively, everything was bursting out of the ground. The onions were huge, and the thick green tips of the shoots were to my thighs. The dill was taking over the garden path, and the tomato plants were heavy and toppling with the juicy orange, yellow, red, and unripe green bulbs weighing them down.
Granted, it was a short-lived excitement. We began out wait for the transportation to the farm at 3.00. The driving situation has become unorganised now that Kerri is at the farm all day and not there to get us going. The people who were supposed to drive weren't there, and we ended up not leaving until just before 4.00. There were insane amounts of traffic thanks to it being late in the day and everyone was getting out of work, AND then PennDot has to fuck everything up and make it more difficult to get anywhere.  So we got there at 5.00 and were only able to stay an hour.

After we were done harvesting, we were instructed to leave a good amount of apples so that Kerri could put them in the root cellar. Now, I'm not claiming to be any expert at gardening, but I though I knew a fair amount, but of course I had no bloody idea what a root cellar was. I assumed it was something that had began long ago to preserve food, but I did not know that we actually had one. It is apparently under a tree, and I feel my curiosity will get the better of me and I will have to go and explore it. So maybe I should explain what a root cellar is (even though you could Google it, because that's what I had to do).

A root cellar is a structure built underground or partially underground and used to store vegetables, fruits, and nuts or other foods.
Is it just me? Does that not seem like it should be in The Lovely Bones, and George Harvey/Stanley Tucci is going to come bursting out and murder the first child that walks past it?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Beets me...

When I began my adventure in gardening, I had no idea that it would soon become much more than just a class. It has changed me in many ways and become a central part of my life. I'm from a small town, and agriculture is a big part of it, and I had never been interested in anything remotely related. I wanted the city, the hustle and bustle, noise and excitement. As I've gotten older though, I've begun to realise that the things you think you want aren't always that great.

Don't get me wrong, I love being in Pittsburgh; I love having places to go and explore... But one thing I miss is the solitude of the country. My college campus is quite secluded compared to most college campuses, but you can still hear cars driving by, people talking, and general murmurs that the suburban city makes. At home, the only sounds you hear are crickets, coyotes, and the sound of my dad or dog snoring. When it's dark out, it's dark. No light but the moon and stars shining in through the trees.

So obviously it was heaven when I took my first trip to the farm with the class. 388 acres of nature. The people in the class made me laugh. I swear that some of them had never even seen dirt before. "Look! A deer!" "Oh my god, it's a deer!" "A bird!" "TREES!" I could look out of my window at any time and expect to see a few deer nibbling the apples from our trees, turkeys roosting the the trees, and bears ripping apart our bird feeders to eat the seed. So obviously I was not fazed.

Neither was I fazed when it came time to actually garden. Which involves, you know, touching dirt, and getting dirty. I swear some people didn't anticipate that we would actually have to do real gardening.

But I started learning about all the different organic gardening practices, and so many other things... I became more and more interested; I wanted to be in the garden all the time. It progressed to such an extent that I took the spring version of the course, which was a ENV class, and offered to go to the garden any time extra help was needed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sweet Corn lends an ear

So this was my first harvest. I was completely unaware that broccoli grew on these tall bushes, and really clueless that brussels sprouts grew on the stalk of this fucking weird-looking plant with long, heavy leaves.

I became so enamoured with the fact that I was helping to grow something that we would later eat. We grow up in this world where food is so readily available, and we never question or wonder where it comes from. One of our first challenges was "The Corn Challenge." Try to not eat corn for an entire week. This sounds easy in theory, but not just corn the physical object, but corn in ALL forms. Basically: everything that you don't make yourself, from scratch, has corn in it. The list of things that do or may contain corn is long:
Too long to even put in this entry because it looks obnoxious. So just go here: 

Bet you never thought that all those things had something to do with corn; I sure didn't. If you take a look at ANY processed food label, you will most likely find several of those ingredients on the list.
So all in all, I obviously failed miserably at not eating corn for a week, but that was not the real point of the lesson. It was to just be aware of what we are eating.

Definitely accomplished the lesson in that regard.
I recommend watching King Corn if you really want to know how much corn we use in the U.S.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weed it and reap

I decided to take organic gardening on a whim. I had already had my first semester of college classes scheduled for a few weeks, but I was feeling unsure about the amount. I was only taking 13 credits, and I felt like that was too lazy; so I perused through the course catalogue, and saw that a gardening class was offered. I contemplated for awhile, and then nervously clicked the "add" button. There was no turning back now--I had bought the book and everything (a whole $14.95!). I excitedly told everyone I could how cool my new school was, and that they didn't have organic gardening classes at their new university.

So I started my first week of classes, and my first gardening class slowly approached. The first class, we didn't do anything but go over the syllabus and introduce ourselves and such. This was when I started thinking, "Oh shit, why the hell did I take this class? This is going to be horrible." As I usually do when I begin anything. When I say usually, I really mean every single time a change happens in my life. What can I say? I don't take well to change.

The next week we were off to the garden. The van ride was not promising. The whole time I just thought, "WHY DID I NOT BRING MY IPOD?? Or even a book. These people make me want to stab my eardrums with icepicks. For fun." Luckily, my eardrums are still intact, as there were no sharp objects around. We got to the farm campus and slowly piled out of the van, unsure of what was to come.

The teacher, Kerri, started explaining what we would be doing, and assigned us jobs. (Really, I can't remember exactly what happened, but I am assuming that it was something along these lines.) I don't remember what my job was, but obviously it was something rather easy because we were almost all first time gardeners. I recall just standing around and trying to hide behind things so that she wouldn't yell at me for not doing anything. Which, if you know me, is very difficult; because I am tall, and even the broccoli plants were about two feet shorter than me. I had no idea what I was doing, and didn't want to fuck anything up. Because apparently my thought process was that if I harvested the broccoli incorrectly, I would thus decimate the ENTIRE garden and it would just be like an atomic bomb going off. Call me Hiroshima.

Sometimes I am a little over-dramatic. This caused me to dread and hate the class for the next week and a half. Then, once I stopped being pusillanimous and actually did something, and also realised I was not going to kill everything I touched, my immediate thought was, "HOLY SHIT THIS IS FUN. I want to roll around in the dirt right now and just LIVE in here."

Dump this, get a hoe.

So what the hell is this blog and what is the point of it?

Well, if you are like I was just a year ago, you probably don't know anything about gardening. Oh, you might think you do, "It's just putting seeds in the ground and then it grows! Duh." No. You thought wrong. There is much more to gardening than that, and it can be a lot more fun and hard work than one would think.

Before I came to Chatham University, I had absolutely no interest in agriculture. I was sick of it, actually. I went to a high school where only the agriculture program and football were promoted, and I was bitter. So I came to school here in Pittsburgh thinking, "HA! This is about as far away from the smell of cow shit, county fairs, and truck pulls as possible!" Well, sometimes the smell isn't much better, but it is otherwise pretty different in every way possible.