Thursday, June 28, 2012

3 sisters agriculture

I have this big weedy patch in a sunny spot in my backyard by my shed, and last year I grew sunflowers there, but this year I decided to try out three sisters agriculture instead! I don't like growing low-growing vegetables here because the dogs hang out in our backyard and I don't favor dog pee flavored vegatables. But corn and beans grow high enough that they can't get peed on, and I'm not going to eat the pumpkins anyway, so this is perfect for the backyard.

3 sisters agriculture was developed by the Native Americans, so has been practiced in my country for hundreds if not thousands of years. Basically they would grow the 3 sisters- corn, beans and a type of squash. They discovered that planting these plants in the same area worked out really well for the plants because of their symbiotic relationship. The beans (pole beans- the type that climb up poles vs. bush beans the kind that form little bushes) grow up the corn, and also stabilize the corn from falling over. The beans also add nitrogen to the soil, and corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so having a nitrogen additive helps keep the corn growing and getting the nutrients it needs from the soil. The squash creeps along the ground and grows huge leaves which shade out the weeds, keeping weeds from taking over the patch and stealing nutrients from the soil. Then beans, corn and squash can be cooked together for a fall harvest stew (although I probably won't be doing that since I don't intend to eat the squash).

I decided to go with Heirloom golden cross bantam corn, heirloom "Kentucky wonder" beans and jack-o-lantern pumpkins as the squash. I also planted some seeds from a wildflower mix in between the corns. That particular type of pumpkin is not great for eating, but is great for carving, and I love Halloween, so I am growing them for Halloween decorations.

You'll notice the corn is not all in a row- it's more of a clump.  That's because if you plant corn all in a row it prevents it from fertilizing properly for some reason, and you'll only get tiny corns.  I planted around 7 hills that were in 3 rows of 2-3 hills (5 feet apart) each. Each hill (hill= around 2 feet in diameter mound of dirt amended with grass clippings) got 4 corns in a 6 inch square, and when the corns were about 6 inches tall I planted the beans kinda in between each corn (But a little out, making a kinda triangle with two corns and each bean plant). The dogs trampled two of the hills, and I only got 1 corn out of those, so I was left with 5 hills and around 16 corn stalks.

When it gets up into the high 80s and 90s the tops of the corns sprout these seed thingies that dangle in the wind until they are picked up by insects and/or the wind and spread to other corns? I'm not quite sure how this stuff works, but I know it has something to do with fertilizing other corns so that you can get full sized corns.

There are already some baby corns growing!  You can also see the beans climbing up the plants in the back a bit- that's the vine that has clumps of 3 leaves. Those are starting to flower a bit too. In just a few weeks we'll probably be able to start harvesting sweet corn (The early corn- if you leave it on the vine to full maturity it becomes less sweet, but also keeps for longer).

After hearing about a friend who "planted 4 hills of pumpkins and ended up with 60 pumpkins" I decided to plant only 1 hill. I planted 6 or 7 pumpkin seeds and around 4 vines survived. All along the middle of that picture you can see just one of those vines with those big giant leaves, and it already has more than half a dozen flowers on just this one vine (and the others have more). No pumpkins as of yet, but I wonder if you can set up a pumpkin stand in your front yard? That's just like having a yard sale, right, it's legal? Cause I suspect this may become somewhat of a pumpkin fiasco. Or maybe not, we'll see.

B pointed out the other day that pumpkin flowers are the same color as the fruit, which is fairly unusual.  They open in the morning to get fertilized by bugs, but close up in the afternoon heat. You can make breaded fried pumpkin flowers the same way I made breaded zucchini flowers last year, but you have to make sure to pick the flowers in the morning, because when they close up in the afternoon sometimes bees and other bugs get stuck inside, and that would not be a fun surprise when cleaning your flowers.  Maybe I'll have time to make some of these sometime soon before the flowers stop flowers...or maybe I'll just wait for the zucchini to start flowering and I'll make both at once.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trip to NYC 6/2012

I guess I should actually make that update I promised.....before heading out on another adventure tonight!  Tonight I head off to my first music festival of the season! (out of probably two). Also my 21st music festival since 2004 when I first started going to music festivals. :) Last year I only made it to one (which was my lowest count/year since 2005) because I had just gotten to the south and was still settling into my life here, but this year I am starting my first foray into southern festivals when I go to Floyd Fest in Virginia in a few weeks. This weekend is a festival in PA that I've been to every year for the past 8 years.

Last week I went to a conference in NYC and since the trip is being paid for by someone else, I decided to come a day early and stay a day late, and crash at my brother's house in NJ.  While there I had lots of fun OTD meetups!

Wednesday I flew into Newark and met up with my brother.  We spent most of the afternoon hanging around not doing much, and then at night we headed to Montclair, NJ, where I met up with a bunch of friends I grew up with at an excellent (but loud) restaurant called Cuban Pete's.  There were about 12 people at this dinner, and all but 3 were people I had grown up with, who grew up orthodox jewish, who are now OTD- my OTD community before the internet existed. Also I think almost every friend who was at my wedding was at this dinner.  (I had a really small wedding with 20 guests).

Thursday I went to the conference and went to a half day workshop for junior scholars. While there I actually pitched a book idea to an editor from a big academic press who was leading part of the workshop, and she really liked the idea and gave me a bunch of suggestions!  This was an idea for a research project I was already planning to start up this fall- I had been planning to write it as a series of articles like I always do, but when the book editor happened to be at the conference and explained how easy it is to write a book proposal, I last minute decided to pitch her my idea during this time they had for "open networking" and she really liked it!  She suggested I publish one or two chapters as journal articles, and then use the published articles to establish my expertise and write a book proposal, and then rewrite those articles so that they aren't in academic jargon, along with writing the other chapters. I think I'm going to do that, but this is a plan that will take many years to implement, so by the time I'm actually writing this book I will probably have tenure. But it's nice to think about what comes after tenure! I'm actually going up for 3rd year review already this fall, and it's only another 3 years after that before I go up for tenure, so I'm now at the point where I'm starting to plan things to do after I get tenure. Lately I've been thinking it might be fun to start a sociology blog under my real name, cause once I have tenure I don't have to worry about not getting tenure cause of things I write on a blog.  Something to think about...

Anyway after this half day workshop I took a subway to brooklyn and met up with several women OTDers from a ladies-only OTD message board I post on.  I got to hang out with boxed whine for the second time, and there were about 5 or 6 other OTD ladies there who don't have blogs. I planned to only stay for about an hour before going back to NJ, but I had so much fun I stayed for 3 hours instead, and didn't get back to NJ until around 1am.  One OTD lady I met there is really awesome and goes to music festivals and phish like I do, so we have plans to meet up at some future theoretical music festivals and camp together.

Friday I went to the conference again and gave my presentation, which my brother came to see (he said "It was aimed at other academics" which it was so I guess I'll take that as a compliment). :) I also had a really long lunch with my old undergrad mentor on Friday which lasted about 4 hours becasue we were chatting away the whole time.  Friday night after the conference I headed over to chinatown, where we had a big OTD meetup!  Several OTDers that I have been corresponding with for years but never met before were there, along with Rachmuna Litzlon who I first met last year when he was stationed near me when he was in the army and Sarah Bee, frequent commenter on many jewish blogs over the years, who I've met a couple of times before. Also John L. who I'm pretty sure comments here.  Anyway we had a lot of great chinese food at a place called XO Kitchen and then wandered around chinatown and little Italy for a while as a group, and it was real nice to meet up with all those people.

After that my BFF J gave me and my brother a ride back to my brother's place in NJ and spent the night crashing on the couch there. We actually were up until around 5am just talking away- this is a friend who I have known since I was 14, who grew up 2 blocks away from me, and who I spent many many years talking to while going OTD together- he's the guy whose house I ran away to when I ran away from home once when I was 17. Since neither of us are phone people we hardly have talked in 2 years, so we had a LOT to catch up on.

After staying up so late Friday night I slept until around 1pm on Saturday, so I blew off the rest of the conference since it ended at 5pm that day and by the time I got ready and into the city it would have been 4 or 5. My brother went to work so J and I headed to the house of another OTD friend of ours from growing up, who was having a beer tasting party.  On the way there we stopped at walmart to get some supplies, and ended up helping not one but TWO people jump their car in the parking lot, with the help of an Iraq Vet in a giant SUV with a big old American flag on the antenna- the first car we helped jump was full of Asian women and the second (who came up to ask us for help as we were jumping the first car) was full of arabic men, and we (two OTD jews) and this iraqi vet who looked super italian were helping them was the perfect quintessential American moment - a very ethnically diverse group of people, who ordinarily in NJ may have some ethnic tensions between those groups (and in other countries might never all be in the same place at the same time), all pulling together and helping each other out at a walmart.. I love how little non-dangerous emergencies like that really bring people together.

When we finally got the party I had a lot of fun, although I knew nobody there except J and the host- there were quite a few OTD jews there since my friend is an OTDer and we tend to find each other (especially when we were kids/teens), and even one girl who was still orthodox and had walked over from her house in the neighborhood for the party.  Ended up having some great random conversations.

Then saturday night my entire family came over to my brother's house, including my parents and my mysterious religious brother!  Re: mysterious religious brother, I had emailed him a few times being like "Hey, remember me? I hear we are related! We should hang out while I'm in NJ!" but I hadn't heard anything back, so I was completely surprised when he showed up at my other brother's place. This was the first time my entire immediate family was in the same room since at least 2008..and then it was only for a couple of minutes. They didn't come over until around 10:30 since shabbas ended so late, but stayed until around 1:30am. I spent most of the time talking to my youngest brother, who is about to start graduate school in the fall, about what to expect in graduate school and how to position himself well when he gets there. I also saw my mom's hair for the first time in many many years- she never uncovers it outside of her house or in front of strangers, or in front of her son in law B apparently, but since only immediate family was there (B didn't come on this trip- he was home watching out dogs) she took her hat off when she got in the apartment- last time I saw her hair it was only grey at the temples (which mine are starting to do, eek!), now it's like salt and pepper. So that was weird.

But all in all a pleasant visit, and nice to be at a point with my parents where I talk to them regularly enough that I didn't feel obligated to talk to them the whole time, and spent more time talking to my brother (who I now hardly ever talk to - he's the only person in my family who hasn't met B yet).  And when I got home my religious brother had gone on facebook again and posted a few things in my wall- this was after I hadn't heard from him in almost a year.  So that's nice too. :)  He also read Unorthodox apparently- he left a comment on my facebook that said something about how it seems that her major problem was the shidduch dating scene, and I asked him if he was shidduch dating and he said that no, he prefers to avoid that crazy system. So that's a big relief, at least he is not being pushed into an arranged marriage by the yeshiva he learns at every night.

Then Sunday morning I flew back. I had to stay up real late sunday night (until around 4am) to finish editing a master's thesis which I then went into work at 8am to give to my student to he could edit it and send the final draft to his full committee by the end of that day, so he can graduate on time. After that I came home and crashed for 2 days to recover from that trip and that almost-all-nighter. I went into work yesterday, but today I'm taking off again since tonight I'm driving up north to go to a music festival.

I'm actually going to be vending at this music festival for a new festival-vending business venture I am starting up with my husband, so I'm very excited about this weekend too- this is our first test market, my friend the artist (The same guy who did a live painting during our wedding) is letting me set up a small table in his booth to sell our wares (which I am being deliberately vague about, but they are awesome and not illegal) and I'm going to see if they sell and for how much, and whether this business idea we've been talking about for a while might actually turn into a profitable small side business for us to run. So that's pretty awesome. :)  If this works out it'll solve pretty much every remaining problem in our life- the only thing not ideal about our life right now is that B has been out of work for 2 years since we moved here, cause it's impossible to find jobs in our bumblefuck part of the south (and there is still over a 10% unemployment rate here and my school isn't helping despite pretending they have a spousal hiring program).  So that has been extremely frustrating.    If this business venture works out it will be a fun way to earn the extra money we need so that we won't be living paycheck to paycheck and can actually afford to have kids, which we want to do soon. Also that'll be something for B to put on his resume, and a profession that he can pursue for as long as he needs to and work around other jobs he eventually will probably get (and is very compatible with being a stay at home dad if he still can't find anything else). Plus it's something born out of our hobbies, so it's all stuff we enjoy doing and would probably do anyway (except now we're going to do it a bit more to make money at it) and is the perfect excuse to go to tons of music festivals for me, cause now I'll actually be earning money instead of wasting it! Anyway I'm really hoping this works out, cause if it does it will be awesome for my family in multiple ways.

Plus in addition to my friend vending with me, his girlfriend will be help running the booth, and she is my BFF who is pregnant right now, so I get to hang out with my pregnant BFF!This is actually the first real close friend I have who is having a child, so I'm excited to get to hang out with her and camp together for a whole weekend  while she's pregnant and talk about pregnancy things that arn't the type of things you discuss with less-close fiends.  Have I mentioned I've been having the baby fevers lately? :)  Probably not to be surprised given that I just turned 30 a few weeks ago.  At some point I want to write a big retrospective of my 20s, but for now I need to go my shit together to have some real life adventures so that when I turn 40 I have something to write about happening in my 30s!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A reunion!

For the first time in around 5 years my entire "family of origin" was just in the same room, and when they left my mom had a copy of Deborah feldman's unorthodox in her hand (which someday I want to write a review of). Real update when I get home

Friday, June 8, 2012

Garden update!

Last year I got a tasty heirloom sweet yellow banana pepper plant and since I heard peppers will produce for 2 years before dying, I saved it over the winter by bringing it inside in a pot. The leaves all fell off except for 2 big leaves at the end, and I thought it was dying, but I put it outside and it grew a whole bunch of leaves, and now has started to produce some flowers and really early peppers!

a baby yellow pepper + a pepper flower that will turn into another pepper

the peppers I started from seed aren't producing peppers yet, although a couple have some small flower buds starting to pop out

the red potatoes I planted just a month ago (after letting them sprout on the windowsill for about 2 weeks)  have already  grown about 3 feet tall. I've added about 8 - 10 inches of dirt since they first sprouted, gradually covering up the stems as they grew (but not the leaves) so that they would produce more roots and potatoes Supposedly I could keep adding dirt if I wanted and the potatoes would just grow more layers of potatoes underground, but I would have to build up the wall at this point if I wanted to do that, so this will have to be enough. Now they will grow all summer, and eventually the stems will die and fall over, and about 2 weeks after they die and dry up will be time to harvest the potatoes.

There's also a bunch of onions on the left there, they are still growing- the spring weather has been so up and down that a couple have gone to flower, but only a couple- and I figure I will let those go to seed to reseed my onion patch for next year (or the year after? Not sure how that works since I always buy "sets" which are one year old plants).  I can't do anythign about them anyway- once the onion has started to flower you're not going to get a good onion out of it. But I planted around 125 onions and only around 4 are going to flower so far, so I think I'll be ok (as long as it gets a bit warmer so these can die back and be harvested already!)

Zucchini plants surrounded by onions

My artichoke plant got flattened by a recent hail/thunderstorm, but since then about 3 new leaves have started growing. I think it likes cooler temperatures for growing, since it's growth stalled out when it was in the high 80s for a couple weeks, but now that it's back in the 70s it is growing like crazy again. 

The cool weather the past week has also caused some more asparagus to come up from the ground.  8 out of 10 of my plants have sprouted at least one asparagus, and most of those have sprouted at least 2, especially after this week. Not sure what's going on with those other 2- they may not have survived transplanting, or they may magically sprout sometime soon too.

Those ferny things are what asparagus looks like when it grows up!

My  potted herb garden- from bottom to top- basil, sage, mint (and some basil behind that sage), lemon grass and basil, and up top is a strawberry plant.  Along the wall in the back is more basil and onions + a lemon tree

 Japanese Eggplant!

I also have a bunch of corn, beans and pumpkins growing out back, but no pictures of that today.  The dogs trampeled about half the corn that sprouted, but there are around 12 corn stalks that survived

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Trip to NYC

Next week I'm going North to the NYC area and staying with my brother for a few days. This is not at all unusual, I did the same thing last October.  What is unusual is that for the first time in 4 years, when I'm traveling to visit friends who live near my parents, I've told my parents that I'm going to be there. And we are going to meet up while I'm there.

See right around 4 years ago I visited the house I grew up in for the last time.  My parents had their traditional memorial day bbq for family "spring birthdays" that they have thrown since I was a kid (since my birthday is May 31st which is always right around Memorial Day and my grandfather's is the day before and I have like 3 cousins born within the first week of June).  I had just moved in with B about 2 months earlier, and it was WEIRD to go visit my parents house without B, knowing that he isn't invited to their house. Which he still has never been. And my parents knew  about B and knew we were living together, but wouldn't talk about it directly, other than when my mom was packing up some leftovers and made some snarky comment about sharing them with the people I was living with or something. 

So I decided then that I would not be coming back to visit until my parents started getting along with B, because my loyalties had shifted to him versus them. After that I visited the area I grew up in several more times, to go to friends' various parties and gatherings and such and to visit my non religious brother. But I never told my parents I was visiting, and I didn't hang out with them while I was there.

Well, this time I told my parents I'm coming, and they are going to come visit me at my brother's apartment a week from saturday on motzei shabbat (after the sabbath is over).  B won't be with me on this trip, but since they came to visit us in our house in January, I feel like it's ok to visit with them again. My mom emailed me on my birthday and we've been emailing back and forth a few times since then, and I arranged this meeting.

Also while I'm in the NYC area I'm going to be meeting up with a whole bunch of OTD people, including one group of OTDers I grew up with, and another group that I've met through blogging and the internet. I'm excited to meet some of y'all and see a bunch of you who I've met before!

On a sadder note, in that blog post I link to above I talk about how my mom gave me her Ray Bradbury collection that day around 4 years ago, the last time I visited my childhood home. Ray Bradbury was one of my favorite authors growing up - my mom had a huge collection of most of his books prior the 1990s, I was a HUGE reader as a child and loved those books, and I read every one of those books over and over again, maybe 5-6 times each as a kid. And I read most of them again when I got that collection 3 years ago. If you haven't read anything other than Fahrenheit 451 I highly recommend going out and reading some of his short stories- there's a good collection of 100 of his best short stories that I bought before my mom gave me HER collection. He is an amazing writer, and like all good short story writers, his stories always leave you with something to think about, about life, or the world. Ray Bradbury died yesterday and the world is a little darker because of it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sink Hole'd: The Sequel

Some of y'all may recall that when we bought our house, during the closing the previous owners were like "Hey watch out for that sinkhole in the backyard which we didn't previously disclose." At which point we spent $400 to have a contractor  fill in a giant sink hole along our back fence with rocks and dirt, after extending the fence a few feet downwards so all that stuff would be held in and not fall into the creek that's behind our fence.

At the time I was like "Hey contractor, what about that weird pipe underground that seems to empty out near the sinkhole, might that have something to do with it?" So the contractor said it must be connected to one of the pipes connected to one of our gutters, and he ran a hose through a couple of the gutters but nothing came out the pipe.  So he was like "well I bet this is from some prior renovation of the house or something, you probably don't have to worry about it, it doesn't seem to be connected to anything."  And like a chump, we believed him, and he filled in the sinkhole with rocks and dirt and did nothing about the pipe.

Fast forward two years later and suddenly after a couple of crazy thunderstorms (The kind we get in the south where it pours like the dickens for 30 minutes and then clears up) a sink hole opened up right where the old sinkhole was! Randomly in the middle of the ground, and not right next to the fence as would be the case if it was erosion from the creek which caused the sinkhole (Which we decided it was 2 years ago). About 2 feet in circumference and straight down to hell.  And right at the edge of the same pipe!  So we figure, it was probably the pipe.  We could tell it was one of those black plastic landscaping pipes, so B went and got a new 10 foot length of plastic pipe and some bolt cutters at the hardware store. We then dug a trench from the edge of the new sinkhole/pipe to the fence, using some of the rocks from there to fill in the very bottom of the new sinkhole and putting the rest of the dirt on a tarp on the side of the trench, which made it really easy to refill the trench afterward.  B then cut a hole in the fence using the bolt cutters

 On the other side of the fence was nothing when we moved here, since it had all been washed away by that pipe. We've been filling that in and trying to create ground on the other side of the fence by throwing sticks and branches and dead weeds and dead leaves and grass mulch down there for the past two years, and it's been working pretty well at building it up into land. But it wasn't too hard to compact all that stuff down with a hoe, so that there was a clear space on the other side of the fence.
 Then we put the pipe down in the trench, through the hole, where it was long enough to reach beyond our giant pile of sticks and crap, where it will now drain into the creek behind our house, where it should be draining to (the creek is a rainwater collecting place and drains to a reservoir).

 View of the pipe from the exterior of the fence.

View of the pipe from the interior of the fence. That root over the pipe is where the new sinkhole originally opened up. The pipe originally extended to that root, but we had to dig back several inches to trim back the pipe, since the end was all cracked and in pieces and we wanted a clean edge to connect it to the new pipe:
In the end we covered up the trench with all the dirt we had dug out, and I added a whole bunch of peat moss I had lying around the shed  + a bag of topsoil we bought at the store, since it wasn't enough dirt to quite fill it up (since the pipe had washed out a lot of dirt from under the sinkhole which we had to fill up too). The trench is now entirely filled on the inside, and since then we've been dumping grass clippings and more sticks on the other side of the fence on top of the pipe there, which is slowly being covered up too.

Then yesterday there was a crazy thunderstorm, so towards the end of the thunderstorm when the rain was dying down we ran outside to see if anything was coming out of the pipe- and there was a crazy huge amount of water pouring out of it into the creek!  No wonder there was a sinkhole there! In fact I'm surprised our solution of rocks + dirt wasn't washed away 2 years ago, it's crazy it even lasted as long as it did!

But now that the source of the problem is fixed, hopefully this won't be opening up ever again. And hopefully we'll eventually be able to slowly rebuild the part of the hillside on the other side of the fence that was washed away by that pipe which apparently has been gushing water underground for 2 years (and who knows how long before it, cause it washed away the entire side of that hill).

Sinkhole solved!