Fallowing land, Jubilee year for land

 

Biblical principles and todays gardens?

middleeasternploughmangrimmversion2016From childhood, I have had the blessing of being immersed in scripture.  My parents regularly read the Bible and Bible storybooks to us.  My father had only one year of high school, but he had gone further in knowledge of scripture than anyone that I knew.  On Sunday evenings our small church frequently featured a Bible quiz.  Because he could answer quicker and more questions than anyone, a “Dean Alleman rule” was instituted:  When anyone answered three questions, that person was not eligible to answer again until no one knew the answer.  From that heritage, I have questioned why we don’t celebrate Christmas as the disciples and Paul did, wondered if it was significant that the only time in the Bible a man tells a woman “I love you” it is Samson to Delilah and raised the question of “fallowing”. I have known of the “fallow” year rule, but have never heard a farmer or gardener practice it or discuss it**.  After all, we eat pork, plant two kinds of seeds in a field (rye with clover) and wear cotton/polyester clothes. Fallowing fields is commanded by God:

Ex 23:11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.  (See also, Lev. 25: 1-4)

 Interpretations of “fallow ground” law

To what extent is the ‘land rest’ command binding on the Christian today? What are the principles by which to interpret scripture on the matter of land rest?    Do we choose the general interpretation, looking for the principles behind the law?  This approach would conclude that practices like crop rotation, manuring the fields, composting and mulching meet the purpose of these regulations and are the equivalent of “rest”?  Or, should we follow the practice of some observant Jews who do not use the land at all during the seventh year. I read of some who lease their orchards the seventh year (to Arabs) to meet the requirement of the law of land rest?

Basic principles

What is the basis for the Christian taking this scripture literally?  First, I assume that the Gen. 2 instruction to Adam to “serve and preserve the land” provides the basis for interpreting this passage.  Second, Jesus (Mark 2 23-28) tells us that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  From this I conclude that the Sabbath rest was made for human benefit in three areas: 1. Observing the Sabbath and the Sabbath year was commanded the Hebrew people as a symbol of their trust in God to provide for them.  Letting the land rest for the seventh year demonstrated their trust in God.  2. Resting the land from cultivation during the Sabbath year provided for rejuvenation of the land.  3. Sabbath rest for the land was one way of providing for the poor.  These three principles stand behind the literal application of the fallowing law (as it does the related practices in Leviticus).

Trust in God

How do Christians demonstrate their trust in God for provision of food?  Trust in God for provision of food seems even more distant in a society where most do not have gardens, get their meat and dairy products from the grocery store and buy their orange juice from Brazil and more distant sources.  Gardens, however small, give parents and children a way to experience dependence on God.  Even when the water comes from a faucet and the fertilizer comes from a bag, there is realization that some part of the growth is beyond our control.  Organic practice seeks to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant.  Here the dependence is a bit clearer.  With the use of permanent mulch, the work of worms and their allies to convert leaves, grass and kitchen trimmings to “new earth” is evidence of God’s creative work on our behalf.  The third principle, providing for the poor relates closely to this one.  Giving a portion of our garden production to the poor acknowledges that we rely on God to provide for us.  However, one benefit that observing the Sabbath rest demonstrates, trust in God, is difficult to provide for in modern agricultural practice.  Is it possible that returning to a literal “fallowing” would be an opportunity to increase our trust in God?

Rest and renewal

What contemporary agricultural practices provide for the land to get rest and renewal?  While the “rest” part may be difficult to understand in modern practice, the renewal part is clear.  I believe that the organic standard of “feed the soil, let the soil feed the plants” comes close to replicating the benefits of the Sabbath year.  Jesus words that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath establishes the principle.  The practice of agricultural Bible-believers to exempt farmers, especially dairy farmers and poultry farmers from the “no work on Sunday” rule is a tacit recognition of this principle.   The agricultural practices seen in the Bible such as those required by the fallowing rule were reflective of climate and soil conditions typical of the Middle East.  Stiff soils and dry climates where there are two crops per year taking off the land, lose fertility faster than in temperate zones where the soil lies dormant from Oct. to April (or is covered with a “green manure” crop of rye, vetch or a combination of plants.

The renewal of permanent mulching is apparent at the garden I worked with.  The red clay ridge had probably been stripped of most of its fertility before the slaves were freed.  With the application of six inches or so per year of leaves, hay, grass and the addition of coffee grounds, what had been “waste” became soil amendment: “fertilizer”, if you please.  (Due to the pressure of companies producing nitrogen fertilizers using fossil fuels, organic gardeners/farmers are not permitted to call these ingredients “fertilizers”.) Over a period of ten or so years, three to six inches or more of organic matter has turned to black soil—the original red mineral portion of soil (subsoil) is still below it.  The soil tests completed (at conventional agricultural laboratories) show that all nutrients are well above optimum for nourishing crops.  A soil scientist told me that if I were a farmer with a soil management plan, I would not be permitted to add even compost to the garden.  So, does this restoration of land (and the rescuing of organic matter from the landfill) equal the Biblical requirement of renewal? If all of creation is good, then the worms, sow bugs and microorganisms that process leaves, grass and coffee grounds into soil are an important part of creation.  When the right conditions are created, these creatures transform raw organic matter into compost or humus which is the plant and animal part of soil (the rest being primarily mineral).  By mixing carbon and nitrogen materials, reducing the particle size and maintaining a good moisture level, worms and the microherd can convert several feet of “yard trimmings” (wastes) into “new earth”.  Is this part of God’s work to bring about a new earth/reverse the degradation of land by erosion and overuse? Extending the idea of shalom to all of creation is a continuation of this understanding.  The good or best of conditions for organic matter processors is the “shalom of the microherd”.  Mulching creates a suitable environment for sow bugs and worms.  Letting the worm created channels for moisture and nutrients function in the intended manner creates soil creations that permit plants to be at their best:  part of the creation God declared was good.

Care for the poor

How do contemporary gardening practices provide for the poor in the way that gleaning from volunteer grain or other plants might provide during the fallow year?  The garden referred to in the previous paragraph raised produce and flowers for a food pantry.  If there was a practice comparable to carbon sequestration/carbon banking which permits those adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to pay, for instance, forest owners a fee to continue to pump out excess amounts of carbon.  Forests sequester or capture “excess” carbon and give off oxygen.  So, food pantry gardens can be a “bank” for agricultural practices, which do not of themselves provide for the poor.  Since 1995 the Garden Writers of America/GardenComm (a secular organization) have promoted their “plant a row for the hungry” program where the extra rows of produce can be taken to the local food pantry.  Again, this is a way that gardeners can meet the principle of “providing for the poor” while continuing to use the land.  https://gardencomm.org/PAR Can permanent mulch, minimum and organic gardening fulfill the purpose of the Sabbath rest for the land?  If the poor are fed, the land is improved and trust in God for provision is taught and experienced, then one can say that there is some accomplishment of the principles behind fallowing/Jubilee year.

(Whether conventional gardening practices accomplish God’s purpose in giving the fallowing command can be investigated by someone else.)

 

**Two later references (Jeremiah 4:3-4a, Hosea 10:12) to “break up your fallow ground” are sometimes interpreted to mean ‘stop sinning.’  But since God instructed the Hebrews to let ground lie fallow, normal “fallowing practice” would not constitute sin.  Ploughing previously fallow ground would begin the next cycle of creation and renewal.  That seems the most likely focus of Jeremiah and Hosea.

 


 

Praying for rain

rain.pexels-photo-459451

The record for rain in a twenty-four-hour period is 73 inches on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Mt. Wal-ale-ale (Hawaii) gets 460 inches of rain per year.  Rain falls 335 days of the year.

 

Then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.  Deut. 11:14

Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.  Deut. 11:17

The Desierto del Atacama in Chile had 1/4 “ of rain in 1971.  As far as can be determined, the previous rain had occurred some 400 years earlier. (Weather Book)

 

At one time in my life, I would not hesitate to pray for rain.  Now, I hesitate to pray for rain.  As a boy growing up on the farm, I welcomed the rain.  Frequently, rain meant no more digging out thistles or chopping brush out of fence rows and the possibility that I could spend some time reading.  A refreshing summer sound, the cooling rain rattled the corn leaves to announce its coming across the creek field and up the hill toward the house.

Some pastors or worship leaders were uncomfortable about praying for rain in public.  “I always give thanks for rain in public prayers.”  said a worship leader.  Another person said we should not expect God to give an area normally getting ten inches of rain a year to suddenly get forty inches a year.

Rain imagery occurs in many songs and hymns of the church.  Most people I ask for their memories of “rain” in songs and hymns thought of “Showers of Blessing” The song “Healing River” implies rain to cleanse.  A song from my childhood, “Sunshine and Rain” invites both rain and sun.  The children’s song “The foolish man built his house upon the sand” has in the third verse “The blessings will come down as the prayers go up.”

 

Rain images abound in the Bible as indicated (see the header):

“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 2 Chronicles 6:26

Throughout most of the OT rain is associated with blessing, the lack of rain with sin of God’s people.

The prophets saw rain as blessing:

He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful. In that day, your cattle will graze in broad meadows. Isaiah 30:23

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. Isaiah 55:10

 

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  Hosea 6:3

Rain as blessing frequents the Psalms, although Psalm 78: 47-48 provides a contrast:  Storms, at least hail and lightning can be a means of punishing God’s enemies:

During the twilight of the Kingdom of Judah, the prophet Ezekiel brings this word:

Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath, I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. Ezekiel 13:13

Ezekiel’s God can use the rain to punish as well as bless.  Just as the “day of the Lord” once meant salvation for Israel, later it meant a day of judgment, so now rain comes to warn and punish God’s people.

But in the New Testament, Jesus announces:

“that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:45

If God sends us rain without regard for our goodness, and if we have the Weather Channel, why pray for rain?  But today with the likelihood that some drought is the result of (in part) human caused, climate change, the prayer of repentance (including changing our behavior) takes on new significance.  (The verse from Matthew focuses on how we should treat those around us, not on what we should pray about–or when we should pray.)

Reflecting on praying for rain the thought came to me:  Does “give us this day our daily bread” imply a prayer for rain?  Praying the prayer Jesus gave his disciples gives us a start with our prayer for rain.  Perhaps praying for rain is part of our regularly reporting to God what we feel our needs are, not telling God what he should do.  Maybe I can pray about rain without feeling embarrassed!

 

Moses’ farewell “song” is an excellent blessing:

May God’s teaching fall on you like rain and his words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.  [paraphrase of Deut. 32:2]

 

 

Got Stones: A collectors story

 

After completing the blog about “God the Rock, On being chips off the old Rock”, I remembered my fascination with another kind of “chips”: stones.  I don’t remember when I started collecting them, but I have been accumulating them for nearly fifty years.  In Southern Michigan, where we lived for eighteen years, soils have an abundance of stones.  The last glacier ground the rocks under tons of ice as it retreating north, smoothing many stones.

IMG_3445
Bread loaf stones

Our farmer friend, Lew Stoll, knew I collected round smooth stones. He had been finding me stones.  Some of them bread-loaf size.  But most of that size went to wife Ruth’s flower garden.  After a few years, stones turned up less frequently in his fields.  I attributed this to three things.  First, perhaps he had plowed up most of them.  Second, his tractors were getting bigger which made seeing the stones harder.  Third, maybe his eyesight was getting poorer.

Gardening brought me into frequent contact with glacial rocks and small stones.  Every spring, due to freezing and thawing, more stones appeared in our Michigan garden.   I made a sifter to remove some them from the garden soil.  The stones were dumped in our unpaved, hundred-foot-long driveway.  Over winter and into the spring stones disappeared into the driveway.   Stones appeared in the garden each year, after disappearing from the drive….  A natural cycle?  I had a notion to spray paint some of the stones we put in the drive to see if they would reappear in the garden.

IMG_3456Many people have contributed stones to our collection.  We wish we would have taken pictures as they were added.  When we moved from Michigan to Virginia I filled a five-gallon bucket with my favorite stones.  As if Virginia needed more stones….

In our travels, we have seen many round and flat smooth stones.  Collecting them has provided us with some challenges (is it legal to pick them up here?) and unusual experiences (is it safe to stop here?)  While visiting Nova Scotia we had collected only a few stones from a sea-shore to put in our luggage.  To save space Julia put one special stone in the toe of a shoe. Going checked through customs, a scanner showed something strange in the shoe.  (This was before 9/11.)  Julia was anxious about what would happen when she opened the suitcase and took out her shoe.  But, the inspector wasn’t interested in stones.

IMG_3444Cedar Valley in central Texas, has quarries with lovely yellow-tan sandstone.   We were looking along the roadside for a sample and debating the wisdom (legality?) of picking up a stone from the berm. We wanted to collect some stones for us and for our friend’s water garden. As we round a curve, there on the road was a head-sized stone, plus another smaller one, probably fallen from the truck we had just pulled off the road to let pass us.  So, being public-minded citizens, we pulled over and saved someone’s vehicle from a damaged tire by removing the rocks from the road—and into our trunk. Further west on that trip, where the sandstone was red, we could not find a roadside that required our clean-up assistance. So, we stopped at a landscaping business.  They only sold stones in three-foot by four-foot bundles.  When we told the owner that we only want one stone, he gave us a dinner-plate-sized “stepping stone” rock which looked a bit like the state of Texas.

In several states, we provided help to road crews by stopping along the highway and finding rocks in danger of sliding toward the roadway. We wanted to remove them before they could be pushed closer to the pavement.  Did the road crew appreciated our help?  Usually no one was coming our way when we picked up the rocks (we checked).  So, our friends got more rocks for around their fish ponds.

Slab Road crosses and dams Dry River above Hinton, Va.  While the River may be Dry in parts of the year, spring rains roil and churn the stones down the mountain and through Rawley Springs to where the Slab slows them and stops some.  The Slab has been deadly in the spring.  Some of our stepping-stones came from Dry River.  During the 1985 flood in the Shenandoah Valley (and West Virginia valleys), the Virginia road commission asked people to pick up rocks and stones which had washed onto roads and bridges by the flood.  We are the beneficiaries of that flood.

IMG_3450Our church group enjoyed a retreat at a restored farmhouse back up a valley on the Virginia/West Virginia border near the town of Bergton. There were several rock piles on the property and a fence row lined with rocks.  Those piles looked to be a good source of “stepping stones” to complete our landscaping project.    Several times we walked around the stone piles but could not find rocks of the right size. Later we wondered if the farmer and family had picked up the bigger stones first.  As time went on, they had picked up all the big ones.  All we could see were the smaller ones added last.  The possibility of snakes and the certainty of hard work stopped us from testing this theory.

IMG_3441Now our granddaughter has begun a collection at her home in Waco, TX.  Some of our stones from Michigan, Virginia and other areas we are passing on to her.

stonesLineLone

ode to a pet rock

Rough times, rubbings,

Sand scoured, wave buffed

Grinding fellow stones.

Hard center

Christ solid;

Smooth, polished rock.

 

Part 2: Nuts I have known and loved

Georgia pecans

After college, I hitchhiked from Pennsylvania to Atlanta, GA for a summer with Mennonite Voluntary Service.  While there our MVS group travelled south 3 hours to Americus, GA to visit Koinonia Farm where Clarence Jordan and several others were trying to find ways that blacks and whites could live together.  They were snubbed, shot at, and boycotted—mostly by professing Christians.  They developed a pecan grove to support themselves by a mail order business.  I bought pecans there a number of times in later years.  In 2016, we travelled that way on our return from visiting family in Texas. We bought pecans there fifty years after my first visit. This picture comes from that 
pecan-tree-shaker.jpg

visit.  Can you guess what it is?  Answer at end of blog.

Texas pecans

When we visit son Nathan and family for several weeks in March, we usually travel several days west to the Hill Country of west central Texas.  On our return trip, heading east from Llano, TX, we discovered the “Pecan Capital of the World”! San Saba Pecan Capital San Sabo, TX  (A title also claimed by a town in Georgia).  Pecan groves, processing plants and specialty stores proclaimed the presence of pecans.  Of course, we sampled the pecan ice cream and bought some roasted pecan coffee with bits of pecans with the coffee beans.  One specialty was “cracked pecans”. Less expensive than shelled they saved a step over cracking whole pecans oneself.  Didn’t ask how they pronounced their specialty (“pe kahn” or “pee can”: (“But, some in Texas say, a “pee-can” is something one carries in their pickup truck for beer-induced emergencies.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Pecan

Our granddaughter, Annabelle, and her father knew how much I liked pecans. They picked up nearly half a bushel of pecans near their Waco home and on the grounds of their church meeting house.  Pecans bore bountifully that year in Waco.  Many people were picking up pecans along the street and sidewalks.  Radio, TV, and newspaper warned that property rights extended to the street and nuts should be harvested along the sidewalks only with permission of property owners.  Apparently, people were going nuts over nuts.

I had been thinking about my history with nuts (all kinds) in late November as I crack nuts for Julia’s fruitcake.  She makes a double batch for family and friends.  She has been making the fruitcake for nearly all the fifty years we have been married. (Enhanced, of course, by the nuts I crack for them.) Hearing all the jokes about fruitcake makes me wonder what people have been eating.  Julia’s fruitcakes are almost good enough for me to marry her for them.

—————

The picture shows Koinonia Farms pecan tree shaker.

 

Nuts I’ve known and loved (Not a family history)

Nutty as a fruitcake.  Just nuts.  Why the use of this nutritious, tasty tree product for deprecating people?  As far back as the 1820s variations of this word have been used to describe people in derogative ways. Walnuts are high in nutrition, so the negative connotation of these sayings doesn’t make sense.  My nutty experiences in five states over more than 60 years have been mostly positive.

Hickory nuts

Our farm in northwest Illinois had walnuts and hickory nuts.  I just picked up hickory nuts until I tasted the bitterness of what I learned were called “bitternuts.” Bitternuts and pignuts looked similar were much more abundant, so I picked them first.  The bitternuts (didn’t know their name then) were thinner shelled, too.  But, they were bitter.  Best left for pigs. I soon learned that shagbark hickory nuts were the best.  Also, the trees http://ouroneacrefarm.com/hickory-nuts-foraging-pignut-shagbark-hickory-nuts/ says that pignuts are not the same as bitternuts.  Now I know that pignuts and bitternuts are different.  I did collect some hickory nuts to crack.  The flavor is great, but they are small and all I had to crack them with was a hammer.

Since walnuts were bigger and abundant, I switched favorites.  I filled five or six gunny sacks (burlap bags) of walnuts.  My father used the tractor scoop move them to the farmhouse where we had a hand-turned corn sheller.  This doubled as a walnut huller.cornsheller

After running the walnuts through the sheller, my father helped me dump the walnuts on the roof of a small chicken house a short distance from the trees near the house.  Just far enough for the Illinois squirrels not to challenge our dog for a race from to the chicken house or back to the trees.  When the walnuts were dry, I brought some to the house to start cracking them for cookies and cakes.  They were duds! I had probably 3 or 4 bushels probably all were bad.  No more walnut collection for me—well, until adulthood.  (I was in my early to mid-teens at the time.)

Michigan walnuts

Rosalyn was 8 and Nathan was 5 when they joined the walnut collection activity.  We were excited by the announcement in the newspaper that a walnut processing company would hull and buy walnuts.  We had a small trailer to load the nuts into.  Previous years I had dumped nuts in the driveway and used the car to smash the hulls.  Then we had pulled the messy walnuts out of the hulls and rinsed off the remaining flesh.  Finding a place to dry the walnuts out of the reach of squirrels was always a challenge. Ros and Nathan each kept track of how many 5 gallon buckets of walnuts they gathered.  I preferred to pick up at the neighbors where there was a special tree that had thin internal walls that permitted cracking out large pieces, sometimes complete halves of the black walnuts.  We filled the little trailer and the children’s labor rewarded them.   Ros was pleased that she was able to buy a red J. C. sweater that she had been wishing for.

Native Americans had learned about walnut duds.  Their technique for separating out worthless nuts was to put a wide basket in the bottom of a shallow, but flowing stream.  Walnuts were poured into the basket.  Bad walnuts were lighter and would float away.  Good ones dropped into the basket for recovery and drying.  Not having a stream handy, I dumped walnuts into a half-barrel and lifted out the floating ones with a sieve to duplicate this process.  The walnut buying company would hull my walnuts and buy back what walnuts, including the duds that I didn’t want, sufficient to pay for the hulling of the walnuts for my use.

The second year the children looked forward to earning more money with the walnut harvest.  We picked walnuts, computed the shares, planned how the money was to be spent. Then, off we went to take the walnuts to the huller. After the seven-mile trip, we could not find the huller.  Unfortunately, Dad had failed to check the paper for ads for the huller. Disappointment!  My memory is not good, but I hope I gave the children something for their work.  We hulled the walnuts the old-fashion way.  When I asked Rosalyn (now past young adulthood) recently about her memory of the walnut disaster, I expected some comment about a ruined childhood.  But, she didn’t remember the disappointment of the disappeared huller.  She did remember how pleased she was to be able to buy the wonderful sweater to go with the skirt her mother made her.

The Pennsylvania nut cracker and Virginia nuts

Julia’s parents had two “English” walnut trees that they had planted when she was small.  The seedlings came from trees near Gettysburg where Julia’s uncle lived. By the time I knew Julia the trees were mature and produced many bushels of nuts most years. Some years we were given (or picked up ourselves) a half-bushel or more. family-farm.jpg (The walnut trees are between the barn and the house.  Okay, so I found an excuse to sneak in a picture of the children and granddaughter.)

Julia’s father, Fred, recommended seeing Israel Peachey about a nutcracker.  Israel, an Amish man, whose wife was a reflexologist, lived off Long Lane, at Back Mountain Road, Belleville, Pa (in Kishacoquillas Valley) and made unusual nut-crackers.  The nutcrackers handled black walnuts easily (relatively).  “English” walnuts shell out with unbroken halves.  Mine cost around $30, an exceptional price, even in the late ’80s.nutcracker

We had moved to Virginia some years earlier.  Neighbors had black walnuts to give us.  For several years there was a walnut huller in the area.  Recently, friend Laurence brought me some walnuts he picked up.  He knew that after two back surgeries bending over to pick up walnuts too much of a challenge for me.  I was not ready to hull the walnuts he gave me, so pulled the plastic garbage can to the backyard.  Several days later I walked into the yard and found a large hole in the can.  Squirrels had chewed the hole to get the walnuts!  And, it was Laurence’s can!

Next post:  Pecans

Oranges and apples? Osage trees=good wood, hedge apples/Osage oranges= worthless?

 

Osage wood

The far border of the small pasture next to the house and barn on our farm in Illinois was marked by a hedge fence.  The hedge trees were growing (did someone plant them that way?) close enough together that even small calves could not push through the gaps between the trees.  Occasionally I was required to trim out branches that were hanging too far down.  Cutting the branches with a bow saw was hard work. Especially for someone in their early teens.  The wood was very hard.  Later I found out that it is the densest wood of any tree in the United States. Hedge trees have thorns making trimming them more challenging.  This was my first exposure to Osage orange. The Osage orange tree is native to the southern plains area of parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana and adjacent states.  I did a bit of research and found that Lewis and Clark brought the tree east.  Maybe the western Virginia osage trees came via Lewis and Clark.

I wanted locust boards for raised beds in my Virginia garden. My supplier didn’t have enough eight inch or wider locust boards.  But, he said, he had half a dozen hedge boards.  However, the price was nearly twice that of the locust.  I was about to leave when he said he had the hedge boards a long time and was unable to sell them.  But, I could have them at the same price as the locust.  I remarked how unusual it was to find ten-inch hedge boards, ten feet or more long.  The tree was standing in the middle of a field, he told me.  It was not in a fence row as had been most of the hedge trees I had seen previously.

When I told a former Kansas resident about the find, he said he had helped pull out fence posts that had been in the ground fifty years. The underground section of the post was nearly the same diameter as the above ground part.  Rot had little effect on the hedge wood.  In Virginia a friend had a line of osage trees.  Son Nathan and his wife, Karen thought a good use of the fruit would be to roll them down the steep, two block-hill in front of our house to see if they could hit the baseball field fence at the bottom.  After one or two rolls, they realized that, even though the streets were then empty hitting anything that might come along would be serious.  Maybe the oranges were worthless.

The osage fruit

 

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Not long after that, a visitor from Ohio said that they were selling hedge balls at their Mennonite Relief Sale (held to raise money for disaster and famine relief) as an insect repellent.  You can

Google the results of experiments attempting to validate this.  Even so, I found an ad on the Internet for hedge balls for $3 each as spider repellents!  So, I collected a box of oranges to take to our Virginia sale the first weekend in October.  I do not remember how many we sold at ten cents apiece.  The next fall I saw a vase ad in a furniture store flyer with three Osage oranges.  The vase was listed at $120!  We raised the price of our oranges.

Several years later the popularity of the hedge balls increased as people wanted them for fall arrangements.  The price went up to twenty-five cents each.  So, whether apples or oranges, the osage tree fruit clearly have value.

 

Pictures from

1 http://chattafabulous.blogspot.com/2013/11/low-cost-and-easy-thanksgiving-table.html

2 http://www.blimpygirl.com/personal-what-not/the-osage-orange-fall-centerpiece-done

 

 

 

“Loaves and fish” in the garden

Part one:  Canna lilies and blackberries. (These plus shiso, miscanthus and forget-me-nots brought unexpected blessings.

After moving to Virginia, I wanted small fruit in my garden. Blackberries were familiar to me—eating them at least—from boyhood on the farm. At the nursery, the plants were something under three dollars. Real estate in Virginia was nearly three times the cost of that in Michigan where we had sold our previous home. Money seemed tight in 1989. But I splurged on three plants. Over several years, by rooting plant tips, I had enough plants to fill the space allotted to blackberries.

Several years later our church started a food pantry garden. The blackberries at home continued to set new plants, so I transplanted to the new garden enough starts over several years to fill two forty foot rows. One year we picked three gallons of blackberries from the patch. I made a new friend who moved to the area who wanted blackberry starts. He dug out a half-dozen or so.

By 2002 I had moved to a new location and was having a grape arbor built. I asked the builder if he wanted some blackberry canes. I had transplanted enough to fill my new thirty-foot blackberry patch. He said someone had given him some. When he identified the donor, I realized it was the same person who had gotten starts from me a number of years earlier.

From my extravagant purchase in 1989, we have eaten nearly 25 years of black berries—some years the birds got more than we did. The food pantry clients and the workers in the food pantry garden had the joy of blackberries. Friends gave bushes to friends from the starts I had given them. The loaves and fishes had been blessed.

Canna lilies fall in the same basket. I heard that someone was setting some canna lily rhizomes at the curb. I picked up a box with maybe a dozen roots. Planted several in my small garden, the rest at the food pantry garden. After daughter-in-law Karen used the canna’s red spike in a flower arrangement, we started taking the flowers to Patchwork Pantry for clients with the gladiolus and zinnias. The spreading cannas were taking more space than we wanted to give them. The next spring, the youth pastor and his crew dug out several bushels of canna roots to take to the Gift & Thrift store. I went to the local garden store to see what they charged for canna roots, they were charging $2.25 for scrawny dried out roots. I asked about them and was told that the primary growers in New England had significant losses of their crop.  Ours sold quickly at $1.50.!

cannas-corn-e1505829159295.jpgCannas are tropical plants requiring protection or inside storage for the winter in Virginia. We have found that heaping dry leaves over the stalks (chopped down to 6″) to a depth of 20” to 30” prevents winter kill of the rhizomes. One year the cannas had spread too far, so we did not protect one patch. That winter was mild and the cannas survived. More rhizomes to sell!

We cleaned up our rhizomes and took those with several eyes to the Gift & Thrift. The ones that didn’t look good were put in the shade, watered until they sprouted. Then we potted them for sale. One of my helpers, a student formerly from the Ukraine, said they ate the rhizomes where she came from.  In my surprise, I didn’t know how to ask if that was part of the normal diet.

Another year we stored rhizomes in vermiculite for winter storage. Funds from the sale of six or so boxes of rhizomes helped fund a trip to a youth convention that summer. Last year our small patch of cannas thrived, growing to over 8’ feet. Some rhizomes were 2”x6”. The growth was so strong the roots pushed apart the boards of the garden bed (held by 3 deck screws). It was time to harvest the rhizomes. I supervised the digging of a 4’X6’ bed of cannas, we pulled many loose roots plus a dozen or more pots to take to Gift & Thrift.  This was the 20th year of cannas.  (Shiso and forget-me-not in part 2)

Adam’s tiller vs the microherd Or building soil God’s way

 

Soil building activists tend to be divided into two camps: some want to move stuff down and others want to build it up, although I suppose some of us have a dirty shoe in both garden beds. Here is how I explain to myself, and anyone who will listen, my approach.

Penn State helps promote an “Ag Progress Days” near Tyrone, Pa each August. One of the times (more than thirty years ago) I attended with Julia’s farmer father I went to a session on something new: no-till planting into a green manure crop. (Not sure what they called it.) The expert there stressed the importance of chemicalizing the green manure crop that was in place before proceeding with the planting. This was important to avoid depriving the new plants of nitrogen (and other nutrients) while the green manure crop was decaying/decomposing.

I wondered how that would work out in my more or less organic garden. I used a weed chopper and mower to cut down the rye I had planted. Then I spaded a shovel wide furrow into which I planted corn. Between the corn rows I dumped enough leaves to suppress any regrowth of the rye. As soon as the corn was six to eight inches, I pushed the leaves closer to the corn to suppress any weeds that might challenge the corn. I didn’t see any sign yellowing of leaves or stunting of stalks or any other signs of nutrient deficiency in the corn. The crop of sweet corn was normal. Didn’t plant a control plot since I was planting like I had in other years.

I had faith in the microherd (although I did learn that term until some years later). With the help of maintenance personnel of the local educational institution, I had been dumping a lot of partially shredded leaves on the garden for several years. I planted the rye because I thought the corn might need extra nitrogen! But with the leaves cover was heavy enough to keep the ground from freezing in the Michigan winters.  A healthy microherd had developed that was able to quickly go to work on the rye without taking nitrogen the corn might need. That’s my assumption. I do not have the biological knowledge to explain what has happened.

Tilling Adam’s way

What does this have to do with Adam’s tiller? My earlier thinking about the command to Adam to “till the soil” led to a vision. Due to my lusting after a mechanical device to ease my garden labors, I imagined a naked Adam violating virgin Eden with a mammoth, red TROYBUILT ROTOTILLER tearing that resistant sod into soft plantable soil. Rereading the Genesis passage reminded me that the couple had already been outside the garden at the time of the “till the soil” command. (Then was Adam’s possession of a tiller due to sin?) But, as explained to me recently, the word “till”, means, “care for”. When God is said to care for humans and this same word is used. (Off stage sounds of big red tiller fading.)

About this time in my life I was learning the Joy of Composting. Shifting compost was great exercise.   Bin composting was satisfying and somewhat useful. (See earlier blogs on “Composting and Grace” and “Three bags of leaves, two of grass”. I began to understand what I labeled “Ultimate Composting” (I was fascinated by all things Frisbee at the time) an imposing term for what others called “permanent mulch” or “lasagna gardening” or other terms. This is how I applied that understanding.

My current garden

Seventeen years ago we moved to a Shenandoah Valley ridge at 1300 feet with a southeastern orientation. Most topsoil had been liberated from the ridge before the slaves had been liberated from the area. The previous owner liked grass. We quickly smothered the grass with wet newspaper, leaves and some of the 15-30 gallons of coffee grounds per week I picked up from local convenience stores and a nearby college. A friend moved to a farm with an old barn with hay more than five years old. He would drive my pickup home and bring back a load of old hay. Julia said at one point that we had lots of hay in the back yard and only needed a cow.

We started spreading out these ingredients and had a good garden the second year. The third I began setting up raised beds with board sides. The steep hillside required some protection for the beds. Even with heavy mulch rain would shift everything down hill. Every year we have dumped leaves, some grass clippings (when we can find un sprayed yards) and coffee grounds on the beds in addition to much of the garden’s plant wastes. I am continually amazed at how much organic matter disappears into the beds. When you build up a microherd population, they work hard. The micro herd feeds the soil which the feeds the plants.

Building soil up

Finally we come to the wild claim that I know the way God does soil building.  This did not come by divine revelation.   I did not discovered on my own.   Many have contributed to what I have learned over the past thirty or more years of “organic” gardening. As a church-goer and follower of Jesus I cringe at all the things for which people claim God’s authority or attribute to God’s preferences. I do work at not demonizing those viewing soil building differently than I do. Double diggers puzzle me.  I remember creating straight lines of lovely black sod bottoms with the moldboard plow as a teenager less fondly now than I did when I mastered the skill.  My anxiety intensifies when I hear the sound of the ferocious mechanical devices churning through the soil cutting up the bodies and homes of the worms and the micro herd.

How has God been making new soil? In the prairies, grasses grow, die, decay and eventually become new soil. In the forest leaves fall, decay and become new soil. Trees die and turn to new soil. (Not sure what the natural rate of temperate zone soil development is.) God builds the soil up. Now, God is a bit slow. But, then, God has a lot more time to work. We don’t. That’s why we do in-the-garden composting, find combinations of ingredients to speed decomposition, do lasagna gardening or permanent mulching. Composting in bins permits faster building of new dirt to be added to a garden. Much of these “new” techniques imitate the “natural” process of soil building. (Machine aeration and mechanical turning of piles may represent a major extension of the natural processes.) Many of us see building the soil up and relying on worms and the microherd as man’s effort to imitate God’s way of building soil.

 

 

 

Two bags of leaves, one of grass

Learning about composting inputs

Can you imagine building a compost pile 8 feet high? That’s what I built my first compost pile. My memory might be a bit vague on that. The work was done more than forty years ago. Not too many years later I had a bit more space and my pile was only five feet by ten feet and not so high. I tried to shift these piles at least monthly between the southern Michigan spring thaw and the freeze in early December. Now, my pile may be turned only once a year. Along the line, I learned that I needed to balance “greens” (nitrogen) and “browns” (carbon). The input guide was two bags of leaves to one of grass.

Learning a bit

Now in my seventh decade and after two back surgeries I balance the compost inputs differently. First comes the collection area where we dump dry material until rain comes. Green material goes into the first bin. I no longer brag that I can compost anything and only collect chopped or small stuff. Friends bring me coffee grounds from the nearby convenience store or the dining hall of the local educational institution so that I have a strong nitrogen component. The first bin is usually full by the end of the summer. Then I find a younger person, often from a youth/student fundraiser, to shift to the second bin where I add slotted drainpipe to help the microorganism keep air-healthy and working. Progress from first bin to finished compost in the third bin may take more than a year.

Balancing compost inputs

Earlier the major input was my labor. Exercise was good. Now the major input is time. I increase the nitrogen input if possible to reduce the need for more time and shifting. I cover the second pile either to hold moisture and/or avoid leaching of nutrients. So, I have six or so inputs that I vary depending on the circumstances: carbon, nitrogen, water, air, labor, and time. Probably should add space. If I had plenty of space and an abundance of organic matter, I would start a pile and continue to add to the end of it. When the beginning of the pile was mature, I would start harvesting.

Composting inputs, Part 2

Composting at a Community Center

Working with the local community center with required a difference balance of inputs. Donations of vegetables and fruit were unpredictable. One might describe the quality of much of the fruit and vegetables at near the peak of ripeness when donated. The kitchen folk found using all these donations was a severe resource and time management challenge. The result was often a lot of spoiled fruit and vegetables. For a number of years a hog farmer had picked up kitchen trimmings. Unfortunately he was not as regular in picking up the trimmings as summer heat or freezing weather required. Our small garden needed compost. I had an idea that if horticultural therapy worked, then why not composting therapy. My motto was “If life brings you garbage, make compost.” (or, if you’ve made the mess, it still works). I had little success getting that message across, but we still made good compost.

Since we had an abundance of high nitrogen material, we needed to find sources of carbon. At first, the city allowed us to get partially shredded leaves at their collection site. Then they contracted with the landfill to use the leaves as cover for methane generating trash site. We started contacting tree-trimming firms and they provided us with wood chips to mix with the spoiled fruit and vegetables. A local butcher shop asked us to help remove some of the manure from their holding pens which turned out to be mostly sawdust. This additional source provided us with a good balance of carbon and nitrogen.

Workday procedure changes balance

Our community center hosts unemployed and homeless people and people doing community service instead of jail time. Tuesdays are workdays, so some labor was available for the composting project. There were five bins. 1. A materials collection bin (mostly carbon materials). 2. Collection bin (kitchen trimmings, plus bakery waste from a local business). Bins 3 and 4 were “cooking bins” with pipes added for air. Bin 4 was mostly finished compost from which compost was moved to the sifting machine.

A fifth pallet bin was used to store sifted compost under cover for sale. Using woodchips for carbon and bulking required extra labor, but two friends designed and crafted a rotating drum compost sifter to speed this process. A fuel tank from a Volvo truck, was cut open with a half-inch screen added inside,  Two windshield wiper motors turned the drum from Volvo trucks. A nearly exhausted Volvo truck battery drove the motors. Some of the compost was used on the garden. The drum rotated to sift out the wood chips and any stones and uncomposted clumps.  Sifting the compost made it more appealing for sale. Usually, several pickup loads, plus bags of compost were sold at the yearly plant sale.

The labor input was expected to be high here with each workday helping to shift and sift compost. That didn’t happen. So, to get air into the piles, we started adding pipes with holes in them and using a rod to poke holes in the pile (poking down from the top) when new pile first started to cool. Sometimes the piles sat for several weeks, other times, service groups would come in and the labor input would be high—higher perhaps than the process of composting would warrant. Infrequently we covered the piles to conserve water and sometimes to prevent leaching of nutrients during heavy rains.  On rare occasions we watered with city water while turning the piles.

Input summary

The inputs were the same in the different situations, the balance very different. The inputs were: 1. Carbon (browns–like leaves); 2. Greens (like—grass clippings); 3. Air (pipes, poking holes with rod); 4. Water; 5. Time; 6. Labor. (Of course, we didn’t have the mechanical power that is usually substituted for labor in larger operations.)

Why do I compost (in piles)? Why not do “ultimate composting”—composting in place—on the garden? I have been told there is scientific evidence for the superiority of this approach. Most of my home garden and the community center’s garden are generally covered with leaves or chips. When we lack these, we use unsifted compost. But, at the community center we wanted to have compost to sell. Sifted compost looks much better. Two additional reasons for bin composting: One, I like to have compost available to set plants in when I plant them, sifted compost to cover seed with and for making potting soil. Two, I like to make compost, to see the transformation of organic matter. See my earlier blog “Composting and the Grace of God”.

 

 

Dirty Trees

“Why would anyone plant catalpa (bean) and walnut trees in their back yard?” we asked when we saw the blossoms, beans, walnuts and stemmy leaves in our back yard. Just after we moved to 245 Union Street in April, the catalpa tree was ready to drop its blossoms. Later that summer the nine to eighteen inch beans occasionally dropped and with them catalpa worms (two or more inches long). The rest of the huge beans dropped throughout the fall and winter.

A black walnut, the other tree in the back yard kept a lilac from blooming and killed some eggplant and tomato plants that were just beyond the drip line (we thought) of the tree. We didn’t have time that fall to use the walnuts, so the leaves and the nuts were an additional nuisance.

We had two dirty trees in our back yard of our new home.

By the next spring, we were settled into our house. Neither the kitchen nor dining room had a good view. From the closed-in, but un-insulated porch we could see some flowerbeds, part of the garden and until the trees leafed out, the sunrise.  Because the two trees leafed out late the sun warmed the porch. During the spring the porch was a pleasant place to eat lunch. As summer neared and the catalpa and walnut trees leafed out, they provided cooling shade for lunchtime or for times when we could sit and read. That fall, also, during our breakfast time the sun shone through the leafless trees to the unheated back porch. That fall the walnut drop seemed less of a problem because we found a man with a mechanical walnut huller who would hull our walnuts and buy the ones we didn’t want.

So, over time, we realized the ‘dirty trees’ were a blessing. During the spring, they leafed out later than other trees. In the fall, dropped their leaves earlier than most trees. But we enjoyed their shade during the summer. We might have had the trees cut down (as did the people who owned the house after we sold) but as first-time home owners we couldn’t afford it.

How often have I just seen ‘dirty trees’ when I looked at people or reacted to events in my life? Do I focus on beans, bugs and nuts (“dirt”) and miss the gift of shade? As I thought about our changing views of walnuts and catalpas, I thought about how I have responded to the trees based on first impressions/outward appearances. Do I do this with trees and people?

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV)