July 2011

can go to Bible study every Sunday
and swear she’s still not convinced,
but she likes to be around people who are.
We have the same conversation
every few years—I’ll ask her if she stops
to admire the perfect leaves
of the Japanese maple
she waters in her backyard,
or tell her how I can gaze for hours
at a desert sky and know this
as divine. Nature, she says,
doesn’t hold her interest. Not nearly
as much as the greens, pinks, and grays
of a Diebenkorn abstract, or the antique
Tiffany lamp she finds in San Francisco.
She spends hours with her vegetables,
tasting the tomatoes she’s picked that morning
or checking to see which radishes are big enough to pull.
Lately everything she touches bears fruit,
from new-green string beans to winning
golf strokes, glamorous hats she designs and sews,
soaring stocks with their multiplying shares.
These are the things she can count in her hands,
the tangibles to feed and pass on to daughters
and grandchildren who can’t keep up with all
the risky numbers she depends on, the blood-sugar counts
and daily insulin injections, the monthly tests
of precancerous cells in her liver and lungs.
She’s a mathematical wonder with so many calculations
kept alive in her head, adding and subtracting
when everyone else is asleep.

I had some old seed of radish so I broadcast them in  the end of a row where winter squash was planted and haven’t been unrolling the woven ground cover until I harvest the radishes. I cut off the tops and leave them under the ground cover as I roll it out.

I rinse off root crops in some rainwater before I take them in the house, to preserve as much of the topsoil in the garden as possible.  I have a couple of barrels set up to collect rain water off one side of the roof of our garage.  I fill some 5 gal buckets (18 liter) out of that to increase storage capacity.  I wash the root crops in the buckets so the dirt doesn’t accumulate in the rain barrels but gets dumped back into the garden with the  irrigation.

I was swishing them off yesterday one by one, most done,  when I dropped one and noticed it floated.  So I came to the conclusion that radishes floated, which I saw as an amusing revelation coming so late after gardening for my entire life. I surmised that henceforth rinsing radishes would be much simpler.

So today I confidently went to the bucket and dumped all the radishes in.  Update: not all radishes float.  As I was clearing all the radishes in an area to unroll the ground cover, I was not only taking full sized ones but also really small ones.  Some of the small ones sank to the bottom of the bucket.

So since I now know that not all radishes float, doubt has entered in and I have started to wonder if there would be varietal differences as well as stage of maturity in whether they float or not, or if climatic differences, like wet versus dry during the growth period,  would also influence whether they will float or not.

While this is not that important in the scope of my life,  and I won’t design any studies to pursue the answers, I do find it more interesting than whether or not the politicians  raise the debt ceiling.

We start our own tomato plants because we are a little finicky about varieties.  For example, we like Prudens Purple as our best tasting tomato. It is the same color and taste as its more famous cousin Brandywine but a little smaller and less misshapen or prone to splitting. Biggest plus, it comes in  a few weeks earlier.

For a good looking tomato about the size and color consumers find the most attractive (we are still influenced by our years of growing for Farmer’s Markets) we use Celebrity.  This is a (ALERT the following information may be shocking to purists!) hybrid (there I said it) that ranks in taste with most of the heritage varieties but has a real advantage in having a high degree of disease resistance. There are reasons that hybrids replaced a lot of the heritage varieties and it isn’t only greed of the seed companies, disease played a huge role.

For  paste tomatoes we long ago left Roma in the dust. We have used San Marzano as a main crop and Bellstar for an early one.  The new variety we are trying this year is Opalka, also a paste tomato, and if it is as good as the catalog says and performs well, may challenge San Marzano for a spot in the lineup.

For an early tomato we use Red Alert, but I could be convinced there is a better one and next year the new tomato trial may be an early one. It is a determinate cherry type that comes in early but poops out when others start coming in.

Red Fig is our choice for a main season cherry type tomato which this is that size and good for salads and eating out of hand, like  with pretzels while driving and trying to make some time and not stopping for lunch. Needless to say, it is not cherry shaped but looks like little figs and I like the novelty of it. Very prolific.

Interesting side note: Finding the links to these varieties in the two catalogs I order from, I can’t find Red Fig. It was planted out of a leftover packet from the previous year and has been rotated out of  the catalog I originally ordered it from.  Which happens. I had to Google to find a new source.

If I could only have one tomato it would be Rutgers as it is only a little less tasty than the best heritage tomatoes  and also great for canning, i.e. almost as meaty as a paste tomato so we always grow some of those.

We also grow a tomatillo which can be considered a tomato and as it has the  same cultural requirements. For use in salsa and even soups.

If you can have more than one, as we can, there are hundreds of great varieties to choose from and the list of what we grow is not meant to be at all definitive. These are tomatoes that have done well for us in our climate. Every year we try a new variety or two just to see what is out there. Many we no longer grow are great tomatoes but we already have a similar tomato and try to keep the variety count down as it is real easy to start having too many and then get confused as to what is what.

So we have an early and main season variety of  three categories — paste (Bellstar,San Marzano) , cherry  (Red Alert, Red Fig), and fresh eating (Pruden’s Purple, Celebrity, and Rutgers).  We also try a new one every year (Opalka this time around).

We used to grow an orange or a yellow one but no longer do for reasons that may not be that important but it really depends on what you like.

So hopefully this is of some help. Just beware of catalog fever, the irrational January desire to order and grow more tomato varieties than you can possibly deal with.  I have had it several times. :-)

The goal each year is to have ripe tomatoes by the Fourth of July.  We missed this year, not getting our first ripe one until about the 11th.  We were then getting some to eat each day.  It was another week before I could say we had more than we could eat but we are well into that now.

As I was out picking tomatoes I found the nest of a song sparrow in the Red Fig tomatoes.

You can’t really see the fig shape of the tomatoes in this photo but that wasn’t what I was going for, it was the baby birds. Here two had hatched and two more to go and as of today all 4 are hatched out.

Because we have electric fence up which keeps out feral cats and raccoons, these little babies have a much better than average chance to grow up instead of becoming a tasty mouthful for a predator. FYI, a feral cat can kill 100-200 songbirds a year, so the next time you hear of someone wanting to dump a cat out in the country side, please convince them to take it to the pound.

When I approach the nest the mother slips off though the tomato foliage and hides in the asparagus ferns.  On occasion the male does land on the nearby pea trellis and make some tentative warning sounds but lacks the aggressiveness of a mockingbird and lets things unfold without interference.  Which makes picking tomatoes more pleasant.

The blackberries have been coming in heavy. We have been eating our fill, trading some and freezing a lot.  Today we are expecting guests and Vidya has made some blackberry pie.

Of course, nothing in the material world comes easily.  There is a price for everything.

My first clue everything wasn’t going to go smoothly came as I was thinning the primocanes from the sides of the bed and cutting back the remaining ones to a.)  increase production next year, and b.) make picking the berries easier this year.

Learn about primocanes, floricanes and apical dominance here.

As I was pruning the local mockingbird was watching me with great focus, landing nearby and some minor scolding from which I deduced there must be a nest in the blackberries.

The real drama unfolded once we started doing serious picking, getting a gallon or more of blackberries in a day. This involved actually putting hands into the interior of the berries.

Vidya came in and said the mockingbird had attacked her several times. It didn’t really register but the next day when I went out to pick, I also got dive bombed the rush of air and the striking of my back by its wing gave me realization of what Vidya was telling me.

The bird was serious.

Naturally my first instinct was wouldn’t it be great to get a picture of him attacking.  So we sent Tulasi out to pick while I sat nearby in the shade in a chair. I tried to be inconspicuous and not move, but although he would come and land nearby, and even made some half-hearted sorties he never went closer then several feet (1 m).

I left the garden and went and sat on the kitchen steps. I could see as Tulasi went down the row, the female mocking bird hopped out of the other side  and flew away so I was sure the male was defending his family.

Sure enough, now he attacked. I kept taking pictures and tried to time it as he would take off, the camera on action setting, but I was unable to catch him in the frame.

I was able to get him sitting on a post from the unfinished kiwi trellis  getting ready to attack but futility reigned in getting an action shot.

Tulasi soon tired of being a human target so I had to pack it in.

What we did learn from this is that if two people were picking at the same time on the same side of the row, he wouldn’t attack.  Though he did seem to learn who his perceived enemies were and Vidya reported that he even attacked her outside the garden while hanging clothes on the clothesline!

We eventually saw the nest, saw that the chicks were there, though they must be gone now because yesterday while picking the male didn’t even sit nearby and scold us as he usually continued to do.

Today we might even be so brave and bold as to go pick berries without backup. :-)

(Shifting the New Vrindaban (ISKCON?) paradigm from the Kirtanananda consumerism  based paradigm to Srila Prabhupada’s  vision of dependence on the land and the cows.)

Letter to Hayagriva 14 June 1968 (Montreal):

But if you want to develop New Vrindaban, I can spare you for that purpose, and it may be that we can live there together. For the time being, if you actually want to develop such ideal asrama, we must have sufficient land, and all other things will gradually grow. For raising crops from the land, how many men will be required–that we must estimate and for herding the cows and feeding them…

I hope that this meets you in good health.

Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

6 April, 1976
Los Angeles

My dear Puru das,

Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated February 7, 1976 addressed to Hrdayananda Maharaja. Concerning the use of sour cream in the temple, it should be stopped immediately. Nothing should be offered to the Deities which is purchased in the stores. Things produced by the karmis should not be offered to Radha-Krishna. Ice cream, if you can prepare, is o.k., but not otherwise…

I hope that this meets you in good health.

Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Room Conversation With French Commander — August 3, 1976, New Mayapur (French farm)

Prabhupada: Yes. Anyway, just inquire. These are our garden flowers?
Jayatirtha: Oh, very nice.
Prabhupada: This is also?
Bhagavan: Yes.
Prabhupada: Yes. Anything grown in the garden, that is hundred times valuable than it is purchased from the market.

“Certainly our life is full of real problems, some of them perhaps without solution. It would be an impertinence to suggest that all of our problems are fabricated. And yet we are so obsessed with the idea that we are supposed to possess “answers” and “solutions” for everything that we evade the difficult problems, which are all too real, by raising other less real problems to which we think we have the answer.”

Merton, Thomas. Contemplation in a World of Action. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre
Dame Press, 1998) 48

By Steve Leone

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m torn on this one.

Idealism has its merits. Practicality, on the other hand, can be a bitter pill. But a bitter pill that allows you to grow in fits and starts — rather than the preferred leaps and bounds — is better than no pill at all.

Maybe this is the fork-in-the-road facing many supporters of the solar industry. They see the future, and it’s filled with clean energy, powered by abundant sunshine, and maintained around the clock by innovative storage systems. They live, however, in the present, and solar still has its skeptics — namely big utilities that like to have things run like clockwork in ways in which they can understand. To most, that means fossil fuels.

Of course, there are some utility giants, mostly in places like California and New Jersey, that have jumped into the solar game. They’ve done this mostly because their state governments told them to.

So it’s interesting when a place like Florida, which has no state renewable energy mandate, introduces a project as big as the recently completed 75 MW Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center by Florida Power & Light. The true solar innovation may not be the size or the location, but in the partnership. The world’s first hybrid plant of its kind combines solar with … gulp … natural gas.

It’s certainly more of an arranged marriage than a love affair. For the most part, though, it’s a relationship that’s been worth exploring. It certainly sounds like a good idea to companies like GE and eSolar, which are teaming for a hybrid plant in Turkey that will combine solar, wind and natural gas.

The reasoning is simple. Using natural gas will keep costs down in the short term, and it will allow the plant to compensate for dips in solar and wind resources. Maybe most importantly, the presence of the natural gas will give the project the financial stability to move forward. In the meantime, storage technology and falling prices of solar and wind can continue to make the gains that will eventually make renewables the most attractive option for utilities. Hybrids are one of many options on the table, and for purists to embrace the concept, maybe it’s best to think of them as a bridge and not a dead-end.

This approach of a short-term compromise is being done today in the auto industry. As good as electric vehicles have become, the most successful ones also guzzle some gas, and they’ve been doing so for some time now. While the Prius was dominating the headlines, the EV industry has been busy building a better battery. When the battery that is capable of bringing us on a Sunday drive and back finally hits the showrooms, the marketplace will already have been created.

It’s the same situation for the solar-gas alliance. It may not last forever, but it doesn’t have to.

Below is a video that shows the FP&L project, as well as some of the economic benefits.

The New Vrindaban managers have determined that the Barn at Bahulaban is not repairable and needs to be deconstructed. This is scheduled to begin happening sometime in September 2011.

As this is a historic structure, we want to give the devotees who worked and lived in it a chance to say good bye and have a last look, or even to take a piece of it as a memento. For example, one devotee has asked if he can have a board from the room his son was born in.

As you may or may not know, this was one of the first buildings built in New Vrindaban at Bahulaban and certainly the most ambitious project to be tackled and brought to completion to that point. It served as shelter for both the cows who lived downstairs and the devotee families who lived upstairs.

In the 1970s and 1980s many devotees also worked there caring for the cows and demonstrably showed that Srila Prabhupada’s instruction that cow protection should be the main business of New Vrindaban was taken seriously. We would like to recognize and honor that rich history. Any materials that can be salvaged from the Bahulaban Barn will be used in the construction of a new barn for oxen so it will not perish but be reborn.

We would like to collect memories of the life at the barn and compile them for posterity. Included in this would be stories and an attempt to make lists of all the devotees who lived and worked there. For example, Radhanath Swami was a cowherd boy there and hand milked many cows. Our goal is to create a list of as many residents as we can remember, devotees who cared for the cows, and maybe even a special list of those children who were literally born there.

Anyone interested in helping to compile these lists and historical accounts please contact Madhava Gosh: gourdman@ecov.com.

We plan to hold a special ceremony at the Barn before deconstruction begins, at a time yet to be determined, but not earlier than Labor Day.

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