Addicted to Oil? Sharpen your hand tools!

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Yes, this is SO me! (click to purchase - the print! Not me!)

This post is a bit outside of my upbeat homespun backyard farm ramblings, but trust me, it comes back around to our own little field. I can’t help but think how fortunate we are to live in this Utopian spot on the planet where everything grows. As I write this, I am watching a live cam of the gulf oil spill, 5000 feet below the surface of the ocean. It is a world away from here, but still very close to home. My stomach turns at the sight. It is a pulsating smoky plume in shades of brown, and as I speak, people are trying to force 50,000 gallons of mud into a crack in the earth in an attempt to stop Pandora’s scourge. I cannot grasp what kind of pressure must exist a mile under the ocean, much less what kind of pressure the plume must be exerting as it gushes out of our planet – nor what it is going to take to pump something twice the density of the water into the hole at a rate of somewhere around 2000 gallons per minute. Please. Quit calling it a leak.

The latest estimate is that so far 1.5 million barrels (not gallons) of oil have been released into the Gulf, and it is still gushing. The truth is, no one knows how much – but one thing we do know: no amount of money can compensate this level of devastation.

But compare these figures with this: The U.S. consumes 21 million barrels of oil every single day. 21 million. Barrels. Every DAY.

You can talk all you want about alternative energies, but the sun and wind won’t fix our oil addiction. Vehicles run on oil, and this big, spread-out country of ours is populated by over 300 million gasaholics.

I am sickened by this spill. I am sickened by the mindless consumers we have become. We cannot entirely blame BP. We have to blame ourselves.

So what can we do? Plenty. But changing what you take for granted sometimes takes planning and hard work.

So. With this in mind, let’s shift gears to our little dot on the planet: aka Barbolian Fields.

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Get one, ya gotta have two. These ladies knew how to get er done! Don't mess with them!

Here’s my situation: I rotate my garlic crop around six 25-foot square plots.  Actually, 5, because I reserve one for the vegetable garden, in which I have built 8 raised beds, and I rotate the veggie crops around those beds. This set up makes it a little easier for me to water. That makes 1 garlic, 1 veggie, and 4 green manure plots at any given time. Current cover crops are a rye-vetch-clover mix, crimson clover, Nash’s wheat, and a fava bean mix. Nash’s wheat and the rye mix produced the best, with the clover not far behind. The fava plot did not do as well, but I might try planting at a different time. The rye plot was particularly lush – a beautiful bluish green, very dense, in full bloom, and over head high. It should have been cut back long ago.

Now for a Confession: I have several problems. (who knew?)

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Vincent would have liked my little backyard endeavor.

The first is this love-hate relationship with machinery. Yes, we own gas-guzzling tillers, weed trimmers, and lawn mowers. Yes, all plural. We have a big field that at this time of year has to be mowed every week or it goes wild and out of control. I am all about wild. My husband is all about control. Actually, he just likes things clean and neat. “Neat” does not describe me. Go figure. So yes, we are part of the gas-guzzling problem, and that, too, is a problem, but probably not the greatest of ours.

I tend to *think* things like tillers and weed trimmers are going to save me time and chiropractor costs, but more often than not, they are more trouble than they’re worth. My little Mantis tiller has been in the shop since February, and good riddance. It usually doesn’t take that much more time to just use a shovel – and if I’m growing green manure crops anyway, why not just cut back the weeds and throw them back on the soil?

But my other problem is the size of our little operation, and this is the crux of the conflict. Serious farmers use tractors. Backyard gardeners use hoes, rakes, and shovels. What if you are somewhere in the middle?

Still another problem is this “age” thing. I am going through a bit of a crisis in being unwilling to accept that I can’t do things I did in my 20s (I’m now in my late 50s, but who’s counting). I mean, I used to buck bales and pull green chain. Seriously. I was 5’ tall and 100 lbs. and nobody messed with me. I’m still 5’ tall and 100 lbs and everybody messes with me, but usually in good humor. That’s what I get for having 5 kids. But lest I digress…

The truth is, the mere thought of holding a vibrating weed trimmer or tiller is painful to me. Plus, this whole oil spill thing makes me want to puke. And yes, I have already admitted I am part of the problem and taken that first step toward recovery. But it sounds kind of silly, considering my problems with arthritis, that I would think it might be just as easy to cut this lush rye crop down with a sickle.

I have two of these antique rusty tools with wooden handles and curved blades. Not sure where they came from. I imagined someone stronger than me putting these tools to good use, cutting grains, hay, grasses….maybe feeding horses.  I held it in my hand, felt the worn wood, and thought about how they might have watched the weather and the maturity of the grain and decided when to cut, probably in the morning after the dew had dried. I swung it back a forth to get the feel of it, imagining myself to be a Russian peasant….er, more likely Italian.

My trusty sickle and an old wagon wheel
My trusty sickle and an old wagon wheel

This little dreamscape was just another form of procrastinating. The tool needed sharpening. I’m no expert on the grindstone, but I managed to give it a sharp shiny edge and take a little skin off my knuckle in the process. Now to test it. Once I got the knack of holding my hand steady and firm and getting a swinging momentum going, I found the sickle cut through the grass with relative ease. Catching it on the backswing, rather than holding a bundle with the left hand and hacking with the right, worked best for me. Halfway through, I stopped to resharpen. It was a workout, and sure, I am sore, but I got it done. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment, obviously, since I am still bragging about it. Maybe even a sense of control. And Power. (YES! maybe he’s on to something.)

A rye-clover-vetch mix makes a fine green manure
A sickle still works - if you're willing to, that is

It rained all day today and I look out and see that rye blanketing the plot. It’s beautiful. It makes sense to just leave it there, no-till style. Much kinder to the soil and everything that lives in it.

There are still 3 plots to go. I will take them slowly. No, our little farm operation isn’t perfect, but by keeping it relatively small, I can manage with a minimum of power equipment, and in the process, I have gained a new respect for old tools. They are worth taking care of and using again.

Also, I am finding that I find excuses not to drive to town. I purchased a bag setup for my bike that is big enough to carry groceries. It’s a hilly ride to the store, but only about 7 miles round trip. It’s doable, and the more I do it, the easier it gets.

It might be a mere drop of oil saved, but if we all saved a drop, together we could make a difference. 21 million barrels every day? Is that how we want to live? What happens when we suck it all out of the planet?

It is several hours later on the webcam and guess what – it’s still gushing. This stuff is not going to just go away any time soon. Our coastlines are blackened; so are our hands. Yours and mine.

It will take a major change in our culture to wean ourselves off this oil addiction, but it is a revolution I am willing to join. And in the process, I will be stronger for the effort. How about you?

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