open house at the seed libary
Saturday, September 22 2012
While Gretchen was walking Eleanor in the forest this morning, I went to Home Depot mostly to get more electical supplies, especially 12 gauge Romex. I hadn't bought electrical wire in years and was surprised how expensive it is; 25 feet of 12 gauge two conductor Romex costs more than $20.
I also went to nearby ShopRite to get pumpkin to help keep Ramona's bowels moving. While there I picked up three different flavors of Deya-brand non-dairy "cheese" wedges, which (until we learned that ShopRite carries them) we'd thought were only available at the far more expensive Mother Earth's Storehouse. ShopRite can be an unpleasant place to purchase groceries because it frequently plays host to various uncontroversial charitable organizations trying to shake down customers: local little league teams, veterans' organizations, and people supposedly trying to find a cure for cancer. Today some old codger with a clipboard started harassing me in the parking lot trying to get me to enter a raffle for some number of thousands of dollars. That technique must work on an appreciable fraction of people.
Back at the house, Gretchen had made coffee because she was craving it. In the past she's taken pride in not having addictions, especially to coffee. But now it seems that our Sunday caffeine ritual has spread to Saturday. That's alright with me; I don't actually crave coffee any more, so long as I have access to black tea.
This afternoon I finished the last of the greenhouse upstairs electrical wiring. In the end I outfitted the upstairs with one lightswitch box with two switches (one for the indoor light and the other for an outdoor outlet that could be used for an outdoor light), one light fixture box, three always-on outdoor electrical outlets at the southwest corner, three floor-level duplex outlets, and two ceiling-level outlets (one is to supply power to illuminate the catform if I should want to start seedlings there and the other is to supply power to a winch if I ever actually build an automated lid to covering the south-facing glass of the greenhouse downstairs).
Late this afternoon, Gretchen and I went to an open house being held at the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which is also where our friends Carrie and Michæl live. Soon after we arrived, we joined a walking tour of the garden. Most of the ten or so people already in the tour looked to be in their twenties, although one was an older woman (and Sufi) who is part of Gretchen's poetry workshop. We arrived at the point where Ken (one of the Seed Library cofounders, the other being named Doug) was talking about the difference between seed "breaking" between weeds and domestic plants. Domestic plants are usually selected to hold onto their seeds, thereby making them easier to harvest. The alternative is to scatter them automatically as they ripen in waves (as the spectacular Spider Flower does). Ken also pointed out the differences between how one handles a garden when one is collecting seeds as opposed to trying to raise food. Seed collectors maintain their garden plants much longer, letting the rosettes bolt and fruits hang and even decompose on the vine (today the Seed Library tomato patch looked especially forlorn, though perhaps not as bad as ours). I was curious about how the Seed Library ensures that plants only pollinate others of their same variety, and was surprised to learn that the technique is relatively simple: mostly all that is required is distance between the patches containing the varieties, sometimes with the help of netting or staggered plantings of the different varieties. But crazy hybrids are not always a bad thing; Ken has several breeding programs underway to, for example, breed a pumpkin with both thin-shelled easily-eaten seeds and delicious flesh.
By the time we made it over to the table where we would be shown basic seed gathering techniques, I was hungry, and I found myself eating a few seeds that wouldn't normally be considered edible (Starflower, for example). It came as a great relief when we were shown how to gather seeds from a watermelon, which mostly just involves eating that watermelon and spitting the seeds into a cup. Ken and Doug are evangelical about preserving hierloom seed varieties, some of which might only be known to a single human family and thus go extinct should the next generation lose interest in gardening. The see a huge difference between gardening with true-breeding hierloom varieties and the crappy hybrids that derive ultimately from Monsanto (and whose seeds usually prove worthless). The techniques they use for raising, gathering, and sorting their seeds are all low-tech and labor intensive, using tools such as screens and collanders which can be bought from dollar stores. Techniques such as winnowing to separate seeds from chafe are no less effective even if they are thousands of years old.
Later we were given a tour of the seed storage and packaging buildings, most of which had once served some previous function back when the compound had been a camp for Ukrainian vacationers (names in Cyrillic letters had been written in the concrete outside the seed storage building, which had once been the camp's hot dog concession). By this point I was actually chatting with Michæl more than participating in the tour, mostly talking about how all the dilapidated buildings in the compound might best be salvaged.
Later we all got together at the old semi-outdoor Ukrainian chapel for a b pot luck to which we hadn't actually contributed. There was beer, quinoa, salad, a big pot of lentil soup (not that I was in a position to complain, but it could have used a little salt and perhaps some slices of chili pepper) and, strangely, a container of raw oyster mushrooms. I was the only one there who tore off chunks of the latter and added them to my soup.
At some point a thunderstorm rolled through and I had to run back to the car to put the windows up. A bonfire had been started in front of the chapel, and the torrential downpour that was showcasing the chapel's many roof problems didn't seem to affect it.
There were three dogs at the pot luck: Eleanor, Michæl's dog Penny, and Ken and Doug's new puppy Rutabaga, a nascent cattle dog. Eleanor is a little too old for the sort of constant play that Penny and Rutabaga prefer, the kind that rapidly soaks their fur with each others' saliva.
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