Has anyone ever heard of Michigan’s “Frost Law”? Me neither, until I called 6 landscaping and garden supply companies looking for bulk soil/compost for my new beds. According to 257.722

(8) Except as provided in this subsection and subsection (9), during the months of March, April, and May in each year, the maximum axle load allowable on concrete pavements or pavements with a concrete base is reduced by 25% from the maximum axle load as specified in this chapter, and the maximum axle loads allowable on all other types of roads during these months are reduced by 35% from the maximum axle loads as specified. The maximum wheel load shall not exceed 525 pounds per inch of tire width on concrete and concrete base or 450 pounds per inch of tire width on all other roads during the period the seasonal road restrictions are in effect.

In short, this law dating from 1949 is designed to limit road damage from heavy loads during the freezes and thaws of spring. A few paragraphs on, we get this gem:

(12) The loading maximum in this subsection applies to interstate highways, and the state transportation department, or a local authority with respect to highways under its jurisdiction, may designate a highway, or a section of a highway, for the operation of vehicles having a gross vehicle weight of not more than 80,000 pounds that are subject to the following load maximums:

(a) Twenty thousand pounds on any 1 axle, including all enforcement tolerances.

(b) A tandem axle weight of 34,000 pounds, including all enforcement tolerances.

(c) An overall gross weight on a group of 2 or more consecutive axles equaling:

W = 500 /LN + 12N + 36\
\N-1 /

where W = overall gross weight on a group of 2 or more consecutive axles to the nearest 500 pounds, L = distance in feet between the extreme of a group of 2 or more consecutive axles, and N = number of axles in the group under consideration; except that 2 consecutive sets of tandem axles may carry a gross load of 34,000 pounds each if the first and last axles of the consecutive sets of tandem axles are not less than 36 feet apart.

No heavy loads in big trucks= no bulk supplies in supply centers (believe me, they’re pissed about this law)= no planting for Eitan yet…= time for other projects (details to follow).

cold weather seeds

Spring seed distro! The dark days of winter are numbered (5, to be exact)! Big ups to The Greening of Detroit, the Detroit Agriculture Network, and especially the Garden Resource Program. I got all this and much, much more for a $10 annual subscription.

As a less-than-rich novice gardener, I’m thrilled to get all these seeds, transplants, and resources (tools, compost, wood chips, etc) cheaply. But even more rewarding is the opportunity to “become part of a growing network of community, school and family gardeners and garden advocates working to promote and encourage urban agriculture and community gardening across the city.”

Paul W. from Catherine Ferguson Academy added that the network is so great because being around other like-minded folk “reminds you that you’re not the only crazy person in town trying to do this.” Whatever happens in my (shaded, poor soil-ed) individual plot this year, I’m comforted knowing over 220 family gardens, 115 community gardens and 20 schools in the Garden Resource Program will be growing, eating, selling, and sharing fresh local produce in Detroit.

I must admit, I love March. It’s the month that laughs in our faces. Every single year, Michigan warms up for a few days, then dumps a blizzard, then turns gray and rainy, then sunny just long enough to get your hopes up before ultimately roaring “this is March, not May.” And every single year people freak out, asking “is this normal? I swear this isn’t normal. Gotta be global warming…” To which I respond always respond “how many years have you lived in this state?”

WSU canceled classes today- my first snow day in more than a decade! I took the opportunity to run, play outside, and build a snowman. Some of you might be thinking “shouldn’t you take this time to get ahead with your work and graduate already?”, and while you’re probably right, my response is the snow today was ideal for building. Not studying.

The myth that various peoples of the North have over 500 words for snow has apparently been proven false. Anyone worth their weight in sidewalk salt does know that there are a significant number of different types. Last night’s cold and dusty snow warmed up in the sun all day, and by mid-afternoon it was the ultimate packing snow (the first of the year, by my count). I’ve always pictured Hobbes nailing Calvin in the head with this kind. Of course, it never lasts too long- once the sun goes down it starts to freeze and get crusty. The window of opportunity may only last for a few hours and cannot be spent inside studying.

One roommate was out of town and the other was “getting work done”, leaving me the task of building alone. I’ve been in this position before and I’d like to share a few pointers on how to build a good snowman by yourself. As mentioned, don’t waste your time if you don’t have the right snow. It ain’t gonna work. Beyond that:

– Don’t trample all over your yard. This significantly decreases the amount of usable material.

– Start at one end and begin rolling your base. I like to pack a ball ~1′ in diameter before rolling. With this mass, it rolls smoothly and grows quickly.

– If building a snowman in Detroit, be on the lookout for shards of broken glass. You don’t want to take one in the knee. Large pieces, however, are ideal for carving your sculpture. Set them aside.

broken glass

– When you think you can’t push the base any further, give it one last heave. You’ll praise yourself later.

– The second ball should be sizable as well. When building by yourself, the obvious question is how to get the torso onto the base. Use what’s around!

p3052455.jpg

– To get the balls into place, I built a small lip so the torso wouldn’t overshoot the base. basetorso.jpgOnce it’s on top, twist in place (this grinds the snow until its steady) and add a few ‘spot welds’. You can smooth it out later.

– Don’t skimp on the head. I finished the face with materials found in our compost bin and rotting in our fridge. I think the cilantro hairdo adds a fresh springtime feel. (note the eyebrows)

proud-snowman.jpg profile.jpg

bff.jpg

Plenty of projects in the works. Dormancy necessary for rebirth. Stay tuned…

Hibernation

A few weeks ago Jo and I were studying at a cafe when my dear beloved brother joined us to share his latest project. My sister and I have long joked that our sibling plays the role of the wacky neighbor on the sitcom of our lives, always dropping in with a new get-rich-quick scheme. Unlike Kramer, however, he has an incredible knack for banking on his ideas.

For a while he’s been getting into alternative energy technologies, first from his job with the League of Conservation Voters, and now more independently as an entrepreneur. After years of listening to his interesting but not particularly conscientious business ideas (yurt imports and a one-of-a-kind dog leash come to mind), I’m pleased to note the environmental disposition of his latest plan.

Here’s an excerpt of his sales pitch:

if you’re interested in how renewable energy (particularly solar) is growing in our capitalist-swine run, oil-swilling marketplace, allow me distill some of what i’ve found for your pecuniary pleasure. while state and federal governments stall on funding for renewable energy, lots of folks — including we non profit grunts — are supporting renewable energy in the market. and then when we meet with politicians we tell them our money is roughly the same location as our mouths. solar-field.jpg

His gist is that the renewable energy marketplace is about to explode, and that 1. we’d all be fools not to get on-board before it’s too late, and 2. investing in renewables is a form of conscientious consumerism– one can feel good and sleep soundly while playing the market.

I, for one, am both broke and skeptical, so I don’t plan on investing anytime soon. But I’m happy to hear that others are putting their money in roughly the same location as their mouths.

Later that day Jo, Ari, Max, Kate and I headed to an open house at Shannon Brine’s farm and greenhouse in Dexter. As budding locavores, we were all thrilled to hear about Shannon’s successes at growing greens through the Michigan winter. Max and The Farmer’s Marketer have written some great posts on what we learned during our visit. Pictures can be found here and here. Brine’s Greenhouse

Shannon reflected Hopefully I conveyed to them this methodology is not that difficult as long as you’re not afraid of a little possible failure. It doesn’t require that expensive of materials although it will require an investment of time. But you are rewarded with the freshest and best-tasting food. And the people you get to meet as you try to share that food feel like a true community. Not to mention they make you feel like what you are doing is valued and important.

It goes without saying that sustainable energy and agriculture go hand in hand, and I think the similarities between my brother’s and Shannon’s observations are instructional. They both emphasize the risks and rewards of a little investment and labor. Both are enthusiastic promoters of their approaches- my brother readily recommends solar and wind power companies, and Shannon has an extensive list of resources on his website, including plans for a $200 backyard greenhouse.

As a matter of difference, however, I’m drawn to learning through doing as opposed to passively relying on others to create change. By no mean do I intend to knock my brother’s approach; addressing these global issues requires innovation and action by non-profit grunts, private citizens, capitalists, politicians and governments alike. While many of us do wear multiple hats, in reality at one time or another we have to decide what our roles are. For the time being, I’m choosing plots over stocks (more metaphorically than literally- I might invest someday soon) because I’m trying to learn some “necessary” skills.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past few decades, creating sustainable alternatives to petroleum-derived energy is one of the most important challenges we’ll face in our lives. While the ramifications of peak oil will affect all aspects of our lives, I consider how we feed ourselves to be one of our biggest challenges. Hence, plots. Readers- what do you do? Any positions on my (false) dichotomy?

This is a pic of Jo’s neighbor’s garden soil taken at the end of their growing season. They run a bulb distribution company, and their business really depends on this ‘grassroots’ level. Note the exceptional color and tilth. nov-07-017.jpg

On the other end of the spectrum, my garden’s soil sucks. Before planting in the existing beds this season, I spent a few days hauling out garbage, glass, nails, and large concrete blocks before tilling in a few shleppings of compost. A garden lives or dies with its soil, as I can now testify.

There was limited fruit of my efforts this season (even with a late start and inattention due to travel)- a successful tomato crop, some peppers, lettuce, a handful of cukes, and herbs. Now that it’s fall and I’ve got months to plan for next year, I decided to build from the ground up.

Step 1: Planted a cover crop of winter rye in the existing beds. It’s pretty exciting to watch green blades grow in November. The idea is to protect the soil from a harsh winter, suppress some weeds and provide a shot of nitrogen come spring when I’ll mow and till it in ~3 inches. Note that while this was planted at the same time, the area at the top of the photo had been dormant, while the areas in the middle and bottom grew peppers and tomatoes – difference in soil nutrients?

winter rye

Step 2: Laid down sheet mulch in new territory. The first step was cutting down growth and watering thoroughly to coax earthworms to the surface. The first layer is a weed barrier of cardboard (and Critical Moments). On top of this is a few inches of organic material (fall leaves, in this case) and a bit of fish emulsion fertilizer for good measure. Next layer is pure compost from Ann Arbor’s facility, via Andy’s luxurious pickup and Ari’s labor. The top layer is a thick mulch of straw. The idea is that the organic materials will break down some over the winter and the soil will be richer and less compacted for spring planting. BIG thanks to Jo for her help, and everyone who helped acquire materials.

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Step 3: Huglekultur= my new favorite word. Some refer to this as a German mound, but huglekultur is clearly more fun to say. The idea comes from the carefully tended forests in central Europe, where every scrap of wood is used. Basically, it’s a mound of brush topped with compost for planting. The organic material releases nutrients slowly as it breaks down, and is particularly good for water retention and drainage.

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Not counting the few weeks I spent gathering materials, Jo and I finished these projects in under 2 hours. The rye cost about $2, a cubic yard of compost was $20, and I splurged on three $3 bags of ‘spent mushroom compost’- about $30 to vastly improve the soil, without any inorganic chemicals to boot. Yes, we’re also trying to produce finished compost on-site- updates to follow. We’ll (hopefully) reap the rewards next season…

MySpace? Check. Facebook? Check. RSSs? Check. I figured it’s time to join 2.0 for real- I clearly need my own blog. Don’t expect too many updates, but when they come they’ll be choice.

The Garden is in my backyard, Babylon is everywhere else, and in between are my thoughts on gardening, sustainability, food, life in the City, and flights of fancy. Hope you enjoy!