Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Turning off the Power

Our energy use – in terms of electric kilowatts - is rising. While our solar panels do generate power thanks to sunny days, we’re also drawing power from the grid. Each month I monitor the kilowatt hours used from both sources as a mechanism to understand our seasonal trends and energy dependencies here at D Acres. And this past month surprised me just a bit.

We could pat ourselves on the back and say that, nevertheless, the many residents of D Acres are only using the output typical of an average family. And, yes, there are a myriad of seasonal explanations that make the month of March energy intensive: numerous grow lights, for one example. But both those statements are false comfort. We want to be proactive models.

Consequently, the numbers have sparked personal examination. What are our own habits? Our preferred conveniences? Our energy addictions? And, how do our personal choices intersect with group uses? Ultimately, the quantity of power used or not used here at D Acres is a reflection of our collective body. No one of us can stand apart.

What are we doing about it? For one, our response is that of renewed vigilance. Turning off appliances such as printers and computers when not in use, leaving no lights on if a room is exited, transitioning young plants to greenhouse space as quick as possible. These details reflect our habits; being present for our own reflexive actions is simple to write and more challenging to enact. Conscientiousness is an ongoing process.

In regards to the larger picture of organizational energy uses, our discussions are considering the following energy saving strategies: computer free days? No power during daylight hours? Blackout days?

So here we go. This coming Sunday will be our first “power down” day. With a generator ready to provide water if needed for guests or visitors, we will turn the power off for the daylight hours. No lights, no computers, no shop tools. In what terms will we consider our experience? As an adventure? A burden? An inconvenience? Can we create new habits for ourselves?

This is a modest beginning. With refreshed motivation and each other for continued inspiration, we aspire to restructure our schedules and our expectations. No doubt it will be a process of adaptation, and of evolution – but are these ideas not synonymous with daily revolution? And so we embark on the transformation of our daily minutiae.

as published in North Country News

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ladders & Pruners

Pruning is spring work, a seasonal task that engages us in a flurry of perennial hairdressing. For a few quick weeks each year we are the barbers and tailors of our edible landscape. Pruners in hand, with ladders, loppers, shears, and saws at the ready, we methodically move through our orchards, hedgerows, and gardens. Spring has just begun, and we are busy tending to the many cultivated fruits, nuts, vines, and berries that are the focus of our food forest zones.

Granted, most years we are perched atop crusty snow, working quickly in the cold of a morning to avoid the post-holing challenges of pruning in the mushy slush of a late afternoon. This year, though, is certainly one of ease. With bare ground and mild temperatures, there is no balancing of ladders atop ice, no waiting for the melt to see the raspberries, no snow-covered limbs of low-bush blueberries.

Pruning is one of the first outdoor tasks that we undertake as the gardening season begins each year. As such, it is accompanied by excitement at attending to living plants once more and the fresh-faced glow of days spent outside. After a winter of cold, pruning on a sunny March or April morning can elicit a ready smile.

It is, in a sense, making order out of chaos. The goals of pruning are to encourage plant and tree health, and to maximize production. As such, we are striving to shape the tree with the future in mind, directing the plant to grow into the template we have imagined for it. While many fruit and nut trees will have a central leader followed by aerial branches, smaller berry bushes have a vase-like habit. An effective pruner must be cognizant of the species with which they are working and sculpt accordingly. “Extra” branches and limbs are eliminated to maintain an open form and to foster the arrival of sunlight and air to all aspects of the given plant. Dead branches are cut off, as are suckers and waterspouts.

In all pruning work, clean cuts are a must. Effective pruning comes down to effective tools. Blades must be sharp and function with precise alignment. Cuts that are jagged or torn are slower to heal. To minimize impact on the given bush or tree, cuts should always be made at a joint. Trees, like humans, form scabs; to prevent disease and distress, attention must be made to prune with foresight and care.

Think of yourself as a co-conspirator with your particular plantings. You are part of a partnership, maximizing the potential of your edible landscape. Fruit trees, nut trees, vine fruits, and berry bushes are your legacy to future generations. Steward them well; the work and the reward offer much to enjoy.

as published in North Country News