The weather sure has been wonky! When our trusted Garden Advisor, Dr. Kim Heiman, informed us of a frost warning last Friday, October 14, the four Tree House members (Kavon, Andrew, Tali, and I) all set about recruiting friends to help us gather up the bits and pieces. Though we’d received another warning just weeks earlier, causing us to dig up all of the teeny purple and yellow fingerling potatoes to roast, the current harvest carried with it a startling sense of urgency: the coming of full throttle Fall, accompanied by the dangling of the last crab apples from our adorable backyard tree. As the sad apple corpses began to swarm with bees, ants, and other less visible entomological specimen, our members set about excavating the depths of the permaculture garden of rare native plants and herbs for the famed raspberry bushel, which, despite its menacing spikes, still radiated with the coolness of a careless late summer day. In the darkness of early evening, the moon shone dimly above, yet we were able to navigate through the paths, which were cleared thanks to the hard work of our gardeners during our thrice weekly workdays.
The raspberries–well, to be honest, there weren’t too many left after the squirrels and our mysterious backyard groundhog/badger/thing got to them. However, we were delighted by the few we got. It’s amazing how a little bit of fresh grown fruit can brighten up someone’s day, even in the pitch dark. We then moved to the lettuce patches, picking kale and swiss chard in hunky batches, tossing them into our salad spinner, which quickly filled with dirt. My friend Maddy noted how cool the soil felt beneath her thin shoes. This made me bend down to catch some in my hands–it was pleasantly cold, with the tinge of the frost on its skin.
Finally, we ventured into the tomato section of the garden which drooped in a similar tone as the apple tree. The wide-spread malady that touched most all of the tomatoes did not startle us, since it is normal for the crop in this garden to catch the blight. We have not yet found a strategy to prevent this. Perhaps we should look in the Great Gardening Bible, stock full of knowledge, via the recommendation of Dr. Heiman.
After we emptied our little house compost bucket into the three stocked bins, and stirred it around a bit, we were ready to wash our hands and clean the produce. The energy in the kitchen, as usual, high.
Thanks for reading. Stay posted for fence building Saturday and the Garden Dinner next Thursday at 6pm. We’ll have more posts than usual this month. After all, it is the peak of harvest.
R & the Garden Gnomes
This week in the garden, our wonderful team hosted two long workdays. The student turn out was excellent, with many hands on the dirt-deck. We worked to pull out as many weeds as possible, harvest what needed to be ASAP excavated, and take full advantage of the bright afternoon sun. From 2:30-4:30 on Friday and the same time Saturday, our garden gnomes gathered some punky potatoes and tantalizing tomatoes all beside patches of pumpkins and emerging carrots. Upon washing the potatoes, we found they were purple! Now a good bunch of them are hot and ready to eat, the rest stored away for the upcoming harvest dinner.
To add to this great progress, last week ENACT President Tom Littrell shot a bunch of photos in the community and permaculture gardens to commemorate the STAR award the gardens won for their Eco Friendliness. We are super grateful for the work of those sustainability projects in coordination with Tree House/ Garden members that allowed for the installation of the water capture system, compost bins, and solar panels. We will continue to work to create more sustainability on campus.
Each of the Tree House mates is doing their best to continue that legacy by refusing to use the dish washer, forgetting to flush the toilet, and taking shorter showers (working on it). We also love to use the food from the garden over bought produce whenever we can. And we never, ever use paper towels, even when we spill loose tea all over the floor.
More news to come.
The New Tree Huggers
I am proud to say that the first garden workdays met with an unexpected turnout & enthusiasm. Members of the garden house (girl power!) and new members of what is now deemed “The Jungle House,” came out ready to work and stayed even past our end time. Through Tree House’s further collaboration with these houses we may be able to fully ameliorate the damage done by the summer keepers who, sad to say, did not take care of the garden as well as hoped. Not to say they didn’t try their hardest! It’s not easy to keep a garden alive. Our permaculture garden which weeks ago was in weedy disrepair is now looking liberated and airy. The Community Garden, two weeks ago similarly disheveled, is no longer of the post-apocalyptic nature. I am excited for the possibility of collaborating more with ENACT to get more people at workdays, and inform people about gardening and sustainability so that when people come from classes and ask us questions we will know the answers. I know that BIO 150 will be offered credit for attending work days. If you are at these workdays, try to encourage them to come back! This project is all about increasing awareness about how to grow and maintain a sustainable garden, a useful skill in a commodified culture. Keep posted for our workdays tomorrow from 3-5 and friday 3-5. Dinner updates coming up soon as well. Also rent Berg Bikes at info desk! Take the Outdoor Challenge http://www.oncampuschallenge.org/. Be clean, be cool, be green. Come to ENACT meeting tomorrow at 8. Visit our facebook pages for more info (Community Garden especially, we need friends that have not graduated).
Rebecca (Community Garden Club President, Tree Houser & ENACT Rep)
Beautifully written by our beautiful Tree House member Ellison Heil. Our hearts go out to him as he assimilates his experience in Nepal.
At first I thought a car had crashed. Some of the tractors and motorcycles here have really loud engines… maybe that’s it.
Then people in the street started staring at the sky. It’s a plane crash! Shit, a plane has crashed.
But then the shaking continued, and the staff of the cafe I was working in all sprinted out the door. I bundled my belongings in my arms and followed in a pathetic limping jog on my unhealed ankle. We reached the street just as the entire city began to rumble.
This all occurred over about 3.5 seconds. I had just finished a phone conversation with my sister Erika, during which I unloaded my surmounting “boredom” with sitting alone in Pokhara waiting for my contacts at nearby coffee farms to get back to me. “Boredom,” eh? That’s some cruel irony.
The shaking continued for a few minutes, but nothing directly around me collapsed. I…
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Major update 101.
We’re back with some sustainably produced news.
First thing’s first. Shout out to Ellison who was forced to return home from Nepal a month early. He has been writing some beautiful blog posts on his experience you should check out. Here is a way you can help Nepal recover from the earthquake. We’re proud of what he’s doing to help, but are sad that there was such devastation.
This is a good segway into my discussion on combatting nihilism.
Neshama and I, both ENACT board and Tree House members felt it creep when we went for a sunrise hike at Bake Oven Knob a day after planting our beautiful Community and Permaculture Gardens to flourish and thrive. When we saw garbage lining the trails by the bagful and graffiti all over the magnficent cliffs overlooking miles of, from afar, seemingly unadulterated farmland, we cringed and sighed.
But we picked up the trash we could along the trail while discussing the difference between destructive and creative graffiti. We smelled the pine needles, felt the rocks solid beneath our feet, and when the time came lay belly first on the graffitti adorned cliffs to watch, in awe, the sun rise over wide open fields and rolling hills.
Neshama and I both derive so much of our energy and motivation from scenes like this. We can soak up our energy for the week or month just taking in the beauty and calm of one uninterrupted natural thing. But natural things are not often uninterrupted.
The two of us combatted a girl’s cursing and emphatic discussion of movies during the sunrise. All of her friends were trying to watch the sunrise but she was just talking and talking. I shifted between complacent, to curious, to furious, to understanding. The reason I became furious was because she was interrupting my sunrise. But then I understood that it wasn’t my sunrise. Everyone sees it differently. Nature is naturally interrupted whenever a human is around.
I have taken the philosophies of Leave No Trace to heart, and I believe part of this trace can be speech that writes over a landscape. The girl speaking during the sunrise, refusing to truly watch it, made me feel a sense of hopelessness. What have we done that we can no longer quietly admire a sunrise? Neshama later agreed with me that it was annoying, but also reminded me that it was not for me to decide the correct way of admiring a sunrise.
Just a week earlier, as the Muhlenberg sustainable community flooded into our house on Earth Day, I felt totally affirmed in my Tree House Life. As we prepared vegan, organic pizzas, played guitar and watched a documentary on urban farming & gardening, I looked around me to see people with like minds and souls. As Berg Bikes launches once again with a somewhat shaky start (a bike stolen, bikes needing repairs, not too many participants), we become, as a club, invigorated by our community and the bond we share.
One of these invigorating moments for me as Community Garden President was the garden planting, a long process of defining beds (which K. Heiman’s classes kindly took care of), weeding (careful not to pull out any asparagus), spreading compost (some from our own compost bins!), and finally, planting the wide variety of seeds. Now we have cool varieties of foods like cosmic purple carrots, rocket arugula and pear tomatoes. We also planted some crowd favorites, with input from the community, like sweet corn, brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli. If you know the name of the veggie, there’s a 75% chance we have it (rough statistics).
There’s nothing sweeter then watering the seeds for the first time. The feeling of the water spraying and the look of the ground as it darkens and cools with every drop is overwhelming. I am excited for the sunflowers, the premise of home grown salads, the possibility of more dinners to come when we can bring the community together. There is also the possibility that the Best Buddies program will do a harvesting day in the fall, which is super exciting.
On another exciting note (a few weeks late, but late with enthusiasm!) Earth Day was a huge success! We had a pesto station, a little clothing rack, the blender bike, plant your own veggie with Community Garden club, and student poster presentations. Then we were lucky enough to have Eco comedian Peter Toscano come perform.
ENACT board had the opportunity to dine with Toscano, and I am not exaggerating when I call him a genius. He’s writing an historical fiction book about the resurrection of Jesus from the perspective of Jesus’ sister. It was so much fun nerding out with him! We also talked a ton about sustainability. But I digress.
For now I care for the plants until Thursday, when we will say goodbye for the summer.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Tree Hugger, Rebecca
(ps. kicking trees is a great way to relieve finals tension!)
Getting back into the swing of things on campus we teamed up with ENACT to bring all of the sustainably minded people at Muhlenberg together for one fun night of organic, vegan wraps and other yummy foods. As the garden is covered in some inches of snow at the moment, we decided to take the festivities indoors. Before we knew it, double the amount of people we were expecting were sitting in a massage circle laughing and talking. We even got a surprise visit from Professor Turk and her lovely family. She brought delicious quinoa and cookies! We then took a group trip to the compost cages with the waste we generated during cooking and looked at the fantastic full moon. Janki, a sustainably minded freshman, also brought smoothies. Later, we played cards against humanity as a group, jammed out on guitar, and ate vegan desert that we baked together.
Sustainable living is about bringing together communities and using less energy to feed people. The dinner’s title, Date Your Mother (Earth) was about the idea of reconnecting to the Earth. The only phones that were out were ones used to take pictures of each other and our silly food faces, but we all took the time to connect to each other.
Peace & All of the Tree Hugging Love,
Rebecca & Neshama
Special shout out to Senior, Sarah for promising to read this blog.
Welcome back everyone! I am writing to you from the new and improved Tree House, decked out in double the rags to replace paper towels, which I found conveniently stacked in my home basement. Not only does the addition of these rags mean less waste, but it also means less wash, because we can rotate the dirty ones out and wait until the second batch gets dirty before each wash.
More excitingly, the magnificent Environmental Science major Neshama Sonnenschein has joined the Tree House. Sadly this means that Ellison Hale, our Head of State, is now packing for Nepal along with Christian, his Secretary of State. They are in for a semester of peaceful environmental/ justice focused adventures. Neshama has gone on many adventures of her own in Australia, which I’m sure she’ll update you on in her coming post. Ps. they include Kangas! Ay mate.
Neshama and I both purchased the lowest meal plan this semester because of how far we are from the dining hall (the opposite side of our campus which is the size of a pin box). To make up for our lack of opportunities to attain pre-made food, we decided we are going to cook more. For this task I will be relying pretty much solely on my Kosher by Design cookbook that my dad’s girlfriend sent me along with packs of vegetable bullion. Right now the only extant food we have in the garden is our Jerusalem artichoke plant, which withstands the cold of winter underground. Sometimes I wish I could also withstand the cold of winter underground.
So my plan is to harvest the rest of the artichokes, a root veggie that behaves much like a potato but has a bit of a bitterer taste. Then I will make half of them into soup and roast the rest of them with rosemary and thyme (and maybe parsley and sage just to complete the song). I anticipate that using the oven will come as achallenge, but I’m all about challenges. Some would say that the fact I have a hard time using an oven makes me challenged.
Neshama hopefully will have some insight into this. Of course we will have to supplement our ingredients (we can’t only eat Jerusalem artichokes). I like to shop for about 90% of my stuff at the farmer’s market mostly because I like supporting small farms. It is located conveniently just blocks away from the house.
Some very exciting news to wrap up. The Tree House and Community Garden house will be holding an open house this Friday Jan 23 from 4:30-6. Hope to see you there! We will keep you posted on activity in the garden and other sustainability events. As a new member of the ENACT board, I hope to bring in more interest for the garden and other sustainability efforts involving planting and harvesting. Meanwhile I’m going to drink some tea and otherwise stay warm.
Don’t slip on the ice!
Your friendly neighborhood tree hugger,
Last Thursday as a part of my Sustainable Solutions course here at Muhlenberg, we installed a new composting system into the community garden. Below is some information on composting as well as photos taken during the installation. Shoutout to Nicole and Alex for being apart of a Killer Kompost Team
It is common knowledge that compost is used to enhance plant growth, whether it be for a small backyard garden or a local organic farm. In scientific terms, composting involves the natural decomposition of unconsumed organic waste, which is altered into nutrients to be consumed by plant life. In regards to organic agriculture and recreational gardening, compost is used to give plants additional nutrients to enhance growth and fruit production, and outpace the growth of weeds.
But how is compost done? Three key ingredients are needed:
- Container: The compost needs to be in a container while it is undergoing decomposition, as it can be severely diluted during harsh weather, and also helps save space by condensing the compost into a smaller area. The container can be in the form of a garbage container with drilled holes, a wire bin, a rotating bin called a “tumbler”, and others.
- Uneaten organic matter: This should not include any meats, fish, or oils. These substances can attract unwanted critters such as raccoons or bears.
- Soil: This must be mixed in with the organic matter, as it contains the microorganisms necessary to catalyze the composting process.
The entire process is catalyzed by microorganisms feeding on organic matter, which can range from apple cores, to shredded newspaper, to wood chips. These microorganisms consume water, oxygen, and the organic matter in a process called respiration. During respiration these organisms create a material called humus, which is rich in carbon and inorganic nutrients. These nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, which are key to the growth and health of plant life.
But during this process, it is essential that the compost is turned and lightly watered on a regular basis, have only small pieces of organic matter, and adding a small portion of soil with each new organic waste ingredient. Turning the compost and lightly watering it give the microorganisms responsible for the breakdown process given oxygen and water, key ingredients for respiration. Having small pieces of organic matter as opposed to larger ones hastens decomposition, as microorganisms can consume smaller pieces faster. Finally, adding a small portion of soil after each new piece of organic waste ensures that there is enough medium to hold the nutrients produced from the decayed organic matter.
Living in the Treehouse, I am reminded every day to make choices that will take care of the Earth, and therefore all its inhabitants. My values are reinforced by the Treehouse’s goal to pick paths that are low-impact (or have no impact at all). Yes, my personal experience is important because I can be an ambassador for these goals, but I’d like this post to focus on the Treehouse’s bigger radius of change on campus.
This may sound silly, but I think that the sheer presence of the Treehouse is important and impactful on the college community and possibly even Allentown itself. When I spoke to friends, professors, or peers about where I live, I often received positive curiosity about the house. These conversations spark questions about what the house has to offer and plants a seed in these people’s minds about there own attitudes toward sustainable living. All in a two minute conversation! The presence of the Treehouse and the Garden House on campus are becoming more familiar to the college. As this awareness increases, so does awareness about sustainable practices. Telling others that I live in the Treehouse gives me opportunities to speak to them about the projects we have in motion: the solar panels, permaculture, native plants, gardening opportunities, etc. Sustainable living has a concrete mascot, an object that people can point to as an example: our house!
Overall, I am proud to be an ambassador for the goals of our house. I look forward to seeing how the Treehouse’s presence will expand over the school year.