Naomi Neal, Kathryn Stresak, Dorian Gomberg, Ed Vlcek, and Brad Krautwurst are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Internship/Mentorship (SIM) Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experiences.
This week I continued my desk-based work for the Tryon Farm Institute, but incorporated much more agriculture into my daily routine. My week began on Tuesday, when I arrived at the Farm, pumpkin seeds in hand, ready to plant a second, larger pumpkin patch on the TFI land at the back of the large open field which greets visitors to the Farm. I'd already planted a smaller patch near the barn, on non-TFI land, last May, and the sprouts are getting impressive--at least, to my untrained eye:
On Tuesday, I planted nine beds in the field in question, of two different varieties. In the interest of experimentation, I planted the largest of these beds right at the treeline where the fields meet the woods, in a spot with more available groundwater but less exposure to sunlight. We'll see how it goes, and hopefully the results will be useful to future Tryon pumpkin gardeners. One of the (apparently very obvious but revelatory to me) things I've learned about gardening so far is that it's important to cover fresh plantings with straw, in order to discourage birds from eating the seeds and to retain water. Another of these little lessons has been that "straw" is an entirely different substance from "hay." Who knew? Not this suburban-grown, soon-to-be college graduate. Anyway, we grow hay at Tryon, and this week it was harvested. My boss had me take some photos for publicity purposes:
If it seems like I'm taking a long time in coming to my point, that's because it's an embarrassing one: I covered my new pumpkin beds with hay. Not straw--the hollow, water-wicking stuff--but hay. Here's a photo to document my foolishness:
See that? Hay. Darn. A cursory Googling suggests that this isn't much of a problem, but that won't keep me from feeling a small bit embarrassed. Still, I'm glad to be learning new things. I am incredibly grateful for and satisfied with my Shimer education, but there's something about learning from practical mistakes (like the hay v. straw debacle) which can be more fulfilling than learning from intellectual mistakes (i.e., even though I've read all of the Phenomenology of Spirit and have discussed the lord-bondsman dialectic in several classes, a small part of me will always cling to the idea that the lord and bondsman are two parts of the same consciousness, which I thought the first time I read it). This isn't to say that what I've learned at Shimer hasn't given me strategies with which to face life difficulties, big and small--but only that, sometimes, it's nice to learn these shortcuts for making practical decisions. It's reassuring to have both knowledge and the tools for seeking it.
Another big gardening to-do this week was my work with the Pollinator Hill. Last Sunday, while I was in Chicago, Tryon volunteers planted a hill on the property with various native seedlings, the blend of which was specifically chosen to encourage pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds to visit and pollinate the garden. To be clear, when I say "hill," here, I mean "mound," but I'm adopting the vocabulary already in use. I think the hill/mound distinction changes somewhere between California and the Midwest.
The first challenge of the Pollinator Hill project was the problem of watering it. Someone--I can't remember who--told me this week that the soil of the hill is the material which was removed, years ago, from some of the property's swampland in order to create an artificial lake. Based on the consistency of the soil, that makes a lot of sense. The earth is fine and silty, and when my boss and I first hooked up the elaborate, three-hundred-foot system of hoses to water the garden, the water permeated only the topmost layer and then drooled down the sides, leaving the seedlings' roots as dry as ever. Through trial and error, I developed a watering technique that allowed me to give the plants water without losing too much topsoil. Here's a close-up of a part of the hill from Thursday morning:
The date is important, because that afternoon I came up against a more difficult Pollinator Hill challenge: to plant wildflower seeds between the seedlings and then cover the lot with straw (not hay). This posed some difficulty for a few reasons: the soil was hot, and already dry even though I'd watered for almost an hour that morning. When I tried to wet it, the water would evaporate out of the soil too quickly for me to get much done, so I had to work in patches--which, to my mind, is a little like writing, editing, and perfecting each paragraph of an essay in order, without having the full scope already laid out. The seeds were difficult to spread and the planting instructions were woefully unclear, and I was barefoot the whole time, stepping over thorns, rocks, and twigs (having learned already the inadvisability of walking around on the pollinator hill unless prepared for mud-soaked shoes). Most importantly, I had to be certain to avoid trampling, or smothering with straw, the hundred-odd tiny seedlings scattered all over the hill.
The main reason to mention all these difficulties is to make my success seem like a big deal, I suppose. I think I did a pretty good job. I may not have spread the wildflower seed as evenly as I would have liked, but the Pollinator Hill is a multi-year project, and what doesn't bloom this year probably will next year. Here's an "after" shot:
My reading has fallen even further behind this week. I did finally finish War and Peace this week, but got very little else done, and I know exactly who the culprit is: my laptop. I didn't bring it the first week in order to cloister myself with my books, but now that I know I'll need it for TFI work, it's on constantly. In preparation for Oxford, I've been trying to be more self-disciplined. I think, this week, I'll try my hand at self-binding behavioral conditioning--i.e., I'll leave my laptop at the office every night to place the temptation entirely out of reach. I'll let you know how it goes.
In conclusion, please remember to check out the events TFI is putting on this weekend (June 22nd and 23rd) for National Pollinator Week at TFInstitute.org, and enjoy this photo of the birds' nest which appeared this week in the planter box right outside the front door of Ed and Eve Noonan's house at Tryon: