Preserving Old Varieties

My local paper, the Darlington New & Press, features a number of editorial writers typical of the kind that get gigs writing human interest pieces for tiny small town papers:  local pastors writing brief devotionals; a guy griping about the things we all gripe about; an astronomer.  They all write in a similar, mildly folksy manner, which I’m sure appeals to the more advanced age of the paper’s readership.

One of their writers, Tom Poland, wrote a fascinating piece last week about rare heirloom vegetables, “Long-lost treasures and heirloom seeds.”  The piece tracks down the Bradford Watermelon, a watermelon variety thought to be extinct, but which survived on the land Nat Bradford inherited from his family.  The watermelon variety dwindled in popularity in spite of its sweet, superior flavor because the rind was too thin to survive bulk shipping.

After years of research into arcane newspaper clippings and agricultural history, Bradford discovered that the melons growing on his ancestral farm are, indeed, the legendary Bradford Watermelons.

To quote Poland quoting Bradford:

In Nat’s words, “The greatest watermelon to have come from the great age of watermelon breeding fell out of cultivation. Lost to the world, the melon lived on in the Bradford family farm fields. The last seeds on the planet of this wonderful melon were in a couple of mason jars.”

What a remarkable legacy—and a fortuitous one.  Heirloom varieties of many plants are enjoying increased interest lately as part of the current homesteading movement, as these varieties are often tastier than their supermarket, genetically-modified alternatives.

I suspect, too, that there is a certain joy in knowing that by planting these forgotten seeds, you are directly contributing to the survival of a variety.  There is a link to the past, and the agricultural experiments of our forebears.

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TBT: Island Living

Whenever the weight of the world—work, politics, etc.—gets to be too much, I’m tempted to retreat to a remote woodland cabin and live off the fat of the land, drinking chicory on cold mornings in a flannel shirt while stroking my rugged beard contemplatively.

That fantasy scenario ignores the fact that I know nothing about living “off the fat of the land,” and would likely die in two weeks without running water and a nearby grocery store.  But there is something appealing about unplugging from society and becoming self-sufficient.

Indeed, it’s little wonder that the modern homesteading movement has grown so large.  People are tired of unresponsive governments, woke corporations, tyrannical HR departments, and public scolds.  Why not buy a few acres in a red State and raise some chickens?

This throwback post, “Island Living,” details a couple in British Columbia who built their own island out of discarded lumber and such.  Talk about living the dream!

Here’s 21 July 2020’s “Island Living“:

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Gardening II: Late Winter Plantings

After what seemed like two weeks of rain, we finally had a warm, sunny weekend here in South Carolina, with temperatures in the upper-seventies and clear skies.  South Carolina tends to go directly from the depths of winter to a hot spring (or cool-ish summer), and this sudden leap in temperature and climate corresponded with a sudden change in mood.  Instead of bundling up sleepily watching horror movies, the warm weather inspired some spirited outings.

Aside from a rather adventurous, muddy trip to Lee State Park (more on that in tomorrow’s post), my girlfriend and I dedicated Sunday afternoon to doing some late winter plantings (in keeping with my desire to homestead more on my property).  Growing season for most garden-variety plants begins much earlier here in South Carolina than other parts of the country, so we took advantage of the warm water to pot some edible plants, and put two directly into the ground.

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TBT: Gardening

A post on gardening might be a strange pick for TBT in the dead of winter, but my mind has been on the topic more and more lately, both as a beautiful outdoor hobby and as a means of sustenance—even survival.  There’s also a spiritual element to feeling one’s own soil between one’s fingers.  I get a sense of deep satisfaction after pawing through the richness of my own land.

Perhaps I’m being overly Romantic, but planning and planting a garden is a wonderful experience.  I’m not very good at it, mind you (unlike my mother, who can make anything grow in any conditions, it seems), but I enjoy tackling the flower beds (just not enough to keep them free of weeds consistently).

As I noted Tuesday, I’ve become increasingly interested in investing in a solid cultivator and turning some my lawn into beds for vegetables.  A buddy of mine is keen on the idea, and has offered to help with his labor and some funds in exchange for a share of the crops (would that make him a sharecropper, essentially renting my land and giving me some of the fruits of his labor?).  I think it would be a fun, albeit time-consuming, project, but one worthwhile.

Another friend of mine has been slowly turning his postage stamp backyard into a thriving organic garden for years now.  He’s been growing without fertilizer so that the soil can build back up essential nutrients and fertility.  Apparently, fertilizer yields great resorts in the short-term, but it doesn’t help the soil replenish its fertility.  He’s taking the long, slow approach, but he’s gradually turning that Midlands Carolina clay into rich topsoil.

There’s so much I don’t know about this process, but at the same time, my thought is, “dig in.”  I already buried last year’s Jack O’Lanterns and seeds near my grapevines—why not?  Maybe I’ll get lucky and get some pumpkins.  Worst-case, my grapevines get some more nutrients.

Or it could all just be an expensive boondoggle.  We’ll see.  My results this past Labor Day weekend were pretty good, so I’m feeling optimistic.

With that, here is 2019’s “Gardening“:

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The Last Day of Freedom?

Here we are, 19 January 2021—the last day of basking in liberty before Biden the Usurper assumes the throne.  For all his personal foibles and occasional missed opportunities (while acknowledging, of course, his many achievements), President Trump at least fought to ensure that Americans could enjoy freedom and opportunity.  Under progressive rule, no such guarantees exist.

But rather than look about gloomily at what is to come, I’d like to offer some words of exhortation.  Times will not be easy for conservatives and Christians over the next four years, but I’m trying to embrace this new progressive era with some cautious, small-scale optimism.

For one, I think the whole sordid election fraud, as well as the bipartisan effort to impeach President Trump for—if we’re honest about it—discouraging violence and encouraging peaceful protest—has confirmed for many of us that the elites of both parties are against us.  As such, effecting change at the national level seems increasingly futile.

That might sound discouraging, but consider it from another angle:  if we can’t make much of a dent at the national level, then why waste the energy?  Instead, let’s focus our efforts locally.

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TBT: The Invasion and Alienation of the South

Sheldon_Church_2

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With the election still in the balance—it may be decided by the time you read this post—and two formerly conservative Southern States up for grabs, I thought it would be timely to revisit this piece, “The Invasion and Alienation of the South,” which looks at Leslie Alexander’s post “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  In that piece, Alexander writes about the hollow, joyless cosmopolitanism of living in Dallas—a stark contrast to the tight-knit cordiality and tradition of her native Louisiana.

While watching the election returns, it occurred to me that Georgia and North Carolina should not be risky toss-ups, and Virginia never should have been lost to hordes of Swamp People.  It’s an irony of history that Washington, D.C., was placed next to Virginia so the ornery planters, suspicious of federal power, could keep a closer eye on the national government.  Now, that bloated national government dominates politics in Virginia through its largess.

Meanwhile, transplants from up North have infested previously conservative States.  Charlotte, North Carolina has become a wretched hive of globalist scum and villainy.  During my online dating days, I would routinely get matched with babes from Charlotte; invariably, they were always from Ohio, or New York, or California—never actually true North Carolinians.

It’s one thing when local blacks vote Democratic.  Fine—we’re at least part of the same(-ish) Southern culture, and we’ll help each other out.  But then gentry white liberals start coming down here, ruining our politics and our cities.

Now, we live in a world in which Joe Biden might win Georgia, and North Carolina—NORTH CAROLINA—has become a nail-biter every four years.

Such is the price of our addiction to economic growth and convenience.  What we’ve gained in luxuries we have lost in heart.  We have paid for them with our souls.

Here is November 2019’s “The Invasion and Alienation of the South“:

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TBT: High-Tech Agrarianism

Lately I’ve been heavily focused on yard work, as my lawn and flower beds were resembling an abandoned lot more than a well-maintained lawn.  As such, I’ve had small-scale farming on the brain more lately, even though the only edibles I planted were one forlorn banana pepper plant and some oregano (although the celosia leaves are edible before the plants flower).

Naturally, my mind returned to this March 2020 essay, “High-Tech Agrarianism.”  It’s perhaps a testament to how much we have adjusted to The Age of The Virus that I did not go out and till my half-acre, instead letting it loose to its recent weedy state.

Reading over this essay, which I wrote in the week after South Carolina schools shut down, it’s interesting how much I’ve mellowed on The Virus.  I was skeptical of it beforehand, but when schools were shuttered for the last two months of the academic year, the sense that something big was wrong only grew.  The most remarkable aspect of The Virus is that, even with shutdowns, the economy kept going, and there’s not the same sense of depressing listlessness that reigned during the Great Recession.

Of course, the economic fallout may very well be delayed, and I’m in a much better position financially and professionally this time around than I was in 2009.  The government distributing $1200 checks and propping up businesses probably smoothed out the economic disruption a bit, too.

It’s also interesting that other than wearing masks and sanitizing ourselves and our things constantly, life seems to be marching on more normally.  The True Believers in The Virus scold large gatherings, but people want to be together.  We can limit crowds only so much—people are going to congregate.

The Age of The Virus aside, the idea of tilling suburban and small town acreage is a prudent, if difficult, job.  I still maintain it’s a better use of land than a lawn.  Instead of mowing and edging, put that effort towards watering, weeding, and fertilizing.  Crops look good—and taste good, too.

That last paragraph probably highlights my ignorance about agriculture—something I’m working on as I flirt more and more with the idea of converting my yard into arable square feet.  We’ll see where I am in another six months.

Here’s “High-Tech Agrarianism“:

The coronavirus situation—which I am convinced is both quite serious, but also inspiring some huge overreactions—has created a world that feels almost entirely different than it did even a few days ago.  This time last week, I was convinced that the whole thing was way overblown, and that life would largely continue apace, minus some school closures here and there.

By Friday evening I was growing more concerned, as everything began to get closed or cancelled.  I proctored the SAT Saturday morning and even went out of town that evening.  At that point, I thought the risk of my school closing was greater than it had been even two or three days before, but I still figured it was a relatively remote possibility.

Then Governor McMaster announced the closure of all South Carolina public schools (I teach at a private school, but we always follow gubernatorial closures)—and a bunch of other stuff shut down.  I picked up dinner at a Hardee’s in Florence, South Carolina Monday evening after a guitar lesson, and it was surreal—everything was gone from the front, and the cashier had to give me a lid and straw according to their new cleanliness guidelines.

(Let’s take a moment to thank all those service industry folks and long-distance truckers who are continuing to work and risking exposure; they are unsung heroes.  Also, spare a thought to people in those industries that are out-of-work at the moment.  They need our love and charity now more than ever.)

That’s all to say that, in a remarkably short period of time, the United States has undergone a major paradigm shift.  The world of Saturday, 14 March 2020 at 2 PM—when I emerged from the cocoon of extended time SAT testing—was a different than the world of Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 9 PM (when I’m writing this very belated blog post).

One trend—that I think will be positive if it endures—is the implicit rejection of globalism.  People are suddenly awakening, dramatically, to the manifold downsides of open borders and excessive global economic integration.  Suddenly, localism is back in vogue.

One of my musician friends, a bit of a Sandersnista hippie-dippie type (but attractive enough to get away with it) has been posting Left-leaning memes consistently throughout this crisis.  But one meme caught my eye:

Grandma - Local Supply Chain

Here’s good ol’ Granny tending her garden.  The meme is right:  I know from family lore that my Mamaw and Papaw fed themselves, their children, and a lot of other folks in the mountains of southwestern Virginia during the Depression with chickens and crops they raised themselves.

That got me thinking:  could America see the return of widespread of homesteading, or some modern-day version of Jeffersonian agrarianism?

I was pondering this question on my way to church tonight (yes, yes, social distancing, etc., but it’s a small church, and we had a very small turnout, so I’m sure it was fine to attend), driving through the fields on the outskirts of Lamar.  I began pondering the notion of a society with our level of information technology, but that saw most Americans farming or gardening for at least a small bit of their sustenance.

Such a system would be “high-tech agrarianism”—it would combine modern technology, especially information technology like the Internet, with millions of freehold agriculturalists.  Yes, we’d still have the huge mega-farms, we’d have people working in offices, etc.  But people would be making good use of their land, too, growing crops instead of grass.

Of course, I then began to ponder if such a society could have ever developed organically.  My instinct is no—it required the massive integration of local, regional, and national economies to raise production efficiency to the point that we can have widespread, niche-y specialization in tens of thousands of fields.  Greater efficiency fed into greater technological advancement, which in turn led to greater efficiency—and on and on and on, in a revving upward cycle.

But now we’re staring down this virus, which is leading governments all over the world to close stores, cancel events, lay off workers, turn away elderly patients, and on and on.  Those long, efficient supply chains are massively disrupted.  People are hoarding toilet paper and bread in the hopes of riding out likely (and, in some places, actual) quarantines.

I’m assuming life will return to normal… eventually.  But when?  So far, many of my assumptions about the pandemic have been incorrect (it turns out this time, the media wasn’t just crying wolf—well, not entirely, anyway; it still seems that some of this panicked response is driven by ridiculous media spin and speculation).  If we continue down this road of greater and greater decentralized isolation, people are either going to riot, or figure out how to provide for themselves.

In such a world, maybe high technology and small-scale farming could work keyboard-in-glove.  I’ve long advocated for some return to a simpler, more agrarian, more localized life.

Of course, I’m romanticizing America’s Jeffersonian past.  Farming is hard—and risky (of course, that hardness made our nation great).  I certainly don’t know anything about it—another truth to the meme above.  Also, if we’d continued as a mostly farming nation, we wouldn’t have the means to fight this virus, or to figure out how to fight it.

That said, converting your half-acre lawn into a garden full of corn, squash, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, beans, berry bushes, etc., seems like a far more productive use of your little plot of land, and one that could save your life and the lives of others in a pinch.  That seems sensible.

We could also do with some can-do gumption, like Granny had.

Home Depot is operating on shortened hours, but they’re remaining open.  Maybe now is the time to buy a roto-tiller.

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Lazy Sunday LXXVII: Rural America

After a week of incredibly hot weather here in South Carolina, Saturday brought a blessed drop in both the temperature and humidity—a foretaste of autumn.  My girlfriend and I spent Saturday weeding my disgracefully overgrown flower beds, which were mostly weeds strangling the life out of everything but the hardiest of perennials (and my robust banana trees).  We then did some new plantings (with a few more to put in, as well as some mulch).  The results were pretty good:

Lamar House - After Planting, 5 September 2020

It felt good to get our hands (and clothes, and faces) dirty, digging through the dirt and nurturing plant life.  My mother is an expert gardener, so I’ve picked up a few simple techniques from her; otherwise, we just bought flowers we liked and plopped ’em in with some in-ground bedding soil and a some water.  Fingers crossed that everything survives.

My mind has been on the soil lately, and our connection to it.  I have a fondness—perhaps a tad romantic—for country life.  With current trends in the cities—rising home prices, rising property taxes, and rising urban violence—country life seems like an attractive, even inevitable, alternative.

As such, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Lazy Sunday to some pieces about rural America:

  • TBT: Rustics Have Opinions, Too” – This piece dates way back 2009, when the blog was in its first iteration on Blogger, and I was still enthralled with “Randian-libertarian economic” philosophy.  Such are the follies of youth.  However, I did notice even then the deep disdain of limousine liberals for the rest of us here in “flyover country,” a disdain that, at least in part, accounts for the TEA Party movement and the Trumpian revolt of 2016.
  • High-Tech Agrarianism” – When The Virus hit, people were in a tizzy about having enough toilet paper and food.  People gained a renewed interest in gardening as a source of sustenance, not just beauty.  In this post, I mused about a possible return to small-scale homesteading, coupled with our advanced information technology.  Essentially, I posited a world in which people still work, albeit increasingly from home and on more flexible hours, and can use their time to tend to small crops to supplement their diets.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: The Future is Rural” – One of two recent posts on the lure of rural America and small town life, I argue here that life in the country offers many attractive incentives for working families.  Not only are cities pushing people away with high prices and crime; the country is ready to take in telecommuters who earn good money but want a low cost of living in a safe, healthy environment.
  • SubscribeStar Saturday: Small Town Natalism” – The second post in my Saturday series about small town and rural living, this post is a preliminary sketch of a policy proposal:  applying nationalistic, pro-birth natalist policies to the small town context.  Instead of wasting money on seldom-used public facilities, local governments could offer a stipend to married families with children to encourage increased birth rates.  That would grow towns organically and attract new residents, thereby broadening the tax bases in often distressed rural areas.

That’s it for this week.  The garden is calling to me.  Time to put down some mulch!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Island Living

Hippies are annoying and filthy creatures, but you’ve got to hand it to them:  behind all the patchouli and Grateful Dead bootlegs, they’re a resourceful lot.

A Canadian couple in British Columbia, Catherine King and Wayne Adams, have been living for nearly three decades on a floating, man-made island off the western coast of Vancouver.  Like good hippies, they built the island—which weighs over one million pounds—from recycled materials, mostly lumber.  In a particularly Boomer hippie detail, Adams would trade artwork to fishermen for scraps of lumber and other cast-offs.

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