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Diary of a Worm’s Life in a Home “Growing Power” Box and Garden

PLEASE NOTE: The articles archived here were originally posted to the online community resource; many internal textual and hyper-textual references to that site remain as written.

GP Box 11/19/06

Garden 07/02/06


May 31, 2007 Bigger and Clearer



Big is not always better. But dealing with compost piles bigger is better. Today I doubled the size of Miss Dawn’s compost pile. I did not double the amount of compost, which will be left to Godsil and others to do, but doubled the size of the chicken wired area. Now we can make more homemade soil for future growing power gardens in her yard and nearby vacant lot.

When I was spreading out the present pile I noticed that the bottom of the pile had cooked nicely and almost ready for a worm condo. We are looking for someone to build a worm condo on her land so we can begin develop making castings. We can get the worms from Growing Power and use the compost and castings, if not this year, next year, when we explain the garden to her nearby vacant lot. Growing soil and casting takes about one season for the next. My home garden is benefiting from the compost and castings of last season. The more the better.

Speaking of worm condos and castings, my worm condo seems to be working extremely fast this year. The compost is black from the worms casting off. I think this is partially due to the fact that the compost was really cooked when I started and the amount of worms that I moved from the GP box to the condo was greater this year than last. I will need to check with Growing Power about how to judge when the box is done and it is time to remove the worms. I know it is too soon now but since worms do not eat their own castings and I am not feeding them more rough compost, I do not want to wait till it is too late.

My commitment to add on to the G.R.A,F. How To site has not been realized. I just have two sections. The one I need to write soon is to be called “the same old, same old” it taught about how all the ways of growing power are connected.

I highly encourage any of you reading this web site that live in Wisconsin to check the update on Mothers Against Gun Violence? web site. This issue of background checks for transfer of handguns is a common sense one but it becoming politicized and bringing up other issues of discrimination and individualism by the efforts of the NRA to defeat the bill.

Actually the NRA is doing those of us concerned about justice and human dignity a favor by bringing so many unrelated issues into this common sense bill. At the hearing most of the NRA persons were old (about my age) white guys. Senator Coggs was happy to see this old grey haired white guy testify in support of the bill. In my opinion the old “white guys” are afraid of loosing their power and control.

One of the organizers for Campaign Against Violence, a young African American male, sent me this video clip from the Fox News channel where one of the old “white guys” admits his fear of loosing control of the agenda to ‘people of color.’ . My friend seem surprised from the openness of the remarks. I was glad to see it. It is the discrimination that I described in my essayThe Sweet Waters of Discriminaton In Milwaukee, the subtle indirect type, that I most fear. Open discrimination these days is a breath of fresh air.

At the hearing there was a lot of direct and indirect discrimination. I am in the process of writing an essay for the May issue of Living Stones reflecting on the hearing. I am modeling it after the meditation on Two Leaders and Two Strategies in the second week of the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola. When the choices are clearer, like between fear or compassionate, love or hate it is easier to make a choice. Indifference that happens when the choices are not clear is the difficult thing to deal with.

It is like the situation with the castings in the worm condo. When obviously it is full of rough compost or it is clear that it is full of casting, the choice of what to do is clear. It is that in between times when the choice is difficult. However, I cannot afford to be indifferent to the situation so I need to clarify it and make a choice of what to do.

So the lesson of life from the garden today are that bigger can be better and openness and honesty helps make for clear choices. What we need is bigger and clearer choices to make the garden of life easier.

May 30, 2007 Go with the Flow

Today they said there was an air warning. The warm hazy humid air was not safe. Many persons drink bottle water thinking it is safer and healthier. I have a problem with purchasing bottled water since there is so much energy consumed in producing the plastic bottle. Also why should we pay more than our water bill for water? Someone sent me an email today about the price of gas saying that a 9 oz. bottle of Evian water cost $1. 49, which means it, cost $21.19 a gallon. And who knows the source of the water in bottled water? Now with our air and water polluted we all know how unsafe our soil is becoming as toxic chemicals and trash are being poured into it.

My son really likes bottled water, I think more for the convenience of the water. He asked me to purchased bottled water on my shopping trips. Today I did but I also purchased a water purifier and a plastic bottle that is reusable. I will purify the tap water and put it into the plastic bottle for him, at least for a while. (The bottle is green.) The bottle also has an insert in it that can come off and be frozen, thus keeping the cold water even colder. It will not be as convenient as purchasing bottled water but once he gets into the system he can drink purified Milwaukee Tap water, which is good anyway, in a bottle that keeps it cold, thus avoiding him always opening the freezer for ice.

With all these natural things, earth, water and air being polluted and needing to be safe, I appreciate the GP method of gardening even more. I noticed some plants grow well in the homemade soil and some not so well. But part of that is the mix of soil, compost, castings and coir, than the actual soil. Also I need to water it, if not with ‘tea’, with water and to keep it in the sun or shade according to the plants need. But I am working with nature to enhance growth, not forcing it or working against it. I can work in balance with nature, watering when it does not rain, not watering it when it rains.

Working this way, in harmony with nature, there is no pollution of air, water and soil. You just go with the flow of nature and it all works out to be well in the long run.

Now only if human activities could be like this!

May 29, 2007 Nonviolence and Growing Power Come Together

Three Mothers, Co founders of Mothers Against
Gun Vilolence Testifying at the Hearing

Today my son’s friend, Loren, the same person who built my GP box in the sunroom and my worm condo outside insulated below the floor of the sunroom. There was some insulation there and a little crawl space. However, the floor is a great source of heat lost in the winter. Fighting off a few chip monks Loren was able to insulate below the sunroom well. The real results should show up next winter when I need the electric heater less.

One of the chipmunks, the same suspicions characters who I think are eating my strawberries before they become red, got loose in the house when Loren was not watching. My son trapped him in his bathroom upstairs and was able to chase him downstairs and out the side door. A nonviolent ending to the story.

The other major happening of the day involved Mothers Against Gun Violence. This morning I attended the prayer vigils for the last three homicide victims in the city and this afternoon I attended the state public hearing on The Responsible Gun Bill. If you read and understand the gun bill you probably will see it as closing a loophole in the present State law regarding background check for the purchase of handguns. My wife says it is a no-brainer, common sense change in present law. However, not according to National Rife Association (NRA). They showed up in force today in opposition to this minor change in the law. Despite how many times the Mothers Against Gun Violence said and demonstrated that this was not a “gun control bill’ they kept calling it one. They misrepresented so many of the facts and figures on gun violence and keep repeating them repeatedly. In my testimony I said they were acting like President Bush who kept saying 9/11 and Iraq repeatedly in the same sentence till many people thought that Iraq was involved in 9/11. I pointed out repeating something over and over again did not make it true. However, there is no reasoning with NRA persons. I suppose they can say the same about me but the difference is that in this case I have walked the walk, been at the prayer vigils, know the Mothers Against Gun Violence and read the law. They use the “same old, same old” and I am not referring to compost. On the mothers site you will see some images of today’s hearings and you can read the law for yourself. I felt like saying to NRA persons “Be Not Afraid.” as they kept saying this was the first step in taking away all their guns and that answer was to get more guns out in pubic, to keep criminals in prison for life and the such.

With this hearing today besides the insulation of the sunroom floor became the main Growing Power event of the day. The only thing I did in the garden was to water it since we cannot count on those rainstorms they keep saying might happen.

Today connection between Creative Nonviolence and Growing Power, the foci in my work, became clearer. Creative nonviolence like GP home gardening is active not passive. It takes work. However, you need in both to stay focused on the goal, stopping violence or growing renewal able affordable food and not be distracted by false representation of facts or minor issues. And most important of all both have the dignity of human beings and the common good as their end, not individualism or fear as with the opposition of The Responsible Gun Bill or growing at any cost, even destruction to the environment as with some forms of growing. With these two central holistic realities, growing power and creative nonviolence, we can go a long way toward a just and peaceful world.

May 28, 2007 Remembering

This week I was reading an article in the National Catholic Reporter about how soldiers returning from the Iraq war with mental health issues are being neglected. Also I read in the newspaper today back how one of the Presidential candidates, Barack Obama was calling for mental health treatment for our men and women in the armed forces. Persons with a mental health illness are neglected throughout our society where there is no parity even in health insurance between a mental health illness and other illnesses. Hopefully in remembering veterans with this illness we will remember the many others that suffer from this disease.

Tonight I got a chance to show off my GP home model garden to my friend from Mothers Against Gun Violence. As we were eating dinner in our sunroom overlooking the garden she commented on the peace and quiet of our neighborhood. There were no gunshots, sirens or other street noises. This is something we take for granted. I remembered back to my childhood going to sleep in a house on a busy bus route and taking the noise for granted after awhile.

She was impressed by my little garden which raised her hope that we can do something in her little backyard. She is plagued with many illnesses, one of which is caused by dirt. Therefore she is not supposed to work in a garden but today just had to, according to her, to plant some rose bushes. I asked her why her granddaughters, who were over visiting today, did not help her. She said howe, unlike our generation, the young generation do not expect to work with the ground and get dirty. I hope my grandchildren, living in the country, do not develop this way of thinking as many city youth do. One thing, we may accomplish with the movement for community GP gardens is to get more youth involved working with soil. I know that Will Allen developed Growing Power with inner city youth so I have great hope this can happen.

I think it is up to our generation, the new elders or the grandpas and grandmas, to pass on to youth the joy of working with the soil. My children’s generation, were raised in a very urban environment. We had moved from an agriculture to an urban society and experiencing the country was an unusual experience for them. Now are lowing moving somewhere in between – to an urban agriculture society, at least I hope we are.

Vertical Grower GRAF

So Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF becomes even more important in bringing the wonders of the GP method of growing, the “same old, same old’, to urban home and garden. Speaking of GRAF a friend in the movement sent me today an Internet catalog of home and garden devices that can be purchased to extend growing seasons in gardens. I responded to him reminding him that the page of GRAF System Components features two products for purchase that were designed by Andor and are for sale. I was the first purchasers of these products and am now growing with them.

It is sad we cannot remember some of our mistakes from the past, especially the last time we tried to occupy a country and control its destiny, Vietnam. With that memory active we might not have been in such a mess as we are today in Iraq. “When will we ever learn?”

May 27, 2007 What’s Up Front?

Today my wife cleaned up the bed of flowers and bushes in front of the house. It took careful picking of grass and weeds in the bed to get it clean. I call the front of house, lawn and flower area “her area”. I cut the grass but she does the trimming and rest. To tell the truth, if it was up to me, I would dig up all the grass and make the front a growing power garden of flowers, bushes and sustainable plants. Actually a number of people have transformed their front lawns into flower areas including one of neighbors across the street. However, I am not quite ready to do this yet and certainly my wife is not ready for me to do this at this time. To let it grow “natural” would not cost much but to do what my neighborhor has done would cost time and money. Lawns are definitively inventions of man not created like flowers and vegetable gardens.

In our culture keeping the lawn cut and clean is important and the neighborhoods would not like it if we let it go. Lawns are like the looks of persons, they are often used to judge persons or homeowners. They are like the “first impression’ of the inside of the house.

Now I am free to create and grow in the backyard, especially since the person before us put up a high fence around the backyard for privacy. The two-neighboring houses on the right do not have fences between their backyards and their children are free to go back and forth. My neighbors on the other side do not like the fence but cannot do much about it since it is on my land. The fence in the back of lot is one we all appreciate since it blocks out a mess and dumping grounds that is behind our house.

Fences can be good or bad in the home growing power model. I heard about a form of growing tomatoes and other plants from baskets handing down from a fence. I have not had time to work with it yet but it remains another idea of how to maximize growing space.

Actually as my garden greens and the flowers blossom it became as a quiet place of beauty and food. In this respect the fence helps to shut off the clutter of the outside. Also the fence makes a good place for vines to grow over. I am particularly fond of the grape leave vines, ones without grapes, that grow over the fence from my neighbors. If you have not read in these postings about the family Lebanese tradition of picking this common leaves for eating “grape Leaves” you will soon. June is prime grape leave picking season. Grape leave vines, which literally are everywhere in the world, are very sustainable plants. The more you pick them the more they grow. Soon I will post on this site my wife’s recipe for making grape leaves, which she learned how to do from my mother. Grape leaves are like worms, they are everywhere and so common that their value is not appreciated. Like worms they do not make a good upfront impressions but are significant players in the food chain.

My wife and I as members of the St. Vincent De Paul Society visit many home of persons in needs to help them with basics like beds, appliances and futures. It is very difficult not to judge the person we are visiting by the appearance of their house or apartment. I am certainly glad that persons do not judge me on the appearance of my office where I am now.

However, presently the office is so disorganized and messy that it is beyond the point of bad appearances. I better do something about it soon before it reflects something deeper than superficial appearance. Like my garden I need to make it deeply beautiful inside and than it will shine even when it is a little messy in up front appearances.

May 26, 2007 Fairies at Work



Today while we up north celebrating my granddaughter’s three year old birthday, I took the opportunity to turn over the compost pile my daughter-in-law, my three grandchildren and I had built last summer. The pile consisted of cow manure, straw, cardboard and kitchen waste. My son is going to till the garden, in the traditional method in the next few days, and I wanted to remove the top layer of newer compost so they could spread the composted manure and straw on the ground before they tilled it.

Farmers, like the dairy farmers across the street have use cow manure put in the ground and on top of the ground for centuries to fertilize the soil. We had mixed this highly richer nitrogen of manure with some carbon of cardboard and hay with a few worms thrown in to make the compost. The compost will be tilled into the ground to make it more fertile. This is sort of hybrid way of the traditional framing method of planting with a little bit of growing power.

As I told the farmer from the dairy farm across the street some farmers are starting to use mounds of same old same old, compost and enriched worm soil. However, for the most part, farmers do not have the land problem we in the city have and do not need to do the intensive growing that urban dwellers do. However, I understand from Will and others at Growing Power that farms that use this verticulture and pernmaculutre way of growing get a much high yield from their land.

My son and his family have five acres of land, which makes my backyard look like a postage stamp. I may not have land to grow crops like sweet cord but I hope to match their total yield in my small home garden. Time will tell. One thing growing power has in common with this traditional method of farmer is the great use of waste. In a farmers case, it is largely manure and in the home model a combination of city waste like coffee grounds and wood chips.

While I was there I talked with my older grandson, nine, about the Fourth of July parade we had entered in a local Milwaukee park last year. Last year we did a growing power float with my granddaughter dressed as a flower with my two grandsons alonside as gardeners. (Some of the crate paper was cut to look like worms but I do not think people caught onto this.) This year he, with his great imagination, came up with another growing power float. However, this year the flower in a buggy would be my grandaugher dressed as a flowery fairy based on the TV/movie and books called Rainbow Magic. The part of the Rainbow Magic movie I saw today was about fairies with wings in some kind of training school. My granddaughter as a birthday gift got a fairy princess outfit with wings. She would be in the flowered (wagon) pulled by him dressed as a flower with my other grandsons riding on the back of the wagon, also dressed as a flower. He even drew me a rough picture of the float. Magic fairies, growing power and children seemed like a good mix for me. Now we need to figure out a way to work the worms back into the mix.

May 25, 2007 Upside Down Peace

Our garden is in the shape of an upside down peace symbol. Today I tired to take a picture of this upside down symbol but could not get high and far enough to capture it. I thought tonight that if I took a picture from the second floor backroom overlooking the garden I might be able to show it. Look for it the next few days. For now here is the best I can do.

Life these days acts like an upside down peace symbol. Some say war will bring peace and some say the opposite that “violence breeds violence” and “peace is the way to peace.”

Today in the garden I planted all the pots along the fence I filled with the “same old, same” mix of compost; worm enriched soil, castings and coir. I planted the seeds and hopefully will watch them grow.

I tried to fix the computer of a friend with Mothers Against Gun Violence? today. I wish fixing a compute securing it from spy programs and viruses was as natural and easy as fixing a garden. It is much easier to go with the flow and figure out nature than it is to deal with broken technology.

Also on the subject of fixing, I called Growing Power for help with timid looking tomatoes plants in the planters in the GP box. The person at Growing Power explained to me that I had probably transplanted the tomatoes I started from seed and they would probably be okay in time as the young roots made the adjustment.

Today is my son’s birthday. My son, Peter Graf, has taught me a lot about life but most especially about paradoxes. Life for him is a big paradox. Paradoxes are like upside peace symbols. Two opposites are both correct. Paradoxes are upside down sayings like the beatitudes in the Gospel: Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of each’, or the “last shall be first’ and ‘ the first shall be last’. Instead of figuring them out we just need how to live with paradoxes. There often is no right or wrong answers or ways of doing things. Is that not just like the garden and life?

May 24, 2007 Monastic Gardens

Garden At Dusk 5/24/07

Dusk falls on the garden tonight to find it enhanced by the beauty of flowers.

Today my granddaughter is three and still free. Not visiting her till Saturday I send her a slide show today celebrating her first three years of her life. On the phone tonight she was real excited to tell me she saw it. She could not think of a name to call it and was lost for the right words so she put on the phone one of her brothers, seven, to describe for her the response she had in watching the slide show. She laughed through it all.

Today I worked on the garden and on the Mothers Against Gun Violence? campaign to get persons out for the hearing on The Responsible Gun Bill next Tuesday. For the bill I helped in a mass mailing to families of homicide victims the last five years. There are too many.

In the Garden I worked on planting the flowers I purchased a few days ago in three spots in the back and in the front yard. A little beauty of flowers makes everything better. Flowers add the reflective touch to the garden or the monastic aspect.

I wrote a friend today that is closing down a newspaper of art and beauty of many cultures because of a lack of financial support. I mentioned to her how I felt that in a time of crisis like we live in, beauty and art is often neglected or not appreciated although more of it is created than in a time of peace. Persons are too busy to be in the reflective stance that it takes to appreciate art, at least in my view.

So today I experienced the busyness of doing, in the mass mailing and the reflection of enjoying flowers. In between comes my granddaughter’s three year old birthday. She is a busy little person but can still enjoy the simple things of life. She is three but still free to enjoy the simple life.

On public radio yesterday I heard on Speaking of Faith about a new form of monasticism that some young men and women are embracing in the Kensington area of North Philadelphia. Kensington is where Pat and I and our two young sons lived for two years when I was a community organizer in the 70’s. Our community organization was called KAN, Kensington Action Now and for a little while made a big splash in the media. This intentional community is taking the approach of the early church, sharing everything in common and taking the simple approach to life by simply living the Gospels. This is something I have been looking for quite awhile but now am too old and ‘stable’ to join.

On the radio report I heard that this group has community gardens, something I hope to do using the home model growing power method I have been blessed to learn. My dream is to see a number of vacant lots, perhaps starting with Miss Dawn’s Garden, with a worm condo making castings and a large compost pile this summer. This would mean that next spring we would have the compost, soil, worms and castings to do some serious intensive gardening. But to do it we need to take some first steps: 1) we need to build a worm condo at Miss Dawn’s. 2) We need to get worms and compost for the condo. 3) We need to get person to deliver waste to the compost pile. Like most dreams, to achieve it takes some simple steps and hard work. Outside of a miracle I know of no other method to accomplish our dreams.

Work and Prayer (reflection) was part of the old monasticism and seems part of the new form. Yes, it is the same old, same old, once again.

May 23, 2007 Keeping Balance

Bigger Picture

Today was a beautiful day to work outside, but besides getting my son to water the garden, the garden got no attention from me. There are many reasons but the main one is all the running around and secretarial work I did for the Mothers Against Gun Violence?, helping to organize for the hearing on The Responsible Gun Bill next Tuesday.

This is one of the nice things about home gardens: that if you care for them regularly you can neglect them for a day or two and they will be okay, as long as you get back to them. Gardens understand the old principle “Never do today what you can do tomorrow” or something like that.

I guess today the balance of work between creative nonviolence and growing power was heavily tilted in favor of creative nonviolence. However I did pick up some wood chips from the dump (they remain in my car) and I did stop by Miss Dawn’s mini garden to check it out.

Actually I do not find a conflict between these two work foci. For example at tonight’s planning meeting, I learned that working behind the scenes and conflicting unnecessary with each other’s hurts all groups, big or small, despite the racial make up. Also I noticed again tonight that when someone in the strategy group says something about actions of white persons that breed’s discrimination, they apologize first to me, the only white guy in the group. They do not need to do this because I am not offended by their remarks and mostly agree with them, but it is a nice gesture recognizing my presence.

To keep my balance with my family and in my work I need to slow down, same old, same old, and look at the bigger picture. When I do that I may say how I spend my time today was okay in the bigger picture as long as I balance it off tomorrow and in the future. I guess life is like a garden, you can neglect awareness of it and just keep busy but eventually you need to stop and see the better picture. Otherwise, life, like the garden will get out of balance.

May 22, 2007 Small Splurge!

Tonight I gave my presentation at the South East Sustainable Group that meets monthly at the Urban Ecology Center. With my brief slide show (now posted on the GRAF site) I was the only small urban gardener of the four presenters. The topic tonight was permaculture, a word for sustainable growing. However, the other three speakers had large parcels of land to grow on. Also I was the only one that used worms predominately in their growing method. It was good, was very impressed by some of the speakers and the long traditions they came from. I learned a lot. With being the smallest grower there, I had something different to share with the group.

Tonight’s gathering made me think how my niche of using home model of Growing Power to Grow Renewable Affordable Food GRAF in home and small home garden was unique. I will need to work more on this site. Also there are many community gardens but not many, at least in Milwaukee, using the GP way of growing, making soil from compost, worm castings and coir. I found myself saying the “same old, same old” in describing the material in the planters, mound or GP Box.

Also today the focus of my present work, Growing Power and Creative Nonviolence, became clearer. This is my part of doing less is more and keep it simple philosphy. Today I found myself thinking about one of my mantras in life: “All I need to know is within me.” This reminded me that I need to move down the scale in my intellectual thinking and become more in spirit like the three-year-old child I desire to be.

After the meeting tonight I met a young child that had been patiently waiter for her parents at the meeting. Thinking she may be three I asked her how old she was. She said four but I decided to tell her my three old joke anyway saying how I was ‘free.’ Three year olds do not get the difference between ‘three’ and ‘free’ and usually say “No you are not”. This young girl just smiled. I think she got the joke. Like my two grandsons, seven and nine, she better watch out that formal education not get in the way of her growing in understand and spirit.

“I will be three and free”

Oh well, I still have my granddaughter who will turn three this week to relate to in spirit. Besides her age, she has other advantages in life: she has not gone to a preschool or organized day care yet; and the only home she remembers is the one now, in the country on five acres and across from a working dairy farm. This picture of her, that was in the slide show, in front of the compost pile we created on her land, gives me real hope.

My wife and I am gong up north to celebrate her birthday this Saturday. I better check with my daughter-in-law on the progress of their garden and compost pile and see if there is anything I can bring on Saturday to help with this country garden.

I brag about my home model garden being so affordable but I do splurge at times like buying the first home planter and vertical growing units that Andor, my partner in the GRAF enterprise designed and made. Today I made another splurge with purchasing annual flowers. My wife told me about a plant sale outside of Drews, a modern 5 and 10 variety store nearby. I started to pick out some 3 packs of three but decided to go all out and spend 17 dollars on a flat—18 sets of three packs. This means 54 annual plants to beautify my backyard and front year. These are all non sustainable flowers but beautiful. Beauty has a price. And this was, like my gp home garden, just a small splurge.

May 21, 2007 GP Home Slide

I was asked by the Sustainable South East Group,
a collection of persons interested in sustainable agriculture and life, to give a brief presentation tomorrow night at their monthly meeting at the Ecology Center. So today after working on the garden I took a few new pictures and along with some of the past year and half pictures of this project in the postings and put together a slide show on a CD and the Internet. I was able to add Harvey Taylor’s Growing Power song to the slideshow. Tomorrow I will turn the volume down and talk over the slides. But for all of you, especially those familiar with this site, the story told with the slides does not need words to appreciate. Here it is

Planter slide

Today thinking outside the box, I started on a new idea for a row of planters outside. I filled a number of planters with the “same old, same old” mix of rough compost, worm enriched soil with a topping of castings and coir. I placed them along the fence in the driveway on top of some long tin roofing material I had purchased at the Restore (Habitat at Humanity Store) for two dollars. There is a grove in the middle of the long tin. I have a wide hose (seen in picture) that will reach from the soon to be rain barrel at the back of the garage so the water can slide down onto the tin along the middle. This way hopefully I can water the planters with ‘tea’ on top and keep some ‘tea’ running along the bottom of the planters. There will be a better explanation of this experiment if it works. Otherwise you may not hear about it.

Since the slide show is 7 minuets, unless you speed it up manually, I am keeping this posting short in hopes that you watch and enjoy the GP home model slide.

May 20, 2007 Thinking Inside the Box

In the Box

You have probably heard the fast food commercial about thinking outside the box. Well sometimes it is good to think inside the box. In the winter the GP box, 8’ X2 ‘ X 2’ serves us well producing salad greens. In the spring the box is full of castings to be used in the garden and more worms in it than in the fall. The worms are moverd outside to the worm condo to produce even more castings and worms during the summer. However, like last summer the box just sits there empty.

I do not want to fill it with compost now since I can grow outside and make more effective use of the same materials. However, in the summer the room gets some sun and can be hot, a good climate for plants like tomatoes or peppers. So the other day I cut two boards the length of box and placed them on the ledges at the end on the bottom, which are about an inch or two off the bottom of the box. There is some space between the two boards so water that drains from planters can fall below onto the plastic on the bottom which has holes in as does the bottom of the box. The water, like in the winter, drains through the holes into a tilted tray below which flows into a container at end to catch the ‘tea’. The ‘tea’ is poured on the plants as fertilizer. I placed on top of the two space apart boards 8 medium size planters, the black plastic kind you get free. I filled each of them with the ‘same old, same old’ stuff used in GP growing: rough compost, enriched soil with worms and a topping of coir and castings. Into each planter I placed a small vine tomato plant that I had grown from seed. I did all this yesterday but something seemed to be missing today.

The GP box is along the eastern wall of the sunroom and gets good morning sun where there is sun and some sun from the south. The rest of the day and on cloudy days there is no sun. Tomato plants need heat and water, which can provide but something else is needed: light. So I went out in the garage and brought in the fluorescent growing light I used during the winter. The lights are on a timer for twelve hours during the day and like the winter months I can moved them to various spots on the box, since they are only two feed long. Now when the vines grow to the light I can move the light up and eventually eliminate it. The tomatoes can be made to grow to the board above the box. Another modification would be to put a number of small planters with trays on bottom not holes on the board on top and grow flowers or some kind of plants that grow down. Stay tuned to see if this thinking in the box works.

I have a few more ideas in the works to maximize the space of my small yard, driveway and side of the house. More thinking in the box to come.

May 19, 2007 Miss Dawn’s Garden



This morning my friend, Godsil, and I turned, within a few hours, a small section of yard at one of Dawn’s houses from grass to a small growing power mound with tomato plants, zucchini squash and collard greens coming up. The compost, soil making pile, we started at Dawn’s house was not ready for use, so we brought in the necessary materials.

First Godsil dug up the ground lightly throwing the big clumps of grass into the compost pile. Digging up the ground is not necessary for a GP mound but it helps make the present ground part of the process and provides some nice material for the compost pile. Than we put down a layer of rough compost, already cooked, that I had brought from my house. Than came three buckets of worm enriched soil from my worm depository and we were ready for planting. I brought about four or five small tomato plants that I had grown from seed in my sunroom, some zucchini plants also grown from seed and took some collard greens from a planter of collard that I had received at Growing Power. We put a layer of a mix of castings and coir (coconut shavings) around the plants, water them and the garden was done.

On the ground we had found an old iron grate and placed that along the wall for the zucchini plants. Hopefully the tomato plants are big enough to survive the next few days and the collard greens transplanted from the planter will take roots. However, this was just a beginning of Miss Dawn’s Garden. Dawn owns a vacant lot about a block away that in the future with more material and more help we can grow into a real GP urban plot. Time will tell how the plants fare and how the idea of growing Dawn’s Garden goes.

While we were working on Miss Dawn’s garden, persons from St. Margaret Mary Church, where I used to be the youth minister, were renovating the inside of Dawn’s vacant house, the house of Dawn’s porch. In the Church group I was proud to see two youth that I knew from my days at this church. Service to persons in need was a big part of our program at St Margaret Mary and it is good to see youth putting this idea into action.

Working at home this afternoon I came up with a new use for the empty Growing Power box in the sunroom, growing tomato and other plants that grow up. Tomorrow with picture I will explore this idea.

For dinner tonight we went to a 40th Day Celebrating in Memory of Ms. Carter an African American leader in the community who, along with her husband had been a pioneer in affordable quality care in Milwaukee. The celebration was held at a school and center she and her husband had founded. Although she was an African American most of the people in attendance were of direct African heritage, from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal and other countries in Africa. The 40th Day celebration of a deceased person, we discovered is also common in African cultural traditions.

Although Ms. Carter was African-America she took a deep interest in her African roots, traveled African extensively and was kind and compassionate to new immigrants from African countries, helping them get their green card etc. Thus the African celebration of this African-American woman. As usual in these events everyone brings dishes from their homeland, my wife brought two pumpkin pies, and everyone leaves with food to take home. There was song, dance and storytellers, I learned a lot about African traditions tonight beside why the 40th Day Celebration. (This when the spirit leaves the person according to tradition and the persons successors carries out his or her spirit.)

After this celebration of such rich heritage we went to work at the shelter at the Cathedral for homeless families. A conversation I had with a couple of mothers about the names of their children led to a conversation about the difference between African Americans from Africa and African Americans, like these two women, who trace their heritage to the early days of slavery in the USA. One of the woman said how she describes herself as “black” not African American out of respect for those who have come as immigrants from African. We were starting talking about immigrants and what a tough life they live, coming here out of poverty and need. The women were real sympathticic to immigrants. Than they started talking about persons from Africa and how poor and desperate the lives of Africans were. They both considered themselves, sitting in a homeless shelter with their children, blessed to have been born in American and coming from an American heritage.

Here I just came from an African celebration of the rich cultural heritage and food traditions of African countries. I am sure that everyone had a decent job, income and shelter. At the shelter, the African American or Black families had no housing, sources of income and no food to take home with them.

Only in American could Africans from Africa directly enjoy more benefits and ‘pursuit of happiness’ than African Americans who could trace their heritage hundreds of years in America.

Thinking about this paradox makes me realize how Miss Dawn’s Urban Farm in the central city is not so an impossible dream as healing the discrimination of African Americans in America.

May 18, 2007 Unknown is not Important

Mystery Herb?

Does anyone recognize the herb in this picture? I planted this herb last year and it grew well but somewhere along the line I lost the plant card and thus the name of the herb. Obviously it is a perennial since it came back strong this year. Last year I cut and dried it out but not knowing what herbb it was and how to use it, the bottle sits in the kitchen cabinet. If you can name it I can give you a bottle of it dried or some fresh picked leaves right now.

I am having a similar problem this year with my plants from seed of cucumbers and zucchini. I put them in the same planter box and lost the tags. They grew to look alike for now but I imagine and hope that soon I can tell them apart.

One of the cucumbers or zucchini starter plants is plentiful and I plan to take some over to Dawn’s house tomorrow when a friend and I hope to giver her garden a quick start. Normally gardening is a slow but sure process like my garden is now. However, in this case we have nothing to start with except a compost pile that is not quite ready yet and a plot of land. I am bringing rough compost, worm enriched compost, a bucket of coyer and castings and some seeds and starter plants. Hopefully we can start a mound and get some collards, tomatoes and other plants started. Perhaps in the near future, with the help of some youth we can get some more going on at the four houses Dawn operates for persons with disabilities. Perhaps once we get started, one of the persons there can care for the garden and help it to grow.

Dawn lives in the area on the north side where the police crackdown on all ‘suspicious persons’ begins this weekend in what the Mayor hopes will be an effort to slow down the gun violence rate. I worry that the large police presence in the area may have just the opposite effect as is intended, increasing not decreasing the crime rate. The large police presence does not deal with some of the core issues facing the community, education, employment, healthy living violent lifestyles in media and all around that are the root of the rising violence rate. Sadly restoring to violence is rapidly becoming a way of life in some areas and putting more police on the streets with guns does not seem to make sense. It would be like combating weeds in a garden by bringing in more weeds.

I find it interesting that the same politicians who decry the “thugs” of the community and calling for more police and arrest are the same ones that are laying low and silent on the Responsible Gun Bill of the Mothers Against Gun Violence? is bringing before the State Senate. This bill would close the loophole in present gun background checks for purchasers and thus reduce the availability of guns on the streets. To use the garden comparison again, it would be like pulling up the weeds rather than bring some new ones in the garden.

Besides working on the garden today I attended a prayer vigil for a young man that was killed last Monday, the same day the 4-year-old Jasmine was killed. However, his killing was unreported in the media. In fact it was not till this morning that we knew his name. Many family members and friends came out for the prayer vigil. We asked them to speak about him to make him personal to us who they not know him. Most friends and family members talked about how happy and fun loving he, Max, was. I hear this description a lot about young African American men killed in shootings. I believe it, since I think that persons always smiling and willing to help persons are more vulnerable in a community where violence is so strong. It is a paradox but one that seems true

This young man is like the herb plant in the picture above. Since I do not know its name and how to appreciate it, I just ignore it, and if it died, it would not be such a big issue.

May 17, 2007 Up Close and Personal

I tried to send an email about the public hearing on The Responsible Gun Bill Mothers Against Gun Violence? to a large group of persons. First the computer system said I could not send an email to such a large group of persons. So I broke the email addresses up. However, after the second group it said that I could not send any more emails this hour since my quota for the hour was up. I guess this ‘computer rules’ make sense but since it is a machine communicating the rules are the same no matter if your efforts and intentions are good and not.

Personal communications by individual or small group emails are better. But there can still be a breakdown using technology. My alderman called me today on my cell phone to say how he cannot spend so much time and effort responding to one constituent like me. He was upset and I was wondering what he was talking about. I told him that I have not talked to him by phone or received an email from him in my memory for about seven years. He was mystified that I never got any of his countless emails or phone messages by him or his staff. He said he will get back to me but so far has not done so. I was in my car when he called so when I got home I checked all my emails over many years and only found two brief one-liners, sent on the same day, from him over the last five years.

Now person communications, one on one, is much more effective and clearer. The other day when I was leaving a grocery store a man asked me for bus fare. After a brief conversation in which he seemed sincere I gave him the bus fare and we went on to have a larger conversation.. It turns out that he has spent most of the last 10 years in prison. As the thousands of prisoners released from our state prison every year he is thrown on the streets without much assistance. He has some transitional place to live for a short period but no job, no money, no health insurance or educational opportunities. With his past record, which he readily admits to, he knows his chances of employment are slim. He said he decided it was better to beg than to commit another crime and get sent back to prison. I gave him my name and cell number but like the Alderman have not heard from him yet, and probably will not. But our personal conversation in the parking lot meant something to me and probably to him.

The above experiences bring me back to the garden. On my journeys today I picked up an ivy germanium-hanging flower for the garden. Here is an up close and personal picture of it. Taking the picture I remembered how, for this diary, I had taken a number of up close and personal pictures of plants and things in the garden, worms, compost, vegetables and flowers. The intricacies of the object are full of wonder when you take a deep look at it. The garden is full of wonderful and mysterious happenings that when put together make something beautiful and fruitful. Take the casting tea, which I took from underneath the vertical planters GRAF in the garden. The water was a dark brown and I knew it was full of living organism that would fertilize my plants. Without a microscope I cannot see all the richness of the life in the water but I knew it was there. I can see the life by the results this “tea” will produce on the plants.

What I am trying to say by the above is simply it is easier to see the richness of the persons or object when you personally involved with person or object. In email and even by phone you loose some of that upfront and close experience. Words can be misunderstood and communications can be lost or overlooked. When you are one on one, like I was with the person in the parking lot or with the germanium today, there is a felt relationship that you cannot get by written or spoken words from a distance.

However, maybe if we relate to individuals and object one on one in a personal and deep way than we can more easily relate to persons and objects we experience with the computer, phone or by TV. Either way being up close and personal is the only way to go.

May 16, 2007 Peace and Planter Mix

Today was nice and I got some real work in on the garden. Real work is when you can see the results. Sometimes you can see the results right away, like when you clean up an area and sometimes it takes time, like when you plant. So in many ways a garden is like life, you can see the results but often it takes time.

I went over to Growing Power headquarters to get some stuff and hopefully touch base with Will Allen. I guess Wednesday is his day in Chicago. I had some questions and one of the workers was helpful. I picked up a pot of collard greens that we can use at Dawn’s garden this Saturday. I also purchased a block of coir, coconut shavings and got some free worms. It seems odd to get worms from Growing Power when I have been giving worms to others. However, I think my giving out worm enriched soil has caught up with me so by adding to my worm supply I can keep giving worms away and still have enough to keep my worm depository alive and well. Digging though their large worm depository at Growing Power, it was good to see that their worm population was no thicker in the soil than mine.

I also learned that the new castings/coir mix GP uses in planters is now 75% coir and 25% castings. But since their castings are more pure than mine I think I will keep my mix 50/50 for now. Also for the compost pile, soil maker, they are now saying about 25% nitrogen (coffee grounds, food waste etc) to about 75% (carbon, boxes, word chips etc.). This means more trips to the dump for wood chips. The person telling me this also told me, as Will as said in the past, that they are constantly adjusting and refining the methods and that I should keep on see what works best for me. The basic method does not change, growing with compost past, worm enriched soil with worm enriched soil on top for mounds and for planters, rough compost, worm enriched soil and castings and coir on top. That is the same old, same oil but the details need to be adjusted to circumstances.

This all reminds me of my promise to write more on the GRAF How To site. There I am trying to write the basic steps of using this way of growing renewable affordable food for the home garden, inside and out.

One of my chores today was to write a letter to the editor of the newspaper bringing attention to The Responsible Gun Bill hearing lest than two weeks ago. With a four-year girl being shot the other day the media attention has been focused on gun violence once more. However, the media and the local politician are not talking something we can all concretely do about it, like supporting this bill that close the loophole in the present state Gun bill that allows secondary sales of handguns without background checks.

When a child or white person gets killed it is big news. However, 48 other homicides this year, even one of a nameless 25-year man the same night the 4-year-old girl, Jasmine, was killed get ignored for the most part. This is like a garden when we can focus on a beautiful rose bush dying while ignoring the rest of the plants that are also dying. We look at the major cases and ignore the root cause of this disease. One of the root causes is the availability of purchasing handguns without background checks, even by youth and dangerous persons who could not otherwise purchase a handgun. If you are from Wisconsin and want to know more about this bill and the hearing check out the Mothers Against Gun Violence? site. Let’s go to the source and dig out the root causes of violence before it spreads. There are many root cause but illegal handgun sales are certainly one of them.

Peace flows like a river, always changing. The mix for good growing changes. We must keep seeking the right mix.

May 15, 2007 Remembering

Here is the picture of the garden today that I forgot to take yesterday. I almost forgot today but fortunately it is light out at after 7pm when I remembered. The garden has a ways to grow before it become beautiful and fruitful but the process, as you can see, is started. Today it rained all day, which was good for the garden but prevented me from working outside.

I received some comments on the article I wrote yesterday for the Milwaukee 14 Today site remembering Nick Topping. I heard from a few persons who knew Nick or about him. One is even trying to put together a gathering of people to share stories about Nick.

Today I remembered to write one of the local aldermen from the north side that said he would help Dawn Powell with her struggle to get the promised grant the city offered her a few years ago if she restored a vacant house. It turns out he is the same alderman another friend from Mothers Against Gun Violence?, who is out of town at the moment, asked me tonight to write about the public hearing on The Responsible Gun Ownership Bill. I started the letter tonight and will finish it tomorrow morning first thing.

The second thing I must do tomorrow is getting outside to work on the garden since the weatherman predicts more rain tomorrow afternoon. Actually even if it rains there is inside the sunroom work I can be doing for the garden, planting seeds, making planters for inside the GP box etc. However, it always nice when you can move inside out as the spirit moves you.

Remembering is much nicer than forgetting. I will need to remember that. Also I will need to remember to work on the GRAF, Growing Renewable Affordable Food. There is a lot more I can do on the How To section, things already written in this diary that I could edit and post on this site.

In this fast pace world we live in, there are too many things to remember. The best thing, I think, is just to be deeply aware of the present and with a little touch of silence, the important things to remember will come to mind.

May 14, 2007 Forgetting

The temperature shot up today, near 90, but according to the weatherman it will go down tomorrow. Working outside today was bearable because, there was a strong wind. It was not a hot wind so it kept one okay while working on the garden. After making the garden look better I was going to take a picture for this posting, but forgot. I am forgetting a lot of things recently but am not too worried since it seems to be a normal kind of forgetting, not a short-term memory lost that is the sign of trouble ahead. I just need to be more dependent on writing things down in my calendar.

My focus, outside of daily chores and helping out friends, seems to be the garden and my writing on the web. Today I wrote something for the Milwaukee 14 Today site on Nick Topping, a peace and justice person of the generation before mine. Writing this article made me realize that I am now becoming the elder generation, as my elders, my parent’s generation, fade away. Elders like Nick did a good job of showing my generation the way of peace and justice. I hope I can do the same.

Speaking of forgetting, I forgot where I put some heirloom bean seeds a friend gave me last week. Unless I left them there they must be somewhere in my car or house. I have everything ready to plant except the beans.

A nice thing about working on the garden is that if you forget one thing you can do it tomorrow. Not so true when you forget events like appointments. In the garden you just do what needs to be done in the order you want and put off till the next day what you forget or do not have time for.

Memory is a precious gift that we take for granted till we know persons who have lost it. Everything we do, talking, reading, typing, driving a car is dependent on memory. I remember how frustrated my dad, who suffered from Alzheimer was when he could not even remember how to start the lawnmower and cut the grass. Here was an all around handy man who used to be able to build or fix almost anything not remembering the simplest of things.

Tomorrow I will remember to take a picture of the developing garden, if I do not forget.

May 13, 2007 New Day

Tonight I learned something new, how to put a slideshow on a web site. I did a slide show of 12 of Peter’s computer art work call “zi”. Check it out at Peter Graf’s Artwork

Also today I created and planted some new gp mounds two for tomatoes and one for bell peppers.

We had some new members at our church’s Faith In Recovery group. Two of the three new members were an older man with a major mental illness who was taking care of his mother who suffers from Alzheimer. The two of them together are real heroes to me. I know how difficult to take care of a person with Alzheimer, like my dad, but a person with a major mental illness doing it, is amazing. Also the mother is appreciative of her son’s caring for her, cooking food, driving and shopping. Often elderly persons with major disabilities are not so accepting of dependence on children. So this was a new situation for me to experience.

The rest of the day, going to Church, celebrating Mother’s day with my wife and son at dinner and working in the garden was the “same old, same old.” (For those who might not have read or remembered an earlier posting I mean “same old, same old” like a young child saying ‘more’ or ‘again’ and enjoying the many repetitive times with same joy as first time.)

Tomorrow we are having a prayer vigil for the 48th homicide victim (our count, not cities) in the city of Milwaukee. Mothers Against Gun Violence? Now that is one bit of “same old, same old’ bit of news I can live without. But even in this tragedy of deaths there is some sign of hope, as the deaths are concentrated in a few small areas of city. The city, in general, feels safe and secure. However, the perception and fear of crime can make people want to move out of neighborhood or even the city. An elderly friend who lives near our church on the north side and is a longtime resident of the area watched as someone was robbed near house. Her first reaction was for her and her ill husband to move out as soon as possible.

Fear of crime, fear of terrorist really are ways to manipulate persons and have them do what you want and sometimes makes happen the very thing you fear. A good example is how Hitler moved the German people to war. Here is a quote from his propaganda minister:

Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.” — Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

Also there are quotes from great leaders encouraging persons to not be moved by fear: “The only fear we have is fear itself” –President Rooselvelt and “Be not Afraid” repeated by Jesus of Nazareth over and over again in the Gospels.

Yesterday I heard about the death of an old friend, someone I have known since the 60’s as a kind, peace loving gentle person. He left behind his wife of 56 years. Also yesterday was a beginning of a new relationship as two young Catholic Worker friends got married? The old passes away and the new begins. With either the old or new, we can fear or not. For those without fear it is always a new day.

May 12, 2007 Sharing Worms

Recently I have been sharing worms and the worm-enriched soil in the worm depository with friends. Some ask and some I just offer. Will Allen of Growing Power gave my original set of worms, compost and castings. To my knowledge Growing Power still gives free worms to person who they feel will take proper care of this livestock. However, for whatever reason, persons have been asking me and I have been giving them worms and soil from the worm depository. Also I have used worms and soil from this depository for my own Growing Power mounds. Today when a friend asked me for some soil and worms I was hesitate, mentioning that Growing Power that has massive worm depositories still gives away worms. But I did give the person some, thinking that this is the worm-multiplying season and I will be blessed with more livestock for sharing. After my friend left, I threw some more rough compost on the worm depository pile just to make sure they had enough food to multiply. My friend had shared some interesting seeds with me so now I have more to grow.

After working in the garden, I was coming in when I noticed a robin on the worm depository looking for his share of worms. Birds often visit the pile, especially after I dug it up a bit, looking for worm they can pick off near the top. Sharing worms with the birds is one thing I am not concerned about. They do not eat many and only when they can find one on top of ground. I also would not hesitate to use my worms for fishing whenever I go again. Fish like worms and I like fish. Of course I am not really sharing worms with fish but using them to lure the fish to my hook

One good thing about having worms as livestock, you can share them since if they are taken care of properly they keep on multiplying. Also they are hard workers eating their own weight each day in compost and casting it off.

I did some cleaning of the garden today, making it look more presentable. Tomorrow I will need to do some more planting inside and out. The last three friends I have helped with worms and/or advice has given me seeds. It is the time of year to share worms and grow renewable affordable food

May 11, 2007 Snake in the Garden

Here is the promised picture of the homemade irrigation system in the garden as of today. The yellow line snaking around the garden is a sprinkler hose with tiny holes in it spraying water, “tea”, in the garden. It starts at the rain barrel, runs between the two mounds for tomato plants, zig zags through the flowers, runs over the basil mound, touches on the kale plants and ends at the flowers around the tree. The red snaking lines are two lines, one a soaker horse and the other a straight hose that run water between two sets of mounds.

Watering today I remembered to water down the major compost pile behind the garage but forgot to water down the worm condo. After I put the hose away I checked on the worm condo and it was smoking hot. In fear of the worm’s health in the condo I took some buckets of water from the rain barrel near the condo and threw them over the fence. Worms do not like heat and tomorrow I will check and make sure they are all right. I have some burlap over the worm condo but it is all beat up and needs replacement.

Today I twice had a chance to help a person and to learn from the experience. This morning my son’s friend Loren came over. Loren built the worm condo and the Growing Power box in the sunroom when he was living here for a while. Now, after many long years working for other painters, he is starting his own professional painting business. (If you are local and need a good professional painter call Lo’s Painting at 414 426 3952.) He needed some business cards so this morning he came over and we made up some on our computer. Making the card up was easy with the right software but getting the cards printed within the perforated lines was difficult. We got some good ones and I did learn how to do this. Loren is also a fishing buddy so we talked about going out together sometime.

This afternoon I took some worms over to a friend’s house that is an avid gardener. I helped her set up a compost pile and a mini-worm condo. In turn she shared with me some wonderful perennial flowers for my garden. When I got home my wife asked me if the worm condo we made, out of compost plastic barrel, had holes on the bottom from which we could extract tea. I had forgot about that and will need to talk with her soon and make the mini-worm condo into a tea maker soon. So I got to share and learn.

Both of these sessions helping and learning with friends involved no meetings or conflicts, just doing and learning from mistakes. I remember some words of a poet when I was young that “Man is made to make mistakes.” They were consoling at that time in my youth and now seem to be part of the natural way to grow in life. Unfortunately we do not always practice life this way, go with the flow and learning from our mistakes. I encounter another group I was trying to help today where one person is trying to be controlling over the group and it is causing some internal divisions. In the past I would have reacted to these types of situations, now I just stay away. A hose snaking through the garden is one thing but a person snaking through a group is another. A snake like hose brings refreshing waters of life; a person snaking around brings poison to a group.

May 10, 2007 Go with the Flow

‘Unoriginal’ by PeterGraf

Today I set up an irrigation system in the garden in the backyard. From the spigot on the rain barrel, now raised, there is attached a splitter for two lines. One line leads to long winding sprinkler hose that winds around the garden down to the bottom on the right side. The other line leads to another splitter that has a soak hose between two mounds and a second line that runs down hill to the gulley between two other mounds on the left side. Tomorrow I will take a picture of this new low-tech irrigation system. For now all I need is some rain to fill up the rain barrel and to fix the leaks in the garage gutter that prevents the maximum amount of water from going to the rain barrel in the back of yard. When it does not rain, like the last few days, I just fill up the rain barrel with water from the garden hose and let it sit for a day or two to get out the chemicals put in our water system. Naturally there are two large “tea” bags of castings in the rain barrel making the water fertile. I got plans for the other three rain barrels I have around the house and garage but this is good for now.

After I was done filling up the rain barrel today I watered down the major compost, soil-building pile, behind the garage. The pile is really ‘cooking’ and even though I have not heard of a compost fire, I feel safe when it is regularly watered. Besides the water adds to the compost making process.

Thursday is my normal day to water the houseplants but in rushing around doing other things and working in the garden I forgot. These plants will get their “tea” fertilizer tomorrow.

After years of work the Mothers Against Gun Violence? finally have a hearing on a state bill that would close the loophole in the purchase of handguns in Wisconsin. Presently if you purchase a handgun from a firearms dealer you need to need to undergo a background check. However, an individual citizen can sell a handgun to anyone, even a juvenile or dangerous persons banned from owning a handgun, without a background check. This bill would close that loophole. Society is just like a garden. Sometimes for the common good of the society, like for the good of a garden, there must be checks on who can own a handgun legally, just like we restrict certain invasive plants or bugs in the garden. However, in modern day America individualism seems to have trumped the common good. I need to write more about this soon. In the meanwhile if you live in Wisconsin check out the public hearing on The Responsible Gun Ownership Bill.

My son, the artist, who has been helping daily in the garden, has created a 12-picture computer art show. I checked with Tegan, the web master at Milwaukee Renaissance, and there is a way I can put the computer art slide show on his web site PeterGraf. Check it out in a day or so.

You might have noticed that in this posting I said a few times something like the picture of the irrigation system or the computer art slide show will be coming to one of the Graf Family web sites soon. They will but when depends on how things flow. I am learning how to live with some planning but to go with the flow. Tonight my son’s friend, who built the GP box in the sunroom and the worm condo called about help starting his own business. Having been an entrepreneur in one of my past lives, I said yes and he is coming over tomorrow for help making some business cards. I will go with the flow with him in the morning and in the after go over to a friends house with some worms to help her with her compost pile in exchange for some perennials flowers for my garden. In between these two events I have some computer stuff to do and certainly will find time to work on Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF. So yes I do need to plan and check my calender, but also need to be ready to face obstacle on the road of life and to go with the flow of what is natural and right.

May 9, 2007 Obstacle or Opportunities

Flavor of the Day

Tonight I attended a strategy meeting around the Responsible Gun Ownership Bill, which would close the loophole that now requires persons purchasing handguns from firearms dealers to undergo a background check but allows future purchases of the same handgun to be made without any background check. You will find more about this bill and the hearing soon on the Mothers Against Gun Violence? web page.

I mentioned this hour meeting tonight since I left it feeling this small group had accomplished something. This is despite the fact that two of the three other participants in the meeting were 45 min. late. I have attended so many meetings on so many subjects where I left without that feeling, that I tend to avoid meetings whenever possible. This feeling of accomplishment is what gardening, especially Growing Power gardening offers.

Today my son tore up cardboard boxes into small pieces for the compost pile, growing soil center, and felt, rightfully so, he did something. I cut the grass, also to compost pile, transplanted some plants, did some work on setting up an irrigation system for the garden and also felt I accomplished something. Like the meeting tonight we accomplished something meaningful and tangible.

Now that is not to say that there are not many obstacles in doing something meaningful, be it at a meeting or in the garden. I have been to a number of meetings about this bill that seemed to go nowhere. To cut my grass today I had to take a long journey to find a bolt on the mower’s wheel that broke. I went back to the store I had order the part from last week to find out they still they did not have this simple part. I had to go to a store a long ways away in the suburbs to finally get the part and than come home and install it. (Now the journey was not that bad since I the way out the suburban power center I stopped by a plant store and got a few plants and on the way back stopped at a frozen custard stand for cone of the flavor of the day for my lunch.) There are always obstacles to accomplishing something. That is just the way it is.

Actually when I was finaly cutting the grass, the rubber fell off one of my back wheels. Fortunately you do not need rubber on a wheel to cut grass, as you need a bolt to hold on the front wheel. However, this will mean another trip to a power equipment store.

So on the journey of making the most out of life, no matter how we try to avoid them, there will be obstacles. The trick seems to turn the obstacles in positive experiences like stopping for a frozen custard cone on the way or making soil out of discarded cardboard boxes or cut grass.

For those who are not from the Milwaukee area or Wisconsin I will need to someday explain the phenomenon of frozen custard. For now let me say it is a delicious treat on the bumpy road of life, just like a cold beer is after working up a sweat in the garden. Hard work at a meeting, sitting at an computer or working in the garden can be rewarding if we can see the obstacles on the road to doing what we are set out to do, as opportunities to deepen our journey and joy.

I mentioned that the meeting tonight that was delayed, was meaningful. It was while I was waiting for others to come that I had a chance to read from a book I just received today from the library. A speaker, a Muslim Peacemaker that spoke last week at a local university, had recommended the book. It is called “Jesus and Muhammad: The Parallel Sayings and is edited by Jerry Green. It has quotes from the Gospels and Koran side by side on various topics. Here are two that touch on the wonders of plant growth:

“See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6: 28–29

And it is He who sends down grain from the cloud; and We bring forth by it the buds of all the plants, and from them We bring forth the green foliage, and the close growing rain, and palm trees with sheaths of clustering dates, and gardens of grapes, olives and pomegranates, alike and unlike. Behold the fruits when they yield and ripen. Truly these are signs in this for people who believe.” (Koran 6:99)

On the journey of life do we find obstacles or opportunties. We can learn from nature here.

May 8, 2007 Royal Salad

Royal Tulips in front of house

For me tulips are in a royal class of flowers, they come back beautiful each year. However, they have one tragic flaw, at least in this county, once they bloom they die. I remember seeing many tulips in Holland and I think there, maybe because of climate, they bloom longer or keep growing for a longer period. But whatever the case, tulips are beautiful and royal while they last.

GRAF Aurgula salad

For some reason I was reading in this morning’s newspaper about the first every white-tie dinner of George W. Bush’s 6 year old presidency. It was for the Queen of England and she was given the royal treatment. I was reading some of the menu for the meal that included “pea soup, chive pizzelle caviar, Dover sole, saddle of spring lamb and arugula salad.” I stopped and reread one of the menu items, “arugula salad”, at this meal for royalty. Arugula is what I grow in the GP box in my sunroom during the winter and use for our salads. I will need to ask the White House Chef for his recipe for “Arugula salad” and maybe give him one of mine.

I was so inspired by the President and the Queen eating “arugula salad”, I immediately took some arugula seeds I had and went out and planted them in one of the vertical grower boxes. I wonder if the White House arugula was as organic and tasty as mine?

This afternoon Tegan, the wiki master of the Milwaukee Renaissance web pages, invited me to a gathering of persons of different groups involved in sustainable growing. The social gathering was at Timbuktu, the international gathering spot in the Riverwest area. There was a brief presentation by a Native American Religious woman who organized community gardens for Native Americans. However, most of the meeting was just introducing everyone and socializing.

To get there on time I had to cut short my time in the Garden and take a shower. On my weekly store-shopping run I had picked up a lot of waste, wood chips from the dump and some vegetable waste from one of the grocery store. With the help of my son, I took the waste and the coffee grounds I got yesterday and built the compost pile, soil maker, higher. I took a shower to rid myself of the garabe smell but the car still smelled.

Andor my partner in the GRAF site called tonight. He said he was bringing over some interesting seeds for use in the garden, including some edible flowers. Maybe these edible flowers will go well with the arugula and other salad greens I have growing and make for a new version of “arugula salad” fit for a Queen.

May 7, 2007 How the Worm Turns

Stars of the Show

Last night I mentioned how the growing healthy food movement was growing. Key to this movement are worms. They are starting to star once again. A friend from Holland recently sent me this article from the New York Times, How the Worm Turns about the mysterious and wonder full world of worms. As I said, many times before, they are the key to this method of Growing Power and are essential to the home model version of Growing Power that I am espousing.

Just look at my day today to see how important these blind and deaf creatures, outcast, are. This morning while driving to get a fishing license from a bait shop that sells worms, I stopped by two coffee shops to pick up coffee grounds. Some of the coffee grounds are used to feed the worms in the worm depository and the rest will be used for the compost pile, future worm food.

This afternoon I went to an apartment of a friend to bring home some compost, worms, castings and coyer for window planter in her apartment. The worms will eat and rest in the bottom of the planter all summer long, providing more energy and food for the plants above.

Running an errand for Mothers Against Gun Violence?, I stopped by Dawn’s house where my friend Godsil and I are building a compost pile. You guess it; the compost will be used in future growing at her houses to feed the worms that will produce castings from the compost.

Tonight I sent an email birthday card to my brother in Iowa. Really cannot find a worm connection there.

Worms are fascinating, creatures, unisex, deaf and dumb and some doubt if they have a brain, (As the article states Darwin thought they did). One of the lowest of creatures and yet is one of the most important creature to growing renewable affordable food. How the worm turns so goes Growing Power.

May 6, 2007 Fools for Growing Power

Fools for Growing Power

My friend, Godsil, co-founder of Milwaukee Renaissance, and I had a common friend many years ago, Ken Feit. Ken was a professional fool. He went around the country bringing his sound poetry, flea show, story telling and other acts to people all over the USA. Children loved him and adults heard a lot in the message of his media. Unfortunately Ken died in a traffic accident in the late seventies, but his way of being a fool continues. One of Godsil’s friends, Sky Schultz, also known to children as Professor Oops, goes around the country bringing education in science to school children through magic and humor.

A month or so ago Godsil invited Andor, my partner in the GRAF enterprise, and Sky and me to his house to help him start a compost pile enriched with worms, to grow some soil. In the above picture, from left to right, are Godsil, Sky and Andor (the one holding a worm.) In the spirit of my friend Ken Feit I call this picture “Fools for Growing Power.”

When I first heard of Will Allen and Growing Power, via Godsil, it was a new thought for me, urban farming. Nowadays it seems like everyone is talking about it or doing it in some way or other. This morning’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial section, Crossroads, has an article from a community columnist called “Cultivate an interest in community gardening and farming.” Godsil has opened my eyes to all kinds of persons right here in the community who are working on some aspect of urban gardening; many are using some or all of the methods developed by Growing Power.

In fact this movement to grow renewable affordable food is growing worldwide. I have been trying to reach Will Allen with a few simple questions and requests, but find he is traveling everywhere with the message of Growing Power. I just heard today that he is doing a tour of London this coming week. I know he has been all over the USA and to Africa with the message of Growing Power.

Knowing this makes me feel even better about moving compost around, planting seeds, sifting out castings, watering with ‘tea” and the many other little chores that my wife, my son and I did today in our home model garden. It makes me feel good about the GRAF enterprise Andor and I are starting. Also today, when after Church a religious woman friend told me about the planter box she was setting up in her small apartment, I was glad to offer some worms and compost to her.

The slogan of Growing Power is “Together We Are Growing Power” and the ‘we’ is growing every day. Do not worry about me getting too big-headed (not that I am not already). I am still a “worm guy”, moving slowly and as an individual very insignificant. But worms, as we know, when they get together in some good waste, multiply quickly and cast off “black gold”. We are not worms but can be “fools for growing power”!

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May 5, 2007 Green Peace and Justice

Vertical Grower GRAF

Today we took almost all of the rest of the enriched soil, mostly castings, out of the sun-room GP box and ran some of it over a wide-holed screen over the wheelbarrow to get some fine ‘black gold’ soil. Mixed 50/50 with coir, it now makes a nice mix for the vertical growing boxes and planters in the garden. So the planters and boxes have three layers: rough compost on bottom, then worm-enriched soil from the worm depository, and on top this mix of fine soil and coyer. Now we need to plant the seeds or seedlings. In one of the boxes in the vertical growers I transplanted some strawberry plants that have been growing but not producing any strawberries since I moved into this house almost five years ago. I planted some in a mound near the garage, and now some in one of my boxes. Let’s hope this works.

My friend Marna from Mothers Against Gun Violence? called today from Tennessee. She went there last week for a funeral, and her children decided she need a rest, so they left her there without a way back. Although she suffers from some serious diseases, Marna is very passionate about her work to stop gun violence in Milwaukee. She called me for an update about the work she had been doing on The Responsible Gun Ownership bill, which would require registration of secondary gun sales in Wisconsin. I told her that we are having a planning meeting with our State Senator tomorrow, and the legislature will have a hearing on the bill at the end of May. That was the good news. The bad news is that last week we had four more homicides, bringing the city of Milwaukee total to 46. I had planted some strawberries in a mound in her backyard, and she told me today that she was bringing back some more strawberry plants from Tennessee. Here is praying that the gun violence stops and the strawberries grow.

Plant Stand GRAF

The inside planter that Andor designed is doing okay, but lacking sun in the sun-room, the plants are taking a hiatus. I understand that plants grow at night, but without sun during the day there is not much growing happening at night.

Today, returning from the commercial plant store sale, where I bought three more houseplants for a few dollars — two large and one very colorful — I stopped by a friend’s fair trade store that she had recently opened. Besides finding gifts for my wife for Mother’s Day and my granddaughter for her birthday, I got to talking with my friend at the store. I reminded her about the delicious Guatemalan coffee from Guatemala — Juan Anna Coffee — that she cam purchase and sell inexpensively. Eventually, our conversation drifted toward growing renewable affordable food GRAF. She is a peace studies teacher at the local university, and easily saw the connection between peace, the justice of fair trade and Growing Power. The three-part logo my son designed for this site represents the three-but-one aspect of Growing Power: Peace, Justice and Growing. Growing Power started when Will Allen was working with troubled youth on his urban farm and was dong a worm project with the youth. Yes, there is a connection among the three for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Justice and Peace are Green.

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May 4, 2007 More Mary and Flowers

Today, after removing most of the worms from the Growing Power box, Peter and I removed the worm-enriched soil from the box. This soil, consisted mostly of castings — black gold — was put on top of the mounds in the garden and on top of the four boxes of the two vertical growers (See G.R.A.F.). These mounds and boxes are ready for planting, although some of the seeds and plants will need to wait for warmer weather. The weather has been cool.

Tomorrow I will need to check out the rest of my supply of seeds to see what can be started indoors or outdoors. Also tomorrow the local commercial office-plant business has their monthly clearance of plants. Usually some good houseplants are very inexpensive. Also tomorrow I will take advantage of the big box of empty planters they leave out for the taking. I never had any use for these plastic planters before, but now can use them around the yard to grow flowers and vegetables.

Speaking of flowers, May is the month honoring Mary, the Mother of God in many of the Christian faiths. I can remember as a kid having a Mary May crowning in school at which we would place flowers before the statue of Mary in church and place a crown of flowers on her head. For the next generation, my children’s, Mary’s role was downplayed and there were no May crownings. But she is making a comeback of sorts in today’s faith. Back some years ago, when I was a religious educator at a church, I can remember bringing back the May Crowning of Mary ritual. The elderly and the young children in the church thought it was great, and the in-between generations really did not know what was going on. However, May is a month of fresh flowers returning to Wisconsin earth, so there were plenty of flowers.

I spend a lot of time on this diary talking about growing food. However, the ‘same old, same old’ way of Growing Power that is effective in growing food is also effective in growing flowers. My houseplants love the weekly feeding of casting ‘tea’ bringing them all kinds of new life. My white poinsettia from last Christmas still sits on the dining room table looking good. The same old soil that makes for healthy food plants makes for healthy flowers.

In the front of the house the tulips are in full bloom, and in the garden the daffodils and some annuals are in bloom. Soon they will die to be replaced by a second wave of flowers for the summer months and than for the fall they will be replaced by mums and stuff. There is a flower for every season except winter. Most flowers are useless for food but great for the table and to add beauty in our lives. I need more flowers in my life. Maybe next time my three grandchildren are down here we should pick a few flowers and have a May crowning. Flowers, like Mary, remind of us the greatness and beauty of creation. In Mary’s words, in the canticle of Mary in the gospels, we can look at a beautiful flower and say: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

I need more flowers and more Mary in my life.

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May 3, 2007 Waiting for the Worms

Waiting for the Worms

Mounds and boxes are ready

Today I got some more mounds and the four boxes of the G.R.A.F. vertical growing units ready to go. In the boxes and mounds I have the rough compost and the worm enriched soil. However, what the mounds and the boxes are missing is a top layer of castings — black gold — mixed with some coyer. I have the coyer in a block and have the castings in the GP box in the sun-room. However I am waiting for the worms.

The worms in the GP box in the sun-room are still coming up through the screen for the fresh compost. Worms are so slow. I will give them another day to come up and be placed outside into the worm condo for the summer. Tomorrow or Saturday, however, I will start removing the soil from the GP box in the sun-room to be used as topsoil for the mounds and the vertical growing boxes. The remaining worms in the enriched soil will just have to go down, instead of up, to find some fresh compost. Since worms are unisex and do not have mates and family, it is not like I am breaking up couples or groups. It is just the wait that is ending.

Since worms move so slowly, I imagine waiting is not a real problem for them. We humans, however, seem to usually be in the ‘fast lane’, and waiting can be a problem. Learning how to wait, be it in a line at a grocery store, waiting for the doctor, waiting for food stamps or waiting in traffic, can be a real art form for us humans.

I might have mentioned before that one of my mentors in life, a Jesuit priest, was a good teacher of how to wait. He taught me how to use the moments of waiting in my life as moments for prayer and reflection. The trick to good waiting is to free your mind from worries and concerns and to enter into a silent mode. Not only does the waiting time go faster but also you leave it refreshed and energized. There are many techniques for good waiting. One I used to use is the Jesus prayer or prayer beads. You silently repeat a short prayer or mantra, like the Jesus prayer, over and over again while quietly breathing and pressing your fingers around some beads. Muslims and Buddhist, I believe, have a similar way of repetitive prayer. It seems to be something developed in the eastern world. For us in the western world there is a valuable lesson in this way of waiting.

We could be like worms and do everything in slow motion. If we did that maybe we would cast off, as worms do, valuable and rich castings. However, since that is most unlikely in the busy world we live in, using our waiting time to be quiet is probably a more effective way to be productive.

My mentor on waiting, the now-elderly priest in a retirement home, was also my mentor on the ‘power of observation’, something I try to employ in this diary. I was going to visit him and another friend in the same retirement home today, but was too busy to do so. They will just have to wait. Or maybe I should say I just need to wait.

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May 2, 2007 Same Old New

Today things changed and remained the same. Thanks to Tegan, the Growing Renewable Affordable Food site GRAF was redesigned but will remain the same: a way to apply the power of Growing Power to home and garden. In a few days I will take some of the postings from this diary and put them together in a “how to” section of the new site, and will clearly present the four products that have been created so far in this model.

Tonight I went to hear an American/Iraqi citizen dedicated to nonviolence talk about Iraq, where he now lives once more. His powerful talk changed my understanding of the conditions in Iraq, but confirmed my commitment to “Bring the Troops Home Now.”

In the garden I built some new mounds, but used the same old, same old system.

I talked today with some different persons about advice for using the Growing Power home model for their gardens. It was new conversations with the same old advice.

This morning I went to prayer vigils for two homicide victims — actually three if you count the fetus one of the women was carrying. At both of the vigils the same-old persons were there that regularly attend these prayer vigils, but each vigil was new and fresh.

Tonight I made a turkey, noodle, vegetable soup that was once more one of my original creations. This time, however, it not only tasted great but also looked good. That is new for me.

My newsletter, Living Stones, went out yesterday. I had the same old problem of formatting that I have had on the last 22 issues. Maybe next time I will get it right. If you would like to subscribe to this free email newsletter just send me an email at .

The logo above is the one we used on the G.R.A.F. site. I asked him to give me something that represents Growing Power. It might look at first glance like the same old clover, but look carefully and you can see it is new.

New life is to be found in the same old, same old, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

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May 1, 2007 “Be the change you want to see in the world”

Growng Soil 05/01/07

It is May Day around the world. Immigrants march around the USA for a fair and legal immigration policy. The people of Cuba marched in Havana without the presence of their leader.

It turns out that Cuba has not only one of the best health-care systems in the world, but now there is a movie describing the excellent agriculture system Cuba has developed. Good food and good health-care do go together, like in Cuba, just as unhealthy food and poor health-care go together in the USA. If only the USA government could get off its high horse and call off the boycott of Cuba. There is a lot we can learn from Cuba, and a lot they could benefit from trade with us. One of the areas we can learn from Cuba is about growing renewable affordable food, and having good, affordable health-care for all.

At lunch at the Aramanth Café today I had a discussion with my artist friend Patricia Obletz about how things will change in this country, especially parity in health insurance for mental illnesses (see Mental Health Parity Bill?). She still is a strong believer in voting, calling, writing, emailing political leaders. I think all that is good and fine but is what the “powers that be” want us to do and believe. I do not discard these actions but feel strongly that real changes come when persons become the change they want to see. For example, my friend Frank Blair’s idea for a national strike, if accepted by all Americans who want to stop the war in Iraq, would do more to stop it than any voting or letter writing. But this idea would require a sacrifice, something not too popular these days with the America people. American people who want the war or do not want the war in Iraq agree on one fundamental fact: no sacrifice. Let the American soldiers fight the war, and our grandchildren pay for it. As one American soldier returning to Iraq pointed out recently, this is the first war we have fought that requires no general sacrifice by the American people.

This thought brings me around to why I invest so much time in GP home gardening, indoors and outside. In some little way I am trying to become the change I want to see: urban people growing food that is healthy and affordable. It is easier to be the change you want to see in this area than in many others. But we need to keep on trying to do such in all areas.

Tomorrow night I am going to the UWM campus to hear an Iraqi who people are calling the “Muslim Gandhi of Iraq”. Gandhi led India to independence. It was also Gandhi who said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi was a Growing Power kind of guy, into growing one’s own food and making one’s own clothes. Like Peter Maurin and other great philosophers of creative non-violence, there was major “back to the earth” spirit in his words and actions. He formed many communities, some of which still exist and model what could be. He truly was the change he wanted to see in the world.

Whenever leaders like Gandhi, Mandela, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Jesus, and Martin Luther King Jr. have became the change they want to see, they have inspired others to do the same and it has changed the world.

Above is the new compost, soil-building spot behind my garage. It is 12 feet long, 40 inches wide and, when finished, will be 58 inches tall. (It is now 24 inches tall). Good cooked compost like this pile sells for about $75 a square yard. Hopefully someone who knows math will figure out and let me know the value of this compost pile when it is done. In a day or two on the GRAF page I will describe in detail what is in this compost pile. However, it is interesting to note that this pile of waste is becoming the change it wants to be, returning to living organic material like it was in the beginning of its existence.

Also today I potted some of the seedlings — beans, squash, cucumbers — that I started from seed in the sun-room. They had outgrown the planters, but the weather was not quite ready for them to go outside. In their own pots they can grow, be strong and ready to go outside and bear fruit.

Finally, I changed the compost on top of the screen over the GP box in the sun-room again today. I took the compost, now full of worms, from the screen and put it in the worm condo. I replaced it with fresh compost. Hopefully this third change can be the last and I will have an 8’ X 2’ X 2’ box of about 80% castings. Castings are worth about $75 a five-gallon bucket. Now here is another math challenge for someone. How much is the soil in the GP box worth?

I am not selling the compost or castings that I am creating from waste with the help of my livestock, worms. I will use it for my own garden and for other gardens in the central city where I am working with people to grow renewable affordable food. Maybe in this little way I can be the change I want to see.

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PR MINISTRY 414 379 4162, Publisher of Living Stones email newsletter and facilitator for Retreat in Daily Life.


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