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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 06/17/07


June 30, 2007 Resurrection



Today my wife sorted out some compost and castings from the worm condo. She was able to sift out three five-gallon buckets of castings or ‘black gold.’ There is more to go but for now I will give a bucket to Marna and one to Dawn to use to fertilize around their plants and to make “tea”. I will do the same for my plants, in the GP box, in mounds, in planters and in buckets. The castings when mixed with water release rich nutrients in to the ground that feed the plant organically better than any fertilizer, even Miracle Gro can do.

At the funeral Mass the other day the gospel was read about the rising of Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, from the dead. It was a good reading for a Resurrection Funeral Service and I thought of it today when I was planting the last of the plants that had been given to the DMZ garden over a week ago. These last ones seem dead but as my recent experience has taught me they come back to life when planted in the same old, same old soil we grew from waste. Above are two pictures of pepper plants. The first one is how droopy and dead the three in the bucket looked before they were transplanted in this bucket of compost and castings. They look so dead that I put three in one bucket figuring probably only one would make it. A few hours only after planting they look alive and resurrected. I noticed tomato plants take about a day in good soil to resurrect from the dead but in the rich organic soil they too came to life.

This is why the “black gold” or castings we sifted today from the worm condo are so important. It is not only enough to transplant into good soil, the plants must be fed with ‘tea’ and fresh castings. We have more castings to get out of the worm condo and once we do, we will fill it with more compost and worms and go for another patch of castings by fall.

The compost soil that did not fall through the screen as we shook it went, with the worms, into the worm depository to feed the worms and to add to the worms. I also put some coffee grounds, wood chips and fresh compost on the depository. Worms do not eat their own castings so it is important to keep the soil there fresh with food for worms to eat, produce and cast.

Also when I was transferring soil to Marna’s and Dawn’s DMZ and making new mounds and plants in my own garden, I used some of this worm-enriched soil from the depository to fill, along with compost, the mounds, plants and buckets.

Tonight we went to the East side to see the movie “Sicko” by Michael Moore. It is an excellent movie about the conditions of health care system in the country. It pointed out how other western countries have a healthy health care system based on ‘we’ while we have an expensive ineffective system based on ‘me’.

Healthy Food or non-healthy food plays and important part of the health situation in this country. After the movie we walked over the nearby “Whole Foods” store, a major chain store for organic food. We purchased a few things and would like to have purchased a lot more. But the price for organic food is high. But we did feel better walking through the produce department seeing the prices of the food, some of the same food we are growing. The price of the kale we had in our pasta dish tonight was extremely high as were the salad greens, which we enjoy almost daily.

Before working in the garden for a long time this afternoon my wife was not concerned about the amount of food we are growing in the small garden. On the way to the movie tonight she was concerned that with the rich soil we would have too much produced in the garden. I said that was not a problem that we can always share with our partners and others the harvest. In the words of the movie I could have said that we are ‘we’ not ‘me’ people and the more we receive the more we need to give.

If we can keep growing health soil from waste and resurrecting plants that seemed dead maybe some day we will have enough healthy whole food, with the blessings of God, to resurrect a few persons.

June 29, 2007 Bookworms

I really made a good effort today to get the remaining plants given to the DMZ gardens in some go old homemade soil. I placed them in planters and pots inside and outside. Some of them looked dreary and we will need to wait a day or two to find out if they survived

Some time was taken today to bring my camera to the library when my wife works. The head of the children’s library is moving to California and for a going away present asked for pictures. One of the nice things about digital cameras are they are sustainable. With my camera you can all the pictures you want, delete them after you transfer them to the computer and than edit the ones you want, print them or made them in slide show. The same digital disk than can be used over and over again.

I took so many pictures at the library today that I forgot to take any of the garden and my efforts to grow more in the same space. Now what I need and hope to get help with is to shift the castings in the worm condo to make some real “black gold”, refined castings, that I can fertilize all the plants in the three gardens and use for the ‘tea’ bags in the rain barrels. One key aspect of growing a lot in a small space is to keep the soil well fertilized. Castings make for the best organic fertilizer and when watered make for a continuous feeding for the plants. Also the worms eating the compost below the mound and in the planters and pots should be supplying the plant’s roots with casting fertilization.

In fact using so many worms to fertilize the soil in my garden and the other two DMZ gardens has outpaced the production of worms in the worm depository. Fortunately I can pick up more worms at any time from the major worm depositories at Growing Power. Hopefully when we get the worm condo and Worm Depository we are planning at Dawn’s DMZ garden, we will be self sustaining with worms, the key ingredient to this way of growing more in a small space.

Speaking of library and worms let me once again recommend a children’s book: “The Diary of Worm.” My grandchildren told me about it. It has great pictures, has a little information about worms but most importantly, it is funny. I will need to ask my wife where the phrase “bookworm” comes from. It certainly applies to my day today. Although I did a little reading most of my day was spent around books and worms.

June 28, 2007 You are what you eat

There is an old saying that “you are what you eat.” The Ghanaian visitor last Saturday reinforced that statement when he was telling us how important growing one’s own healthy food as far as possible, was part of the way of following Gandhi’s way of life. He said how unhealthy food is like poison for your system. As followers of Growing Power movement of growing renewable affordable food we already know this, at least intellectually. In practice it is another story. I am not going to tell you when my son and I stopped for dinner tonight and what we had. However, I am becoming more aware of what I eat.

Today there were two more warnings on Chinese products that may be poisoning us. One is on some toothpaste from China that had some toxic materials in it and one was on Chinese grown fish and shrimp that had some poisonous chemicals in it. Add these two to dog food from China and the long list of other toxic products we import from there and one can say that the Chinese system of producing cheap products at low cost using chemicals and ingredients outlawed in this country is the opposite to Growing Power.

Today I was trying to think of creative nonviolent actions that would help stop the war in Iraq and other dangerous actions by our government. One I thought about was a national effort to stop purchasing products made in China. China is the one that sells us cheap, sometimes dangerous products and takes the money to purchase the bonds that finance the war effort. China is also guilty of draining the resources of countries, like in African, by making deals with totalitarian regimes, like in Sudan, that drain the countries resources, pay lousy wages to workers and provide big profits for the totalitarian regime and China. As the film about Wal Mart, China’s big partner, goes this is “The High Cost of Low Price.” (If you boycott China products you must as well not shop at Wal Mart anymore.)

I have another one of this direct nonviolent actions to stop the war and am trying to think of others to put in an essay for my “Living Stones” newsletter coming out soon.

I am still working on planting more food in the small spaces of our three garden yards in the DMZ. It is easier to do it here in this garden since than I do not need to haul the soil over to the other two gardens. In my effort to grow more in same space I put up three more planters on the fence today to make for a total of six. Also I took some more tomato plants over to Marna’s DMZ garden. Tomorrow I can finish planting the rest, perhaps in some pails in my garden which than can be easily moved to the other gardens.

In the meanwhile it is time to pick some lettuce, greens and herbs again. I am trying to hold off on picking too much till next week when my grandchildren come for a visit. Picking healthy organic food is almost as much fun as eating it. It certainly beats the cheap labor and artificial way of growing food that big agriculture here and China employ, often with underpaid laborers.

Growing healthy food with chemicals might be slower than the growing unhealthy food, but if there is truth to the statement you become what you eat, I rather be a healthy organic person that a sick unhealthy one. Fast is not always good in food, growing or eating, and the cost of unhealthy cheap food is too expensive for my blood.

June 27, 2007 More in Same Space

More in same space

In the unending quest to grow more renewable, affordable food in small spaces, I came up with another way of how to grow more in my small garden. Actually I borrowed the idea from a TV ad for a hanging bag from the fence to grow tomatoes. My adaptation was to take a hanging pot full of same old, same old soil and to plant a tomato plant in it and hang it with plant hanger on the fence. I did this three times today and will add a few more tomorrow along the fence in the driveway that gets sun most of the day.

I also added more plants in the GP box, which I showed you yesterday. If I have more plant hangers, I can hang some on the board above the GP box also. The garden gizmo of the five boxes talked about in the June 23rd posting, the use of the five gallon paint buckets, the buckets and planters along the fence in the driveway, along with the vertical box and the GP indoor plant stands all are ways to grow more in the same space.

Since Life is like a Growing Power garden, growing more in the same space forces me to reflect how in life we can find more, if we are looking for it, with what we already have. There is no need to have more in terms of acquisition, to find meaning and happiness.

I also remember the people of Guatemala Buried in Guatemala? from my pilgrimage there a year ago last year. Very few persons controlled most of the land in the country. However, the people with a small piece of land made the most of it. For example the Juan Ana coffee growers, from whom I still buy my coffee, use worm castings around their coffee threes to enrich the growth and use shade trees next to their coffee trees, whose branches providing fire wood and wood to carve. They are growing a lot of excellent coffee beans in a small space by getting more of the same space.

Children are the best of getting more out of one thing. You can tell a silly story to a young child and they will laugh and ask you to say it again by saying “more” or “again.” The next time you repeat the silly story they laugh just as hard as the first time and ask for it again. With my grandchildren I have got in some situations whitch I just had to say “that’s all”. They could continue it seems endlessly finding more in the same.

One of my thoughts in building my garden in the yard was to be able to sit in the sunroom or on the deck and just peacefully look at the garden and quietly reflect. In silence and reflection we develop the ability the ability to see and hear more in the same. This is one area, being, that I can admit failure and a need to do more. (Doing more at being is a paradox.) If I do, watch out, since I will be seeing even more in the same small garden and more in the same life.

June 26, 2007 Growing in Small Spaces

GP Box Today

The home model of Growing Power is all about growing renewable affordable food GRAF in small spaces. This new influx of free plants challenged us in the DMZ garden co-op to grow more in our small spaces. We have been putting plants in our homemade soil in any available spot in our backyards.

One change is that last summer the GP box in the sunroom was empty, the worms going to the worm condo and the soil to the garden. This year I placed pots and planters in the box and am growing tomatoes and peppers. It gets hot in the sunroom during the summer days, which is a good environment for these plants. Of course the soil in the pots and planters is the same old, same old soil and drains through the bottom of the GP box to give us tea.

Dawn’s DMZ Garden Addition

We transported more buckets of the ingredients of same old, same old soil to Dawn’s DMZ garden today and build an additional row of plants. We also have been using five gallon empty buckets as planters. I was hoping to paint the buckets first and maybe add some artwork but the necessity of getting the plants in soil took priority over any art. One of these days I hope to paint white all the buckets and maybe have my son and grandchildren add some art work to them keeping they full of soil and plants. Maybe next year we can paint and decorate first before planting.

Some of the plants we put in grey plastic containers and paint buckets were dying in the very small plastic containers they came in. Now they we have planted them in these planters or in one of the gardens the have taken a new life. They just need a little more space to flourish.

I heard a Russian balladeer on public radio today say how he finds wonder and inspiration in small things that all around us. He reminded me of my mentor Father Bob Purcell S. J. who taught us the power of observation that can find real meaning and significance in the smallest of things.

Last week when I briefly saw Will Allen of Growing Power he told me how the movement was growing and how next month he was going to Ukraine. As the world becomes smaller through communications, growing renewable affordable food in small spaces spreads.

June 25, 2007 Brothers and Sisters

New addition today to Marna’s DMZ garden

I had a long talk with my brother in Iowa tonight via phone. My brother and I do not talk much by phone but when we do it is a good conversation. As we both grow older we become more alike in our thinking and more different than our children, his and mine.

It was one of his son’s, my nephew that first made me aware of the English saying of “Bob’s Your Uncle” which means more or less “Do not worry, be happy.” He worked for pizza restaurant called “Bob’s Your Uncle” owned by an Australia.

The phrase became more meaningful when the family we sponsored from Sierra Leone started calling me ‘Uncle Bob’. As another ‘nephew’ from Sierra Leone told me that it is common in some African countries to call other adults Uncle’s and Aunt’s.

Some years ago when I was working on a garden with youth on central city project called Gingerbread Land, the ‘mother’ or ‘sister’ of the project, Sister Clara, had the youth call me ‘Brother Bob’.

So in English speaking countries “Bob’s your uncle” became a way of saying be free and do not worry, in countries like Sierra Leone it became a way of recognizing our interconnectedness and in some African American communities calling someone “brother”, sister or mother has become a way of showing respect.

All these ways of referring to persons as relatives or telling persons not to worry are ways of expression that we are all one community and need not worry since as a community we will take care of each other.

The closeness I feel to my brother in Iowa is similar to closeness I feel with some friends in the Milwaukee community. It is a growing spirit world wide, made more real by Internet and media.

Also it is very connected to the spirit of Growing Power. The phrase used in the Growing Power verniculture movement is “Together we are Growing Power.” That is like combinations of the freedom of “Bob’s Your Uncle” with the interconnectedness of we are all related.

The DMZ garden co-op we formed recently is a good example of this spirit. The three of us, Marna, Dawn and I all contribute to each other’s effort to Grow Renewable Affordable Food GRAF. It is in this spirit that I spend an hour or so this afternoon planting the plants that Dawn got for us in Marna’s yard with my home grown soil. It is the same spirit that Marna is seeking out a truck load of wood chips for our compost pile at Dawn’s yard. All our efforts, with the help of our wiki gnome, Tegan Dowling are able to be communicated with you.

As we become more diverse and spread out over the world we become more in communication with each other and what happens. Healthy food is a big connection. We all desire and need it yet so many of our brothers and sisters go hungry while a few of us worry about obesity. Growing Power and other efforts to grow affordable healthy food are at the heart of the felt connection.

So do not worry or fret, just remember that Bob’s Your Uncle’ and that all your relations will take care you when you are need as you are there for your ‘brothers and sisters’.

June 24, 2007 Mr. Green

Jerry Engel RIP

When grandchildren are visiting things become busy. It was that way from late yesterday afternoon till early this afternoon when they left for a family reunion of my daughter-in-law’s family. It was a good kind of busyness, one you may not even notice till it is gone. However, appreciation of it came in a shocking way this morning during Sunday service when in the prayers for the dead we prayed for Jerry Engel, a parishioner who just died. Jerry was no ordinary member of the Church. He was an extraordinary, ordinary member. He was a church trustee, the clue that held the St. Vincent De Paul Society together, was always working in the food pantry and the man who saw to it there were plenty of fresh coffee, rolls and donuts after Sunday morning service.y. He had a no nonsense work approach to his work at the church but a gentle compassionate heart to all. He will be missed.

It is noteworthy that on this day of notice of Jerry’s death, Don Richardson, another elder of the Church, announced that after every Sunday service in the church hall we were going to start selling fresh organic fruits and vegetables from Growing Power. For the first sale Will Allen had thrown in free melons for every family. After the service the line up for to purchase the health vegetables and fruits was longer than the line for the coffee and donuts.

Usually after Church there are some free bread and bagels in the back of Church. Today however, there was no bread but some plants from a local nursery. We have plenty of plants for our DMZ gardens but these plants were cucumbers, something I have had no luck with at all this year. So I took one that looked near death but still had life. Latter this afternoon my adult son made a hill for it and planted it in the garden. Within hours it perked up.

My two grandsons have shown a keen interest in the garden. Yesterday they picked grape leaves for a future dinner. My oldest grandson, 9, and his 9-year-old cousin went around the garden today doing a taste test of the all the herbs and greens. My grandson made a baggie of types of greens and herbs he was going to take home. His mom said that he should keep them until next week when the three grandchildren come down to stay with us a few days. I pointed out that the greens and herbs would not last a week, but that we could eat them this week in our salad and next week he could pick another bunch, since they grow back. He did not like the idea and than his mom said they would be returning here before going back home tonight so he could take it at that time. My wife told me latter that they would not probably return tonight so I guess the second option is going to happen. One nice thing about growing renewable affordable food is that it is renewable and keeps on giving.

We called ourselves a “Green Church” at Blessed Trinity and I guess we really are. Jerry was also the one directing the efforts to put in more efficient heating and lightening system. So today we have a youth discovery the joys of growing good food and news of the passing of an elder of community who was making the church and community green for everyone. The spirit of Jerry, Mr. Green of our Church, lives on in all of us, especially today in my grandson. One life passes into new life and one new life grows in awareness of growing power.

June 23, 2007 Another Garden Gizmo

Today while waiting for my son and his family to come for a visit I worked on the garden. I decided to invent something to make use of the four grey boxes that Andor brought over yesterday and the new plants that have been given to us in the DMZ garden co-op. First I drilled some holes in the bottom of the plastic boxes. I found some old pieces of stones and wood fence boards in a pile behind the garage. With the use of some unused steps I was able to place the four grey boxes off the concrete in a very sunny spot. I filled the boxes with the same old, same old soil and planted in them some of the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants we had recently acquired. I did not have catch boxes to place below the grey planters so for now I just put some of the lids of the 5 gallon paint buckets that I had to catch the “tea” that runs through the boxes. Plastic catch basis, which are inexpensive, are the only things I need to purchase for this new GP garden gizmo. So with a little imagination, some throwaway items and the same old, same old soil I hopefully have a way to grow , to make castings and collect tea in a space that would otherwise been wasted.

Also while I was waiting two GP friends came by, Godsil and Andor, one to take some plants for a homeless shelter garden and one to bring some plants that we needed and did not have.

This morning I was renewed in awareness of the connection between Growing Power and Creative Nonviolence, my two foci in life. An n a friend brought over a person from India who is dedicated to spread the good news of the way of life promoted by Gandhi n India. When explaining Gandhi’s principles for the good life he referred to growing renewal affordable food (GRAF. He explained how the laws of nature and the principles of nonviolence are alike and by using them in making our food, clothes and ordinary items we can learn about the connection of all things in nature and the soul force or love that is at the heart of nonviolence. Although this wise teacher was unaware of Catholic social principles or Ignatian Spirituality until recently, he spoke so much of what I believe in and try to practice. My friend and I are going to organize with him a Ghanaian peace pilgrimage to India in Jan. of 2009.

For a while I have been thinking of creating a wiki web page about Creative Nonviolence and Ignatian Spirituality and now believe I am motivated to do so, when the time is right.

Sunset on the concert in the park

Tonight my wife, son, daughter in law, three grandchildren, one of their cousins I went to a concert in the Washington Park by the Milwaukee symphony orchestra. The three guys went off on the side to play ball with some newly found friends, my granddaughter danced and the adults listened to a wonderful concert on a beauty evening.. As I have mentioned before, this park on the Westside, was my play area when I was a child growing up. We went there to fish, ice skate, to sled, watch a concert, for a family picnic, to play sports and, in my days, to visit the Milwaukee County zoo that was located there. So going back there with my three old grandchild who is three and free was a real homecoming for me. This was truly a nonviolence experience. No new garden gizmo here, just a wonderful concert at sunset in the park

June 22, 2007 The Abundance

One lesson in life I have learned is that the more you do and the better you do it the more there is to do. My awareness of this lesson came some years ago when I was a DRE/Youth Minister at a Church. The office manager, who worked long hours, kept saying to me the first year I was there that the job would be easier the next year, since I would be doing it the second time. I worked hard the first year and did a lot. However, because of all this hard work and the building of the program there was more to do the second year. The same was true for the third year and when I resigned after that year I was replaced with two persons. I realized the office manager was just saying that to make me feel good. She also did a good job and fined herself working harder and harder every year. By the third year when we both found ourselves at work late at night, I jokingly suggested we form a new anonymous group, workaholics anonymous WA. We were both addicted to our work. I resigned after three years and my guess is she is still there working.

I have worked hard on creating the Growing Power Home Model. My work has been abundantly blessed. The picture of the plants above is part of the peppers, tomatoes and eggplant varieties given to us by a friend of Dawn’s after the first DMZ garden co-op yesterday. There was more but I spend a good part of today planting some in my garden and in Dawn’s. There is more to go.

Other abundances today came tonight when Andor delivered the local Park Beat newspaper that has a feature on our GRAF growing system. Also he traded me five big boxes to be used as planters in exchange for some good soil and some plants.

A Jesuit priest that I have heard about that has similar interest in creative nonviolence called today and we set up a time to meet. He is also of Lebanese decent.

Another friend called this evening and is coming over tomorrow with a person from India that might make my dream of traveling to India possible.

Even my wife who sometimes is critical of my love of ‘custard’ suggested tonight that we go out for custard after dinner. (For non-Milwaukeeans persons custard is a rich dairy product better than ice cream that is made fresh in vanilla, chocolate and flavor of day. Your purchase it at drive up type of places all over the city.)

To show you how extraordinary today was, Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power was there today when I stopped by to pick up some coir (dried coconut shavings.) We exchanged greetings and he told me that next month he was off to the Ukraine to spread the good news of Growing Power.

Now as my elder Jesuit friend mentioned to me last week “you live with what is given you.” Much has been given me so there is much I need to give. Abundance is to be shared. However, you need to combine being with doing or otherwise you never enjoy the abundance.

June 21, 2007 Long Day in the DMZ

DMZ is born the first day of summer

Today was the first gathering of the DMZ garden co-op. Pictured on the side are the founding members (l to r), Maria who lives at one of Dawn’s houses, Dawn, Marna and yours truly. The first thing we did was take a tour of my yard and sunroom. After feasting on a lunch of a delicious garden salad, from my garden, homemade bread from Amaranth café, ham and watermelon we got down to business. We talked about our needs, persons to collect waste for our compost piles, another worm condo at Dawn’s, maybe a worm depository at Marna, source of workers from school and volunteers at Dawn’s, types of plants to grow, especially ones that are renewable and affordable in the GRAF system of applying Growing Power to home and garden.

Near the end of the meeting Dawn said she had to go to check on more free plant donations, like the ones she had shared with us.. It turned out that the place where she gets the plant donations is near my house. So all four of us went there and received a bonanza of already started plants, tomatoes, eggplant, hot and bell peppers. We brought them all back to my house for distribution and for trading.

We are still wafting for worms to come out of depository so we all will have a good supply of castings for our gardens. Also we talked about persons we can give plants to in exchange for compost materials and other things we need to complete our gardens. I was thinking of taking a day off of gardening tomorrow but no longer. We need to build some more mounds, fill more buckets and get these new plants planted in the three DMZ gardens.

Fortunately today was the longest day of the year so that tonight after driving my friend Ella Ellas Patch Quilts? to a meeting I was able to return and work a little on the garden.

For those that want to know, No, I did not make Grape Leaves for lunch. I talked about grape leaves and pointed out how plentiful they were but did not have the courage to make them myself.

One of the nice things about the DMZ garden co-op is that we all come from different backgrounds of cooking. Marna and Dawn know how to cook and use greens and other vegetables. Maria is very good cooking food native to Puerto Rico and I am a generalist with a taste for Middle Eastern cooking. We all use the same foods, tomatoes, greens, eggplants, herbs and so on but in different ways.

What we are dong with the DMZ is nothing new. There have been backyard and community co-op gardens for ages. Also there are gardens that use the methods of Growing Power, making soil from waste and the use of worms. What makes the DMZ unique is the people and their commitment go Growing Renewable Affordable Food, Growing Power home model gardens in backyards and gardens in the central city. Marna already has some neighbor gardeners who want to be part of the DMZ but we need to move slowly. Dawn owns a vacant lot on a block near her homes that has seven or eight vacant lots on it. Hopefully we can expand next year to those vacant lots and in the future more of the vacant lots in the central city, which mostly are owned by the city and maintained by the city, at some expense, as grassy areas. All would like to see houses on these lots but in the meanwhile why not community gardens.

So today, June 21, 2007, the first day of summer, the longest day of the year is the birthday of the DMZ gardens.

June 20, 2007 Talking and/or Doing

Worms Do Castings

Today I was having lunch one last time at the Amaranth Café before it closes for the summer months of July and August. David, one of the owners, mentioned that Andor, my partner in the GRAF enterprise had talked him into putting an article about the Growing Renewable Affordable Food in this coming issue of Park Beat, the neighborhood newspaper. That was okay with me (But I did not like the fact that Andor purchased today all the delicious day old bread right before I came in) but it forced me to start to make some of the updates on the GRAF web site that I have been talking about on these posting but not doing for the last week or so.

Tonight I got one posting about the worm condo on the components and how to page at this site. Check it out at Graf System Components and Graf System How To pages.

Talking about talking and not doing, as I have been doing with the GRAF site, I found two other outstanding examples in my world today. One is from the Peace Movement and one is from the President.

The peace movement talks a lot of about stopping the war in Iraq but has a hard time doing anything about it. Recently I have seen three examples of how to end the war by doing something about what matters most in politics in America, money. One friend suggested a national strike; some peace groups have suggested limited moratoriums on purchasing, like we did near the end of the Vietnam war; and one friend just wrote to me supporting a 1% flat tax for everyone to pay for the war in Iraq. The thinking there is that if we had to pay for the war, not borrow into the future of our children and grandchildren as we are now doing, politicians would act to stop the war since money is central to politics. All three examples use the power of politics, money, to stop the war since elections and democracy do not seem to matter.

The other example of talking about not doing comes from the President of the USA today when he vetoed the stem cell research bill passed by congress. He said he was doing it on ‘moral’ groups to preserve the dignity of human life. I could tell his ‘moral’ talk was just talk since he is the same person that supports the death penalty and promotes an ‘illegal’ (by world legal standards), immoral (by morality standards of almost all major religious faith, “unjust” (by the fact that majority of Americans and Iraqi do not want it) war in Iraq. I am not sure what I believe on various types of stem cell research but I certainly oppose the ‘moral’ talk of president doing immoral acts that cost human lives.

I am off, but not really, talking about home model growing power but can justify it since I did the piece on Worm Condos for the GRAF site tonight. You can do some talking when you do some doing.

Soon I will meet with two woman, Dawn and Marna, who do more doing than talking about providing housing for the disabled and stopping the violence in Milwaukee. They are two of my mentors. These two women and I will begin the DMZ garden co-op. If the worms hurry up and come up through the screen on top of the worm condo, I will present both women at our first gathering, with a valuable and excellent prize, a bucket full of castings. However, worms do not talk and just do, eat, procreate and make castings, but they still are slow.

In a garden there is just doing and not much talking.

June 19, 2007 Did You Know?

Rain Barrel

To Plants

Did you know that the bottom of plastic lighter serves as a bottle opener? I found this out after my son and I were working in the garden and the new rain barrel water system and went to enjoy a couple of beers. I asked him to go get a bottle opener since these German beers are not twist tops. He said there was no need and took out his plastic cigarette lighter and opened the bottle with the bottom end of the lighter. Working in a garden can bring you all types of new information.

By the way cigarette smoke is not only bad for human health but also toxic for plants. My adult son only smokes outside away from any plants. That you may have known, that cigarettes are toxic to plant life.

Did you know that the Milwaukee City Sewage Department would help you subsidize a rain garden if you can redirect water from the sewer system into a garden? I found this out today when I noticed a neighbor had a new garden in front of their house with a sign on it. I walked up the block read the sign to find out about this offer. I applied online for one for part of the lawn in front of my house. All 4 downspouts on my house and garage except this one in front go into rain barrels that are used as tea makers to fertilize the garden with casting tea. This one leads directly into the ground and into the sewer system. I always wanted to eliminate my front yard and make it a garden. If I get this grant, probably next year, I can do that for part of my front lawn. Since it is “city sponsored” my wife will probably be favorable to the idea. However, she likes grass.

Speaking of rain barrels my son and I almost finished hooking up the water system from the rain barrel to the plants along the side of my driveway. I went to the ReStore of Habitat for Humanity today and found some better metal strips with sides for water to run down below the buckets and planters in the driveway. I need one more bracket to hold up the hose on the garage and could use some more roofing material from the Restore to continue the flow of the down the driveway.

Worm Condo Today

We took out some more worms from the worm condo today. We put back the screen with fresh compost on top of the condo. One or two more attempts should remove most of the worms. Than we will have pure “black gold” or castings in the box, worth hundreds of dollars. We will need to sift out the lumps from the black gold, castings, but hope to have some to give to Marna and Dawn when we have our first DMZ garden gathering latter this week. A five gallon bucket is worth about $75 at Growing Power and can fertilize a number of plants or be using to make casting ‘tea.” Castings are the kind of gift that keeps on giving. When the worm condo is empty I will fill in with more rough compost and worms and start the process again.

I really need to write that piece for the How To GRAF web site soon. Another friend called for advice on worms and castings. Worm condo’s are easy to make and so valuable to Growing Power home model gardens. Did you know that? If you have been reading these postings you probably did and if not, you will.

June 18, 2007 Agent Green

Today I was driving over to the DMZ garden at Marna’s when I accidentally took the wrong turn at the Marquette Interchange downtown, which is being reconstructed. I was downtown and about ready to head back to the expressway north to Marna’s house when I remembered that an old friend, from the sixties, had told me at Peace Fest last Saturday, about a rally today at noon. It is to support the lawsuit of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies who manufactured these terrible weapons of mass destruction that were used in the war in Vietnam. At the rally veterans of the Vietnam War spoke about the terrible effect of agent orange on them and the Vietnamese. They also spoke of the terrible weapons, like depleted uranium and phosphors gas that are still being used by the USA in the war in Iraq.

The major war profiteer companies, the ‘military industrial complex’ that President Eisenhower warned us about when he was leaving office, still go unchecked in building weapons of mass destruction, like Agent Orange.

After the veterans spoke, someone asked the small group for other remarks. I mentioned the tragedy of neglecting major mental illnesses that soldiers returning from Vietnam and now in greater numbers from Iraq suffer from. A veteran of Vietnam backed up my statement with statistic of the great number of Vietnam veteran who have committed suicide since returning from the war.

How do we fight these giant companies and ‘powers to be’? How do we stop Agent Orange, depleted uranium and other such weapons that affect our genes for ages from being used?

I really do not have the answers. I do know that voting, petitions, phone calls and such really do not stop such atrocities.

After the rally I went to Marna’s garden and planted some bush beans. On the way back I checked out DMZ garden 1 at Dawn’s. On my food-shopping trip I picked up some coffee grounds from two coffee shops. There is a good hard needed rain falling tonight on the garden. Also tonight another old peace friend called asking for some advice on her efforts to make worm castings.

I do not have the answers to Agent Orange and making the companies who manufacture such chemical weapons accountable for their action. But I do sense that somehow our work to Grow Renewable Affordable Food GRAF is a step in the right direction. Tomorrow I will need to write some more on the ‘How to’ site of the GRAF about worm condos and worm castings.

It is said that a worm can eat a terrible organism like e coli and turned into a healthy organism when it is cast off. Maybe by green power we can make Agent Orange into Agent Green.

June 17, 2007 Roof and Roses

At the top of this page I have placed a new picture of the garden in my backyard as of today. It is not as green as the one it replaces from last July but it is getter there. Also whenever you try to take an overview picture you missed most of the beauty that can only be seen in close-ups. This close-up of a rose picture, not seen in the overview picture, is one of the many beautiful sights you can see in the garden when you look in depth. I will need soon to take a series of close-up pictures in the garden as I did last year.

My wife and I accomplished a lot today in the garden and in the garage. Part of her father’s day gift to me was to work with me this afternoon in the garden. First we cleaned out the garage where we keep all the garden stuff. It was a mess and now it is clean. It made us both feel good. Next we tackled the rain barrel irrigation system that I talked about to feed the potted plants along the driveway. We got the rain barrel and down sprout installed. I need to purchase a few screws for the clamps that hold the hose to the garage as it drains down to the driveway. More on this project, in picture form, when it is complete.

Tomorrow I plan to send to all my environmentalist and roofing friends this picture of the tin roof of the unheated sunroom, which contains the GP box. A friend of my son’s insulated the floor of this room well a few weeks ago. The plastic I put over the door windows walls gets better and more airtight every year. The room can be warm on sunny days with no heat but by nightfall all the heat escapes, much through the roof. With the floor and walls taken care of it is time to do something about the tin roof.

Since the roof faces south I would like to do something with solar heat or energy. However, a carpenter friend who just visited said it might be simpler and more cost effective just to put an insulated roof over the present one. I hope I get some options. Do you have one?

Other garden news: The salad tonight was once again from the garden and delicious and my wife picked some more grape leaves from the vines in the garden. I am still considering cooking grape leaves for the first meeting of the DMZ garden co-op this week. I planted a few more plants in garden and in buckets. Now I need to get some art on the buckets.

June 16, Bring in the Worms!

Bring in the Worms!

This morning I called Marna, part of the DMZ garden group to tell her that I would be coming Monday instead of today with the “same old, same old soil” to plant some new seeds she has acquired. However, there was a crisis brewing. Neighbors hearing about her new DMZ garden renewal decided to dig up some perennial flowers from their gardens to share with her. The flowers were in water but would not make it to Monday alive. She needs the soil today. So I brought some compost and worm enriched soil to her place and we planted the new flowers. This worm-enriched soil is important to the healthy transfer of the flowers. I will return to Marna’s Monday or Tuesday with more soil for the seeds.

She gave me some garden waste that I placed in the compost pile along with a bag of my neighbor’s grass he dropped off. The compost pile is down some since I have been going into it to get food for the worm depository and to make some of the “same old, same old soil.

I checked the fine screen with fresh compost I had placed on top of the worm condo and the worms are making a slow mad dash to get through the screen to the fresh compost food. Tomorrow, I will get my wife or son to help me move the compost and worms on top of the screen to the worm depository and replaced the screen with fresh compost on the worm condo. Three or more screenings should get most of the worms out of the condo, leaving the castings.

At a peace festival celebrating 30 years of Peace Action in Milwaukee I met an old friend interested in gardening, unaware of what worms can do for a garden. He now lives in a rural area and does composting for his garden. He was glad to hear about worms.

Also today in a thank you note for a gift for two friends that recently were married, I got a question asking: “Who takes care of your worms when you are away.” That is a good question that leads into a discussion of the “worm power” so I took the opportunity to answer it in an email to them and put it on the G.R.A.F. How To web page.

So when a friend calls with a flower planting crisis, or when a friend wants to know how to improve his compost pile and garden, or you get a question about care of livestock in a Thank you note, all you need to say is “Bring in the worms!”

June 15, 2007 Mother’s Patch Quilt

Ella’s Mother’s Patch Quilt

This morning after two prayer vigils for the latest homicide victims, I drove my friend Ella of Ella’s Patch Quilts to the Milwaukee Historic Museum where her mother’s patch quilt was on display. It was from her mother that Ella learned how to create patch quilts, but it was not until after her mother’s death that she started to make them herself. Her mother had learned the art of patch quilts from her mother as this practical art form was passed on from the days of slavery in the South.

Ella, like me, is one of the new generations of persons becoming elders. There was a real live elder, ninety one year old Grace Lee Boggs on the Bill Moyers show on PBS tonight. I was not aware of this famous philosopher/activist until last year when she attended a workshop at Growing Power. She was already into permiculture and was really inspired by her visit to Growing Power. In fact tonight when she was saying how she found a lot of hope these days but not in the political system, she was asked by Bill Moyers for an example. She used Will Allen and the Growing Power in Milwaukee as her example. You can read more about Grace on the Milwaukee Renaissance page above or at Bill Moyer’s site at In fact, shortly, the whole interview can be viewed on this page.

Grace’s story is really an outstanding one of hope shining through the darkness. She is another elder to add to my list, with Gordon Zahn, Nick Topping, of elders in my life that offer us a role model of what it means to be a true elder.

After mentioning Will Allen and Growing Power as example of hope, Bill Moyers said something like “you find hope in a garden?’ She said “yes.” Amen.

I visited the Growing Power? headquarters at 55th and Silver Spring today. As usual Will Allen was not there but one of the staff was very helpful in answering my question of when the worm’s work in the worm condo is done and the worms are ready to be moved and the castings ready to be used. She said about two months and showed me one of their worm condos where the worms have been removed. The soil looked similar to the soil in mine. This is good news, since with all the planting I have been doing recently in the DMZ gardens, we are in need of more castings. Also this means that I can move some of my cooked compost into the worm condo when it is empty, put back the worms and get a second batch of castings by fall.

With the help of my adult son we ‘teaed’ the garden up today and planted the rest of the plants, tomatoes, hot peppers and eggplants in the garden, mostly in pots along the driveway.

Tomorrow I will need to get the irrigation system from the rain barrel to the plants in pots along the driveway into action. I think I got what I need to finish it off.

My wife is going up to our grandchildren’s house tomorrow for a home sales parties my daughter-in-law is hosting and to visit the grandchildren. My daughter-in-law called the other night saying I should come along and they were planning a father’s day cookout after the party. However, I had already made plants to pick up some friends at the airport whose car is in our driveway. Also tomorrow is Peace Fest and the music, food, friends interest me. However, my daughter-in-law made me feel real good when my she said that my three-year-old granddaughter was asking for me.

Speaking of doing errands for friends, like picking my friends up at the airport tomorrow or driving Ella to the Historical Society today, it seems like I have been dong a lot of that recently. However, I have no complaints. Serving others really is a fulfilling way to spend time. To me it seems natural and right.

I am not saying this to be self-righteous, which I am at times. But this, serving others, is what my faith and my mother taught me to do. This is my mother’s patch quilt and although my mother had different values and style than I do, just like Ella’s mother’s made patch quilts in a different style than Ella does, this is one thing that still runs true.

Children, like my three-year granddaughter, have this natural instinct to serve others. Unfortunately it gets clouded over with the American taught selfishness. But you can see it there. Maybe we, soon-to-be elders have the same natural inclination. Hey maybe I am starting to achieve my goal of been three and free.

June 14, 2007 DMZ II

Potted DMZ

Today I took a bunch of pots of the “same old, same old” soil to Dawn’s house and put tomatoes, hot peppers and eggplant plants in them. Dawn had gotten all these plants and more. One of the residents in the house will care for them and I provided the pots and the ‘same old, same old’. In a day or two I will take some over to Marna’s and the DMZ co-op lives on. Hot Peppers, Tomatoes and eggplant can only mean some good salsa or Italian food.

Two of the residents from the houses were barbecuing ribs in the yard. As it should be the woman was doing all the prep work and the man was putting them on the barbecue. It reminded me of a joke I saw last week where the woman does all the work in barbecuing and the man just takes the barbecue off the grill. However, naturally the man is thanked for his great barbecue. I told them this story. The man agreed with me and said “I told you so” but the women thought it was a joke (which it was).

There is a new addition to the Graf Featured article on the home page It is about the “culture of violence”
in our society and rings very true to me. It relates the recent death of a 4-year-old girl to the violence of our society. It is called “Jasmine’s death was collateral damage in a culture of violence” Right after I finished updated the Memorial site for city homicide victims of 2007 on the Mothers Against Gun Violence? site. It is now 59. Too many deaths, too many prayer vigils.

So in the DMZ world we have new life coming out of planters full of waste while people die on the streets from senseless violence. Without the growing power of life and good people like Marna and Dawn of DMZ, it would be easy to despair.

Tomorrow right after the two prayer vigils I am taking my friend Ella of Ella’s Patch Quilts down to the Historical Society of Milwaukee so we can take a picture of her mother’s patch quilt. It was from her mother that Ella learned the art of patch quilts. Patch quilts provide warmth and beauty in the dark moments of life, like in the days of slavery or in these days of senseless violence.

I counted 7 vacant lots on one block that Dawn of DMZ has her vacant lot. One other looks like someone has purchased it, but the other five are clearly marked as City owned and maintained with grass. It is across from Robert Lafollette School. Maybe in the spirit of fighting Bob we can someday produce healthy food for the whole neighborhood and truly make it a DNZ (Demilitarized Zone).

June 13, 2007 DMZ

Marna watering a new DMZ growing area

Today three of us created a new garden cooperative called the DMZ. D stands for Dawn, my friend who offers housing for poor and disabled persons; M is for Marna, my friend who is one of the co-founders of Mothers Against Gun Violence?. They both live near each other on the north side but have not met each other yet. I was going over to Marna’s house to help her plant some stuff in her garden when Dawn of Miss Dawn’s Garden called to say she had been given a tray of tomato plants and a tray of red hot pepper plants. She was willing to share. On the way to her house to pick up some plants for Marna I thought it is time we formalized the connection of our three gardens, all in various stages of development. I thought of the initial DMG for the three of us but G did not make sense. DMZ did for its connotation of the demilitarized zone in warfare. They both live in the area many of the homicides in Milwaukee occur. In fact it is got so bad recently that I am behind in updating the memorial site on MAGV site. I have three or four names to find out and put on to join the 55 names I already have listed.

We are having our first gathering of DMZ garden cooperative next week on the deck overlooking my garden, the most developed of the three sites. We are hoping to find someone to build a worm condo in one of Dawn’s backyards where we already have a compost, soil making, pile building. This year we will keep our work in the our backyards but if all goes well we hope next spring to build a DMZ garden in a vacant lot that Dawn owns near her house. Presently we need someone to build the worm condo. We have some scrape wood and the compost to fill it. We can get the worms and start making castings, the key to GP way of growing.

This, DMZ, co-op garden is a very small attempt in the world of community gardens, even the world of GP style gardens. But all three of us are just ordinary homeowners trying to Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF in our yards

For our first lunch meeting next week we will certainly have a major garden salad from my yard. If I have the courage to make them, we will also have grape leaves, a Lebanese dish that I shared with you recently. (See main page for recipe link.) I say ‘courage’ since I pick grape leaves, help roll them, share the recipe my wife wrote but have never really made them. My mom always made them when I was young and now my wife cooks them. if I do not have time and ‘courage’ for grape leaves we will just have a cookout to go with garden salad.

Maybe being in the DMZ will give me more ‘courage’ to make grape leaves.

June 12, 2007 Pretty Affordable

Origins 2000 c. 2007 byPatricia Obletz

This posting tonight should be brief since I used my computer time today creating a site about Gordon Zahn ( I wrote about him on the June 8, 2007 entry) and Blessed Franz Jagerstatter. Gordon Zahn. Also I did an index or directory for my featured article site which was a new wiki experience for me.

Today in the garden I sifted out some soil from the worm depository and worm condo to make some fresh castings to put in ‘tea’ bags in the rain barrel in the garden. I dumped the old castings between the tomato plants as fertilizer.

I am somewhat worried about the tomato plants in the garden and inside the GP box. They do not seem to be taking off as I think they should. The other salad material is doing great. Again tonight we had a salad with all greens from the garden. The leaf lettuce is the main ingredient with kale, mint, parsley tarragon (?), chives, and green onions playing smaller roles in the salad mix.

Also today I picked some more grape leaves and dried out more mint and tarragon (?). If everything were growing like the salad greens and herbs I would have a great garden. But time will tell on the rest of the vegetables.

Also today I made up some buckets of worm enriched soil and compost to take with me tomorrow to my friend with Mothers Against Gun Violence? and to Miss Dawn’s garden, both close to each other. I could use some support but am still committed to someday apply what I am learning about Growing Power in a home garden to the yards of these two central city residents women who give so much of themselves to the community. Maybe my friend and I will check with Growing Power for some plants. I need to go there someday to check on how to tell when the worms are done making castings in the worm condo.

The A for Affordable in GRAF is still a major concern. Duct tape is not dong so well holding the hose to the garage on the system of watering planters on the side of the driveway. I need to come up with another affordable and easy way to attach rubber to aluminum siding. Any ideas?

I did get an idea from my friend Godsil of Milwaukee Renaissaince today. In his garden he is taking the white five gallon buckets, that I also have, and having local artist paint designs on them. He than pays a local gardener to fill them with soil and plants. He plans to sell the buckets with or without growing material. One of his dreams, he is not fulfilling, was to combine gardening and art.

Along the driveway, where I am working on the irrigation system, I can place my white five gallon buckets. I need to talk to my son, the artist, into painting them, and than I can fill them myself with compost, worm enriched soil, coir and plant flowers, herbs or vegetables in them. I can also do that throughout the garden. Good idea Godsil, and by doing it oneself it will pass the A test for affordability.

My son’s friend, the professional painter who built my GP sunroom box and worm condo called tonight about borrowing a ladder tomorrow. I said yes and than asked him about what kind of paint would work best on the plastic buckets. He said oil. Now all I need is to talk my son into this new form of Garden art.

This is a PA (pretty affordable) idea. Maybe I get other artist friends, like Godsil, is doing to join in the enterprise. We can call it PAGE, Pretty Affordable Garden Enterprise.

June 11, 2007 Gismo

Yesterday I promised to show you a picture of the new system I am trying to set up to water planted pots with rainwater ‘tea.” Here are two that may help. The rainwater from the non-garden side of the roof of the garage will run down the gutter into a rain barrel. In the barrel will be a ‘painter’ bag or two of worm castings.

When the barrel fills to a certain point the water will enter the hose and flow down toward the fence along my driveway. The hose will go through an opening in the fence and end at the end of a piece of tin roofing that I have on the ground. The tin roofing sheet has an indented space in the middle and the driveway is slighted tilted down. “Tea” should be running below the planters. Now I need a few things to complete the job. I need a connection between the down sprout on rain gutter and rain barrel, easy to purchase, and a better way than duct tape to hold the hose on the garage. Also eventually I should replace the tin with a container holding in the water with perhaps a catch for the tea at the end.

Of course rain will help start the process. I filled the barrel with water from the hose today to check the flow and it is good. If it does not rain soon, I will need to keep the barrel full with water from the hose.

I will keep you updated on the progress of this new gismo in the Growing Renewalable Affordable Food GRAF system. The most expensive part of this idea is the rain barrel, which I purchased rather than make or get free from someone. The Milwaukee Sewer Department hires youth in the summer to make rain barrels, with top and bottom spouts.

Homemade gismos like this one can be useful if they work. However, when the executive branch of the government starts making up rules for locking up persons without charging a person with any crime, it can be, as a Federal Court and General Powell ruled today, dangerous. Making up things as you go is good for the garden but when you start dong it with civil rights you are on troublesome ground.

With the help of my son today we got some good work done in the garden. However, since it has not rained in days and there is no rain in the forecast we decided not just to tea the plants or water it with the hose but to turn on the sprinkler. It makes for a nice picture and I am sure the birds and plants will enjoy us doing this. The birds enjoy it not only because it fills their water bath but it brings the worms to the surface where they are good picking.

Today I picked more mint and more tarragon (? My wife has doubts our rural friends were right in naming this plant) and tomorrow will dry them out and in a few days bottle them under my spice jar label name “Uncle Bob’s”. Hopefully besides mint and tarragon we will have dried chives, oregano, hot peppers, parsley and basil. My wife will make some of the basil, which is slow in growing this year, into pesto.

We use the herbs for cooking and when we have a lot give the bottles away as Christmas gifts. If you saw the recipe for Grape Leaves? you know that, like with most Lebanese dishes, mint is an important spice.

Herbs are one of the easiest things to grow and they serve a real daily use in cooking and making salads. Herbs are No Gismos.

June 10, 2007 Go Make A Difference

Thank God it is Sunday. My wife was off of work. We went to church together, to a Faith In Recovery meeting, (, made a few St. Vincent De Paul calls, took a bike ride and worked together in the garden. I am sure that is enough togetherness for her for the week but I really enjoy our time together. Our time together today is thanks to God. It is Sunday, the Sabbath for Christians, a day of rest and relaxation, at least it should be. Muslims have Friday and religious Jews have Saturday as the Sabbath. Like God in the creation story in Genesis we all need a day of rest after six days of work.

Unfortunately for many people, just like God, the Sabbath is forgotten. It becomes another workday, shopping day or busy dong things day.

My wife was helping me set up a rain barrel on the other side of the garage from which I hope to run some ‘tea’ water down below my plants along the driveway. I soon will have pictures of what I am talking about, since in this case pictures can save many words. The socket for the horse on the side of the rain barrel also comes loose when I attach something to it. I was thinking of gluing it on. My wife asked me if it was that way since I purchased the rain barrel. I said yes. She took another look at it and found that the large nut to hold the socket on was on the socket but not attached from inside the barrel. A few minuets latter she attached it right and my problem was solved. She claims not to know much about growing power or gardening but sometimes common sense observation is all you need. Now if I had not done this job on the Sabbath, asking her help, I would probably be involved in some complicated fix rather than just unscrewing the nut and screwing it back on from inside the rain barrel.

This is an example of how slowing down relaxing and taking a fresh look leads to keener observation and in the end less time spent. I think by time spent in silence, quiet and reflection we work more efficiently and effectively. Now if I could just practice what I preach.

Yesterday I put a new piece on the GRAF How to page. It is called “Same Old, Same Old” a phrase I borrowed from Will Allen of Growing Power and often used in this diary. The paradox of the garden and of life is that while there is nothing new, “the same old, same old”; there is always something new to see and hear in life and in the garden. We need only to open our eyes to see and the ears to hear. When we take a break from the “same old, same old, like the Sabbath is meant to be, we can come back to “same old, same old” and see it anew. My granddaughter, three years old, has this ability. She can do the “same old, same old” silly game or listen to the same story over and over again and laugh just as hard as the first time she heard it. Being young and not educated she does not need the Sabbath to do this. We do.

One of my favorite Christian songs when I was a youth minister was “Go Make A Difference.” The title comes from the end of the Catholic Sunday liturgy when the priest after mass sends you out to the world with a blessing. The idea is to come to the liturgy with all your work and worries, listen to the word of God, offer your cares to God, receive the Body and Blood of Christ as food and drink and than go out in the world afresh and anew to “make a difference.”

Gardening is like a liturgy. We bring to it hard work and care, listen and see what is happening, bring it to harvest, eat it and go back out refreshed to make a difference

June 9, 2007 Reliable Plants

Garden 06/08/07

In this updated picture of my garden you can see the grape leave vines coming over the fence from the neighborhood’s yard. Grape Leave vines are welcome intruders in the garden, since as I have mentioned before, they are the major ingredients for a traditional family fare of stuffed Grape Leaves. I picked about 80 yesterday and each day this week I will pick more in the garden or at the park across the street. June is the best month for picking grape leaves since they are fresh, tender and bug free. And by picking them now they will come back soon and fresh. On the Graf Family web site I have put the family recipe for making stuffed grape leaves that my wife wrote based on what she learned from my mother and her own experience making Grape Leaves.

This is the time of the year when one wonders if some of the plants, tomato, cucumbers, beans etc will take off and grow fruitfully. Plants like mint and grape leaves you can always rely on to come back year and after year and be fruitful. The others you do you best and wait and see.

I picked some mint, tarragon, lettuce, green onion, kale, parleys, oregano today and with the help of help of some peppers and a little lettuce my friends had brought me last night I made a terrific salad. Of course the adding of feta and Parmesan cheese plus my secret salad dressing and herb mix helped make the salad so tasty. Even my wife, who sometimes is a critical of my mixed dishes thought the salad, was terrific. I had cooked some major size chicken breast I had purchased from the local Mexican store that my wife discovered that mixing the chicken with the salad made everything better. This was the first major salad made almost solely from the garden.

Today I make a major contribution to my compost (soil building) pile behind the garage. I added a lot of wood chips, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps and grass cuttings. Tomorrow I will need to take some accurate measurements of the compost pile and ask my friend into useable math to find how many cubic yards I now have. You can never have too much compost.


Last month I asked if any one recognized the mystery herb that was growing in my garden. I had planted it last year but forgot what it was. My rural friends were able to recognize it, by sight and taste, yesterday as tarragon. That is good since tarragon is good herb for cooking. I picked some today; along with some more mint to dry out, crush and bottle. So add tarragon to those plants that like grape leaves and mint that come back year after year and are fruitful.

There are many plants in the garden one can grow but I like best the ones that you can count on to come back year after year. You can rely on them.

June 8, 2007 Sustainable Persons

Blessed Fraz Jagerstatter

Today I finally visited two elders who had an impact on my life. They both are at the same nursing home and are both near death. One of them was Gordon Zahn, a well know peace activitist since the early sixties. He grew up in Milwaukee, was a conscientious objector during the World War II and became a well known professor and writer at Boston College. He was one of the founding members of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, which latter spun off Pax Christi. Actually I never knew Gordon until after he returned to Milwaukee to retire but I know of him and his work. One of his famous discoveries was that of the life of Franz Jagerstatter, a German father of three whom despite the pleas of his wife, family and priest refused to serve in the German military in any way, even in a non-combatant role. Because of his conscience the Nazi government killed him. This fact was unknown until Gordon brought into the world’s attention in his book “In Solitary Witness.” Just this week the Holy Father, Pope, of the Catholic Church declared Franz Jagerstatter, a martyr for his faith and beatified him, made him Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, the last step on the road to full sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

When Gordon first went to assisted living it was because he had Parkinson disease, which causes a lost in memory. Each time I went to visit him he had lost more and more of his memory, not even remembering writing the book at one point. For over a year now he has been in the dementia ward and has lost his ability to speak. Today I found him in his wheel chair at the lunch table asleep. The woman at the table with him was quite clear of mind for someone in this area and told me that Gordon slept most of the day and night. She said that I needed to speak loud in his right ear to wake him up. I did not want to do that so just waited until an aide did it so she could given him his medication and to start him dinking a glass of juice. When he was alert I repeated to him again the good news about Franz, the crowing achievement of his work. I am not sure he understood or not since I could not understand his mumbled response. However, I did know that he liked the juicee drink so I slowly gave him the rest of the glass. The lady at the table with him and some of the nurse aides now know the good news that Gordon’s work has brought the world’s attention to this one man who say “No” to the German military but I am not sure Gordon knows or not. However, that does not matter and Gordon, after drinking the juice, went back to sleep.

The other person I visited with an elderly Jesuit priest who was my speech teacher and special mentor when I was in the Jesuits for a number of years after high school. He, Father Purcell, is the person responsible for this Diary of the Worm. He taught us the power of observation, the ability to see deeply into the little things in life. Although very frail in bed he was clear minded. I told him about this web site and he was so delighted. He said that ‘observation’ was easy but people did not know how to do it. I agreed and thank him again for giving this awareness of the power of observation. When I asked him how he was, he said, in his normal words of wisdom, that we must live with what is giving to us in life. He said that in the present that there was not much given him. He could no longer say Mass, give homilies (which he was good at) or counsel others. But he felt blessed and was glad for my visit. He told me that a group of Jesuits, also former students, were in town for a Jesuit gathering, and had come to visit him the day before.

I will write more about Gordon Zahn and Hans Jagerstatter in the web page Milwaukee 14 Today soon. As for my promise to add to the GRAF page that will have to wait for another day. My commitment to these two elders took precedent.

However, my day was not completely GP less. After my visit I stopped by two coffee shops and picked up many bags of coffee grounds. Also today my neighbor cut his grass and gave me two large bags of grass clippings. So tomorrow I will need to visit the dump and pick up some wood chips (carbon) to go on the compost pile with all this nitrogen. Also I was working in the garden today when two friends who live in a rural area in Western Wisconsin came by. We talked garden talk for a while and when my wife came home we went out to a Peruvian restaurant. Near the end of our dinner I got called from one of the Mothers Against Gun Violence who wants to start a garden in her small backyard. She lives near when Godsil and I are working on Miss Dawn’s garden. I told her I would call her tomorrow with some ideas of how to use the home model of Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF which the stress being these days on Affordable.

As I told my friends from the rural area of western Wisconsin what I am trying to do is not only bring Growing Power to the home model garden but make it an ‘affordable’ way for low income persons to grown healthy organic food in their home and yard.

This connection between visiting elders, which I am quickly becoming, like it or not, and Growing Power is Sustainability. Our elders, like Gordon Zahn and Father Purcell, will live on in spirit with us and thus their wisdom and life is sustainable, just like the food we grow in Growing Power. From the elderly who are weak of mind and body, like with small children, we can learn the key to sustainability and life: that from the wasted, dying, rejected, weak, ill and marginalized in life the seeds of a new life grow and flourish.

June 7, 2007 Rockets in the Garden

Tonight the thunder roars, the lightening lights up the sky as a storm moves over Milwaukee. This storm will add to the water the garden has soaked up the last few days when I was away.

Today when I returned the garden was greener and fuller. In fact the grape leaves on the vines covering the fence had grown to the size that they need picking. Grape leaves, the ones on vines without grapes, are truly a sustainable product, since once you pick the leaf a new one rapidly grows in its place. Some of you have read postings on this site about the picking, wrapping and eating of grape leaves. Soon I will post the recipe again on the Graf Family Web site for ‘grape leaves’, the Syrian, now Lebanese style kind that is famous and a well loved food in our Graf family. What is also nice about grape leaves from vines without grapes is that appear everywhere, in backyards, parks around the world.

The rocket picture above is from a ‘rocket shoot off’ I attended yesterday with my oldest grandson, my son and two other grandchildren. My nine-year grandson is in 4-H club and has an older man, name George, as his rocket instructor. The field was a strip of green grass in a middle of a field in the middle of nowhere up north. My grandson with George’s guidance made three successful launches of his rocket qualifying him to show his rocket in the country fair as a ‘launched’ rocket. Rocketry in the middle of field struck me as a little incongruous but right. Homemade rockets provide a youth with lots of excitement and some lesson in science. Nature is a good environment for such events.

When I was up north with my grandchildren we did not do any work on their garden. I guess that is the domain of their mother who will have time to work with them next week when she is no longer teaching school. Hopefully they can find the time to come down this way and work with me in the garden here. Hopefully my garden is child friendly but I am not sure about my three year old.

Tomorrow I intend to make good on my promise to add to the GRAF site for Growing Renewable Affordable Food.

My grandchildren knowing I was leaving this morning let me sleep in today, but I am still very tired. I guess I found out how tiring keeping up with children can be. Tonight at dinner my wife and I were talking abut raising our own children and the raising of grandchildren. My adult son who lives upstairs from us reminded us that it was not so much what you did with a child that made you good parents or not. I think he is right, it is just being with them, going with the flow, growing with them, listening to them that make a difference. Children know this instinctively. Grandparents are not as busy as parents to figure this out.

After dinner I wrote my grandchildren a thank you note for sharing their creativity and joy with me the last few days. It should be enough to carry my through a number of night storms like the one going on now and enough to inspire me in my growing. Gardens and children, what more blessings can a person ask for? After the fall, there was still the Garden of Eden with children.

June 6, 2007 D Day

If my history is right today is the anniversary of D Day in World War II. We celebrate a day in which many lives were lost because it was a turning point in the war, at least for our side.

Now many years latter we have not had a World War III but have a world full of wars. The great military powers do not fight each other directly but indirectly support wars all over the world. Wars between small nations and civil wars in countries are used in a way to control resources and power. It seems like poverty, injustice and war are built into the world economic system. I once heard a speaker say that for everyone in the world to live on the economic level of the average American it would take two or three earths to provide enough resources.

Today I heard that the death level of American military had reached 3500 soldiers. Also due to the nature of this war and better medical care in the militarty, the rate of injury to death, 16–1, is the highest of any war ever fought. I am not sure if this number even counts the one of four American military returning from Iraq with a major mental illness.

D should stand for Darkness.

Where is the morning light to follow this deep darkness? Today for me it was in the smile of my three-year granddaughter, the joy of scoring four goals of my 7-year-old grandson and the exciting of my nine-year old about fishing. For me it is in the growing number of persons aware of the darkness of life yet still full of hope and dong something, perhaps in a small way, to bring light into the darkness.

When I return home tomorrow morning I plan to renew my commitment to two of the small things I can do to bring light: working on the home model of growing power and ways, like with the Mothers Against Gun Violence? to practice creative nonviolence. So for the readers of this posting, stay tuned for more “how to” on the Growing Renewable Affordable Food GRAF site.

Like plants we grow in darkness but like plants we need light to live. Everyday is D Day!

June 5, 2007 Even the sun is swallowed by darkness

(Today was a day of great joy, fishing with my grandchildren, watching my grandsons play baseball and playing silly games with my three year old granddaughter. However, over this day of joy lingered a deep darkness which the following words will try to explore.)

Even the sun is swallowed by the darkness,
Just like everything good in life must die
To be reborn again.

The joy of today,
Fishing with my grandchildren
Was shadowed by the awareness of the senseless violence on the streets and in the war.

In fact the more blessing in life I experience
The more I become aware of the curses in my life.
And the more curses in life I faced,
The more blessing I can receive.

Playing silly games with my granddaughter tonight coexist
With a small girl today hugging her father for life,
In a bombarded out refugee camp in Lebanon.

There is no escaping the darkness.
We may hide from it
Or try to ignore it
But ultimately it will touch us.

Our only choice is to embrace it,
Find in the depths of our curse
The blessing, the new day of life that hides inside.

There rest the light,
Enveloped by the darkness
Where we can find peace,
Joy with Sorrow
Suffering with Healing.

My grandson takes a mighty swing
And another child is struck
With a blinding bullet.

The waste in the compost dies,
Is consumed by worms,
Cast off
And becomes the stuff of new life.

June 4, 2007 Double Soccer

Today I went up north to be with my grandchildren for a few days while there Mom still has school but they have off. One of the first things we did was to go outside to check on the garden. Last time I was here we turned over the compost pile. Since than, my son has tilled the cooked compost into the soil and my daugher-in-law has planted. We dug around the old compost pile looking for worms to go fishing tomorrow but found few. My guess that they have moved to the new compost pile or in the garden soil.

With all the worms I have at home I forgot to bring some up for fishing. We went looking for night crawlers tonight but with all the rain the last few days there was not much reason for the worms to come up. There is a new fishing hole in town nearby that we plan to check on tomorrow.

I checked home tonight with my wife. With all the rain we have been having in Milwaukee and with my other son at home prepared to “tea” the plants, I am not much worried about the growth of the garden or the health of my livestock, worms.

I am hoping these next few days to learn some lessons of wisdom from my three grandchildren, three, seven and nine. However, although they are out of school their busy schedule follows them. Tonight after my daughter-in-law came home we had a a quick supper and were off to two soccer games, one for each of the two boys. Tomorrow we have two baseball games to attend to. The same goes for Wednesday, my last day here. Next week, when I am not here, they start summer school, two weeks of special education opportunities. Than there is 4-H activities, summer camps and all of that. All three of them would like to visit us in Milwaukee and do some of the enjoyable things the city offers but, except for a week in July, that does not fit in well with their summer schedule. I am not sure the ‘more is better’ principle applies to children’s education or activities but it seems to be the practice these days, even for “county kids” like mine.

In the growing power style of garden intensity gardening, a lot of production from less space, works only because the worm enriched soil and the “tea” provides more energy and life than normal fertilized soil I hope that this intense life style my son and his family live of work, education and play can stay grounded in the rich soil of life. Intense growing, like my grandchildren and many others of their generation are exposed to, will only work when it is deeply grounded. I see this intense lifestyle being especially hard on my son and daughter-in- law since besides chauffeuring the kids around they need to work and do all that is needed to keep the home life safe and nourishing.

I am glad to be a papa in this lifestyle here. I get to enjoy the best of it, watching children play sports and going fishing with them, playing imaginative games with them yet can just walk away from the constant responsibility and be away from the intensity of life they live.

Yes besides my desire to have the spirit of a three year old, I guess moving slow, like a worm, is a another nice desire to have in life.

June 3, 2007 Letting Go

Will Allen: “Let it go”

One of the hardest lessons in life is that of letting go. Be it with thoughts, habits, obsessions, worry or possessions, letting go is difficult. The home garden is the one area that letting go is easiest. If you do you best, take care of your livestock (worms), water and tea the plants you can feel satisfied no matter the outcome. We all want a plentiful crop but for some reason it is not a strong attachment. Gardening is enjoyable work and just doing the work is enjoyable. Maybe that is why it is easier to be detached from a home garden than other things in life.

Detachment, another word for letting go not only is a tough lesson to learn but a big one. We need things and people to survive and grow but if, for some reason, we loose those things we must go on. A lesson in detachment that I learned yesterday on the farm is how to be detached from words. I heard a so called “liberal’ community leader talked about some people in a very demanding way. At first I was angry with him for his statements but that did me no good in understanding him or him understanding me. Soon I cooled down, he kept his cool during the whole affair, and we were able to come to some mutual understanding, if not agreement, on a few things.

The same things happened the other day before the hearing on the bill about gun violence. One of the NRA persons waiting outside started to say some nasty things about those of us supporting this bill. I started to argue with him until one of the Mothers of Mothers Against Gun Violence? stopped me and said, “Let it go.”

People described me as being fairly detached from certain things, like money, but a few insults and demeaning comments and I am ready to fight.

Today for my newsletter Living Stones I wrote a report about the hearing using the format of a meditation by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, in the Spiritual Exercises. The report will be available in a few days on one of the wiki sites on the Graf Family Mini web sites GrafFamily.HomePage or in the Hope to Healing archives for all the Living Stones newsletters. I mentioned this article because St. Ignatius was big on detachment. Throughout the Spiritual Exercises he asks us to “not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.” He suggest our “only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.” Now I do not know of any record of St. Ignatius being a gardener but in the beginning and the end of the Spiritual Exercises he uses images of nature for us to see God’s love for us. “God loves shines down upon me like the light rays from the sun, or God’s love is poured forth lavishly like a fountain spilling forth its waters into an unending street.”

As Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power tells us that Growing Power has revealed nothing new and is just as old as the worms in the center of it. It is, in my words, just letting go and letting nature take over.

June 2, 2007 Same Old New Outhouse

Same Old New?

Today we went to a farm in north of Sheboygan to celebrate a married couple friends’ 60-year-old birthday parties. their three daughters organized the party to celebrate the 120 years of combined life. This couple we knew from recent times as members, as we were, of the Ignatian Associates. They have land in the area but the party was at a farm next door of some friends we knew in the 70’s when we live near Casa Maria House of Hospitality. It turns out that these two couples have known each other from the 70’s but that was unknown to us. To make matters more interrelated the first persons we met at the outdoor party was a couple we knew from the 70’s when we established an alternative school in Milwaukee.

They say everyone in the Milwaukee Metro area is related one way or another. Today was more evidence of the fact. My wife found another possible relationship for all four couples, the old unused outhouse that was on the land. My wife remembered that this farm was for a while in the early 70’s operated by the members of Casa Maria, the Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in Milwaukee. The owners, our former neighbors in neighborhood around Casa Maria, verified that fac. She also remembered that one of the projects we did with the youth at the alternative high school was to take them out to the Casa Maria farm to pick crops and build a outhouse. Our friends on the farm say the outhouse was moved but was on the land we they purchased it.

Porty potties did the job of the outhouse today, but the question lingers was that the same old outhouse we build in the 70’s? When we got home my wife pulled out some pictures of building the outhouse in 1972 but it is hard to recognize if it is the same old outhouse or a different one. We will never know but it added to all the connections we felt today.

My friend, who we have not seen for years, has the farm as a second home, living in the Riverwest neighborhood in Milwaukee. He showed me around his garden, which uses compost with worms in it and he is growing on slightly raised mounds. It is not the ‘same old, same old’ method of Growing Power but has many of the same elements.

However, it is very productive. One of the things I learned today was to plant my lettuce much earlier in the season. He had planted his lettuce as soon as the ground could be worked and today we had so much of the fresh lettuce for dinner that we were asked to take some home. My similar type lettuce is still coming up. Also I learned that maybe I should give a leaf lettuce mix another shot in the GB box next winter in the sunroom.

My wife made a comment at first looking at his garden of how much better than mine it was. I mentioned to her it was about 20 times the size of my backyard garden and some of the plants that we had in common were not bigger than mine. If I sound defensive I am not. I am not trying to compete with a farm garden that has access to land and stuff, like sheep manure, that small backyards like ours.

So, the two gardens of two old friends, like the old house, have characters that are the same, but like it, are different. The gardens like the outhouse are the same old new.

P.S. I got the burlap for the worm condo at the same old or new garden shop today. The worms now are much cooler.

June 1, 2007 Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Growing at night?

Someone once told me, and I believe them, that plants need light but really grow at night. This makes sense to me. Usually by day we live and work and act. However, at night we relax, let go and sleep. We need the light but it is in the darkness we grow.

As I get older I find myself, due to various reasons, staying up latter in the night. Part of the reasons is that I can sleep in most mornings. I do my work during the day but at night feel the most creative and relaxed. Like a plant I need the light of day to grow in the darkness.

Tonight my wife and I saw Eugene’s O’ Neill play the Long Day’s Journey Into Night. It was in the basement of an old mansion and presented by the Cornerstone Theatre Company. It is the story of a dysfunction family of four, based on O’ Neill’s own family. It is a day in the life of this family of four that starts in the morning and goes late into the night. There is no action and only one scene in this very long play, yet the words of the characters hold you spellbound as you get to know each one and their addictions,faults and tenderness personally. In the day we learn about each character but at night we go deeply into each one, their beauty and ugliness. When O Neil gave the play to his wife on their twelfth wedding anniversary with instructions not to publish it to well after his death he told her that the “play was of old sorrow, written in tears and blood.” However, he added, “These twelve years, Beloved One, have been a Journey into Light.”

Is it not that the way it is, that we grow in the dark so we can face the journey into the light the next day.

We have been having off and on rainstorms so there was no need to water the garden today. However, before it rained my son gave the garden a good watering of “tea”. Also this rain should cool off the worm condo. Despite my watering it almost dairy I found it steaming hot in the box today. Now heat is good for the compost pile but worms do not like it. I need some new burlap for the cover of the worm condo. The worms, hungry perhaps for some carbon, have eaten away at the present burlap covering. A new one will keep the sun out and the water in. I should take care that tomorrow if I can remember when I purchased the burlap from.

I never had a person write me with and an answer to a question I poised on this posting. But that does not stop me for asking more questions. The question today is: “What are ‘soil phosphorous’ that I can add to my pots of tomato plants in the sun room. On the back of the pack of the hybrid tomato red tall vine new girl FI seeds it says the plants need ‘soil phosphorous’. Since the plants started okay from seed but now seems stunted in growth I would like to know what natural phosphorous I can add to the soil in the planters that are in the GP box in the sunroom (picture above.) Maybe if I can add some soil phosphorous during the day the tomato plants will grow by night.

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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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