Hipster Homesteading

February 21st, 2012

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and the tremendous sadness of late blight

I, for some reason, waste a lot of time and energy growing herbs and vegetables in my 50m^2 apartment. Well, maybe the herbs are worth it– you never need much of them and some of them are quite hardy. But the daily watering, fertilizing, pruning, and tending of tomato and bean plants really doesn’t. It occupies all my south-facing windows, and part of the east and west facing ones. I worry about my plants when on trips. I pay people to take care of them. I have lamps and fans and a reserve of crushed egg shells. I read papers on gardening published by Cornell’s department of horticulture. I examine diseased leaves in my lab. I am kind of obsessed.

My plants enjoy first-class citizen status, and I am a lowly slave. I move them around to sunny spots in my apartment so they can leisurely bask in the warm rays. Here you can see Mr Tomato with Mr Lemon Basil and Mr Genovese Basil, next to Mr Yellow Wax Bean.

And, as the internet beckons us fringe lunatics to believe, I am not alone! There appears to be a whole army (and with that I mean at least 10 blogs) of people doing some kind of modern homesteading. Mostly they refer to a dissatisfaction with the federal government, oil disputes, climate change, factory farming, and other dismal and vague conditions otherwise affecting our happy, educated, placid, lower-upper-middle-class, as reasons for engaging in this otherwise odd behaviour. Soap-making. Candle-dipping. DIY hydroponics.

Although first-class citizens, sometimes I eat the plants’ babies.

Like other farmer’s market shoppers, I like weird crops that are strange colours so I can show off how SPECIAL I am.

However, I get annoyed at myself when I picture myself as part of this group of post-new-agers. Phrases like home-grown revolution, pioneering self-sufficiency, urban homesteading– to me they sound more like 21st century marketing targeted at the phantom nostalgia people like me feel for a time we’ve never experienced, except maybe when reading Little House on the Prairie. There are so many PRODUCTS aimed at this group. Plastic snap-together pails for ‘vertical farming’. ‘Reusable’ bags with birds and trees silkscreened onto them. Bicycles. Bicycle bags, bicycle clothing, bicycle lights, other bicycle accessories. Vacuum-packed fed-exed sourdough starter. How-to books. Everything on Etsy.

Hydroponics still rely on a weirdly sterile mix of liquid nutrients, which are mostly derived from petrochemicals. My ovens, fans, lamps, and mail-ordering– they are not efficient, effective, or ecological. The worst part seems to be that we all participate in marketing these things to each other. I want a canning set. I want a crop share. I want a recycled-poly jacket. I want to keep chickens. I want hand-spun yarn things. I want a food dehydrator.

I don’t need a flower pollinator though. I use a Q-tip taped to my electric toothbrush. I measured its vibrations to be around the same order of magnitude as a bee flapping its wings.

When Whole Foods tries to appeal to me by showing their authenticity, it works. Even though I am intensely skeptical of their supposed authenticity (is a major retail location really telling me they don’t care about their bottom line?) and the packaged way they show it (perhaps everything they sell is more local, more sustainable‚Ķ but I can definitely tell it is prettier and better designed). It’s like the placebo effect. I know it’s not what I want it to be, but it still works.

So, my plants. They make me feel good. Kind of embarrassed, and annoyingly holier-than-thou, but good. I care about them, they need me. But all the nightshade varieties are dying from late blight. I brushed oil on them, pruned affected areas. Fanned them. But the disease is rampant, and I am letting all my tomato plants die, and will start over. Perhaps, as I learn, the yield in this small, procrastinating grad student apartment will increase to something that will justify my time a little more. Probably not, it probably will just continue to be a really cheap form of therapy.

THE BLIGHT! Oh, the horror. It has set in all the plants, young and old. It started with a small patch on a branch of the first plant, which I did not recognize at the time. But NOW! I KNOW the FACE of BLIGHT!

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