Thursday, June 29, 2006

Harvesting Garlic

I harvested the last of my garlic this evening. I'm never quite sure when to harvest garlic - depending on whom you read, you should pull it out 1) Before it flowers; 2) After it flowers, 3) When it falls over; 4) When 50% of leaves have; i.e. Use your best judgement.

Pulling the last group tonight, I figured out the best way to do it. For the previous two times, I struggled to remove the garlic. First I tried to pull it out (But the stalks wouldn't take it, so the broke). Next I tried to dig it out by digging around it, and then pulling it out. This took quite a bit of effort - For a relatively small bulb, garlic bulbs rootlets are tenacious and thick.

Tonight, it went well. I dug in on one side, leveraged the bulbs, and out they came. I also let them stay a couple more days in the ground, letting the bulbs possibly dry down a bit. It was smooth, and I got done in twenty minutes what it took me forty minutes to do before.

Life's like that sometimes - once you work with the thing in question, rather than brute force, things go quite nicely.

And, you get garlic bulbs for eating as a bonus...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wheat Harvest Part II

The wheat harvest is done. The second time around, I got smarter - I packed the entire second container into the bucket, beat out the grain, then poured in out, getting rid of the gross chaff and pulling out the partially threshed heads, then starting over with those, then putting the mass in.

Then came the removal of the chaff. You need wind to do it effectively, and there seems to be a right distance to pour the wheat so that the distance allows the chaff to blow away. I got out the fan, and experimented with distance. I finally managed to get it down, about twice as much as before in about the same amount of time - 2 hours. My sum total was about 4-6 cups of wheat. I 'll keep one or two cups for next year's planting, and grind the rest.

Also, today was the first harvest of cucumbers and squash. My tomatos have not yet turned, but my soybeans are putting on pods and the chick peas are blossoming.

To cover my experimentiaton in agriculture, I close with a quote from Marcus Terentius Varro, a 1st Century BC writer:

"Imitate others and attempt by experiment to do some things in a different way, following not chance but some system" - Marcus Terentius Varro

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Small Blessings

A riveting weekend at the T. Beucail household. On Friday, as my wife was driving back from a last day of school swim party with the kids, the van started making a noise. She called me, indicating it was coming from the transmission - then the horrible grinding noise started, and she said she called me back.

Two mechanics later, it's a new transmission. Now here's the surprising thing - in this whole thing, I see the blessings and hand of God:

1) When she came to a halt, she was at the exit to our house off the interstate. It could have happened 10 miles away.

2) I was at work, and the tow truck only had room for two adults. She was able to call a friend, who was able to come over and get her and the kids - because fortuitiously, her husband was home, so she could leave the kids.

3) We wanted to have it towed to our mechanic, but she didn't think she had her wallet. As she was getting out of the van, her wallet dropped out of the van.

4) I was able to leave work immediately and come home, allowing her to be able to go do her home show.

5) Our mechanic called with honesty - it was beyond his shop -but didn't charge us for it.

6) We have a third vehicle - a 1987 Ford Ranger. It's not pretty and gets poor gas mileage, but it did allow her to have a vehicle which will fit her and the kids and get them around town.

7) On Monday, I was able to come into work late and take care of the care.

8) The mechanic called with an estimate at least $1,000 beneath what it could have been.

9) I have to rearrange, but we have the money to pay for it.

10) Our other car, the Fabulous Ford Escort (1991) can also fit all of us.

Again, no one wants to pay $2100 for a new transmission - but if I look at the thankfuls, how can I be anything but thankful to God?

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Simple Question

When was the last time that I changed? Not just a change of circumstances , like a job or living somewhere else, or outer things, but truly changed inside - like a habit, a believe, or as something which makes me better and advances me towards my goals?

When was the last time I truly made a decision?

When did I last love differently?

When did I last truly take something up - or let something go?

When did I last improve my work?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Threshing Wheat

So today, as part of the general goodness that is Father's Day, the vivacious Mrs. TB allowed me to thresh my wheat as part of my "time".

I wil never look at bread the same way.

Intially, I got a towel, put it on the back lawn, put some wheat heads down, and started whacking with a child's aluminum bat. The bat worked fine, but the towel was obviously too small, scattering wheat chaff and berries everywhere. Then I moved to a sheet, which worked better but the grass is too yielding, so you don't crack all the chaff releasing the wheat - which I had to do by hand.

Then one has to remove the chaff. Ideally, this happens by moving the wheat berries and chaff into the air, where the breeze while blow the chaff away while leaving the wheat. Again, this works if a) You have a fairly short drop (i.e. one can't hurl it into the air) and b) you have a breeze. I moved from sheet to paint tray to small Tupperware to try to get the right thing, which is moving the chaff away from the wheat - and even then, you lose some berries and keep the chaff.

In the evening, after dinner, I got a little more advanced: using a cat litter pail (I had to try it twice - the first time I had a raised bottom, which tended to drop the heads into the trough around it), I used the bat - which did get most of the berries off the heads and released much quicker. I had a bit of a breeze, so by shaking (similar to gold panning), dumping the wheat from bucket to paint tray and back again (multiple times), and simple blowing, I got most of it removed - but again, not all.

Two hours for maybe 1.5 cups of wheat - and I've got half again as much to do.

It certainly makes me appreciate what it really takes to make bread - let alone a civlization. How long and how much would anyone have to thresh to provide enough for a day? a week? a year? And that's not including other ingredients.

The other thing I learned is the patience of the thresher. You need to do it muliple times. You need to be careful, lest you loose the fruit of your labors in your haste to be done - several times, I picked individual wheat berries off the cement or ground, because I don't want to lose them now, after 8 months of work! And even then, one must sift and clean again, to remove the final chaff. It brings to mind Luke 22:31-32, where Jesus says "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he mike sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen the brethren". I always thought of sifting as a gentle shaking, or running your fingers through. What I did tonight was violent, lengthy - and not yet done.

The other other thing I learned is that chaff is worthless. It sticks in your hands, it goes in your nose, it flies everywhere, and it has no function. When David refers to sinners as "but are as chaff which the wind drives away" in Psalm 1:4, I now have a mental picture. Chaff cannot resist the wind: it has not weight, it has little substance, it is dry and brown and flies at a gentle puff of breath. And to the chaff of Matthew 3:12 where John the Baptist compares the wicked, I can now see how flammable it is, and how easily it would burn - let alone with unquenchable fire.

Do I fill my days with wheat? Or chaff?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Evening Ride

I took a ride on my bike tonight, about 9:30 PM. I've had the concern, especially as I near the magic 40th year, of my health - my job does not lend itself to activity, I tend to overeat, and I have the usual run of bad stuff in my family: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems.

My problem has been when to do it. If I do it in the morning, I feel better going to work - but I have to wake up at 0430, which is darn hard - so hard, in fact, I as often feel drained throughout the day. Evening is better - but cuts into my time after nighean gheal, nighean bhan and nighean dhonn have gone to bed to do "my stuff". And to do it in the morning is to run, which I seem to hate (bad for the knees too), while evening is biking, which at least moves me faster - and is easier on the knees.

But evenings work better- if for no other reason than I hate getting up early....

At any rate, I am fortunate enough to live somewhere where I have a multiplicity of street lights and new sidewalks, so I neither get hit nor go over sidewalk edges.

I'm glad I went. It's cool enough in the evenings to exercise. The traffic makes a dull background roar. The sky is slowly filling with stars, the sky to west slowly dimming into that brief color of palest blue green you only see at night after sunset and before sunrise.

The other thing I noticed is smells. I don't know what seems to make the dark make smells more intense for me - but they do. You fly by, your gears clicking by the houses, and scents drift in and flow by you: honey suckle, the wet smell of recent watering, flowers, perhaps a late night barbecue, cigarette smoke, car exhaust - the panorama of modern suburban life, as seen by smell.

One of my pet fears is that I should lose my sense of smell as I grow older. Hearing and sight you can affect or preserve, but for smell, there is no way I know of to protect it - like sunglasses or ear plugs. It either stays or goes, I suppose.

The power of smell is like the power of music - to hear a particular smell is take you back to a person, a place, a moment in time. For me, like music - to hear songs of a certain period - say 1979 - 1987 or even later for certain music - is to take a time machine somewhere where it seems life was simpler, maybe more enjoyable (or was I less aware and more self centered?), where the blank canvas of life stared one in the face, even as one did not realize it was there.

I'll ride again, more as I am able. The pale green sky is the most exquisitely beautiful color I know, and it's a free show, every night.

Besides, maybe one night I'll pass a radio playing and see a younger me riding on the other side of the road....

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I pulled my wheat down this Saturday. I have never paid attention to wheat being grown - indeed, I'm not sure I would have know what it looked like. I had to look on the internet to figure out what it looked like, and what you're supposed to do with it when you're done.

The thing that amazed me most - other than fact that it is incredibly productive - is how it increased my understanding of the parables of Jesus. When Christ talked about the tares and wheat in Matthew 13: 24-30, it was entirely new to me - in winter, the wheat truly looks like weeds - and if you didn't know better (I probably did not), you might pull up the one without the other (as an interesting sidenote, wheat is allelopathic, which means after a certain stage, it produces toxic substances which suppress other plants. Spiritual food for thought...). When Christ talked about the fields being white for harvest (John 4: 35), I can see it - the wheat, when ready, is almost white. When it speaks about the disciples rubbing heads of grain together in their hands, (Luke 6: 1), I can understand what they did, how little effort it truly was, and how it confirmed the Pharisees misuse of the Sabbath Laws. When Christ speaks of a grain of wheat needing to die in order to bear much fruit (John 12:24), I can see it in the plants where each head bears 10 plus seeds, at three to four heads or more a stalk. And when in Psalm 1: 4 it speaks of the wicked being blown away like chaff, and John the Baptist speaking of Christ pulling out the wheat into the granary and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire, I can see how insubstantial and useless the chaff is - and how easy it is to blow and burn when the wheat is removed.

My wheat is cut and curing now (A small plot - no scything for me this year, but maybe next - I really want one of these). My mill came this week. When cut, my straw will be returned to the field. The foray into self sufficiency - and indirectly, closer to God - has begun.