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  • Vegie update

Of the Black Seed Simpson Lettuce, sowed last Saturday, all but 3 of the 36 plugs have germinated. I took off the dome and moved the flat to the seedling area, which isn’t heated or enclosed. It’s a steady 65F there, underneath the fluorescents.

The Clear Dawn Onions, which I also sowed last Saturday, are coming up nicely and many of the Applegreen Eggplant seeds have put out short white spikes.

And yesterday I added to the bunch by sowing the Peaceworks Sweet Pepper and the King Sieg Leek I got from Fedco.

Our setup has been rearranged from how you last saw it. I enclosed the germination box (on the lowest shelf) with cardboard lined with alluminum foil and two rugs in front for easy access. It has the usual fluorescents (2 fixtures, which is 4 bulbs), but I had to add a heat lamp to warm things up a little. Closest to the lamp it’s about 75F (for the celery and eggplant seeds) and furthest away it’s about 68-70F (the leek is there now).

I’m debating whether I should enclose the entire shelf. Most seedlings do like it cooler (55-70), but with their domes off a lot of the humidity gets lost, and I’m afraid I mightforget to water them once and they’ll dry out. On the other hand, if I enclose it I need to also install a fan for air circulation, because damping-off doesn’t appeal to me either… Decisions!

  • Herb update

So then I took my attention off the vegies for a moment to glance at the herb charts (setting-out time, germination temperature, etc.) in the Silbers’ book. Gack! Most herbs are even slower! Of the vegies, eggplant takes the longest, 12-14 weeks, to set out time. But lavender takes 14-20 weeks, lemon balm 14-18 weeks, mint 14-16 weeks, etc!

Amie is at a playdate today, till 2:30, and I have just enough space in the germination box for:

  • 6 rosemary
  • 6 marjoram
  • 6 mint
  • 6 lemon balm

And because catnip likes to germinate at a cool temperature, I can put that in the seedling area.

This time I went with Bountiful Garden, because they were one of the only companies selling the French Green Lentil we’ve been looking for. And while I was at it, I ordered the veggies I had forgotten and some more herbs for teas and bees. Here’s the list with Bountiful Garden’s descriptions (BF), which speak for themselves:

  • Green French Lentil: our favorite soup lentil.
  • Culinary Flax: because Sharon said so (for good reasons, which are now also mine).
  • Tan Garbanzo Bean: because we love hummus.
  • Alyssum: “attractor of beneficial insects and butterflies… a carpet under tall, relatively open plants like onions, garlic, orach, pole beans, podding radish and sunflowers.” (BG)
  • Scorzonera Parsnip
  • Ornamental Mix, Sunflower
  • Blue Lupine (Bluebonnet): “fixes nitrogen and tolerates poor, rocky soil. Spectacular sheets of blue in spring to summer. Excellent cover crop to prepare beds for heavy-feeding summer vegetables.” (BG)
  • Double Blue Cornflower: “Quick and easy edible flower at home among vegetables or in problem areas of the yard. Great cake decoration, garnish, salad ingredient, or scatter the petals like confetti on food. Pair with nasturtium, CA poppy, or calendula for a great spring display.”
  • German Chamomile: love it in tea.
  • Lemon Balm: “Tolerates poor soil as long as it is sunny. Drought tolerant. Plant after last frost. Self-sows. Leaves used for tea with aromatic lemon flavor. Anti-viral, sedative, anti-depressant, helps headache” (BG)
  • Glaskin’s Perpetual Rhubarb: because I remember sucking on rhubarb as a kid. (perennial)
  • Phacelia tanacetifolia: “Prime beneficial-insect plant. Lavender-blue, fragrant flowers are loved by people too. A quick growing plant which makes a fine, feathery but dense carpet that shades and holds the soil but allows moisture to trickle through. Phacelia attracts pollinators–one of the very best bee plants. Our research garden has found it inhibits nematodes and improves soil structure. Makes good compost material.” (BF) (perennial)
  • Vervain: “Vervain” means “sacred bough”: it was one of the sacred herbs of the Druids. A perennial with tall thin wands of lavender flowers from a carpet of dense evergreen leaves. Easiest to grow of perennial herbs. Sun-loving, drought-resistant, adaptable, with spreading roots that hold and protect the soil. Medicinal: Restorative for nervous system, digestion, convalescence, menopause, and headaches.” (BF)
  • Sweet Cicely: shade-tolerant perennial.
  • Sacred Basil / Tulsi: Tulsi tea is one our favorites. (perennial)
  • Conover’s Colossal Asparagus (perennial)
  • Roman Chamomile (perennial)
  • Anise Hyssop: “attracts bees. Leaves have a distinctive licorice scent and flavor. Delightful for tea or seasoning. Showy purple flowers up to 4′ in height often planted in flower beds. Zones 5-9.” (BG) (perennial)
  • Burnet (Salad): “Super winter-hardy and adaptable perennial will even grow in boggy or rocky soil. Young leaves add cucumber flavor to spring and winter salads and dips.” (BG)

I just checked my mail and the last back-ordered seeds from Fedco have arrived. Now I can plant the Thyme.

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I also ordered the book Growing Vegetables and Herbs, From Seed ot Harvest, by Terry and Mark Silber. It’s the first book I’ve bought in months: amazing!

I had three very strange conversations with Amie today.

  • Part one

Out of the blue (we were washing hands) she said:

- Pooh Bear is very fluffy so he will never die again.

- So you think if you’re fluffy you can’t die?

- Yes. But I am not fluffy, so I am going to die. Some day. And you are not fluffy, so you are going to die too. We’ll lie down together and lie next to each other and our crosses will be next to each other. And the body goes away, right? And only our bones are left over.

  • Part two

Later I asked:

- Which crosses were you talking about?

- Like Jesus’ cross.

- But we don’t usually die on the cross like Jesus. We die when we’re very sick or very old, or in an accident. It could be we go to sleep and just don’t wake up.

- When we lie down? We can die when we lie down, or when we’re holding something, or even when we talking?

- Yes.

- They say you can come back after you die.

- Oh, like Jesus you mean? Usually though when we die we don’t come back. Jesus was an exception.

- No, all of us.

- O yes, some people believe that. I don’t know, though.

  • Part three

Ten minutes later I asked if we should put some music on. She asked:

- Do we have any Jesus music?

- How do you mean?

- Music with Jesus?

- We don’t have a recording of Jesus, but there is music about Jesus. You want that?

- Yes, Jesus music please.

~

Later I was on the phone with DH, who was working late, and mentioned this strange conversation.

- Ah, he said, I think I know why.

Turns out that yesterday, when I was at my pottery class, Amie had said that her Pooh Bear (her stuffed bear) was dead.

- He died, she had said.

DH had explained that Pooh Bear couldn’t die, because he was just a toy bear, and not alive to begin with. He had said:

- He’s just made of fluff. He doesn’t even have any blood.

- Do we have blood?

And that had lead to a conversation about the body.

Aha. “Made of fluff” and “fluffy”… It’s the mind of the three-and-a-half-year-old!

Just two days after I wrote about sowing my first seeds, and being so nervous about it, I went down into the basement to check on the seeds and there it was!

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Ah, a sight for sore eyes!

I love it! In 50 days or so we’ll be eating lettuce: our very own, with a mileage of NIL.

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I did a lot of research in library books and on the net about germinating seeds, growing on, etc., and the book I can definitely recommend as a great source of information detailed enough to guide the shaky beginner is Terry and Mark Silber’s Growing Herbs and Vegetables from Seed to Harvest.

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Yesterday I sowed the first seeds of the season: early lettuce (Black-seeded Simpson) in one flat; celery (Redventure), onion (Clear Dawn) and eggplant (Applegreen) in another. Amie joined me to sow the larger eggplant seeds. What a joy it was to see her nimble tiny fingers handle those seeds!

Then I watered the flats and put the one with the lettuce in a cool place on our growing shelf and the one with the eggplant, celery and onion in a warm place. Our basement is chilly (62F) and the fluorescent bulbs don’t give off as much heat as we thought they would, so we added an incandescent bulb and enclosed that and the flat with foil trays (see photo). Growing mats would be ideal but they are expensive… We definitely need to work on our germination setup:  enclose one entire shelf so more flats can be kept warm.

There was so much to keep in mind! How moist the seed mix should be, how much space to leave on top, how much to tamp it down. Then, how deep to sow the seed, whether to cover it or not, and whether to put it under lights or not (celery and lettuce, for instance, need light to germinate, the others are light-neutral, but as I had a long stretch of light on anyway…). Then, how warm they should be..

I enjoyed the sowing: it was very meditative. In fact, I started at 5 and only when DH and Amie came downstairs, complaining they were hungry, did I discovered it was 8!

But I must admit I was nervous. I may have sown some seeds as a very young child: I have some very vague memories of my sister and me having each our own little plot… But really, I hadn’t a clue! The knowledge that mucking up this one seeding would cost at most $2 worth in seeds, soil and water and that there are many more seeds in the packets… didn’t help.

I kept telling myself: “I’m in for it now!” We’re seriously doing it. Done with the talking, the dreaming, the planning. We have to do it now. And do it right, because each of those flats really represent more than $2 now: it represents many, many more dollars in food down the line. Food for our family, friends and some extra for the food pantry in our community. It represents a self-sufficient, more resilient and healthy future. It represents, for me, a dream come true.

Tomorrow I’m sowing a couple of tomato plants (to see if I can grow some extra early), thyme and lavender, and I’ll soon follow up with peppers, broccoli, more lettuce, and squash.

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I found Amie’s Map Book. It had gone missing in the move.  The Map Book, or Place Book, is a collection of maps, pasted in or drawn, of where we have been living and traveling (you can see some more scans here), with anecdotes and journal entries addressed to Amie.

Amie became very interested in maps when we went to visit the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge last week. She was given some trail maps by the officer there. When we got lost trying to find another Refuge, she helped me by reading the big road atlas. “It says North, Mama, we need to go North!”  she piped from the back seat. She fell asleep with the big book on her lap.

When we came home she asked for more maps, so I dug up a whole bunch of them (I’m a sucker for city maps, museum maps, road atlases…). All these she arranged on her table, like at the Refuge. She won’t let anyone touch them.

Then she sat down and drew a map of her own, to take on a Heffalump Hunt.

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She understands the basics of what a map is for, that it represents a place, a part of space. She knows the words “North, South, East and West” and can place them on the compass rose. She learned this from the map at the beginning of The Hobbit and from her globe, which she got for Christmas. She has a rudimentary understanding of them as directions.

It’ll be great fun, exploring them with her, and the compass, and dimension and scale, legends and contours…

In the meantime I’m going to steal some of those maps and get the Map Book up to date. There are trips to Singapore to add, to India, to the White Mountains and to New York City, to Washington DC, and into Boston. And I can’t believe our new place isn’t in it yet: our land, our neighborhood, the ponds and the lakes and the houses of her friends and school…

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We were looking for a good example to draw from, and I pulled out the huge tome about Paintings in the Louvre Museum that DH and I lugged home all the way from Paris. We leafed through and as the book starts with art from the Middle Ages, the predominant image was of Jesus on the Cross.

“Who’s that?” she asked.

“His name is Jesus.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He is nailed to the cross.”

“Why?”

“Because people didn’t like what he said,” I said (making it up as I went along).

“Is that his blood?”

“Yes.”

She was fascinated. She leafed through the entire 1000-pager looking for more Jesus-on-the-Cross. She asked questions about details, like if he had a ledge to stand on or not. Then she also got interested in Jesus as a baby.

“There must be a picture of Jesus on the Cross as a baby,” she said. “I think that also happened.”

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A couple of days later Amie was ready to draw Jesus. We got out our Hildegarde von Bingen book, from which she had already drawn Cultivating the Cosmic Tree and as expected she chose an image of Jesus on the Cross.

She drew the body and head of Jesus first, then the outstretched arms, and then she gave him a big smile.

I asked: “Really? Is he smiling, do you think?”

She looked closely. “No,” she said, confused. She always draws her human figures with a smile.

I suggested she keep that drawing but use it in another picture, and we found Christ Sits in Judgment.

“But he is sitting here,” Amie protested.

Then she solved the problem herself, by drawing a line across the figure’s body to indicate his knees. Then she spent a lot of time on all the circles that envelop him.

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After a couple of days, when she again asked to see the big book with Jesus on the Cross (again without any prompting by me), I asked her: “Do you want me to tell you the story of Jesus?”

The answer was an eager yes. I should have prepared better, I think I made a mighty mess of it! Especially the question “Who’s God?” got me all muddled. But she was interested. Later that day she came to me and said:

“You know, in Jesus’ time, they called Jesus ‘Mama’. Did you know that? Some people called him ‘Mama’.”

How strange!

{This is a second attempt at this poll. I deleted the first one: the polling service wasn’t working properly. My apologies to those who already voted; please vote again.}

I am curious about how my readers think about Peak Oil / Global Warming. Do you think the threat is real? What do we hope/fear for the future?

And coupled to that: What are our appropriate responses? Should we simplify/reduce, rebuild our sustainability/resilience, work on our skill set for a depleted world? Start growing our own food? Or not?

Please click. If you can’t find your reason, let me/us know and I can add the alternative, or you can type it into the poll yourself (in that case, please keep it short). You can choose any or all answers that apply.

For those of you reading this on the Riot site: you’ll have to come on over to the blog to vote.

Good luck!



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The temperatures have soared (in the low 50s today) and all the snow is melting. Funny, how all the stuff that fell on the snow but was covered up again is now showing on top: dust, twigs and leaves, tiny seeds… whatever snow is left now is no longer purely white.

But last week, before the thaw set in, Amie and I went for a nature walk with the intention of finding animal tracks. It was cold, but each time we spotted a track in the snow, we grew magically warm. We followed the trails wherever they went, up and down the slopes, underneath the bushes, around the trees, sinking in up to our knees (snow got into my boots: gack!).

We were on the trail of one creature in particular. I had found its tracks on an earlier walk and had had a tough time identifying them, because only the trail (the pattern of walking/trotting) was clear, but not the tracks (individual footprints), in the old snow. Still, going by Murie’s Animal Tracks my best guess was that they were the tracks of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes). I’ve seen this beautiful creature in person only a couple of times, long ago in the summer, so suspecting its signs was exciting. I was keen on getting a good footprint, though, in the freshly fallen snow.

We didn’t have to go far, for there they were: that same pattern, right behind our garden fence. “It might be the fox, Amie!” I whispered, and as we walked along the meandering trail, we kept quiet, for maybe he was still around…

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This trail is one of a “perfect walker” or an animal with a “direct-register track”: when at a trot, the hind feet step into the tracks made by the fore feet and their trails often form a nearly straight line. Their trails look like the trails humans leave behind – the human animal having only two legs can’t help but be a “perfect walker”! But the fox’s tracks are smaller and closer together: made by a smaller animal. Also, they go places where a human wouldn’t go, like underneath bushes.

Domestic cats, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, foxes, deer and moose are perfect walkers. Domestic dogs are not: their trails are more irregular. We don’t have wolves, bobcats, or moose. That leaves deer – of which we’ve seen a few right behind our house – domestics cats, foxes and coyote.

Time to look at the tracks themselves. This time the track hadn’t disappeared in the snow and I got some nice photos!

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Well, that rules out the deer, which has hooves, and the cat (or bobcat, had one wandered quite far out of its range), because cats usually keep their claws retracted, and here the claws can clearly be seen.

Fox, then, or coyote. Coyotes have been spotted in the area, but not in our neighborhood that I know of, and I haven’t heard one. Also, the coyote’s direct register tracks are about 14″ to 15″ apart, whereas these were much closer together, about 8.5″ apart. The coyote’s print, with nails, are usually almost around 3″ long, whereas these are only about 2″.

The unique and therefore distinguishing feature of a fox’s track, the one that will make all your doubts disappear, is the line or bar that runs across the heel pad of the front track (it can be straight, or chevron-shaped). None of my tracks were clear enough, though.

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The snow was very powdery and quite deep, which may account for “slurring” of the tracks in those pronounced lines from one track to the other. Sometimes they seemed to have been foot drag, sometimes they seem to have been made by the fox’s tail.

I explained all of this to Amie, some of it at a whisper, while we were walking, but most of it back at home, while looking in the track books from the library together. I was interested in identifying the track, of course, and talking about how the signs of animals make them alive for us, even though they’re not present.

But I also wanted to show her how an argument works, but which path of deduction I emphasized the words “caused” and “causes”, “so” and “we conclude”, and “it can’t be this because” and “it must be this because”. She was interested in the detective work and clearly grasped some of the easier steps. For instance, she told me herself, looking at the pictures I had made and the drawings of deer tracks, that it couldn’t be deer.

She loves to pore over the images in the track books, and soon I’ll ask her to make some drawings. At the moment we’re swamped with Valentine’s cards, however. Of course we’re doing a Home-Made Valentine’s, just like we did a Home-Made Christmas: 20 cards and 100s of hearts out of construction paper, 20 envelopes out of scrap paper, 20 signatures /tracks painstakingly coaxed from my daughter’s tired hand…

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I am having fun with the garden plan. There are so many possibilities, so much to do! I’m cautious about planning too much. I want to concentrate on the food growing areas first: the veg garden, herb garden and some container gardening, and perhaps some berry bushes around the perimeter.

But we need to address those areas where the vegetation was ripped out and where the topsoil was dug under during last year’s new septic system installation. The soil there is terrible, and weeds are all that grows there. The largest of these areas is on a slight slope, so it is especially erosion-prone.

I just want to sow something there that is cheap and temporary, something we will replace with more permanent plantings in a year or two years’ time. A green manure would be optimal, as it would enrich the soil for the later plantings, but I was also thinking of some easy herbs and/or flowers. Whatever it is, it needs to:

  1. grow fast to shade out the weeds
  2. tolerate poor soil
  3. tolerate partial shade
  4. have a shallow root system (or it will clog the leach field pipes)
  5. be easy to eradicate once we want to replace it
  6. be cheap

Any ideas?

I also got our potato seed and onion set order in at Fedco’s Moose Tubers. Finally and not a moment too soon: they already sold out of many of the organic varieties. I ordered:

Fingerlings: Banana organic (1 lb)

Early: Dark Red Norland organic (2.5 lbs)

Mid-Season: Keuka Gold organic (2.5 lbs)

Late: Elba organic (2.5 lbs) and Bintje naturally grown (5 lbs)

Bintje is the classic deep-frying potato. It is very desired as a “friet patat” in Belgium, though it is rarely sold in supermarkets anymore. And that’s where people now get their food usually. I ordered two and lots of the late varieties – and good keepers too – because I always crave potatoes in winter.

If all goes well, those 2 lbs of onions will yield 60-80 lbs of onions, and those 13.5 lbs of potatoes, 135 lbs of potatoes… Mmmm, I love potatoes! Should I order more?