Yesterday Amie and I made hotcaps (or some version thereof) for our lettuces, some of which are bursting out of their already large containers downstairs. I had hoped to transplant them into the cold frame before today, but the weather has been in the extremes. Three days ago, for instance, the max in the (unvented) cold frame was 130F, the min 43F.

As for the max, I’ve ordered a thermostatically controlled and solar operated arm that will lift one of the lights when the temperature reaches 70F. As for the cold nights, I hope the milder weather that arrived today will stick around till, oh, end of October or so…

Not wanting to take any chances, however, I decided to make some hotcaps for extra protection inside the cold frame. Not having any soil in the cold frame yet, our hotcaps need to be containers too. So I cut the milk jugs in half, leaving the two halves attached by about one inch of plastic. Then I punched several holes in the bottom and filled it with garden soil and composted Moo Doo. (*)

We made and filled about seventeen of them. Here they are, along with the  lettuces on their first outing into “real” light:

SUNlight!

It was quite a moment for them, and for me, as they emerged from the basement! They’re in our screened in porch, which lies to the north of the house, so they’re out of direct sunlight, in 55F.

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Once they’re hardened off I’ll plant them in the hotcaps and line them up in the cold frame. During the night I’ll close them. Here’s Amie demonstrating the idea:

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(*) For “real” hotcaps you cut the bottom out altogether and just place the dome of the jug over the planted seedling.

The other day Amie made two drawings of her friend, Abby, for her birthday.

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Here Abby has fingers. Five fingers, Amie counted them out, one by one, as she was drawing them. As for the other hand, she explained the fingers are hidden in a fist. Abby also wears sleeves and a long skirt. And there’s also a little flower.

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In this one the legs are interesting. “One leg is in a trouser but the other one isn’t.” “Why not?” I asked. “This leg felt warm and the other one felt cold, that’s why.” “And there are no ears? And no hair?” “No, those are invisible.”

Sometimes our conversations about art remind of this - so hilarious!

In other news I transplanted all the Thyme and Sweet Marjoram seedlings and some lettuces into their own pots. Of all the work on the garden I’ve done so far, I think transplanting tiny seedlings is my favorite: so grounding, so relaxing!

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Amie and Pooh Bear

It was our co-houser’s birthday so Amie and I baked some cookies and sang Happy Birthday while he blew out a candle. Then we sat down to eat, and we each had a glass of milk. Amie repeated that she had made the cookies for him and Rabbit (Amie picked the nickname) responded:

Rabbit: That used to be one of my favorite things: to bake cookies with my mom.

Amie: What happened to your mom?

Rabbit: (confused) She lives in Vermont. And I live in other places.

Amie: (confused) But what happened to her?

Me to Rabbit: You said “used to”. What happened that you don’t bake cookies with her anymore?

Amie: Yes. Why?

Rabbit: (confused again) That’s a good question! Ha! Why?

Amie (after some seconds): You grew up, Rabbit. That’s why you don’t live with your Mama anymore.

She said that last thing a bit sadly, very seriously: “You grew up”. She showed such insight, showing us, the “grown-ups,” so simply and with genuine sympathy, what we have lost.

Just like earlier today she said: “Mama, I wish we lived in the hundred-acre wood, where all the Pooh creatures live.” Sometimes she seems to realize that Pooh and co. are made up: “They’re only pretend, right?” But other times she writes letters to Pooh and asks “where on the Earth does he live?” and then for lack of words I point to the UK, on her globe.

It makes me melancholy, like the third of her three obsessions nowadays. They are:

  1. It’s not fair!
  2. I win!
  3. Forever (as in “I love you forever,” “we’ll forever be together,” “I love this book so much, I’ll read it for ever!”)

The first two are intriguing, her struggle with fairness and limits, rewards and disappointments (“You win, Mama. That’s okay. Well done, Mama”). The third is like Pooh, a fairytale. What does forever mean to her? It does mean “forever and ever” in that all-out childlike way. Oh, sometimes she is so convinced, and the prospect of her losing the belief is so sad, that she makes me believe it!

Bookcover of A Handmade Life by Bill Coperthwaite

In A Handmade Life (read a general review here), Bill Coperthwaite promotes a different view of education. If education is more of an apprenticeship than a discipleship, if it allows the innate enthusiasm of children for the unknown to run its natural course, and if it acknowledges the value of nature, then children and, by extension, society, will be happier and smarter. But first and foremost, Coperthwaite points out that such an education would not yet be complete without a context of home and community and a deep-seated feeling of usefulness.

  • Home and community

Coperthwaite deplores the sequestering of the young in centers of learning (from daycare to college). Wouldn’t their education would be so much more complete, and relevant for their futures, if they were immersed into the community of adults again. Simply put: “Do you want better doctors? Improve kindergarten,” or rather, abolish it altogether!

Coperthwaite writes that “the home is the center of education and emotional security… a school is no substitute”. But he is not your average proponent of homeschooling (or unschooling): the home where schooling needs to take place needs to change.

What is missing from our homes is variety. We should enrich our nuclear families with the elderly, who have so much to offer in terms of experience, stories and time. Extending the family also means adding layers of personality and ways of dealing with problems. And it is important that every member of the family is valued for his or her usefulness. “Every child has a right to a family with a purpose,” he writes, and purpose entails work.

  • Usefulness and work

The best kind of work is physical work, what Coperthwaite calls bread labor. It includes raising and preparing food, making shelter and clothing, caring for children.

Children in our “civilized” societies rarely get to witness that kind of vital labor, or any work, for that matter. In the morning they and their parents go off in opposite directions: school and the office, shop or farm. When children do catch a glimpse of “work,” it is often as a negative: a stressful activity that adults rarely enjoy, something to be avoided.

This is shame and a crime, Coperthwaite finds. Children should get to participate in bread work again. But before we squirm at the thought of child labor, he makes it plain that that is not what he has in mind. Rather, young people, even small children, can be useful and indeed draw a lot of self-confidence and pride from their usefulness. Moreover, engaging in this kind of work will restore to them a sense of the value of the meat on their plate and the clothes on their backs.

  • Homemaking

For Coperthwaite, homemaking is “the most important profession and can be the most exciting of all.” He is a homemaker himself – he built his home, makes his supper, washes his clothes (by hand).

He is also childless, but he is not without insight into children, or without the regular company of children. Going by the many anecdotes about children, and Peter Forbes’ pictures in the book, it is company in which both he and the child thrive.

A Handmade Life, In Search of Simplicity, by William S. Copethwaite and with photographs by Peter Forbes is published by Chelsea Green Publishers (ISBN 1933392479).

I’ve pruned our house, that is, pulled all the suckers!

That is, I unplugged all the appliances that suck electricity even though they’re not in use. Like

  1. battery chargers of all kinds (they don’t need to be charging anything to be drawing electricity
  2. anything that has little lights or clocks, like the microwave
  3. anything on standby, like the computer screen or tv
  4. anything with a black box

I was alerted to these “phantom charges” by the Hrens. Their book, The Carbon-Free Home, is a real eye-opener, and most importantly it offers solutions, with blueprints and cost-estimates too!

I just put most of these suckers on powerstrips, so I can easily switch them off en masse (like our entire computer system and the stereo equipment). I also found the switch to the dishwasher (hidden in the sink cabinet): I really don’t need those little green lights telling me it’s there:

This is the state of the seeds/seedlings in our basement (click for larger):

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Seed/lings 23 march 2009

I still have room left and will make some more soon. Today I hope to transplant some of the bigger lettuces into hotcaps (gallon size milk or juice jugs cut in half, fill the bottom with soil, put in transplant, put top on as cover). Then we’ll start hardening them off so they can go into the cold frame next week.

Last Saturday we had a big dinner with a whole bunch of friends and  one of them even stayed over! Oh, I love having people stay over, especially the kind of friend you sit and chat with, after the dishes are done, until  midnight…

Sunday warm (“heated up,” even, relatively) as we drove “into town” to drop her off at her place. It was the kind of day that used to be an average day: bookshop, visit with friends, coffee shop. But for us, now, it was out of the ordinary and extra special for that.

Our visit to the Brookline Booksmith ended in too much money being spent, but on books, you know, half of them secondhand, and we’ve been so thrifty, and there were presents for someone else – Henry the Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers – and poetry (Donald Hall) and one more Rick Bass for my collection, and Barbara Damrosch’s Garden Primer for a steep discount… So perfectly excusable.

We had a lovely visit with dear friends who just had a second baby daughter. We sat and chatted while the baby slept and Amie and her pal played. Afterwards we got in the car with the intention of driving home, but we happened past Simon’s CoffeeShop in Cambridge and DH – a coffee snob – wanted to try their famed espresso. So there we were, the three of us, enjoying our cups – some big, some small.

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And reading our books, chatting… So lovely, the three of us together!

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On the way home there was this:

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And then a quick peek at Walden Pond, where people were still walking on the ice, although it was int eh sixties. Once home there was chatting with neighbors on the street, and swatting at mosquitoes already, while Amie and Baba went for a bikeride. They came home after the sun had (just) set…

Finally an outdoor garden photo!

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The construction of the cold frame is done and we placed it in front of our house to the south and at the top of a slope. That place gets optimal sunlight during the winter, but not much during the summer, as it will be shaded for most of the day.  That’s not a problem, since this will be our frame for hardening off in spring and summer and for harvesting in winter and spring.

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It’s almost 4′ by 8′ by 10″ and made of Douglas Fir boards and Freecycled storm windows (two made of glass and one – mercifully the biggest one – of plexi-glass). It’s based on Eliot Coleman’s design.

We’ll be fiddling around with it. For instance, we might add some heights in the back to give it some more height there (12″) and thus a slight slope toward the sun (Coleman doesn’t think this is necessary, so we’ve foregone it so far).

But we’re especially concerned with how to optimally open the “lights” (windows) for planting and harvesting. There are no hinges at the moment (keeping it as simple as possible), so it’s a “tilt/lift off” system that might not work with lights this large. We also still need to make a notched plank for propping the lights open for ventilation. I can see inside the frame from our bathroom window, and we’ll be adding a remote sensing thermometer, but having one of those solar powered vent openers will give peace of mind.

We’re not ready to go of course because… there is no soil in it yet! The soil underneath in will need to be dug out and some drainage needs to be laid at the bottom (gravel). We’ll remove the bulbs, grass, moss and weeds from the soil, add soil amendments and compost, and fill up the pit again so the soil will sit higher than at first.  I need to do some research as to how deep we’ll have to dig.

So I will have to decide whether that‘s where I want it, soon. As you can see there are gutter spouts on either side of it, and we’ll want to harvest that rain, so we’ll need to ensure that there will be enough space for barrels. Another consideration is that that’s the only free south-facing wall where we could put an espaldiered apple tree, Or a solar thermal collector…

DH will be away for business for a week, during which I can think these factors over and observe the temperatures and light in the frame, and our garden critters’ reactions to it.

I’m just happy it’s out there. I want to be out there too!

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The growing rack is filling up. The bottom shelf is now exclusively a “hot box”, where the most heat-loving seeds go to germinate. Yesterday I added three kinds of basil (Tulsi or sacred basil, Genovese and sweet Italian) and greek oregano to the already resident eggplant, peppers, parsley and rosemary.

The second shelf is the medium temperature germination area (around 60-65F), where I added scallions, more garlic chives, rue, sage and lemon balm to the onions, leeks, chives and thyme and burnet, among others.

The third shelf is the seedling area with some room for seeds that like it cold for germination, like borage (around 55F).

I fiddled around with many way to give the heat-loving seeds their desired temperature. I ruined most of the first batch of eggplant seeds by placing them underneath an incandescent bulb: they got dried out, then I watered them, then they dried out again, etc.

Bottom heat is of course the best, I knew that. The electric heatmats that can supply it most evenly are $30 for one the size of one flat (10×20″) and $40 for one the size of two flats (20 x 20″, which is the kind of real estate I need at the moment). And that is without thermostat.

But first I wanted to build something myself. After some experimentation – during which I nearly cooked some seeds – I came up with this:

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I used a double spotlight (part of the previous owner’s decor), with two incandescent bulbs and maneuvered each into a wooden wine case (came with the canning jars I got on Freecycle). On top of the boxes I placed two metal fridge racks (picked up at the landfill). The plugs and pots go right on top of those.

The temperature is of course not evenly divided, but that’s good. The soil in the pots right on top of the lamps is hotetst: 80F, perfect for peppers and eggplant. The pots more off center are about 70F and the ones to the side are 67F or so. It makes for some fun puzzling. The available area isn’t quite two flats, but close.

My only concern is the energy consumption. Those two lamps use 120 W. A heatmat consumes very little: about 45 W (for the 20×20″ one). The lamps are ineffecient: if they’re on for a month (and I keep them on at night), then they’ll consume 108 KWH {UPDATE} sorry, miscalculated: it’s really 86.4 KWH. The heatmats would make for only 32.4 KWH… To be continued.