Gasp! See that gap?

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A lettuce was taken from under the shade cloth! Ah, there it is:

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And here:

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This last picture, my dear readers, shows a true miracle. For Amie will not eat vegetables. No peas, or corn, no cucumber, no cherry tomatoes, no broccoli. Mashed potato, yes, and rice, but that is it. Something to do with color and texture. Luckily she’ll eat any fruit you give her – but try convincing her that tomatoes are fruit!

Maybe she understood how important this very first harvest was – or maybe her Baba quietly told her… As soon as I came in with the handful of leaves she asked me: can I taste it? And after I washed it, she took a bite, and another, and another. Three, yes. And though she didn’t seem wholly convinced, and had no more after that, she congratulated me:

- Mmm, Mama, that’s pretty good lettuce!

It sure is!

Here she is again, hanging out with most of the seedlings “hardening off” in the afternoon  heat – maybe the hardening off only begins once theyre returned to the much cooler basement!

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What with all the gardening around here it’s been a while since I wrote about Amie’s non-gardening doings and goings. Here are some newer developments.

We’re working on her letters. She recognizes all the upper and lower case and can sound out and read three-letter words:

But writing them is something else altogether, especially those pesky rounded lower cases. Numbers too are a challenge. So this spring break we’re working on all those.

These days Amie sees us writing a lot of checks (unfortunately) and she was curious what that was about. I explained it to her and even found an old checkbook from a defunct account for her to play with. She wanted to write out her first check to me!

- How much do I owe you, Mama? she asked

- Oh, I said, by the time we’re done, mm… about a million

No problem. She asked our co-houser to help her fill it in, and when he – we call him Rabbit, so I’m going to start referring to him as Rabbit as of now – started writing in the amount, she changed her mind. When he had formed “10″ she said:

- I want to pay Mama ten million dollars!

When he had added another 0, she said:

- Yes, a hundred million dollars!

She is so very generous!

She has been doing some multiplication with single digit numbers and division by 2. She needs her fingers and concrete things to do it: “If we have 6 ice cream sandwiches and there’s 2 of us, how many do we each get?” works, but “What is 6 divided by 2 make?” doesn’t.

Her Baba also taught her to add up a big and a small number. For instance, 76 + 4. This is how she explains it: You put the big number in your head: 76 (pinches thumb and index fingers together and touches her forehead, turning them and making a creaking sound, as if turning a key in a lock). Then you put the smaller number on your fingers (arranges her hand so 4 fingers are out). Then you count: 76, (takes away one finger) 77, (takes away another finger) 78, (takes away another finger) 79, (takes away last finger) 80!

She is not only a mathematician, like her Baba, but also a metaphysician, like her Mama (used to be). The other day she was acting all grumpy and DH observed that she was becoming a two-year-old again.

- No-o, she said, I can’t go back; I can only go forward.

I made it to Volume Two of Edible Forest Gardens and am enjoying reading about Pattern Languages. I really like the way Jacke and Toensmeier blend philosophy/psychology and practical garden design: patterns that live… I already made some observations on our property that I wouldn’t have hadn’t I read their advice. I feel ready now to do a proper site analysis and a basic design of permaculture zones and sections. Our landscaping last weekend has also given me confidence that we can make incisive changes, with bigger elements than I would have dared to use before, like removing and planting trees and bushes, and laying paths. My vision for the garden is finally taking on a more definite shape.

I’m glad that we’re taking the design of the larger garden slowly and deliberately: most of it will happen over the next couple of years. It seems like we’re rushing (into) the more conventional vegetable garden now, but that would be ignoring the winter months of study and planning that went into it. But it sure feels like rushing now, in that great rush of Spring, and notwithstanding all the study I often feel like I don’t know what I’m doing – and I feel fine with that! It’s part of the great change that is also happening to me.

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As more of my time gets spent outdoors I feel less and less drawn to the basement, but that is still where most of the vegetating goes on. I’m seeing some very fine asparagus shooting up fast as rockets in the hotbox, and the elecampane and the stevia are almost ready to leave that area. I sowed a new variety of bell peppers (Vidi Crimson from Renee’s Garden) and am waiting for its germination. I had no luck with the Peacework sweet pepper I got from Fedco: only 4 out of entire packet (more or less 26 seeds) germinated.

Some days ago I took advantage of Amie’s playdate to do some major potting up. Most seedlings needed it: they were bursting out of their cells or shared containers. The difference potting up makes was made clear to me by the two catnips that germinated in my first batch:

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The first one was potted up two weeks ago, the second only yesterday. What a difference! That big catnip is now touching the lights at their hihest setting. Almost time to go out! The basils, anise hyssop (smelling so good!), borage, parsley, thyme and sweet marjoram also got their own pots.

Giving more room to the roots of course also meant sacrificing more space in the seedling area. I’ll only be able to sow new seeds once I’ve moved the faster-maturing veggies (spinach and perhaps some onions) into the cold frame and the slow growing celery and leeks into the one raised bed that is ready. The potatoes have already made some nice sprouts and will go into the next available beds and bins. Soon it will be time to pot up the tomatoes and the eggplants as well.

To be started inside:

  1. cucumber
  2. squashes
  3. more spinach
  4. more lettuce: different variety this time
  5. bee balm (aka Bergamot)
  6. more burnet (give it another try?)
  7. the chamomiles
  8. more garlic chives (or straight outside?)
  9. more chard (or straight outside?)
  10. comfrey (or stragiht outside?)
  11. coriander
  12. cumin (in hotbox)
  13. dill
  14. fennel
  15. fenugreek (in hotbox)
  16. more parsley (in hotbox)
  17. more peppers (in hotbox)
  18. sorrel (or straight outside?)
  19. valerian
  20. brussels sprouts
  21. Welsh onion (if I can find seed)

To be planted outside as soon as weather and status of beds allows:

  1. potatoes (“seed”)
  2. onions (seedlings and sets) some in cold frame, others under plastic cover
  3. spinach (seedlings) in cold frame
  4. leek (seedlings) under plastic cover
  5. celery (seedlings) under plastic cover
  6. chard (seedlings) under plastic cover
  7. kale (seedlings) under plastic cover
  8. parsley (seedlings) under plastic cover
  9. chives (seedlings and seed) under plastic cover – in perennial bed
  10. mustard greens (seed)
  11. radishes (seed) under plastic cover
  12. peas (seed)
  13. beets (seed)
  14. carrots (seed)

Can’t wait for that last frost date! Not long now. If only it would stop raining and I could go out there and dig some more. In the meantime I couldn’t of course stop myself from ordering… more seeds!

  1. Alfalfa (Lucerne) and more Blue Lupine, or Bluebonnet: nitrogen fixers for terraces
  2. My Castle Red Russell: another Lupine, this one red
  3. Valerian
  4. Bountiful Gardens Mild Kingdom Mustard Greens Mix
  5. Windsor Fava Bean
  6. Italiko Rosso Chicory for winter crop
  7. Claytonia for winter crop
  8. Verte de Cambrai for winter crop
  9. Early Mizuna for winter crop
  10. Tatsoi for winter crop
  11. Purple Beauty Sweet Pepper
  12. Wild Bergamot, aka Bee Balm
  13. Borage: love that stuff!
  14. St Johnswort: “Was even used in the Middle Ages for sword wounds!” (Fedco Seed Catalog)… who can resist!
  15. Carpet of Snow Alyssum
  16. Alaska Nasturtium Mix
  17. Panorama Red Shades Bee Balm
  18. Blue Flax
  19. Queen of the Meadow, Eupatorium purpureum, also known as Joe Pye Weed or Gravel Root: flower
  20. Fedco Beneficials Mix
  21. and a big bag (4 lbs) of Buckwheat as a ground cover / compost crop for the lower part of our garden: that part will be in soil enhancer until next Spring.

Our co-houser was very interested in pruning the house of “suckers” – appliances and battery chargers and the like that suck electricity even though they’re not in use. He was pulling them all over the place – especially the microwave, which is mostly my fault. He got so into it he devised a game:

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Each member of the household gets a little plate. Each time he or she spots a sucker, he or she gets an object from the central pot – if you spot something you left sucking, you get nothing, but so does anyone else (either does no one else?). The first person to collect five objects gets to chose who will cook her or him a meal of her (or his) choice. Amie was the first to get one!

The other game we’re playing a lot is Max, the cooperative game I wrote about earlier. It is a great game to teach Amie about both strategy and the concept of “luck”. She now understands that Max needs to eat too, and not just treats (which recall Max to his porch when he gets too close to the little forest creatures). Still, that doesn’t stop her apprehension when the fate of the little bird or mouse hangs in the balance:

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In this particular game all three creatures got eaten. Afterwards Amie decided to make extra treats for Max (the game has only four: after that the creatures are fair game). She made at least twenty little cards with drawings of catnip and milk, and also grapes, worms, and donuts! I’ll have to explain that Max will get too fat…

Marathon Monday weekend was that for us: a marathon! We had three days of free time, good weather shining down on us, a mound of soil and “compost” (really deteriorated mulch) delivered, and friends with wheelbarrows and stamina come help.

We rototilled and amended and terraced the most problematic part of our front yard: the slope. The terraces – some in the sun, some in partial shade – will be perennial beds for herbs, and there is lots of room for flowering shrubs around the bird feeders. The path in between we seeded with Nichols Nursery Ecological Lawn. Let’s see if it takes. The robins and even the squirrels already like it). I really wanted to plant some buckwheat to amend the soil, but we couldn’t wait for warmer weather…

We also rototilled the entire vegetable garden area, path and all. It will be much easier to dig and sift the loosened soil into the raised bed frames. Some areas had huge amounts of stones, so I pretended I was digging for potatoes. Here is Amie carrying some of that huge bounty away:

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If those were really potatoes, we’d win some sort of price at a fair! Amie also got to sow some bluebonnets (blue lupine) in the flower box:

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Lupine is a nitrogen-fixing flower, and I wanted to give it a trial run before I plant it in the perennial beds to make them ready for the perennial herbs later on.

Of course there was also time for a wheelbarrow ride!

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And while we worked – especially when we were hammering in the stakes that will hold the terraces in place – we had a visitor:

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It’s that elusive Pileated Woodpecker! He was fearless, came to within about 10 feet of us, checking us out, making a right racket!

Inside the house I have started greening the potato seed.

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Yup, that’s the bedroom dresser. It’s not like we had gotten ’round to decorating our bedroom anyway!

Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

“Rekenen,” Dutch: to count

Am I reckoning month 5 already – or only? Sometimes it seems like we’ve been doing this all our lives, other times it’s like we only started yesterday. It shows that we’re not totally “in the habit” yet. I’m 16 (!) days late in reporting. Also, this month is ugly: our consumption went up on several counts, because of our seedling setup in the basement (electricity) and our co-houser (water), but mostly because we were less vigilant with our consumer goods purchases.

Gasoline: 16%

Between us we consumed 19 gallons. That’s 6.3 gallons/person, that’s:

15% of the US national average.

This is getting better every month, and better days are ahead as the weather gets warmer and drier and we can look forward to hopping on that bike!

Electricity: 13%

We pruned the house of all the suckers, but still our electricity consumption went up from 371 KWH last month, to 484 KWH.

It makes for 13% of the US National Average.

Considering we have an extra person staying at our house as well as over a hundred seedlings under lights and above heatlamps in our basement (*), and that all our electricity comes from wind, it’s maybe not too lamentable.

Heating oil and warm water: 109%

The days are slowly warming up and the Freeze Yer Buns challenge is over, (though it’s going to freeze again over the coming weekend). Our heat is still on (at 62 F during the day, 58 F at night), but I’ve shut off the heat and opened the windows on several more days, and we no longer heat the Annex, the part of the house we are working on.  It has shown in our consumption (67 gallons of oil this month against 79 gallons last) and it’s giving me some hope.

109% of the US national average

Heating oil is definitely our weakest point. Now, as we approach the time of year when the boiler will only come on for heating our water, we need to start working on alternatives. Quite a few of them are under review: several solar hot water systems, as well as better insulation of our hot-water tank and the pipes.

Thinking a bit longer term, I’ve ramped up my lobbying for the wood stove, especially now that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Part III, Section 1121, Energy Conservation Incentives) promises a tax credit for the installation of efficient stoves. And then there are the plans for a greenhouse wrap-around, which will act as a solar wall and solar thermal collector next winter…

Garbage: 10%

We’re making less and less household garbage each month, and are well in the range of the 90% reduction. Work on the part of the Annex is still ongoing, though I believe most of the demolition is done, and we’re looking mostly at building from now on.

We salvaged quite a few good two-by-fours and other pieces of wood, one of which is already shielding our third compost bin from the wind and rain. Once the trash company comes to pick up the leftovers, we’ll weigh in.

Water: 19%

Our water consumption is up by way too much since last month. We consumed 580 gallons a person, which makes for

19% of the US national average

It was a shocker, because that’s up from 14%. Sure, the seedlings drink quite a bit, about 2 gallons a day, I should say, between all of them, but that hardly accounts for a 605 gallon jump!

I know the problem: our co-houser takes a daily shower. DH and Amie and I were trying to compensate for his extra usage by showering less, but this month, it turns out, our co-houser sometimes took two showers a day. I’m such a non-confrontational person, it took me so long to discuss it with him that in the end he was the one who brought it up. He is very open to reducing (he’s helping with “pruning the house” – a constant effort for which he devised a neat game – about that soon!). He was shocked that his consumption counted for so much, and now we’re back on track.

Consumer goods: 51%

This is where it gets ugly. We splurged this month. It hurts after being so victorious last month.

I had to buy gifts (got craft materials) for two birthday parties, clothes for Amie (we’re usually in a reliable hand-me-down pipeline: don’t know what happened), and materials for our Annex (that cost will go up drastically next month as we enter the building phase).  (Our purchases for the cold frame I will, as per usual for any garden-related costs, not count.)

Our biggest expense however was books. I bought that wonderful and expensive set, the two volumes of Edible Forest Gardens, and we spent quite a lot in our favorite bookstore, the Brookline Booksmith, on that memorable weekend.

Altogether that makes for

51% of the US national average.

Yikes!

Food: ?

I’m referring to an older post for my reasons for not reckoning this category. We sinned a bit here too: got take-out twice, and made a large order of coffee ($65: gack!). DH on his trip had no choice but to eat out a lot…. I’m not even going to ask him for the bills!

We’re working on our garden, of course. Slowly we’re nudging the food deficit into the black…

Goings on OUTSIDE

Another nice day, yesterday. Not as warm as on Friday, but working hard raised our body temperatures plenty.

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DH finished all ten veg bed frames (in the picture he’s begging Amie to hand over a screw). I heard her ask: “Baba, what are we making?” He: “Beds for the vegetables.” She, incredulous: “Vegetables don’t need beds!”

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I also read to her from a novel which mentions “a middle-aged man” and she piped up: “That’s a man who lived in the middle ages, right?” (That as an aside.)

In the meantime I double-dug, sifted and prepared the bed in the cold frame. I used the soil screen DH had put together for me. It’s a prototype, and we already decided on some major improvements, like handles and pivots…

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I dug out some real clunkers!

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Then I filled it up with the sifted soil, lots of Moo Doo (no access to the horse manure yet), and some of our own almost-one-year-old compost (screened: the eggshells for instance still hadn’t broken down). And so I finally got to plant the lettuces. Here they are, basking in the setting sun, and then I tucked them in for the night.

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As you can see I still have lots of room in there for other things, but they will have to be cold hardy (a couple of days ago it was 18F in there – the lettuces obviously survived) and either transplantable or quick to harvest, because the cold frame will soon become the seed bed.

All three compost piles are hot and cooking. I’m debating which flowers to grow in our one flower box: gotta start attracting those pollinators!

Goings on in the basement seedling area

  1. dumped the two dead thyme seedlings, others are doing well, no change in the sickly one
  2. dumped the 9-pack with the suspicious “tomato seeds”, will resow the Ida Gold tomorrow
  3. fed everything that has its own leaves with Neptune’s fish emulsion
  4. noticed the kale has germinated
  5. admired again the first true leaves on the fat borage: that’s going to be one bulky compost crop!dscf22861
  6. admired the catnip: it grew so big in just a couple of days
  7. gave onions and leek a haircut (and cooked the trimmings into the haricots verts for dinner – I guess that was our first harvest!dscf2277

Goings on in the hotbox

  1. elecampane and stevia started germinating
  2. holy basil (tulsi) seems to have stalled
  3. no action yet in asparagus or lavender

To do

  1. resow Ida Gold tomatoes
  2. transplant basils
  3. organize the canning jars (accumulation of many Freecycle runs)

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And last but not least, my seed potatoes (10 lbs) and onion sets (3 lbs) from Moose Tubers have arrived! So now what do I do?

The garden planning continues. A couple of days ago I wrote about GrowVeg, and I posted the garden plans I made with it. A reader in a comment mentioned a different gardening planner software (Plangarden) and I tried that out – as I was making drafts anyway. This is what I came up with, so far (click for larger):

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Garden plan in Plangarden

There are things in Growveg that I like that I wish were in Plangarden and vice versa: the former, for instance, has quick info on the plants (which family, how much sun, etc.) and the latter has a nifty device for recording when you sowed and when you harvested.

CAUTION: Either program claims to space out the plants (i.e., you drag a row of kale across 8 feet and it places 4 plants), but neither program actually does that, or does it accurately. So you need to consult the books or internet, or your experience, and calculate. Because of this Plangarden is, IMHO, the better program, because it does allow you to record how many plants you plant in the row or area you assigned it.

There must be better, much more detailed softwares out there… Anyone?

Friday was a glorious day and a holiday too, so Amie and I went out to visit two farms. First, Codman Community Farm and then Drumlin Farm, both in Lincoln, MA.

I went to Codman to check out their compost and also to see if they have duck eggs.  They had neither. But we had fabulous fun checking out their ducks and chickens and their fabulous new coops – I’d want one of those, for myself!

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At Drumlin we again had chicken luck. Amie got to pet a pullet and a hen. She was fearless, not just petting them, but running up to the volunteers and asking if she could.

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I had a psychedelic conversation with the volunteer in the hen house. Of the thirty or so pullets I asked if they will keep all of them – not just out of curiosity, of course: I want some! The volunteer said, “No, unfortunately not. About half we sell.” Me: “Really!” She: “Yes, you can buy them at the front desk. You have to hurry, though, they go fast.” Me: “Can I get on a waiting list? Can I call to inquire?” She (mystified): “Sure”. I was about to walk away happy when it occurred to me to ask: “We’re talking live hens, right?” She: “Oh? O no!”

Worth a try…

Most of the pictures I took were of the greenhouse (and its sumptuous contents) and other food-growing-related structures. I believe I was also the only visitor to the farm who took a snap of the compost bins and screen, and the large bag of compost.

At the end Amie counted the rings on the stump in front of the Drumlin Farm entrance. She does that every time.

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“Almost as old as you, Mama!”

Yes, well…