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Kitchen Gardeners International has an interesting article on the worth of a home garden. The author, Roger Doiron, weighed the food coming out of his 1600 square feet garden in Maine (zone 5b/6) and calculated how much this food would have cost had he bought it in a conventional grocery store, a farmer’s market, or a place like Whole Foods. The numbers came to $2196.50, $2431.15, and $2548.93 respectively. More generalized figures are $60,000 per acre, or $1.50 per square foot.

Mmmm… My motivation for starting our own vegetable garden has always been a mix of self-sufficiency (out of principle as well as in case TSHTF), health (physical and mental), and the health of the planet (eating as locally as possible). My great hope is to eventually feed my family all the necessary vegetables, herbs and fruits during the growing season, eggs most of the year, and some of these outside the growing season through canning, freezing and root-cellaring.

In financial terms this means I wouldn’t have to purchase these foods at the grocery store, and thus that we would save that money. On top of that (I hope) we would also take out in food what we put into the soil, seed and water in dollars.

This article, then, is good news.  Let’s assume we can do as good a job as Roger Doiron and have (as we have planned) a larger garden. Let’s guestimate that at present (in our current “frugal mode”) we spend only about $70 a week on veggies, herbs, fruits and eggs (say around $3700 a year). Then we can break even on the dollar investment and pay off our initial investments (*) sooner than I had thought. Then after that we can eat better, cheaper, and more.

Of course we don’t need to eat more. So to me that “more” translates into “more people”. With the extra we can help out others, like at the food pantry around the corner that’s in trouble, or the elderly and financially troubled families in our community, or the schools that might welcome fresh produce.

So I’ve joined the Hen and Harvest Garden Challenge, to give at least one tenth of your produce to some worthy cause.  This year being our first we might not make that, but it’s the goal I’m aiming for. And I know: I haven’t one carrot, one lettuce even to show for it yet. And I’m not particularly known for my green thumb (ha!). But you’ll see! We’re going to make it work.

(*) Initial investments: growing lights, loam and compost, timber for raised beds, some tools and soil amendments, as well as perennial seeds, root stocks for fruit trees and berry bushes, and mushroom spores.

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Yuck! I have one flat with green algae coating the surface. It started with one small spot and the next day it was all over. It shouldn’t harm the seeds directly, but it may smother them. The causes were (1) over-watering (beginner’s mistake), (2) the fact that the potting soil I’ve been using compacts too much when watered, (3) poor air circulation. Solutions: (1) take dome off quicker, (2) add more vermiculite to the starter and (3) add a fan to the setup. I might lose the eggplant, celery and onion (which I sowed too thinly anyway), but at least I learned quickly! I’ll resow these soon.

One of our three compost bins – the black Earth Machine that absorbs the eastern sun every morning – came back to life: it’s hovering around 70F. Soon the psychrophiles will make room for the mesophiles, which will heat things up to 100F, when the thermophiles can take over for a couple days. Then the earthworms will migrate into the heap. The other two heaps are still frozen, like bricks.

Talking of heat: we’re enjoying another blizzard. Just when most of the snow  had finally cleared, 15 inches of new white fluff came tumbling out of the sky – it’s still coming down. It’s beautiful and soft, but so winter isn’t done yet. I’ll be heading out to shovel our driveway soon.

School was canceled and so was my pottery class. Amie made a boat:

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Riot for Austerity fist with Thermometer

“Rekenen,” Dutch: to count


Gasoline: doing much better at 16%

Between us we consumed 20.3 gallons. That’s 6.77 gallons/person, that’s:

16% of the US national average.

I have this great deal with another mom from Amie’s preschool: in lieu of my watching her kids for four hours a week, she watches Amie for two hours and she picks Amie up almost every morning on her way to drop her daughter off at school (we’re on her way): saves me time and gas. I’ve also managed to keep the trips to the grocery store (in the other direction) to once a week. If only Spring would come, then we could bike…

Electricity: we made it!

Our electricity consumption at 371 KWH is up a bit from last month, but then we have one more person in our household (our “co-houser” ), as well as a hundred or so little germinating seeds and seedlings under 16h/day growing lights and a 24/24 heat lamp.

But we still made it to 10% of the National US Average!

How so? Well, it’s all wind!

Yes, we switched to the 100% wind energy plan. Who would have thought it was that easy? (I’m sure that last statement is a lot more complex than it sounds!).

Heating oil and warm water: the usual fiasco

We had some really cold days, and a couple of warm days too, when I just shut off the heat and opened all the windows to let some fresh air in. But those were exceptions. Mostly it was cold. So we consumed 79 gallons of heating oil. That’s

128% of the US national average

It’s less than January and December and it will go down as the earth’s axis tilts us closer to the sun, but it’s still too depressing. I’ll just refer you to my usual winter-rationale and leave it there.

Garbage: used to make it, not this month, though…

We’re making less and less household garbage each month, and are well in the range of the 90% reduction. But we started working on the “Annex”, the part of the house that we close off in winter. Something is rotting in there and we need to address it before we install a “guest suite” there (fancy for guestroom with bathroom).

So we started ripping out some walls and floor boards. Today as we stood over the pile to sort through DH and I discussed what to keep. He didn’t want to spend so much time on taking out the hundreds of nails pounded and wrenched into perfectly fine two-by-fours. I insisted though, that I’m not throwing the good stuff away! Even the remotely good stuff. Even though I don’t know what we’ll use it for.

Still, our garbage will peak this and next month as we get the renovations over and done with. I’ll weigh in when we have assembled and sifted through the entire pile.

Water: same, with one person extra

Our water consumption has stayed the same, which is great news. Our co-houser takes a daily shower, so we must be making a great effort!

We used 430 gallons of water. Per person (4 of us) that makes:

14% of the US national average

Consumer goods: made it!

Nothing broke. We didn’t run out of anything. We did spend some more money on our germination and seedling setup (more seeds, of course, an extra timer, a spritzer, and some extra flats and plugs), but as that’s an investment in a more sustainable future, I’m leaving it off the tab, just like I did last time.

We also bought some good, new tools for our renovations ($ ) and on my favorite food growing book: Growing Vegetables and Herbs, From Seed ot Harvest, by Terry and Mark Silber ($15 secondhand). That totals up to $50 new and $15 used, which comes to:

6% of the US national average.

Amazing, when you just don’t go shopping anymore, how easy it is to simply forget about spending money, and about stuff in general.

Food: how even to begin

We ate out twice this month, cheap pizza each time. It had been so long: the first time we ate at the restaurant/take-out place, Amie was so excited!

I’m going to refer to an older post for my reasons for not reckoning this category. But I can report that we are eating less and less meat (about a pound of red meat between all of us per week) and that we eat a lot more dry and bulk foods.

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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!