Bookcover of A Handmade Life by Bill Coperthwaite

Here’s another article I wrote for Suite101.com, the copyright of which passed to me so I can share it with you here.

It’s of William S. Coperthwaite’s book A Handmade Life, In Search for Simplicity. It was one of the first books I read after making my turn-around regarding a Simpler Life in a Better Future, and it influenced me tremendously. I reread this book every few months now (it’s not too long and has some beautiful photographs). Rereading it is a great grounding  experience for me.

I wrote a couple of reviews of it and this one was the general review.

  • The author

The author of A Handmade Life, In Search for Simplicity, William Coperthwaite, is a philosopher and anthropologist, and a designer of social as well as material constructions. He is a scholar – he has a Ph.D. in education from Harvard – and a teacher, albeit an unorthodox one. But he is foremost a physical kind of man, a skilled craftsman who built his own home and chops his own wood at his homestead in Maine, most accessible by canoe.

Though Coperthwaite lives “off the grid” – buying almost nothing, reachable only via mail to the local library – his sustainable living experiment is not an “exit strategy”. He welcomes visitors, travels to learn from other cultures, and is available for lectures and yurt-building workshops.

And of course he reaches out to all of us in his book, A Handmade Life, published by Chelsea Green in 2002 and newly out in paperback.

A Handmade Life has something of everything, but most importantly, it has hope. Though there is critical and honest analysis of a world in crisis, this is not a doomsday book. It has recipes for a better community – of humans and nature – that Coperthwaite himself has put to the test in over four decades.

“My central concern is encouragement,” he writes. He is reluctant to be called a teacher, but it is true that his most inspired writing evolves from his desire to better our lives. Still, like the best of teachers, he gently offers us the skills and tools for making better lives ourselves.

This he calls “democratic” and it is his greatest gift to us: the message that a fulfilling life is up to each of us – not big corporations, big government – and that we can do it.

But do what? Preserve not things but the skills to make things, and the skills to make the tools to make things. And work. With those we can emancipate ourselves from machinery, mindless consumption, and unhealthy, unnatural and asocial lifestyles.

  • Handmade

This brings us to the keyword in the book’s title: Handmade. A “handmade life” is centered on “bread work”, that is, physical labor. Sounds unappetizing? Coperthwaite is convincing when he pleads for reintroducing work into our lives and even the lives of our children, and promises that it is the only foundation for a healthy body and a happy mind.

Thus the book seamlessly combines philosophy and reflection with how-to-build inserts on “The Democratic Axe”, “The Democratic Chair” and handmade toys. And let’s not forget the “Democratic House”: the yurt. It is a house you can build yourself, with your hands, at a small cost to your wallet and to nature. It is beautiful and long-lasting, as are all the tools, objects and lives that Coperthwaite promotes.

That said, this most inspiring heart of Coperthwaite’s work is also his weakest spot. In his desire to promote it, he can’t help but generalize the individual handmade life to a social level. In this he is less convincing. In the sections on the social distribution of work and pay, for instance, the book loses its marvelous exemplary quality and slips into abstract, redundant theorizing. Such social theorizing or “designing,” as Coperthwaite calls it, is out of place in this book. Luckily there are only few such lapses.

  • A simple beauty

The beauty of A Handmade Life lies in simplicity as its subject, method and presentation. Coperthwaite is a man of words both small – “I want to live in such a way that small gifts are meaningful” – and big – “We need poets who can discover and proclaim the beauty of simplicity while themselves living a simple, rural life of creative and honest labor”. But he makes sure that both kinds are democratic words that all of us can choose to use and apply to ourselves.

Peter Forbes’ stunning photographs documents Coperthwaite’s life and desire: a couple of hand-carved, curved spoons, Coperthwaite carrying a toddler, guiding his canoe.

Those interested in the Simple Life of Helen and Scott Nearing and the teachings of non-violence of Richard Bartlett Gregg will find Coperthwaite a thoughtful interpreter.

Sections of this book appeared in Manas and Mother Earth News. It is printed on recycled paper.

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Compost bin 1 at 92 degrees F

In the Germination Area

  • sowed second batch of Onions, Leeks, Catnip
  • sowed first batch of Garlic Chives
  • 2 Rosemary sprouts emerged
  • 1 Parsley sprout
  • 15 Sweet Marjoram
  • 15 Thyme
  • 3 tiny Mint sprouts
  • 1 Lemon Balm sprout (but it’s probably a stray Marjoram)
  • 1 Pepper seedling (looks stuck in the soil, not raising its head)
  • nothing happening yet among the Wormwood, Anise Hyssop, Lemon Balm (?), and Burnet

In the Seedling Area

  • moved second batch of onions in
  • moved 2 Catnip seedlings in
  • lots of sturdy Lettuces ready to go out to cold frame
  • 2 Eggplant seedlings (they grow so slow!)
  • heaps of healthy Celery, Onions, Leeks

Problems

  • gave up on the other Catnip seeds: don’t know what went wrong
  • threw out other eggplant seeds: a gray fuzz was growing in that soil

To do soon

  • sow Spinach
  • sow more lettuces?
  • sow broccoli

I need to rig the heat lamp so it gives bottom heat, maybe like this, so I can:

  • give the Peppers a better chance
  • resow Eggplant
  • sow basil
  • sow tomato

According to my estimate (gamble), the last frost will have happened after 5 May. If I’m off by a little bit we’ll be fine thanks to the cold frame. But that means that we have 8 more weeks to go before it’s time to set out and direct seed most plants. When you look at the when-to-sow charts, you’ll see that many plants are listed as 8-10 or  6-8 weeks to “setting out time”, so a slew of other seeds will have to go in soon.

And about those charts… I’ve become an avid if somewhat skeptical student of those charts. I’ve assembled many, and on average I go by what’s on the seed packet (if a time is mentioned at all) and the Silbers’ book. Most charts advertise the “setting out time” either (1) as the time since sowing or germination, that is more or less the age of the plant, or (2) the time relative to the last frost date (because a lettuce or spinach can stand a light frost, but a tomato plant can only go in when the soil is warmed up). I NEED A CHART WITH BOTH THOSE FACTORS!

In the Garden

It was another beautiful weekend but as we went into the city, we didn’t have time to get back to the garden (except for some playing). The work on the cold frame also progressed very little.

I did get a chance to turn the compost somewhat. Love that steam coming out when I lift the lid!

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Mama’s potting bench in the basement

The situation at our “homestead” is very complex, and getting more so as I gather more information and experience.

I feel like I’m that not-so-proverbial teacher who is only one step ahead of her students, and I’m teaching French!  Today, for instance, I was transplanting the lettuce seedlings (the leaves of some were shading out smaller neighbors), and thinking how far I had come: two weeks ago I was so nervous about planting seeds, but here I am handling seedlings. Then I looked ahead: transplanting into our cold frame (yet to be finished) and oh my…

I am also having trouble choosing which book to read next and what to note in my notebook. Not buying my own books anymore but lending from the library, means no underlining, no notes in the margin, and no indefinite access. That last one is the kicker. I’m back to being the grad student with a pile of twenty library book on Kant sprouting a forest of stickies.

About the book-buying, I’ve been good, but there are some exceptions. Thus I’ve been dithering about whether to bite the bullet for Edible Forest Gardens (Jacke and Toensmeier), Four-Season Harvest (Coleman), or possibly Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook (which is to come out in April: should I buy it sight unseen?). The Edible Forest Gardens will probably have to wait for several reasons: the raised bed garden takes urgent priority over the forest garden, and the books (2 vols) cost $140 combined. I don’t doubt they’re worth the price, but we just don’t have that kind of money while there are hoes and drip hoses and floating row covers to be bought, not to mention loam and compost!

But back to the main problem: information. there are sowing schedules, crop rotations, succession planting, garden bed layout…  This seed needs 80F to germinate, this one 55F, this one needs to be covered, this one sprinkled…  What will our soil need for amendments? (I’m taking a soil sample as soon as it’s less soggy out.) And how much soil will we need to fill our beds? How many beds? What will the path of the sun be, on 21 March (= 21 September) and will I be able to guess the amount of sunlight our proposed garden site will get, the trees not being in leaf yet?

I must admit with all this going on – and the glorious getting-dirt-under-my-fingernails – I have lost track of the chicken plan, but then I’m thinking we can get that going any time. I’ve also set aside the fruit trees and berry bushes project. And the mushrooms. But we must for sure tackle our torn up front yard (now loam and buckwheat). And get the root cellar in. And devise and build some sort of simple and mobile green house for winter growing…

Prioritize, Plan and Patience!

But foremost:

Have fun, learn, and count your blessings!

It’s been a while since I wrote about Amie’s crafting. All the garden activity hasn’t put a stop to all that, of course. Today we made something specials for one of Amie’s teachers who has broken her wrist. Amie wanted to give her one of her dolls, but then I suggested her teacher probably no longer plays with dolls. So we came up with the idea of sewing a nice embroidery for her.

Amie has sewed before, on a piece of punched paper and lately with a plastic grid and needle.

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But this was much more fun!

We assembled our “real” materials: a small wooden hoop, a coarsely woven napkin that I can no longer get clean – curse that chocolate soy pudding! – a thick embroidery needle and some wool.  Amie made a simple drawing on the mounted fabric and then she sewed along the lines.

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pachypatchsmallThe Pachy Patch in Summer 2008

yesterday was a perfect summer, spring, winter’s day: cloudless sky, 60F, the mildest of breezes, and some good hard labor. I went out, turned the two defrosted compost bins and then tackled the Pachysandra patch, a.k.a. the vegetable garden. Ah Pachysandra…

It took over five hours of hacking and pulling, getting down on my knees to pull out each and every root and dumping wheelbarrows full of the stuff in our growing “brush” section (or should I compost it? All that green…). In the end my hands were almost no longer up to peeling all that  tape off the cardboard boxes. We saved these boxes from our move and big purchases last summer with exactly this in mind: to protect the suddenly exposed soil from the wind and the rain. But the tape was still all over them, so we peeled and cursed as the sun dipped further behind the horizon and a brisk wind came on. We loaded the cardboard with some of the big stones that also came out of the ground. We should have watered them down too, but then it is going to rain and sleet this evening, so why waste tap water?

This now was mostly me, as DH was busy putting out cold frames together. Once in a while Amie would come to help with her little rake, but most of the time she played by all herself in her play set or just exploring the garden, mumbling a a dialogue to herself. I looked over at her often, and knew it in my gut, that that is what we came here for: Amie telling stories in the garden.

So I had time to think, to write stories in my head. There was an incredible clearness that came with the hard work and the cool breeze. I believe it now, that gardener is good for writers, for people in general.

But my particular train of thought was precipitated by a neighbor stopping by to remark: “Mm, Pachysandra. You’ll never get that out, you know.”

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“Yeah yeah yeah,” I went in my head after her had left, “did I really need that?” This was followed by retakes of all the avowals, by friends and strangers alike, that this would be difficult, as we have no experience, and it will be very hard work, and we’d get tired before we got anywhere, and did we know what we were getting into, etc. etc.

And then I realized something: how often have I said this? I stood up. How often have I said this not just about our food-project, but about everything else I’ve ever attempted. And not just to myself, but to others, to my friends, my family? Oh, many many times.  Because that’s me: the “pessimist” or the “realistic” or “cautious one”.

Why? Because it’s my nature? My upbringing? My culture?

BS!

Then I laughed out loud, the rake (by now one twine was bent up) in one hand, one of those pesky roots in the other. I had just realized something else. You’re going to laugh too, but here goes:

If you are passionate about something, you can do it.

To test this now I rehearsed all the “big projects” I’ve ever worked on. First, my studies in philosophy. Basically I studied philosophy when I was 23 until Amie was born, when I was 34. I earned a Master’s and a PhD, all Summa cum Laude. Then, on the cusp of earning a second PhD, I dropped the whole thing. Why? I’ll tell you why: eleven years of accumulated doubt, most of it self-doubt. I had been passionate about philosophy, in the beginning, but that passion had been slowly eroded away by doubt. Overtaken by a weed.

Second, the novel. I finished that book – baby/toddler in the sling – in a year and a half. Why did this succeed? Because I made short thrift of it. There was very little time for doubt. The idea of not finishing it, of it being hard work never crossed my mind. I just did it. My first agent’s response was a rejection, but it was incredibly encouraging – indeed the best rejection a first-time author could hope for. Once I’ve found the time to follow up on his advice, I could sell the thing.

Listen to me! It’s a new me! The novel has shown me that I can do whatever I set my mind to.

So this garden project now. There are many reasons why I am doing this: food for my family, food for the community, physical and mental health, preparation for an uncertain future, a wholesome life for my daughter… Yes, I know I have no experience. I know there is a lot of shade in my garden. I know it is and will be hard work, and a frost might wipe out all the crops, and our chickens will all eventually die, being animals likes us, and I won’t be able to go on a long holiday in spring, summer or fall. And I will have missed some of this here Pachysandra and it will grow back and I’ll have to weed it again…

I have thought of all these things, you know. And whenever I’ve voiced them to my DH, he said (though maybe not in so many words): So?

And he’s right! I’m not afraid of hard work.  I always do my homework. But most of all I’m passionate about this, and no one – least of all me – has the right to trample over it.

Then I said to myself, as I bent to my Pachysandra again, that if this works for me then it will work for others, and I am the first one who should make a change. As of now I will encourage my friends and family no matter what their passion is. I will nudge the doubter aside and say: “Now wait a moment, I can see it in her eye: I have no doubt that she can do it!”

And with that resolution I resumed my hacking away at the last Pachysandra. I could see in that liberated, humusy-dark and lively soil our garden growing.

~

Today it’s coming down, a flurry of almost melting snow on the Pachy Patch in the Winter of 2009:

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Cover of Home Ground, ed. Barry Lopez (c) painting by Eric Soll, Trinity University Press

Here’s one of the reviews I wrote for Suite101.com. The copyright recently passed to me, so I can share it with you here.

It’s of Home Ground, a book that deals with the concept that is most on my mind these days: place. The more I think about place, the more it amazes me that its concept (if not the physical thing itself) entails all the other concepts at the heart of our endeavor: nature, culture, self-knowledge, sustainability, wholesomeness, care…

Home Ground reflects this complexity, so it is a book that is within reach at all times at our house.

~

With over 850 definitions of landscape features, many specific to America, this book is about geology and history, American identity, and how one makes a place home.

In Home Ground, Language for an American Landscape, Barry Lopez (editor) has brought together forty-five writers and more than 850 new definitions for the terms Americans use to describe their unique land. Some of the contributors are Michael Collier, John Keeble, Barbara Kingsolver, Jon Krakauer, Bill McKibben, Robert Michael Pyle, and Barry Lopez himself.

What is so fascinating about these definitions is that they are (mostly) not technical, objective, general or scientific – however you want to describe the glosses in an average dictionary. Indeed, the intention is not to give standard definitions, but to approach the subjects from personal and specific point of views.

  • Taking “place” personally

The personal line may be that of the authors, each of whom tackles the terms they are familiar with because they actually live with the landscape features they describe. Each was free to impose their own style, making some entries read like fairy tales, prose poems, or even jokes.

The personal is also injected by the inclusion in the definition of the people who invented, imported and evolved the term as they made themselves at home in a place. These can be a large group of people such as the Inupiaq, whose word for a swollen ice hill informs the Canadian and Alaskan word “pingo.” Or Conquistadores importing Spanish adaptations of Latin and Arabic words. Or a romantic ranger inventing the word “kiss tank” for the pool of rainwater that refreshed him in a dry place. Or even an individual, like Farmer Peek, after whose kill or brook the city in New York is named.

  • The skill of naming a place

The authors know that only such personal connections can make these terms recognizable and thus usable to us. For, notwithstanding our alienated and predominantly urban existences, we are still looking for a place to call home. And a large part, if not the first part, of making oneself at home is naming the features of the new and alien landscape and thus appropriating it, in a way.

And let’s face it: we have lost the skill of naming. Land is merely a valley, a mountain or a plane. Water is but a lake, pond, river or brook. Such an impoverished language will not do if we want to honor a place as home and take care of it as something precious and worth preserving.

Home Ground re-introduces us to a treasure trove of words and definitions, some very old and on the brink of extinction, some relatively new. It offers time-tested approaches to how to make up our own terms. Home Ground is thus a dictionary, an etymology, and a collection of essays about place and our habitation of it.

It must be added that, though the explanations are personal, they are still accurate. The authors did careful research, in the field as well as in reference books geology and history. And the scientific accuracy of each entry has been checked by an advisory board.

  • A literary effort

Another way in which Home Ground strikes a departure from the average dictionary is its realization that it is the writers who keep these special words alive. It is up to the settlers and inhabitants to name the places and their specific features. But it is up to the novelists, poets and essayists to record and preserve, interpret and explain these in their specifically human context.

The scientists – geologists and geographers – strive to make descriptions of place generic so as to fit them into an all too common framework, one that is too general to have any purchase on our minds. Writers, on the other hand, keep words alive in the lived-in situations of their stories. Thus Home Ground demonstrates how so much of American literature has been shaped by the American landscape.

  • An American land

This brings us to quintessential American-ness of the book. The authors make it clear that their effort is “an invitation to learn American geography, to read American history, and to celebrate a deeply engaging dimension of American character.”

Perhaps it is even this American character that makes an effort like Home Ground possible and eminently successful. The book celebrates a distinctly American attitude to a land that was only recently a vast, diverse and often frightening New World as yet unnamed and thus ready to receive names. It also honors the native names that were sometimes adopted by the settlers, sometimes ignored and overwritten – but now, recovered.

Home Ground is not the kind of book you can read in one sitting. It is to be consulted again and again, measure by measure, for its scope is vast, even though its approach is personal. It also doesn’t end on the last page: if the essays don’t point you to more reading, the bibliographical note (however short) and the biographies of the writers will. The introductory essay by Barry Lopez provides more food for thought. There is also visual distraction in the form of 100 delicate black-and-white line drawings by Molly O’Halloran. If that were not enough, the authors invite readers to contribute their own landscape terms on the Home Ground website.

  • Details and resources

Home Ground, Language for an American Landscape was published by Trinity University Press in 2006.

Click here to hear NPR’s Alan Cheuse discuss the book, broadcast on All Things Considered, December 11, 2006.

Click here to hear Barry Lopez and contributor Michael Collier interviewed by Jim Nielsen on NPR’s Morning Edition, first broadcast on November 16, 2006.

What We Do button (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • One

Our renovation project has so far generated a fair amount of scrap materials. Luckily it’s mostly wood and only some drywall, which is virtually not reusable.  Of the wood  DH and I have saved most: we take out the nails, tease off the drywall and have built up a nice stack of project wood in our shed.

But then there is the wood that is no longer structurally sound, or boards that are so driven through with nails that taking them all out would reduce them to splinters.  Just as we were going to delve into our (pricey) options of disposing of this, I received a Freecycle notice asking for “untreated, unpainted scrap wood for boiling down maple tree sap – nails no problem”. Well!

The guy came by today to pick up heaps of scrap wood. Turns out he started syruping five years ago as a school project for his daughter. He asked around his neighborhood about maple trees, and everyone offered their tree. It’s so much fun he does it every year now. The sap is running already and he ran out of wood.

  • Two

We started building our first cold frame.  The “lights” – the glass frames that sit on top of the box – will be the Freecycled storm windows we picked up a while ago from someone who had them sitting in the basement. Hadn’t fit a window in years.

We’re going for a very simple design without hinges, very much based on Eliot Coleman’s cold frames.

In a few weeks the lettuce seedlings in our basement will be ready to be transplanted outside. We won’t have raised beds yet (unless the weather atypically cooperates). But we’ll have lettuce! I’m thinking I should sow the spinach too…

  • Three

This is the one I’m most excited about. There’s a house around the corner with a stable attached. In the stable, two horses. Amie and I sometimes drive or walk past there on the way from or to school. Last week I left a note in their mailbox asking if they could spare some manure.

The owner called today and very generously offered us all we could take, indefinitely! As soon as the snow has melted we can go and take a look. In the meantime I’ll be figuring out how to transport it and reading up on how to compost large amounts of horse manure…

Anyone any experience with this?

I love my new neighborhood!

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The Black-Seeded Simpson Lettuce is doing well. I fed it some Tomato Food (Terracycle Wormpoop) the other day, as it was immediately on hand. There were no instructions on the bottle, so I eyeballed it. Oops! Their leaves soon curled under, a sure sign of overfeeding. Luckily it wasn’t too bad.

The wormpoop is a 1-1-2, but for seedlings, which most of all need their root growth stimulated, it is best to have a fertilizer with a higher phosphorus content (the middle number). So I bought some pricey Neptune’s Harvest Organic Fish/Seaweed Blend Fertilizer, which is 2-3-1.

When sowing the lettuce I put several seeds into one plug, and in several plugs two seedlings came up. As six of the plugs remained empty, I scooped out the most vigorous double plantings to transplant one of the seedlings. I cried out with amazement: above ground they aren’t much to look at, but their roots are amazing! So long and strong.

The plugs in the foreground of the picture (above) hold Catnip. It’s in the cold area because it needs cooler temperatures to germinate, which it is supposed to do pretty fast, but no sign yet.

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The warm germination box is almost full: three standard flats as well as a couple of those green mushroom boxes from the grocery store. Just punch holes in the bottom and they’re perfect flats. Another loop closed!

I sowed more Clear Dawn Onions, about 90 seeds in two mushroom boxes – quite a change from my first foray, when I put two seeds in one plug. I also sowed one box of German Thyme, about 50 seeds – who knows, those seeds are so tiny! After soaking overnight I sowed on box of Parsley seeds, and the 20 seeds that were left I put in two little pudding cups.

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My one disappointment is the Applegreen Eggplant, of which only two germinated (you can spot one in the back of the picture, to the left of the “PARLSEY 1” label). Many others had sprouted small white spikes, but there has been no sign of them. Maybe they went underground? Maybe it was the algae that did them in? It hasn’t affected the other seedlings in that flat. More probably it just hasn’t been consistently warm enough (eggplant likes it hot, 75-85F), so I changed our setup a bit. Once those two seedlings has its first true leaves I’m transplanting it and I’ll give the rest a couple more days. Real estate in that box is at a premium!

So what’s growing so far?

  1. Black-Seeded Simpson Lettuce (sowed 2.21): 36 strong seedlings
  2. Clear Dawn Onion (2/21):16 seedlings
  3. Applegreen Eggplant (2/21): 16 seeds, 2 seedlings
  4. Redventure Celery (2/21): 50 seeds, lots of tiny seedlings coming up
  5. King Sieg Leek (2/26): 48 seeds, some seedlings coming up here and there
  6. Peacework Sweet Peppers (2/26): 24 seeds, nothing yet
  7. Rosemary (2/27): 12 seeds, nothing yet
  8. Marjoram (2/27): 12 seeds, two or three seedlings coming up
  9. Mint (2/27): 12 seeds, nothing yet
  10. Lemonbalm (2/27): 12 seeds, nothing yet
  11. Catnip (2/27): 16 seeds, nothing yet
  12. Thyme (3/4): 50 (?) seeds
  13. Clear Dawn Onion (3/4): 90 seeds
  14. Parsley (3/5): 70 seeds

For an obsessive record keeper like myself, this is just plain heaven!

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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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