Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Hydroponics Store

February 18, 2009

There’s this local hydroponics store.  I discovered it in my quest for cheap vermiculite.  The guy who’s usually at the counter is pretty knowledgeable about gardening.  So, I was unprepared for my last trip to the store…

I was looking for “EM”.  Effective microorganisms are a component of bokashi composting.  I wanted to try bokashi because of something I read in Solomon’s book (Gardening When It Counts).   Solomon talks about how we don’t have certain nutrients in our soil because we start out lacking these nutrients, then our livestock eats plants grown without those nutrients from the soil, and then we use manure from the livestock that lacks those nutrients to add nutrients to the soil.  Pretty basic, huh?  Well, doesn’t it make sense that if we utilized bokashi composting, we could re-add nutrients that come from other areas?  I was thinking I would try it and see if it helped the nutrient levels in my soil.

OK, I called the hydroponics store and the guy said, “Oh yeah, we have effective microorganisms.”  So, I made the trek with both kids in tow to the store.  Apparently, the guy who is usually there is out getting surgery.  The guy at the counter takes me over to the shelf and points at these pill jars and tells me, “There they are.”  I know this is incorrect (there are only two companies that make EM in the US), so I ask if the owner is there.  Out comes this guy in a leather jacket.  After a short discussion about bokashi composting, with me asking about it and him saying, “Is that the stuff where you can turn the composter?”  I figure out that this guy is not growing veggies with his hydroponics set up.  Then he reverently holds up the pill bottle and says, “This is the stuff that makes the forest alive.”  I’m thinking, “Wow, he’s selling poop in pill bottles.”  He wants ten bucks for the bottles of forest life.  I make it clear that I’ll think about it.  For all of thirty seconds while I roll out the door…

The moral to the story is, do a bit of research BEFORE you go to the store.  Sometimes the pot head idiot behind the counter will sell you anything and you won’t end up with what you wanted and you will usually pay far more than it’s worth.  At least you’ll have that fuzzy warm feeling that comes with buying forest life, but I highly doubt you’ll be able to use it.


Field Trip to a Sustainable Community

February 13, 2009

We actually had a chance to take a quick field trip to Pringle Creek Community.  It’s a planned sustainable community.  I was actually pleasantly surprised.  The last “sustainable” community I visited boasted 3 bedroom, 3k sq ft houses on half acre lots (lame).  This community is obviously attempting to make small houses in small spaces with large open spaces all around it (which are, incidentally, beautiful).  It’s completely tree enclosed, which makes it feel hidden, which I thought was very appealing.  In all honesty, I suspect they will have a hard sell as most people that I know who espouse the “green” “sustainable” philosophy seem to believe they shouldn’t have to actually live what they believe.  In any case, this isn’t a political post, this is a picture post.  Check out the community pics:

Here is the landscaping.  While it isn’t edible (darn it!!), it IS local and will not require tons of resources to keep it alive year round. 


The roads are made from recycled materials that apparently filter water as it goes back into the local creek (NICE!)


Here is the totally EMPTY greenhouse.  I sent them an email and apparently they are planning to fill it soon and I might be able to help with that!  Very cool!  They will be growing lettuces and attempting some miniature citrus trees.  The choices that were suggested in the email suggested to me that they are truly attempting to make this a self-supporting community.


Frankly, if the idea of a self-supporting community is feasible anywhere, here, where we have a our fairly moderate climate (maritime, if you’re a Steve Solomon fan), is the place.  So, while I know most of my readers would never be able to consider such a thing, if you are interested, please contact:  It should be a fun experiment and I’ll cheerfully pass along information as I get it on this idea.

As a side note, the adorable boys in the picture will NOT be included with any housing purchase and that should make the community that much more sustainable.

Good and Bad News About Peas

February 8, 2009

I tried to put peas out spectacularly early this year.  The local extension said I could direct sow peas as soon as the soil is workable in the end of January.  If you’ve been reading, then you know that I started peas indoors on January 2nd.  Doesn’t this remind you of that Mervyn’s commercial where the woman is sitting outside of the store chanting “Open, open, open…”?  That is SO me. 

I only grew very few peas last year, but I got quite a harvest out of them.  I decided early on that I wanted to try growing only heirlooms this year.  The varieties I wanted to try are: Alaska (the earliest peas of them all!), Sugar Ann, Blue Podded, Russian Sugar, Oregon Sugar Pod II, and Cascadia.  I started a half dozen of each variety.  According to the packages, the average germination date was supposed to take 14 days.  The Alaska’s (the earliest of them all!) were NOT the first to germinate.  The Russians were.  (Those Ruskies!!)  We planted these peas on the 2nd, they germinated on the 8th.  A bit less than the 14 quoted days I’d say.  The Alaska peas germinated the next day, alongside the sugar ann’s.  The blue podded peas weren’t started until the 14th.  They also germinated within a couple of days.

I’ll start with the bad news.  I have lost the wire-ish thingy (to use the technical term) that attaches my camera to my computer.  I will at some point in the future do a post dedicated to helping confused gardeners identify the kind of peas they have. 

The good news is that my germination rate was great.  AND after a week in the garden, all plants are doing nicely.  A few words about the various varieties.  I absolutely love the Russian and Blue podded peas. 

Because the Blue Podded peas are the kind of peas that don’t have edible pods, we probably won’t grow more than a half dozen of these at a time.  My hubby is not a pea lover (yes, he’s picky, but of course, he married me!), so the best I can hope for is to add these to soups and to dry them for pea soup.  These plants are absolutely beautiful!  They have little streaks of purple running through the leaves.  It’s supposed to produce purple flowers, too!  I’m so excited.  These are going to be just lovely. 

The Russians are also beautiful plants.  There is a stripe of pink that goes through the vines and onto the leaves.  It’s supposed to produce mauve and purple flowers. 

I guess I can be open minded and say these could still disappoint me, but WOW!  These are turning out just great for now. 

The cascadia’s are very dainty looking vines.  The Alaska’s are turning out huge.  The OSP’s didn’t have a great germination rate compared to the others (60%). 

OK, more at the end of the season on the productivity.

Lettuce Hates Me

February 3, 2009

This is a story of unrequited love.  See, I could eat lettuce once a day.  I have been known to make a lovely green salad for breakfast.  I enjoy most veggies (minus brussel sprouts, of course, which are more of a secret government experiment than a food), but I love lettuce.   Lettuce, on the other hand, hates me.

I’m not sure why, but most of my gardening pals grow tons of lettuce.  During this part of the spring, all of my gardening peers start their succession lettuces.  The lettuces in their gardens enjoy relative success.  My succession lettuces last year succeeded more like the original thirteen colonies (as in, declared war…).  It was really horrible to realize that my lettuces preferred suicide to my company in the garden.  My gardening pals then will pat me on the back and say, “Wow, and lettuce is the easiest thing to grow, too.”  Sigh…

I wish I could blame this on bad seed, but I can’t for more than one reason.  I buy my seeds at great places ( and***subliminal messaging, you are feeling sleepy, go buy alot of stuff at these places and tell them to give me a substantial finders fee***) and I choose my varieties well.  Even the best seed distributors and varieties still will have duds from time to time, but I typically have a 93% or higher germination rate.  After this point, my baby plants will get a really good look at my mug and then within a couple of weeks they will stubbornly stop growing or fall over dead.  This is not very flattering!

So, this year, I’m going to outsmart those wily lettuces!!  I planted them myself, but I’m going to have my garden helpers tend them.  I must tell you that if this experiment is successful, I will probably try to push the hubby for a facelift, you know, for the sake of the garden.  I’m sure I’ll get a denial for that expenditure, because (you wretched lettuces!!) HE actually likes my face!

You Can Take the Person Out of the Small Town but…

January 15, 2009

…you can’t take the small town out of the person.  I read during the endless presidential election that the depiction of small town America was a lie.  There isn’t any small town America according to many commentators.  It was all just fiction we convinced ourselves of for sentimental reasons.  Guess what?  I saw small town America today.

When I went to get my boys’ haircut, I saw this sign in the window (sorry for the lousy pic, it was through glass):

In the quite likely case you can’t read it, it says:   “Haircuts:  $12; Kids-Vet-Seniors $10; Unemployed or Down on your luck: Pay what you can”

You can believe that small town America is dead if you want, but in my city, there is at least one small business that is helping their neighbors because it’s the right thing to do.  Can you imagine going to your boss and saying, “Hey, pay what you can this week”?  It’s a bigger step than you might think.  If you’re in Salem, Oregon, comment and I’ll tell you where to go to get your haircut by a neighbor.

Look, the government can’t and won’t help you.  After promising a zillion times he won’t raise taxes on 85% of people, Obama is poised to sign a bill for SCHIP that will more than double taxes on cigarettes the moment he walks into office.  He’ll do the normal, “Hey I wasn’t lying, it was them evil congress people..” bit and you and I will get stuck with the bill.  If we really want to pull ourselves out of this insanity and not hand it along to our kids, we need to take action and stop assuming the government will save us.  They just spent 350 BILLION dollars and do you know one single person who got a job out of that?  I sure don’t.  Forget them, it’s a lost cause.

Do something to give to your community.   Don’t do this thoughtlessly.   Don’t just hand some guy with a sign a dollar, look into the eyes of the person you help and KNOW you’re not throwing money into the endless cycle of addiction (heaven knows our government intends to do enough of that for all of us).  Buy lunch for someone.  Offer to help someone you know pay their bills until things get better.  If you’re the one who is jobless, after you’ve put in your apps for the day, go rake the neighbor’s yard (it will help with that awful feeling you have when you’re not getting calls right now).  Go look in on your senior neighbor.  Go ask your apartment manager if you can grow a few plants in the sunshine near your place.  Ask your local officials if you can start a community garden in part of the green grass around the city/state/county offices.  Ask your grocer to carry local goods as often as possible.  Yes, it won’t help national business, but it sure WILL help local business and that will impact you more than you might think.  When people have jobs, they aren’t driving drunk at 10am on major highways. 

There are things we CAN do.  For heavens’ sake, we’re from the United States, we can do whatever we set our minds to doing.  Get off your duff and start doing something.  Small town America isn’t just some mythology we believe in because it gives us cheery memories.  Small town America is the reality that developed from realizing that if some pregnant woman walking next to a wagon can walk from Boston to Utah in November, there isn’t much that we can’t do with paved roads and a small pickup.  Small towns aren’t gone and the mentality that made them memorable has not changed.


December 16, 2008

Lots of snow out here this week.  Sadly, my chard did not make it.  My garlic, however, is still growing away.

So, here’s a recipe I used for my garlic greens today.  Apparently, you can use the tops of garlic just as you would use chives.  Their flavor is strongly garlicy (is this a word?  aaah, well, you get it…) and a bit spicy.  Because my family could swim in garlic, we love this.  If you have a strong streak of vampire in your bloodline, you might want to skip it.

I made bacon for breakfast for the kids.  Then you just take the bacon grease when it’s hot and scramble an egg in it.  Then you move the egg to a plate on the side and chop it up a bit.  Then you add two cups (or more) of cooked rice.  After you fry the rice in the bacon grease, you add a bit of sesame oil and whatever veggies you have on hand ( you can add greens, celery, onions, chives, etc…) except tomatoes.  Then add whatever leftover meat you have on hand or beans, if you like a nice veggie meal.  Then add some garlic chives, or regular chives and the egg from earlier.  Just toss this a bit to fry the whole thing.  Then remove to a plate to serve.  I top this with a couple pieces of crumbled bacon but I’ve eaten it without it.  There you have it, a quick, easy meal out of leftovers.

Climate Changes

December 3, 2008

I tend to not get as excited about alot of things I read about climate change.  I guess I’m a victim of watching too many of those disaster movies.  If you haven’t watched any, let me save you the time.  This is the plot:  something truly aberrant is going on meteriologically in this town (let’s call it “anytown”).  It’s a volcano or an uber tornado or a giganto lighting storm or “killer” fog.  Typically, we are lead to see how some kind of extreme avarice on the part of corporate culture has caused this weird aberration (I haven’t ever seen one that portrays protesting hippies as the cause of the problem).  Then one lone scientist of impeccable credentials figures out what is going to happen.  This scientist has been spurned by all the other scientists for his refusal to bend to corporate greed (and no one ever supposes the other scientists don’t like to work with him cause he’s a jerk…).  The scientist sounds the alarm, but Anytown residents refuse to listen to him, and only because the scenario he posits is so shockingly improbable that citizens have been lulled into a false sense of security.  The watcher is brought to the point of thinking “Why, oh why don’t they clearly see that fog/volcanos/tornados/lightning can kill large groups of people?  The horror of it all.”  At the end of the movie, the lone scientist has gained a love interest by saving large groups of kindergarteners from the killer fog/volcano/lightning/tornado.  The scientist is a super hero because she/he KNEW that a volcano/killer fog/lightning/tornado would hit and because she/he proves that a little life saving can make a super model interested in an uber geek.  The townspeople are all imminently grateful to the scientist and realize that they will take his crazy ideas a bit more seriously next time and they pass ordinances banning all greed within a five hundred mile radius. 

There’s such a chunk of cash in the scientific community right now, it’s hard to believe anything they publish on this topic.  And because of the Hollywood take on so much of this, many people are just rabid about what they believe about Global Warming, etc…  Indeed, the very graphs that Gore used in his climate change movie proved him wrong on the statements that he was putting across.  Fortunately for him, the Hollywood crowd isn’t big on graphs anyway and just believed everything he said in the movie (surely easier than thinking).  I have read several interesting articles regarding sun spots as a motivator for global climate and I felt those were as convincing as anything else I’ve read on the topic.  There is also a fantastic article in the Farmer’s Almanac discussing climate change (although, it quotes NY Times talking about some stats that have since been proven incorrect, sigh).  As far as I can tell right now, there are two warring scientific factions regarding global temperature.  One group suggests that we are about to undergo a global cooling phase because of sun spot changes.  Last night I watched a documentary that suggested that the way we could really tell that global warming was real is if global temperatures drop.  No joking!  Here’s the thesis: we could undergo a tidal change that could force colder temps on the northern half of the globe.  Here’s the one thing you can count on from all this scientific mumbo jumbo: if temperatures drop, scientists from both sides will claim they were right.  If temperatures go up, global warming type scientists will say they were right.  Talk about hedging your bets!!

If you want more technical information from someone who isn’t as ignorant on this topic as I am, I encourage you to do a google search.  The bottom line that I took from this is: global warming scientists as well as most other scientists seem to be placing their bets on a global cooling phase.  Oddly, this will cause serious droughts in most inland communities in the US. 

Since this appears to be a uniform assessment in the scientific community, I would advocate that everyone start growing a garden.  If the climate starts going all nuts, at least you will have some nuts you put away for the winter.  Also, the worst thing that can happen is that you will get some good exercise and grow some nice food.  This is sort of the unprofessional version of the global warming guys: grow a garden and if it gets bad, well, at least you were prepared.  If it doesn’t get bad, look at the way your tan has improved!!  Hedging your bets is the way to go!

Research in Progress

November 13, 2008

OK, I just had another research project on my plate.  I’m noticing that the question of what average expected yield per plant is comes up all the time.  Perhaps it’s because we square foot gardeners are usually interested in growing food for our consumption.  I’m going to spend time on getting phone calls in to answer these questions today.


I was on the phone with an amazing person from our local extension.  He pointed out some issues to be concerned with.  In his opinion, there can be no definitive “average yield” per plant because there are so many variables.  I pointed out that there must be something out there for research purposes.  He referred me to someone else…more on this as we progress.

This Year I’m Growing Heirlooms

November 7, 2008

As you can probably tell, I’m not much of a greenie.  Alot of the things that I do are greenish, but I tend to be pretty practical in my outlook on things.  So, why would an uber pragmatist fork out the extra money for heirlooms?  There are a million answers to that. 

First of all, heirlooms provide an interesting tie to our history.  I’ve read several stories about folks who have an heirloom tomato that they pass from generation to generation.  In addition to romantic value, it connects our kids with gardening.  I’m telling my kids: you want to watch me do this because you’ll want to teach your kids.

Second, heirloom tomatoes, in my opinion have a far superior taste to the hybrids that I’ve grown.  I can my tomatoes.  The taste is important because you are condensing it to some extent.  So, if the taste isn’t great, your sauces won’t be great.  Why not just grow a tasty tomato in the first place?

Finally, heirlooms offer a great variety that are hard to come by in regular stores.  If you go to or Baker Creek Seeds (, you will find that every heirloom comes with an interesting story.   Instead of growing your plain green pole beans, this year I’ll be growing purple beans and runner beans with beautiful red flowers.  It should not be overlooked that you can collect seeds from your heirlooms.  So, if you’re diligent, you should only have to purchase seeds once.

Give Me Five Minutes

November 3, 2008

I know, this qualifies as a downer, but hear me out.  Did you know that around seventy percent of garlic sold in the US comes from China?  According to this blog and some other research I’ve done,   “The Chinese are shipping fresh garlic into the U.S. at a cost of $12 to $16 per 30-pound box. It costs U.S. growers and packers $25 to $30 per 30-pound box.”  Ordinarily, I love a bargain, don’t you?  But, how do you suppose China can sell garlic so cheap?  I mean, aren’t the Chinese mandating small families because they can’t feed their own people?  OK hotshots, the answer is obvious, and everyone knows it, China uses slave labor.  Oh, of course, silly me, I meant to say prison laborers.  Of course, one of the more prevalent reasons you can go to jail is if you are a Christian.  So, frankly, if you are a Christian, you should NEVER purchase another bulb of garlic from China.  If you’re a greenie, errr…environmentalist, doesn’t it bother you at all that a nation a zillion miles away is shipping food to your plate?  And because most of us are too freaking lazy to find out where our food comes from, we are participating in the systematic enslavement of the Chinese people.  Of course, it’s not always easy to figure out where your store got their garlic, is it?  I mean, they attempt to repackage it to sell it to you, and there are usually no signs above it, are there? 

Here’s my five minute solution!  Find a place around your home or apartment that gets some sunshine.  Buy a lovely planter, or make one (lots of instructions on the gardenweb forum on how to make these cheap or free) and put some potting soil (make your own if you’re always broke, like I am, again, try gardenweb).  Then, purchase some honest to heaven US grown garlic bulbs at a garden store.  I have tons of pals on gardenweb (Granny, see her blog to the side) who just plant the stuff they got at the store.  Then pull off the cloves and plant them in the dirt (more instructions here:  Your one-time purchase of garlic will provide all the cloves you need for your first harvest and that harvest will provide all the garlic you need for the second harvest, ad infinituum.  If you water these faithfully, and mulch them, they should look like this pretty soon:

As I understand it, I will get small bulbs in Spring and large ones in the fall.  Because we use an enormous about of garlic, I have three square feet of garden space plus a planter for these.  I’m planning to plant a couple more in the spring.  How easy was that?  Good bye China.  So, instead of pie in the sky, I wish, I would, nonsense.  Go right now and get started!  After all, you are only five minutes away from a healthier, better existence.