Confessions of an EVERYDAY ECOTARIAN

creative, conscious and conserving ideas, thoughts and solutions

Summer/Fall 2010 in Pictures: George Winston, Grassfire Festival, Vegetables and Other Random Things November 8, 2010

Filed under: Ramblings — adm @ 2:44 am
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Oh my.  The last serious blog post I wrote was in June.   My apologies.  It seems my life since June has been a continuous and massive effort in multi-tasking.  On top of my home activities I also happen to work for two non-profits.  One is a local cooperative of non-profits dedicated to the education about our area’s fresh water.  The other is a local branch of a national non-profit that trains teachers how to play guitar and integrate this learning into their classrooms, Guitars in the Classroom.  I started the local branch of this music non-profit and have been running it for two years.  All of this still equates a “part-time” job that sometimes seems more than full-time in actuality.  Once in a while I think of how much simpler, (in many ways, but not all)  it was having a steady teaching job pre-recession and before my layoff.  However, my life is now full of constant surprises.  The continuous flux can be tiring at times but overall, although it often seems I’m working more hours for less money and no benefits, I’m having a lot of fun.

This summer, on top of the “usual” things we also decided to have a music and camping festival at our house.  It was a great deal of fun.  The first night, torrential rains forced all inside my husbands woodworking shop for a tight-fitting yet fantastic concert.  The second night we had several bands play.  I didn’t see my children much the entire weekend because they were running with the 20-something other kids around the property the entire time.  Little did I know at the time, that organizing and executing this festival would be great preparation for what was to come.

In late September I received an email from the Guitars in the Classroom headquarters that George Winston, (one of our affiliated artists) was going to be in town and wondered if I’d like to organize a benefit concert for my local program.  Of course, my answer was yes.  I spent a great deal of time organizing this late September through mid-October.  The solo guitar concert, (yes, solo guitar, George did not play piano this time around…next time) was a great success, nearly a sell-out at a venue that seats 525 people.   George was also a great deal of fun to be with for three days.  He’s quite kind, extraordinarily generous, good with kids and a hoot to be with.  I enjoyed every minute of the planning, preparation and execution of the concert as well as playing host to George for the three days he was here.  By the way, the pictures of George below were taken my friend Tracy at Karuna Photo.

So, with that, a running re-cap of the summer and fall is in order…with pictures, (these pictures are somewhat out of chronological order but the general idea is here…)

 

 

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11 Things for a Great Efficient Garden June 19, 2010

Filed under: On Food — adm @ 7:25 pm
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Gardening is upon us!  Over the last 10 years due to my nearly obsessive quest for efficiency in just about everything, we have evolved a garden that uses resources, (such as water and time) wisely.  It also happens to grow plants well despite our short growing season.  A few key pieces in our gardening “tool-box” have become essential to this efficiency.   First, a disclaimer:  I’m writing this on little sleep so I’m aiming for coherency but…

Anyway, 11 things for a great, efficient garden (pictures below text):

1. Soaker Hoses – This one absolutely belongs #1.  Soaker hoses put water exactly where you want it, and nowhere else.  This is not only an efficient way to water your garden, but it often keeps weeds at bay as well because you are not watering the weeds.  We lay them out after we plant the plants -or in the case of seeds, I’ll lay the soaker hoses out first, turn them on for a bit and then plant the seeds next to the hose where the ground is wet.  Soaker hoses add both time and water efficiency to a garden.

2. Hose Manifolds – The ideal partner for a soaker-hose watered garden.  Manifolds allow you to adjust your garden in “sections” watering each zone as needed with the flip of a few valves.  It takes a bit to set it up, but once it’s done, it’s done.  This makes the watering process extremely efficient.

3. Kraft Paper – I LOVE craft paper!  We use it to mulch our plants we put in the garden as seedlings.  We lay the paper out in roles, cut X’s in it, fold the corners back and plant a plant in each open space.  We lay the soakers over, (or under) this paper.  The ground stays wet and the weeds stay out.  You have two choices in buying this:  You can buy it as “organic gardening mulch-paper” and pay a premium for it or you can find a home-improvement store and buy “contractors kraft paper” and get twice as much for 1/2 the price.  I’ll let you decide.   At the end of the season, we till it right into the ground where it adds to the soil for the next year.

4. Frost Covers – These are a necessity where we live.  Our growing season can be very, very short and without an early start there are a few crops that may not have time to mature.  I’ve also found that frost covers keep the soil nice and moist for germinating small-seeded vegetable like lettuce and carrots.  They are helpful in the spring, when the night frosts are not yet over and also helpful in the fall when they may begin again.  I’ve also found that they can keep hot-loving plants like peppers a little happier earlier in the season by the slight greenhouse effect the provide.

5. Garden…Claw? – I’m not sure what to call this but it’s great.  You can get a small hand version of this or a larger one with a longer handle.  This is an absolutely useful tool for “tilling” up weeds and even preparing small beds for planting.  Kids think it’s fun too, which means you can trick them into some free labor.

6. Cages/Fence – This is another thing we’ve evolved over the years.  Tomatoes need cages.  Period.  When they are laying on the ground, they aren’t as productive, they are harder to pick and they pick up soil disease way too easily.  Since we plant between 60-100 tomato plants a year we tired of buying traditional cages early on, (that break in a season or two).  So, we came up with these tomato “tents”.  These are made from extremely durable cattle panels, (which can be found at a farm supply store).  They are cut in 1/2’s or 1/3’ds and tied together at the top with zip-ties.  They’re made to keep cows contained so they have no problem keeping our tomatoes contained year after year after year.  You can also use them to grow cucumbers up off the ground, saving ground space.  We’re experimenting with that this year.

7. Sprinkler – Well, ok so this one isn’t very original.  But, it’s also important.  Sometimes there are crops that are watered best with broad-range watering.  In our garden this may be our strawberry or lettuce patch.  We don’t use it often, but its definitely a necessity.

8. Hand-Waterer – Sometimes you just have to water certain things by hand.  Besides, it gives the kids a chance to “give the plants a drink and make them happy”.  They like to get involved and this is a great way for them to get a one-on-one connection with the garden.

9. Sprayer – NO!  Don’t say a SPRAYER!!  Yes, I say a sprayer.  Not all sprayers have to perpetuate biological evils.  I have two sprayers that are also invaluable tools in my garden.  Although our garden is constantly replenished with a good feed of manure every fall, I do like to foliar-feed, (through the leaves) throughout the growing season.  It seems to be a bit more efficient for their nutrient metabolism.  That’s just my observation.  There are a variety of organic products out there for just that -fish emulsion is an example, (although it can smell terrible).  My 2nd sprayer I use for a Neem oil spray.  This is an oil from a tree in India.  It is greatly diluted in water and then sprayed on the plants.  It works against biological disease such as bacteria or fungus as well as insects.  I use it only when needed, for example if I have a pest problem or if it has been rainy and wet for days and I’m going to have an issue with a fungus or mold.

10. Straw – Good old multi-purpose straw.  Now, here is a warning:  Don’t use HAY use STRAW. For those who don’t know the difference, hay is the grass from the field, (and all the weeds and weed seeds in it) cut, dried and baled.  Straw is the cut, dried and baled stalk left over after a grain harvest -so very few weed seeds.  You can get barley straw, oat straw, wheat straw… The bottom line is, straw may grow a bit of the grain it came from but it’s easy to pull.  Hay will grow all kinds of weeds that will encourage a hostile take-over of your garden.

We use straw for two main purposes.  First, we build our cold-frames with them so plants can get an earlier start.  2nd, when the cold frames are no longer needed, we take the straw and use it for mulch under our vines.  At the end of the season it returns to the soil and improves the garden for next year.

11. Old Storm Doors – We pretty much only use these for cold-frames.  However, cold-frames are an important part of our early-season gardening.  Old double-paned windows will work as well.

There you have it, 11 things for a great, efficient garden.  I hope it was coherent, but I can make no promises because I’m not sure I’m actually awake right now.  Pictures below…

 

Pickled Pink! And Other Things of the Summer September 24, 2009

I should have posted something some time ago.  But, the summer has kept me very busy and sitting down to write just hasn’t happened.  So, instead, I’ll recap the summer in pictures.  Then, when the onslaught of veggies to put away for the winter ends I will write again.  I really will.  I promise.

 

On Food: Heirloom Vegetables, Healthy Diversity January 29, 2009

Today, in the bleak mid-winter, I received something in the mail that always offers me a glimmer home_catalog091of hope that spring will someday arrive. Where we live, our winters are a good five and a half months long. This year I’m thinking it may be seven. It’s to be expected seeing I live halfway between the equator and the north pole. I don’t complain about the winters too much but by the time February roles around, my body is screaming for some sun-induced vitamin D and fresh local vegetables. Not to mention that we had so much early snow this year that we spent the day after Christmas on the roof, shoveling 3 feet of snow onto the ground, (had to take a ladder up and just stepped onto our pile of snow on the way down). And although I do like the snow, (most of the time) I relish the times when things are green and growing again.
So what is this beacon of hope? The Seed Savors Exchange catalog. Every year we do our best to pack every inch of our nearly 3000 square foot garden, (twice as big as the living space in our house) with a wonderful diversity of heirloom vegetables, fruits, herbs and greens. We rely heavily on Seed Savors for our plant selection. Seed Savers is a non-profit organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations. Located in Decorah, Iowa, where 23 acres of gardens are on public display. There you will find an awe-inspiring collection of genetic diversity. In merely 97 pages of their seed catalog is a seemingly infinite variety of vegetables,fruits, herbs, flowers and greens, (and as far as I understand it’s only a sampling of the varieties grown at the farm). The catalog is brimming with an array of full-color pictures of gorgeous and healthy vegetables. Granted, the seeds are a bit more pricey then “conventional” garden seeds but if an ecotarian garden is what you are after then conventional plants may not fit the bill.

Case in point: How many varieties of tomatoes can you find in your grocery store right now? Four? Five? Six? Even in our largest grocery stores we have about four basic types of tomatoes: Beefstake, Roma, Cherry and (if you are lucky) Plum. All of which are basically red and uniform from tomato to tomato.

As a contrast, just moments ago, I counted 72 varieties of tomatoes in the Seed Savers catalog, (and through SS you can actually have acess to 4,495 varieties of tomatoes). In it one will find tomatoes that are round, oblong, small, large, red, pink, green, yellow, purple and orange. -And oh, how wonderful those tomatoes taste. One browse through this catalog and you realize that what we see in the grocery store today is not reflective of the wonderful diversity present in our world. It’s reflective of “big business meets agriculture”. So instead of an unlimited variety of produce that represents our histories and our pasts, we are left with varieties that grow fast, ship well and store long. When big business pairs with agriculture what we are left with is a fraction of our beautiful diversity and a fraction of our history, (one really interesting and eye-opening book on this topic is Fatal Harvest, The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture).

Another fantastic resource for very ecotarian gardening is the WinterSown Educational Organization. This lovely little site gives tips on sowing seeds all winter long, (as the name implies). Here, they show you how to grow cold-hardy plants in recyclables like empty milk jugs, clear cake boxes and cottage cheese tubs. No heating devices, fancy seed-starting sets or energy-wasting, (and in turn money-wasting) lights needed. They also offer free seeds! In my envelope I received 8 different heirloom tomato varieties, rainbow chard and dill seeds. Visit the site and it may just have you digging in the recycle bins for suitable containers today!

So this year, whether you are planning a large garden or you are venturing to grow something in a container for the first time make an effort to plant at least some heirloom varieties. You will be rewarded with wonderful produce, seeds to store and grow for the next year and the knowledge that you are passing a piece of our history on to the next year.

To close, I’m going to list all 72 varieties of heirloom tomatoes listed in the 2009 Seed Savers Exchange catalog. Each variety has a paragraph stating where it came from and how it got to the Seed Savers Exchange. Head to SeedSavers.Org to have your very own beacon of winter hope shipped to your home!

So here I go, 72 varieties of tomatoes in this years SS catalog, (add that to the 17 varieties of garlic and you’ll have a nice start to a marinara sauce).

black sea man

The Black Sea Man

Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Austin’s Red Pear, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Black from Tula, Black Krim, Black Plum, Black Sea Man, (kids love this one), Blondkopfchen, (can you pronounce it?), Brandywine, Brown Berry, Chalk’s Early Jewel, Cherokee Purple, Chery Roma, Cream Sausage, (vegan!) Crnkovic Yugoslavian, Currant, Gold Rush, Currant, Sweat Pea, Czech’s Bush, (I thought he was Texan) Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Earliana, Eva Purple Ball, Federle, German Pink, Giant Syrian, Gold Medal, Golden Sunray, Gourmet Yellow Stuffer, Green Grape, Green Sausage, Green Zebra, (another kid favorite) Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry, Hungarian Heart, Italian Heirloom, Isis Candy, Japanese Trifele Black, Juane Flamme, John Baer, Kellogg’s

Green Zebra

Green Zebra

Breakfast, (no, not cornflakes) Large Red Cherry, Long Tom, Martino’s Roma, Mexico Midget, Moonglow, Nebraska Wedding, Nyagous, Plum Lemon, (looks just like a lemon!) Ponderosa Red, Powers Heirloom, Purple Russian, (catalog note: “Original stock came from Irma Henkel in the Ukraine”) Red Fig, Redfield Beauty, Red Zebra, (friend of the Green Zebra) Riesentraube, (German for “giant bunch of grapes” in case you ever need to know…) Roman Candle, Rose, Sheboygan, Siberian, Silvery Fir Tree, Soldacki, Speckled Roman, Striped Cavern, Stupice, Tasty Evergreen, (and you thought evergreen’s weren’t tasty!) Tommy Toe, Trophy, Trucker’s Favorite, Wapsipinicon Peach, (I read this one is actually fuzzy) and last, but not least, Wisconsin 55.