encouraging garden update

last time i wrote about the garden, you may have detected some discouragement. but, friends, spring is here and the garden is booming! for at least a month we’ve been eating huge bunches of greens (kale, boc choi, collards, chard, broccoli) every day. and as of about a week ago, when we started an allergy healing diet, we’ve been eating huge bunches of greens three times a day! i was trying to calculate how much i would be spending for our current consumption at the farmers market, i figure at least $40 a week for 21 bunches of greens. this year i timed it just right so as we are harvesting the last of the fall greens, my fresh tender spring greens are ready to harvest too. plus radishes, peas and favas are all starting to get big enough to eat. as of today, none of my plants have aphids or other bugs. i’m not sure why, but i’m not complaining.

at the same time that we’ve increased vegetable production (and consumption), we’ve lowered our water bill to an impressively low amount. last time i wrote about the garden, i was too embarrassed to tell you what our water use was, but now that i have proud new numbers, i’ll fess up. first some context: the average US water use per person per day is 300 gallons. california and texas are the biggest hogs, here use is more like 500 gallons pppd. in new york city, (more density, less landscaping) the average is 65 (go new york!). zooming in to california, the more dense areas by the coast average 136, but in palm springs, where they’ve turned the desert into golf courses, average usage is a whopping 736 gallons! but friends, i have a confession to make; last fall we conservationist environmentalist desert lovers used 420 gallons per person per day. i’m sorry. now for the good news; we got our usage down to 50 gal per person per day. even though i do a load of laundry almost everyday in an inefficient washer that uses 40 gal per load. i didn’t count oliver (our almost 2-year-old) in my calculations, if i include him, which i guess i should since he has a daily bath and otherwise uses water, then we’d have usage of 33 gal per person per day with an orchard, big garden, and chickens. woohoo!

how did we get our usage down, you ask? 4 things: smarter gray water use, less toilet flushing, smarter bathing, and smarter garden watering.

our gray water is now the only way we water our trees and landscaping.

we don’t flush the toilet unless there is poop in it.

we most often bathe by filling a 3 gallon square container (like a rubbermaid) with warm water and a squirt of dr bronners. for adults, put the container in the bath tub and use a nice sea sponge to wash yourself from top to bottom. you’ll never go back to showers. for a toddler, just stick ’em in the tub. they have a nice deep bath, and they don’t slip or drown because they have nice back support.

we mulched the garden heavily and bought a hydrometer – a nifty little tool you can get for cheap that tells you how moist the soil is. by only turning on the system when the garden is dry, we were able to scale way way back on the water. mulching helps too.

we’ve been planting and planting for spring and summer. hopefully our garden success will continue through the season!

Garden update and the price of gardeing

we had a bit of a rough season in the garden. summers are always hard with the searing heat, so i didn’t plant any official summer crops and pretty much abandoned everything after the strawberries quit producing. i did buy an eggplant and a couple pepper starts which limped along until about thanksgiving.

in august damian put in some serious work amending the soil with our beautiful composted chicken manure.* before i left for the month of september (to visit my family in BC), i planted all our fall crops -salad greens, cole family, roots, and some cucumbers. we came home expecting to see a sea of green, but there was nothing. so i replanted. we waited, and again, nothing. the soil was good and there was plenty of water, the seeds were fresh, the beds were netted and safe from birds, what was going on? i replanted. this time i watched more closely. it was bugs eating my seedlings. little red beetles and grasshoppers were decimating each seedling before i even noticed it was there. by this time the days were getting short and it was too late to replant seeds, so i went to the nursery and bought some kale, boc choy, lettuce, and collard starts. i planted those and noticed a few things the bugs had missed, a handful of beets, some arugula, two russian kale plants and some chard. at that point (mid november) the soil was cooling down, making the greens happy. i patrolled for bugs and before long the garden was looking great again. we’ve been harvesting lots of greens all winter and they are delicious. my garden morale is restored. in december i planted fava beans, garlic, and peas. the fava beans and garlic are looking ok, but we’ve had more freezing nights than we usually do and i think my peas died before they broke through. or maybe they are just waiting for a more appropriate time to sprout.

i’m excited about the spring and summer garden. i’ve been pouring over seed catalogs. i had a bit of a wake up call that if we want the garden to be cost-effective, we’ve got to plant (and harvest!) a lot of food! sounds like a no-brainer, but i’ve been complaining about the water bill (the whole garden is on one irrigation system, so if we want to keep the berries and herbs alive, the whole thing gets watered). water is expensive in the desert (as it should be, i think). i figure the garden costs us about $50 a month in water. we also spend about $40 a year on seeds, and maybe another $30 on random stuff like bird netting or a new hose. so that’s about $56 a month. seems like a lot. but let’s break it down to see what we are getting/could get for that $56:

in the summer i spent $30 a week on produce at the farmers market, that’s $120 a month on locally grown stuff! in the winter, when the greens are rolling in, i’m spending $20 a week at the farmers market. i always buy potatoes, beets, yams, and onions. aside from potatoes, which i’ve had trouble growing, i know i could grow all these things myself, it’s just a matter of planning. but even with poor planning, i’m still saving $10 a week (or about $40 per month) on produce by growing my own sporadic supply. that brings the monthly gardening bill down to maybe $6.

our living room and kitchen have big south facing windows that look out at the garden. we don’t have a tv, so when i’m sitting on the couch i look out the window at the garden. i’m not sure how to calculate the worth of looking out at something alive and beautiful, but that should be factored in.

then there’s the value of fresh air and exercise, and the opportunity to get into a state of flow while weeding, the opportunity to teach my child where food comes from… i don’t know what the dollar worth of that is either.

i guess a lot of people spend money on hobbies and lifestyle choices, but i’d much rather be spending less money because i garden than more. if i planted more staple stuff like carrots, beets, onions, yams, and garlic, i bet i could get my farmers market bill down to $8 (that’s one bag of persimmons and one bag of oranges) at least for most of the year. that would be fun.

*the chickens have pine shavings for bedding. we pile it in deep and clean it out once a year. the shavings add lots of carbon to balance out all the nitrogen from the chicken poop. we dump it all in a covered plywood frame and add our kitchen and garden scraps daily. we hooked up an irrigation line to the lid of the container so it gets watered every time the garden does. in desert composting, water seems to be the secret ingredient to great compost.

gardening with a toddler

we had an amazing cool and cloudy day today. i’m thinking about my canadain family reading that and thinking it crazy. amazing is all about context i guess. when i say “cool” i mean 81f, 27c.
anyway, it was so lovely. ollie and i spent a lot of time in the garden getting it ready for fall. i’m trying to empty the compost bin so we can fill it up with the chicken bedding that desperately needs to be changed. there’s lots of weeds and dead summer plants to pull, and lots to plant for fall. so i shoveled compost and pulled plants while oliver, well, you’ll see. it didn’t take long before i was so distracted i gave up on work and just filmed him instead. my little boy, i love him so.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_TwglKRyHY&w=420&h=315]

Fertile Journey

i didn’t plant a fall garden this year. the day before thanksgiving i harvested all the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants just in time before a hard freeze. now the days are warm and the lanky, dead plants torture me every time i walk by or look out the window. the soil says, ‘feed me!’ the corn stalks say, ‘pull me!’ and the weeds very quietly grow as fast as they possibly can, celebrating their good fortune. the seeds in the cupboard wait, and wait, and wait.

but while the seeds in the cupboard wait, there is a seed of another sort that seems to have germinated. this little seed was planted at just the right time, nourished with the very best of everything, and proceeded to grow and grow and grow. as i write this, my sources tell me that our little sprout is approximately 4 inches long, has fingerprints, eyelids, and taste buds. our little sprout has a gender, a heart that beats, and reflexes.
i love this little person more than i can say. i am filled to overflowing with gratitude, awe, and wonder. i spend a lot of time praying that our little baby will keep growing into a healthy, bouncing, bundle of joy.

Homegrown Lunch

thanks to a merciful spring and a lot of effort, this year’s garden has been our most bountiful ever. we’ve been harvesting pounds and pounds of tomatoes (the ‘mexican midget’ plum tomato appears to be a winner for our climate.) and cucumbers. the okra is producing well, we have plenty of carrots and beets when ever we want, and even the sweet corn got pollinated. i’ve been making pesto out of all the basil, and we’ve got a bunch cantaloupes ripening. the peppers and eggplants are taking their time, but i think we’ll get a harvest yet.

i love cooking food that i grew, but what i love best is when i can make a whole meal out of ingredients that came from our property. today’s lunch was inspired by smitten kitchen’s entry on ina garten’s scalloped tomatoes i used bread crumbs instead of croutons since that’s what i had available from damian’s spelt bread. so good!

of the ingredients i used, those from our homestead were: garlic, bread crumbs, tomatoes, butternut squash, eggs, and basil. that left only olive oil and parmesan as imports. i can live with that.

spring garden overhaul

2009 was, for many reasons, not a very good year for our garden. our challenges included a lack of time devoted to gardening (death of a loved one, starting a new job, and starting school were factors), depleted soil, a non-native squirrel population explosion, a broken watering system… not to mention the usual extreme heat and dryness, wind, and pests. ugh. despite all that, we did harvest a few peppers and plenty of arugula. a few peppers and some arugula is not why we garden though, so damian and i have made a strong intention to go big this year. damian spent a week digging and amending the soil with goat manure (when i say he spent a week digging, i mean he spent a week digging. dawn till dusk, that’s how he does things). he got rid of all the old dead stuff that was depressing us when we looked out the window, he completely revamped the watering system with drip lines (we were using the thin gauge soaker hose, but the high mineral content of our water clogged them all up.) then he lowered the re-bar hoops and installed bird netting over the beds. the bird netting is practically invisible and we are hoping it will prevent birds, lizards and squirrels from eating everything. the fence around the whole garden protects just from rabbits, rats, and most ground squirrels.

i made the garden plan, researched varieties, ordered seeds and got busy planting. it’s still early, so outside i restrained myself from planting more than chard and beets. inside i started our pepper plants. soon i’ll start eggplant & tomato inside and plant lettuce and potatoes outisde. when it warms up a bit more we’ll plant the carrots, cucumbers and radishes. and then just before it gets really warm in may, we’ll plant EVERYTHING corn, melons, okra, squash, and transplant the eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers.

here’s a little video of the waiting garden. you may notice it’s raining! i couldn’t resist filming our silly rooster standing there getting soaked. you may also note that you can barely see the bird netting.


summer goals, school goals

In seven days I’ll be back at school. I’m feeling excited and hopeful about this term. Last term was really challenging for me, but I’m confidant that I’ll be more relaxed, more efficient, and more balanced this term. I’ve got some ambitious goals, but first I’ll give you a recap of how I did on my summer goals:
1. Read integral life practice (a book) –yes! I read it and it’s really great. I’ve drafted my own ILP blueprint and am excited about it. More on this below.
2. Reread how to become a straight-A student -Yes! Another great book. I also read another book by the same author; How to Win at College. This one is also good but not as good as straight-A.
3. Garden overhaul-Yes, I mulched, amended, and snipped. I planted but unfortunately had very minimal success with summer crops. Squirrels, lizards, birds and intense heat got the better of everything but a couple pepper plants and some sunflowers. However, fall is around the corner and I’m not giving up on desert gardening yet. More on this below.
4. Set up income generating work– Yes, I am now the official bookkeeper for Not Back to school camp and Lowry House Publishers. I love my boss, I can work from home, hours are flexible, it’s the greatest thing!
5. Get in fantastic shape and set up a regiment for when school starts back. Yes! Well, ‘fantastic’ may be too strong of a word, but I feel strong and fit, and am likely in better shape than I have been in my whole life, which isn’t saying a whole lot, but still. I’ve been doing a 90 day transformation program (thanks Mattias!) and have 5 weeks left.
6. Spend time with Ben, Rebecca, family and, oh yeah, my husband too. –well, my summer has been very lacking in Ben & Rebecca time (what happened?) but we did get some good times in with Ely & Christina and Gabe & Maggie. I got to hang out with Darlene a fair bit (we had little house on the prarie siesta time in the middle of the day when the weather was too hot). And I got to see Nathen in Eugene.
7. Take fun little trips with Damian- we went to Carlsbad and sat on the beach and then drank margaritas. That was pretty fun.
8. Organize the office and deep-clean the house –I think this happened, but the house could probably use another pass…

My school goals for this term can be best summed up by my ILP blueprint and my color-coded calendar. The ILP thing may be a bit confusing, you should read the book. The basic idea is to be a top notch human by making room for all the stuff that’s good for you and the world. You’ve got your core modules: body, mind, spirit and shadow, and you should have practices that address all of these. Shadow is psychological stuff you have to work on so you aren’t a wing-nut. Some people call it ‘baggage.’ Co-counselors call it ‘distress.’ Here’s an example of shadow material: a random customer comes in to the store where I work and asks me if I am pregnant while I’m ringing up her groceries. If I had no shadow material at all around body image or my own fertility I would likely answer her question with a simple “no.” and then carry on with the transaction. Perhaps I would momentarily wonder if the shirt I was wearing looked like a maternity shirt, but that would be the extent of my mental process around it.
however, since I do indeed have shadow material around body image and my fertility (or lack there of), I respond quite differently. First I stare at her, then I look down at my non-pregnant belly wondering how fat I must be to illicit such a question, then I turn red, then I think about how much I would like to be pregnant and then I start to cry. Finally I explain in an offended voice that I am NOT pregnant and continue to wonder for weeks if I am fat.
The 3-2-1 shadow process is a practice highly recommended by the integral crew, it’s a quick & effective way to work through issues big and small. When used consistently, it can help avoid such dramatic health food store encounters as the one described above.
So here’s my ILP and the Schedule it (hopefully) fits into:


the little red bits are my vision improvement program. i’ll actually be doing them mostly at school, not home as the color suggests.

the dog ate my car

we came home from a whirlwind trip to vancouver yesterday. vancouver in the summer is a glorious place indeed. the purpose of this trip was to help with and attend my oma’s memorial service, and help organize all the stuff that belonged to oma. we managed to squeeze in a few dinners with old friends and a couple sunsets viewed from the beach. i didn’t get to see enough of my cute niece or my beautiful sister-in-law, but we did get to eat greek food with my dad, play in the kiddie pool with my niece, eat my brother’s amazing home-cured bacon and try some of his home-brewed pale-ale. i was also able to get a bunch of work done thanks to my portable office, and had some time to reconnect with damian while we waited for a bus or walked to oma’s house. there’s plenty more i could share about this trip, but this post is actually about what happened to our car while we were gone.
i think i’ve mentioned the fact that our property has been invaded by squirrels this year. big, fat, smart, gray squirrels. they scale the fence to the garden and ravage everything. they scale the fence to the chicken yard and eat our chickens expensive organic feed. it’s terrible.
luckily, my fabulous father-in-law has come to our rescue. steve has shot 2 and trapped 4 of the little jerks so far. these guys aren’t native so i don’t want any of you animal lovers shedding any tears on their behalf.
one squirrel made it’s home under the hood of our car. it wasn’t doing much damage until a neighbors dog came and tried to catch it. in process of trying to catch the squirrel, the dog tore off our front license plate, detached the side of the bumper, riped out the wires and bulb to a turn-signal, and bit holes in both front tires, flattening them. honestly! this may be why i don’t own a gun. i know dogs like to chase squirrels, but destroying the front end of my car is just not cool.


the days and nights are cooling off now. the weather has been so lovely! highs in the 80’s and lows in the 50’s. (translate to highs of 28 and lows of 15 sweet, canadians)ahhh.
i’ve been planting all kinds of yummy fall crops like kale and beets and lettuce and boc choy, but those mean birds keep eating all my seedlings! it makes me mad. i plant and replant, but those doves and quails and jays eat those succulent seedlings up as fast as i can plant them.
i wonder if it’s too late to plant now. maybe i can get some broccoli and lettuce starts when i go down to the low desert in the next few weeks.
i made a little video of the stuff that survived the summer. i hope you don’t get motion sick watching it. apparently i still have a bit to learn about videography!