Saturday, May 31, 2008

May Showers Bring...

If April showers bring May flowers, one wonders what May showers are supposed to bring? Logically June flowers, but that remain to be seen. Mostly what May showers brought is record flooding here in central Iowa. My town was 6" from being completely closed off to cars. Every thoroughfare into and out of town was under water except for one, and that one would have closed for the same reason had the waters risen another 6 inches. Things are better this morning, the waters have receded a little, but it makes a person stop and think. (It makes me stop and think, maybe I'm not normal though.) This is the second year in a row we've had some pretty extreme flooding in Central Iowa. Maybe this is what we have to look forward to as weather cycles start to change in relation to global warming. And maybe spring flooding is normal and it's merely a coincidence that it was excessive the past two years. Hard to say. :-D

The gardens have survived the rainy May fairly well. Nothing appears to be washed away. The corn is late getting in the ground, but that's the story all over the state. My tomato plants have definitely enjoyed all the rain, but I think they are on the verge of waterlogged and I'm glad today is sunny and warm. My Brassicas are absolutely huge! I'm amazed every time I go check on things how well they are doing. My garden continues to be a firm island of certainty amid the rapidly changing reality of expensive energy. It makes me feel a little better to know I'm figuring out how to feed myself and my family without using any fossil fuels.

I've started 72 hour kits for myself and Dave. I think watching all the people in NW Iowa shift through the remains of their houses spurred me into action. It's one of those preparation things that has been on my list of things to do for awhile. I bought some Bug Out Bags from Cheaper Than and I'm going to fill them with food, water, first aid, basic shelter and survival gear. We'll have a basement when we move next month, so for most events we'll shelter in place, but I want us to have a quick safe way to leave if we need to. These 72 hour kits will be that safe way. If you are reading this and you don't have 72 hour kits made up for you and your family, please start one now. Look at what happened post Katrina, look at what happened in Myanmar and China, if something ever goes really wrong, and the government can't get to you for 3 days, what are you going to do? Don't leave it to chance, don't bet on the odds of it never happening to you. Set aside 25$ a month for the next 3 or 4 months and put together something that could save you and your family a lot of heartache.
Here's what's going in our kits, keep in mind these are for two fairly healthy adults with no children, living in tornado alley in a state that ranges in temp from -40 to 110 easily. Your kits should be tailored to your specific health needs, weather variables and possible emergency scenarios.
In each bag:
6 MREs plus some snacks
water purifying pills
single serve coffee packets
Aqua blox 3-5 (boxed water in 8oz servings)
basic first aid (burn care, cuts, sprains, aches, etc.)
copies of important identification in ziplocks
important contact numbers
emergency blankets (the silver reflective kind that fold up really small)
whistle/compass/thermometer combo
waterproof matches
small bar of soap
hand sanitizer

Special for my bag:
small ziplock of kitty food in case I can evacuate with my cat.

Special for Dave's bag:
spare socks

Both of us usually have knives/mutitools on our person, so I'm not including those.
The thought behind the bags is what do you need to stay comfortable and healthy for 3 days that you can put in a bag and grab on the run to the basement for a tornado or on the run out the door for a fire. If you find yourself with room to spare in the bag, consider putting a deck of cards or something of that nature to occupy time or a couple rolls of quarters for pay phones/laundry mat dryers.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Canaries in a Coal Mine

I'm going to miss air travel. I know it's wasteful, I know it's the epitome of gas guzzling.. I'm going to miss it though. Frontier, Aloha, ATA, Skybus, Champion, and MAXjet have all filed for bankruptcy this spring. Delta and Northwest are merging. Continental is cutting jobs in the 10's of thousands. Most citing rising fuel costs as a reason. I think they are the canaries in the coal mine.
Turns out jet fuel is one of the more expensive things that comes out of a barrel of oil. Delta's gas bill last year was 4.7 Billion. The remaining airlines will try a mixed bag approach of nickel&dime tactics like the luggage fee, reducing amenities, reducing routes and just straight ticket price increases. Whether these will save the airlines, I don't know. I'm not a business guru. Do I see air travel continuing to be an option for most Americans? No. I don't see any way for airline companies to deal with skyrocketing gas prices and keep ticket prices low enough for the average American to hop on a plane to see Grandma. I'm sure CEO's and Senators will find a way to continue to jet set, but in 5 years I think most people will be done with air travel. Between prices to fill their cars, and prices at the grocery store, people just won't have the money for air travel. I love to travel, and this makes me very sad. Hopefully railroads will survive and branch out more into passenger trains.

Oh, and I know that the picture at the start of the post isn't a canary, it's a Baltimore Oriole, I've been seeing one around my garden and today's post coincided with a hunt to figure out which bird I was seeing. :-D

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cool weather and rain

The cool weather and rain have been wonderful for my rhubarb, lettuces and peas. I hadn't been able to harvest for a couple of days, so I went out last night in between rain showers and harvested 260 grams of rhubarb and 133 grams of mixed greens. The picture above is all the greens, it's a mix of Tango lettuce, Monoppa spinach, Amish Deer Tongue lettuce and Forellenshuss lettuce. I filled a plastic grocery bag half full. :-D Plus, I only harvested a quarter of what was available. That's worked really well for me this spring. I harvest the outer leaves, the older bigger leaves and leave the baby leaves to mature. It wouldn't work in a larger volume setup, but for Dave and I it works really well.
Below is a ground eye view of my North row. Carrots are the short bushy light green in the foreground, behind them, a little darker green are my onions, and behind them darker still and over 2 feet high are my garlics. Peas are the vines on the left growing up the netting. All of the pictures can be viewed at full size if you click on them.

My tomato plants were looking better yesterday. I think they are starting to recover from transplanting. Most all of them have new growth and it's a happy dark green color. My poor basils though are very unhappy with all this water. I have kept 4 of my new basils on the porch and unplanted so I could keep them dry. They do not like wet feet as is evidenced by the sad basils that got planted in the garden. Oh well. I can't have good basil weather AND good pea weather. :-D Basils can be replanted.
Next week highs are forecast to be in the 80's, but it's literally supposed to rain every other day. I'm hoping my peas will hurry up and put on some blossoms this weekend and let me harvest some peas next weekend. Sadly I don't think they are interested in hurrying up. :-D

Curious where I get my seeds? Seed Savers, they are based out of Decorah, Iowa and they specialize in heirloom varieties. If you are reading this and you live a little South of Iowa, try my friends at Baker's Creek. I always recommend heirloom varieties of veggies, they taste better, and they'll come back true from properly saved seeds.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I count among my friends, people with skills. I have a friend who brews up some of the best mead I've ever tasted. I have a friend who knitted me a scarf specifically tailored to my needs that keeps my head warm all winter. I have a friend who can take some spare wood and make beautiful usable items out of it. I spend my weekends honing my gardening/preserving/cooking skills. :-D Taken individually, these hobbies are quaint. In today's culture these hobbies are usually a net loss on the balance books. But with an eye on a future defined sharply by the need to make more things by hand and less by machines powered by fossil fuels, these hobbies become skills.
Currently our entire industrial complex is dependent on centralized manufacturing coupled with large transportation webs running on cheap oil. If Billy needs a cup to drink his morning OJ, he drives to the nearest Walmart, picks out a plastic cup in a color that pleases him and he buys it. Billy probably never stops to think about how far away that cup traveled to get to his hands. He probably doesn't think about where cups will come from when we can't afford to ship them in from far flung cup-factories. Now take the example and pan out a bit, practically everything in that Walmart used to be made by hand. Now it's mass produced in factories, usually by machines, and then shipped all over the world. All well and good when transportation is quick and cheap. Not so well and good when fuel becomes expensive. We've outsourced everything to the point where very few people in this nation know how to make useful things. How are we as a nation going to clothe ourselves in the vacuum left by the collapse of centralized manufacturing? How many people do you know with the knowledge to weave cloth? Spin thread? Sew? How will we make basic home goods when Walmart isn't stocking them? Where's Billy going to get his cup? I hope he knows a good potter, or glass blower.
I know I'm keeping my friends close and my friends with skillz even closer.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mmmm... dinner

I mentioned cooking with whole foods earlier today. I thought I would post a typical meal for Dave and I this month. We try and focus on local, in season foods prepared in a healthful manner.
Tonight is baked potatoes with organic cheddar cheese and local green onions. Sides of home-grown salad, local fruit salad and local asparagus lightly sauteed with olive oil. It tastes even better than it looks. Potatoes and pasta have been staples this month. Lots of fresh salads and just this week the fresh fruits. Eating local in season is definitely worth the wait and the effort. (The asparagus is already half eaten in the picture.. hahaha)

Preparations: Cougars vs. root cellars

Have I mentioned I'm a bit of a peak oil-est? The root of my desire to be free of fossil fuels stems from my belief that we are approaching peak oil. I'm not going to waste my time in this blog trying to convince you of my point of view. I can't PROVE peak oil. No one can. Peak oil is like the declaration of a recession, you have to be 6 months into it before you can say without a doubt that's what you're in. I've been watching and researching for close to 3 years now. I don't think oil shale out West is going to save us and I don't think drilling in Alaska is going to save us. I also don't think the Earth is making new fossil fuels fast enough or close enough to the surface to save us. Don't get me wrong, peak oil is not the argument that we've run out of fuel, it's the argument that we're half out, and the half that's remaining isn't going to be cheap, and everyone's going to want a piece of it.
Now, there are different camps in the peak oil debate. There are the End-of-all-life-as-we-know-it camps. These people are stocking up on guns and literal mountains of dried food, freeze dried food, MRE's and making impenetrable fortresses equipped with turret guns and cougars (I kid you not, cougars) to keep the mobs of starving half-crazed villagers at bay.
There are the Sunshine-and-flowers camps. These people think that we'll have a seamless transition into alternative fuels like solar/hydro/bio fuels. They think cities will plan ahead for the collapse of global transportation and plant permaculture beds in city parks. They think cities will transform into meccas of alternate transportation and no one will even miss fossil fuels.
There are the Abandon-all-cities-start-farming-now camps. They think that most of modern civilization/infrastructure is unsupportable and nobody has the time/money/fuel to make them supportable so the best thing to do is abandon them and send everyone into the country to start farming.
As you might guess if you know me, I'm somewhere in the middle . :-D My problem with the first camp is I don't see Armageddon happening. Not unless peak oil is accompanied by nuclear war and a pandemic all at the same time. Could it happen that way... yea sure, I'll give you the possibility, statistically speaking it could happen. I just don't think it's likely. It's possible we'll see some mobs, especially in the larger cities, but I don't see them much beyond that. Certainly not mobs of starving people rampaging through the countryside looking for food. What will they be looking for? Soybeans? If you don't know how to operate/store/repair a gun, don't bother, you can't eat it anyway and it probably isn't going to help much. I also don't see our government/military just laying down and succumbing to anarchy. In fact, they'll probably be the only ones who can afford gas to drive. What, do you think the strategic oil reserve is for you?? No my friend, the strategic oil reserve, which is close to full capacity I might add, is for the government and military, very precious little of it will be released to plebeians like you and me so we can commute or drive soccer carpool.
My problem with the second camp is I don't see the transition being seamless. Most of the alternative fuel sources require fossil fuels to make the components for harnessing them. (Look into how much petroleum it takes to make and install one of those giant wind turbines.) I don' t see most cities waking up in time to plant enough permaculture to sustain themselves. Some cities are the exception of course, ( but such a solution couldn't even begin to work in a place like NYC, even if they had started 5 years ago. As for cities becoming meccas of alternate transportation, well again, I think we would have needed to start 5 years ago. Look at what happened after Katrina. People on the streets died. Highways, bridges, expressways, they are just not made for people without the protection of a car. People trying to bike or walk on such surfaces succumbed to dehydration and exposure. Small towns with tree lined Main streets will have much less trouble adapting, but anything over 50,000 people is going to have some problems. You couldn't pay me enough money to move to a large city right now. (Much to the dismay of my poor Dave who would love for us to move to Seattle and live off the cushy Computer Engineering job I could get there. :-D)
As for the last, well to be honest, we are going to see some of this I think. I don't think it will happen en mass, there's no place for all those suburbanites to live in the country. Plus, most city dwellers can barely keep a window box full of zinnias alive, the office worker with a philodendron is the "plant lady." These people don't have the necessary skills to run to the country and start farming. It would be disastrous.

So, here's what I see happening, and the steps I'm taking to ensure my comfort and well being. I think in the next 5 years or less demand for fossil fuels is going to swamp production and prices are going to be staggering. I don't think we're going to come out on top of the pile in the scramble for what remains. I think we're too far in debt with countries like China, made one too many enemies in the Mid-East and we've just stretched ourselves too thin in general. Don't get me wrong, I think we'll be close to the top, just not king of the hill. I think that will mean a smaller piece of Mid-East oil. What we will be able to get will be expensive and quite possibly sporadic. I think this will alter business as usual in America. I expect to see rationing, both of gasoline and natural gas. Sometimes we'll have gas/electricity/natural gas and sometimes we won't. I plan to bike to work at least twice a week, more if my budget demands it. I'll save my gas money for trips to see loved ones who don't live in the same town as me. For those of you who don't own a good bike, I'd suggest you invest in one while they are still available and you still have the disposable income to do it. Don't get talked into a fancy road bike either. I have a mountain bike. Yes it's heavier, yes it slows me down. But, I can handle gravel, potholes, curbs, sand, twigs etc that a lighter road bike with tiny wheels can't. (think about your town's roads right now, it requires lots of fossil fuels to keep them maintained even up to today's slightly shabby standards, how well do you think they'll be maintained when oil is 200$ a barrel? 300$ a barrel?) The mountain bike puts me upright as opposed to bent over. Easier to keep tabs on the traffic around me when I'm not staring at a spot 3 feet ahead of my front tire. I digress, start looking into alternate forms of transportation to get to work/grocery store/school etc.
I expect to see some food rationing. Modern day processed food depends heavily on fossil fuels to grow it, process it and transport it. I expect the middle of the grocery stores to empty quickly once gas rationing kicks in. I'm learning to grow my own food. I'm learning to store and preserve my own food. I'm learning to cook those whole foods. All of these things take practice. They are skills your grandparents probably still remember, your parents might not. I see them coming in handy. If the government ration for the week is whole grain flour, some butter or milk and a few eggs, can you live for a week on that? If the cheapest food you can find is 10 lbs of potatoes at the farmers market, how many ways do you know to fix them? Do you know how to store them? I'm turning our basement into a root cellar. Root veggies have fallen out of favor in recent generations, but they can be stored for months if stored properly, and can provide valuable nutrients during lean times. If you know how to cook them, they are actually really tasty. I've recently discovered a love of parsnips. Look up some of the things that disappeared during WWII, that's about what I expect for a few years after our industrial agriculture collapses with the disappearance of cheap oil. Most people went for months without seeing butter, coffee or sugar. ( Dave and I have been weaning ourselves off of High Fructose Corn Syrup and other sugars. That'll be one thing I'll actually be glad to see disappear. Anything imported will be very hard to find and/or expensive. I plan to supplement our food with lots of home grown veggies out of the garden, when I find good deals on in season crops at the farmer's market I'll stock up and preserve it so I don't have to buy it when it's three times that cost in the middle of winter. I suggest to everyone I know to plant a garden. Something as simple as planting green beans along your chain link fence can provide you with a steady if boring source of free vitamins all summer and most of the fall. To stave off the boredom of nothing but green beans, maybe try your hand at a couple of tomato vines, even if it's just in pots on your patio.
I plan to insulate our little house to the best of my abilities. If the attic needs some more insulation, it's getting it, the windows will get the plastic wrap treatment and drafts will fall victim to a seek out and destroy mission. Quilts and good wool blankets will never be far from the bed. In India the demand has always outpaced the supply of natural gas. In many places in that country people get gas during certain hours of the day. While I lived there I saw first hand what it takes to organize your food/bathing/heating around those precious hours. It's not hard, you just have to adjust and make do. I'm looking into solar ovens as an alternative to our natural gas one. Rolling brown outs/natural gas shortages, I really think we'll see these things wide spread in our country in the next 5 years. I think a lot of middle class America is going to have a rude awakening when it does happen. When they can't heat their 2 storied stick and drywall house, or find fresh veggies in winter, or get to work... I think there will be some heart ache. I think there will be some upheaval, some uncomfortable adjustments, but eventually I think we'll get through it. And those that had a basic level of preparedness, some basic practice and planning will get through it better. But, maybe I'm wrong, maybe the Sunshine-and-flowers people have the right idea and there's nothing to worry about. Or maybe drilling in Alaska will magically solve all our problems. I'm just not betting on it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Economizing, that's a word right? It's been my focus this past week. There are things I can't change right now; rent, gas prices, my salary, etc. But there are things I can change.
For instance, my gas mileage. I've always kept tabs on my gas mileage. Every time I fill up I check my trip odometer, calculate out my mpg and reset the odometer. I've been getting 34-35mpg since we got above freezing. Not bad. I did an experiment last week where I kept my car under 70 mph for my 30 minute commute. It turned my 30 minute commute into a 32 minute commute and sent my mpg to 38. 38! That's an almost 10% increase for lowering my speed from a 75 mph avg to a 69 mph avg. With my 10 gallon tank, that's an extra 30 miles out of every tank. Or, saving one gallon of gas with every tank. I fill up 2-3 times a week, so that's 7-10$ I'm saving every week. (with prices around 3.50) That's most definitely worth an extra 2 minutes to my commute.
After the move in July I'll be only 6.75 miles away from work. That's bike-able. I drove the route yesterday and it took me over 20 minutes with traffic. I bike at an average of 12mph in town. That means I can probably bike that distance in a little over half hour. The route has sidewalks all the way too, so if traffic is unwilling to accommodate a bicycle I'll just go on the sidewalks. I'm thinking I might make a couple of "Bike-day's" after the move. Say, Tuesday/Thursday or Weds/Fri and leave my car at home on those days. There's nothing worse for gas mileage than stop & go traffic. I imagine 2 bike-days a week will save me close to 4 or 5 gallons of gas a week. Plus, I'll get an hour of aerobic exercise twice a week without gym membership fees. Hopefully the increase in good health will offset the occasional scrapes/bruises/strains. I got through all 5 years of college with only a bike for transportation. I've missed it a lot. I'm excited to get back into it. I went for a quick 4 mile ride last night. Nothing complained too loudly, and I did it in 20 minutes. 16 mph was my bike-trail speed at the end of last summer, I was happy to see I still had it this spring.
Economizing has happened with food too. Dave and I have been switching to a more whole foods diet, and I noticed last year lots of food went bad before we would get around to cooking it. I've seen a lot less of that this spring. We've gotten into the habit of eating and cooking with whole foods, so less is wasted. We keep a few staples on hand so we can always mix up a salad, and that's helped a lot, as I can toss lots of leftover veggies into salads. I made more soups over the winter too. Those are also great for using up leftover veggies and meats. We're not all the way there yet, we had to throw a sweet pepper into the compost bin last week cause it got too shriveled to eat. I should have tried to find time to make a soup with it. Maybe a corn/tortilla/sweet pepper chowder or something. But, we are most definitely getting more economical. We've decided to start baking our own bread this summer. I wanted to start before our move, but neither of us has a kitchen clean enough for baking. He has a mold problem his landlord let get way out of hand, and I have 3 roommates who refuse to do dishes. Baking might not happen till after the move on July 4th. We'll see.
Economizing extends to the handfasting planning. It's easy to throw all caution and financial limitations to the wind when planning something as once-in-a-lifetime special as joining two people in love, but at the same time, who wants to start out a new life with a new partner 10K deep in credit card debt? We are doing our whole event for a thousand dollars. 50 people or less, outdoors. The beautiful stone shelter at the park was 50$ to reserve for the whole weekend, we're going to make/bake/grow all the food we can. The lunch after the ceremony will feature home baked breads, homegrown veggies, meats marinated and grilled by my father, and lots of prep work from my mother and I on the salads. I'm growing most of the flowers for the decorating. Dave and I like lilies and wildflowers. Nothing easier. I've got some pretty bulbs planted that will hopefully yield some pinks and whites to offset the oranges and yellows of the lilies and wildflowers. Wedding cake was WAY out of the budget. Dave and I don't like cake anyway. We're having pies! My mom makes a pecan pie to die for, I make a pretty mean strawberry rhubarb pie, toss in a couple quick easy blackberry or raspberry pies, done. Daddy's bringing his ice cream maker for those that like a scoop with their slice. The ceremony is in the middle of July, fruit and berries will be plentiful, local and cheap. And who doesn't like pie? Easy and cheap, the homemade touches will save a bundle and make the whole experience much nicer and more personal. The week before will be a blur of baking and cooking.. but hard work is something I try not to shy away from. Specially when it's with and for those I love.
Economizing doesn't have to be painful, it doesn't have to ruin your happiness or your way of life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Beans, beans the magical fruit

Beans are up!! The rain a couple nights ago and the full moon last night got all of my beans out of their seed coats. I'll need to go water them this evening so they don't dry out during their first day above ground. I'm trying 4 different types of beans this year. 2 dry beans and 2 "green" beans, (one of which is purple). Next year I probably won't waste the garden space on dried beans, it's too easy and too cheap to go to the store and buy a 3 pound bag of organic dried beans. But, I had the room this year and it sounded fun. :-) We'll see. Green beans, now that's no question. Green beans are one of those crops that's easy to grow, hard to kill and soooo good fresh out of the garden. Plus, I grew up with canned green beans, and I like them almost more that way than I do fresh, if such a thing is possible.
I harvested another 77 grams of loose leaf lettuce and spinach last night. I only picked about half of what was ready. :-) I'm totally sold on cold frames. I'll be moving to a new garden this fall and that cold frame is coming with me. I'm excited to see how far I can extend the season into the fall.
My little romaine lettuce patch outside the cold frame is coming along, most are about 2 inches tall and 2 inches wide. My patch of brown mustard is about the same size. I'll probably thin it this weekend. I would love to try my hand at canning some of these wonderful spring greens... but I don' t think I'd get my money's worth. It takes such a large amount of greens to get a jar's worth, I would have to find a really really good deal at the farmers market, I don't think I can harvest enough from my plot to have a go at it. Maybe if I get a really good deal on a couple pounds of spinach I can can a couple of half pints for me. (My Dave doesn't like canned spinach) Although, that makes me wonder if I can pressure can just two half pints in a batch without blowing something up... time to research. :-)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Things that pay for themselves

Things that pay for themselves make me happy. I have two packets of seeds that have already paid for themselves and I'm not done harvesting from them yet. Tango lettuce and Monnopa spinach. It only took them a month to go from seed to salad bowl in my little cold frame. A cold frame is definitely the way to get your moneys worth out of lettuce packets here in Iowa. Our clear but chilly early spring days are perfect for them. Otherwise, (as I think may be the case with my other sowings of lettuce) by the time it's warm enough for the seed to sprout, there is barely enough time to get grown before the heat makes the lettuce bolt. Last year I only got one measly salad. In order to have greens for my salads during the hot months, I've planted mustard, swiss chard and collards. It's my first year for those greens, so we'll see how it goes.
I'm holding my breath with my pea plantings this year. I planted almost 4 packs of peas. Will I get 8$ worth of peas out of the plantings? I don't know. My pea plants are some of the tallest in the community garden plot, getting close to 6 inches. They usually don't start producing until they hit a foot or so. I'm hoping the little bit of rain last night and the full moon coming up will help them put on a growth spurt. If I remember correctly I planted British wonder and Green Arrow. The British Wonder says 50-60 days for harvest. Green Arrow needs 60-70 days. Round 1 has been up since April 28th, so they are only at 22 days. Round 2 has been up since May 8th, so they are at 12 days. The 10 day forecast shows mostly 70's which is great, and a couple of 80's which is not so great. The peas don't care for temps over 80 degrees. The fewer 80+ days we have, the more peas I'll get. 50 days for round 1 puts me at June 18th... We'll see.
Now, if I figure an 8oz can of organic peas goes for about a $1.25 I'll need to can 48 oz of peas to get my money's worth. (That's a quart and a pint for all you canners out there) If I aim on the high side of 8 oz of peas for 3$, I only need to can 21 oz to make my money back. (that's only a pint and a half or so) Only the Green Arrow peas are good canned, the British wonder can be frozen, but really, fresh snow peas out of the garden don't survive long enough in my house to get frozen. I'll still get my money's worth, after all peas eaten out of the garden are peas not bought at the store, they just won't be in my cupboard this winter when I'm craving peas. Lucky for me, Dave doesn't like the Green Arrow peas and I can freeze or can them to my hearts content. I'll just have to be patient, (Not my strongest trait) and count up the harvest when it's in to figure my money's worth.
All this talk of canning reminds me, I invested 20$ in canning jars this weekend. I got Quart jars at a garage sale and pint and half pint jars at Walmart. I imagine I'll make my money back from those in a year or two. (Yes, I could calculate it out exactly, but nobody wants to read that.) :-D
My point to this post is never take your sights off the goal. If you are spending 75$ in seeds every spring and getting 5 tomatoes and a handful of green beans, you're losing money. Seeds are more economical than seedlings, but they take more planning and more practice. Reading books can get you started and help with the planning, but practice is hands-dirty, crops failed, OMG what is THAT?, practice. Go plant some seeds already! Keep a journal and keep track.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Heart Perennials

I absolutely love perennials. They come up every year, needing nothing from me except an occasional divide or prune. Not many can survive the zone 4 winter, but those that can are treasures. I've been harvesting all week from two of my favorites. Rhubarb and Lilacs. Now, one could argue that Lilac isn't a perennial, it's a shrub, whatever. One could also argue you can't eat Lilacs so what do they have to do with food security. I say, who wants to live if you can't have lilac bouquets in the kitchen every spring. :-) Plus, they bloom right when I'm putting in my heat loving veggies, so it makes that all day chore a little nicer, as one large lilac near the garden can really smell lovely.
Rhubarb is one of those rare plants I get to enjoy that my relatives in the deep south actually can't grow. It needs the cold dormant period in order to come back up in the spring. So, yesterday I visited my 5 wild patches of rhubarb and harvested 268 grams of tasty tasty rhubarb. It immediately went in the freezer, as I add it to most of my fruit concoctions throughout the year. Strawberry-Rhubarb pie in July, Apple-Rhubarb sauce in the fall... Mmmmm. :-) I'm one of those people that like a bit of sour in almost everything. I'll probably get another good harvest in a few weeks. I divided some of the rhubarb patches last year; the three new patches are developing nicely but I probably won't harvest from them until next year.
One of these days I'll have asparagus, raspberries and some hardy kiwi to round out my perennials.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I have the credit score of a 40 year old

I met with my financial adviser (not as lofty as it sounds, she works for my bank and just checks in on my credit and stuff so she can advise me about the loans I have through them) and the work I've put into my credit score the past 6 months has really paid off. I've got my credit card debt down to a single card with less than 100$ on it, and opened up another line of credit with the bank that I don't really touch, so my "use of revolving credit" is ridiculously low. My debt to income ratio didn't change too much, as we refinanced my car loan to help with the credit cards, but the ratio is righting itself faster in this new arrangement than it did in the old arrangement, so that was a plus too. Long story short, she checked my credit score and I've improved dramatically. It's still not where I want it to be, but demographically speaking, I have the credit score of an average 40 year old. Not too shabby. :-) Another year of clean living and I'll have my car loan down to 4 digits, and a credit report with no late payments (My last one will drop off in 6 months I think) and I'll refinance to a lower interest rate on said car loan.
Progress is being made. :-) Now if I can just get through the wedding this summer without bankrupting myself, things will come together nicely.

Another 60 grams of lettuce harvested last night. The seed packs have officially paid for themselves. :-)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A small step

Tonight I harvested the first food from my garden; 36 grams of lettuce and spinach mix. It's a small step towards my food freedom. The lettuce and spinach were grown in a cold frame I built myself out of reclaimed materials. The seeds were sown about a month ago. The cold frame sits in a 1000 sq foot garden that I'm tending for the summer. I hope to keep track of my harvest in this blog so I can see how far along my path I get.
My path to freedom is multi-pronged. It's not just about food freedom. There's also a financial aspect. I have to get my debt down to a level that's manageable with a part-time or no-time job. I have a college degree, but I didn't understand the level of debt that would bring to my life. No one's fault really, tuition just rose too quickly to take stock of what was happening. There's probably a whole bunch of twenty-somethings in the exact same position. My part time jobs didn't even make a dent. I refuse to pay 25% of my income to student loans until I'm 40. Refuse. Debt free seems to be an oddity in our culture, but I'm determined. That journey will also be documented here in this blog, so I can see my progress.
Lastly, I want to be free of fossil fuels. I think they're a limited resource, unsustainable. Unsustainable is just not going to cut it anymore. Mass transit, telecommuting, my bike; these options have to be made to work. Gas is $3.62 today in Iowa, what's it going to be by summer's end? 4$? Who can afford that? Unsustainable. My bike is paid for, sound and runs only on calories. There has to be a way to make that work.
So. 3 prongs. Food, finances, fuel. Shelter will factor in one day, but it'll be much easier with the 3 prongs taken care of first. This is my path.