Thursday, December 30, 2010

Resolutions, old and new

Tis that time of year. I resolve to do something new, grow in some way, (or shrink :-D ).

The other side of that coin means it's time to review the resolutions from last year.

For some reason, (I was in the middle of a job hunt) I never got around to writing my resolutions down for this year. Usually that's a recipe for disaster with me. I'm a visual person, and if an idea doesn't get written down it usually gets lost in the ether. I must have been really motivated about these though, as not only do I remember them, but they all had pretty good success.

2010 Resolution wrap up:
1) Finish my purple quilt. Bind and tie it. -- This one did get done! It only took 5 years to get that quilt finished. But, that's to be expected with a first quilt, right? :-P I was really worried about the quality of the quilt, as the first couple dozen blocks didn't have a single point line up right and I was sure the whole thing would look stupid, but it was surprisingly forgiving and it really looks great.

2) Sew more clothing. -- I polished my sewing skills on baby gear. Before my pregnancy I would have put my sewing skills at the Confident Beginner stage. After the diapers and wetbags and diaper bag and blankets, I really felt like I had kicked it up a notch to Solid Intermediate. I knew a weak point was clothing though. I needed to move beyond baby gear into clothing for me, and Dave and a growing boy. This went well I think. The first set of pants for Dave had some hiccups, and the first set of pj's for Rowen had some hiccups, but both were salvageable in my opinion. I made a couple of really cute shirts for me, and those both turned out really great. I even made a dress for a summer wedding and that (with some last minute assistance from Mom) turned out really pretty. Rowen has a set of lounge wear in the Solstice present pile. No hiccups and they turned out really cute. I have material and patterns for some more work clothes for me, and material for lounge pants for all of us. :-) I'm really happy I pushed past my nervousness on this one.

3) Repair more clothing. -- This might have made it into a post at some point. I wanted to try my hand at mending. This can be tough with clothing that's factory made, as I don't own a heavy duty machine, or a serger. But, I repaired some shorts for Dave, and repaired a t-shirt for baby boy. There's more in the repair pile, expect to see another push in this area as I finish up winter sewing projects.

4) Learn to knit -- I'll be honest, this resolution was entirely based on a desire to buy lots of pretty yarn. I have heroically suppressed this desire, and I have only bought 3 balls of yarn, 1 to tie the purple quit, 1 for my first knitting project, (a scarf,) and 1 plain black wool that's waiting in the wings for my 2nd knitting project. So, I bought the yarn, I bought a little pamphlet-like book on Learn to Knit, and 1 set of needles. (size 10 bamboo) Hubby learned to knit from his mother at some point in his childhood, so between him and the book and the internet I figured out how to cast on and do the knit stitch. I'm about halfway done with the scarf I think. Not too shabby.

5) Try to save some new seeds. I've gotten pretty good at my annual veggie seed saving. With things like lettuce, basil and tomatoes, the saving seed is second nature. I wanted to try this year to save something a little different. At first I thought I would try potatoes, but I never got around to processing the seeds, so that one will have to wait. Then I decided to try my hands at turnips. They are biennial, which means they won't make seed until next year. I left 4 turnips in the row and mulched them well. I'm hoping at least one makes it through until spring and decides to make some seed.

It was a busy year, but I'm really happy with my personal growth. I think I accomplished a lot of what I was aiming for and I'll continue to build on that growth with this year's Resolutions.

Resolutions for 2011
1) Finish the scarf, learn a second stitch, Purl maybe, and use that in a second project. (Right now I'm leaning towards a hat using the black wool.)

1b) Do some darning, with the wool socks I love so much.

2) Sew more clothing, focusing on work clothing for me and play wear for Rowen.

3) $2000 in savings by Samhain. The date is arbitrary, I just do better with concrete time lines. 10 months means we need to put 200 away every month. This would be double what we have been putting away this year. I think it's doable though because we're no longer playing catch-up from our period of Jennie-unemployment. Attainable, but still a bit of stretch to push us.

4) Finish the Blue Quilt, (Quilt #2) by mid January. Do some actual quilting on this one! Nothing fancy, but something more than the cheater method of yarn knotting. The top is together, (picture above) and I think it's going to look great.

5) Start Quilt #3. At least Queen sized, 85x85" or bigger, so that it can replace the 15 year old quilt from my grandmother that needs to be honorably retired.

6) Make progress with getting a Community Garden started in my new town. I need to find a group of people, find a good spot, and find time to go to a city council meeting. It would be nice to get some of that done this winter. The first step here is to organize a seed swap I think.

7) Regain my pre-baby muscles. I miss my leg muscles and ab muscles. I never had much arm muscles, but maybe I could work on those while I'm at it. Bike riding all season, with some yoga/belly dance would do the trick. Setting and sticking to the schedule is the missing link here I think.

8) Finish seed saving attempt for turnips. Try again with potatoes maybe. Try parsnips too possibly.

9) Continue food storage, work on improving grain storage. That means we need a grain mill, and probably some whole wheat.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Parsnip thoughts

Ok, so I tried parsnips this year in my garden. In the interest of garden note-taking, I'm posting about my experience this year and my thoughts to do differently for next year.

First, my little 3 foot row was about right, at least for now. We don't eat a ton of parsnips, when they are big and sweet we'll roast them with other root veggies. Smaller tougher ones will be snuck into soups and such occasionally, but that's about it.

They looked like they were growing well. Which is good, because it's incredibly hard to find any other variety than the "All American" or whatever it's called. I don't know what I would have done if that one variety didn't do well here. :-D

Astute readers will have noticed my use of the word, "looked." I haven't actually managed to harvest one yet. :-D Yea, I'm special. My plan, such as it was, included a digging up a couple after the first of the frost. I totally missed my window though. I went out this weekend to take a stab at getting a few out of the ground and was totally defeated. The ground is frozen solid, I chipped my way down to the top of one of the parsnips, and it looked like a good sized top, but I couldn't dig down enough to get the root out. I reburied the top with dirt and snow and we're now working with plan B.

Plan B is me digging them up in early Spring. Early early spring, like as soon as the ground unfreezes I'm going to be out there. My gardening book says early spring is a valid harvest time for Parsnips. I'm hoping that holds true in Zone 4. The sad part of Plan B is that I can't munch on parsnips with all of the potatoes we're eating right now. The nice part is there will be even fewer fresh veggies in the early spring, so maybe they'll be a bit of a treat. I've even read that the extra cold time will make them sweeter. We'll see.

Next year, I need to space them out a bit more, I crowded them too close to my carrot row, and between the parsnips and the kale, (which was also too close) I lost my carrot crop. Next year it might be nice to dig at least half before the ground freezes shut.

If I'm feeling really adventurous I might try keeping one or two in the ground this spring and see if they'll re-sprout and put on some seed. We'll see how much space I have to play with.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hunkering Down for Winter

I was chatting with a friend on Facebook last week and I mentioned we were, "hunkering down for winter." He replied with amazement that people still hunkered. "Sounds like something people did in the 1900's," he said.
Well, we live in a big house in Iowa, where winter temps can get down to -30 without windchill, and since we're in the far NW, winds coming in out of the Dakotas is something that has to be taken into consideration. We hunker. Probably in a lot of the same ways they did it in the early 1900's.
We put quilts over windows. Not every window gets a quilt, it's decided based on direction, age and room use. This is a picture of our North facing living room window, it got a quilt on it because it faces North, it's old and it's in the living room which is heavily used. (Tangent, that is my very first quilt, recently completed, 5 years in the making.)

We put plastic on the exterior of windows. Again, not all of them, but the old windows in heavily used rooms get the treatment. I won't post a picture, it's just plastic. :-D Our view out of the plastic-ed windows gets a little blurry, but with the increased darkness and icky weather, there's not much to look at anyway.

We seal off doors that we won't be using during winter. We have 4 exterior doors, (stoopid house) and we have sealed off two of them, nothing too fancy, just filled cracks and put a blanket at the bottom to stop drafts.

We also pay attention to which heater vents are open, and which are closed. Right now we have most of the heat directed into the living room and kitchen, with a little bit going to the bedrooms upstairs. I like cold bedrooms for sleeping, so I constantly lobby for less heat upstairs. :-D

Finally we don't aim for summer temps. It's winter out, it's cold, faking our bodies into thinking it's 80 degrees is not going to do any favors to our immune system. So, we keep the heater at 67 during the day and 63 at night. I'm hoping we can whittle that down to 65/60 by the end of winter, but it will depend on how well the heat stays where we want it.

Other things we do, (or might do in the future) include leaving the door to the oven open after baking, I figure why vent that heat out, just crack the door and let the oven warm your kitchen while it cools. I want to look into venting the dryer into the house too. Not in the basement, it won't do us any good down there, but venting it into the heating ducts could be nice. (It's an electric dryer.)

And of course, the last layer of defense is layers. We all try to wear heavy socks, and layers of clothing and we keep blankets out in the living room for tv/reading time. Warm drinks work wonders, as does a bit of exercise.

Beyond the basics of heating, we keep enough food in the house to get us through any amount of snow. Historically speaking this part of Iowa would shut down after enough snow fell. With the budget shortfalls we have looming over most cities, I don't think it's too Doomer to keep a supply of food in the house in case clearing the roads gets too expensive for a week or two.

Thus do we hunker down like our ancestors before us did. It worked then, it works now. It may be a little unfashionable, but I feel like the trade-off in heating bill savings is worth it. I say feel, because there's no way I'm going to NOT do this stuff for a year just so I can have a comparison. :-D My need for concrete proof is not that great. We do consistently come in below average for electricity and gas use. That's all the proof I need.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fresh Tomatoes in December

I love love love the veggies provided by the garden. Even though we're in zone 4, I still managed to extend my tomato season through December this year. :-)

The plants were pulled months ago, but the bag full of green tomatoes I picked on Samhain ripened beautifully (with only a 10-15% loss) and we've been eating on them for the past month. The last half dozen of those are in the fridge and will be gone in another week I bet. It's amazing to look out at the snow and ice and then eat homegrown tomatoes for dinner. Slightly shriveled and not as tasty as the ripened on the vine, they are still delicious and free.

Other veggies trickling in this month include a couple of kohlrabis and the parsnips that I'm "storing" in the ground. :-D Storing in the ground is a valid storage technique for parsnips, but really I'm just being lazy. I should dig up at least a few to have on hand for cooking and evaluation.

My cabbages didn't do so great this fall. I blame the root-bound, sad looking seedlings that I got at the local plant sale. They didn't make good heads, and they all kicked the bucket at the first frost. Total fail. I will probably try to grow my own cabbage seedlings this year. While the timing is always tricky for me, (they take a long time to grow) the quality will be worth it. Starting seedlings early enough for cabbages means I might try again with onion seedlings. I only tried those once, and when it was time to plant out all I had was onion flavored grass. :-) We'll hope for better timing this go-round. Although, really, I shouldn't put all the blame on the sub-par seedlings. My garden was a little small this year and instead of expanding, or finding another place for them, I crammed the cabbage seedlings into small nooks and crannies, and that's not the best way to treat them. I also forgot to side dress them with compost. (If I'm remembering correctly they need some mid-season love.) So, next year I'll try again. Unless we move again I imagine I'll make the garden bigger next spring, and I'll add in enough room for the cabbages to have their own row so I won't neglect them.

The cold frame is in use again this year. I found myself 4 bricks short for some reason, and sadly unable to find 4 bricks at any of the local hardware stores. (Not even at the Lowes in the big city south of us!) So, the poor thing has gaps in the construction, but I have some lettuce bravely holding it's own in there, as well as a small cabbage that's mostly just hanging out. I'm not expecting a lot from the frame this year, it's the first year this far north, and once again it's mostly in try-and-see mode. Plus, I have plans for bigger and better ones, just waiting on time/money/wood. :-D Isn't that always the truth.

Don't give up on gardening, if you're someplace with snowy-death winters. Besides the season extending tricks that can lengthen your season, winter is a great time to plan for spring's busyness.