Thursday, June 30, 2011

40+ mpg

The little Honda ticked in at 40.8 mpg with this last tank of gas. This car is 8+ years old, and gets better gas mileage than any of the 2011 line up from Ford or GM (excepting plug in electric Volt.) I drive a mix of highway and city, and rarely go over 65mph. This is not rocket science. Why can't US auto makers get it through their heads, that their decades old technology for 30mpg cars and 15 mpg trucks is sad, and pathetic, and not something I want to invest money in? Yes, the civic is a little cramped for my 6 foot tall husband, and yes there are times I wish we had something with 4 doors and more trunk space. But, when gas is tickling the 4$ mark, I Love the Honda Civic. The few days a year when something bigger would be nice, hardly compare to the weeks and weeks of gas sipping efficiency.
Husband and I share this one car. We also have the bikes and trailer for in town errands. We manage multiple jobs, week long camping trips and Iowa winters, with very little hassle or problem. Square bales fit in the trunk, and if I pop a seat down I can fit 8ft lumber in. Granted I only need to do those things a few times a year, but it's always awesome to watch the truck driving people as I load up everything they're loading up , but in a car half the size of their gas guzzling behemoth. And don't even get me started on how awesome it is to get groceries or visit the community garden on the bike. Even with just our cheap pull behind trailer, it's really enjoyable for the whole family. Rowen gets some fresh air, Dave and I get exercise, it's a win-win.
All that aside, I recognize that our family may need to get another car in the next few years. While I can cram one man in there, Rowen's not going to stay small forever, and cramming two leggy guys into the Civic would be torture. We're not about to compromise on fuel efficiency, just to buy an "American" car, not when we can so easily meet all of our needs without compromising. Detroit, are you listening? I wouldn't have bailed you out, I'm certainly not going to give you money for gas guzzling crap cars. Is it so much to ask for a 4 door car with at least 35mpg and price under 20k? Honda doesn't think so.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Kindergarden - What's new?

What's new in my garden this summer? The green onions were new this year. The spring round of them is done now, to much success. I am going to try a fall round, which will be planted in another couple of weeks. The other new thing is the amount of vine crops I'm trying to grow this year. In the past I have only had the room for a couple vines of squash goodness. This year, due to lawn space and the community garden plot I have all of the following planted.
Black Beauty Zucchini
Gold Zucchini
Parade Cucumbers
Butternut Squash
In addition to those varieties, I have a couple of vines sprouting from the compost pile, where several acorn squashes met a moldy end over the winter. So, I'm hopeful that I'll get some locally adapted acorn squashes from those.

Rowen's interest continues to wax and wane. I can usually get him interested for a few minutes if there's something related to bugs, mud, or piles of things. :-D He did pull a few leaves off a weed last week, as his contribution to the weeding task.

I wish veggies made noises. :-D Rowen is learning words right now, and is fascinated by the noises that other things make. I'm sure if veggies went, "Ding" or "Woooo wooo" he would be much more excited by them. The last few thunderstorms have been gold mines for noises that need names and repeated mimicry. :-D Thankfully they've barely made any damage in the garden. We had a beautiful lily get knocked down last night, and some branches from our big tree. Storms like that remind me of yet another positive benefits of root crops, they are unperturbed by wind.

If you are wondering about the Kindergarden blogging, check out Inadvertent Gardener for the details.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Solstice - 2011

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the point of the year with the longest day length. For gardeners, this means anything planted after that day will have less sunlight every day. So, I try to have everything in before the solstice, and then I shift into harvest/weed mode for a month or so until it's time to plant for fall/winter.

This spring has been pretty good, in spite of the wind and rain I've got everything in that I needed to get in, and a few extras.

Rowen helped me plant the community garden plot. (And by help I mean he napped for the first hour, then blew some bubbles, and then followed me around like a little duckling making his quack quack noise.) We put straw around the squash hills, which have sprouted and grown real leaves. We put seeds in for some more purple green beans, (because you can never have too many) kohlrabi, (sorry dear, I couldn't resist) two different basils, a red and a green, and some swiss chard. We also rescued some sad looking onion transplants and put them in the ground, I don't know if they'll make it, but I'm not worried about it either way. While we were there we met our garden plot neighbor, Ms Linda. She was very nice.

The home garden is also bursting at the seams with freshly planted warm weather crops and lush well grown cool weather crops. Garlic scapes were harvested this past weekend. Bulb production is looking good. Onions are bulbing nicely too. Cabbages have started to head. Lettuces are sending up seed stalks. Peas are covered in pea pods, but due to the herbicide spray from last year, I'm hesitant to eat them. I'll likely save them all for seed. Beans are looking good and are about to flower, as are potatoes. I got 10 tomato plants planted, with organic egg shells crumbled into each hole to stave off blossom end rot. (I'm hearing reports of blight in the NE again, keep an eye on tomatoes again this year.) I also got three pepper plants in and a few herbs. :-) We should be good on tomatoes and peppers, if they produce well. *cross fingers* Rowen wasn't able to help with the tomato planting as the mosquitoes were about to carry me away, and it was decided he should stay inside with Dave. They both helped slather me with anti-itch creme as soon as I was done. Such nice boys.

Speaking of the men-folk. Rowen did get to help with the card we made for Father's Day. I put some cut out letters in a ziplock with a few dabs of paint and let Rowen squish it all around. (I think there was some hammering involved too.) Once a nice tie-dye look had been achieved on the letters I took them out and let them dry. We then colored a nice background on a construction paper card and I glued the letters onto that. :-) Yay crafts!

Happy Solstice everyone, enjoy summer!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Renting + Gardening

I'm a gardener. I quit fighting the impulses 6 years ago with my first veggie plot. Every year since I've put some seeds in the ground, and most years see an increase in my total area of cultivated ground. The amount I harvest is pretty substantial as well, my estimates are in the hundreds of pounds, for the past couple of years. I use a variety of spaces, right now those include my front lawn, flower beds in the side lawn, a dozen containers, and a community garden plot.

With all that, some people are surprised when they learn that I'm a renter. I've been renting for longer than I've been gardening, so the gardening habit has formed around that constant. (If you can call moving every year a constant.)

The year with the highest amount of harvest was during the year when we lived in a 1 bedroom basement efficiency with newborn Rowen. I had 3 different community garden plots and planted everything in those. 1 was within walking distance, and the other 2 I drove to once a week. Lack of yard space has never held me back. (Yes, I do realize how lucky I am to live in Iowa where growing things and green spaces and good soil are still the norm.)

Fast forward to this year, and I've dug up large swathes of the yard, put lots of love and attention and perennials into the flower beds and started a community garden that I may never see grow up.

Yea, I am putting in a lot of work for the rental house and our (probably) temporary home town. We're in a stable position right now, we've been here for almost a year and a half now and will likely stay for 3-4 total. I know my family will see some benefit from it. Things like the rhubarb and chives and sage planted last year are already producing tons. I like the thought of leaving a place better than I found it. It's a common philosophy, from Boy Scouts to Burners, (don't go off on tangent about boy scouts, don't go off on tangent about boy scouts...) Somehow, it still surprises people when they see it in practice.

The way I figure it, just because I won't live here forever doesn't mean I should limit my gardening. I was clear about my gardening intentions from the first time we came to look at the house. The landlady is not very garden saavy herself, but has given me pretty free reign to dig as I please. I return that trust by making sure that the flower beds not only look waaay better than how I found them, they will remain pretty long after I leave. (Perennials.)

The habit puts me on good footing with neighbors. Usually with rental places the neighbors are tired of the blighted conditions and respond really well to seeing some work put into making the place nice looking. It's not perfect, I'm not going to buy the expensive perennials or craft a year round blooming masterpiece of a bed, but it looks better. Our house isn't the blight of the neighborhood anymore. The neighbors don't have to cringe when they walk by. That is better PR than anything else I do. They'll forgive our pagan-hippy ways if it means I'll keep fixing up the yard and garden beds.

So, all you renters out there, give it a shot. Call up your landlord or landlady. Invite them over for cookies or tea and explain what you want to plant, where you want to plant it and how you'll handle the transition when you leave. That tiny bit of communication is usually all it takes. Once you start, other gardeners will notice, and bring by thinnings/cuttings from their plants to fill in gaps. I planted 4 of my own plants and was gifted another 6 or 7 in that manner.

Apartment dwellers, don't despair. How much does your manager pay to have the greenspace mowed? Can you reduce that cost for them if you take a quarter of the space and turn it into an apt garden? Make it worth their while in a monetary sense and you'll have a strong ally.

This country has a lot of renters. The numbers are growing. We need to feed themselves just as much as homeowners. If we don't start somewhere, who will?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Community Garden Success!

I'm happy to announce that the LeMars Garden has officially opened for planting. :-D A little late in the season, but 1st year hiccups are going to happen.
The effort was started by a group of women at the LeMars Bible Church here in town. Led by a great gal named Sue, they coaxed a bit of land from the church and got it disked. They got in touch with the Garden Coordinator in the city just north of us, and since I too had been in touch with her, she pointed them in my direction. Yay for networking!
It is a great match, (even if they do tsk-tsk over my pagan-athiest status.) They need someone with energy to spare and experience in community garden startups, I need more planting room and really want to get a community garden started.
We only have 8 plots this year, and so far 7 are taken. If the last one doesn't have a gardener we're thinking we may do a communal plot of corn.
I'm excited to finally have something concrete to work on/with. I knew as soon as I moved here that I wouldn't feel like a member of the community until I had given something back. I knew that I wanted that to be a community garden. Finding the time to make it to the Tuesday 11am city council meetings was proving impossible, so teaming up with the church has been a welcome windfall. I know others out there who are trying to get similar projects started, so in the interest of passing along info, I'd like to talk about some of the how/when/where's of the project to date.

8 plots makes it, by far, the smallest community garden I've ever worked with. :-) Which is both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, for novices to the community garden system, (which most of these ladies are) smaller makes it easier to keep track of what's going on, and who's doing what. Smaller does mean there are fewer people doing the work though. With the gardens in Des Moines, we knew we could count on 15-30 people who were serious and would show up for work days and meetings and such, here we have 4 or 5 people.

I'm trying to offer my help, insight and experience, without turning this into a Des Moines community garden. I love and miss them, but this garden is not going to be anything like them. Sue had browsed through dozens of garden applications, and pulled the parts she liked from them into the application and guidelines that she presented to the garden board. I did have a lot of suggestions for her, some of which she took and incorporated in, some of which may get incorporated in later and some of which she left on the table. :-) Mostly it was little things, like instead of saying, "If your plot is untended for too long, the garden board will reassign it," I suggested she put a discrete time frame on it, so gardeners know they can't leave it for more than 2 or 3 weeks, but an absence of a few days isn't an issue. Other topics included a fee for the plots, work days, garden monitors (this one was new to me, but I generally liked the idea,) perennials and compost.

There's the gist of the thing. It's been fun meeting more ladies in town. Rowen of course, being his usual charming self made friends with all of them. I have one of the plots, and I have squash vines planted already. My plan is to bike the mile there once a week or so to weed/water. So everything that goes into that plot has to be hardy enough to handle the mild neglect. Hopefully it works out well.

I'll leave y'all today with a recent bit of writing by Aaron Newton, a response to the question, "What is the peak oil community NOT talking enough about?" I feel his words capture my feelings towards local involvement and making changes happen close to home.


“I have set aside any hope of a meaningful response to energy descent or climate change in the United States at the federal or state level, which means international action will continue to be ineffectual as well. I feel this sentiment has set in among many of those who keep up with these issues. I now follow the developments of peak oil in the same way I follow baseball, as a pastime. I am interested in whether or not monthly total liquids production has in fact eclipsed the all time high of July 2008 in the same way I occasionally check to see if the Phillies are still leading the NL East.

I now spend very little time on awareness in regards to people that have no idea about these issues; turning down invitations to speak to such groups and avoiding the topic at cocktail parties. Instead I spend time with those people working on plans for regional and local responses to the future in a world with less of everything available to us. I’m telling people that sure, it is interesting and somewhat useful to continue to follow the saga of peak oil and climate change but that they should spend the lion’s share of their time on actionable projects with a bullseye mentality of home, community and region and not to worry too much about what happens outside a 25 mile radius of their home.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Growin' Rowen

:-) I amuse myself with titles for these posts sometimes. :-)

The garden is coming along nicely. Dave and I are quickly ramping up our salad eating to keep up with the lettuce, spinach and green onions that are in full production. Speaking of, the green onions are a BIG success. They are so sweet and good, and haven't required any additional work on my part. The spacing seems right, they aren't looking too crowded, and I was able to pull out individual green onions without a whole row coming up. I was aiming for about an inch between them in the rows, and a couple of inches between rows. Tight spacing means we have a LOT of green onions, for a very small outlay of space. I will definitely be doing this again. I might even try it this fall if my leftover sets are still good.Above is what the garlic looked like a week ago, it's a bit more bedraggled looking now, as the wind has been gusting above 20mph almost every day since I took this picture. Garlic is pretty sturdy though, so I'm trusting it to handle the abuse.

Rowen has been learning the finer points of "stay on the path," a tough request when his crazy Momma only leaves about 8 inches for said path, then meanders it around corners to better accommodate the plants instead of the walker. :-D He's getting pretty good at it though.

The potatoes have sprouted, most of them. Yay! I'm anxiously waiting for signs of life from the middle row, but the front and back rows are mostly - partially up, so I'm hopeful that I didn't kill them all by putting them in before the last snow.

The beans have sprouted, including some of the runner beans that Rowen "helped" plant. The runner beans are entirely for the local pollinators. I'm rehabilitating some areas of the backyard from the damage the last owner left. The landlady didn't like the natural methods I was employing last year. (i.e. weeds, the neighbors complained, there was poison involved, it wasn't a good day.) So, this year I've planted tons of peas and beans in those places and I'm hoping that a bit of compost and some healthy growing things, will help them along. Next year, (if this year goes well) I'll think about planting food for us in those spots.

The cabbages are filling out nicely. We'll have 7 good sized plants this year, which makes me happy. True to my word, I gave them their own bed, with lots of space and light, so they'll hopefully do better than last year. I failed again at growing them from seed. All my little cabbage babies died in the trays. Oh well, there's always next year.

I have cucumber and black zuchinni seeds sprouted in hills on the East side of the garden. As well as a whole host of squash babies sprouting in the compost pile. :-D I may let a few of the volunteers there live, if only out of curiosity. Even though Dave might kill me. :-D

Right now Rowen doesn't seem to be interested in the the sprouted plant babies. I'm not sure he comprehends that those tiny green leaves are from the seeds that he helped put in the ground. It's a tough concept, and 2 is probably a bit early for it. So, we'll keep trying. Right now I mostly try to keep him from walking on them. He is very interested in tools. He sees me and Dave use tools, and we have a set of small plastic ones that he can use, but he totally knows the difference and it's increasingly hard to get him interested in the small plastic ones, when he knows that he wants the big serious ones. To this end, I'll usually let him help with the hoeing, which usually consists of me helping to hold the weight of it, while he furiously works to make it go up and down. He also gets to help push the mower over shorter grass, again with me or Dave doing most of the work. (It's a push-reel mower, don't call DHS on us.) Usually a few minutes of this and he'll decide he's helped enough and will let us take control back. I sometime have to catch myself, when I start to get irritated with the delays and interruptions, and I have to remind myself that this is early training and NOT a waste of my time. In ten years no one will remember if I got the side lawn totally mowed on Friday night, but Rowen will remember getting to help with the mowing, and it'll make transitioning that chore to his responsibility a bit easier.