Saturday, 8 May 2010

Potting Up & Hardening Off

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
My last post here dealt with starting my own tender vegetable plants inside, from seeds, to set out in the garden when the weather warms up. Those young plants now need another step or two before they're ready to go out in the garden.

The peppers and eggplants are doing fine in their little six-pack cells. If I'd started them in flats, or the tiny little starter sets they sell pre-packaged, they'd need to be moved to separate pots. The reused six-packs are big enough for them. They can stay where they are until the end of May, when it should finally be safe to put them out in the garden. But the tomato and okra plants benefit from potting up - transplanting to a bigger container.

There's a special technique to use with tomato plants, even those you bring home from the local nursery. If you look closely at the lowest part of a tomato plant stem, you might notice little whitish knobs or bumps. If buried in the soil, those knobs will grow into roots - in fact, any part of a tomato stem will sprout roots instead of leaves if buried. More roots on a young plant will make it grow stronger and faster once set out in the garden, meaning an earlier start to eating those fresh tomatoes. Plus, a stronger root system will deliver more water to the developing fruits, making the plants more drought-resistant and lessening the chance of problems caused by uneven uptake of water.

The night before I want to pot up my tomatoes, I make sure they get a good soaking. My potting table is outside. I want to make sure the soil is wet enough to hold together around the roots - exposure to the wind and the sun will be stressful enough on these tender plants. I get everything ready to go before bringing them out - new deeper containers, labeled and ready to go, and wet down the potting soil I'll be using.

The plants are quickly popped out of their cells, and dropped into the new containers. Any leaves now below the top of the container are pinched or twisted off (you don't want to pull them off and risk tearing a strip all the way down the stem). The root ball is lightly packed down into the very bottom, and then more potting soil added above, surrounding the stem, filling the container to the top.

This deeper burying only works on tomatoes - the okra (and peppers, etc. if necessary), when put into bigger containers, are replanted so that the soil level on those stays at the same spot on the stem. The extra soil goes into the bottom of the new container, the roots will then grow down deeper. When it's time to set these plants out in the garden, use the same techniques. Everything gets set in at the same level they are now, except for the tomatoes. For them, I dig the planting hole even deeper and set them way deep into the dirt, so that only the top few leaves are above ground. If the plant has gotten really leggy, I might dig a trench and lay the plant out sideways, curving the very top up and burying the rest. My plants settle in quickly, thriving even in my hot, dry high-desert climate.

There's still one more step plants started inside need before putting out into their permanent places. They need to be hardened off. This means gradually getting them used to the wind and stronger sunlight out in the open, without causing undue stress. The tomatoes I brought back inside under the lights right away. They'll need at least another week or two inside to recover from today, before I start hardening them off.

But the plants that can take our cooler Spring weather - cabbages, kales, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, and calendula - have been spending their days out on the deck. They're now properly hardened off and ready to go out into the garden. To harden off an indoor-started plant, taking a couple of weeks and doing it gradually is key. Start them out in a shady area, protected from the wind, for just a couple of hours, the first couple of days. Keep them well watered too - wind and sunlight are drying, and you don't want to let the plants wilt. Gradually increase the amount of time spent outside, and increase the amount of time they are in full sunlight. Towards the end of the hardening off period, start easing up on the watering too. By the time you set them out in the garden, there should be very little transplant shock. Even store-bought plants will benefit from some hardening off treatment - they're often so over-watered in the store, to keep them looking pretty, that the shock of transplanting to regular soil, out in the wind, can set your harvest back weeks. And we all want to get started on those fresh-picked veggies as soon as we can, don't we?

Friday, 7 May 2010

Sustainable Luxuries

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

Originally uploaded by FoundryParkInn

I've been thinking lately about luxury, indicators of wealth in our society, and other ways we spend money purely to gratify ourselves.  Of course, it's important to remember that even the very poor in the United States are wealthy by global measures.  But modern media and the advertising field have combined to portray an absurdly high standard of living that we're all meant to aspire to.  The fallacy of this consumerist lifestyle is already transparent to many of those who read here.  This modern conception of "wealth" does little to bring happiness to those who pursue it, nor is it ethically sound.  We'll leave aside the stark reality that the majority of the US population, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, is priced out of acquiring the material trappings of this illusory lifestyle.

Still, I think humans are hardwired to seek pleasure, comfort, and yes, even luxury items as markers of social status or just sensory gratification.  We like beautiful things, though our definitions of beauty proverbially vary.  Although advertisements manipulate our desires and convince us that material things will make us better, happier people, marketers didn't create those desires and impulses in the first place.  Not everyone wants a diamond necklace, or live-in servants.  But I suspect each of us has a weak spot for something.

This line of thought leads me to question what forms of luxury might be possible in a sustainable, low-energy future.  Being a foodie and a gardener, good food is the first and most obvious example that comes to my mind.  Good food is really, really important to me, and I live in an area blessed with good soil, a moderate climate, and plenty of water for growing my own food.  So I've been doing that.  But here's where the concept of "luxury" runs bang up against human nature.  We've put in the effort to produce and find excellent sources of high quality local foods.  We changed our habits of cooking and eating to use these foods.  And now, though we savor our meals and appreciate what we have, it's become almost a self-discipline to remain mindful of just how good our food is.  The vexing truth is, we now take it somewhat for granted that we have our own eggs and vegetables, and grass-fed meat and dairy.  Although we intellectually know this quality of food to be extraordinary, we often have to remind ourselves how well we eat.  It's no longer really a luxury in our minds, but an ordinary part of daily life.  The fact that we put in so much work to produce this food also makes it a hard to think of this good food as a marker of "wealth."

So what do I consider a luxury in my life?  Massage. If I could justify the expense, I'd have a massage every single day.  For me there's just nothing like having tired, sore, or tight muscles attended to by a talented masseuse or masseur.  Physical touch is a primal pleasure.  The chance to completely relax and take time out for myself feels positively decadent.  And I always sleep really well after a good massage.  If I have a one-hour massage more than once a month, I really feel like I'm indulging myself.  The nicest thing is, massage fits within my rubric of sustainable values.  When I pay a masseuse, I'm spending money within my community. Other than the fuel I use to travel to her place of business, there's not much consumption, nothing to throw away.  She works in a dimmed room, and most of the energy expended comes from her own muscles.  I run multiple errands on the way to my massage so that the car isn't being used for just one purpose. 

So what things are out of the ordinary luxuries to you?  I'm speaking here of things that feel to you like genuine treats or special indulgences.  Much as I love a good book or a great meal, they have become (for better or worse) staples of my daily life.  What goods or services make you feel indulged?  Are those things sustainable?  Is sustainability a relevant issue for you in the things you consider luxurious?  Or do you indulge so rarely that you make a sustainability exception for your luxuries?  What luxuries do you think could be part of a lower-energy future?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Spring Cleaning the Pantry

by: Chiot's Run

Spring cleaning not only applies to the house, but also to the pantry! This is the time of year when I start to make a concerted effort to eat up goods the goods I preserved last summer. Soon enough I'll be pulling out the canning pots and filing jars with this summer's bounty and packing the freezer with fresh berries. This means I must start preparing now. The last thing I want is to end up with jar and jars of stuff from years past and have to throw some of it away. I'm not one to waste food, especially food that I spent time and energy growing and preserving.

This is the perfect time of year to start using up pantry goods. With the coming of warmer weather comes the feeling of optimism. I no longer feel the need to conserve my food resources to make sure they last through the long winter. Those feelings give way to the hope of summer bounty and I finally feel safe eating up the last few jars of tomatoes. I know that in a few months, my tiny tomato seedlings will be producing pounds of fresh summer fruit that will be eaten fresh and canned for next winter.

I find myself often in the pantry looking over jars of goods deciding what I want to make for dinner. If I spot a few jars of tomatoes, pepper relish, fire roasted red & jalapeno pepper, and a few jars of chutney, I'll make a big pot of chili. From the freezer I'll add some ground venison, beef stock and some frozen beet greens or spinach. If I'm lucky I'll have a bottle of beer as well to add for good measure. A few heirloom beans will also get added to the pot if there are any left in the pantry. If we have some frozen milk left from our winter stores, I'll make some fresh mozzarella, and who doesn't love a sprinkling of fresh spring chives on top of any dish this time of year?

If I find myself with a lot of extra tomatoes, I'll make up a big batch of marinara. This will top fresh homemade pasta, or even a pan of lasagna if I have the time and energy to make cheese and noodles.

Not only do all these dishes help clean out the pantry of last year's bounty and make way for the new, they help save me time during this busy season in the garden. A big batch of of chili can be eaten on for many days as can a big pan of lasagna (and they get better with age). If I make an extra big batch I'll freeze it in meal sized portions for quick meals during the busy days of spring and early summer. My goal is to have most of the jars in the pantry empty by tomato canning season and to have most of the berries eaten from the freezer before the strawberries come on.

Do you make a concerted effort to eat up items in your pantry to make way for the new season's bounty?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Two birds with one stone

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

In our efforts to raise our own food, sometimes some of the tools we require can be an expensive part of the deal. Especially fixed equipment or buildings. To spread out the cost a little, we try to plan for multiple uses when we are planning and purchasing. By applying the permaculture principle of stacking we can utilize the same space and expenditures many times over, and sometimes simultaneously to help defray the initial cost.

When we had our large pastured poultry laying flock, we required a brooding space for a large number of chicks. What we didn't want was a single purpose building that would be outfitted just for chicks for a short number of weeks. And since heat lamps were involved for 24 hours a day for a while we also knew we didn't want to just partition off the corner of one of our existing wood buildings. Having heard too many tales of entire barns burning due to heat lamp failure, we decided not to put all our eggs in one basket. While the baby chicks were an important part of our operation, replacing a barn for $500.00 worth of chicks just didn't seem worth it.

What we settled on was a small hoophouse with metal framing and plastic covering. It would allow for natural light, provide semi-safe housing for baby chicks, and in case of fire, would be fairly easy and quick to replace. And a plus in our minds, also service as a great place to start early plants for the garden, or even grow a small quantity of plants after the chicks had outgrown the space.

For approximately $500.00 we purchased the bows, purlins, hardware, plastic, wire, and lumber to build a 20' x 20' unheated brooder/greenhouse. The chick area is 15' x 20' and that leaves a 5' x 20' space for feed and supply storage, our "personnel" area.

While it may seem cost prohibitive for a smallholding or farm. A smaller model with these ideas in mind may work better, but I have to say, these buildings, (we have two) have paid for themselves over and over.

A place to brood chicks, gather their nitrogen rich manure with bedding for the garden, and later in the year a hothouse for warm weather crops. By changing uses, parasite cycles are broken, giving "rest" to this plot of land and allowing us to spread the expense over several endeavors.

Normally, I start my plants on the chick hover before the chicks arrive. This year, we had terrible mice problems in the sprouting seeds. So we rigged up a hillbilly plant bench from leftover plywood and baling twine.

When it was time for the chicks, I moved the plants to the personnel area. The plants still need the warmth of the greenhouse, but I didn't want to be watering the chick bedding area daily. I did leave the makeshift plant bench though, and have been using it as place to store chick stuff. It's handy, and since it isn't fixed if it becomes cumbersome, I can take it apart in 5 minutes.

And actually it is quite pleasant to work transplanting, with the sound of the chicks nearby. I am sure they are getting the benefit of having growing plants in their space, and they are getting used to us because we are in there a lot puttering about with the veggies.

So this may not be for everyone, but I just wanted to throw the idea out there, to think outside the box in regards to our farmsteads and gardens. You never know what kind of ideas will grow!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Happy Birthday Time!

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

It's birthday time at our place!

Heath's first birthday - a water party on Boxing Day (summer in Australia)

We have some birthday traditions such as the birthday child choosing their own cake, and the evening meal for their birthday. On the morning of their birthday we gather around the dining table or on Mum & Dad's bed whilst they unwrap their gifts and open the cards which have come in the mail. There are often a number of little handmade, wrapped gifts from siblings which are given with pride and accepted with grace. Brithday cards are secretly handmade by a sibling, and given with the gifts from the whole family.

During the day we will often have friends over for morning or afternoon tea under the trees in our garden (weather permitting) with a cake and some yummy fruit and other foods to share. The table is often decorated with a colourful cloth and fresh flowers collected by the other children.

Friends visiting for afternoon tea near the waterfall

We enjoy the traditional candles and "Happy Birthday" song as well as clapping for their age and three cheers. We always have a cake at night, even if we've had one in the daytime, just so we can turn down the lights and enjoy the magic of a cake lit by candlelight. Sometimes for this cake we use different crockery or glasses for the birthday meal, and there is always a beautiful tablecloth and centre candle, and quite often more flowers.

Birthday cards are displayed on a magnetic framed board which hangs above the season table. Photos of the birthday child are also displayed their during the weeks preceding and following their special day. Often some baby photos and recent photos will be side by side. A photograph is taken of the birthday child with their cake each year, marking milestones in their childhood photo albums. Sometimes the birthday child will wear a special item of clothing, or a cape and crown from our dress-up basket.

We don't always have parties. We have had a fairy party, a musical party, a teddy bear's picnic, trip to special places followed by cake in the park... But even when there is no big event we always have a special time with family, and perhaps some nearby friends, to share cake and other food, sing and celebrate the birthday child's life.

Bel enjoying cake!

On their birthday, our children don't have to do their chores if they don't wish to, and they can have the choice of a story read or movie watched, as well as what food we eat. It is a day of lavishing extra love and attention on the birthday child.

We all know this song...
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, dear Lily
Happy birthday to you!

Well, here's an alternative, or second verse (same melody)...
May the angels bless you,
In all that you do,
May the stars up in heaven
Shine down upon you!

There are a lot of birthday verses and stories online which we have often told our younger children, especially. I find that they also like to hear about the day they were born, and the wonderful, cute and funny things about them as a baby.

This one is our version of a favourite...

As I yawn and go to bed,
Laying down my sleepy head,
Mama switches off the light,
I'll still be seven years old tonight.

But, from the very break of day,
Before the children rise and play,
Before the greenness turns to gold,
Tomorrow, I'll be eight years old!

Eight kisses when I wake.
Eight candles on my cake!

During the day, grandparents phone from far away and ask the birthday child about their day, their gifts, and how big they've grown. Receiving their very own phone calls and mail is a special part of having a birthday at our place.

Most of our birthday celebrations and traditions cost nothing, or very little. The focus of birthdays therefore is not on spending, gifts and elaborate parties, but on the child.

I wonder, in what ways do you celebrate birthdays in your home?

A cake for a relative - adults enjoy special treatment too!