Saturday, 31 May 2008

Disappointing response...

We received a response back from our Alberta MLA this week, and I was underwhelmed to say the least. I had hoped that a brand new MLA in his first elected post might be a bit more enthusiastic. Here is the letter we sent him, and below is what he sent back:

Dear Theresa and Gord;

Thank you for you letter of May 1, 2008 outlining suggestions for government to consider.

I have reviewed your letter with interest and noted your concerns. I have forwarded copies of your letter to my colleagues in Caucus of their review and response.

I appreciate your writing to share your concerns.

Kindest regards,

Jeff Johnson, MLA, Athatbasca-Redwater

That's it. I mean, it's nice he sent it off to his colleagues and all, but what about HIS response. This is quite disappointing, but not unexpected. I'll have to send a follow up letter I guess, asking directly for his response to my concerns, and then make the dreaded follow up call to the constituency office. I wish I wasn't such a chicken about that phone-call stuff.

Friday, 30 May 2008

May Challenge Round Up

I undertook too many challenges this month, and found all three of them pretty dang challenging.

I thought for sure I would be able to finish my two books selected for the Bookworm Challenge, but I only ended up finishing and reviewing one. I'm still only about 30 pages into the Blue Gold book, about the corporate theft of public water supplies. The fact is, on the weekends we've been trying to get the Little Garden and the Big Garden up and running, plant trees, fulfill our committment to the CSA farm and keep up with the watering and weeding. And on weekdays, by the time I'm home from work or Tai Chi and have managed to make dinner and the next day's lunch while ensuring I have some clean enough clothes to wear, I pretty much just want to veg in front of the TV or the computer for a little while and then go to bed, maybe squeezing in a few minutes of meditation beforehand. Plus, this second book is kind of depressing, and it's not the kind of book you can just pick up for a few minutes here and there, because of the density of the information it contains. I will finish the book and review it, but it could be, um....much later. Green Bean is continuing her bookworm challenge into June, and I'll try to have the book and the review done sometime next month, depending on how things go in the garden, and given other non-garden commitments I've made.

I have utterly failed at Crunchy's Extreme Eco Throwdown. While we do a decent job of keeping our garbage output down (to about 30% of the North American average), not generating any garbage at all was impossible without completely changing my entire life in one fell swoop. I would have to grow all of my own food and never buy anything that comes with any sort of plastic residue or component whatsoever. I know there are people who do the no-plastic part, and I am in awe of them. I did manage to divert a few more things than usual from the garbage can, but it still filled up with non-recyclable plastic over time, along with some food-soiled cardboard and frozen juice containers.

I've done fair-to-middlin' in Sharon's Independence Days challenge. I've managed to do something in almost all of the categories once a day, on average. This was the only challenge where it was a benefit to be knee-deep in garden-building! I did miss one category entirely though: cooking new dishes. That will probably come later in the summer when I have my CSA share to be creative with, and produce from my own garden to experiment on.

So, I've decided to take the month of June off from any official challenges. Chile has mischievously suggested that doing so might qualify me for her Quit Now challenge, but we have mutually agreed to exercise restraint in this regard! For me, June will be a month of weeding and watering, and just figuring out how to do this whole food-growing thing. I've got a lot to learn, and the garden has a lot to teach me.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Lettuce-eye view of the CSA....

I took this past Monday off of work and both Gord and I went to the farm to help out for the entire day. We weeded the little onions that I helped plant last time, and then in the afternoon we got to help transplant 1200 lettuce plants into the field. Two other share-holders came out in the afternoon so we got this transplanting done in a few hours, after which we went back to weeding the onions.

In the picture you can see the flats of "freckled" lettuce that we helped plant. Other varieties we helped plant were green romaine, and one called "Drunken Woman." Who knew lettuce could be so hilarious?

The CSA farm overlooks a lovely river valley, and on our afternoon break I had time to munch some carrots while sitting on a bench down the hill there, gazing at the view and listening to the cows in the distance.

Graham says we'll have lettuce in our share baskets in a couple of weeks, the same time he'll be bringing them out to the farmer's market. Let me put a plug in here for your local organic farmer by saying that the price you're paying at the market for an organic head of lettuce doesn't even come close to reflecting the value of all the time and labor that goes into each one. When we transplant, every single lettuce plant is checked to make sure that it is tucked well into the soil by the transplanter, not too shallow and not too deep, with any excess dirt carefully dusted off the little leaves. And that doesn't even begin to tell the story -- these lettuce plants were all grown from seed, thinned, watered, cared for daily in the greenhouse and in the hoop houses. After being transplanted to the field, they will once again be watered and weeded regularly, then picked, washed and transported to the market. There's no way you could charge 8 dollars for a head of lettuce, but that's probably what they're really worth.

Gord summed it up well when on the transplanter he said he figured we should "bow to the lettuce" before eating it - that's not a bad idea. And neither is letting our market farmers know how much we appreciate the care taken in the growing of our food.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Action or "Action"?

Daharja has an excellent post over at Cluttercut in which she talks about the website, which is, from what I can tell, a site trying to build awareness of the importance of reducing our carbon emissions until there are only 350 parts per million in the atmosphere. The old goal was 450, but newer research points to 350 being the target we need to reach in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Daharja is incensed, and rightly so I would say, about the fact that you're never going to inspire anyone to change their actions in the direction needed by merely focusing on a raising awareness of a number. And I'm pretty sure Kiashu at Green with Gun would classify the whole endeavor as glorified slacktivism (maybe not even glorified). Here's a quote from the "Take Action" portion of the website:

What we need most right now are your actions that take the number 350 and drive it home: in art, in music, in political demonstrations, in any other way you can imagine.

I have to disagree. I'd say what we need most right now are actions that directly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are being emitted into the atmosphere. Actions like those the Riot for Austerity people are undertaking, or a One Tonne Lifestyle that Kiashu describes. I don't think that paintings of the number 350 are going to cut it, or protest songs for that matter, even if they're sung by U2.

This got me thinking to what the word "action" has come to mean. This dictionary defines action in a number of ways, but all the definitions have something to do with physical movement directed toward a specific purpose. But more and more, I've noticed that "action" seems to have come to refer to things that don't involve a lot of physical movement or energy, such as joining a facebook group or, or forwarding an email, or signing an online petition. And a lot of this so called "action" is diffuse in purpose as well.

I hear of kids who want to be video game designers when they grow up and I keep thinking to myself, but will you actually be able to DO anything? And before I get too sanctimonious, I remind myself that writing letters to my elected representatives doesn't take a lot of physical activity either, nor does blogging, nor does turning off my house lights for an hour at a specified time. Some of these things are relatively harmless, even if they aren't necessarily effective, but surely the time spent at most of them could be better spent doing things that would really qualify as action towards reducing greenhouse gases, such as buying less stuff, growing our own food, planting more trees, driving less, eating less, hauling out that old bicycle and riding it, conserving water, composting, refraining from turning on the air conditioner or fan, etc.

How do we get people who are used to "action," back in the habit of concrete and direct action again? The knuckle-down-and-get-it-done-even-if- it's-hard kind of action? The get-your-hands-dirty-kind-of-action? Daharja says that only the things we love will inspire people to real and right action. I have to agree.

What do you love? What inspires you to do things differently even though it's hard to change the habits of a lifetime? I'm in the middle of thinking through these questions for myself, as I also learn to go from "action" to action.

Picture courtesy this Flickr site

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Whole lotta plantin' goin' on....

Today we planted 25 trees! They are all quite small saplings, but they look healthy.

We planted ten white spruce, ten Manitoba maple, and five aspen poplar. We have a lot of aspen poplar on our acreage already but some of them were taken out when this house was built, leaving a fairly large gap in the treeline. So these five new trees will help to fill that.

We also wanted some more evergreens, so that we'd have some color to look at in the Winter, when all the deciduous trees are bare and gray.

And the maples, well, I'm not sure why we ordered ten of them, because they get quite big. But they are gorgeous in the Fall, and maybe one day we will make some maple syrup from them - you never know!

According to this carbon footprint calculator, in planting this many trees we may have come close to offsetting the amount of carbon emissions I put into the atmosphere with my car for one year. The the website cautions that there are a lot of variables to consider, however, including that they calculate the carbon absorption as though the tree were growing in a tropical area, which these trees definitely are not!

Tomorrow both Gord and I are off to the CSA farm this time. It will be neat to see how the onions I helped plant last time are doing, and just how many more things are growing!

Update: Ack! The deer (I think) have eaten the tops of the maples and pulled two of them right out! I'm going to try putting some tomato cages around them (the trees, not the deer).

Friday, 23 May 2008

Be it resolved....

This weekend I'm not going to be able to be outside as much as I'd like, because I have a union meeting to go to in a semi-distant city. This irked me at first, because I love my weekends. I love being outside in the yard if I can -- it's a necessary antidote to the regularly stressful, inside job I have all week long.

But then I remembered that part of this weekend's meeting is to submit proposed resolutions which will then be put to a vote by our membership at our convention in the Fall. Our union represents all the direct employees of the Alberta government and tons of people in assorted health care and educational jobs. It represents over 64 000 of us, from clerical staff, to jail guards, to nurses, to park wardens, to school custodians, to social workers and psychologists, to extended care workers. We are quite a diverse group. And so I thought, what an opportunity to bring something into the awareness of such a large group of people all at once!

So this is my draft resolution proposal:

Whereas AUPE is an organization dedicated to the fair and just treatment of its workers, and whereas AUPE also has a strong interest in human rights and equity among all workers, regardless of trade union membership, be it resolved that:

AUPE staff and members use organically produced, fair trade coffee, tea and cocoa products at AUPE headquarters and at all AUPE functions, and that AUPE encourages the use of fair trade products at the facilities it patronizes on a regular basis (e.g., hotels, conference centres, restaurants, caterers, etc.).

We'll see how this goes over at the meeting, and if the wording gets stronger or weaker in order to be approved for submission to the convention....

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Some blog policies...

Lately I've had a few comments posted about which I've been ambivalent. I had no problem with the content of the comments, but I didn't like that the commenters chose to include a link to a commercial website. Since I'm not a billboard, I don't want my blog to become one either, even in a small way. So I've deleted those comments. Maybe those people will come back and comment in their personal capacity instead of their commercial capacity. But maybe not, and that's OK too.

I really like the community aspect of blogging, with the sharing of ideas, encouragement, and even outrage at times. I also like it when commenters point out flaws in my logic, or mention other aspects of a situation I may not have thought of, or fully considered. By and large, these are the type of comments that people post here. I'm still amazed that people comment at all since this blog largely consists of my ramblings as I talk to myself and track my personal development as I think about and do things in new ways. What I didn't anticipate when starting this blog is that there would one day be some comments posted that are mostly just ways to direct traffic to another site --one that's selling something. This is fairly hilarious actually, given the very modest traffic to this site.

So, with that lengthy explanation, I've decided to post the following blog polices, borrowing heavily from Chile (with her permission of course!):

1. This blog will remain ad-free.

2. I will allow no free ads on my blog disguised as comments.

3. If I post about a book or an item, it is because I like it and think other people might find it similarly useful or helpful, not because I've been paid or asked to talk about it for some kind of secondary gain. (That's not likely to happen anyway, but just in case.) People are welcome to leave comments about something they love as well, but comments left by someone representing a commercial enterprise, even a 'green' one, will be deleted. I'm not doing this to sell stuff or to help companies sell their stuff.

4. Memes are fun, as long as they are relevant to the content and purpose of this blog, and don't begin to resemble chain mail. I'm likely to break meme 'rules' on a whim.

5. Diverse and contradictory viewpoints are welcome in the comments as long as they are expressed in a respectful and open minded manner.

6. Added March 8, 2009: Swearing will not be tolerated. Comments that contain swearing or other obscene language will be deleted.

7. Also added March 8, 2009: Anonymous posting has been turned off. It is my firm view that if you aren't willing to sign your name (even a pseudonym!) to your comments, they are better left unsaid. We are all accountable for what we say.

That is all. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Big Garden Update!

The big garden is almost done! Looking back, it has been only three weeks since we started dealing with the huge brush pile, and now we have a garden that is of a size that we should actually be able to get a decent amount of produce out of it for ourselves and our two veggie-loving guinea pigs.

You may notice that this garden is right in the ground - no raised beds at all, which was my original plan. It seems like the raised beds weren't meant to be.

It started off when Gord accidentally told the lumber yard to cut six boards in half, instead of three. Then yesterday when our farmer friend came by with his small tractor, he told us that our boards were clearly treated lumber, not untreated lumber and that this wouldn't be good to contain dirt for food-growing purposes. I thought the lumber looked greenish when we got it, but I figured since we had asked for untreated lumber, it was indeed untreated. But I thought wrong. Then, when our farmer friend used his tractor with the rototiller attachment, he found really good soil under there. "Sandy loam" he called it, which, when amended with some well rotted manure that we also got from the farmer, the garden patch looked terrific!

Changes that cause me to deviate from my plan will often really throw me off for a while. But I've been trying to be less attached to certain outcomes, and this time it took me just a few minutes to adapt to the new situation instead of the hour or two it usually takes, while I sit and stew and wish things could be the way I wanted them to be. This time I managed to realize that that time would be much better spent planting than fretting and moping.

And by the end of the day, we had a garden!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

A few newsy bits....

The wood for the new garden beds is here! And tomorrow we will be picking up compost and our farmer neighbor is kindly bringing his tractor over to move the last of the dirt/wood piles and clear the area where I'll be putting the raised beds in. Very exciting!

Also, the Simple Prosperity book from David Wann came in the mail on Friday, the copy he kindly sent me to replace the one I raffled off. This book has some kind of karma going on, I must say! Wifemothermaniac, have you received your copy yet? It should definitely be there by now...

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Saturday morning greens...

All of a sudden things are turning green around here! That fresh, light green of Spring. I went outside to take some pictures...

The lettuce and spinach in the whiskey barrels are coming along nicely:

The birch tree and its catkins:

The kale is still adorable!

The barley is up already!

New buds on the pincherry tree, along with a slightly out-of-focus ant:

Tiny leaves on the aspen poplar trees:

Time to go back outside and weed, right after I make a cup of tea to take out there with me, of course...

Happy Saturday to all!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Places that Scare You: Book Review

I've finished the first of the two books I'm reading for Green Bean's Challenge. Here's my review of the first one....

Pema Chodron is an author whom I only recently discovered. I was browsing through my favorite used bookstore one day last Fall, and came across one of her books, entitled, "Start Where you Are." Intrigued, I picked it up. Flipping through it, I found that it was a book about Buddhism and meditation that was written in a plain, down-to-earth style. A lot of other books on such topics always seemed to be very esoteric, taking a lot of concentration to get through a few paragraphs, and not being all that enjoyable to read. (I read a lot of those kind of books while going to grad school, so I tend to avoid them these days.) But this book was different: both the topic and the writing style drew me in right away. So I bought it. And I loved it.

But that's not the book I'm supposed to be reviewing! Anyway, after reading and loving that book, I ordered two more of hers online: "When Things Fall Apart," and "The Places that Scare You." By this time I was becoming more than passingly familiar with concepts like peak oil and the rapidly escalating effects of climate change, and I thought that it would be good to know what to do when things fell apart and when I am scared. I read "When Things Fall Apart" first, and then moved on to this book. There is no way that I am going to be able to do this book justice, because I'm quite certain I don't fully understand it. But I will write about the things I did gain some understanding in.

The complete title of this book is, "The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times." Like the other two books of hers I've read, the core teaching is that we each have a vulnerable and soft heart (called "bohdichitta" in Sanskrit) and that accessing it underneath all our protective habits is what enables us to be compassionate. Removing these protective habits is difficult. Leaving our tender heart and mind out there, raw and in the open, is more than a little scary. The book moves through lessons about how we can approach this scary place and then stay there, fearlessly. Doing so, even a little bit, increases our capacity for compassion and our ability to show it.

One of the first ways of becoming more open-hearted is to get better at knowing our fears instead of resisting them. Paying attention to them, in a way that is curious and friendly, rather than judgmental and shaming. Getting to know them as part of ourselves we accept, rather than reject or at least avoid. About this, Pema Chodron says, "The radical approach of bohdichitta practice is to pay attention to what we do. Without judging it we train in kindly acknowledging whatever is going on. Eventually we might decide to stop hurting ourselves in the same old ways."

Meditation is the primary way described to engage in this curiosity, and to learn to stay with ourselves when there are things we'd really rather not think about or feel. With practice we can get better at relaxing into the realities of life, including the painful parts. Pema describes the practice of meditation beautifully: "It is a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness towards ourselves, and for parting the curtain of indifference that distances us from the suffering of others. It is our vehicle for learning how to be a truly loving person."

Once we have been able to access this "bohdichitta" in ourselves, the book describes how we can practice directing it out there, into the world. This is important because compassion "has been likened to a drop of fresh springwater. Put it on a rock in the sunshine, it will soon evaporate. If we put it in the ocean however, it will never be lost." We are all drops in the ocean: fundamentally interconnected even when thousands of miles apart.

This all sounds great, but what about when bad things happen or when we feel angry, mean and selfish? Pema says that we can look directly at the fear that comes along with these things, and use the practices she describes to maintain our open heart and natural wisdom, rather than close it back up and ignore it again. "We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us up and make us kinder." She describes several ways to practice getting better at responding to problematic circumstances and negative emotions, rather than habitually reacting to them.

So how might all of this apply when thinking about the changes that are happening in our world? Pema says outright that "our personal attempts to live humanely in this world are never wasted. Choosing to cultivate love rather than anger just might be what it takes to save the planet from extinction." So what I've learned is that even though I am scared and things could very well fall apart, there are things to be done and I can do them. I don't have to do the same thing I've always done in the same way I've always done it. I can learn new skills and let go of old assumptions. I can be afraid and still do what needs doing. Every word that is kind instead of angry, helps. Every seed planted helps. Every smile helps. Every skill learned helps. Every neighborly act helps. Every hungry mouth fed helps.

Every drop of water added to the ocean of interconnection helps.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The CSA is famous!

While helping out on the CSA last weekend, a reporter came to interview the farmers as part of an article she was writing for Vue Weekly magazine on the local food movement in the Edmonton area. Well today, Gord spied the new edition of the magazine and lo and behold, the article was in there already! There is a great picture of Graham on the tractor/transplanter and some really neat info about other local food happenings in our area. How cool is that!!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

A great day at the CSA!

It was another fair weather weekend, and this time I finally made it out to the CSA farm!

It was a Saturday perfect for onion planting, and by the end of the day I had helped in the planting of 4 thousand baby onions! There were four of us working on this task all day - Graham and Alison the farmers, along with myself and one other shareholder, Ben.

Our first task was to gently remove the baby onions from their greenhouse flats, separate them and shake off most of the soil mix (into a bin for reuse). Then we placed them in special trays lined with moistened burlap, to fend off the dry air made worse by the brisk wind. After this was done, the trays were mounted on the transplanting attachment, which is hooked up to the back of the small tractor.

As you can seen in the picture below, the transplanter is sort of like a paddle wheel. Each paddle consists of a soft rubber cup that firmly but gently grasps each individual onion and plants it, as the wheel goes around. Two people sit on the transplanter (you can seen the yellow seat backs there) and alternate placing the individual onions into the rubber cups as they come around. The onions are spaced out one every four inches, so the paddle wheel turns fairly quickly! After a while I got the hang of it, but not before planting a few onions upside down!

Afterwards, it was very rewarding to see all the neat rows of onion shoots lined up in the field, ready to be watered by the drip irrigation system. Ben, the other shareholder there that day commented aptly, "These onions are going to taste really good when we get them!" Yup, they sure are.

The farmers made the day very enjoyable, answering all of our questions and showing us how their organic operation works. Graham described how he lets some fields lie fallow in certain years, and how he uses green manures and nitrogen-fixing crops to keep the soil rich in nutrients. We were encouraged to look around, take breaks as we felt like it and reminded that "it's got to be fun." I sure had fun, and I wouldn't doubt it for a second if the baby onions knew it!

At the end of the day a reporter from Vue Weekly magazine came to the farm. She was doing an article for an upcoming 'food edition' of their magazine. She had already interviewed an agriculture professor, as well as people at the Peas On Earth Organic farm, and the proprietor of one of my favorite restaurants, Bacon. Among other things, the reporter asked if we thought that eating locally and organically was a trend with people we knew. I answered in the affirmative, but added that I see it as more than just a trend, that it will become just the way people eat, again. We talked a bit about how escalating fuel prices will be part of this, but also people's increasing interest in knowing what their food does, and does not, contain.

It was a great day at the CSA!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Creating an Edible Landscape

Earlier this week Gord and I attended a class put on by Edmonton's Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan. The class was held in the lush environs of Salisbury Greenhouse - I can't remember ever having a greener classroom! Plants everywhere, nicely humid air, the sound of fountains in the background, filtered light coming through the greenhouse roof and later, the sound of rainfall.

Here is the description of the class:

"Creating an Edible Landscape - Growing your own food can be extremely satisfying with great benefits for your health, your pocketbook and the environment. Based on permaculture principles, this workshop will explore unique approaches to integrating fruits, berries, herbs and annual and perennial vegetables throughout the landscape. "

This was a fantastic class, and all for the great price of 5 dollars! It was very well attended, and almost everyone there was scribbling notes about all of the different types of edible plants that are suited to our Zone 3a plant hardiness area.

I'm amazed at the variety of plants we can grow here! For example, we can grow several varieties of pears and plums in addition to apples. There are even several types of cherry trees that are hardy enough to survive our winters, and get this: grapes! There is a hardy kiwi tree that will grow here, too. There are lots of berries that are native to this area, such as Saskatoons, and Sea Buckthorn. The Beaked Hazelnut tree is native to Alberta as well.

The instructor also talked about the beauty of food plants, and how they go well in any garden, whether it be for decoration or not. As you can see from the picture, Rainbow chard is gorgeous, and there are so many different colors of kale too. He described how to create a 'spiral herb garden' which is made from a small mound of earth, that takes on different micro climates depending on which side of the mound the herbs are on-- oregano and rosemary go on the sunny side, parsley on the shady side, and lower down. Plus, the mound creates more surface area, and visual interest, than a flat spot would. I couldn't take notes fast enough! Fortunately, a comprehensive list of plants native to Alberta and edible are available on his website, here.

He spoke for a while about Thomas Pawlick's book, The End of Food, and how for example, a tomato contains fewer vitamins and more fat (!) and sodium than it did 30 years ago. He recalled how a nutritionist at one of his workshops had commented on this being the reason why the Canada Food Guide has to keep revising its portions of fruit and vegetables upwards, because the industrially grown varieties just don't have the vitamins and nutrients that they used to.

It was a most informative and enjoyable way for Gord and I to spend the evening, and work on the Independence Days challenge at the same time!

Gorgeous rainbow chard picture courtesy this flickr site

Friday, 9 May 2008

May Challenge Update

Well, some things are going better than others.

It appears I am not up for the Throwdown. I'm mostly failing at this. I'm sure there is almost as much un-recyclable plastic in the kitchen garbage can as there always was. I've managed to save or re-use a couple things, but this doesn't happen very often. I saved the plastic resealable wrapper from a greeting card to use as an envelope to save seeds when the time comes. I saved a metal closure from my bag of seed potatoes, but I don't know what to do with it yet. It's just in the doo-dad bag in the junk drawer for now. And I've saved a few lids from frozen juice containers to use in my as-yet-unbuilt solar oven contraption. Plus, I've got a cold, so my recycled tissue use is at an all-time high.

Going slightly better is my participation in the Be A Bookworm challenge. I've made some headway in my Pema Chodron book, and have started the Blue Gold book as well.

I'm making the most progress in Sharon's Independence Days challenge, although this is probably due to the fact that it coincides with gardening season in my hemisphere. I've been able to do one of the actions almost every day, on average. I've cobbled together a simple spreadsheet to keep track of what I'm doing when, and that's kind of fun. You can take a look at it here. (Although the format in Google Docs isn't as nice as the original Excel)

I had also planned to write more letters to my elected representatives, but I still don't have anything down on paper yet for those. No word back yet on the letter I wrote to my provincial representative, but it's only been just over a week since I sent it.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to take June off from official challenges, and just try and incorporate the things I'm expanding on from challenges in March, April and May more into my daily lifestyle.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Little Garden, Big Garden

Last year I had a garden for the first time, and I started small. Very small: a 4X4 'square foot' garden. It turned out pretty well for a first effort, but I had started it quite late, and things never really had a chance to grow as big as they might have. And I planted a few things that really weren't suited to the location, but of course I didn't know that then. And one thing I planted wasn't even edible!

But this year I managed to get this little garden in almost a month earlier. My mistake last year was thinking that I had to wait until the last frost date (around May 20th here) to plant. But later on it dawned on me that that applies to plants that are already leafed out and flowering, not to seeds!

So in the Little Garden this year, I've planted (from top left across to bottom right):

Early Alberta Corn, Ethiopian Blue Tinge Wheat, Golden Flax, Barley
Golden Beet, Early Tall Leaf Beet, Earth Chestnuts, Oat Grass (for the guinea pigs)
Danvers Half Long Carrot, Celtuce, Chicory, Garlic
Danver's Half Long Carrot, Gem Turnip, Senger Spinach, Bunching Onions

The first row, with the corn and the grains is pretty experimental - I just want to see what happens before I plant them in a larger area. Off to the right in the white planter (with the broken rim) is a whole bunch more garlic. Gord was none too pleased with this -- he wanted more corn! I assured him that we would be planting more corn once the Big Garden was ready. However, the Big Garden is still mostly a cratered-looking area, which used to be a large brush/log pile. We arranged for a fire permit and over the past two weeks we've been burning 5 year's accumulation of brush and rotten logs. So the Big Garden will be somewhat behind schedule.

Here is the "before" picture of the brushpile:

And here is "after:"

That's Gord in there, doing all the heavy dirty work!

My plan is to build two, or maybe three raised 4X8 foot beds for this area and plant potatoes, squash, more carrots, more corn, cucumbers, beans and peas. We'll also plant some extra potatoes outside the raised beds, just to see how well they grow when planted directly in our fairly sandy clay soil.

So that is the story of the Little Garden and the Big Garden, so far. There should be more to tell in the coming weeks....

Monday, 5 May 2008

A type of hearing impairment...

We had made plans to go to the CSA farm yesterday to help with the Spring planting along with the other farm helpers. Unfortunately, we didn't end up going, for reasons that really pointed out to me how out of tune I am with what farming is all about.

It dawned on me later that farmers plant when the weather and the land say the time is right, and everything else is secondary. So next time, I will listen more to what nature is saying, and err on the side of generosity and taking a chance, rather than wait for reminders that are at a remove from nature, like extra phone calls and emails.

I shook my head at myself afterwards thinking, why do I need another email or phone call, when the gorgeous weather is calling out: "It's planting time! Come help with the planting!"

I found out later that there was lots and lots of planting going on, and that all hands were, and still are, welcome. Ah, farmers. They don't discriminate against people like me, who have the dreaded H.N.I. disorder: "Hearing Nature Impairment. " I bet they've got the cure for it, too: equal parts dirt and community.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Nice things on a Saturday morning...

...pansy sprouts in the sunshine.... warm enough to open the windows...

...the sound of frogs in the pond at last... tea and warm cereal...

...time to appreciate these things....

Happy Saturday!

Letter sent, letters planned

So I finally sent the letter to my Alberta MLA earlier this week, by email and regular post. I was able to get it down to one double sided page, with some creative editing and by simplifying the font and maxing out the page margins. I'm reasonably happy with how it turned out, in that it provides an overview of some the things involved in a 'joyfully moderate" lifestyle (as David Wann would say) while pointing out some specific concerns and ideas. We'll see what kind of response I get back, if any.

I have a couple more letters brewing in my head that I will be composing over the next few weeks. I really want to send one to the Premiere again, because I am extremely unimpressed with his handling of the matter of the ducks that drowned in a toxic, oily tailings lake. I will be sending a letter to the so-called provincial Environment minister as well. It will take some effort to keep these letters written in a civil tone, I can tell that already.

I'm also going to write to our municipal council and mayor about all the farmland that is being sold off around here to be turned into acreage subdivisions. We live in an acreage subdivision ourselves, and I guess the only thing that keeps me from being a complete hypocrite is that our subdivision is quite old and was never farmland. It was aspen forest though, so I'll need to tread carefully and take care to remain humble and not contentious. In both the letters and life in general.

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8

The highest goodness resembles water
Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention
It stays in places that people dislike
Therefore it is similar to the Tao

Dwelling with the right location
Feeling with great depth
Giving with great kindness
Speaking with great integrity
Governing with great administration
Handling with great capability
Moving with great timing

Because it does not contend
It is therefore beyond reproach

As translated by Derek Lin

Thursday, 1 May 2008

May Challenge Extravaganza!

Well, I may have bitten off more than I can chew this month, but we'll see how this goes. I've signed up for three challenges in May!

The first one I will enjoy immensely, and have no trouble completing. It's Green Bean Dream's Be a Bookworm in May challenge. She is asking people to read one environmentally relevant book this month, and then post a review of it at the end of the month. I've chosen two books, which you can read about in this post from last month when I first joined up.

The second challenge comes from Sharon at Casaubon's Book. Sharon is calling her challenge Independence Days. She is challenging us to become more food-independent, by doing one or more of the following things everyday, or every week:

1. Plant something.

2. Harvest something.

3. Preserve something.

4. Prep something.

5. Cook something.

6. Manage your reserves.

7. Work on local food systems.

I've been trying to do several of these things, but it's been sort of hit-and-miss, as my interest and motivation comes and goes. I've signed up to do these things once a week - my idea is to do one of the seven things each day, so that by the end of the week I will have done all of them at least once. This will help me work on doing more of the things I should (harvest, preserve, prep, manage) while still doing the things I like (plant, cook, local food systems). I may concoct a spreadsheet of some kind to keep me on track. I'll post a link to it if I do....

The third challenge might just do me in. Gord rolled his eyes when I told him about it. It is part of Crunchy's Extreme Eco Throwdown. There is no way I could do all the things in the Throwdown, so I've picked just one: generate no non-compostable garbage for a month. I'm starting to think I will fail within days, if not hours. We compost a lot of stuff, and we're trying to buy less-packaged things, but the garbage can eventually still gets filled with non-recyclable plastic bits, twist ties that have twisted their final twist, lids from juice containers that the recycle depot won't take. So this challenge will radically change my shopping habits and challenge my ability to think of alternative uses for things instead of throwing them away. So as not to induce a complete mental breakdown, I'm limiting this challenge to non-bathroom garbage only. (Interpretation: I already use the Diva Cup and Lunapads, but I'm not giving up toilet paper!)

Fraidy-face courtesy this blog