Aquilegia formosa

a garden update – sans photos April 18, 2010

Almost a month ago, my 5+ year old cell phone up and died on me. Somehow, I ended up with a fancy new Blackberry. It has a web browser and a camera, as well as tons of other bells and whistles that I cannot figure out how to use. I have been taking pictures of my garden and my seed starting trays on a weekly basis, all intended for posts over here. But I cannot figure out how to upload these pictures properly. I have no idea how to get them from my phone to my computer. I know I can upload them to facebook, and I know I can write wordpress posts on my phone which I can upload, but when I try to add a picture to those posts, they are HUGE!! – way wider than the post itself, filling up the screen. I’ve tried to find help on the internet, but it’s much too technical for me – something about the “device memory” and a memory card… I think I know what the memory card is, my husband got a new Blackberry at the same time I did (that’s the “somehow” reason I mentioned, above) and he put music onto his phone using this tiny memory card somewhere behind the phone battery that slipped into a regular sized memory card… but that means figuring out how to move, or copy all my pictures from the “device memory” to the memory card, and then finding tweezers so I can manipulate that minuscule card, and then finding the regular memory card that the minuscule card fits into… I want instant gratification here, y’all!

So, that’s my dilemma, and here’s my post, sans photos. (I’m Canadian. We learn French here.)

Firstly, I’d like to add a link to the post I wrote last year with pictures of my garden. I’m going to copy a couple of those pictures into this post, and when I finally figure out the crackberry photo thing, I’ll post some pictures from this year.

This is a photo of the main garden, and two of our 4 main beds. At the top of the picture is an area with a path marked out by a few 1″x2″s. This area is now a triangular-shaped bed where we intended to plant potatoes last weekend. My 7 year old’s baseball practice and a couple of papers of mine got in the way of that project. My lovely sister/roommate spent last Sunday tweaking the irrigation system, instead.

Not much has changed, layout-wise. We’ve adjusted the beds a little to make the pathways between them larger (very important to have room to shuffle your feet when weeding or harvesting from a squatting position). Also, the pea netting frame has been moved to the next bed (which isn’t visible in this photo), and the brassicas were planted in last year’s pea bed (this was an early spring photo, so it mostly shows lettuces and spinach in that bed.)

Here you can see the very corner of this year’s pea bed, as well as last year’s tomato bed.

The two new beds we had started building did not progress, so the half-frame for the second one has been removed, and is now back to lawn (well, dirt and seed and some baby grass, but mostly weeds. I don’t mind weeds!)

This year we’re putting squash there, and my sister is building a frame for them from 2″x4″s – there are now 3 screwed onto each end, and she’ll use wire between each end. It may seem quite terrible for a rotation to move from tomatoes to squash (same family, same diseases, the avoidance of which is the point of rotational gardening). However, last year’s tomatoes grew terribly because of the soil we used. This was a brand new bed in this picture, taken in April of 2009. A month before, it was lawn (well, mostly dandelions). We used free compost from the GVRD dump to fill this bed. It’s heavy on the wood chips, and I don’t think it was well-composted enough to have any nitrogen available for the plants. This year we added a tractor scoop of organic veggie mix, so we’re expecting the squash to do just fine 🙂

I intended to have a fall garden last year (I’m kind of hit-and-miss with that), and, because I got married in September (on the cheap – did most of the planning/work ourselves, le sigh), in August I bought brassica starts from my local garden center. Poor things didn’t make it into the ground until the first week of September, and thus did not produce in the fall. However, we’ve had broccoli and Brussels sprouts shoots these last two months, so who an I to complain?!?

So far we’ve transplanted a bunch of overwintering seeds/starts/”volunteers”. I’ve got kale, Swiss chard, spinach and broccoli growing happily. I’ve seeded lettuce and radishes and peas. We’ve started beans and squash and tomatoes inside (as well as my boy’s marigolds 🙂 kids love gardening, too!).

I have pictures of my baby plants, showing their progress. Maybe sometime soon I’ll be able to share those pictures!

 

moving towards a goal I can never hope to reach… April 17, 2010

Filed under: Sustainable,TEOTWAWKI — aquilegiaformosa @ 1:14 pm
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Recently Kate from Living the Frugal Life wrote this post about self-sufficiency… or, as she wrote in the comments, “perhaps it would be more accurate to say a lesser degree of dependence.” She described her efforts towards self-sufficiency with the following: garlic, eggs, potatoes, bread, fruits and other vegetables, and heat/energy. She then posed this question, “so what about you?” in relation to the following areas:

How much does our own skill/labor “count” for in terms of self-sufficiency if we must purchase inputs?
How do you factor in dependence on a locally produced good versus dependence on something produced very far from where you live?  Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced?  Why, or why not?
If you depend upon “infrastructure” (e.g. fruit trees, livestock, PV panels, etc.) that you own, but that will eventually die or wear out, how do you gauge your level of self-sufficiency?

I’ve been reading Kate’s blog for over a year, and I find her a consistent source of inspiration in my own journey towards less reliance on the industrial food system. I think her goal of self-sufficiency and her exercise in evaluating her progress is admirable, and also not easily quantifiable. If I were to attempt a similar assignation of percentages to my own efforts, I imagine I’d be hovering in the 10 to 20% range!

For starters, I don’t own property, and the property I rent is too small to enable me to legally keep animals such as chickens or rabbits. The goal is to buy a property larger than an acre within 3 years, using the proceeds from the sale of my mother’s condo as the down payment. Until that time, upgrading heating and energy efficiency isn’t even a part of the picture.

My concerns at this point are less about self-sufficiency and more about developing the skills to maintain a degree of independence and food security. In my community near Vancouver, BC, food security is considered important enough that the Health Authority provides partial funding for food security councils in several municipalities. Their activities have revolved around creating Harvest Box programs and Farmer’s Markets. The goal is more related to economic accessibility to healthy, local food.

I don’t feel I can respond to all of Kate’s questions, but I’d like to tackle this one:

Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced?  Why, or why not?

Yes, I certainly do think we are more self-sufficient if we can source products from our local communities. I say this because self-sufficiency for me has nothing to do with being able to provide all my own food from my property alone. I think the goal is really self-sufficiency at a community level. I neither have the skill-set or the interest to provide for all of my needs. For example, I have no idea how to work on my car’s engine, but I would consider myself self-sufficient if I could barter with a local mechanic for such work. Further, in a low-energy future (if TSHTF, as Kate so eloquently put it), when I’m not driving my car, I still doubt I’ll have any new mechanical or engineering or construction or plumbing know-how, and I’m sure I’ll still be needing to trade for such services.

As for the skills I have that I could use to trade or barter for such services, I believe I’d be relying on my green thumb and on my inter-personal skills. I am a social work student, and I have spent much time honing my counselling and advocacy skills. As well, I am adept with understanding and negotiating policy. I can’t see these skills being unuseful in a low-energy future. Additionally, I have a lifetime’s background in vegetable gardening. My maternal grandmother was born on a farm, and while her career, coupled with social factors like the Depression and the War, had her leave the family farm, she always kept a kitchen garden, as did my mother, as do I. My father is also a gardener, and my maternal aunt and my two sisters and I have all worked in garden centers. I have an extensive knowledge base and history of practical gardening experience from which to draw. Recently I’ve been coveting a greenhouse and I’ve been working at developing practices to consistently extend my growing season. I can see many possibilities here for trading products or services.

I believe individual self-sufficiency, as in complete self-reliance for the stuff of life, is not possible for human beings, and I don’t think it ever has been in our history. We are communal, tribal beings. We are designed to depend on one another. However, I think self-sufficiency at the community level is an admirable goal. Our planet would be much better served by human beings who produced less fossil fuel exhaust.

 

the real food challenge check in March 22, 2010

Filed under: Family,Food — aquilegiaformosa @ 8:18 pm
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My last post, over 3 weeks ago, was a declaration of my intention to participate in a challenge to eat “real food” for a month.
I am officially declaring that to have been a colossal failure.
A week into the challenge, my hubby and I made 2 loaves of bread, one of which was consumed that very evening.
Tonight hubby made cookies.
And that is all we’ve managed to accomplish!!
However, I am still noticing an ongoing transformation of my thinking about food. I am buying fewer and fewer packaged products, even if I am still using store-bought bread, tortillas, crackers, cereal and crumpets.
Today, while shopping with hubby, after watching him grab 3 cans of concentrated pink lemonade, I told him I’d rather choose some fresh juice, as it had likely come from closer to home. I bought some organic unfiltered apple juice from California. Not super-local… But the kids are much less likely to rebel if there’s something to supplement water.
Oh, and speaking of the kids, my boy is surprising ALL of us, and mostly himself, with the foods he’s tried. Hubby’s oatmeal raisin cookies form tonight… And oatmeal for breakfast! (Granted, it WAS instant, but I’m “using it up!” as my English grandfather says – he grew up during the war…)
So the challenge is not a huge failure, after all… it’s gotten me outside of my normal “box”/ frame of reference, and it’s getting me into my family’s world, getting them on board with eating nutritious and sustainable foods.
And that is a wonderful thing!

 

I’m in! February 26, 2010

Filed under: Fight Back Friday,Food,Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 6:38 pm
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With NDiN’s Real Food Challenge, that is.
Yes, I just declared my intention in the comments on this post 🙂 I’m feeling a little nervous, but my kids are on board. They’re excited to help ‘save the planet’ (their term.  7 yr olds are so precocious!)

And I’m also counting this as my very first Fight Back Friday post! I’ve been wanting to participate since the New Year. I finally feel I have something that ‘counts’.

Our goals are:

  1. homemade bread (borrowing sil’s bread maker)
  2. homemade tortillas (stepson prefers these to bread in school lunches)
  3. crackers and granola bars (we’re going to experiment, the kids are going to keep an open mind)
  4. homemade pizza crust every Friday (Pizza Movie Night, our ‘hooray for the end of the week (again, their term :))!’)

Basically, I’m working towards all our own bread products. Cereal will take awhile for my boys, but I’ll try an alternate breakfast every other day. Muffins, or pancakes. Maybe granola or oatmeal? (Granola might be a tough sell!)

The big project is how to fit it all into my crazy schedule. We started eating these foods for a reason – convenience. While I’d dearly love to slow my lifestyle down to the point where it’d be easy to make all these things, the reality is, I’m on the home stretch, education-wise (finishing up 4 out of 5 years to get my BSW), and I just CAN’T slow that down. So I’m looking at how to add on 30 to 60 minutes of baking time a day, when to make what, all that stuff.

For starters, I’m going to pick up the bread maker this weekend, and try a batch. I’ll also try a batch of my stepmother’s 18 hour no-knead bread, and search for some cracker recipes. I’ll make the pizza dough on Thursday during dinner prep, and let it rise in the fridge. (I used to do this a lot, but then I went back to university, so it’s been a few years.)

Wish me luck!

 

on not buying packaged foods February 22, 2010

I started writing this post Jan 22nd, a month ago today, when I saw this post by Chiot’s Run over at NDiN. I chose a title, pasted in the link, then wrote these two notes: “about not buying ‘manufactured foods'” and “no more cereal boxes and bags, etc.” Today I read the same post over at Simple Green Frugal Co-op. It sounded vaguely familiar to me, but cooking from scratch was a staple of my childhood, so I thought it could be that. Turns out I needed to be reminded about this topic.

Then, somehow, I was surfing around, and I landed here, at Bad Human! and started reading some of their ‘top posts’, especially the ones about The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I got to the one on ch7, with a picture of McDonald’s french fries, and I thought about my kids, and their love for McDonald’s. I thought about Kim, the Inadvertent Farmer, and her posts over at NDiN about her Real Food Challenge. I was especially inspired by this one, about her momentary hopeless response to watching Food Inc.

She wrote:

Why care? Why try?

I had to look not farther than the two small faces that sit across from me at the dinner table.  The food system that we are putting in place now will be the food system that my children and grandchildren will be nourished by for the foreseeable future…unless we do something about it now.

When I first read that post, I started another unpublished draft post, where I quoted the following from Kim’s same Food Inc. post:

Starting March 1st and for the whole month I am challenging myself to eat nothing commercially processed that I cannot make myself. No more canned beans, or spaghetti sauce, no more pre-made pasta or tortillas.  Gone will be the crackers, chips, and store-bought cereals.  No meat or dairy that is not local and organic for my husband or pre-made veggie burgers for me. Just real food made from ingredients in their simplest forms…no added corn syrup, fillers, or preservatives.

I cannot change the system by myself, but if enough like-minded people come together I must believe that we can and will make a difference.

I would love for you to join us!  Come back March 1st and see what we have in store…

Then I wrote, “Maybe I will, Inadvertent Farmer, maybe I will. :)” I was momentarily as gung-ho as the Inadvertent Farmer… but I didn’t publish that post. Why? Maybe I was afraid of making such a huge declaration. Not that I think anyone actually reads this blog, but, in some senses it’s a way to hold myself accountable to a personal commitment. I’m not always good at that, I love trying out new things, but get bored when the novelty wears thin. So I devise structures (like this blog) to keep myself interested and, hopefully, committed.

I doubt my ability to be successful at such a challenge. I think of all the foods we eat that fall into this category. I think of my kids, and their pickiness about vegetables and their love of processed crap. I think about my husband; he’s not much different. I think about the button on my sidebar, the one that claims “I’m a Food Renegade!” but am I?

I know I try. When I’m feeling ‘less poor than usual’ I will buy organic packaged foods: crackers, cookies for my kid’s lunches, jams and peanut butter, yogurt, maybe even sometimes cereal. Never milk, or butter, or eggs, or cream, or cheese, or bread or any of the staples of our diet.

I grow a lot of vegetables in my garden, but we’re just coming to the end of the winter, and I don’t have a greenhouse yet, so there’s not much going on out there right now. Although it’s been gorgeous and sunny for days and the plants have all been flushing with new growth for a couple of weeks, now, so things are starting up early this year. 🙂

But giving up processed foods?! What would my family eat? I’ve had great success with introducing new vegetables to my husband; sauteed winter greens with lemon and hot sauce are a new favorite, as are rutabaga’s in the stew. However, my kids won’t eat stew; they won’t eat most winter vegetables. They like chicken nuggets, cereal, peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I know there are things I could make from scratch that they would like, which would reduce our dependency on boughten stuff, like muffins, bread, pierogies, pizza, cookies, even crackers. I can follow a recipe. But I’m already over-scheduled, and I don’t want to make myself crazy.

I’m trying to follow my ‘baby-steps’ principle (can you see the Flylady in your mind’s eye?). I’m trying to make real, sustainable change for my family, which means I can’t do this on my own. I have to solicit their participation, their input. I have to educate my husband about being a “label Nazi”, he wants to buy all sorts of crap. My family is very different from the Inadvertent Farmer’s family. For one thing, she’s vegan. For another, she’s made all her own bread for a long time. She has taken on challenges, like granola instead of cereal, making her own nut milks instead of store bought rice milk, so it’s not like it’s going to be ‘easy’ for her, either. Still, I feel much less prepared to take on a challenge such as this.

So, then, what challenge do I feel comfortable taking on right now, considering midterms and research papers and developing trainings on intimacy and sexuality of long term care facility residents with dementia and developing a community even on anti-racism to mark the International Day  for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? I’ve been in the ‘consciousness raising’ stage too long, it’s time to impact more than just the coffee I buy or the way I grocery shop; it’s time to shift the way my kids and my husband eat, too. We all eat processed, packaged grain products. I’m going to start there. Bread. Tortillas. Pasta. Friday night Pizza Night. Cookies. Pierogies. The things I know they eat every day.

I’ll hold off on their cereal for now, but maybe try oatmeal and granola? They whine when they don’t get what they want. 🙂

 

is it spring yet? February 14, 2010

Filed under: Food,Garden — aquilegiaformosa @ 4:24 pm
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We have been having amazingly warm weather, compared to the last 4 years of ice and snow, very uncommon for the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley. I’ve been seeing cherry blossoms, crocuses and snowdrops blooming. All kinds of bulbs are shooting up green growth, and I’ve seen little red tips on tea roses, as well as a few early blooming rhodos busting out in pink buds.

It’s only February! But I want to get out into my garden, turn the soil, plant some peas. I’ve got white remay cloth, but I suppose I should dry the soil out a bit by covering it with black cloth before I put seeds into the soil.

I’ve been browsing about on Mother Earth News’ website today, and I read this article about growing fresh tomatoes virtually year ’round. I love tomatoes, but in 5 years of gardening on this site, I haven’t produced more than a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes in the actual garden. Mostly I bring the green ones in to ripen in the basement on sheets of newspaper. The article got me excited to get my grow lights and timer set up and to build some kind of high tunnel to fit my current garden beds and tomato cages. Although, with talk of moving sometime this spring/early summer, maybe I should be focusing on potted plants.

 

in which I lower my expectations February 12, 2010

My intentions for this blog have been overwhelming me. I want to post a well-written, carefully thought out article about 2 or 3 times a week. I am just too busy to meet my own expectations! Thus, time to lower the expectations. 🙂 Maybe a post a week, maybe more journal like, and less article like.

I’ve been reading lots of great stuff on the ‘net. A particularly good source has been Surviving the Suburbs, a new-to-me blog about prepping for a low-energy future. Today’s post includes the following:

the key to transforming the world is starting from a mental place of abundance, not scarcity

and

even though we seem to be surrounded by so much, with the consumeristic mindset, we’re actually in a scarcity model, in which we work at meaningless tasks so that we can earn, essentially, worthless currency to buy more stuff that we probably don’t really need.

Another post included a link to the Archdruid Report. That post included this lovely gem:

empire is the methamphetamine of nations

Love it. There isn’t much separating the haves (in the post, the US. I’d say the whole global north) from the have nots (third world countries) except for our high standard of living and our massive energy and resource consumption. It’s a slippery slope, and we’re halfway down.

I also just finished reading the novel “The Book of Negroes”. It was fantastic. It describes how England and other European nations were able to create their empires – by exploitation.