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!


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


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.


what I’ve been up to January 23, 2010

…because I haven’t been blogging. 🙂

I’ve been working away diligently at being a mom and at being an awesome social worker.

I’ve been reading lots of blogs about yummy, frugal, local meals:

I’ve been thinking and researching local food (on the ‘net) and the academic literature around this whole food movement. I picked up a few books from my university’s library. They are:

  • The Slow Food Story by Geoff Andrews, 2008.
  • French Beans and Food Scares: Culture and Commerce in an Anxious Age by Susanne Freidberg, 2004.
  • Outgrowing the Earth: the Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures by Lester R. Brown, 2004.
  • Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry is Killing Us by Christopher D. Cook, 2004.

I didn’t have much time at the library, so I just grabbed according to publication date and then interest in the title or back jacket blurb. I don’t know that I’m going to read them all – I really don’t have a lot of time, I have papers to write on a few different subjects. Diet for a Dead Planet sounds a little grim for me , but the back jacket quotes Frances Moore Lappe (author of Diet for a Small Planet, a cookbook I remember fondly from my childhood) about how the book can “motivate change before it’s too late… we don’t have to be victims.” So I read self-empowerment in that, a bottom-up, grassroots approach to changing food production. Outgrowing the Earth seems like it will be similar, but with a global warming, population surging, environmental science approach, rather than a political, economic, health care approach to the topic. I’m not too into grim, scary, however. I don’t need all the evidence recounted to me, I find it overwhelming and depressing. I’d rather skip right to the ‘what to do’ chapters.

The Slow Food Story seems interesting so far; I’ve read half of the chapter on the history of the movement, in Italy in the 70’s as an offshoot of leftist political action. I like that premise – that the pleasure taken in eating well can be a political action. That by making ethical food choices, I am making a political statement. That is empowering to me because I feel like I have no political clout in this country, even though I exercise my democratic right to vote. My vote counts for squat because of the party system. By participating in the politics of food production, I’m participating in direct democracy. This might be the book to focus on for this semester.

I also read a few great blog posts about packaged foods, quitting grocery shopping, and the ethics of raising chickens and buying seeds. These posts have got me thinking so much, I’m planning separate blog posts about each topic. I am fascinated by ethics. I’ve taken a couple of courses at my university on ethics, “morality and politics” and “ethics and public policy.” (The prof who taught those is currently teaching “environmental ethics” which I would have loved to take, if it hadn’t conflicted with a course required for my degree.) I think this journey I’ve begun is heavily related to doing what I think is right, moral, ethical. I think we have a responsibility, a duty of care, to one another and to this planet. If we are doing things that are killing plants, animals, ecosystems, entire human cultures, we are doing things that are wrong.

But are we doing harm intentionally? And do we see the harm we’re doing? Are we responsible for discovering and rectifying the damage? Can we compel others to do the same?

Thinking deep thoughts, that’s what I’ve been up to.


today’s report January 11, 2010

Filed under: Food,Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 9:06 pm
Tags: , , , ,

There’s not too much to report here; today was my first day of classes for the semester. It’s going to be a busy one, I’ve got a 3 day/week practicum, in an elder care facility (called a “Life Enrichment Centre”), plus two days of on-campus classes, and my research assistant job. Also, the kids, the hubs and the sister/roommate to feed, etc.

I’ve been talking about my new adventure, hoping to spark some brainstorming and to give me some new ideas. So far, I’ve talked with my sister about coming up with alternatives to plastic produce bags to keep my lettuce and celery crisp in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. She suggested things like root cellars, or burying root veggies in plastic totes with sand or straw. Not quite what I was going for , but definitely on the right track. Her boyfriend, however, didn’t really get why I’m doing this. I mentioned it was partially about wanting to shop less, and he suggested he could shop for me, which was very thoughtful, and somewhat cute, but also beside the point. I’m thinking I’m going to try experimenting with dampened tea towels.

Today the kids and I popped into the grocery store to pick up some milk and some chicken for dinner. Shrimp and ham were on sale, so I grabbed a package of each. My first thought on looking at the shrimp was that, despite being only $10, a savings of $8, they still cost a lot – they are from Asia!! They are freshwater prawns from Bangladesh! I’m glad this is a journey comprised of teeny, tiny baby steps. If it weren’t, I don’t know that I’d know what or how to feed my family.

At the checkout, the cashier gave me a new cloth bag, which was, she informed me, for spending over $25 today. Chalk up one point for sustainability?! Then we walked across the parking lot to the produce store, and we placed a few veggies into recycled plastic produce bags! That’s right, not only did I remember to take my cloth bags out of the trunk and use them, but I rinsed out, dried, folded, put in the trunk and reused some of those plastic produce bags!

I’m gonna call that a win.


another one about plastic January 10, 2010

Filed under: Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 9:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday I wrote about the state of recycling in the city of Surrey and our new inability to put plastic bags in our curbside recycling bins. Also, I wrote about my inability to remember to bring my cloth bags into the store with me when I shop. Today’s theme is similar, except I’m thinking about all the plastic bags we ‘consume’ that aren’t grocery bags. Bread bags. Bags inside boxes of things like crackers and cereal, or pasta. Bagged veggies like cauliflower and lettuce and carrots. Cheese wrapped in plastic. Also, other plastic wrappers that aren’t quite a bag – cellophane around boxed tea bags. Chip bags and the bags coffee comes in. Or are those foil? Can they be recycled? And what about children’s toys? They are placed inside individual plastic shells, which are elasticked or wired to plastic-impregnated cardboard. Is this plastic recyclable? I put it in the bin, but do they chuck it into the garbage at the recycling plant?

My Nana was born on a farm in Manitoba. She grew up during the Depression and the 2nd World War. She went to school, became a nurse, and got the heck outta Dodge. She spent her whole adult life living in the suburbs in BC. She grew gardens and baked her own bread, but she was certainly glad for modern conveniences. When my son was an infant, I tried out some cloth diapers a friend had loaned to me – not old-fashioned cloth nappies with pins, a new-fangled variety that was shaped like a disposable diaper and had elastic at the legs and Velcro closures. One time she was visiting, and I was dealing with the diapers – trying to fold them out of the dryer, with the Velcro clinging to everything, and dealing with a bucket to soak the dirty ones until laundry time. She wondered why I was going to all the trouble. She thought disposables were so much easier, and that I had it so much better off than either my mother or she had had it, because I didn’t have to mess about with cloth diapers if I didn’t want to. I was easily swayed; life as a single mom was hard enough.

Which brings me to my point: we live like over-consuming gluttons in the Global North. We want everything to be shiny and new. We throw out perfectly usable goods because they’re not the latest and greatest. For example, my cell phone is about 5 years old. My mom gave it to me when she bought a new one. It doesn’t even have a camera. According to the laws of over-consumption, it is ridiculous that I still use this thing (and people actually laugh when they see my phone). But it works. And I don’t need a camera on my phone, that’s why I have a camera.

So I’m trying to find pathways to lowering my consumption in general, and specifically my reliance on plastic packaged products. The major culprits (that I see right now – this may change) are plastic bags for veggies and fruits, bread and coffee. I’ve already stopped placing my veggies and fruits in individual plastic bags at the produce store and I wash out the old plastic produce bags to reuse in the crisper drawer. I’d like to eventually move away from using these plastic bags entirely, but I’m not there, yet. Maybe I could wrap my celery in cloth to prevent it from going limp? Any suggestions?

To avoid plastic bread bags, I’m going to have to get into the habit of making my own, or start buying it from a bakery where I can get around using a new plastic bag each time. This means altering my shopping habits, and making a separate trip from the rest of my groceries. Changing my habits is doable, but also difficult – humans are creatures of habit, of course.

As for coffee, I’m just not sure… Hubby suggests buying coffee in bulk from the grocery store. But hubby doesn’t drink coffee, so he doesn’t know that I am a coffee snob; I don’t like the grocery store brand bulk coffee. I remember when I was a kid, my dad would buy his coffee for a specialty shop. This was before the days of a Starbucks on every other corner, it was actually a local business. They’re not around anymore, but maybe I can find another place? Again, more habits of convenience to change, but that’s the point of this blog, right?


this is how I roll, yo January 9, 2010

Filed under: Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 1:15 pm
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y’know, because I’m so ghetto, with loads of street cred. Na, really, I’m white, white, white. Dude, I’m whiter than white – I’m Anglo-Canadian. And us whitey’s, we know how to consume. We buy so much sh!t. Plastic, plastic, everywhere!!

I didn’t mind so much in the past, probably because I didn’t really notice it, because I could throw so much of it into the blue box (curbside recycling bin). Like, all those grocery store plastic bags – into the bin to be carted away every week. But last January, my city changed recycling service providers, and now they don’t take plastic bags. Before, we sorted out our recycling. Newspapers went in a blue bag, cardboard went in a yellow bag, everything else went in the blue box. Now, we have “single stream” recycling – they dump it all out onto a mechanized assembly line and pay people (probably immigrants making minimum wage) to sort it out. And the plastic bags are a hazard – they can get caught in the mechanism, and possibly start fires.

So the city publishes a garbage/recycling calendar every year, and the January page listed all these details. I didn’t read it until July, of course! I couldn’t figure out why they kept taking my blue and yellow bags away! I was pissed 🙂

But now those plastic bags pile up in my house until I take them with me to the grocery store – they’ve got a bin there to recycle them. This makes our plastic consumption a bit more obvious. One of my New Years goals is to never use another plastic bag again, i.e. to remember to get those cloth bags out of the trunk whenever I go into a store.

So, hubby and I went shopping yesterday. My mom gave us gift cards to the mall for our Christmas presents. Hubby was looking for new clothes. We, of course, left the cloth bags in the trunk. Then we went grocery shopping. It’s pizza-movie night around the ol’ homestead. Also, we were out of milk and eggs. (oh, for the days when we’ll live on a real homestead, and we’ll have our own source of eggs and milk!) It was raining. (I mean pouring buckets, like it can in the Pacific Northwest. This is a rainforest, yo!) We ran into the store, not remembering the cloth bags until we got to the til.


This isn’t going to be as easy as I’d hoped.


this is how it all began January 7, 2010

Filed under: Family,Food,Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 1:56 pm
Tags: ,

… or not.

Because it’s been going for awhile. I’m the 34 year old child of hippies. My mom made her own yogurt. My dad lived in a tepee in someone’s yard one summer. I think I was 6. And before them, there were my farming ancestors. Okay, so the 20th century wasn’t all that productive for my family, farming-wise. But I’m a determined “back-to-the-lander” at least, in my mind. Really, I’m a suburban yuppie, guzzling gas and plastic faster than you can say Wal-Mart.

Speaking of Wal-Mart, the largest one in Canada just opened in my town a year ago. It is massive. My sister won’t set foot in it. It is, in her mind, an evil corporation. But, really, how can it be any different from any of the other corporations out there? I mean, really, Jimmy Pattison may be local, but he’s just as ruthless. So my sister and her boyfriend tell me to shop at Save-On-Foods, not Price-Smart. Because Save-On has a union, and Price-Smart was Pattison’s attempt to break the union… or something, I’m not sure, I probably stopped listening. Because they’re all corporations, and they all care about the bottom line. Profits. Money makes the world go ’round, y’know?

So I have another blog. It is intelligently and originally titled “random musings” and there I talk about all kinds of stuff, kind of whatever’s on my mind that I feel is worthy of publishing on the world wide web… but here I plan to be more focused. Here I plan to chart my progress toward reaching certain “goals” which you can read about in the tabbed pages, above.

Here is where I develop my master plan for creating a more sustainable future for my family.