Category Archives: Green Living

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Feeling Defeated in the Garden

The squirrels, caterpillars, birds, and rabbits are beginning to win.

Back in March, I wrote about the squirrels digging in the garden.  Since that post, I’ve tried a number of methods to drive them away: plastic owls, brightly colored pinwheels, repellent powder, and little bags of coyote urine crystals.

I’ve had the best luck with the coyote crystals, but they have to be shaken every few days (which is gross) and they smell (also gross) and they seem to be signalling to the dog that she can poop around and between my raised beds (grossest of all).

Still, I get the occasional excavation, which always seems directed at the roots, and last week something dug the last of my Fire ‘n Ice radishes, took a single bite out of each one, and cast the rest aside.

I’m picking loads of caterpillars off the cauliflower, beets, and remaining watermelon radishes.  While my daughters cheer at the sight of the pretty white, purple, and yellow butterflies flitting about the garden, I grit my teeth in suppressed rage.  As fast as I scrape the eggs off the underside of the leaves, the butterflies return to lay more.

My bush beans are toast.  As are my sweet peas.  Something is snipping off the shoots.  All of the leaves are gone from my beans.  Only stalks are left.  Toward the end of the week, I had managed to get the peas trained to the trellis, but this morning I saw that the tops were gone.  They had been mowed back to stalks and the pretty flowers with their promise of reward were decimated.  The leaves of my peppers have also been neatly snipped away.

I have no idea what is doing this.  Is it a bird?  A rabbit?  Something more sinister?  Was I mistaken in assuming that the family of robins that I welcomed at the top of the drainpipe would only eat worms and insects?  Starlings?

I shudder to think what will happen once the tomatoes and cucumber start to fruit.  If they ever get the chance.

D

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This Means War

I’ve always liked squirrels. I admire their take no prisoners attitude. I giggle at the way they chase each other up and down trees. I am charmed by their ability to steal birdseed from the most complex bird feeders. They’re cute, funny, and full of piss and vinegar.

We have tons of squirrels in our neighborhood. On most days, I can count six or more frolicking around my front yard. They drive my dog crazy. It’s funny.

But there is one squirrel that isn’t satisfied by the delicious acorns in the front yard. No. This squirrel comes to the back yard. Is she braver than the rest? A fearless ninja squirrel too fast and too clever to be caught by my dog? Is she an outcast squirrel, unwelcome at the party in the front yard and forced to run the gauntlet of dogs and owls in the back?

I’ll never know this squirrel’s story, but today she crossed an uncrossable line. Today she went too far. Today she fired a warning shot over my bow and in response, I’ve declared war.

Today, she dug up and stole one of my garlic cloves. One of the cloves that I planted in November and nurtured over the long, bitter winter. One of my precious few garlic cloves.

The war is on sister squirrel. My garden is at stake and you are not welcome to my vegetables.

Garden Plan

Finalized 2014 Garden Plan

As promised, here is my 2014 garden plan!  I am very excited  I’ve already got a few seeds in the ground.  For a list of the specific varieties, check out this post: Gardening has Begun!

Seeds that are already in the ground include Super Snappy pea, Fire ‘n Ice radish, red Swiss chard, and Yugoslavian Red lettuce.  I’m staggering my radish and pea plantings, so I will plant a couple more squares of these in the coming weeks.

In the front yard I’ve also planted my (shockingly expensive) Comfrey seeds and my skullcap.  Healing herbs y’all!  Comfrey is going in the front because it is toxic and I don’t want the kids and dogs eating it.  That stuff is for topical application only (bruises, bumps, etc).

Garden Plan

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Gardening has Begun!

Today is an outside gardening day!  Remember, I’m doing Square Foot Gardening, so my gardening notes will be specific to that method.  For a quick refresher, check out this post from earlier in the year: Garden Planning for 2014: Square Foot Garden Intro

I bought all of my seeds online this year after consulting local websites to find out which varieties grow best in my area.  Here is what I will be planting and where I purchased it:

Burpee

  • Artichoke: Lulu – 3 plants
  • Luffa – 1, seeds
  • Tomato: Black Krim, grafted – 3 plants
  • Tomato: Amish Paste – 2 plant, seeds
  • Tomato: Sunchola – 1 plant, seeds
  • Cucumber: Supremo Hybrid – seeds
  • Pea: Super Snappy – seeds
  • Lettuce: Yugoslavian Red – seeds
  • Lettuce: Braveheart – seeds
  • Radish: Fire ‘n Ice – seeds
  • Herb: Parsley, Single Italian Plain – seeds
  • Hot Pepper: Hot Lemon – seeds
  • Hot Pepper: Hot Jalepeno Early Organic – seeds
  • Carrot: Purple Dragon – seeds
  • Herb: Basil, Plenty – seeds, direct sow
  • Flower: Nasturtium, Vesuvius – seeds, direct sow
  • Strawberries: All Season Mix – 16, plants n/a
  • Flowers: Zinia, Queen Red Lime – seeds, direct sow

Seed Savers Exchange

  • Cauliflower: Early Snow – Seeds
  • Broccoli: DeCiccio – seeds
  • Cucumber: Parisian Pickling – seeds

Horizon Herbs

  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • German Chamomile
  • Echinacea Purpurea
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marshmallow
  • Plantain
  • Skullcap
  • Thyme
  • Valerian
  • Comfrey
  • Feverfew
  • Thyme

According to my calendar, now is the time to plant cold weather crops like sweet peas, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and romanesco), beets, and radishes.

Today, however, in anticipation of a late snow tomorrow, I will hold off on planting and concentrate on getting Mel’s Mix (1/2 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost) into my last 2×6 bed.  I also need to complete the construction of my trellises.

For the trellises, I am following Mel’s directions almost exactly.  I constructed the frame out of 1/2″ electrical conduit that I had the people at Lowe’s cut to size for me.  I fit that over 48″ long rebar that I drove one foot into the ground.  I am tying nylon vegetable netting onto that frame.  Easy!

This is important:

One error I made with my original garden plan was failing to take into account the shadow cast by my trellis.  I had originally planned to put my trellises at the back of the garden beds.  Turns out, that’s the south side.  Bad idea.  So I am switching the trellises to the other side of the garden so they won’t throw as much shade over the plants.  This necessitates changing up my garden plans a bit, so once I get that finished, I will post the final garden plan for you all to see.

Planting too late.  But you can see what an SFG looks like with the grid and the Mel's mix in place.
Shade is not my friend in this garden as I learned this fall.

Anyone else excited that gardening season has finally arrived?  How are you celebrating the return of Spring?

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GARDEN PLANNING FOR 2014: SFG Design and Companion Planting

Thumbing through seed catalogues is both fun and overwhelming.  It’s got me alternating between pulling my hair out and rubbing my hands together with glee.  It’s hard not to feel in over your head if you’re starting your first real garden in a completely new climate, and you’re not sure what to plant, when and where.

Luckily, square foot gardening (SFG), which I talked about in my previous garden planning post, makes things much easier.  It’s just a matter of mapping out your squares!  And that’s exactly what I have been doing over the last few weeks.

A simple google search found a wonderful online SFG planning tool, which has been easier than graph paper for the time being.  It’s called the SFG Planner, and it allows you to draw your beds  and plug in what you want to plant  It even tells you how many plants per square to put in.

I started making my list of what to plant, and I really did stick with the advice to plant what you will eat.  This coming year, I will be planting:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Romanesco
  • Parsley
  • Marigold
  • Hot peppers
  • Garlic
  • Strawberries
  • Bush beans
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Nastutiums
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon

Seems like a whole lot in a very small space, but with the creative use of trellising for the vining crops, we can go vertical and gain lots and lots of space.

You may also notice that the plants I listed above are not all vegetables and fruit.  I’ve included several culinary herbs and a few flowers, but they all have a use.

They are all companion plants!  That is, they will help the other plants by repelling pests and helping to improve the soil.  For example, marigolds drive away any number of pests.  Not only that, but marigolds are… calendula!  Which is a wonderful healing herb with many uses for children.  Nasturtiums also repel pests and the flowers are good in salads.  Radishes repel cucumber beetles, and lettuces and nasturtiums improve their flavor and texture.  Basil makes tomatoes tastier.  And the list goes on!

Having my gardens laid out in squares makes companion gardening easy and allows me to plant friends close and keep enemies (like strawberries and broccoli) separated.  Mother Earth News has a concise and easy to read article on companion plants that I used as my main reference in deciding where to put everything: An In-Depth Companion Planting Guide.

I still haven’t settled on the specific varieties that I will plant, but for the time being, this is a general look at how I will plant my garden in spring:  SFG Planner – Design Square Foot Garden online 

Have any of you started garden planning?  What’s going in your garden next year?  Have you had good luck with companion planting?  I’m eager to hear about your experience!

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Planting too late.  But you can see what an SFG looks like with the grid and the Mel's mix in place.

Garden Planning for 2014: Square Foot Garden Intro

On Monday, the high is supposed to be 3 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  With a low of -4.  And a windchill of Get Me the Hell Out of Here.  I suspect these are not even real numbers and the Weather Channel is having us all on.

Natually, this means I am longing for green things and warm spring days.  Couple this longing with the arrival of several lovely seed catalogs, and well, you see, it’s garden planning time!

This year, I will have a real, honest to goodness garden!  No pots (unless I want them), no containers.  Just down in the dirt digging and turning gardening.  For the past year, I’ve been studying the Square Foot Garden method developed by Mel Bartholomew.  I’ve been obsessively reading and rereading his book, All New Square Foot Gardening, and I have to say that I am so glad I got it on Kindle.  Otherwise the pages would be falling out by now!

In a nutshell, Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is a way to grow more food in less space with less work.  It is what my dad would refer to as intensive gardening, meaning you plant as much as you can in the space you have.  Mel instructs SFGers to use simple raised beds divided into square foot segments.  Into each segment goes his very specific soil mixture, called Mel’s Mix, which is really more of a rich growing medium: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite.  Into that go your plants, which are laid out carefully, each within a square foot of space.  Spotting an SFG garden from a distance is easy.  You will see the bed divided into 1′ by 1′ squared, each square containing one type of vegetable, herb, or flower.

I was initially attracted to SFG because of the promise of growing a lot of food in a small space.  After reading Mel’s book, I was hooked by the ease at which SFGers can manage their gardens.  As Mel says, gardening in rows is well suited to large scale vegetable farming, but how many people are able to plant full rows of squash or carrots?  Most of us want a few squash plants, some tomatoes, a patch or two of carrots, and so forth.  Mel breaks down for his readers spacing, nutritional needs, and timing for growing a full-scale, but tightly packed garden in a four foot by four foot raised bed.  I really encourage anyone interesting in getting started with gardening or anyone interested in trying a new gardening technique to pick up a copy of this book and give it a read.  It’s an easy read, and his enthusiasm and passion are just so engaging.  He believes wholeheartedly in his gardening method and loves sharing the good news!

For a quick how-to (and yes, it really is this simple) on getting started with SFG, check out SquareFootGardening.org!

So this year, I am giving it a try.  I will have two 4′ by 4′ raised beds and one 2′ by 6′ raised bed, giving me the chance to plant 44 different squares of… well, whatever I want!  And this is in addition to empty beds the previous owners left us that will be reserved for a medicinal and culinary herb garden.

The beds were so simple to make.  Just 2 x 6 boards that I had the hardware store cut to length for me.  In my case, I also had them cut additional 1 foot lengths to make carrot risers which allow you to grow root crops that are deeper than 6 inches.

Gabi and the lumber, down in the basement, ready for construction.
Gabi and the lumber, down in the basement, ready for construction.

I just pre-drilled and screwed them together one weekday while Katie was napping. It took me maybe 30 minutes, and that was following Mel’s instructions in the book to the letter.

A completed SFG 4x4 bed, ready for transport to the yard above.
A completed SFG 4×4 bed, ready for transport to the yard above.

Then, all that was left was to determine where I should put the beds in my yard and staple groundcloth in to keep the weeds out.  I followed Mel’s advice and put them right outside my back door where I will see them every day.  SFG gardens are pretty!  And when you hide your garden away at the back of the yard, it’s so much easier to forget it.

Right outside my backdoor, ready for Mel's Mix!
Right outside my backdoor, ready for Mel’s Mix!

I did make an attempt to get some fall crops in, and filled and planted one bed with various fall items.  But I was planting in mid-September, which is really too late.  I got a few cuttings of mesclun (baby lettuce) and a couple of radishes that I failed to ferment correctly and lost to mold, but other than that, it didn’t really produce anything.

Planting too late.  But you can see what an SFG looks like with the grid and the Mel's mix in place.
Planting too late. But you can see what an SFG looks like with the grid and the Mel’s mix in place.

Then the freezes started coming and I gave it up as a loss, deciding instead to concentrate on the spring.  With that in mind, I dropped in a couple of squares of garlic (more on that in a later post) which have to overwinter in the garden, and called it a season.

Snow filled my square after the wind blew my frost cover off.  The bags of soil and things that were supposed to weigh it down didn't.  The wind and cold were too much for it.
Snow filled my square after the wind blew my frost cover off. The bags of soil and things that were supposed to weigh it down didn’t. The wind and cold were too much for it.

So now, the big choices.  What do I put into my squares this spring?

It can be so easy to get caught up in all of the beautiful pictures and delicious descriptions of the seed catalogs.  But it’s important not to get carried away.  Plant what you will eat.  If you and your family aren’t big on tomatoes, don’t plant them.  If you know the kids simply will not eat turnips, skip it.  Plant what you eat.  That said, the beauty of SFG is that you can dedicate a square or two to trying new things.  Because it’s only one square, you don’t have to commit to an entire row.

For us, that means lots and lots of tomatoes, hot peppers, a few sweet peppers, green beans, lettuce, strawberries, and asparagus.  Unfortunately, the others in my family are a little more limited than I am in what kinds of veggies they like to eat. Hmph.  But like I said above, I can still give myself a square or two of the things I love, like Swiss chard and beets for smoothie-making.  And when the plant on one square is played out, well, it’s easy!  You pull it out, mix in a spadeful of compost, and pop in your next crop!

I can’t wait to try out this method!

Are any of you thinking of starting a garden this year?  Any experienced gardeners or SFGers out there?  Tell me about your experience or your big plans for the new year!

Hippy Hygiene Experiment # 2: Homemade Deodorant!

Since Katie was born, I’ve struggled with not wanting to use deodorant.  When she was a newborn, I was concerned about the strong fragrances.  I mean, with her nursing all da and having her nose a few inches away from my pits, it seemed to me that the fragrance in the commercial deodorant would potentially be too strong for her.  Newborns have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell.  In fact, it’s their primary sense.  They use it to find Mama and find the breast to nurse.  I wanted her to bond with me.  Not my deodorant.

I tried a number of unscented options, and the first thing I discovered is that unscented things definitely do have a smell.  And often a really gross one.  They also didn’t work that well.  They left me feeling sticking and stinky by the end of the day.  It wasn’t working out.

I tried the crystal thing.  The spray version, the roll on version, and the actual hunk of rock.  No luck there either, although that really didn’t smell like anything which was nice.

I tried a mix of coconut oil and baking soda.  This worked for a while (and was pretty much scent free), but eventually I started reacting to the baking soda.  Let me tell you, itchy, burning armpit rashes are not awesome.  Adjusting the coconut oil to baking soda ratio did not help.

Finally, I settled on plain coconut oil.  This worked really well actually!  Shockingly well.  So much so that I started recommending it to friends who shared my concerns about using commercial deodorants.

Fast forward a few months.  Katie is now well out of the newborn stage, I’ve started using things that smell like things again (NO CHEMICAL FRAGRANCES!) and I’ve gotten tired of the plain coconut oil.

Also, I moved to a hotter climate and the plain coconut oil wasn’t cutting the mustard anymore.

I started doing research again, found a few recipes, experimented, and I would like to reveal to you all how I get by being a non-deoderant/anti-perspirant wearing hippy who doesn’t smell at all!

You will find loads of similar recipes around the web (and I have linked to some below).  I have no idea who to credit for the original base recipe that I have modified to suit my purposes and my baking soda-sensitive skin.

Some things to be aware of:

  • Use high quality essential oils here.  Don’t get your oils from the health food store because they are basically garbage.  Trust me here.  Don’t do it. They will not work the same way.
  • This is not an antiperspirant.  Yes, you will still sweat.  This is a good thing.  Your body needs to sweat.  This is a deodorant to keep you from being stinky and it definitely works for that.
  • I’ve picked essential oils for specific reasons (and noted those), but if you don’t like the way it smells, feel free to play and make your own scent.

Refreshing Homemade Deodorant

You will need:

  • 1/3 C arrowroot powder (you can find this in the baking section of any natural food store)
  • 1 T baking soda
  • Coconut Oil warmed slightly so it is liquid (you can stick it in a sunny window for a few hours) – naturally anti-bacterial
  • 3 drops Tea Tree (Melaleuca) essential oil – anti-fungal, soothing for razor burn and other rashes
  • 3 drops Peppermint essential oil – cooling and refreshing, be aware that adding too much can be REALLY cooling
  • 7 drops Lavender essential oil – anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, soothing to the skin

Combine the arrowroot and baking soda thoroughly.  Drop in the essential oils and mix.  Begin mixing in the coconut oil until it makes a paste that is slightly thinner than toothpaste.  Start with 4 Tablespoons and add as you need to get the consistency.  I find that  a fork works best for this.  At this point, you can tweak the scent by adding more essential oils one drop at a time if you wish.  Go slow with the essential oils.  They are strong, and less is often more.  The dry ingredients will want to sink to the bottom so as soon as you get all the lumps out and it’s well mixed, pour it into a lidded container and place it in the fridge for a couple of hours.  This will harden the coconut oil and help keep everything in suspension.

To use, scoop out a small amount (the size of a large pea) and rub between your hands to warm it up to liquid.  Then, rub it onto your pits like a lotion, and you are good for the day!

I keep mine on my bathroom counter, and my house is cool enough that is stays solid.  I also think the arrowroot is helping to keep it solid.  If it liquefies, that’s okay, too.  It won’t spoil.

Have any of you ever tried a homemade deodorant?  How did you make it?  How did it work for you?

We are Cloth Diapering!

At night anyway.

When Gabi was near potty training (around 2), we had to switch to cloth at night.  Not even the heavy-duty overnight disposables could make it through the night without major leaks.  When that happened, I called up my good friend Jess who owns a cloth diaper store and wrote a fantastic guest post for me last year on cloth diapering.

Jess got me set up right away with bamboo fitteds and PUL covers.  For those not in the know, fitteds refer to a simple diaper shaped cloth… well, diaper.  It’s all cloth (in this case bamboo), and so to prevent leaks, you need a cover over it.  The PUL is the leak-proof material that the cover is made from.

Fitteds are awesome (and please just pretend I know what I’m talking about here) because they’re super absorbent and can hold a whole lot of pee.  They worked fabulously for Miss Gabi, and our days of changing sheets every night became a thing of the past.

Katie has reached the point of diaper leaking much sooner.  I suspect this is probably because she nurses through the night every night where Gabi slept through from a much earlier age.

I am tired of changing sheets every day, and thankfully Juan is too.  Because of this, he has agreed to try cloth diapering at night for Miss Katie.  I was so excited to get out the sweet bamboo fitteds and the covers again.  I was pretty worried though.  Would they even fit?  We bought those for a 2-year-old!

Well, I’m happy to report that at 9 months, my freakishly large and adorable baby fits into her sisters 2-year-old diapers without a problem.  We’ve had her in cloth since Sunday night with nary a leak.

It will be a little different this time around.  Gabi was 2 and not wetting every night.  By that point she was well on her way to potty training.  Katie, obviously, is not potty trained.  This means my meagre stash of 3 fitteds and 2 covers is not going to cut it.

I need more diapers!

I’ve also decided to switch from the PUL covers to wool.  Unlike the plastic, wool breathes.  This is important going into summer with no air conditioning.  Seems a little counterintuitive that wool would be the coolest option in summer, but apparently it is the ideal option for moms in our area.  It also seems counterintuitive that a pair of knitted pants would hold pee and keep it from leaking.  I’m a little afraid.  I trust my friends, though, so when our brand new purple wool cover arrives on Friday, I’ll be excited to lanolize it and get it onto Katie.

Thanks, Juan, for your willingness to make this switch.

Katie in a Kooshie Kiesters fitted (no longer available) and a Thirsties cover

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs – The Answers

Last week, in celebration of Easter, Gabi and I dyed eggs using food-based ingredients.   Here’s a quick link in case you missed that post.  It was so much fun and a few of the colors were so surprising that I decided to make a game of it and let you guess which ingredients produced which colors.

Here’s that list of dye ingredients again:

  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Turmeric
  • Purple Cabbage
  • Yellow Onion Skins
  • Blueberries
  • Paprika & Chili Powder

And here’s that picture with the numbered eggs:

Which egg is which?

 

I had a few people guess in the comments and several guess in real-life and via email.  So here are the answers!

# 1 - Onion skins. I love how the membranes of the onions left that pretty pattern on the shell.
#2 was blueberries. Look at the polka-dots left behind where the berries rested against the eggs!
#3 was spinach. I think if I had processed the spinach in a blender I might have gotten a greener color. But it's still so soft and pretty.
#4 was a blend of paprika and chili powder. Juan said that this one looked like marble.
#6 was beets. This one actually changed pretty significantly as it dried. It turned into a beautiful green and purple marbled effect which you can almost see in this picture.
#6 was turmeric. I loved how speckled this turned out!
#7 was purple cabbage. This one was such a pretty surprise! Who knew that the purple cabbage would turn blue!

I hope you all had a wonderful week this week!  Happy Easter, happy spring!

SAMSUNG

Easter Eggs, Naturally! – and a game

I loved dying Easter eggs when I was a kid.  I loved the colors.  I loved the weird smell of the dye.  I loved eating them afterwards and feeling so lucky when I got one where the shell had cracked and the white was tinted a nifty color.  Easter eggs are so much fun.

I haven’t dyed Easter eggs in years!

This year, I decided it was time to start passing that tradition along to Miss Gabi.  But, like many of the things I’ve done over the last year and a half, I decided to see if there was a natural way to dye the eggs.  As it turns out?  There absolutely is!

This year, we dyed eggs with things in our pantry!

It was surprisingly easy.  Sure, it took a bit more work than the PAAS kits, but only a bit.  I just hard-boiled my eggs, researched my ingredients, dumped them into jars, and made my dye.

Here’s how to dye the eggs:

  1. Put a handful of the ingredient into the bottom of a large mason jar.
  2. Pour boiling water over the ingredient to fill the jar.
  3. Allow the ingredient to steep in the hot water until the water cools (several hours).
  4. Place the eggs in the jars and poke them right down to the bottom.  The dye will overflow, so do this over the sink.
  5. Leave them overnight in the fridge.
  6. Pull them out in the morning and take pictures to show your friends on the internet.

Pretty!

These turned out so well.  The colors are so soft and the various ingredients I used to dye gave a pretty marbled appearance.

Here’s a shot of the jars of dye in action:

From left to right we have: onion skins, paprika & chili powder, blueberries, beets, turmeric, spinach, and purple cabbage.

I probably would’ve gotten darker colors if I had boiled the dye ingredients for some time instead of just steeping them and letting them cool right away.

The Game – Guess which Dye made Which Egg

Gabi and I had such fun finding out what colors the dyes made.  There were some real surprises in there!  See if you can match the eggs to their dyes!

Here are the dye ingredients again:

  • A. Spinach
  • B. Beets
  • C. Turmeric
  • D. Purple Cabbage
  • E. Yellow Onion Skins
  • F. Blueberries
  • G. Paprika & Chili Powder

Here’s a shot of the eggs, numbered to make it easier:

Leave your answer in the comments.  Next week, I’ll post the answers and you can see if you got them right!

Happy Easter everyone!