Sustainable Living: Gone Gardening (Weeks 14/15/16)

My, how the time flies when the gardening gets good! I can’t believe three weeks have gone by since my last blog post.

The most exciting news (to me, at least) is that we harvested enough peas to include in a meal (pictured below on a bed of steamed potatoes). Our first harvest!!! They were delicious, of course, served with the potatoes and grass-fed burgers. My steamer has taken up a permanent spot on the counter where I use it almost every day now. We will be harvesting green beans soon, and we think the peas will pitter out because they weren’t planted in the ground. I know what to expect from peas now, though, and I am grateful for that.

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In related news, Bob finished making mounds in the backyard for the zucchini and butternut squash. They are now in the ground under the heavy protection of tomato cages wrapped in chicken wire (pictured below), which I will remove when they are big enough to hold their own against rodents. I still need two more mounds, one for apple melons and the other for cucumbers. This endeavor is one of next week’s goals.

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Speaking of goals, we almost finished our front flowerbed with the block-lined front and hosta-lined back (pictured below). We need a few more blocks to finish it out. I will plant my safflower in the larger bed in the front yard (also pictured below), and I will be mostly done dealing with flowerbeds this season. While I’m discussing flowers, I must mention Bob’s dumpster-rescued hibiscus, which produced its largest bloom ever about a week ago (pictured below) and then a few days later, gave us three at once (shown below). As well, the peonies are putting on a pretty performance from which my husband plucked a bouquet for my perfumery pleasure (pictured below). I can smell them as I write this blog!

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With the rest of my time, I’ve been having a transplant extravaganza. Everything is in its forever pot or ground spot (pictured below), except the beefsteak tomatoes, beets, and onions. We have eleven beefsteaks, so we think they need to go in the ground when ready, as I’ve run out of pots, and I’m not willing to buy that many more. I’m not sure what to do with the beets, but I will do some research to find out what’s best for them. The onions will go near the garlic in the backyard. Yellow and red peppers, carrots (which I will never plant again!), cherry tomatoes, brandywine tomatoes, zucchini, and butternut squash are all in their permanent places!

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As for home cooking, I’ve been buying a lot of fresh organic produce to go with meals. For tonight, I’ve got a grass-fed pork loin roast with cabbage and carrots in the slow cooker. I’ve taken to drinking a glass of homemade ginger ale after supper every night. Not only do I enjoy its fresh, cleansing taste, but also its soothing, anti-inflammatory effects. If anyone wants to venture, it’s so easy to make. Peel and chop a cup of ginger root (organic recommended!). Boil two cups of purified water. Add the ginger and simmer on medium-high for five minutes. Strain into a container. Store the syrup in the fridge. When I prepare the ale, I fill a glass jar one-third full with the ginger syrup, add two tablespoons of honey, shake it up, add ice, fill the jar with sparkling water, and squeeze in a slice of lemon. Yummm!!! I save the leftover ginger root and toss a bit into my smoothies. I’m looking for other ways to use the leftovers besides compost.

Next week, I’ve got a ton of painting to do for our seemingly never-ending house remodel, so I will keep my goals simple. Maintenance and transplanting may be all I have time for.

Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m loving the positive feedback!

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Sustainable Living: Rain = Blog Time (Weeks 12/13)

Spring brings new life, including baby squirrels. It was fun to watch Mama Squirrel teaching her babies how to jump a couple weeks ago (first two pics). Our theory is that she was trying to keep them off the ground because she lost her last two litters to the neighbor’s dog. And she has been successful, as I see them hanging out in the trees at the back of our lot lately. Though, they were experimenting with climbing on the house, which Mama did not like (last two pics).

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For me, the semester ended yesterday when I posted official grades. Thus, I have lots of time to work on my sustainable living goals. Although the last two weeks have been hectic, I’ve found cooking and tending my plants a welcome escape from the inevitable end-of-semester chaos. I finally made the toaster pastries (pictured below, before and after baking). After making them, I’ve decided I need a stock of dough disks in the freezer and a stock of jam in the cupboard. Then, they would not seem so labor-intense. They were delicious! My husband and son think they need to be smaller with frosting and more jam. Aside from the jam, the recipe contains no added sugar, so I understand they want the dough to be sweeter. Fortunately, The Homemade Pantry provides a recipe for frosting.

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Now on to gardening, toward which the progress is astounding! I’m only waiting on two kinds of seeds to pop. I planted more butternut squash seeds for sharing with others, but I did not start them in eggshells this time. I’ve ended up conducting an experiment of sorts and discovered that the squash seeds I planted in eggshells popped in about three days, while the ones I did not start in eggshells have yet to emerge after at least a week. So, the eggshells really do provide a boost, at least for squash. Could the sunlight be a factor too? It has been cloudy for the last week, whereas the seeds in eggshells received many hours of constant sunshine. The other seeds I’m waiting for are lemon trees, which I just planted (in eggshells) today. Six seeds should ensure at least one good tree, and if I get more, I will give them away. I wonder if lime trees are as easy to grow.

This morning, my husband Bob put the green beans in the ground after he spent several hours over a few days constructing a pest-resistant place for them to grow (pictured below). Last week, I spaced out my carrots and kale, which made them happier (pictured below). I transplanted the largest tomato and found that some of the other tomatoes were egg bound (pictured below), so I dug them up, broke off the shells, and put them back. I added more soil to the peas and have watered them liberally. Voila, they are blooming (pictured below)! My lavender has emerged, at last. I lost my lettuce basil to overwatering and am hoping to save what’s left of my lime basil. We are preparing the mounds for putting the zucchini, butternut squash, cucumbers, and apple melons in the ground. The beefsteak tomato seedlings are growing like mad, and the beets and peppers are taking their time (pictured below). Spinach takes a few weeks to germinate but grows strong quickly.

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After cleaning out a cupboard today and finding an old bag of African violet soil, I did a little research to make sure it would be okay for roses. In the light rain, I mixed the violet soil with a bit of coffee grounds and mounded it up around my four rose bushes. I am determined to get them to bloom this season, as they didn’t last year. The lack of blooms is caused not only by my negligence but also by Asian beetles. They LOVE rose bush leaves! I will use the sack traps this year to keep the beetles off my roses, and I will apply a healthy mound of soil with a blooming agent around each bush. That should do it! A couple weeks ago, I transplanted my ferns away from the side of the house because we are installing vinyl siding and I don’t want them trampled. After transplanting, a bunch more came up than usual, and I will need to transplant them as well. My goal this week is to get my flowerbeds in shape for the season, which includes laying decorative blocks to form a berm around two old stumps and two new bushes in the very front of the house; planting all the hostas we acquired; and moving my tulips.

In closing, I want to share my Monday mini-adventure to Nachusa Grasslands, one of the most successful prairie restoration projects in the country. The best part? It is within 10 minutes of our country home. Bob, my son, and I met a class of reclamation students there Monday morning. One of the leading reclamation experts in the country took us on a tour of several areas in different stages of planting. He helped us identify a myriad of plant and animal species thriving in the conservancy. I took clippings from cream indigo and lupine (pictured on the left below) to attempt propagation for my yard. Turns out, I had no idea at the time I took the clippings that the lupine is extremely endangered and required for the sustenance of the karner blue butterfly, which the conservancy may reintroduce. The diversity of life there is magical! The next best part (okay, really the best part)? They have brought bison (a pure breed) back to the Midwest as part of this project. The bison were not visible on the tour, but afterward, the three of us took a side road in our van and were able to barely pick them out in the distance. Seeing this project gives me so much hope for the restoration of over/misused parts of the earth! I plan to volunteer at this prairie often. So much work is required to collect and process seeds not only for this site but for restorations around the world. If you love the outdoors, this is a great way to spend your time.

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Now, onto at least one of the two book reviews I’m behind on…

Thanks so much for reading!

Sustainable Living: Mother’s Day Gardening (Week 11)

Just a quick update. I’m just sitting down after a day of reducing dumpster loads and gardening. The hubs and I noticed a shed in our neighborhood getting taken down and approached the owner about salvaging the garage doors, knowing we will need some soon to replace our old dilapidated ones before we sell our town house. The owner agreed to let us take them down and also offered us about 300 hostas he didn’t want anymore. Within about two hours of waking, we had secured these items and managed to organize our garage before the rain started tonight. Thus, we were able to get the doors and the automatic openers under roof before the heavy rainfall.

In the interim, I transplanted all my new seedlings: cucumbers, apple melons, spinach, red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, and beets. The cilantro and onion seedlings popped this week. Still waiting for the lavender. I planted eight more butternut squash to give away, weeded a couple flowerbeds, and made dough for the toaster pastries and will not force myself to finish making them tonight. They can wait til the morning…

Next week’s goal will be the same as the last—seedling survival and home cooking.

Sustainable Living: Gaga Over Gardening (Week 10)

When I started gardening this year after years of not gardening, I planned to grow a few basic vegetables. “Keep it simple,” I had said to myself. BUT I should know better by now that I tend to go overboard when I decide to do anything. AND I have gone overboard, but I’m giddy about it. I’m having so much fun planting, growing, and sharing my seedlings and story with others. Again, the Law of Attraction is at work in my life!

Today, as we were leaving for the store, my neighbor stopped over to give us some onion plants and chives. We made plans to exchange more goodies. She has oregano, and I offered to give her as many zucchini and green bean seedlings as she would like. Bartering is the best and easily accomplished with veggies and herbs!

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Gardening has become a second job. This week, I planted cilantro, lavender, apple melons, lime basil, lettuce basil, lemongrass, onions, beefsteak tomatoes, and white cucumbers. The onions and lemongrass have sprouted already, and my cherry tomatoes and butternut squash popped as well. Despite our initial thought to grow everything in pots, we’ve decided to plant the zucchini, cucumbers, and butternut squash in mounds where the old garden used to be in the backyard. We will plant the green beans along the back of the deck. This week’s goal is to get these veggies in the ground. I’m going to refrain from taking on more than that in addition to tending new seedlings because I’m wracked with grading and student conferences. I hope I have some time to spend on the flowerbeds, but we’ll see…

Last week, I transplanted the tomatoes and carrots into bigger pots. They seem happy. I prepared the homemade vanilla extract and will wait three weeks for it to be ready. It’s beautiful! I bought chicken wire for composting and have been saving kitchen scraps, contributing more to my waste reduction goal. I’ve struggled with my kale. It is puny and unhappy. I read that it likes the cold, but does that mean it won’t grow at all in the heat? (Hopefully, one of you can shed some light on this problem.) I was told I need to continuously plant new kale seeds, but the at-least month-old seedlings I’ve got now are only about an inch tall. Is it worth trying new seeds? Perhaps I should abandon my kale dreams and resign to buy it. I want to grow my own because I usually end up wasting about half of what I buy. Anyway, I think I learned from GreenEggs about saving unused seeds for next year, so I have started rolling them up and placing them in a jar that I will store in the refrigerator.

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I’m going to cut this short because I would like to spend some time working on another book review and reading others’ blogs. Thanks for the views, likes, and comments. Keep ’em coming!

Sustainable Living: Big Picture, Baby Goals (Week 9)

We hit the motherlode Friday at two estate sales. For about $80, I got almost everything I will need to prep and can food with all the veggies I’m growing, plus some other stuff we’ve been patiently waiting to purchase used. Our haul included a canning pot with a box of medium-sized jars and lids, Sunbeam standing mixer, old high-quality blender with a glass reservoir, set of knives, set of cutlery, blanching pot, watering can, large cherub garden ornament, gas-powered weed whacker, porcelain-coated teapot, industrial food processor, splitting axe, two long planters, like-new window air conditioner, old cookbook (with a recipe for zucchini relish!), box of Christmas cards, hummingbird feeder, small manual grass seeder with grass seed, and two ornate wooden kitchen chairs.

To top it off, I brought some seeds and seedlings to a friend (pictured below), and she gave me some seeds. She likes to buy “weird” varieties, the kind I would never venture to try. So, I ended up with several previously unknown (to me) varieties of lavender, lettuce basil, lime basil, lemongrass, white cucumbers, beets, and apple melons. I didn’t record the exact names; thus, I can’t illuminate their strangeness. I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

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This friend also showed me her compost pile, which I’ve decided to emulate for its simplicity. (I read several articles and blogs about it, too.) She just throws scraps in a fence corner and turns it every now and then. I don’t have a fence corner, so I will use chicken wire to fence off a spot in my yard for tossing buckets of kitchen scraps and whatever else. With the Week 9 goal only a matter of buying the chicken wire, I consider it accomplished.

As in the past weeks, I exceeded the goal. This morning, I resurrected a trellis for my peas made of small volunteer trees I cut out of the side yard last weekend. I secured the pots to the deck railing with bungee cords because the trellis now makes them vulnerable to wind. Viewing the picture I took of the trellis reminds me of when we saved our Quonset hut from going to the dump. Our Greek sculptor friend became too incapacitated to sculpt and had to sell his property. (The roadside attraction with some of his work is pictured here. George has since passed away. His obituary is here.) His wife allowed us to take a few items before clearing the property for the new owners. The Quonset hut is one of the items. We are now using it as temporary storage for our building materials as we remodel our town house. The hut will eventually become a permanent greenhouse at our country house.

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Of course, we continued to tend our seedlings, and I planted some new seeds this week, including spinach, cherry tomatoes, yellow peppers, and butternut squash. I intend to plant some onions yet today and maybe the basil and lemongrass. Happily, I can report that the potatoes and red peppers are beginning to sprout (Finally! I was starting to wonder.) Our Brandywine tomatoes and Black Valentine green beans are hardly seedlings anymore.

Finally, I’m delighted to report that my order of pectin and organic vanilla beans arrived. So, I need to stop by the Amish farm to see if I can purchase some frozen berries from last year. Then, I will be able to make the jam for the toaster pastries I’ve been wanting to make. With the organic vanilla beans, I’m going to make my own vanilla extract. (The bottle I intend to use is shown in the first picture in this post, making the extract functional and aesthetic—my ultimate desire for all things.) My use of The Homemade Pantry is underway!

As for next week’s goal, I’m going to keep it extra-simple because I suspect I will be super-busy with teaching responsibilities. (The end of the semester is near!) The goal is to plant more seeds, transplant seedlings, and cook some homemade food.

AND I will continue to spread the Sustainable Word wherever I go to whomever will listen! I appreciate your camaraderie and readership!

Sustainable Living: Big Picture, Baby Goals (Week 8)

In light of reading The Jungle Effect, I’m thrilled that I have already incorporated some of Dr. Miller’s findings from exploring indigenous diets around the world. For example, I am:

  • Growing much of my food
  • Learning to prepare and store food
  • Purchasing mainly whole, unprocessed, local-grown, organic foods
  • Reading labels to select the healthiest versions of processed foods
  • Preparing whole and simple processed foods in combination for synergistic health effects
  • Eating many of the foods she recommends on a regular basis such as organic milk, kefir, cinnamon, honey, vanilla, organic meat, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, cabbage, squash, green beans, olive oil, garlic, flax seed, vinegar, oregano, kale, kefir, potatoes (small, waxy, with skins), lemon, walnuts, free-range eggs, raisins, apples, ginger, and dried fruit.

I will build on these healthy habits by integrating new ones and more of the foods she recommends. I definitely need more fish and greens. In fact, this book has solidified my plans to undertake a small-scale aquaponics operation at my rural homestead because it is growing increasingly difficult to find nontoxic fish. I assume the fish recommendations Dr. Miller provides in the book are outdated given recent nuclear disasters and oil spills. Thus, I’m not willing to trust any third-party sources of fish, although I am hopeful that the organic fish market will become a viable option soon.

In general, I’m buoyed by the myriad of food and sustainability movements in the world that may deliver us back into a healthier era. Industrialization has given us lots of great inventions and social improvements but has introduced new problems for which solutions are desperately needed. Upon reflection, changes for the good are possible when the masses are paying attention and poised for change.

As for my sustainable living goals, I caught an illness earlier this week. It’s been running its course through most of my students and settling on my husband who had almost recovered when I caught it. I mistakenly thought it had passed me by, but alas, it got me. With extra doses of apple cider vinegar and ginger-infused tinctures, I was able to conquer it in a few days versus the 2- to 3-week cycle I’ve witnessed in others. Despite the illness, I managed to make cereal bars from The Homemade Pantry (easy, convenient, and delicious), order low-sugar pectin to make the jam I need for the toaster pastries, order organic vanilla beans for making homemade vanilla extract, and order seeds to grow an indoor lemon tree.

Additionally, I was able to care for and transplant seedlings. I was delighted to learn that my 12-year-old planted some seeds in science class, and we were able to compare results. Now that his seedlings have sprouted, he seems more interested in our growing efforts around the house. What a relief from the usual video-game mentality! The imitation instinct is alive and well!

My goal for next week is to master the art of composting, or at least learn all I can. I’ve begun to save some organic materials for it (banana peels, coffee grounds, veg waste, egg shellsetc.), so I need to get started. This effort will further reduce my weekly curbside contributions to the garbage collectors.

Thanks for reading and sharing your sustainable living experiences!

A.M. Tuesday

I think this will be the most helpful, practical “diet” book I’ve ever read. I’ve never read one all the way through until now, but I believe I will use this one every day for the rest of my life. It just makes sense.

In the beginning, Dr. Miller confesses to trying to handle her patients’ health problems as any doctor would, offering the usual diets, exercises, and prescriptions. But they rarely worked and sometimes made the problems worse. The typical health issues she witnessed in her San Francisco practice included depression, heart disease, respiratory disease, bowel disease, diabetes, cancer, and the like. Dr. Miller gives several reasons for her inability to lend patients reliable diet advice: (1) nutrition contributes to overall health in the long-term, and few studies run long enough to determine the outcomes of consuming certain nutrients; (2) foods with the same name may contain vastly different…

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Sustainable Living: Big Picture, Baby Goals (Week 7)

I returned from a weekend away to find kale, pepper, carrot, and zucchini sprouts. The terrarium planting worked beautifully! Now, I will wait for more sprouts before transplanting into larger pots.

During our weekend away, my husband and I spent all day and night Saturday loading and hauling lumber from an urban building. The building is being remodeled because the previous business moved to a new location, and the owner is splitting the building into four units for lease. The developer (our connection) had instructed the remodeling crew to toss all the “scrap” lumber into one room, knowing we might want it. He notified us last week that the project is almost complete, and the lumber had to be moved over the weekend or else it would be hauled to the dump. Typically, the lumber would be hauled to the dump without any attempt at allowing someone to reclaim it.

Fortunately, our developer friend recognizes win-win-win scenarios. In this case, he saved on two dumpsters (~$600-1000 for each 30-yard dumpster). We get excellent old-growth hardwood lumber to repurpose. The lumber is about 30 years old, and it’s not even possible to buy this quality of lumber in stores anymore because all the old-growth forests have been cut. The environment benefits from decreased cutting and waste. The only cost to us is gas to haul, time, and toil. In the last few years, we have benefitted greatly from this practice by adding several room additions to our houses at little to no cost. Thus, it is well worth the cost. (Also, my husband experiences no greater joy than encountering a beautiful piece of wood and transforming it into a work of functional or aesthetic art.)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take all the lumber. About one dumpster full will go into the trash heap, which I consider tragic. My husband said the lumber will take many years to decompose. I wish more people would be proactive in trying to prevent construction waste. Last summer, we collected two 20-foot U-Hauls full of lumber (and other useful material) from the building that the business I mentioned previously moved into. We took all we could and watched as six 30-yard dumpsters were filled with mostly reusable material and hauled to the dump. I suspect we did not witness all of them. My husband told me that he has seen thousands of tons of useable material go to the dump in his 30 years as a carpenter. He always felt bad about it but rarely had the ability to load, haul, and store it himself.

For the sake of expediency in reconstruction or demolition, no one is ever asked to collect and sort the material for repurposing. I would like to see and will work toward a law that forces contractors, businesses, or waste companies to hire someone to collect, sort, repurpose, or sell the useable material from construction jobs. Just as we need a network for collecting and redistributing food waste, we will need a network of people and businesses to deal with construction waste in a less destructive manner.

What do you think? Any ideas for how to preserve more construction waste? Please share your trash rescue experiences. I’d love to hear about them!