Archive for March, 2008

The vegetable garden: and so it begins

We all love spring – but we gardeners, I think, love spring best.  It’s the time of year of the greatest of gardening optimism – we can forget the tangled mess of weeds and bitter vegetables hanging from nitrogen-starved plants that was last year’s vegetable garden “harvest”, and plan this year’s like we know (ha!) what we are doing.

This year I checked out a load of organic gardening books from the local library and have decided to take a novel approach: to actually have an approach to gardening.  I first fell in love with the Square Foot Gardening method, but the idea of creating your own perfect soil entirely from bags of stuff from Home Depot, without any native soil, proved to be too expensive (and was slightly off-putting anyway from a holistic, earth-loving, biodynamic point of view).  I have, though, worked a few of the theories of SFG into my current garden plan: raised beds, measured by the square foot, where I can plant more in my garden with less space (instead of rows).  I’ve incorporated little gems of information from other books in my gardening plan this year as well.

This year I’m going to:

Plant in raised beds.  Raised beds warm the soil more quickly and are easier to manage.  We’ll fill the area around the beds with some mulch of some kind to discourage weeds.  It will be a much more pleasant experience than last year’s weeding through a weed jungle taller than me.

Plant stuff when it actually should be planted.  My old method was just to throw some seed and starter plants down all at once and hope for the best.  As it turns out, different veggies like to grow at different times.  Some cold-loving broccoli, spinach and lettuce are already in the ground.  This year, hopefully, we won’t have pumpkins in July.

Feed and water stuff when it actually should be fed and watered.  Different plants have different needs from the soil, and as a plant grows, it needs different amounts of water and feed at different times of their growth cycle.  Who knew?  I’ll be watering with a hose this year (instead of drip irrigation) so I can control how much water goes into each plant.  I’ll also be feeding some of the more nutrient-intense plants some compost or fish emulsion every few weeks.  This has the added benefit of me actually having to step into the garden each day so I can see how my plants are doing and adjusting my care accordingly.

Plant in succession.   There is no reason to plant a hundred radishes all at once.  Instead I’m planting a few at a time, on a rotation schedule, so that I’ll always have a handful to harvest each week with more in the ground at various stages of life.  My neighbors will be happy to know that I won’t be dumping radishes on them this year.  Most other veggies can be planted this way as well, so we’ll have a constant supply of lettuce for our salads (do you see the completely unabashed and unrealistic optimism here?).  I’ve even planned both spring and fall harvests.

Grow stuff up.  You can make more room in the garden for other stuff if you use a simple garden tool: the trellis.  Peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and even pumpkins (albeit smaller ones) will be growing vertically in my garden this year.

Choose seeds and plants more carefully.  I’ve discovered the thrill of high-end seed catalogs this year.  Instead of standing in front of the wire rack at the garden center and choosing between “bush bean” and “pole bean” I actually get to experience the joy of picking out just the right bean that’s tender and tasty and resistant to bugs.  And they’re all organically grown!  Bonus.

Pick stuff when it is supposed to be picked.  Harvest has usually been whenever we have felt like making a salad or a side vegetable.  Often that has left us with overripe beans and bitter cucumbers.  Now I know that I need to pick vegetables often on many plants to encourage new growth, and usually smaller, younger veggies are the most succulent.

Here are a few pics from the beginning of the garden journey this year:

Putting in the raised beds I designed and Rich built…can I really fit my tushie in between there to plant, weed, harvest and such?  I thought I measured pretty carefully…

…ah, I actually didn’t measure so carefully.  Off by a foot.  Rich scratching his head, deciding what to do.  He looks a little put out in these pictures, but we were actually laughing the whole time.  I made him stand there in that position.

Rich working on fixing my mistake.

Much better!  My 12 foot by 4 foot raised beds are now become 12 foot by 3 foot raised beds.  I can now (barely) fit.  I had to re-arrange my whole planting map, but it’s worth it.  Still, it’s a tight squeeze and will be tough gardening in there…

The beds filled with compost and organic peat moss substitute (which seems to be just mulching bark) over the top of our soil.  Planting seeds and such.  See my nice little measured out one inch squares?  More on the obsessive-compulsive farming method to come…

My birth-hero

This article in the Seattle Times illustrates perfectly why I love my doula trainer, Penny Simkin.  She’s not just a great role model for birthy-types; her gentleness, passion and openness makes her a great role model for anyone.  Thank you for a lifetime of work, Penny!

Natural dye Easter eggs

For years, I’ve wanted to dye our Easter (or spring equinox, or whatever it is we’re actually celebrating these days) eggs from natural colors instead of buying the little Paas kit at the supermarket. What could be a better hands-on science activity for the kids than to watch veggies and other foods turn into food coloring? So, for the last two days I’ve been busy boiling various substances in the kitchen. A good $20 of beets, red cabbage, turmeric, coffee and onion skins turned the inside of our home into a smelly steam plant, the odor of which is still not completely gone.

The other problem, besides the intensive work of approximately 10 hours, was that almost every step required boiling something, and being that my children are young it was hard to involve them for much of the project. What looked so fun on the cover of Martha Stewart several years back resulted in my turning into a lunatic. “Kids, I’m busy. Can’t be helped. I’m coloring eggs. For you.” We did manage to have fun when it was time to soak the eggs – 30 minutes to an hour for each egg, versus 2 minutes in the Paas dye, but no matter that now – and it was really cool to watch how the simple act of boiling the egg directly in the dye changed the color dramatically.

And the results. The colors are so amazing – earthy, gorgeous tones more like the colors I use to decorate my home than the unnatural colors from the store-bought dye. Will I do it again next year? I just may love the colors enough to forget about the actual experience of it the following spring.

A pox on my house!

Some of my readers may not know that there has been a growing movement away from childhood vaccines, or approaching immunizations on an alternative schedule.  There are several reasons for this.  The main idea is that there are questions about a possible link between immunizations and autism because of the thorazine (a product containing mercury) or aluminum component in some vaccines.

When I first became a parent, I didn’t know anything about choices in vaccines, so I just had my kids vaccinated for everything.  (I would be doing the alternative vaccination schedule recommended in this book if I were having my babies now to spread out exposure to/cut down on the metallic compounds, however.)

With a couple of exceptions.  We don’t do flu shots, and we haven’t vaccinated against the chicken pox.

As it turns out, the chicken pox thing is a problem now that we are enrolling Connor in Kindergarten.  The State of Washington has joined most of the other states requiring the varicella zoster (chicken pox) vaccine (among several other vaccines) for entry into the school system.  Even if we did choose to give this vaccine, I cannot tell you how angry this made me to find this out.

Parents who choose not to vaccinate, or pick and choose vaccinations, or follow an alternative schedule are not doing this because they are evil and want their child to get sick.  They are doing it because they have carefully weighed the pros and cons of vaccination risks along side of disease risks and the disease risks actually looked less risky.

Here in the modern world, we are used to needles and vaccines.  But stop and really think about it.  Which seems more normal – getting a mostly-harmless disease, or injecting some laboratory version of the disease, mixed with a bunch of strange compounds, into your blood directly?

For instance, here are the reasons we haven’t vaccinated for chicken pox (the varicella vaccine does not contain mercury, thermasol or aluminum):

1.  It is a new vaccine.  As it was only created in the 1990’s, we won’t know the effectiveness of the immunization through the adult years and old age for many decades to come.  Chicken pox is much more dangerous as an adult.  When the vaccine began it was a one-injection thing.  Now Washington State is requiring four varicella injections spread out over childhood.  Who is to say that will be enough?  Will they have to add boosters through the adult years?  And will my child be responsible enough to continue those boosters when I am not there to “enforce” them?

2.   It’s the Chicken Pox.  We’ve all had them – back in our day, it was a rite of childhood passage, wasn’t it?  Now, I’m not going to tell you that chicken pox is risk-free, but it is pretty benign.  Before the vaccine, each year there were 100 deaths related to varicella.  What that statistic is not telling you, though: how many of these deaths occurred in the adult years?  Or with immuno-compromized persons?  Or generally unhealthy people who eat poorly and don’t take care of themselves?  Or infants born to mothers who were experiencing a chicken pox outbreak at the time of birth?  I’ve also heard that there might be a link between these deaths and people taking inhaled corticosteriods for athsma.  Then, think about it this way:  100 deaths a year is nothing when you compare it to the 36,000 Americans that die every year from complications of the flu.

3.   I can build a stronger immunization if I “vaccinate” naturally.  10-20% of people vaccinated end up getting chicken pox anyway (albeit a milder version).  We’re discussing exposing our kids on purpose to chicken pox, probably this summer before school.  I’m not sure we’ll have a full-blown “chicken pox party” (I can’t seem to warm Rich up to the idea) but we might have a playdate with a kid with a confirmed case of varicella.  We’ve discussed it with the kids, so it’s not like we would be being sneaky.  It will be more work for us, but I believe better for the kids in the long run.  I’d love to let nature take it’s course, but with most kids immune we may have to seek it out.  (My parents exposed me and my brother on purpose and I have no problem with that.)

4.  I have doubts about the motives for requiring vaccination.  The World Health Organization mentions “cost-effectiveness” just a few too many times for my comfort level when discussing why to vaccinate against varicella.  Is that what it really is about – saving money?  What about my child’s long-term health?  Oh, I get it – it’s a profit thing!

5.  Our family doc recommended not vaccinating against the chicken pox.   He even mentioned that he exposed his kids on purpose.  (Have I mentioned here how much I like our doctor?  Well I do!)

My kind of spirituality

I connected with this today.

Petit Innocence

A couple of weeks ago, Rich and I had the opportunity to have a weekend away, just the two of us, skiing on Mt. Hood.  My parents had made us an offer we couldn’t refuse:  they would come to our house and hang out with the kids over a three day weekend and we would have free reign to practice our keg stands and beer bongs with 500 of our closest friends in their Portland, Oregon home.  (Kidding, Dad. You saw the progress I made on your jigsaw puzzle.)

The kids of course had a wonderful time with their Gram and Granddaddy and even picked up some geography as my parents are planning to leave for France in a week or two.  (This will come up later.)  We had a blast skiing and generally just unwinding and on Monday it was time to go home.  We all decided that exchanging the kids halfway between Portland and the Tri-Cities was the best way to maximize time efficiency and minimize fussiness, so a small town was chosen.  This particular town whose name I’ll keep to myself might ring a bell for those of you who watch less PBS kids and more CNN than me.  It recently made headlines with a certain female elected town official got fired because of some pictures she posted of herself in her bra and hot pants on a certain popular social networking site.

Anyway this particular small town only has one restauraunt, called “Restaurant” as far as we could tell,  so we settled in for a little dinner in the smoky atmosphere.  It is a true “greasy spoon” place – the type of place that sometimes I have a strange affinity for as they seem to being town down all over the country to make way for the rapidly breeding Applebees, Chili’s and other boxed restaurant places.  Anyway, walking into a place like that in a town with a population of only 500 always is interesting as the music seems to skip and stop and all conversation ceases as townsfolk stare at the “foreigners”.  We weren’t truck drivers and we sure as hell weren’t locals.  Who knows, maybe we made the village newspaper.

As we chose our dinner from the menu of items such as chicken-fried steak and pot pie, just as the waitress was taking our order, Connor started looking around the room at the unfamiliar surroundings, a whole hundred miles away from his own home.  There was western-style swinging doors into a smoky bar and paintings on the wall by some local artist who chose broken down cars in wheat fields as his muse.

Loud enough for the whole restuarant to hear he asked the table, “Are we in Paris?”

Ummm….let me see.  No.  (My dad and I did not do a very good job of containing our amusement.)

Welcome back stateside, MyAllusion (hope you were able to stay up to 8pm like you said on chat last night), and enjoy the trip, Mom and Dad.  I hope you can find a restaurant more romantic.


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