Flutter in the Wind

Monday is wash day. I sort, wash and then dry a week’s worth of linens, clothes, dishtowels, rags. I love my front loading washer, and my dryer makes me feel zen – well, ok, not exactly zen. This is still laundry. Responsible is a much better word.

How can doing laundry make me feel responsible? I wash in cold water and rinse in cold water — no heating of the water saves enough electricity to offset the times I stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open wondering when my personal summer will abate so that I can get on with my day. Then I dry my clothes – for free.

http://www.breezedryer.com/ Medium dryer.
Image from Breezedryer.com

Yup folks. I have a clothesline on my back porch, out of the sun – but perhaps more importantly – out of the line of sight of my neighbor with the binoculars who lives to find out how we are breaking the deed restrictions. Screened from view with an inexpensive roller shade from the local hardware store, my clothes flutter dry in peace and quiet – without the use of fossil fuels.

I come from a long line of natural dryers. Our basement in Kentucky was end-to-end clotheslines. My mother swore that her knits would never see the inside of a tumble drier. She maintained that the heat shrank most clothes and sucked the fibers of their natural elasticity.

According to Mr. Electricity, electric washers use approximately $193 worth of fuel per year to operate. That’s 50 cents a load. (Based on 7.5 loads, 15 cents per kWh) gas models use $120 per year, or 31 cents per load. (Based on 7.5 loads per week, $1.25/therm.) I do three to four loads of wash a week. According to Mr. Electricity’s handy little calculator, I compared the cost of doing four loads a week for the two of us, simply leaving the dryer out of the calculations on one column and leaving it in for the other. Total savings per year: $110.

The reasons I line dry are more than the small financial savings each year. The clothes smell better. I feel better about doing it. It takes very little time to hang the clothes and the only thing I have to do is make sure my neighbors don’t see the flutter of free drying. I use the same line clips my mother used – and some of those were her mother’s. For five minutes at a time I can almost feel them standing there with me. Worth every penny I’m saving – and then some.

Two off topic posts in a row. I promise to get back out to the garden next time. Hopefully the 100 degree heat will abate soon.

Happy gardening!

Julie

Share

To Weed or Not To Weed

Farming Southern Spain styleWhen the summer growing season started, I was conscientious about pulling all weeds out of my brand-spanking-new garden beds. As summer wore on, and my work load grew in direct proportion to the outside temperatures, I weeded a little less and concentrated more on harvesting and building more raised beds.

I did take the time to notice that the corner of the far raised bed has a huge number of stink bugs. It also has a larger number of weeds because it’s close to the outside of the garden, but to be honest, it is mostly because it’s squash, and I didn’t feel like weeding under the prickly stems and leaves.

My tomatoes, which were right next to the stinkbuggy squash, had almost no stink bug damage. I patted myself on the back for choosing good varieties and moved on — or did until the local Texas Market Grower group began to toss this subject around in this week’s round of discussion.

The initial question was inspired by Michael Ableman’s book, Fields of Plenty. He actually proposes that we not weed, or at least not as thoroughly as I had been taught was necessary.

“Competition Control

    Every plant improves soil structure by spreading out its roots and tunneling
    through the dirt, and in a natural setting, plants interact with a number of
    beneficial microbes — particularly certain kinds of bacteria, fungi, nematodes,
    and protozoa — to get the nutrients that they need. In this symbiotic
    relationship, plants literally feed the life in the soil by excreting food for
    the bacteria and fungi through their roots. Thus, the presence of any plant is a
    boon for the overall quality of soil. And because each plant has a slightly
    different niche, having many different kinds of plants leads to imroved balance
    in soil ecology.”
    — Michael Ableman, Fields of Plenty

Many local plants bring nutrients up through their root system  from the subsoil and enrich the top soil in which we plant our crops. (Clover, for example, is a nitrogen fixing plant, so makes a great cover crop for fallow grazing fields.) The more variety in the plant population, the better variety of nutrients gets brought up to the surface soil. He goes on to say that when “weeds” or local plant variety grows to the point where they are overshadowing your crop or winning the competition for water and nutrients,  scythe or flatten them down to swing the advantage back to the crop. Thus your soil gets the benefit of the variety of plant life, and your crop gets the benefit of improved soil.

Back to my stinkbuggy squash. I had been picking the squash and using it, and hadn’t really thought about the fact that there wasn’t a huge amount of damage from the stink bugs. Mmmmm. Maybe it’s not the squash attracting those bugs, but the weeds. Maybe these stinking bugs are so happy on my weeds that they’re leaving my crops alone. (For the most part this growing season, they did.) Maybe not weeding is a good idea. It sounds good to me. I’ll pay a lot more attention to this notion after the Fall garden gets going.

Happy Gardening!

Julie

Share

Squash Me!

squash and cucumbers
How many is too many?

Anyone who has ever grown squash knows you need a way to dispose of this stuff. I’ve heard that you can break a friendship under the weight of gifted zucchini, but my friends are stauncher than that. The fact that they are no longer taking my calls or answering the door when I stop by means nothing — for I know that come September they will be clamoring for the spoils of my early fall harvests. Who would turn down fresh basil, lettuce, swiss chard etc. (Although you’d think they’d take the squash to stay on my good side…)

Until then, I’ve been searching for a way to make squash disappear.

If friends and family stop taking this particular offering, do I really need to eat it myself? I know from my Weight Watcher days that veggies have zero points, but…the squash out of my garden this summer is so sweet that I’m pretty darn sure I can gain weight eating it. I needed more ways to dispose of squash without hurting relationships or myself.

My first thought, prompted by the sight of a rotten summer squash in my refrigerator’s bottom drawer, was to compost all the ones I couldn’t eat right away and move on to eating the other good stuff coming out of the garden. After all, the squirrels, raccoons, and possum would benefit from all this healthy goodness. But then I realized how much effort I would be putting into feeding the local pesky wildlife and put my thinking cap back on.

I called the Food Bank. That’s right. The local food bank will take produce! Eureka!

Squash mashes down to almost nothing in the food processor. You can pulverize it and use it to thicken soups and sauces. Works! Mmm. Pretty creamy too – and less bad for me by far than a cream sauce.

I considered putting it on the next-door neighbor’s porch and run like hell. Unfortunately, they have a gun and know how to use it.

Dried ZucchiniMy favorite by far is this next one. The newest thing in my kitchen is a dehydrator. ($13 from Good Will) A whispering fan sends warm air wafting upward through thinly sliced vegetables, drying them to thin crispy goodness. I sliced up one of my more robust varieties, sprinkled a little sea salt over the pieces, spread them out on the trays and left them whirring away overnight.

Voila! Zucchini Chips. They are so tasty I may have to market them. Oh wait, perhaps I should Google it first to see if it’s Been Done. Oh well, so I’m not the first to think Zucchini would dry well. It’s still a great idea.

If you’ve got any good squash tips you want to share – feel free!

Happy gardening,

Julie

Share

What Really Bugs Me

Feeling a tad frustrated with my WIP, not able to keep the characters in line and make the scene I was working on actually work, I abandoned my desk for the garden yesterday.
I keep milkweed growing in a variety of spots so that any stray Monarchs can stop awhile at the Butterfly Cafe, sip some nector, then lay their eggs before moving along. I keep the plant for what it offers the Butterflies, but sometimes it attracts less entertaining insects. Snapped this photo while I was walking out my scene trouble.
I had worried day and night about this guy killing the Milkweed — or worse, traveling across the driveway to the kitchen garden where it would wreck havoc on my tomatoes. Turns out it can be easily identified as a common Milkweed Bug.
Big sigh of relief later, I went out to the tomatoes to tell them the good news. This reminded me to do Stink Bug duty, so I trooped over to the volunteer squash vine that popped up in my new veggie row, a gift from last Thanksgiving’s decorations resurrection via the compost. Curiously, the stink bugs have only showed up in any numbers on that volunteer vine, not the tender baby Eight Ball and Zuccini I’d nurtured from seed. Having them concentrated on the volunteer vine made it much easier to control them.
“Hey, Stinky, look at at this plant! Ignore the human-loved goodness over there!” Gloves; smush! Presto, no more bugs! Using this neat bit of garden misdirection, I have managed to harvest a bumper crop of tomatoes, peppers and squash with minimal damage from the stinkers.
Misdirection? Mmmmm. Eureka! Proving once again that gardening is good for what ails you, that little walk through my gardens allowed my mind to relax enough to come up with a solution to the troublesome scene.
Happy gardening!
Julie
Share

Networking

Just had the best day tossing ideas around with Mary Saums and Deborah Adams. We shared news of our writing life, our personal life and our personal priorities. The reason behind this visit is that Mary had planted the seed of a possible joint venture. We three have a lot in common, being writers, women, and wives who believe strongly in personal responsibility, especially where it pertains to sustainable living. We decided the thing we most cared about right at this very second in our lives was our personal responsibility for the Earth and how we could make changes in our lives to help live sustainably.

Most of us live a little above our share of the carbon footprint we’re entitled to here in the United States. We all enjoy the lifestyle, but how many of us are truly aware of what each day’s activities use in terms of resources?
I thought I’d share what I tote up living on our eight acres back home outside Houston. I eat mostly local food, use renewable energy for electricity in our home, drive less than 150 miles a week, drive a high-efficiency car, fly 4 – 10 hours each year, and recycle everything that isn’t nailed down. Despite this the footprint calculator tells it would take 4.2 Earths to sustain us all if everyone lived my lifestyle. That is really scary since I know most who live in the area around me use far more resources to sustain their lives. NASA needs to go out and find a bunch more viable planets to keep us all in cars, convenient good things to eat, and A/C!
So is my lifestyle choice of having a large garden, getting my meat from local producers (Pastured beef and poultry) and writing books a valid one even though it takes so many resources to live this way? I think so. Certainly as valid as those neighbors who commute an hour each way five times a week to produce widgets of one sort or another. I provide food for my family, some for friends and neighbors, and hopefully produce a book a year for the public’s reading pleasure.
My goal is to get my footprint down to three Earths by the end of the year. I may have to whack off half the house to do this, but I’m game.
Now if only my tomatoes would look anything like as healthy as Deb’s.
Happy Gardening!
Share

Hurry Up and Wait

How many of us set goals, and then race through our days striving to reach those goals so that we can set newer, better goals toward which we can strive?

I used to be very goal oriented. I truly thought I could accomplish anything, 1 – 2 – 3. Next!
Then life showed me how it really goes. Moved to Texas. Married. Had children. I was 30 before I finished my first book, 40 before I completed my Master Gardner certification, and 50 before I had the time to put in my first honest-to-gosh kitchen garden.
Gardening has taught me a new outlook on life. I have to wait for everything. Wait for the seed catalogs to be posted. Wait to make up my mind what kind of vegetables to plant. Wait for the seed to come in the mail. Wait for the seeds to sprout. Wait for the seedlings to be robust enough to plant outside. Wait for the plant to fruit. Wait for morning to come so I can pick the vegetables and fruit at just the peak of flavor…then wait all day for my husband to get home so that we can cook dinner together. (Getting a few weeds and new pages for the work-in-progress out of the way while I wait…Blogging occasionally when volunteer duties allow.)
Philosophy of the second half of my life: Wait to hurry rather than hurry up and wait.

Share

Where Art Thou, Free Water from the Sky?

The temps here in southern Texas have reached the high 90’s and we know Summer is upon us. I confess I don’t enjoy this part of our weather. In addition, the humidity is high, although not as high as it might be — no rain for four weeks helps in that respect. The garden, however, needs water. So I’ve rigged up a water catchment system off the barn roof. Thus far I can catch 100 gallons per one inch of rainfall in the spare horse trough I have placed under one of the four downspouts. In addition, I have a 50 gallon barrel under the eves of the house. I use three gallon cat litter jugs to empty as much of the water between rainfalls. This makes me feel very good about the water I’m using on the garden. Let happy, however, about the amount of busy work involved in this. I had explored a water catchment system over a year ago, but never got it built. I can see that time — and my tricky shoulder — demands that I get to this project.

Here are the links to the plans…hope to have pictures sooner rather than later. For those who don’t feel like exploring a 500 gallon system, look at this system which is a bit more attainable.
Happy Gardening!
Share

Alien Tomatoes

This week I am planting the last of my spring tomatoes. I found an amazing variety of tomato — the Vorlon. This variety is named for an alien species in one of my all-time favorite Science Fiction shows, Babylon-5. Can’t help but wonder what would happen if I planted them next to the Vulcans? (Or, as my good friend,Deb Adams, suggested — put the Vorlon tomatoes next to the Carbons and see if we don’t get Shadows.)

My next chore will be to assess the compost and turn the heck out of it because I will need to top off the beds currently planted in onions and garlic and get summer cover crop seed planted before the high heat takes over.

Just finished a combined business trip to the University of Central Florida’s Inaugural Book Festival and visit with my Florida cousins. What a wonderful time for a trip to the sunshine state! Glorious weather, beautiful beaches, and long talks with people who have known me since birth. Can’t imagine a nicer way to spend a weekend.

Happy gardening!

Julie

Share