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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Soil Health Card

A quick post for those of you wanting to improve your soil (okay- everybody).  I found a nifty scorecard online that you can use to take visual tests of your soil to assess its health. Most soil tests only ascertain the alkalinity or acidity of a soil and the amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous in it, plus some other minerals like calcium.  You could have all this information and still have pretty crappy soil, though.

The test card helps you assess ground cover, penetration, infiltration, diversity of soil life, root development, soil structure, aggregate stability, earthworms, soil pH, and leaf color. There is also a separate test for soil microbes which involves rotting a piece of cotton fabric in the soil.  Pretty easy stuff, and it all happens with some home made tools which the soil health card tells you how to make (and even that is pretty easy).

It comes to us from the generosity of the good folks at New South Wales Agriculture and the (Australian) National Heritage Trust.

The 2017 Lineup

I mentioned in my last post that I have been making plans for redoubling my efforts to get more food out of the yard.  I want to definitely add rabbits this year (more on that in another post) but not until much later after I've got the garden going.

The first thing I did was order my seed for this year. After discovering that some vegetables that I like to grow and eat were part of the reason I was getting sick, I was disheartened and lost a lot of focus and interest in my garden. But Steve and I have recently discovered bok choi, which I bought on a whim, and lo and behold we really like it.  So now I'm going to try growing it and a few other asian and domestic vegetables we've never tried before and this prospect has me all fired up about gardening again.  I can't wait!

But to order the seed, I had to first decide which of the many catalogs I receive in the mail I'm going to actually use. I cut this list down to the below.

Then I wrote down all the seeds that interested me.  The things I need to know to make a decision is the vegetable, the variety, the seed company, the days to maturity (more on that later) and any features and benefits that interested me in the first place.

Then I wrote down all the information from all the different seed companies in alphabetical order of vegetable name so that I could choose the best of the lot, or in some instance, a close second. The seeds that I highlighted are the seeds that were chosen.

Pursuant to all this was the thought that I'd better start doing a better job of organizing and keeping my seed so I came up with a plan. I created a seed record card and I'll print one for every different variety I have. The seed will go in a quart freezer bag (because I currently have ton of these and won't have to buy anything) and the card will go in with it. Then all the seed will be organized by the month I need to start planting it. I mocked up a sample card for myself, and as I washed dishes or folded laundry, something else that would be good to have on the card suggested itself and I'd get up and write that down.  Here is what the final cards look like:
You can use this as a PDF from here if you like.  The idea is to print this on card stock or at least very thick paper and cut it into four cards. I split each of the plant and harvest dates into two because I figure I can squeeze ten dates each into the same space.  Five dates for some items is just not enough.  Obviously, this will necessitate re-writing the cards for next year, but all the pertinent information will be there including the results.  The other thing I plan to do with this is to get a days to maturity on those varieties where the seed company did not divest that information, and then I can carry that information forward to next year's card.

Days to maturity is probably the single most important thing to know about your seed variety, in my view.  It's right up there with who owns the seed company or where they source their seed, and whether it's F1 or OP or heirloom. Days to maturity is important because it could make all the difference on whether you get food out of your efforts or not. It's more important for those of us with short growing windows. Actually, the Willamette Valley where I live is pretty blessed with a long growing season, but that growing season is better suited to growing cabbage and kale than it is tomatoes and eggplant, and I want to be able to grow those hot weather vegetables and get food from them, so I need to make sure I'm getting early varieties.  Our summers are fairly unpredictable anymore.

The other reason you want short season varieties is that if you plan on doing any succession planting in the same spot, you'll have better luck if the first vegetable is well out of the way when it comes time to plant the new one. And lastly, the best reason for growing short season varieties is something I learned from Carol Deppe in her wonderful book The Resilient Gardener, which is that there were two major reasons that folks survived The Little Ice Age which started somewhere in the 1400's and finally ended in the 1850's: short season varieties and crop diversity.

And whereas the current climate change we're experiencing does not seem to be tipping us toward another little ice age (ask your local polar bear if you don't believe me), it did occur to me that the same strategy would probably work just as well for the climate changes we're all going to have to come to grips with eventually. And maybe not so eventually; climate change could be the reason our summers (and winters, for that matter) are becoming unpredictable.

At any rate, the bench in the garage where I usually start seed is all set up and ready to go.  I also have a new soil blocker and soil blocker tray from Johnny's Seeds to get seedlings off to a good start.  I've never used a soil blocker before, but the advantage to using soil blocks is that as the seedling roots grow to the edges of the block they are air pruned, so the root ball is concentrated; you don't have the roots hitting the sides of a pot and growing round and round. This way there is no transplant shock and the seeds are off to a rip roaring start once they're in the ground.  I'm always of a wait-and-see attitude, but even if all else fails, I won't be fiddling with trying to get a seedling out of a container, and that appeals a great deal.  Just dig a hole, plop in the seedling, soil block and all, tamp around it and water it in. It should be a lot easier on my back.

So- there it is: the 2017 lineup.  Tomorrow is the first of February, which means I can get started. I'll start on the 2nd and 3rd (because I'm still using planting by the moon to break up the work) and I'll plant: asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, chard, choi, endive, escarole, kale, lettuce, mustard, parsley, and peas.  On the 13th through the 18th I'll plant garlic and shallots , and start beets, carrots*, and onions.  I'm still on the fence about whether or not to plant potatoes, but if I do it will be in some sort of grow box; I am definitely not putting them in the ground. Potatoes are the gift that keeps on giving, and that'll be great if they are coming out of a grow box, but not so much if they are coming out of a part of the garden where I want to grow something else. Which is what usually happens.

* I know you're wondering about starting carrots because we all know you can't transplant carrots. I saw a guy on YouTube who does it in toilet paper tubes and then plants the whole tube, so I'm going to try it as well. This is just to get a head start on carrots; I'll direct sow when the soil warms up enough.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Forced Simplicity

Last Monday, our television died.  Then the very next night, Tuesday, we received our fourth snowstorm of the season which had the very bad manners to bring Ice and his very good friend, a thirty-six hour power failure, with him.  So between the TV being dead and then the rest of the house being dead, we were subjected to a kind of forced simplicity, which was actually a little stressful. It didn't help that the brunt of the power failure took place on one of our fast days which is when we have only one meal for the day. We decided that if a power failure ever occurs on another fast day, that fast day is quickly going out the window, and that it truly is a good idea to include comfort foods in your emergency supplies. Now I get why. Things would have gone so much smoother if I just wasn't so damn hungry.  And I'll also plan better for what to do the next time. If I lose another game of gin to Steve I don't know what I'll do but my story will be cabin fever and I'll stick to it.

What is truly weird about this was the timing, because for the two previous nights we'd been watching How to Live a Simple Life with Peter Owen Jones.  I was more curious than anything when I decided we needed to see it because, this will not surprise you, I haven't made any real headway with my vow to buck the consumer economy, and I was beginning to suspect that the real problem stemmed from not simplifying our life enough.

What I mean by this is that I haven't simplified my needs; I'm still confusing my wants with my needs.  If I understand the concept of simplicity well enough, then to live simply means to live within your needs. Learn what is enough and then learn to live with enough. If you get this right, then somewhere in there you're supposed to discover your own happiness as well, because getting more stuff does not make you happy. Oh sure, I'll be happy when my shearling Birkenstock Bostons show up but that's because my toes are so freaking cold.  Could I make do with a much cheaper pair of slippers? Possibly, but most slippers do not come with a cork sole and Birkenstocks do, which is more insulating on this unheated stone floor that we have, and I'm not actually paying for these shoes. Steve won some serious brownie points at work and the most sensible thing he found he could do with the award money (which isn't actually cash) was to order some Zappos gift cards, so I'm getting new slippers and a much needed new winter jacket for free, which, as we all know, is my favorite price. (Actually, I like it better if you pay me to take something off your hands, but that's all part of the negotiation, n'est-ce pas?).

And yes, I'm one of those doom and gloomers who thinks that life is going to get very difficult very soon, so I am hoping to learn to live simply sooner so that I'll be used to it later when everyone else is forced into simplicity. I seriously hope that I'm wrong here, but I don't think I am and I, for one, want to get ahead of this curve because it's going to be a doozy.

So in the meantime between now and the great Forced Simplicity, I need to get my needs understood.  And I need to learn to live within them.

The European Cookie Notice

It's been awhile since I last posted and I finally have something to share with you but things have changed since I last posted, most notably Google told me that due to some European law I have to tell you about cookie use on my blog.

I don't use cookies.  If Google is using cookies to track what you are doing on my blog, that's their thing and they can tell you all about it as far as I'm concerned.

Not sure if this covers my obligation or not, but it will have to do.

But since I want my own privacy respected, I'll certainly respect yours, and just know that I am not tracking anything.

You're welcome.