Everything is growing! This year I’m growing lots of normal stuff, like potatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, and some oddities, like masha, chuffa, and job’s tears.
Here are some tidbits of science-y garden bits I’ve come across in the last little while.
I grow blueberries and blackberries. My brassicas all have a nice blue-ish tint. Last year I grew blue tomatoes (not tasty enough to bother growing again) and this year I’m trying to grow blue popcorn. I have black amaranth from last year volunteering itself everywhere, which I’d argue fits into the same colour category as those above – which is really more purple than blue. So, Why are so few foods blue?
Along the same vein of blue, I stumbled across this berry eons ago – too bad it isn’t edible (it sure is pretty).
We’ve been actively converting grass to vegetable garden here. This spring, we doubled my veggie growing space by taking over most of the front lawn (the area in front of the food forest). It has the most sunlight of anywhere on my lot, so I’ve filled the space with beans, corn, amaranth, sunflowers and brassicas. What I don’t want is grass, so I was surprised to read about astronauts growing grass on the space station. Why not more food? Lettuce has been grown successfully up there. Or more flowers? There has already been zinnias in space.
One of the podcasts I listen to recently had an interview with one of my favourite authors – Mary Roach. The interview was about her most recent book (Grunt) which came out earlier this month, and I ordered. The book is about the science behind keeping soldiers alive, I’m hoping to start reading my copy this weekend. It turns out she was inspired to write Grunt after a research trip to study the science behind hot peppers. Here’s the article.
Although, I have no plans to weaponize my hot peppers, my plants are growing big and healthy. Hopefully I’ll get a bumper crop to turn into hot sauces.
In April my PhD funding was scheduled to officially end. My awesome supervisor had scrounged extra money for a few more months, to the end of the summer at most. But, I was suffering from financial angst, i.e. a fear of being unpaid which would quickly become a problem. I’m progressing on my dissertation, its mostly just writing now. Most of my first draft is done, but I expect to be revising for quite some time. I knew I was very unlikely to finish before my funding ran out. The best case scenario I could come up with would have me finish early fall. Timing that just didn’t match my funding.
To abate my financial angst, I started dabbling in freelance writing, actually found a few paying gigs (I discovered a secret talent for creating logic puzzles). It was an interesting experience, but there was no way I could earn ‘enough’ doing it in the short term.
I planned a massive garden as groceries cost. We turned most of what was left of the front lawn into food garden – effectively doubling the annual veggie beds at the house. Plus, there was my parent’s garden to plant and I signed up for an allotment with some friends. Because I wasn’t busy enough, when I came up with an idea for a novel last summer I decided to start writing. It’s a science fiction who-done-it with lots of plants (and butterflies), and writing it has been a fun diversion from dull academic writing. And, my busy three-and-a-half year old deserves plenty of my time.
In the midst of everything, a job in my field came up. I got it and with rather short notice started in April. It’s a perfect fit for my skill set and has removed my financial angst and much of my free time. It’s all good – however, adding full time work onto my already full plate left me overwhelmed. I had to let some things go (unfortunately this blog was an early casualty). I dialed back my garden plans, backed out of sharing an allotment, and gave my chickens to a friend with a farm (a literal farm, not a figurative one). I stopped freelance writing and cleaned up many of the ‘experiments’ I was running around the house.
I’ve managed to keep puttering on my dissertation. I no longer have to be in a rush, hopefully I’ll be done in a year. Surprisingly, I’ve finished a first draft of my novel and am puttering away on the second. It turns out, for me writing fiction is a nice late evening task. I like my story and am planning on self-publishing it, maybe late fall.
The garden is looking organized, beds are dug over, sprinklers on timers are set up and plenty of things are planted. I lost a few pepper plants due to not re-potting them in time, so I just bought replacements. With my husband’s help we are in good shape to finish planting in the garden. Plus, we’ve created a small plot for my daughter which she has chosen to fill with strawberries and flowers. I’ll try to keep posting updates here, but I don’t promise to be regular for a while.
The last few days have felt like someone switched on spring. Plants have been rushing to bloom (including the last of my overwinter greens) and there is new growth everywhere. I’ve been able to putter outside in just my t-shirt – and the monster mud pit is starting to dry up.
At the beginning of March we finally got the greenhouse covered, but not strapped down yet. Within 24 hours we had a major wind storm that nearly blew it away. That day I was out there holding the greenhouse down (not easy to do) while my husband was screwing the strapping on (my three-year old ran around inside delighted with the excitement). For the next few weeks we had a windstorm every other day – since windstorms around here are a November thing, I’ve concluded putting up the greenhouse caused them. We’ll need to do some fixing, but the greenhouse has survived and is now filled with young plants.
The front food forest has been a bit of a deer-ravaged-weed-zone, but I’ve started to get a handle on it. The perennials, bushes and trees are coming to life and I hope will grow enough this year to drown out some of the weeds. And, even though the deer have been eating my sprouting broccoli, there was still plenty left over for me to harvest. On the agenda for April is putting up a better fence!
It’s interesting how sometimes I notice the same idea coming at me from wildly different places. Lately, the concept of ‘practice’ has repeatedly emerged from very different sources.
A few weeks ago I listened to a podcast about Tetris (the 1980’s computer game). Compared to other video games out there it’s shockingly simple, yet it has endured in various forms since its invention. There is even a version on it on my computer right now. Tetris type games are my favourite type of games – mildly addictive and I never seem to tire of them.
The thing is, it’s impossible to win Tetris. No matter what one does, those blocks keep coming faster and faster until eventually they fill the screen. Every single game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot, I’ve lost. But winning isn’t the point, in fact, there is no set end point. Which links to the concept of practice, I can always play a tiny bit better, manipulate those shapes a little bit faster and that’s what keeps bringing me back.
I recently signed up for a new yoga class. The instructor has been talking a lot about practice and how it’s a way for an individual to push their own boundaries. There is no real end goal to yoga – well… enlightenment maybe, but that’s well outside my expectations in the same realm as winning a game of Tetris. For me yoga (or physical fitness in general) is not a project that ends. I can always push myself incrementally a bit further through deliberate practice.
Along the same vein, I just finished reading a writing book (The Creative Compass) that’s also advocating for a deliberate practice of generating words, a push to get ideas down. Although, I’m working on several finite writing projects (with my dissertation being the biggest) when I finish, I’ll simply start writing something else, a different project – I suspect there is no set end to my writing.
Gardening also fits into this practice model, as there are seasonal cycles but no real end. I can tweak what I do from year to year but it’s never complete – I can’t ‘win’ in any absolute sense (nor would I want to). There will always be weeding, planning, planting and harvesting to do. It’s the process that drives me, which is perhaps the point of considering it a practice.
(Perhaps parenting counts as another sort of practice as there is no real end state, no ‘winning’ just moment to moment choices.)
So I have a little secret – I don’t actually like squash (the exception is pumpkin pie, which is the best desert on the planet). I thought I would grow to like it, but it was recently pointed out to me that turning all my squash into curried squash soup only really means I like curry.
But, for the last few years, squash has turned out to be my most productive crop – I’m still working through the 67kg I harvested last year and there is only so much curried squash soup one family can stand. Which has left me with no choice but to experiment. So we’ve had coconut squash pasta (which was good, but could just be me liking coconut milk), squash and black bean burgers (also good, but I couldn’t taste the squash) and squash muffins (about as far into baking that I ever venture). All reasonable options for reducing my squashy stash.
The best option by far is lacto-fermented squash. Once fermented it’s ready in the fridge whenever, and is an easy addition to a plowman style lunch. I’ve only had it, so far, styled as kimchi, but there is plenty of opportunity to experiment here – but not with spaghetti squash (I fermented some last year and it was not good and I’ve since come across others who’ve tried and come to the same conclusion).
Anyone have other ideas on how to prepare winter squash for those of us who don’t really like it?
I think I’m finally escaping my January blahs and a little extra light has brought new growth to the garden (perhaps the two are related). I’ve got big plans for this year, including finishing the greenhouse, a watering system and a new chicken coop – plus extending the front garden to take over much of our front lawn. I’ve also had enough with weed-wacking around the raised planters, so I’m finally going to get wood chips down.
As I sit looking out to the garden six lemon yellow flowers provide a cheerful punch in the winter garden dominated by greens and mud. They’re edible chrysanthemums, planted to provide winter greens, but they decided to bloom – in January. The only other flash of bright colour comes from the Steller’s Jay that has taken up foraging the footprints of past compost bins, presumably ground full of tasty delights. The flash of blue keeps distracting me, but I don’t mind. Looking out always reminds me, the garden is about more than the food it produces.
Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a company that outfits sea containers with hydroponic gardening systems. Inside, lights cast an optimized spectrum of wavelengths on vertical crops creating a glowing purple world. These gardens (factories? systems?) are reminiscent of a retrofuturistic world without ground to plant and gardens are for one purpose only – human food production.
This kind of food production could feed a lot of people. Since I have a ridiculously long and flat driveway for an urban dweller, I could easily accommodate one of these portable systems – and it’s even tempting. I wonder if there has been thought of sending these systems to the remote communities in the north? Could they produce fresh produce cheaper than flying it in?
I have to admit, I prefer a more polyculture style garden. I would never sit in one of these systems, while I’ll sit in my garden and observe. I prefer the lushness of a polyculture set up along with the wildlife that come in. Plus, I like the illumination of the full visible spectrum, not just the wavelengths that serve growth best.
Hey, there’s the Steller’s Jay…
I’ve been a little short on blog post lately (by lately I mean the last two months). I’ve drifted away from diligently creating the right kind of environment that allows me to think. When I get it right ideas spring up like weeds when I don’t I feel stuck in a desert – I seem to be in one state or the other, never a middle ground.
Step one is getting enough sleep, as a natural insomniac this is a tough one for me. Add in a three year old on her own agenda and I find myself regularly in a sleep deprived mental fog. I could put a notebook beside my bed to jot down ideas that come to me at night. But, as soon as I turn on a light to do that, sleep, which is my ultimate goal, drifts further away.
My solution is to actively avoid thinking up good ideas at night, instead I play with slightly boring scenarios I’ve poached from TV shows, movies or something I’ve read – nothing I can call my own. This gives me something to think about while bypassing my monkey mind (also called the default mode network where the mind chews on itself dredging up negative tidbits and past conflicts that only creates useless worry). The goal is to relax and fall asleep. Even when I do come up with my own ideas at night I’m not convinced they are actually any good – and a full night sleep is more important as it makes it easier for me to think clearly the next day. Being clear headed enough to write begets more writing and often the ideas just flow.
Step two is to create a situation where my mind can wander. So, washing dishes works as does weeding, running, driving and even sitting on air planes. Going to a coffee shop with a blank piece of paper and no agenda but to write works, as does sitting in my comfy chair at home. My mind tends to go on tangents when I read non-fiction, enough so that I tend to read that kind of book with a notebook at hand. I often find myself putting the book aside to explore my own thoughts. The key seems to be being alone, creating space in my head and seeing what happens.
All this to say, I’ll be coming up with new posts soon.
As a tangent, after almost a decade away, I recently began dabbling with fiction writing again. Who knows if anything will come from it.
I finally worked up the energy to tally the harvest from 2015, I grew 196 kg of food! My harvest works out to enough to feed a person requiring 2000 calories per day for 62 days – not too shabby. Out of curiosity I went back an calculated calories on my 2014 harvest and was able to feed my hypothetical person for 38 days, so I’m improving. Hopefully, the 2016 harvest will produce even more calories (that’s this year’s goal). As for what my harvest was worth, a rough calculation resulted in $1150 worth of produce, $50 more than the 2014 harvest (I may have calculated my 2014 harvest based on organic produce which I didn’t do this year).
So for those who like the numbers here they are:
Eggs – 489 (over 40 dozen). Also added two new hens to my flock (Licorice and Stout), so I’m expecting an eggy spring.
Roots – 13.54 kg. I didn’t plant as many different type of roots last year, just carrots, beets, and radishes. I also planted celeriac for the first time and haven’t harvested them yet.
Greens – 10.49 kg. I’ve lumped all my green leafy things into one category here. I grew kale, collards, lettuce, chard and an assortment of Asian greens.
Oniony things – 3.75 kg. Mostly garlic and leeks, might try actual onions again this year.
Sprouts – 0.99 kg. This I do in the house and is usually pea shoots, chive sprouts (from my own seeds) and fenugreek sprouts. I’ve experimented with other sprouts and these three are my favourite.
Broccoli – 0.5 kg. This is all purple sprouting broccoli I harvest in the spring. I didn’t get a lot, but the taste was awesome so I’ll aim for more this year plus my husband has convinced me to grow Brussels sprouts.
Peas/beans – 2.59 kg. There were fresh peas and green beans, I’m thinking of adding snow peas to the mix since they’ll be ready sooner in the spring when not much else is available.
Herbs – 1.02 kg. I grow parsley, chives, basil and rosemary. Will expand herb production this year.
Fruit – 16.58 kg. This was the first year I got ripe melons and they were awesome, but I didn’t get any apples. I’ve also included all the berries that made it into the house (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and tayberries).
Mushrooms – 0.48 kg. From a kit I got at last year’s seedy Saturday.
Tomatoes – 34.11 kg. More than last year! I experimented with some new types but for my garden and taste buds black prince and old German varieties work best.
Peppers – 4.76 kg. I grew both hot and sweet peppers outside and got a huge harvest.
Cucumber – 0.3 kg. All I can say is cucumbers just didn’t work for me last year.
Oca – 1.23 kg. I wrote about these here.
Dried beans – 5.75 kg. I wrote about these here. I’ve since eaten several of my varieties and am enjoying how different they are, so far the snowcap beans are my favourite.
Potatoes – 33 kg and Squash – 67 kg. I wrote about these here. We ate the last of these last weekend, since I love potatoes its going to be a long wait until this year’s crop.
I also harvested a bunch of oddball things I’ll cover in another post. Plus, I’ve saved all sorts of seeds to use this year. Finally, last year I planted a bunch of fruit and nut trees, more berries (including a grape vine) and my perennial plants are getting established – once all these are producing I expect my urban harvest will increase massively.