Playing God by Twilight

Starting plants from seed is not for the faint of heart. Or at least that’s what I was pondering tonight while I potted up 16 broccoli, 16 Brussels sprouts, 32 lettuce and 8 peppers.

There’s something just a bit twisted about thinning seedlings that you purposely started. About choosing which get to live and which die. And that decision is somewhat arbitrary. Sometimes it’s obvious which one to keep – the straighter stem, more leaves, bigger leaves. Other times it’s just a matter of picking one and snipping the others.

Of course those are just the thoughts that went through my head while I spent an hour plus doing all that potting up. Could have just been the intoxicating smell of fish fertilizer that got me philosophizing.

Elsewhere things are really popping in the garden, even since I took the photos below. Just since yesterday the peas and bush beans have jumped up an inch or two.

The radishes peaking their heads out.

Potatoes! My mom is now laughing at me as I had to admit to her the other day that last week I dug one up because I was worried that they weren’t up yet. They haven’t all poked up, but I think they’re coming…

 

Resurection

Remember that tomato plant that I killed on Sunday? The one that caused me to decide to break the other tomatoes out instead of sliding them out?

Well this morning I had a moment to kill while waiting for my fellow carpoolers and wandered out to the garden. It was raining pretty steadily and had been since last night. And you know what? That damn tomato was standing 80% of the way back up. Since it was still raining when I got home I don’t have a photo, sorry.

So I don’t know, how does that rank on the scale of improbabilities and/or miracles?

Who’s More Sustainable?

I’ve been thinking about how and whether to write this post for a couple of weeks now. And I think I’m going to go for it – hopefully I won’t offend anyone tonight.It seems that lately there’s been a bit of “I’m more sustainable” or “I’m localer” than you going around the web and media blogosphere. And while I agree that certain choices are fundamentally more sustainable, others are not so clear cut. And the comparisons and somewhat competitive nature that has been coming out makes me uncomfortable.Not just because I probably lose the debate, after all, we’re still working our way through a paper napkin supply from the year we got married and we still use paper towels and Mike doesn’t always drink local beer and I’ve got a soft spot for chocolate and store bought salad dressing. But also because I think it’s a self defeating discussion.I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about what sustainability means or which choices are more sustainable or which are shortsighted. More that we should be careful not to make each other and our fellow citizens feel like we think we’re superior or that our way is the only way.The truth is that there are a lot of ways to live sustainably and there are a lot of choices to make that have far flung ramifications.Where we choose to live, how much we drive, what we eat and what we choose not to consume and why are all relevant and powerful choices and discussions. But when we position the choice we made as the only choice we set ourselves up to alienate the rest of the world.Living in the city can be a sustainable choice, but it has ramifications. Living on a small farm or ranch can be a sustainable choice, but it has ramifications. Giving up your car can be sustainable but on the flip side there are reasons why you might trade the use of gasoline for the other, greater, benefits it can deliver.We should be honest about the downsides of our choices, about the hidden and not so hidden costs. About why it’s right for us but not necessarily right for someone else.I’m ready and willing to talk about my choices and what I think of them. To talk about the tradeoffs I’m making and the ramifications of them for me and the rest of the world. Are you?Over the next month or so I’m going to make an effort to focus on some of the negative aspects of our move to the country in addition to my usual focus on the positives. Stay tuned.*****Edited to reflect that I really meant the broader web, media and blogosphere.

Tradeoffs – Driving

All right, I said that I’d talk about tradeoffs that resulted from our decision to move 15 miles north of where we lived in the city. The most obvious one is driving so we’ll start there.

When we lived in Everett I worked a short 5 miles from home and so driving to work wasn’t a huge deal. Plus, I tried to ride my bike when the weather was nice and my schedule allowed. We were able to do most of our shopping, including the summer farmer’s market, within 5 miles of the house and only really “drove” to visit friends, go mountain biking, or other similar activities.

As an construction manager, Mike does a lot of driving, and always has. Most of the work that his company does is much closer into Seattle or Bellevue. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of his career. He could try to find a job further north, but he really likes his current job – he’s been with the company almost 15 years.

Now that we’re here an Arlington we do more driving even though we’re only about 2.5 miles from most services and the interstate. The grocery store is no longer just 4 blocks away, instead there’s one about 3 miles away and unfortunately the good one is more like 10 miles. My commute is 20+ miles each way. While some of our friends are now closer, the rest are further away and so are Mike’s job sites.

How are we coping with it? In a myriad of ways.

We’re both carpooling to work. Mike with a friend that’s working for him right now. Me with 2 other people that work near me in Everett – we trade off the driving each day.

We consolidate errands into fewer trips. This requires a little planning, but the flip side is that we’re more likely to do them together. Luckily I’ve been doing weekly meal planning and shopping for a few years so that’s not a change – what is new is combining the trip to the food co-op / grocer with a stop at the hardware store, the farm store and the gas station and doing all of that with Mike.

Plus, a lot of the places we used to drive to on the weekends are 15 miles closer now. Mike’s favorite fishing and duck hunting spots are just down the road. The tree farm where we like to mountain bike is only a few miles north. My favorite butcher is practically next door. We can road bike and nordic walk right out of the driveway.

So yes, we’re farther away from some things, but I’m not sure that I’m actually filling my gas tank any more often. Instead I’m just using my miles differently. I’m carpooling again and living with the compromises that brings.

I believe that in the long term living here will prove to be more sustainable for us overall – as we get better at growing/raising and preserving our own food, as we connect with local farmers, as we rely more on ourselves and less on big business, as we do not need to add on to this house the way we did the last, as we buy less and live more.

Wonderful Whidbey Weekend

Mike and the dogs and I spent a wonderful weekend at our friends Mia and Ron’s cabin on Whidbey Island. Spending any time on Penn Cove is a treat. Spending a gorgeous sunny weekend like this is always something that I’ll remember for months.

For the most part the water was calm, the sun was out, the air was warm and the company was fabulous. The bald eagle(s) were fishing in the cove, the herons were fishing in the shallows, the geese were traveling through and the hummingbirds were buzzing.

We spent time paddling in our kayaks – all the way to Coupeville and back this morning, mountain biking, cooking and generally relaxing. The dogs played fetch until they couldn’t fetch any more. Mike and the guys played horseshoes and the four year old bossed us all around.

And I learned something new. Did you know that crabs actually have sex? Like missionary position sex?

Apparently they do. And this is the time of year that they do it. While gliding slowly through the still shallows today we say numerous crab couples doing the samba. Very funny!

How was your holiday weekend?

Thursday night

Tonight I realize that what’s quickly becoming normal would have seemed extraordinary not that long ago. Mike got caught at work late tonight because one of his crew’s had the street opened and it was a mess. When we lived in the city a night like tonight would have gone like this: I would have gotten home first, maybe pulled a weed or two, collected the eggs, taken the dogs to the park and then gone inside and hung out to wait for Mike to get home. It would have seemed like a long wait and I would have likely ended up with the TV on.

Tonight, I got home just after 5:00. I corralled the cat for his afternoon meds, changed my clothes and headed outside. I spent 2.5 hours in the garden just enjoying the evening and digging in the dirt. I set up soaker hoses for the potatoes and asparagus, prepped two more rows for Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bush beans and squash. I watered the onions and the herb garden.

Then I walked out and checked on the chickens. The little girls were roosting on the roost bar for the first time, and Steve and the big girls were up on the shelf where they don’t belong but love to be. With 6 eggs in my pockets (yesterday’s too) and a beer in my hand, I let the dogs out of the yard and we headed out to the back field so they could run and sniff and chase each other through the tall grass.

I strolled behind them admiring the new leaves coming out on the trees and the puff balls where dandelions were just a few days ago. I smelled the cherry blossoms and admired the apple blooms. We checked on the blackberries – leaves but no flowers yet – and said hello to the neighbor’s steers.

When we’d had our fill of the last light of dusk we headed inside to do the dishes and make some dinner. Leftover local pork roast pulled and turned into bar-b-que sandwiches with California artichokes ready just in time for Mike to get home.

And while it was happening it just seemed normal. It wasn’t until Mike asked me what I did after work that it struck me that I’d done a lot of different things and never even noticed.

Feels like spring

The fruit trees are blooming, as are the tulips, and spring is definitely here. Finally!

Today was overcast but strangely warm, it finally started to rain just as the sun went down. I finished 90% of the hard work in the veggie garden today. That involved finishing 3 of the last 4 rows to be dug and raked. The only one left is for the tomatoes and since I’m not putting them out until next weekend it can wait.

After I finished the rows I transplanted 20 broccoli / broccoli raab starts and 20 lettuce starts. More than I intended, but we’ll just eat some of it really young to make room for the next round in the succession planting plan. The broccoli is mostly starts I bought last weekend as mine went weirdly leggy. When I picked them out at the plant sale I didn’t think about the fact that I was supposed to be transplanting broccoli in rounds of 8 starts – not 16! And since I ended up buying four varieties we’re a bit long on broccoli.

As for the lettuce, well, really I just should have thinned a lot better than I did a while ago. But since I didn’t, I transplanted A LOT of lettuce today. Oh well, we’ll just start cutting sooner than we normally would. Plus it meant that tonight we got to have salad made with today’s thinnings! Yum!

After all of that I ran out of steam. So tomorrow we’ll seed carrots, radishes, peas (finally!), bush beans and spinach. Then hopefully it will start to look like a garden and not just a bunch of dirt. The next round of lettuce, broccoli and basil are under lights, along with the first of the Brussels sprouts and dill.

Now the easy part starts right? I’m much more looking forward to weeding, seeding and harvesting than I did moving all that damn dirt! I’ve got a secret to share about moving that dirt, but I need to take a picture first…

A distinct lack of smell

Confession time around here. All is not always perfect in paradise. Until this morning, the water here at the (not so) Urban Hennery smelled distinctly like rotten eggs, and had since we moved in. And while it didn’t actually taste bad, the odor was enough to convince you that it did.

It’s something that we knew from the home inspection, while Mike did, since I wasn’t at the inspection I was blissfully unaware until we moved in. Until I turned on the faucet the night we moved in I had no idea that our water smelled like the hot springs at Yellowstone.

The previous owners installed a whole house filtration system that reduces the odor a bit, but doesn’t completely eliminate it. And the filters are fairly short lived due to the volume of sediment (replace every 4 months) and odor (replace every 8 weeks) that the well produces. Depending on what’s causing the smell, the solution is either periodically shocking the well with chlorine, or installing a permanent system that injects either chlorine or performs osmosis or drilling a new well.

Last night we finally got around to shocking the well with chlorine bleach to start to figure out what’s causing it. So far we’ve eliminated the two major causes – the hot water heater and the water softener. We don’t have a water heater since we’ve got a Bosch hot water on demand system. And we by-passed the softener 2 weeks ago to see if that would help. It gave us a short term improvement, but no dice as a permanent solution.

So last night we put a shocking amount of bleach down the well to try to determine our next steps. It’s a crazy thing to do really. You put bleach down your well to try to make it smell better!?! And it takes a bit of time, but once it cycles through the effect is instantaneous. We had to run about 80 gallons of water through the system and back down the wellhead with a hose until the pump kicked in. When it did the change happened almost immediately. The water went from smelling bad to faintly smelling of chlorine. Since it was supposed to smell strongly per the instructions from the Snohomish Health District, we put some more bleach down the well until it smelled strongly.

Then we bled the chlorine through the whole system by opening the faucets, frost free hydrants and flushing the toilets until the water everywhere smelled of chlorine. After that it’s a waiting game. How long can you live without flushing a toilet, washing a dish or brushing your teeth? Luckily we remembered to fill all the pet water bowls, set up the coffee pot and brush our teeth before we chlorinated the system…

This morning we ran about 250 gallons of water through the outdoor faucets to flush the pressure tank and the well, then bled off the remainder through the house fixtures. Finally we replaced the sediment and carbon filters and ran a couple loads of towels in the washer and also the dishwasher to finish the flush.

As of now, the water smells faintly of chlorine when you first turn on the faucet, but it disappears in moments. And for the first time in 2.5 months, the water didn’t smell like rotten eggs when I took a shower.

Now we just have to wait to see how long it takes for the smell to come back. If it’s weeks then we’ve got sulfur in the water and we’ll need to evaluate more long-term options. If it’s months, then it’s sulfur bacteria and we can hopefully get by with periodically shocking the well to control the problem.

Yeah. On the one hand shocking the well was so much easier than we expected. On the other, who wants to have to contaminate their primary water source with chlorine on a semi-regular basis? But then again, it’s still pretty damn pure water. And we know that for sure since we had it extensively tested before we bought the place.

My new secret weapon

I think we all start off with great ambition on every new project. Or at least I do. And then sometimes reality comes along and bites me in the ass. So it was with the great dirt moving project of 2008. When we first started the garden project I was taking my Organic Gardening class through Seattle Tilth and reading all kinds of gardening books.

All of them focus on the “evils” of using a roto tiller or tractor and why you should do it all by hand. But here’s what I’ve figured out – most of them are talking to gardener’s with fairly small or tiny plots. Most of them are not talking to someone that’s got more than 1700 square feet of fresh garden that needs to be tilled and amended and tilled again before you can even start to think about planting.

After a lot of hours of working on turning in the compost and breaking up the last of the half-decomposed sod by hand. And even having my mom help me put in 2 rows while they were visiting, I cried uncle. I decided that if my grandfather, who firmly believed in things like compost and mulch and lots of healthy sun and water could use a roto tiller, than so could I.

Of course I decided that very late on a Saturday and the local rental place was already closed. Sunday Mike and I searched for somewhere to rent one, but the closest place to rent a tiller was the Home Depot in Mt. Vernon. That’s a 50 mile round trip that I would have to make twice. And most likely I would have had to pay for two days of rental at $90 a day since it was already noon and they close their rental counter at 4:00 on Sundays.

What was a girl to do? Why grit her teeth and buy a house warming present of course. Right?!? Actually we worked the numbers and realized that if I rented a tiller for 2 days now and again for 2 days in the fall and then 2 days next year, I would basically have paid for my own tiller. Mike can be quite the enabler when he wants to be.

And I have to say that it was well worth it. We bought the smallest rear tine Troy-Bilt tiller that they make so that I’m able to man-handle it myself. And while roto tilling is itself exhausting, using it for 7 hours last weekend meant that I was able to do most of my spring planting over the past weekend.

So, if you’re a die hard gardener, feel free to throw tomatoes at me. But me, I’m really glad I admitted defeat and got on with my garden. And so are my poor wrists that were starting to get carpal tunnel from moving all that dirt.

 

Impatiently waiting

Not really. Today it rained, a nice soaking rain. And though it seems like we’ve been waiting for nice weather forever, it’s okay. It’s okay because the nice weather is coming later this week – it’s supposed to be almost 80 either Thursday or Friday.

Until then though, this mass of greenery on the sofa table is impatiently waiting to go outside for some hardening off and planting.

The tomatoes, basil and peppers are starting to run out of space and it’s time to get them outside.

Some of the tomatoes, those I got from Denise, are so ready that they’re already setting blooms. I know I need to pinch them off, but I haven’t had the heart yet.

What’s impatiently waiting at your house?

Birthday Gift

This fabulous coat belonged to my great aunt Ruth. She was an interesting woman, what I remember most about her is her heavily rouged cheeks, little pillbox hats and her boyfriend. I think his name was Bill? Anyway, at family gatherings he used to always give me a dollar and tell me not to spend it all in one place. Even in high school I remember him giving me a dollar.

With my passion for green, my mom and her sisters decided that this great green coat should be mine. So for my birthday they had it cleaned and had a new collar made for it (it’s fake fur).

I love it! I haven’t been able to wear it anywhere yet, but you can bet that come next fall I’ll be wearing it all the time. The only bummer is that while Ruth was tall for her generation, she had shorter arms than I do. So before fall gets here I need to take it to the local tailor and see if he can add cuffs to match the collar and make the sleeves about 2″ longer.

All in a rush

I know I’ve been talking about spring forever, but today was a day that made it feel like we’re skipping straight from early spring to summer. They predicted 85, but I don’t think we quite made it. In a matter of hours it feels like everything has sprung.

The mint in the pot from last year grew literally 6 inches today. The hostas jumped up and said hello. The birds suddenly discovered the new feeders we put out. The broccoli is standing up proud and the lettuce is starting to look like more than a couple of leaves.

After work we met friends at the Conway Tavern about 15 miles north of here. It’s one of my favorite bars. The kind that welcomes kids, yuppies and Harley riders alike. They’ve got some of the best burgers around and the beer is always cold. We sat on the patio in the warmth of early evening with spring flowers blooming all around.

We drove home on country roads at sunset. And all the fields that were bare and cold just a few short weeks ago have now been turned and prepped for planting. The dairy cows have been allowed back out onto pasture. And the lambs are no longer so freshly cute, already starting to look more like sheep than babies.

I’ve been waiting and waiting to plant the tomatoes and today they spent a second day on the front porch. Tomorrow afternoon into the ground they go and I expect that they’ll start to shoot up in a matter of days. Although I’m burying them pretty deep to promote root growth so perhaps it won’t be so obvious.

Summer is so close now that I can taste it and I can’t wait!

Bad Pet Mama

Sometimes life gets so busy that it’s easy to miss the little details.

About 5 weeks after we moved Sterling (our 11 year old cat) started peeing in the closest where his litter box was. Not in the box, but on the carpet near it. He hasn’t used a litter box regularly for years, preferring to go outside, but with the move he’d decided to be more of an indoor cat and I was humoring him. I thought it was because I’d bought a different litter trying to be eco-friendly. So on my way out the door to go to Vegas I asked Mike to go buy some Tidy Cat and some Nature’s Miracle. I assumed that that would fix it.

Nope. He proceeded to keep peeing in the closest, so I moved his litter box from the closest in my home office to under the desk. Not an ideal spot, but I figured that he’d start going outside again when the weather got nicer. Then he started peeing under the other half of my L-shaped desk. I locked him out of the office and moved his box onto the tile in the bathroom. I thought, okay problem solved. And it was, for about 4 days.

In the meantime I remembered that years ago when we lived in an apartment we’d had this problem and it turned out that he had a urinary tract infection. So just in case I made him a vet appointment for today. By this morning we’d been pee-on-carpet free for several days and I almost canceled the appointment. Then he peed in the hallway while I was getting dressed and I caught him. Bad cat!

So off to the vet we went this afternoon. Turns out that poor Sterling has another raging UTI, likely brought on by the stress of moving. And he’s been suffering for almost a month. Poor baby! Bad pet mama!

Luckily he’s now on big doses of antibiotics for 10 days and an anti-inflammatory for the next few days. Hopefully he’ll feel better soon. Now we just have to get the last of the cat pee out of the carpet…

Urban Farming in New York

On a lighter note, and in keeping with Denise’s comment, here’s another articlefrom the NY Times. If people can figure out how to farm on vacant lots in New York, Brooklyn and Detroit, I guess there’s just no excuse for the rest of us.

It inspires me to see communities pulling together to grow the produce they want and need in areas that are often considered food deserts.

Are We Ready to Hear it?

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t always agree with Thomas Friedman, but I almost always respect what he has to say and how well thought out it is. I don’t even agree with his entire editorial, but I do agree with what he said above.

We are living on borrowed time and we are deluding ourselves. We, as a country, seem to believe that we can go on the same way forever. That what matters most is what we want, that what happens in the rest of the world is interesting but not that important. That the food crisis that is perhaps just beginning is happening “somewhere else” but that it won’t affect us here. That paying $4 a gallon is unfair and something that can be fixed by repealing gas taxes. That we shouldn’t have to change our behavior or our daily habits, but instead the world should be forced to conform to our expectations.

What happened to us? When did we lose touch with the very values that made us a “great nation” to begin with? When did we lose sight of the fact that hard work and frugality and generosity go hand in hand to make us the nation we once were and want to be still.

Why can’t we see?

And then she pecked my foot

This is Wilma. She’s one of the chicks, who are now 8 weeks old.

She’s a silver laced Wyndotte and after much consideration, I’ve decided to name her and her twin Wilma and Betty. Not sure why other than that it was the first pair of women that jumped into my head when she suddenly became friendly last week. Thanks to Destabee and Twinville for the suggestion

I can’t tell them apart, so for all I know they’re both friendly, but no matter, whichever is being friendly at any given moment is Wilma and the other is Betty.

When I was sitting on the ground yesterday she climbed all over me testing each shiny spot or object to see if it was a treat. I guess my recent work trying to socialize them is paying off, or maybe they just know I’ll protect them from Steve?

Say Hello to Steve

This is our new rooster, Steve. I picked him up from my friend Denise when I was at the Edible Plant Sale yesterday. She’s long on roosters, and I decided that you can’t have a farm without a big pretty rooster.

He crowed all the way home in the car yesterday, and serenaded us periodically all day today. Luckily the hen shack and yard are far enough from the house that he adds ambiance without being annoying.

Steve is making himself right at home – cover any small children’s eyes – by making up for lost time and getting it on with the girls. He’s about a year old and Denise had him separated from the hens with another rooster. So far I’d say that his social and organizational skills are lacking, but he definitely has the sex part figured out.

The three biggest girls are pretty accepting of him and are basically acting as his harem – in particular Lucy and Maisie. Agnes isn’t a big fan, but then she’s a lot smaller than he is. She tends to ignore him and do what she wants until he makes a move, then she darts under the shed. The 10 chicks are basically operating as their own separate flock right now, but then that’s more because they’re still young than any other reason.

We’ve still got the banty rooster, but I’m hoping that Oscar and Steve can learn to co-exist. If not, Steve will be looking for another home sooner than later (sorry Denise!). Steve would have to go, mostly because Oscar is turning out to be really sweet and likeable, and Steve tends to give me the evil eye and a very wide berth so far.

Spring finally arrives?

While the weather makes me think otherwise, it seems that spring has finally arrived. At the U District farmers market this morning there were signs of it everywhere. From the bigger crowds bearing canvas bags, to the flower vendors flush with tulips, to the raabs and arugula, to the very first spears of asparagus.

Even though it was 50 degrees and raining, it still felt like spring. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through and browsing my options and thinking of all the things we can start cooking as spring progresses.

I left the market laden down with asparagus, french breakfast radishes, green onions, leeks, green kale raab, celery (!), cheddar cheese and red baby potatoes. Enough spring treats to keep us happy for a week or more.

Then I headed over to the Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale and splurged on some plant starts. I picked up some horseradish, fennel, unusual peppers, broccoli to replace mine that got weirdly leggy, a second artichoke variety and bay laurel.

It must be spring, right?

2008 One Local Summer

Nicole is hosting the 2008 One Local Summer challenge over at Farm to Philly. The challenge will run from June 1 to August 31 this year.

Essentially you prepare one meal a week using all local ingredients (100 mile radius or your definition) and write about it on your blog. Weekly recaps for each region (West, Southwest, Midwest, etc) go up each Monday.

I’ll be covering the weekly recaps for the Western region and would love to see any and all of the Dark Days Challenge participants this summer too! To join in, head on over and sign up before May 25.

Conquering Aliens

Blackberries are rampant in Washington state and we pretty much consider them an invasive weed. There is one native variety, the trailing blackberry, but all of the evergreen versions are invasive from either Europe or Asia. We’ve got some trailing out of the woods on our back property line that I think are native and I’m looking forward to picking them later this summer for pies and jam.

If you’re not careful they can take over your lot, your yard or even swallow an old barn.