Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Perfect Spot

I heard a great story on NPR this afternoon about a wonderful lady, Joan Graham who lives in Michigan. She plans to bequeath her beloved wooded land to a local conservation group in order to preserve it. She is truly a woman after my own heart saying "I just like the earth, I like the smell of it, and I like green, and I like trees." Ahhhhhh!

Not only does she plan to leave her land in order that it may be to be preserved, she also wishes to be buried there as well, beneath an oak tree.

"They have deep taproots, wouldn't it be nice if that oak tree would ever reach my remains, and the tree would take nourishment from that? And it's kind of like I never died, really. I just morphed into a tree or something."

This idea led to an individual at the conservation group who have the good fortune of inheriting the land, to think about how it could become an actual green burial site for others who wish to be buried in this way.

As it turns out this wasn't quite such an easy undertaking despite the growth in the green burial business over recent years.

To find out what happened next you will need to read, or listen to the full piece here.

Sounds like the perfect green burial spot to me.

The First of the Swiss Chard

We have just started eating the first of the swiss chard. I absolutely love this vegetable and look forward to finding many new ways to use it.

This past year was a mixed one for my veggie growing endeavours. Some things thrived, others not so much, but I have learned a lot.

Here are the grand totals in poundage, (for what it is worth), of everything we grew during 2009. The different types of each vegetable are combined into each grand total.

Swiss Chard- 42 lbs 7 oz's
Spinach- 18 lbs 10 oz
Ichiban eggplants- 8 lbs 6 oz's
Beets- 6 lbs 6 oz's
Tomatoes 84 lbs 8 oz's !!!! (I had a couple of beef steaks that weighed over a pound each!)
Zucchini's- 19 lbs 9 oz's
Cucumbers- 8 lbs 8 oz's
Tomatillo's- 6 lbs 9 oz's
Chili peppers- 3 lbs 7 oz's
Peppers- 4 lbs 2 oz's
Leeks- 1 lb 9 oz's
Carrots- 2 lbs 9 oz's
The green beans and peas are hardly worth mentioning, just a few handfuls of each.
Cilantro, basil, parsley, and many other herbs did well.

I was amazed by how many tomatoes we got. It didn't seem to be as many at the time because they were stretched over several months. We had a lot of cherry tomatoes towards the end of the summer.

The main thing I have learned is to use my limited space wisely by concentrating on veggies that we use, and also by planting those that don't take a lot of space for the amount they produce. I love peas for example but they simply take up too much space in order to produce any significant amount. I have also been reminded yet again that there are no certainties with gardening, and that luck is a major factor!

The hybrid seeds that I grew of course did much better than many of the heirlooms. However I will continue to keep planting these valuable heirlooms, and I plan to get better at recognizing their particular needs.

I still have a lot of seeds left over from last year which is good. I have been storing them in the bottom the refrigerator and I am sure they will be fine. I start seeding again January 1st believe it or not. This is one of the perks of living in such a warm place.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I made mince pies this morning. This, (along with some very sherry doused, and tipsy trifle), will be my only British contribution to Christmas mainly because I loathe Christmas pudding and traditional Christmas cake. I do however have very happy memories as a child of helping my Mum to make both of these months in advance of Christmas which is the right way to do it!

I was never a huge fan if mincemeat until recently and now I love it, although I will probably be the only one to eat these mince pies in our house.

I am not cooking this year. I am working and so we have been invited to friends for dinner which is very kind of them. It will be a little strange not to have all those leftovers with which to concoct many suspect looking meals, but I am sure we will survive, somehow.

Whatever you all do, and wherever you all are this year, I wish you a wonderful and happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Solar Heated Christmas Present

Last Wednesday we got a new 80 gallon solar water heater installed. After the electric company rebates, and the federal and state tax credits, (which we wont get back until next year), it cost only a little more than installing a new gas water heater of which we were in dire need anyway. (Our old one was fourteen years old and was on it's last legs).

We also had a circulation pump installed so that we don't have to run the faucet or shower waiting for the hot water to arrive. I anticipate that we will save a lot of water as a result which always makes my day.

Here are the panels on the south facing side of our roof. You can hardly see them from the street, not that I would mind if you could.

Now we have lots of lovely solar heated water, and it feels really good each time I take a shower knowing that we are using the sun to heat the water instead of gas.

All around the best Christmas present we have ever had I think!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Feeling More Festive

The girls decorated the tree on Saturday and it is making our house seem a lot more festive.

We always get a real tree, and although I wont go over all the environmental benefits of a live one, if you feel so inclined you can read them here from last year.

The city of Phoenix offers free drop off points after the holidays for live trees which are then taken away and mulched. This contributes significantly to their benefits, and is a great service I think.

We had a small holiday get together last night with some of our friends. I made Nigella Lawson's "Choc Chip Chili" from her new Christmas book with some of our grass fed beef. I have been assured it was delicious, and because I made way too much we now have a lot frozen for later.

I was most pleased to see a picture in the introduction to Nigella's Christmas book showing how beautiful packages can be when wrapped up in brown paper and newspaper, and tied up with string. They are decorated with cinnamon sticks! I hasten to add however that I have not been nearly as virtuous, and have been using Christmas paper I bought on sale last year that will probably go straight into the trash. (Shame, shame). I am definitely slipping this year, environmentally speaking!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Season of Giving

Last year I did a really good job of buying more sustainable gifts by shopping locally, buying from fair trade organizations, contributing to charitable organizations, and even by making a few of my own. I have not done quite as well this year, but I have still managed to support some of the organizations I love by purchasing gifts from them during this holiday season. Here is a brief list of my favorites.

SERRV is a "non profit organization with a mission to eradicate poverty wherever it resides by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide." I highly recommend that you check out the amazing variety of beautiful and unusual gift options they offer. You can buy your gifts with confidence knowing that the skilled individuals who made them are being rewarded fairly.

I also love Heifer International which is an organization that helps "children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant." By buying animals, or shares in animals for individuals in developing countries around the world, you can be sure that your gift keeps on growing from one generation to the next. I love that!

The WWF fund offers symbolic opportunities to sponsor threatened species. Your adoption supports "WWF's global efforts to protect wild animals and their habitats." These gifts are especially good for children.

You may feel that you wish to provide a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year. You can easily sponsor a child through Save The Children. Your monthly contribution pays for healthcare, education, and other vital needs within communities around the world, including many right here in the States. We have been sponsoring a little girl in Malawi for about two years and share regular correspondance with her. It is a lovely thing to do, and it shows our girls that we really can make a difference in other peoples lives.

There are many other well deserving organizations that make it easy for us to give meaningful gifts this holiday season. I always feel better knowing that some of the gifts we have bought are creating change for good somewhere in the world.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Big Clean Up

A huge winter storm blew through the state last night. It dumped many feet of snow onto the higher elevations, and brought lots of rain and extremely high winds through the lower elevations including Phoenix. I heard on NPR that wind gusts of 75 miles per hour were recorded at Deer Valley airport which is just northwest of us.

It was truly a momentous storm that kept us all awake. I feel very fortunate today that we didn't sustain any damage. Our neighbourhood looks like a hurricane blew through with downed trees, structural damage, and flooding. There are clean up crews everywhere.

One of my young acacia trees was leaning over somewhat, but I have trimmed it, and put it back in place. It wasn't uprooted, so I have every hope that it will be OK. Amazingly enough all the bigger trees are fine. I was surprised because I expected much worse when I went out to check this morning. I am glad we got some much needed rain. It has been such a dry year for us desert dwellers.

I have finally started my big holiday clean up. I finished my health policy class last week and now I feel like I can concentrate more on what needs to be done around the house, and it is a lot! I have cleaning and sorting to do, the decorations to get out, veggies to clean and either store, or cook, gifts to buy, etc etc. Just the usual holiday stuff. I am trying not to get overwhelmed with it because all that matters really is that we are OK, and all together this year.

Ironically we were all set to get a new solar water heater installed today and of course they can't do it because of the rain. It made me smile because we get so little rain here. Anyway, they are all set to come out next week instead and I am very excited. It is a small but positive step towards us becoming more energy efficient, and that always makes me feel happy!

I was just outside hanging all my frost cloths on the line in a pathetic attempt to try and get them dry before this evening. I didn't get them inside in time before the rain started yesterday, and it is predicted to be down in the 30's tonight so I am going to need them. Did I mention it is cold here!? Well cold by our standards at least and of course I am absolutely LOVING IT! :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Phoenix Tour De Coops

Don't miss it folks, this Saturday, December 5th, is the long awaited, Phoenix Permaculture Guilds "Tour De Coops" from 10am to 3pm. You have the amazing opportunity to tour a dozen amazing chicken, (and other bird), coops within the greater Phoenix area. Tickets are only $10, and are available at the Phoenix Public Market Store, or online here.

A Freezer Full

This is what a quarter of a grass fed cow looks like in one's freezer.

Despite the fact that this is meat raised in the most humane, and healthy conditions possible at the wonderful Date Creek Ranch, I still feel conflicted about it. But then, I feel conflicted about many things so that's nothing new.

I haven't cooked any of it yet as we have been drowning in turkey for the past week or so, but I will be interested to see how it cooks. It needs to be cooked slowly apparently in order to keep it moist, so I am sure my slow cooker will be useful over the next few weeks and months.

All in all I am happy that we bought meat this way. I am completely impressed with Date Creek Ranch, and I look forward to hearing from my family about how good it tastes.