Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's a jungle out there!

Once again I totally underestimated how big everything would grow to be in the veggie garden this summer. (I seem to have a habit of doing this as you would understand if you could see the trees in our backyard which are also rather too large for the size of our lot).

Every time I go out to pick a tomato now I feel as though I am risking life and limb, and could at any time be marauded by some wild animal.



Everything does seem to be bearing up under the strain of overcrowding though, and the sunflowers are certainly doing a great job of shading the plants to their east from the hot afternoon sun.

Leaving some of the tomato plants to grow close to the ground turned out to be not such a great idea. I took a class last summer, and learned that here in the heat they like to grow close to the earth where it is cooler. Unfortunately this also means that they are closer to my resident slug population which are feasting themselves silly on the tomatoes. I am losing as many tomatoes to slugs now as I am picking for us.

Ah well, I live and learn every year that I grow things.

Here is a sweet little picture of Emmie taken just after she "helped" by picking all my geraniums. (It's OK, they were almost at the point of needing the be deadheaded anyway so she actually did me a huge favor! :)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mad Week

This past week has been completely crazy with so much going on that I have been fighting back tears on a daily basis which is what happens when I feel overwhelmed.

I feel as though I have been constantly chasing my tail all week trying to get caught up, and of course I haven't. The house is still a mess, and so is the yard, and I didn't get most of the things done that I had planned to do last weekend.

I ended up returning the Roundup, partly because I couldn't face the enormity of the task at hand, and partly because it just didn't feel right to use it. (The snarky comments I got about it, and chose not to publish didn't help, although honestly they were right on the mark). I have now resigned myself to digging sections of the bermuda grass up in stages as I dig out more beds, and xeriscape, very slowly. I heard from a woman in my permaculture group who said she dug out all her bermuda grass and it took seven years! I hope that it doesn't take me that long because I am hoping in seven years to be living in Oregon, but I also don't see the harm in slowing down a little, and not making myself, (and my family), so crazy.

I actually had a major aha moment a few days ago when I realized that I don't need to get EVERYTHING done, right NOW. I don't need to landscape our backyard, dig out more beds, paint the garden wall, build a chicken coop, maintain the veggie garden, and finish the front door, (although that is very nearly done), NOW! I mean there are of course things that I do need to keep up with on a daily basis, like caring for and feeding my family and pets, keeping things reasonably clean and tidy, working, and keeping up with the assignments for my statistics class. The other stuff, well it can wait, or be done very slowly. I know this sounds obvious, but for some reason I have been losing sight of this the past few months, and I have been making myself very stressed as a result. Silly really the things we do to ourselves.

On a side note, This story made me cry this morning for so many reasons that I don't really need to go into because they speak for themselves.

I missed this past weeks Independence days update because Monday was an especially crazy day, but I will do an update next week for two weeks instead. For now here are some pictures of food that has been coming out of the garden recently. We have been eating really well, lots of lovely veggies, and that is an achievement in itself right now I guess.




Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Handy Little Book


I love this little book! It is a consumer shopping guide based on the premise that "every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in!"

The author, Ellis Jones is described as "a scholar of social responsibility, global citizenship and everyday activism". He has researched over 1,000 companies, and based on their record of human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice, has graded them all from A through F, within 75 product categories ranging from appliances and hardware, to chocolate, and wine.

This book is a great reference for whatever one is planning to purchase. I carry it with me everywhere now and it makes me feel better to know that the majority of the consumer choices I make are supporting the values that I believe in.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Summer Days

The weather has been glorious the past few days, cool, grey, overcast, and rainy. Gorgeous! Just how us desert dwellers like it. I have even had trouble getting my washing dry outside which is a very rare occurrence here, and have had to dry it inside draped over furniture instead. Very English!

Kendra finished pre- school last Wednesday and I was strangely emotional even though I didn't think I would be. I can't believe that I am the Mum of a Kindergartner, I don't feel ready for that at all. Emmie will start pre- school in the Fall too so I will have free mornings for the first time in almost six years which will be a big milestone for me.

I am not working this weekend and so that means I have a long list of stuff to get done. I have to finish re- finishing our front door which is badly weathered and needed sanding, and staining. I am almost done with the sanding, and will stain it today.

Yesterday I bought an enormous bottle of Roundup even though I shuddered as I did so. The rain has got our Bermuda grass growing really well again, so I will probably be able to do the first treatment to kill it over the next few days, mow it down, water it again, and treat it one more time. I hate to use such methods but even the strongest advocates of organic growing methods such as the folks over at the Phoenix Permaculture Guild reluctantly agree that this is the only way to really get rid of such an invasive grass. I am not looking forward to doing any of it I have to admit, but it must be done before I can move forward with my garden plans.

We have decided on the perfect spot for the chicken coop, and Robert seems quite excited to build it. I have been looking at lots of different types, and deciding what will work best. I think we will get baby chicks in the late summer and keep them inside for a few weeks until they are ready to go in the coop when they are bigger, and it is cooler. It should be interesting trying to keep dogs and chicks separate inside our house!

I also plan to sow okra and Armenian cucumber seeds. I finally pulled all my swiss chard yesterday which gives me space for new things. I seriously need to find more tomato recipes too, or have a go at canning again because I am getting so many tomatoes each day that they are taking over the refrigerator. Robert commented yesterday on how much better they taste than the insipid store bought ones which made me feel happy.

The back yard is teeming with life right now. We have hummingbirds everywhere, and other birds nesting, and everything is growing like crazy, and it is great, especially while the weather stays in the 80's!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Independence Days Update

1. Plant something: Nothing this week I am afraid. I meant to plant more Armenian cucumbers, and okra which are apparently two of the very few veggies that thrive during our hot summers here. Ah well, perhaps next week.

2. Harvest something: Did well here. Harvested 5 1/2 lbs of tomatoes, almost 1 lb of Ichiban eggplants, a bunch of small carrots, a handful of radishes, 2 1/2 lbs of beets, and 2 lbs of baby leeks, (they had stopped growing for the last few weeks for some reason, so I pulled the lot).

3. Preserve something: Well I certainly tried with my canning fiasco. Even though I failed miserably at canning, I did freeze some of the salsa so I guess that counts.

4. Reduce waste: Nothing much new here except completely shuttering up the house during the day to keep the heat out. I never got around to trying out the crock pot on the patio, but plan to do so next time I use it. Did the usual composting, line drying, and recycling, oh and I moved and replanted a few plants that weren't doing well where they were to new locations. I suppose that counts as well.

5. Preparation and storage: I still have the book "Food Matters", by Mark Bittman to read on my night stand, as well as the usual huge pile of Mother Earth News, and now also "Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens", which I am wanting so much to read. I am taking a new class this week which is joy of joys, statistics, (YUK), so I have a feeling that my leisure reading will take a back burner for a while. Still working on digging out the sand box, and planning to start the process of completely killing the already quite dead bermuda grass this weekend so that area can be utilized in a more productive way.

6. Build community food systems: Managed to force some beets on a neighbour after I told her that I would prepare and cook them fully first. (For some reason I am having trouble giving my beets away).

7. Eat the food: Did well here. Made marinara sauce with the tomatoes, which I also used on pizza. Also put the last of the spinach and swiss chard on pizza, and used more tomatoes in salsa. Made a salad with carrots and beets, and ate the radishes in another salad. Just had a delicious tomato, mozzarella, and basil salad this evening using tomatoes, and basil from the garden.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Canning Mishaps


A month or so ago I purchased a lovely canning kit that comes complete with everything one needs to can ones own produce. Great I thought, this should be foolproof!

And so I got started, chop, chop, chopping tomatoes, cilantro, onions, and jalapeno peppers for my first ever canned salsa.

The first mistake I made was chopping well over a pound of jalapeno's with bare hands. Apparently one should wear gloves for the obvious reasons I discovered as I was nearing the end of the chopping process, and my hands started to feel like they were on fire. It seems this English person is clueless about the handling of fiery peppers from the southwest. I continued however to make the salsa, with my burning hands, and watery eyes.

I did everything exactly as the recipe required, with visions of botulism poisoning playing in my head, and I imagined that once I was finished, the ENORMOUS canner full of water would have reached boiling point. No, of course not, not even close. It took A LOT of water to fill that thing, and so obviously it took A LOT of time to heat it.

And so after about an hour or so of waiting around, the water was finally bubbling away and ready for my pint jars of salsa, and I was pretty excited to get those jars in there.

I soon discovered however that something wasn't quite right when my jars didn't seem to fit in the rack, and kept floating on their sides. I persevered for a minute or two before getting a little frustrated, and deciding to look more closely at the booklet that came with the canning pot. Apparently my HUGE canning pot is meant for quart jars, not the pint jars that were included with the kit.

As I stood there with my hands of fire, looking at the jars of salsa I had ever so carefully made from scratch, I pretty much decided there and then that canning wasn't for me.

I have since had time to reflect on my rather hasty decision after freezing most of the salsa, and eating the rest, (its pretty good), and I have decided that I might give it another go. This time though I plan to have the right sized canning pot which would be one that holds around 11 gallons of water, not 30.

In the meantime, I have a new appreciation for my chest freezer, and all that it can do for a rookie canner in a tight spot.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Inspiration


Last night I was fortunate enough to go and see President Obama deliver the commencement address at Arizona State University.

President Obama spoke of creating a life filled with purpose, a life used to perform acts of greatness, not measured by the accolades or wealth that they may bring, but by the good that they do for many.

He spoke of using one's passion to make this world a great place for all, and he spoke of the importance of creating a lifetime body of work focused on experience, and knowledge, not on material possessions, and shallow desires.

He told the students to go out and use their degrees, and their lives for the good of all, not just for themselves.

I left the stadium feeling uplifted, and inspired, and feeling like I had just witnessed something that I will carry with me forever.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And the answer was..

YES!!!!!!!!!!!

AND she actually said that she loves the sounds chickens make! I am so happy I asked now, and asked this particular neighbour. Silly me for waiting for so long, and for assuming wrongly what they would say!

Now the chicken planning starts.

Happy, happy, happy!

Feeling Brave

I just emailed our neighbour to ask about chickens! Not actually the neighbour I was going to ask the other day, but the ones on the other side. We could keep chickens over that side of the house instead, and we are at least in regular contact with the neighbours on the other side, although we have had an issue or two in the past. They are actually from Europe where chickens are a bit more acceptable in urban areas than here, so I thought I would give it a shot. Emailing is less "in your face" as well which might be a good thing, or might not. I feel ridiculously nervous about this because I imagine they will either totally embrace it, or be totally repelled by it. I guess I will soon find out right?

Please send positive chicken vibes our way! :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Independence Days Update

1. Plant something: Armenian cucumbers, zucchinis, and pumpkin. Not sure how well they will fare in the heat we are having, but we shall see.

2. Harvest something: A good time for this. I harvested, swiss chard, beets, radish, basil, carrots, and the past couple of days over two pounds of tomatoes with more on the way! They aren't the prettiest tomatoes I have ever seen but really, I am just amazed that I have some! :)

3. Preserve something: Does freezing stuff count? If so I made two big batches of pesto using basil from the garden and froze it. It freezes really well I have found. Tomorrow I start my canning adventure so next week should be a hoot!

4. Reduce waste: I am of course composting everything as usual. Now that it is so hot I am trying to be more mindful of cooking in a way that reduces the heat in the house so we have been barbecuing a lot. I have also been using the crock pot even more than usual. I am getting more and more creative at using up everything that is leftover in our fridge so that we very seldom throw any food away unless it looks a bit dodgy, and then the dogs get it.

5. Preparation and storage: I have the book "Food Matters", by Mark Bittman to read on my night stand as well as the usual huge pile of Mother Earth News. I am making a huge effort to read EVERY night rather than falling into bed exhausted because I know if I don't make the time it wont happen, and I do so love to read. I have also started digging out the old sand box for my new veggie patch. The sand will be used as top soil on the back yard.

6. Build community food systems: I gave swiss chard to our neighbour across the street, and to some Mom's at Kendra's school. I have also been asked by two separate people at school this past week to "teach" them how to grow veggies after they saw me give them away. Not sure if anything will come of it, but I am always happy to show them what I know, (which wont take long!), if it does

7. Eat the food: We had a swiss chard frittata like thingy this evening with tomato and basil, and we also had beets. I have also been eating radishes in salads, and we had pesto the other evening.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Heat Is On!

It has started a little early this year, the heat I mean. We have already had several days of temperatures above 100 degrees, and of course there is no change in sight for the next few months at least. Usually this would depress me, but this year I have decided to embrace the heat, and not spend the summer hibernating miserably inside. We shall see how that turns out.

Everything is growing like mad. My Mesquite trees are in bloom and look lovely.


I adore Mesquite trees and the welcome shade they provide.

My new Desert Willow tree has lovely pale pink and purple blossom as I had hoped, and is doing well in its new home.


I have the potential for a huge tomato crop if all goes well. I am a little nervous because I have never tried to grow so many, and so I am inspecting them daily for possible pests, or other afflictions. They are starting to go red, and some are enormous, so I am cautiously optimistic.


I also have masses of peppers, small at the moment but growing every day. It wont be long before it is too hot for both tomatoes and peppers to set fruit so I hope that these all make it OK.


I am still getting lots of swiss chard although I think it is finally coming to an end. Yesterday I also harvested some of the beets, and a few of the little carrots which are delicious, along with the last of the radishes, and one Ichiban eggplant, of which there are more pending.


This is what happens when carrots aren't thinned properly. It's like a carrot-ey embrace!


Here is a view of the patio including my new non- compacted Adirondack chair which I am enjoying. I have more thirsty plants in pots on the patio than elsewhere in the yard and it makes it seem quite lush at times.


We had a lovely evening last night sitting outside late with friends, and enjoying the sights, scents, and sounds of an early summers evening. It made me feel very grateful to live here, even with the summer just around the corner. Perhaps my new approach to the heat is working already?

Happy Mother's Day to you all my friends!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I couldn't believe my eyes........


I was out in the shade and coolness of the early morning today when I heard unusual bird sounds coming from the trees. I looked up, and could not believe my eyes! There before me perched on the branches were what could only be described as a flock of about 10- 15 parrots. They were the prettiest green, and pink birds, and I truly felt like I was dreaming for a second or two.

When I regained my senses, I ran in to get my camera, but of course by the time I got back outside my bird chasing dog Lilly had seen them off. I watched sadly as they flitted and flew through my neighbours garden.

I came straight inside to do some research and soon found out here that this was not a mirage, and that the "Peach Faced Lovebirds" I had in my backyard are native to South-western Africa, and also frequent my local area. There is even a special map where one can plot sightings, of which there have been many around here apparently.

I am so excited that I saw such a special thing, and even though these birds are imposters, I hope very much that they decide our garden is a good place to spend more time soon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Independence Days

I am afraid I have been neglecting regular updates of my compacting pledge recently, not because I have abandoned it, but rather because I have been allowing life to get in the way too much. It isn't that I am going shopping crazy by any means, but we have been eating out a little more than we normally would, and I have not been taking the time to find clothes for the girls at thrift stores when it has, (I hate to admit it), been easier to run down to Target and do a one stop shop. Oh, and there was that lovely Adirondack chair I bought at Cost Plus last week!!

All is not lost. I am still heading in the right direction generally, and so I was recently delighted to discover Independence Days which I found through my friend Judy, over at My Freezer Is Full.

This project is run by a lady called Sharon Astyk, who writes a blog, and has published several books along the theme of "peak oil, climate change and economic instability."

Sharon writes "I believe that most of us can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, help mitigate global warming, create local food systems and enable the creation of a life of abundance, even in the face of depletion." Her work focuses on encouraging all of us to get back to basics by living more simply, and frugally, so that we are able to take on whatever the future may bring, confident in our abilities to sustain ourselves in abundance.

For me the Independence Days Challenge presents an easy way for me to regularly evaluate all that I am doing towards achieving my goal of living more sustainably, simply, and gently, without resorting to long winded, and I am sure often dull posts.

Here are the weekly categories explained by Sharon:

"1. Plant something - I doubt this one needs a lot of explanation. Obviously, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are doing a lot of this right now, but it should be a reminder that gardening isn’t “put in the garden on memorial day and that’s it” - most of us can grow over a longer season than we do, and even if you live in an apartment, you can sprout seeds. So keep on planting!

2. Harvest something - some people are full swing here, but even if you just picked the first dandelion from your yard, it counts if you ate it or saved it. Don’t forget to include food you forage - whether from wild marginal areas, or even just from the neighbor’s trees that he never harvests (ask, obviously).

3. Preserve something - this starts around now for me, as asparagus, nettles and rhubarb are up. Canning looks like a big scary project if you have to can a truckload of green beans on a hot day in July. Dehydrating seems overwhelming if you have to pick the pits out of 4 bushels of plums in a single afternoon when you’d rather be doing something else. And yes, sometimes everything comes ripe at once, some big jobs can’t be avoided, and you just put on the loud rock and roll and go at it. But a little at a time is possible, you can be canning corn relish while you are washing up from dinner, or stick the strawberries in the sun to dry on your way out the door.

4. Reduce waste - This category covers both the old “Reduce Waste” and “Manage Reserves” group. Once you’ve got food, whether purchased or home preserved, you have to keep an eye on it. In this category goes making sure you use what you buy or grow, cutting down on garbage production by minimizing packaging and purchasing, composting, reducing community waste by composting or feeding scraps to your animals, and taking care of your food storage - everything from keeping records and writing dates on jars to checking the apples and making sauce when they start getting soft. BTW, reduce waste also refers to money and energy - stretching out your trips to the store and not “spending” gas on your food, cutting your grocery budget and reducing cooking energy.

5. Preparation and Storage - This is the category where you report the stuff you’ve done to get ready that isn’t growing/storing/preserving food. That means the food you buy for storage, the things you build, scavenge, rescue and repair that get you further down the path. Did you get a good deal at goodwill? Scavenge some cinder blocks for your raised bed building project? Find a grain mill on Craigslist? Buy some more rice and put it away? Inventory the medicine cabinet? Pick up a new book that will be helpful? Tell us!

6. Build Community Food Systems - Great, we’re all doing this stuff at home. But what did you do to help spread the message, because that may even be more important. Did you talk about your victory garden at your kid’s school? Offer to share space with a neighbor in your sunny yard? Bring a casserole over to the family that lost their job or moved in? Donate to your food pantry? Teach the neighbor kids to make yogurt? Offer to teach a canning class? Show someone else where the nettles are growing wild? Talk about your food storage or gardening plans? Share a plant division or seeds?

7. Eat the Food - Sometimes I think people have more trouble actually eating their garden produce or CSA shares than they do growing or buying them. Ultimately, eaters have more power over our agricultural future than they know - farmers can’t necessarily lead the way - they have to sell what eaters want. So cooking and eating are the way we will change the food system. This is where you tell us about the new recipes you tried, or the old ones you adapted to new ingredients, about how you are actually eating what you store and store what you eat, or getting your kids to try the kale."

This is the second year that Sharon has been sharing this challenge, and I have to say I absolutely love it! I feel that this will be reasonably attainable for me on a weekly basis, and I can't wait to get started with my own Independence Days update next Monday.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Coward

As I was collecting our mail from the mail box a little while ago, I met our neighbour, also collecting her mail. She is a nice lady, and so is her hubby. I mean I don't know them well because they keep themselves to themselves, but they are always friendly and pleasant. These are the neighbours that I will need to get written permission from if I am to get the chickens I so desire.

Our city ordinance states that if one has less than 10,000 sq ft of land, (which would be very a large backyard for this area), one must get written permission from any neighbour who has a structure that will be within 80 ft of an enclosed chicken coop. Because of the size and shape of our backyard, we don't have any place we can put a coop that wouldn't be within 80 ft of at least one neighbours house, and having weighed up my options, I decided that these particular neighbours would be the best ones to ask.

So, this afternoon I had the perfect opportunity don't you think? There we were, standing chatting by the mail box, passing the time of day, and I could so easily have slipped my small request into the conversation couldn't I??? Well yes, of course I could, but of course I didn't. This is me we are talking about remember, Mo, apparently the least assertive person ON. THE. PLANET!!!

Just what am I so scared of? I mean the very worst they can say is no, right? What would be so bad about that? At least I would have tried, and not now be sitting here kicking myself for being such a coward. And they might even have said yes, especially if I had offered to give them free eggs, and then I would be sitting here feeling very happy and excited.

ARRGGHHHHH! What is wrong with me, seriously?