Asparagus Pee for You and Me!

This family? We are big fans of asparagus. All of us, Willem and Birdie and Boombox included. Heck, one of my favorite photos in recent years is a joyous me among the asparagus fronds at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center two summers ago:

20130613. Asparagus dreams at the Near Eastside Legacy Center.

So it’s a little odd that we haven’t taken the plunge and decided to try growing them. Honestly? I’ve been intimidated. Asparagus: intimidating little spears of deliciousness, let me tell you.

I think it’s something about perennial growing. Pretty much all of my growing experience are with annual vegetables. Oh, we have perennial herbs here and there and some blackberries and a couple of apple trees. But other than that, if something doesn’t grow well one summer, you just plant it again next year. No big.

This morning, though, I decided to take the plunge. At around 9 am, I decided we do, indeed, need asparagus. By 9:30 am, Willem and I were cruising around outside, (finally) taking soil samples for lead testing, something I really should have done years ago.

By 10 am, 25 asparagus crowns were ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and I was showing Chris where my dream asparagus bed will live. By 12:30 pm, Willem and I were hard at work, digging up a 3’x12′ chunk of turf in our front yard and shoveling compost.

20150411. Asparagus patch in development.

Less grass, more food! We also hosted our first seed swap and third organizing meeting for the Keystone-Monon Community Garden last night. Here’s my bounty (as if I needed more seeds):

20150411. More seeds! Keystone-Monon seed swap.

Our first fundraiser will be a seedling sale later this month (which pretty much means me selling off all the extra seedlings I have in my basement that won’t fit in my garden). There is so much to say about that project and too much to do/not enough time to say it. We’re working on land, funds, mission development, making friends, and garden design. All at once. 

20150405. Seeding growing setup.

Spring Has Sprung, the Grass Is ‘Ris…

I wonder where the birdies is!*

*This was my late Grandma Farm’s favorite springtime poem, my mom told me recently. She would recite it every time my mom saw her in the spring – spring has sprung, the grass is ‘ris, I wonder where the birdies is! – then cackle with delight. I just love that.

Today was a simply fantastic day. It’s also that wonderful time of year where, even though still stark and brown, the air holds promise of greener days, of growing things, of time spent rolling in the grass and picking dinner from the backyard:

  • I spent a wonderful morning visiting just a few of the many churches in our neighborhood, inviting them to the upcoming Keystone-Monon Community Garden organizing meeting. So many friendly, smiling, welcoming faces and well wishes – it was a great way to start a busy Sunday! I’m reminded yet again of how many awesome people there are, right in our neighborhood, I have yet to meet. Also, if my church growing up had been like any of these? Well, maybe I’d still be a church goer. They made me feel embraced and welcomed.
20150322. First days of spring.

Although you can’t tell, so much has happened already this spring: fresh compost in all the beds, soil turned, hay removed, things cut back, sweet potato bin readied, and the first seeds planted.

  • I got some work done – a grant application for our after-school and summer camp programs, the Eat Well Club, and editing a monthly online newsletter – then got some food into the boy post-nap. Then….
20150322. First days of spring.

Gardening doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive: we’ve used this same chicken wire and canvas drop cloths to grow sweet potatoes three years now.

  • We headed back out and wandered around Arsenal Park, where we’re hoping the community garden will take root (literally), putting flyers on every house around the perimeter. I feel so strongly that we need our community to drive this effort, thus my flyering and helloing efforts this morning. Facebook and email only go so far.
20150322. First days of spring.

The middle bin was full of amazing compost just last week. Now? It’s mixed into all of our garden beds for some hopefully amazing plants this year.

  • THEN we had a very special surprise for our fearless leaders, who are expecting their first baby any day now. We headed to the farm at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, which is a fantastic place to enjoy the spring weather. I was feeling a little lazy while volunteers moved wheelbarrows full of mulch all over, readying the beds, but Willem and I had the important task of hanging out with 4-year-old Berlin. She loved Willem and really wanted to teach him to not eat the mulch. Sorry, Berlin, we’re not quite there yet, but we appreciate your steadfast efforts and sweetness.
20150322. First days of spring.

Garlic, always our first green things!

  • Fearless leaders arrived, and we handed over their gift – well wishes for them and the newest little one from the entire Indianapolis food, health, and yoga community. We couldn’t think of a single “thing” to give them; but then we thought of the amazing work they have done to build this community right here in Indianapolis and realized the most meaningful thing we could give them were that community’s words, hopes, and dreams for their new family.
20150322. First days of spring.

Some fresh chicken bedding for the run and a set of Chris’ still-empty bee hives (I think he plans to use that for a swarm if he’s lucky enough to find one this year).

  • Willem and I finished our flyering, then headed home. On the way back, I noticed a bunch of folks a few doors down, doing some lawn work and hanging. Willem and I sauntered over, invited them to the next community garden meeting, then chatted all things gardening and neighborhood block partying. This community organizing stuff is making me bold!

Spring, friends. It’s here, in all its still-slightly-brown glory!

For the Record: Beets, Carrots, and Radishes

This weekend and today: broke up the soil in the garden beds and shoveled the most beautiful compost I’ve ever seen come out of our bins into the beds most in need of a little pick-me-up.

20150316. My own personal Zen garden.

Seriously, look at this stuff. My own version of a Zen garden right here.

Also today: direct seeded a whole lotta beets, radishes, and carrots. Because beets, radishes, and carrots need to be in our bellies.

Oh yeah, and this guy has been helping me. Baby garden initiation 2015 begins!

20150316. My new garden pal.

We have a few new tools in the garden this year.

Our newest garden tools.

20150316. My new garden pal.

Willem’s new favorite toys are an old timer I have in the shape of an apple and leaves. Sounds about right.

Next up? Onions and greens! 

Doing Good and Being Awesome: Turning Over a New Leaf

As the snow slowly melts away in our corner of the world, tiny seedlings grow strong in our basement, and the promise of many, many new faces leaps up in my near future, I’m reminded of how dynamic life really is. All winter, we hole up, cozy and warm in our house-cocoons in a sort of stasis, with vague recollections of buds on trees and crocuses popping up through thawed dirt.

20150301. It's beginning to look a lot like... March 1?

As Kurt Cobain would say, though, spring is here again, friends, and this spring in particular promises to be the beginning of something amazing, something much bigger than me (or any one person, for that matter), something dynamic and shifting and growing and changing.

Drum roll, please: Thanks to the nudging of a new friend and neighbor, Sara Croft, and the powers of Facebook, this spring we will be organizing our neighbors to create a community garden in the Keystone-Monon neighborhood of Indianapolis. Just writing those words makes me feel giddy, excited, and a little terrified, but mostly all warm and fuzzy.

Whee. I want to read this whole book, right meow! And get these flyers posted! Also, Willem totally said "kisses" just now, which i think makes it his first legit word (beyond mama, dada, and neigh, of course).

Sara is an energetic, get-it-done kind of woman, and with just one simple Facebook post describing her vision of this project, she had me, hook, line, and sinker. See, what we’ve already discovered is that there is tremendous power in numbers. What feels like an incredibly daunting undertaking for just one person – finding and securing land, building the community involvement needed for success, seeking out water and supplies, building beds, managing volunteers, and countless other things we haven’t even begun to imagine – seems not only manageable, but fun and fulfilling with many hands, many faces, many ideas driving us forward.

Why a community garden? As followers of this blog know, we have a very healthy backyard (and, increasingly, front yard) garden, as well as chickens, bees, and compost. What I’ve longed for, though, is the shared wisdom, commiseration, fun, and all-out neighborliness that comes from sharing such a garden space. The summer of the drought and triple degree temperatures a few years ago, when our garden became a study in suspended animation, all our plants simply shutting down? How nice would it have been to have a group of friendly faces to commiserate with, to work side by side in the sweltering heat to keep those plants hanging on?

20120727. RAIN CLOUDS.

That year the rainclouds formed, but no rain came.

I want to be a part of creating something bigger than me, something that not only feeds our bellies but also nourishes our minds, our need for social connection and community, our ability to care for ourselves and the motivation and drive to look out for one another. There is nothing more basic, more human than cultivating our own food.

20130504. Garden hands.

20150301. Inside, everything's green.

I’m also so looking forward to the “community” part of community garden. When I was a kid, we buzzed all around the neighborhood, a pack of wild dogs on Big Wheels and bicycles, until the streetlights came on and it was time to go home. I want my son to have that sense of togetherness, of community, of learning and growing and struggling and succeeding together. Though this process is only just beginning, I’m already reminded of how there are still so many amazing people I have yet to meet in this world.

In other “new leaf” news, my amazing husband starts what will hopefully be an amazing new job on Monday…

20121103. Birdie, three months old.

And my little family recently started our second year around the sun together with Willem’s first birthday. Happy birthday, you wonderful little babe! Like I said, life? Dynamic.

Willem's really into raising his food in exaltation before eating it these days. Praise you, pancake!

Willem turns one!

It’s Never Too Early, Right?

Disclaimer: While in my brain I know it may still be a tad early to start seeds, in my green-growing-things-loving-heart, I just don’t care. 

This year, we have a seed starting Renaissance of sorts going on in the basement.

BEHOLD! We have shop lights! With adjustable chains! And a heat mat! I even have a table to work on (so what if the “table” is two saw horses with a piece of wall paneling for the table top?). As the seedlings grow, I’ll move them up to the upper shelf to make way for more babies in the seed nursery on the lower shelf. 

20150208. Seed starting upgrades! Lights that raise and lower and a heat mat.

20150208. New planting setup (sawhorses and a piece of paneling).

What did it look like before, you ask? (That’s the polite way of saying, “How in the world is THIS an improvement?!”).

Last year: Note the boxes used to bring the seeds up to the lights, which were zip tied to the bottoms of our shelves. Also note that wimpy-ass lights, which required constant rotation of the seedling flats lest we have plants growing sideways. Oh, and let’s not forget the wood paneling used to steady the seed flats.
20140209. The seeds are planted! Our no frills growing setup.

2013: I think it was also this year that I used every cookie sheet in our house to try to provide some way to manage the seedlings as they grew and grew and grew. Yeah. Cookie sheets have no place in your seed starting setup, FYI.
20130209. In hindsight, I may have planted a few too many seeds this spring.

 

What seeds have we started at this point? So far, we have a small army of greens, lettuces, and onions going. I also couldn’t resist the siren call of the pepper and planted a load of those.

We had horrible luck last year with seedlings in general and peppers specifically, so I think from here until planting day, I’m just going to start a new round of seeds each week. That may be a bit of an exaggeration… but only just.

 

 

Best Urban Homestead-y Children’s Books (according to Willem)

I started reading to Willem when he was around two weeks old. He would get his little legs kicking and really seemed to enjoy it, so we just kept on reading.

20140313. Reading time with Willem.

Fast forward to today: in one week, he will be one, and reading is very much a part of our everyday life. We read book after book before naptimes and bedtime. Willem can spend a good 10 minutes simply turning the pages of one of his favorite books or, like today, pulling each book, one by one, out of our “library stash” in the living room.

Christie Reading to Willem

We also have kind of an awesome collection of garden, farm, chicken, and homestead-y type books. I thought I’d share Willem’s top five!

      • Ten Seeds, Ruth Brown: I love, love, love this book. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, it’s a wonderful CIRCLE OF LIFE tale, and we count the seeds on each page, so I’m pretty sure it will be solely responsible for Willem being able to count to ten.

    • Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, Cathy MacLennan: This book is just fun. At first, I felt a little awkward reading it, but once you get into the flow, man, it just rolls right off the tongue. Percussive would be the right word for this book. This is in Willem’s limited right-before-bed rotation, and it’s one of his faves.

    • Mama, Is It Summer Yet?, Nikki McClure: Nikki McClure can do no wrong in my mind. I’ve gotten her calendars for the last four years. Her art is just beautiful, and it really speaks to the baby brain (high contrast). This is the first of her books we’ve gotten; I look forward to more.

    • On the Farm, David Elliott and Holly Meade: The inner wanna-be block printing artist in me sings with joy at the artwork in this book, and the melodic, entertaining poetry is just grand. They have a book called In the Sea, too, which is now on Willem’s wish list.

    • Chicken Cheeks, Michael Ian Black and Kevin Hawkes: Hey, it’s written by Michael Ian Black! What’s not to love? We haven’t read this a ton yet, but I’m guessing once Willem reaches that magical age where anything related to butts is hilarious, this will be in constant rotation.

20140208. 39 weeks.

Happy reading, all!

New Year’s Intentions, Part 2: What to NEVER, EVER Buy Conventionally (or What to Grow in Your Garden)

I was so excited about all the fancy words in my last post that I neglected the real meat/reason I wrote that post in the first place: to document which foods are best to buy organic and which are passable when conventionally grown.

During the summer, we hardly buy vegetables at all. We have so much growing in our yard that it’s difficult to eat it all at times. During the winter, though, we rely on others to grow our produce. The insane things we allow to be sprayed on our fruits and vegetables in this country totally freak me out, particularly now that we have a tiny, small being who loves fruits and vegetables in the house.

But the thing about buying organic or solely at the farmers market? $$$$. Really. I hate to say it, but $$$$. And also? Selection (at least at the standard chain grocery stores). And getting downtown to the weekly winter farmers market with a baby is just not always practical.

Dirty Dozen: The Environmental Working Group has a list of foods you should absolutely, never, OMG-you’ll-turn-green-and-die buy if conventionally grown. Strawberries are a really great one to grow at home instead (as well as spinach, snap peas, hot peppers, bell peppers, celery… shoot, just grow ’em all)!

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas (imported)
  • Potatoes
  • Hot peppers
  • Blueberries (domestic)

Clean Fifteen: Look how many of Willem’s favorite foods are on this list! SCORE!

  • Avocados (BABY FAVE)
  • Sweet corn (BABY FAVE)
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas (frozen) (BABY FAVE)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Cauliflower (BABY FAVE)
  • Sweet potatoes (BABY FAVE)

Resolutions: Confessions of the Garden and Eating Variety

So this is kind of embarrassing to admit, considering I love my garden and all growing green things so much AND considering I work for an urban micro-farming/health and wellness/general “get awesome with your bad self” non-profit… but wow, have we ever fallen off the healthy eating wagon as of late.

My biggest intention for 2015? Get back into whole, healthy, organic eating. Period. As much as possible.

20141231. Good intentions for 2015.

It started when Willem was born. I had no energy to make much in the way of healthy food, and I was starving ALL THE TIME, breastfeeding Willem, so getting calories of any kind was more important than trying to piece together healthy meals. 

Add to that the fact that the garden itself was rather sad last summer (I was a little too preoccupied with general functioning and raising a wee babe), and so even during prime eating season, we weren’t eating super great. Then… in saunters winter. And everything falls to shit.

Willem eats wonderfully. He is very much interested in food, and at 10.5 months, he still has never had a jar of store-bought baby food. The problem? Willem eats better than us. By a lot.

Which brings us to my goal of getting more healthy, whole, organic foods back into our lives. We’ll be looking into a meat CSA again for the early winter/spring and going organic (and hopefully local) for our vegetables. It’ll get easier once our SUPER-AWESOME GARDEN OF 2015 starts producing this spring, but the next few months will be a good testing ground.

20140104. Garden planning, v.2015.

Also? I just got this amazing book from my in-laws for Christmas. So excited to curl up with this, a wee glass of whiskey, and watch the snow fly outside.
Day 71. Wonderful Christmas gift from my in-laws and SNOW and football. Ahhh, Sunday. #100happydays

Hello, Blogness, My Old Friend

WOW. Has it really been a month and a half since my last post?! HELLO, little long lost bloggie. And how are you?

I wish I could say I’ve been solving world hunger or writing a manifesto that will lead to sustained peace on Earth and good will towards mankind, but no. I’ve just been busy – working, living, prepping for and then celebrating Christmas, playing with my super amazing kid, and watching movies in my jammies with my husband.

So what drove me to post today? It’s pretty self-serving: garden planning has begun, and this is still my official place to store such knowledge for future seasons. This is the second year in a row that I’ve received a gift card to Seed Savers Exchange for Christmas, which is pretty much the best idea ever for a gardener in the winter. Just cracking open that amazingly colorful catalog on these insanely gray December days has been good for the soul.

Day 43. I think Seed Savers Exchange has perfected when to send their dreamy catalogs, full of promises of beautiful, colorful, delicious growing things. Don't worry, Willem, we'll get plenty of green beans. #100happydays

And today was the magical seed ordering day. I also ordered a heat mat, and we’re heading to Lowe’s later to step up our game with lighting in the basement. No more lights zip tied to the bottoms of shelves; no more of this propping up of seedling trays on various boxes to get them closer to or further away from the lights depending on their stage of development; no more needing to constantly rotate the trays so they actually get sort of, kind of equal lighting. We will have adjustable, bright, wonderful lights this year, and my life will be so much easier for it.

Here’s what I ordered today. It also turns out I have an insane number of seeds packets from last season, too, which I’m hoping will still germinate somewhat successfully. Mama needs her arugula!

Exciting things this year: cucumbers will make their return to the garden, and we’ll be trying to grow acorn squash and muskmelon for the first time this year. Oh, and I’m going to have a lot of space dedicated to growing onions right this year. And maybe an entire husk cherry area somewhere. And tomatillos!

  • Tomatillo, Green Husk
  • Swiss Chard, Five Color Silverbeet
  • Tomato, Mexico Midget
  • Tomato, Italian Heirloom
  • Squash, Table Queen
  • Radish, French Breakfast
  • Pepper, Tequila Sunrise
  • Pepper, Jalapeno Traveler Strain
  • Onion, Red Wethersfield
  • Melon, Schoon’s Hard Shell
  • Kale, Lacinato
  • Ground Cherry, Aunt Molly’s
  • Cucumber, Japanese Climbing
  • Beet, Bull’s Blood

Basically? After my disappointing seed starting endeavor last year (I DID have a baby in the midst of prime seed starting time, so I have a  good excuse), I AM NOT MESSING AROUND THIS YEAR. You hear me, future garden? NOT. MESSING. AROUND.

Garden 4.0: Notes for Future-Me

This year, the garden has been a bit, ahem, wild. Overgrown. Unkempt. Let’s just say it’s in need of a serious haircut at this point.

20140726. Our backyard! And Birdie running laps.

Thankfully, due in large part to the wet, cool(ish) summer we’ve been having (and not to my serious neglect), we’ve still managed to get some lovely produce. The tomatoes, green beans, beets, radishes, lettuce, kale, and husk cherries in particular have done awesomely.

20140812. Husk cherries.

Now is the time, though, to start making some notes to future-me for future-garden. I do this mentally every year, and then I completely forget or push out of my mind the previous year’s lessons learned. So, dang it all to heck, we’re documenting the crap out of them this year!

20140708. State of the garden address.

Plans for next year:

  • Husk cherries are the bomb. We need a field of husk cherries next year. Okay, maybe a bed of them will do, but seriously… a lot, please.
  • Half a bed of tomatoes = perfect. Although Chris will disagree, horizontal trellising has worked nicely this year (i.e. no broken twine halfway through the summer during the latest thunderstorm to try to restring, heavy with tomatoes).
  • Let’s do onions for real next year, and half a bed of garlic was perfect. Next year: half a bed of garlic, the other half onions? Yeah? Yeah.
  • ONLY GROW HALF A BED OF GREENS, TOTAL. PERIOD. None of this “eight kale plants will do” crap. Jeez, girl. Greens do awesomely in our backyard, and we really only need two kale and two chard plants for our own consumption. At this point, the chickens have eaten more kale than I have, which is embarrassing (although the chickens are stoked).
  • I really need an entire bed of pepper plants. I love peppers. We EAT peppers. We CAN peppers. I want ALL THE PEPPERS.
  • Green beans: everyone in this house loves them, including Willem. Next year, we’re building a trellis of green beans – a TRELLIS you can walk through and be surrounded by lovely green beans – maybe as part of our front yard landscaping, maybe somewhere in back. Who knows. But we need a lot of green beans. Also, the purple ones are the bomb, because you can actually see them hiding among all that green foliage.
  • A bed of lettuce early in the season was awesome. Maybe that bed can be flipped later for fall plantings of beets, radishes, and arugula, all of which are awesome and need to be planted everywhere again next year, all summer long.
  • THINGS WE NEED NEXT YEAR: Cucumbers were sadly missing from our garden this year, as were carrots. I think I want to do a huge carrot field in one of the beds. I learned that the best carrot planters are 4-year-olds: they just throw the seeds (in huge quantities) everywhere. So that’ll be the carrot-planting plan next year.
  • Last but not least, how about some sweet potato love? I need to expand our sweet potato growing next year. We’ve been doing a sweet potato bin the last few years, which works but kind of requires upkeep all summer, adding more soil. And I want a LOT of sweet potatoes. I’m open to suggestions for best ways to grow them!
  • Oh wait… LAST last one… We need some winter rye for cover cropping this fall/winter. We ran out and didn’t have any last fall, which I swear is part of the reason we suddenly have grass trying to take over the beds this year. It also provides a great winter fresh feed for the chickens.

Also, someday Chris is going to make an epic post about the tens of thousands of bees who have taken up residence in our backyard. He finally managed to get me into the suit last week to help him move the (now two) hives around a little bit. This was me flexing and feeling very high on life after surviving the process without a) getting stung and b) having a panic attack.

IMG_2775