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!

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

The Garden Gets Just a Little More Awesome

I am exceedingly proud of our work this weekend. Well, to be fair, Chris did almost all of it, from planning to materials pickup to post hole digging, etc. I was the Vanna White to his Pat Sajak. The Bonnie to his Clyde. The Ernie to his Burt.

So what exactly did we accomplish? WE HAVE A GARDEN FENCE, Y’ALL! A fence to protect our delicate planties from sweet little beings by the names of Birdie, Beaker, Dino Puppy, Boo, Edgar, and Little Red.

20130415. The backyard - year 1, year 2, and year 3.

Our backyard from move-in day until now: May 2011, May 2012, April 2013.

The fence has two giant gates – one near the house and the other headed out toward the compost bins in back. There’s plenty of room to maneuver and, best of all, when I look at it, I don’t see fence. I see plants.

20130415. We have a garden fence!

20130415. We have a garden fence!

I think the plants are pleased, too. Way to kick some serious homeowning butt, Chris.
20130415. Lettuce, cauliflower, and peas.

I also know that probably everyone in the universe has been eagerly awaiting an update re: the barley fodder trays I was growing for chicken snacks. Before we got the fence in, it was pretty impossible to give the chickens access to the yard without the danger of them decimating my kale, cauliflower, and lettuce seedlings. The answer?

Barley fodder trays:
20130413. Barley fodder trays for the chickens.

TL;DR? They didn’t hate it. Here’s a ridiculous video of chickens eating said barley fodder tray with my dorky voice in the background. Ah, chickens…

Covered Rows and a Blanket of Sunshine to Keep Me Warm

What a day, people! WHAT. A. DAY. For the first time since I can’t even remember when, I was able to be outside all day in a t-shirt and corduroys. Well, okay, if I stood still for too long and the sun dipped behind a cloud, I began to think longingly of cozy old man wool sweater (you know, the one with the leather patches on the elbows), lying on the couch being a louse. But I refused to put that damn thing on, just on the principle of the thing.

Hello, spring! I’ve missed you! In no particular order and in reverence to the beautiful day, today I have:

  • Drafted and submitted my proposal to my employer for a part-time sabbatical for 10 weeks this summer to allow me to participate in the Growing Places Indy Summer Apprenticeship Program. That’s right, folks – I’ve been accepted! Please, please, please, employer – let me do this. This is one of those once in a lifetime/dream experiences, for goodness sakes.
  • Took Birdie on a long walk of the neighborhood, pausing to sniff grass, sign posts, and sometimes just the sidewalk.
  • Did laundry! Really, this is notable.
  • Ate fried eggs a la Chris and toast with blueberry-cinnamon jam a la me.
  • Scrambled some eggs for the chickens. We ran out of chicken feed, and the girls needed something first thing before we could pick up a new bag!
  • Went grocery shopping for such amazing things as ingredients to make banana pudding poke cake and egg casserole with sausage and peppers. It is a comfort food kind of weekend.
  • Planted two flats of lettuces and spinach in my covered row in back, threw a few more in with the garlic, then plunked the last four into the front yard bed, which I hope to turn into a PRETTY edible garden this year. Think chard, artichokes, beets, and kale mixed in with the perennials. 
  • Planted a metric butt-ton of beet, turnip, and chard seeds across the front beds and in a few of the back beds. What? I like root vegetables.
  • Got super excited upon realizing my sweet potatoes are FINALLY sprouting! We just might have sweet potatoes in the garden again this year.
  • Watched as Chris put in two more posts for our brand new, Birdie- and chicken-proof garden fence! Go, Chris, go.
  • Purchased a copy of Indianapolis Monthly, featuring an article on backyard chicken keepers this month, including MOI and the girls.

Evidence of the above, also in no particular order:

20130330. Indianapolis Monthly collage.

The Indianapolis Monthly spread – at least, the important parts (i.e. the ones that include ME and MY CHICKENS).

20130330. Putting posts in for the garden fence.

Those posts on the left? We are going to have the most awesome Birdie- and chicken-proof garden fence ever. This is a very good thing.

20130330. Putting posts in for the garden fence.

Work that post hole, Chris! Hmmm… that doesn’t sound too good…

20130330. Baby garlic!

Baby garlics!!!

20130330. The sweet potatoes finally started sprouting.

Thank goodness the sweet potatoes started sprouting. This was one of the funnest things to grow last year, and I really wanted a redo. Part deux.

20130330. Indianapolis Monthly's April edition includes an article of backyard chickens. We're (in)famous!

And, just in case you couldn’t read my words of wisdom in the collage above, here is my sage advice for Indianapolis – and the WORLD – at large.

The Haps: Backyard Photo Shoots, Doggie Classes, and a Riot of Green

BACKYARD PHOTO SHOOTS:

Our chickens have officially experienced their first ever real photo shoot. We’re talking big reflective flashes on stands, multiple lenses, and a photographer lying in the muddy grass, all Austin Powers style (“Yes! Yes! NO! NO! NO!”).

Indianapolis Monthly, which is a pretty great magazine (we used to subscribe to it but started getting overwhelmed by the piles of magazines everywhere we looked), is doing an article on backyard chickens in their April edition, and they decided they wanted to meet us. What an honor!

I just hope the photog (that’s what they call them in the biz, right?) got at least one or two decent shots. It has been gray and brown and muddy and generally very uninspiring in the backyard lately, and the girls… well, they look like their surroundings: muddy and damp and brown instead of bright and shiny and pretty.

DOGGIE CLASSES:

In other menagerie-related news, our sweet puppy turned seven months old yesterday – when did she get so big?! Our big girl also got her official doggie diploma. I’m so proud I could cry.

20130302. Birdie graduates!

20130302. Birdie's repertoire.

Birdie’s repertoire… sort of. She’s really good at some things, not so good at others. Particularly if other people, dogs, cars, or squirrels are involved.

A RIOT OF GREEN:

Thankfully, although the gray outside won’t seem to lift, we have a riot of green in our basement. The only regret I have this year is that our seedlings are hidden away, and I can’t appreciate them all day, every day. It brings me a bit of peace (and a good dose of Vitamin D), though, to visit them.

20130302. Riot of green.What does your weekend look like?

Stop the Presses!

BREAKING NEWS: I’ve decided I’m going to become more of a vegetarian again. I don’t consider myself a meat aficionado, but lately I haven’t been able to get away from the thought about what a huge impact eating meat has on the rest of the world. It’s such a selfish, short-minded thing, in terms of its impacts on our ecosystems, inputs required, and nasty outputs from the way most meat is produced in this country.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

Learning how to butcher a chicken from start to finish last summer at Distelrath Farm, Indianapolis.

At best, raising meat is a highly inefficient way to feed a population. So really, if I’m going to work towards living more sustainably and being less of a consumer, it was only a matter of time before I got to the conundrum of meat.

So what do I mean by becoming “more” of a vegetarian? I’ve decided to only eat locally produced meats – meats from farms I could actually go visit within the state of Indiana. This has the added bonuses of:

  • Supporting local farmers
  • Lightening my footprint in terms of greenhouse gas production
  • Minimizing the hormones and antibiotics that go into my meat (and, by extension, into me)
  • Limiting the amount of energy required to get meat from the farm to my place, simply based on its proximity

Win. Win. Win. WIN.

I’m also super lucky that our neighborhood restaurants seemingly more often than not feature meats sourced locally. No, I don’t have to give up my occasional burger at Twenty Tap, which uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meat from Fischer Farms. Thank goodness for that.

20120727. Little Red and Boo creepin' yet again.

Another huge part of this, in my mind, is raising our own proteins (in the form of backyard eggs) and growing our own vegetables, which can also be extremely energy-laden in our current food system to produce, depending on how the veggies are processed (frozen or canned, for instance).

Did you know it takes 35 kcal of fossil energy input for 1 kcal of beef protein? With that in mind, the quality of your meat better be really good to justify this very high use of fossil energy input. I consider this at least a small step in the right direction, in addition to expanding our garden.

early-august garden.

The backyard our first summer, July 2011.

20120513. One year in the house!

The same space, May 2012.

20121004. Chris cut up a ton of sod in the garden area. Halfway done!

September 2012. I need to get another bed in there this spring – look at that big, open space, just asking for some artichokes, tomatoes, beets, or chard!

Did They Tell You You Should Grow Up When You Wanted to Dream?

I’ve been daydreaming about growing things this weekend – so much so that I finally cracked open the various seed catalogs I’ve received so far this winter and carefully avoided. If you have never seen a seed catalog, they are essentially page after page of crack for the garden dreamer. Plant porn.

Purple and orange cauliflower; eight different kinds of kale; chard stems that scream color to rival the most vibrant sunset. You can guess what happened next, right?

I proceeded to add seed packet after seed packet to my shopping cart, using my holiday bonus from work upon checkout. Greater self-sufficiency seems like a good thing to spend one’s work bonus on. Chard, squash, artichoke, kale, nasturtium, cauliflower, and some sunflowers to round it out. This is on top of the peas, beans, turnips, beets, tomatoes, chives, and a whole bunch of other seeds I still have from last year.

Next up will be picking up seed starter from Worm’s Way, which is the only stuff I’ll buy after last year’s seed starting debacle with the organic mix from Lowe’s. Someday I’ll make my own seed starter mix, but I just don’t have it in me this year.

I bit the bullet today and followed actual directions for how to start sweet potato slips for planting. Last year was my first stab at growing sweet potatoes, and I’m excited to get them in the ground much earlier this year. I cut some of the vines from last year’s batch and plunked them into water, thinking they would root. And, well, they haven’t. Not really.

20121004. Sweet potato slips for next spring!

So, like I said, I bit the bullet, bought two sweet potatoes from the grocery store, cut ’em up, and threw them into a few jars. Each potato should produce many slips, which, in theory, will each become their own plant with oodles of sweet potatoes growing off of it underground. Sweet potatoes are kind of magical, right?

20130113. Starting the sweet potato slips.A rainy weekend spent daydreaming of sunshine and cool breezes, the smell of dirt, tiny seedlings turning to giants to fill my pantry and my belly, and converting more of our yard into useable, edible space? In case you were wondering, it has been lovely.

Did they tell you you should grow up when you wanted to dream? Did they warn you, better shape up if you want to succeed? I don’t about you, who are they talking to? They’re not talking to me.

Geek-Out-Worthy: Composters and Chicken Combovers

Geek-Out-Worthy Thing the First: Have I mentioned lately how awesome it is to have someone around who not only has a ton of construction-type tools, but who also has the interest and know-how to use them? Yesterday, Chris leveled the composter that he built with his own two hands, and today he whipped up a new dust bathing box for the chickens.

20121125. Our new composter!

Since I am good at encouragement and manual labor, my job was to lend encouragement, rake/cut up sticks/consolidate compost piles, and rake out/freshen up the chicken coop and run.

20121125. Our new composter!Some composter plans and details, straight from the boyfriend himself:

Geek-Out-Worthy Thing the Second: HAVING CHICKENS WHO ARE ACTUALLY LAYING EGGS/ARE ABOUT TO GET STARTED! Dino Puppy has given us four eggs since 11/20. Boo is now expressing an interest in the nesting box, and her comb has grown exponentially over the last 1.5 months (not to mention in the last week alone!).

Compare: November 18.

20121118. Quality time with the chickens - Boo and her suddenly impressive comb.

November 25. Maybe not as impressive from the side…

20121125. Boo's impressive comb.

But look at that comb! It has officially become a combover and is flopping and wobbling all over the dang place. Go, Boo, go!

20121125. Boo's impressive comb.

Home Sweet Home

It’s been a little quiet around these parts. Know why? I’ve been off in the second greatest, first littlest state of Rhode Island for a full week for work (oh, yeah, that job I never talk about here!), and Chris has been crying in a corner, missing me too much to be able to function enough to write a blog post.*

*That is a total lie. He actually busted ass with a sod cutter and did some awesome work around the garden. More on that in a mo’.

20120930. Partial WaterFire for our annual conference. PRETTY SPIFF.

Our conference opening session – we had our very own mini Watefire. Providence proved to us over and over what a cool city it is.

20120927. View from my Providence hotel room.

The view from my hotel room.

20120930. Partial WaterFire for our annual conference. Can you spot me and my look of utter terror carrying that torch?

For some reason, someone actually thought it was a good idea to hand me a flaming torch and have me walk down many flights of stairs. They apparently do not know my history (see: stabbing self with knives, nearly cutting off fingers, and falling down/cracking teeth off in Barcelona).

I arrived back at the first greatest state of Indiana yesterday afternoon, dumped my bags, then ran outside to hang with the chickens and get some dirt under my nails. A friend asked if Little Red charged my shins like a tiny rhino upon my return. No, but she did jump up onto my shoulder as I crouched down to say hi to the rest of the girls. We are homies.

After a week away, the three littlest girls look so different to me. Boo’s comb and wattles are getting big!

20121004. I leave for a week, and all the chickens look different to me.

Look at Little Red’s waddles! And I missed Dino Puppy’s black freckles.

20121004. Little Red is getting big waddles!

20121004. I leave for a week, and all the chickens look different to me.This was from a couple of weeks ago, but here is my second (sort of failed) attempt at getting video of the girls “flying the coop.” They get stage fright when I bust out the camera.

I was also thoroughly impressed with Chris’ work while I was gone. Sod cutter plus mulch plus the help of a good friend = LESS GRASS, MORE VEGGIES. He was nice enough to leave some of the sod rolling and mulching for me, though, knowing I would be so very sad to have missed all the fun.

20121004. Chris cut up a ton of sod in the garden area. Halfway done!

Less grass to mow, more room for veggies, and a new bed.

Finally, I decided it was time to harvest the sweet potatoes. We planted them after a potato bin workshop in June at Fall Creek Gardens, so we got a later start than you really should, but whatevs. I can’t wait to plant them again next spring! Look at how cute they are:

20121004. Sweet potatoes! Next year, these are going to be AWESOME.

20121004. First try at sweet potatoes.

Dang, sweet potato, you clean up real nice!

20121004. Growing sweet potatoes for the first time.I cut off some slips before harvesting the taters that will maybe, hopefully grow nice and strong all winter and be ready to plant by the spring. Again, it’s the blind (me) leading the blind (also me) here.

20121004. Sweet potato slips for next spring!There were a few things to harvest in the rest of the garden, too. I definitely dropped the ball with the garden this year – between the heat, the chickens, and the drought, I cut myself a little slack over that.
20121004. Sweet potatoes, peppers, an Romas.So glad to be home! I missed the dude, the chickens, the cats, and the garden. Ahhhh… Indiana.