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.

 

 

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.

Sad Seedling Resuscitation

SEEDLING AND GARDEN RESUSCITATION
Back on February 1, knowing I was about to give birth ANY DAY NOW, I started all of our seedlings. I had an awesome spread of seeds, procured from Seed Savers Exchange, thanks to a gift card given to me by my in-laws for Christmas (great gift!). Thanks to the beauty and joy that is bringing a new being into the world, however, we ended up with our own little experiment in survival of the fittest going under the grow lights in the basement.

Only the strong survive!

Thankfully, the flat of greens did really well and went into the ground last weekend. That left two trays of raggedy tomatoes, miniaturized peppers, suspended animation ground cherries, a few spindly onions, a couple of yellowed cucumbers… and not much else. And those guys were hanging on by a thread, still eking out the last of the nutrients from the peat pods I had started them in.

Luckily, Willem loves his morning nap in his carrier, giving me a chance yesterday to repot all of the seedlings AND even plant a few more pots with fresh seeds, just in case I get some more growth in time for this season. I was especially sad that the arugula, peppers, and cucumbers did so poorly. I really wanted some lovely spicy arugula in my salads this spring; more seeds were planted in pots and directly in the ground. ARUGULA OR BUST!

20140412. Willem and me repotting seedlings.

20140412. Sad little onions.

This morning during Willem’s morning tandem nap, we planted more seeds in the garden – beets, arugula, and chard mixed in among the greens. The kale is looking rad, and the greens are thriving to varying degrees. Which reminds me – I need to water those seeds!

NO RATS ALLOWED!
In other news, Chris has embarked on an ambitious project this beautiful weekend to rid our coop of burrowing rodents (aka RATS), which have excavated extensive tunnels underneath our coop to get at our messy chickens’ dropped food throughout this polar vortex winter. Here’s a sneak peek of what he’s got going on so far; more details to come!

20140412. Rat abatement plan, step one: dig a trench.

And check out our sexy new wood rack, built by Chris. He’s the best.
20140412. New wood rack, Chris' work implements for the weekend.

AND… BABIES!!!
Finally, in other OTHER news, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, hey, I really like our baby. Here’s our nightly bedtime wind down ritual:
20140411. Bedtime routine.

20140413. Willem, 7 weeks.

This Year’s Hobo Garden Plans

I planted a bunch of seeds at the beginning of February, about two weeks before Willem’s due date. Unfortunately, only about 1/3 of them germinated and grew – and by the time I realized they were looking pretty pitiful, I had a tiny creature that was occupying all of my time, energy, and brain space.

In other words, the seedling trays are completely haphazard this year, which means the garden is going to be completely haphazard. Hobo garden. Ghetto fabulous. I’m okay with this. I HAVE to be okay with this, since I have no time or energy to do much about it.

We do have signs of life out there, though, which makes me very happy. The bee balm and other perennials are coming back, and the garlic is shooting up through the hay. At least we’ll have garlic!

This weekend, the plan is to have Chris on baby watch for a couple of hours at some point so I can plant the many greens that are flourishing under the basement lights, as well as all the direct sow seeds: beets, turnips, collards, radishes, sunflowers, and other goodies. At the very least, we’ll have greens, garlic, some root veggies, and strawberries this year!

I also think I might break down and actually buy some seedlings this year. We NEED fennel, peppers, rosemary, basil, and tomatoes. NEED. And next year? Well, hopefully the seeds that didn’t grow this year will do a bit better next year when I have a bit more of an attention span.

 

20131227. Not that it's a problem, but I might have a bit of a seed problem.

Last year’s garden insanity:
20130629. First garlic harvest = 50 bulbs.

And speaking of the little guy, Willem gets cuter and cuter every day. His happy times are my favorite – he coos and squeals and is generally the most adorable guy in the world. Not that I’m biased or anything.
Afternoon naps.

The Day Has Finally Arrived*

*No, I am not in labor.

Nope, folks, the day has finally arrived when:

  • None of my maternity shirts actually cover my stomach anymore, and I have resigned myself to a wardrobe of dresses and leggings or my own frightful incarnation of the bare midriff style (just imagine your average American Apparel model, then add 30 pounds to the belly region and 20 years).
  • Looking in the mirror in the morning is more to get a good laugh than to actually make myself look presentable or, dare I even try, CUTE.
  • Not leaving the house for three days in a row does not seem shocking; leaving the house, on the other hand, sounds like waaaaay too much work.
  • My idea of a party down, no holds barred weekend is planting seeds for the summer garden, making a giant vat of black beans to freeze, knitting a sweater, and making fun of the commercials playing during the Olympics (Fritos on a sub? I can’t think of a food that would be a better antonym to “eating fresh.” Also, are we really going to liken some fat slob biting into one of his 20-for-$5 chicken McFrankenNuggets to an Olympian biting his/her gold medal? REALLY?! And don’t even get me started on the health benefits of drinking an ice cold CocaCola. I’m sure Olympians the world over are chugging that shit down).

I guess all of that is just to say we’re still here, and we’re still waiting. Here are some recent scenes from the current waiting game:

39 weeks:
20140208. 39 weeks.

Me and Birdie, taking selfies to distract ourselves from the hideousness that is ice dancing (no offense if that’s the kind of thing that rings your bell):
Me and Birdie watch the Olympics.

Super sweet, unexpected (and maybe handmade?) gifts from super sweet neighbors. I guess they noticed me living on my bike last summer!
20140209. Sweet baby gift from our sweet neighbors.

Chris’ superhero outfit (err, I mean, protection for insulating our attic. Did I forget to mention he went on a house insulating kick a few weeks ago? He really needs to figure out some sort of amazing Halloween costume with this getup):
20140209. Chris in his attic insulating superhero costume.

And the part I’m most excited about: the beginnings of our 2014 garden! I am loving the stories behind our seeds this year, many of which are heirloom varieties purchased from Seed Savers Exchange. I think I’ll be doing a dreamy regular feature this summer on each of their stories. Because I get into that sort of thing. I also love how our no-frill, inauspicious setup will produce the most amazing garden and food all summer long.
20140209. The seeds are planted! Our no frills growing setup.

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…

Happy Spring?

You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty optimistic person. I like making plans, particularly when it comes to the garden, and I greatly enjoy watching sprouts turn to real-deal, not-messing-around, food producing plants. It is now a month before our last freeze date (did I say that right? anyway…) and I have an amazing little army of seedlings, just waiting to get in the ground, soak up some rays, and get high on chlorophyll and vitamin D.

My rarely seen pessimism, however, is starting to kick in a bit (in the form of utter disbelief that it will ever be warm enough to plant my seedlings outside again). Case in point:

(from the Indianapolis Star and National Weather Service)

Granted, last year was a ridiculously warm, early spring, but COME ON! Throw us a freaking BONE here, spring!

To continue encouraging my wistful daydreaming about springtime being right around the corner, though, I have some awesome things planned for the weekend:

  • On Saturday, I’ll be heading to the third installment of Fall Creek Gardens’ Organic Gardening class.
  • On Sunday, I’ll be the best little mulch mover that ever moved mulch by volunteering for a few hours at Big City Farms Indianapolis, where the garden will be expanded greatly this year.

If the universe cooperates, I may throw care to the wind and put the lettuces, spinach, beets, and chard seeds in the ground under a covered row on Sunday, too. Mama needs to make room under the grow lights for more seedlings – squash babies, I’m looking at you!