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Archive for May, 2008

Certainly the title of this post is not as sexy as say, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” or even the title of the new Indy movie, “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” but I feel it is apropos of my experience creating my tiny square foot garden yesterday.

Cutting through dense and difficult vegetation, dealing with creepy critters, enduring intense heat and humidity, lifting heavy objects beyond my natural ability, the sweat literally pouring off my brow, the theme music from the Indy movie series played loudly in my brain and like Indy probably often felt, I realized I’d bitten off far more than I could chew.

The night before I embarked on my SFG journey, I reread the parts of Mel Bartholomew’s Bible of SFG, All New Square Foot Gardening and in it, after telling you to put the box in your chosen location, he gives a very brief and casual mention, “(oh yes and by the way) remove grass or weeds.” Hum. Well, I thought it wouldn’t be any big deal. I’ve got a shovel, it’s just some grass, I can deal with it.

Well, I showed up at my little chosen plot at 10 a.m. Sunday morning, took my shovel and shoved it into the earth, and . . . the sod hardly budged.

It was already hot, and humid, as late May mornings and days are wont to do in Central Texas. I was already sweating. I contemplated just putting down the corn-based, biofriendly weed cloth I’d bought at Home Depot the day before and doing my SFG without removing the grass. I decided to read the directions on the weed cloth to see if it would confirm for me that this was a good thing to do, but all it said was: “For best results, remove grass and weeds.” Hum. Damn.

I still thought about just putting down the weed cloth, but visions of thousands of blades of grass poking their way up through my weed cloth and six inches of dirt to find the sun and drown out my little veggies wafted through my brain. I didn’t want that now, did I? I also thought about just putting down plastic to kill the grass, but that could take weeks. Weed killer was not an option, as I greatly value organic, environmentally friendly garden growing, and this was neither. So, in zen-like acceptance, I grabbed my little trowel, sat on the ground, and began to work.

It seemed a little easier with the trowel, although once I cleared out some grass, I found that one thing that speeded things up a bit was to use the shovel to loosen the ground and roots beneath the grass and then get back down on the ground with my trowel to finish it off . However, I was sitting in the hot Texas sun in something like almost 100 degrees and  120 percent humidity (I exaggerate on the humidity, but it must have been close). I did have a big bottle of water nearby and a nice big shady hat I’d bought in Hawaii to cruise down the Hanalei River in Kuai with a long-ago ex-boyfriend, so I figured I would be OK.

Even so, it was probably very foolish of me to do this in the heat. I probably should have waited until Monday, gotten up at the crack of dawn to do my work then, but I had planned on doing this on Sunday, I wanted it done, and by gum and by golly, that’s what I was going to do. I come from a long line of stubborn Irish, so foolishly I walked in where angels fear to suffer heatstroke. So kids, don’t try this at home, especially if you live in Texas. Do this either in early or mid-spring or the early morning in late spring/summer!

So there I was, sweating, getting very dirty, hacking through ten year’s worth of grass that was woven together in an intricate web of shoots and roots. I unearthed several roly-poly bugs and a worm or two, and felt guilty that I was disturbing their home. I would very carefully move each critter I saw so I wouldn’t do any damage to it. Unbelievably, I seldom cursed through the whole thing (I’ve been known to curse to embarrass a sailor when things don’t go my way), but maybe all those years of meditation and prayer and spiritual initiations I’ve done have finally kicked in.

I did, however, decide that I was not going to do this with the larger 4×4 SFGs I will be doing in the near future. If I have to put down plastic first to kill the grass, I’ll do that, or build my SFGs with a plywood bottom, to keep out the grass.  I did console myself with the fact that the sod I was digging up would make some really good homegrown compost!

Anywho, I finally got the damn thing dug, and I rejoiced. Mightily! You can see my handiwork below. My SFG Plot - more difficult than it looks!One problem, however: I didn’t quite dig enough, and my concrete blocks were all crooked. So I had to dig some more, but finally I got it all to work out. It’s not perfect, mind you, but it’s good enough for government work, as my wonderful and recently departed stepfather use to say.

I was just going to get the container for the SFG done and then mix the dirt and plant on Monday. It was almost noon and getting hotter and humider by the minute (yes, I know humider is not a word, but I like hotter and humider, not hotter and more humid). I went inside, ate lunch, contemplated taking a nap, but then I went back out to look at my handiwork again, and it felt cooler somehow, and I amazingly was not all that tired.  I put back on my Hawaiian hat (that I later found out was made in Mexico) and went back out to mix dirt and plant plants!

Well, it wasn’t really less hot or humid, I just had cooled off inside, so of course it felt cooler when I first went back out. I soon began sweating profusely again. But I was determined to finish. However, I moved to some shade nearby to mix the dirt. I mixed it as closely as I could per Mel’s instructions: 1/3 spaghum moss (or peat moss, as I said, not so eco-friendly); 1/3 perlite (Mel likes vermiculite, which is hard to find); and 1/3 compost. For me, it took a bag and half of 432 cubic inches of spaghum moss, a bag and a half of perlite (can’t remember the size, but they’re relatively small bags) and almost two bags of 1.5 cubic feet of John Dromgoole’s Ladybug Revitilizer Compost I got from the Natural Gardener. Mel recommends mixing in a tarp, but I used an old shower curtain instead.

 Mel also recommends if you buy compost to buy 5 different kinds because he says most companies only use one kind and you need at least 5 different kinds to get all the important nutrients. However, Mel has never been to Natural Gardner here in Austin, and the Revitilizer Compost is a blend of 5 different kinds of compost, so you save a lot of money that way! If you don’t live in or near Austin, TX, just look at your bags of compost at the store to see if they are a blended compost and have at least 5 types of compost , rather than buy 5 bags of different compost, as Mel advises.

Now this was dirt not just for a 1×2 foot garden, but also for all the little holes in the concrete block, into which I planted basil seeds for fun. So I estimate that rather than a 1×2 foot garden, I had an extra 6-8 feet in the concrete block holes. If I had just filled in the middle, I would have only needed 2/3 bag of the spaghum moss, 2/3 bag perlite and one bag of the compost.

After I got the dirt in the garden, I got one of my Crista Compact tomato plants (the other I’d already Voila-a tiny SFG!planted in a container) and one of my Malabar spinach, drew a line to half the garden into one foot each, and planted each plant in the middle of each square foot, and then I watered it. Then I planted my basil seeds from seeds I’d saved last year from my basil plant. At first I planted two seeds per concrete block hole, but then I got lazy because it’s a bit difficult to gather just two tiny basil seeds, and I planted more than that in the other holes. Anyway, I hope they take! Look to the right to see my beautiful new SF garden!

Then, feeling even more industrious, I decided to get my dirt ready for my big planter to plant some butternut squash seeds. I had some leftover regular Whole Foods organic dirt, and I’d bought some Ladybug Hill Country Garden soil – I didn’t do the Mel’s Mix for the containers, because I wanted to see which soil grew better stuff, because I might just use regular soil for future SFGs if that works well for my container veggies, with some compost thrown in.

Anyway, I began mixing the Ladybug and Whole Foods soils with my extra perlite in my handy dandy shower curtain, and then I began to shovel it into the planter. However, I was in direct sun now and I’d been outside for quite a while and was very hot. Suddenly, internally I heard in my mind, “You really need to go inside now,” which I figured was the Divine trying to talk some sense into me. I, of course, being the good human being that I am, I ignored it. Then after a couple more shovelfuls of dirt I heard more loudly, “Get inside RIGHT NOW!!!!” Then I figured that if I didn’t go in right then, I was going to have a heatstroke, so I said, “OK, OK,” threw down my shovel and went dutifully back in to drink more water and cool off for a while.

I kept thinking I would lay down and take a nap, but after cooling off, I still had energy, so I went back outside and continued with my dirt. I then realized I didn’t have enough dirt for the planter, so I resolved to buy some more on Monday, and use some dirt to plant my other Malabar spinach plant in a container, to see how it did in that.

My Funky ComposterNow, after doing all that, you’d think I’d go inside, take a shower and then take a nap, but noooo, I still had this unbelievable energy. I went back outside, unfurled my chicken wire I’d bought the day before and built my simple composter! It wasn’t very easy, but I managed to unfurl it enough to weave 4 stakes through it to hold it and then get it set up in my side yard where I hope to eventually get a gate to create a small utility yard to hide it and other not so beautiful yard tools. And it certainly isn’t beautiful or perfect, but it will do the job of containing my compost and letting it aerate so it won’t get smelly, while allowing me to turn it, which is very important for getting compost. You can see my composter to the left.

I cleaned up my mess outside, laid out the sod on my shower curtain so it could dry before being put in the composter (Mel says it’s best to let grass dry first or it gets slimy and smelly in the composter), and went inside. I still didn’t shower and rest, however. I fixed the guest toilet connector, which had been leaking for about a week, rather than pay a plumber several hundred dollars to do. It cost 5 bucks and about 30 minutes of my time. Then I took a shower, but I didn’t nap – I made myself a lovely dinner of a spinach and avocado omelet along with a slice of the bread I’d made before, and some leftover refried beans from lunch and enjoyed.  What a self-sufficient day!

POST NOTE: Later that evening, I was looking at Mel’s web site at http://www.squarefootgardening.com/, and I came across a question on his FAQ about protecting your SFG from grass and weeds, and there, on the web site, he says, Back to the weeds, I would mow them down and then cover the ground with a landscape cloth. You mean I really could have just laid down my weed cloth rather than dig the dang stuff out? Why the heck and tarnation (I had to edit out what I really wanted to say) didn’t he just say that in the book?! Oh well — like I said earlier, now I’ve got some really good material for my compost!
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Malabar SpinachYes, I know I said I needed to go to bed, but I just wanted to write a little bit about what I’m thinking about doing with the SFG, and I also really wanted to show you my picture of the Malabar Spinach I bought at the Natural Gardener — I’m very proud of it!

When I bought it I thought I was just buying a variation of spinach, but when I got it home and looked closer at the description, it said it was a climbing spinach! Now, I’d never heard of that before, so of course I went to the Internet to look it up. As a matter of fact, it’s not really even a spinach, but I guess is spinach-like and can be used as a replacement for spinach in recipes. It is native to India and Indonesia and is well-suited for hot weather, unlike regular spinach. And apparently, it grows fast and is prolific! So, this should be interesting. I got a bamboo trellis at Home Depot to grow it on, so we shall see!

I’m trying to decide exactly what to put in my square foot garden. Because I’m starting out so late, I’m just going to start out with a very tiny SFG – 1 foot by 2 foot. Then I’ll go to a regular 4’x4′ SFG for fall planting. I had originally thought I would experiment and plant black-eyed peas and butternut squash in the SFG — the black-eyed peas from some dried organic black-eyed peas I have for cooking and butternut squash from seeds I saved from an organic squash I cut up and cooked a couple of months ago. Then when I got the spinach, I decided to grow it with the squash in the SFG, and try to grow the black-eyed peas in a pot. Now I’m thinking I will grow the spinach and the tomato I bought together in the SFG, especially since they’re both transplants and will likely take off. The black-eyed peas and squash are more experimental, since one, I’m trying to grow them from “un-orthodox” seeds that don’t come out of a packet, and two, I’m starting them a little late. The squash in particular needs a big pot, which I do have, and I’m going to try and grow a couple of black-eyed peas in a 5-gallon container. That may not be big enough, but oh well — it’s just an experiment!

Rather than using wood planks for my mini-SFG, I’m using concrete blocks I found in the yard when I moved into this house in January. Concrete BlocksI also think I’m going to fill the little holes within the blocks with soil and plant some basil from seeds I saved from basil I grew last year. I think that will be fun. To the right you can see a picture of the concrete blocks that I set up to get an idea of what the SFG would look like before I put it together. Once I go to a regular 4’x4′ SFG I’ll use wooden planks, but I will probably still keep this one and maybe use it to plant herbs in the fall or something else.

In any case, I’m really excited about putting this SFG and my container veggies together and see what happens! I don’t have too many expectations, but this is just a trial start to learn and learn enough to really get started and plant a bigger garden in the fall. And in Central Texas, we can pretty much plant veggies year round, so looks like I may be able to do a winter garden as well!

If you’re not familar with the SFG concept, the best thing I can do is to give you a link to Mel’s web site so you can learn more about it: http://www.squarefootgardening.com/. He even shares with you, for free, how to set up your own SFG, though he also sells a book on it, which gives you more info. I bought the book, and it has a lot of good, indepth info with great detail on setting up your SFG. He sells his book from his web site, as well as material to start your SFG, though it’s cheaper to find and use your own material. In any case, I really believe this is the best, simplest, and easiest way to have a garden that produces a very good, continual harvest of your own food, particularly in places where you don’t have much, or any, land.

And now, I am truly heading for bed!

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Well, so much for starting the square foot garden today. I set my alarm for 7:45 a.m., and somehow in utter sleepiness, I turned it off and didn’t wake up again until 10:17 a.m.! Oh well. I probably wouldn’t have been able to start it anyway, because I still needed to pick up some items from Home Depot before I could start, and I wound up ensconced in the aisles of home improvement wonderland for two hours! And I still needed to go to one of our local organic gardening centers, the Natural Gardner (http://www.naturalgardner.com) for some environmentally friendly spaghum moss. This is not to be confused with spaghum peat moss, which is a non-renewable source and is taken from peat bogs where ancient moss has incubated for probably thousands of years. The harvesting of this moss greatly upsets delicate ecosystems in places like Ireland and England, where it is becoming endangered, and Canada. It is not environmentally friendly.

Mel Bartholomew advocates 1/3 peat moss for his Mel’s Mix, arguing that you only need to use a little, and then you never need it again (unless of course you create another 4×4 garden). However, I got to thinking that, even so, if even thousands of people using SFG used the peat moss each year, we’d all still be endangering peat moss and the ecosystems in which it resides. Coir, which is coconut hull fiber, is another eco-friendly option, but it seems a little harder to find, at least locally, and I didn’t want to wait to get it off the Internet.

I was debating about just using potting soil, but good ol’ Natural Gardener came to the rescue! Spaghum moss is a renewable source from live spaghum moss that is harvested and dried and is not taken from peat bogs. It is suppose to work as well as peat moss. Peat moss, as I understand, is used in Mel’s Mix for its water-retaining qualities, and dried spaghum moss is suppose to do the same thing. Anyway, works for me!

But I digress. Anywho, because of my late start today, I’m going to shoot for SFGing tomorrow in the morning. It’s just too dang hot now to do anything here in Central Texas in the afternoon – and it’s only May – yikes! But what I did do this evening was bake my own whole wheat bread and whole wheat tortillas! Now I have made whole wheat bread many times in my life, but had not baked much in a long time. So after a long hiatus, I have been making bread more often in the last month or so. It’s certainly a lot cheaper. I like to eat organically as much as possible, and even at 99 cents a pound for organic whole wheat flour in the bulk section of Whole Foods, it’s still cheaper than buying organic whole wheat bread for $3 or $4!

Bread dough in the panTo the right is my lovely loaf of bread dough in the pan. Now, I have a bread machine, but I got tired of the bread sticking to the little paddle at the bottom. So I decided to make the dough in the bread machine and let it knead the dough, and then I put it in the pan to rise!

If you’re interested in the recipe, it is as follows:

4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups warm water
2 tsp yeast
2 tbsp molasses
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp wheat gluten (just tried this for the first time, and I think it’s a great addition — makes the bread less dense)
Warm up water (not hot or you’ll kill the yeast), stir in molasses and then dissolve yeast and let sit until the yeast is foamy. This proofs the yeast. If you’re using a bread machine, you can combine all this in the loaf pan. In the meantime, combine flour, salt and wheat gluten. Add flour to water/yeast/molasses mixture. Let the machine mix and knead the dough. You may need to add extra water if the dough looks too dry, or more flour if it’s too wet. Add either one tablespoon at a time, and let the machine do its thing for about a minute or so before you add more. If you put your finger to the dough and not much dough comes off on your finger, it’s good. Too much dough and it needs more flour. If it looks crumbly, it needs more water.

After the machine finishes kneading, go ahead and take the dough out and put it in a buttered and floured pan and let it rise for an hour, or until it has doubled. Put it in an oven heated to 375 degrees and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Then Voila! Bread! Slice you up a piece and slather it with butter! It’s also good for sandwiches, toast, etc.

Remind me, and I will share with you a special no-knead whole wheat bread recipe, for those of you who don’t have a bread machine and hate to knead yer dough!

Now, I also decided to be extra industrious while I had the whole wheat flour out and make some more whole wheat tortillas. I made these for the first time last weekend, and I’d already run out. They’re pretty easy to make, though I must say the hardest part is rolling them out, especially if you’re like me and don’t have a rolling pin! A glass works in a pinch, but a rolling pin would be easier — or I think I’m going to try to find a good tortilla press to help me out with the pressing part. I read somewhere tonight about using a plate to flatten the dough, but it didn’t work that great for me, though it made it easier to use my glass to roll it flatter.

Pressed tortilla doughYou can see my experiment with the plate to the left! The recipe I used for the tortillas can be found at http://www.asksasha.com/Healthy-Cooking/Homemade-Whole-Wheat-Tortillas-Recipe.html

However, you may want to use a little extra water for the tortillas. And I substituted about a half cup melted Smart Balance Light margarine to make it low fat, though knock yourself out if you want to use olive oil — it’s a healthy oil. I’m just trying to save calories.

You can also freeze the tortillas after you’ve cooked them, since they probably last just a week in the fridge. I wouldn’t leave them sitting outside of refridgeration, unless you want mold on them in a couple of days — but then I live in hot and humid Central Texas, so that’s not an uncommon occurence!

Whew! I’m tired, and now it’s 10:30 pm! I guess if I want to get up early tomorrow to plant my SFG, I’d best hit the hay!

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Here I go, with my first ever blog posting on my first ever blog in the blogosphere! Suddenly, I fear I have writer’s block — but never fear, my idiocy shall overcome all frozen thought! Aha! Well, now, what do we have here in this first ever posting? Well, we shall now discuss why we are here.

Without going into a humongous essay here, I will tell you the reasons for this blog. First of all, I have had a big interest in self-reliant living for some time now, and have done a lot of research on it. Now I am ready to embark on living a life as self-sufficiently as I can, though I must say, I will have to start out rather slooowly — after all, I still work in the 8-5 world, with the 8-5 job and all the attendant frustrations and even pleasures, such run of the mill living so entails. My ultimate goal, however, is to be able to work at home, grow my own food, live off the grid, produce various crafts, live simply and sustainably, and yes, even eco-friendly, lower my carbon footprint, tread lightly on the earth, yada yada yada, blah blah blah. 

I have also felt somewhat pushed towards self-sufficiency by all the so-called economic developments in the world – rising gas prices, food prices, grain shortages etc. NOT that I’m any sort of gloom and doom type, and I’m not looking for the four horsemen of the apocalypse to come riding over the hill any day now (though I suppose some folks are). BUT I do think it’s a good idea to be prepared for whatever may come over the horizon, whether it’s those lovely horsemen, a big Mack truck, or Lady Godiva (either in the form of a naked lady or a box of dark chocolate, take your pick–I’m all for the dark chocolate, myself).

Anywho, this blog serves as a record of my journey into self-sufficiency, and I hope it can also provide resources for others who wish to embark on this path. Like I said, I’ve done a lot of research on all this, with lots and lots of bookmarks, and, heck yeah, I oughta put all those wasted hours perusing the Internet to good use and benefit my fellow sentient beings, right?

So here you have a little idea of what I will be bringing to this blog. First of all you’ll get to see me create a very small Square Foot Garden — this begins tomorrow. There are many, many other topics, however, that I want to explore and share with you, so I hope you’ll hang with me and learn as I go. I’ll put in more about what I want to do in the ABOUT section, but I haven’t written much about that there yet, but you can go there now if you want to get a brief little blurb about ME!

Anyway, that’s all folks, for now! Buenos Noches and thanks for reading my blog! 🙂

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