Friday, July 11, 2008

Discovering my Microclimate

I've been amazed lately as I zoomed through the town making birthday party preparations. Everything is in bloom. The daylilies, the coreopsis, the russian sage... St. John's Wort by midsummer? Not in my garden. While I did plant a plethora of things late this year, procrastination is not the issue here. The issue is the microclimate(s) of my garden.

Basically, a microclimate is a distinctly different climate within one larger general climate. You know, like the climate beneath one grand oak tree within the larger climate of an entire park. Even on a small property like mine, there can be several microclimates, and the garden as a whole can be a microclimate to the larger climate of your block or neighborhood.

My yard on the whole tends to be much cooler than even my next door neighbor's. Why? Because I've got Mama Maple in the back (I really need to get some pictures up of her), Sister Maple out front, a white mulberry in the back corner of the yard, and a 6ft privacy fence surrounding my backyard. Plus, in my neighborhood, the houses are only about 6ft apart. Building upon building creates pockets of shade all over the place. Within this microclimate are several others: right next to Mama Maple, the area of dappled shade beneath her outer canopy, the site of our former compost pile, the clay patch next to the fence, the gravelly space abutting the concrete walkway, the sandy soil along the left side of the house, and many many more. Hell, even the space beneath the dryer vent is a microclimate of its own!

The disadvantages of my space are probably pretty obvious. I have a very difficult time with things like rosemary, which love dry heat. All of my plants tend toward the smaller side, and they definitely mature a little behind their general climate counterparts as my jaunt around town so aptly reminded me. The corn next to the concrete walkway, where the dappled shade of Mama Maple and the substrate gravel make things less hospitable, is markedly behind the corn just a few feet away towards the center of the backyard row. Growing veggies can be frustrating in this plot, fo' sho!

There are advantages as well though. If you discount the freakish amount of lightening strikes we tend to get in our yard, our plants are much more sheltered from wind and other adverse weather. This, in addition to the god awful amount of leaves we get in the fall, makes winter sheltering of perennials a little less work. Rain stays where it falls for the most part, and it evaporates a little more slowly too, even if you take away the protective canopy of intensive plantings. We have an abundance of birds because of our mature trees, and I can grow lettuce when most gardeners' greens are bolting. I don't swelter nearly as much as my friends next door do when they're tending to their crops. Ohhhhh, yeah. Now I'm making you jealous, aren't I? ;)

This year has been great for getting the microclimates sorted out since I'd planted a good variety of perennials last year. There's still plenty to figure out though, and I haven't even begun to tackle the front yard. That's one thing about gardening, whether you're doing it for food like I am or simply for some beautiful ornamentals, there's always more to learn and discover.

Happy, Happy Birthday Baby!

Today happens to be the day one very special little girl was born, my Baby Bean. She came into the world quietly though a tempest raged outside, nearly resulting in a last minute name change. We stuck to the plan though, and our beautiful 8lb. 10.5oz. baby girl arrived into the loving arms of her Mama and Papa.

Here's a bit of a glimpse into The Bean as she turns 2:
  • Though extremely laid back and outgoing just a year ago, she is now afraid of everyone and everything, including our next door neighbor whom she sees almost daily and the robins that show up in our backyard begging for grubs.

  • She has very decided opinions about fashion.

  • Speaking of fashions, she's currently wearing 24 month clothing. They don't fit her in the waist though (even 18 month pants/shorts/skirts are too big in the waist for her) because she's long and thin.

  • She'll still eat just about anything, but she's become a bit more reserved in her food choices and her consumption has slowed a bit. Her favorite foods are cheesy scrambled eggs, potato salad, cinnamon rolls, and ice cream of any flavor. Fruits and veggies have pretty much become a thing of the past for her, unfortunately.

  • She starts each day by screaming "MAMA!" at the top of her lungs. If I'm not quite done with my shower and don't answer, she continues with "PAPA!", and if that illicits no response, she combines them into "MAPA!" I'll be honest, it's so cute that sometimes The Husband and I purposely don't get her right away because we want to hear "Mapa."

  • Sharing a room with her big sister has resulted in a very close bond between the girls, and she emulates her big sister in every way she can manage. For those of you who are interested in astrology, The Bean's Moon is less than 1 degree off of Annie's ascendant. I expect this closeness to continue.

  • Her favorite television program (gasp!, I know) is Spongebob Squarepants. She calls Spongebob "Baba", which sounds very similar to "Papa." Her favorite character is actually Gary though. She can meow just like him.

  • Callie's two favorite things are bossing around the neighbor boy who is one month younger than her and riding on said little boy's plastic dinosaur rocker.

  • Yes, she's STILL sucking her thumb.

  • And by request of The Bean...
    Pom Na Tu Ri (Springtime Outing) - Elizabeth Mitchell

    Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    Nothin' But Questions

    It's a busy week for me here. There is plenty to get me up early in the morning and keep me going late into the night, but most of it is simple busy work, cleaning, cooking, weeding, etc. That leaves plenty of time to ponder questions and no time to seek answers or find solutions. Instead, I'm putting the questions here, throwing them into the cyber ether, in the hopes that tomorrow my mind might settle just a bit...

    First, where the garden is concerned...

    1. Should I break down and buy this garden arbor or wait until I can afford one a little more like this? Even building it myself, it looks like it would cost around $300-350. That's beyond my budget right now. Do I wait, save, and buy the arbor that matches my home's architecture (hoping all the while that my potted grapevine will make it until that point) or do I buy what I can afford now (hoping all the while that aforementioned grapevine grows like hell and covers that cheapo thing in record time)? Do I even really need an arbor? Could I possibly build something more rustic, something more along the second one on this page for really cheap and have the best of both worlds?

    2. Will the herb garden I have planned for the front yard next year even grow there? Is there too much shade from the maple? Will I be able to afford all the transplants I need, or will I be forced to grow everything from seed and have a yardful of dirt and mulch all of next year?

    3. Should I remove the white mulberry tree growing in the back corner of the yard? If it were outside the fence line, I would leave it, but, alas! It's inside the fence, taking up probably 6' of gardening space, casting shade for parts of the day, and not really doing anything as of yet since it isn't fruiting.

    4. Should I remove the Spirea in front of the house, which look untidy as a houseside hedge and are used solely for attracting beneficials, and replace them with something edible? It's a pretty shady area of the yard. Will anything even grow well there?

    5. Can I grow Camellia here? Should I take the risk of investing in a plant that really isn't meant to be grown this far north?

    In regards to energy...

    1. Should we break down and buy the REC's offered by AEP, or should the $17.00 or so a month that we would spend on those go towards solar panels?

    2. How do I convince The Husband that we don't need to run the air conditioner all day long with the thermostat set on 74?

    3. What sort of attic insulation would be the best, both in regards to energy conservation and biodegradability? What about the manufacturing process? Do we actually need more attic insulation?

    4. Can we convert our currently non-working gas fireplace into a woodburning one for winter heat? Will that save us money? Will it be better for the planet? Will it be safe for the children?

    In regards to transportation...

    1. Will The Husband be able to get a job here in Marion rather than driving all the way to Columbus?

    2. Why isn't there any affordable public transportation from here into the city? Is there something we're overlooking? Should we perhaps start the ball rolling on getting something set up?

    3. Will I ever find a working, affordable bicycle for myself? Can I convince The Husband that biking around town with the kids in tow is safe? More importantly, is it safe?

    In regards to homestead animals...

    1. Should we perhaps get a rabbit or two? Which breed? Which sex? Will the kids like a bunny? Will I like a bunny? Where will it be housed in the winter? Can we provide it enough food without having to rely on outside sources? Is all that free manure really worth the shelter, feed, medical care?

    2. Can I fit a chicken coop in our very tiny backyard? Would chickens just send The Husband right over the edge he is already very precariously perched upon? Would the kids be afraid of them? Would they be eaten by raccoons or the neighbor's dog? Could I keep them clean and healthy? Could we provide enough food for them without having to rely on outside sources if neccessary? Would they wreak havoc on my garden if allowed to free range a little? Is all that free manure and pest control really worth the shelter, food, and medical care?

    In regards to waste reduction...

    1. How in the world do I get The Husband to give up his beloved paper towels?

    2. Should I switch The Bean to cloth diapers, even as close as she is to potty training?

    3. Should I cancel Airius's Lego magazine subscription, even though he loves it, in order to reduce the amount of paper waste we have here? Would that also reduce the amount of Legos we buy-- you know, out of sight, out of mind?

    4. Where in the world am I going to hang the clothes line that I bought forever ago and still don't have mounted?

    In regards to water conservation...

    1. To buy rain barrels or to make rain barrels, that is the question. What is the best placement for them after I have them in hand?

    2. I have so many questions about greywater reclamation, I don't even know where to begin...

    In regards to working at home...

    1. Can it be done?

    2. What should I do when the amount of junk I have to sell on eBay runs out? Should I pick up the habit of my aunt and uncle and start garage saleing, buying things I think might sell for a better price on eBay? Is eBay even worth it considering that I have to ship things all over the country? What's that doing to my carbon footprint? Can I make my packing supplies even more eco-friendly?

    3. Should I opt out of eBay and into Etsy? What should I put in my future Etsy shop? Pre-made scrapbook pages? Crazy quilted items? Herbs/herbal products? Am I even good enough at those things to sell them? Will anyone want them badly enough to buy them? I run into the same problem with shipping with this one, so is it worth it? Will customers be okay with eco-friendly packaging?

    4. Should I look instead into the possibility of a booth at a local venue? The farmer's market perhaps? What will the cost of that be? Would I sell anything? Again, what would I sell? How would I spend time at a booth when I have three kids to take care of?

    In regards to bungalow restoration...

    1. Should we replace the current non-original roof with something historically accurate or with the "green" metal roof option?

    2. Should we expand the bathroom into the room behind it that is not original to the house or keep the bathroom as it was originally and use the addition room for storage (as is the current case)?

    3. Did our house have picture rails?

    Book Review: Traditional Country Skills by Sheila Buff

    I picked this book up at the library to aid me in my quest to "reskill" myself. As I'm sure you've heard many other homesteaders (or wannabe homesteaders in my case) say, the first thing I often think of when trying to do things more simply or in a more eco-conscious way is to ask myself, "how did they do this 100 years ago?" I had actually been looking for Storey's Basic Country Skills, but it was out for repairs, so when I saw this book I decided to check it out.

    The book is divided into three basic sections: The Land, The Homestead, and Leisure Activities. Each of these has an introduction by the author giving a very brief background and putting into perspective the changes that these skills have undergone over the past century or so. Within each category there is an AMAZING amount of information, everything from making your own seed potato cutter to making whiskey. The illustrations are all black and white, at least some being actual historical images from catalogs, newspapers, etc. Just looking at the book is wonderful!

    For me, the book was a little bit awkward in its organization. I'm not talking the breakdown of sections, but the pages... they felt cluttered to me, and it was a little difficult for my brain to digest everything. I was awed by just how self-sufficient farmers of the previous centuries were, though I shouldn't have been. Some of the various machines in the book were things I never would have even though to make (i.e., the seed potato cutter I mentioned earlier) but were valuable and time-saving nonetheless, I'm sure. Every page seemed to have something to fascinate me, even if it wasn't something I neccessarily needed to know.

    The real question is, did it help me in my reskilling? Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of help there. I do plan to check the book out again to reread it with the hope that a second look at it won't be quite so overwhelming to me, but the book is really about farmers and for farmers. The majority of the book is dedicated to things like livestock and barn management, farming equipment, and the like, none of which I have the space for on my very small suburban plot. If you've got some land, it could be a very interesting source of information for you, but if you're homesteading on an urban or suburban plot, you'll mostly just be looking at the pictures...

    Monday, July 7, 2008

    What's Blooming in My Garden-- July 7, 2008

    Ohhhhh, sweet lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). I'm so glad you're blooming this year! This is the 'Provence' cultivar. It's become painfully apparent that I need about a billion more lavender plants because there are far too many uses for this herb. My one little plant just can't keep up with me!

    I finally let the lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) flower after several very large leaf harvests for tea. This plant is absolutely humongous now, about as tall as and wider than our air conditioning unit!

    My first St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) blossom. I couldn't be more excited about this because I get dreadfully depressed in the winter. I'm looking forward to trying a SWJ tincture when the days darken.

    Sunday, July 6, 2008

    Independence Days Challenge-- Week 5

    1. Planted: Nothing.

    2. Harvest something: Starting to get more raspberries and blueberries now.

    3. Preserve something: Nothing.

    4. Prep something: Made plans for a sewing cabinet, researched the REC's available to AEP customers, called for a free estimate on metal roofing.

    5. Cook something: Made banana bread using this recipe. It needs a bit of tweaking to be the perfect banana bread for our family, but it was yummy!

    6. Manage your reserves: Used overripe bananas for the banana bread above.

    7. Work on local food systems: Nope.

    8. Reduce waste: Nothing beyond the ordinary composting, eBaying, and Freecycling.

    9. Learn a new skill: Nothing.

    Creating Sewing Space

    When the twins were born, it wasn't long before I bought a sewing machine. I hadn't really done much sewing, but I took a class in high school (my only home ec course EVER) and remembered fondly the feeling of sitting in front of the humming machine, fabric running through my fingers. That first year, I made Samhain/Halloween costumes for the kids, but it was stressful to try and sew with two 11-month-olds running around in the apartment where I couldn't really have my own space. Fast forward nearly 4 years later, and the sewing machine has only been used a handful of times. They reason for that is really pretty simple. This is my current sewing space:

    That pretty and inspiring cardboard box is in an equally beautiful and inspiring space, my attic. Not fun to sew in. Couple that with the lack of childproof space downstairs, and that means each and every time I need to sew something, I have to climb to the attic, haul down the box, unload everything on my dining room table, do what I can in the time alotted, pack it back up, lug the box back up to the attic... You get the picture. That means that I have piles of mending all over the house that never get done because I'm just too lazy to haul out the supplies, we've gone stocking-less every Yule since the twins were born, and Samhain costumes were put off last year because I didn't want the stress of dealing with a 1-year-old around an electric sewing machine. These things need to start getting done. So, since I'm currently and slowly trying to declutter the attic, I knew it was time to claim some space for myself.

    But where?

    Enter this cabinet. It currently resides in my basement, holding old paint and various other articles left here by the previous owner of our home. I have no idea how I'm going to get this huge, hulking thing up the narrow basement steps or where I'm going to put it when I do, but the plan is to turn this into something a little more like this.

    So now's the time to assess just what it is I need in a sewing space. First and foremost, I need space for my machine. All the shelves in the cabinet are fixed, so I think it'd be best to remove one and add a few sliding brackets to it rather than go nuts trying to turn fabric in such a tight space. I also need room for fabric, patterns, notions, thread, etc. I'm not a fabric hoarder (yet), usually just buying what I need to complete my planned project, so one shelf should do for now. I can use baskets, jars, or other containers I have around the house for the notions and patterns, but I really like the little thread rack in Martha's sewing closet. I'll have to see about making one of those for myself. The magnetic bobbin holder is pretty sweet too. I'm not really big on memo boards because, honestly, I'm just not all that creative. I tend to follow set patterns and work from instructions. That leaves the door space open, and I think I'll try mounting some hardware up there to get rid of another bit of clutter in the attic, my scrapbooking and cardmaking supplies. Anyone out there have other ideas for efficient, organized sewing space? Where do you sew? I'm thinking it might be the dining room for me, maybe even the kitchen...