Friday, August 1, 2008

A Good Evening

It's been a long and stressful week, culminating in a trip (an hour each way) to the pediatrician for a 5min. checkup on The Bean this morning. Much earlier than I wanted to wake up too. I was exhausted all day and had no hope of catching a nap.

I've been following the advice of the Shakers and not watering my well established veggies. They've been on their own all summer, and I was about to break down and water the tomatoes at least today because our first green little orb has shown up. Mother Nature is good, though, and we got a nice shower tonight. I don't know if it was enough to even really soak the ground, but we'll see in the morning. Craving some solitude and communion with my plants, I stepped out into the soft shower and started to look around. Lo and behold! Our first Kentucky Wonder beans have come in. I was absolutely shocked for some reason, but I got so excited that I picked the ones in sight and ran in the house hoopin' and hollerin'. That drew Annie from her play, and she joined me in the dank evening to harvest. She tucked a glittering calendula bloom behind her ear and clutched our bean collection in both hands. A proud moment for sure!

Things got even more satisfying when I noticed this bulge amongst our Golden Bantam sweet corn. I was really beginning to doubt that we'd have any corn between the various storms that toppled our stalks early on and the odd spacing (thank you, squirrels!). Here's hoping I can get to this when it's nice and ripe before the city critters move in on it. I may need to do some hand pollination on this crop, but if we get just a few ears of sweet corn this year, it'll all be worth it. So many people don't grow corn because of the space it takes and its notoriety for not pollinating, but I just can't imagine a year without corn.

It wasn't all good news though. This picture shows the remains of a sunflower head in the yard. Someone's been getting to them other than me. Really, I don't mind all that much. Part of the reason I'm growing sunflowers is because they provide such good, rich food for the wildlife, and I'm all about sharing my bounty. But man this was a massacre! I'm not sure what did it or why because it doesn't seem that much was eaten. Maybe the culprit realized that the seeds weren't quite ripe. I don't really know, but hopefully we won't find this waste again. I'll leave you with a wider picture of the garden, showing the buckwheat cover crop in Bed 1 and the Three Sisters bed. You can also see some of the sunflower border that runs along one part of the fence. That's my neighbor's house in the background, not mine.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't Play with Your Food!

Have you ever noticed how many crafts for children involve food? I'm not talking about making food. I'm talking about using food for something other than its intended purpose of being eaten. For example, if you went to public school, you probably made "moroccas" filled with rice or dried beans. Did you ever do sugar drawing, where a bunch of white sugar is poured onto a cookie sheet so that kids can drag their fingers or toys through it to make designs? I'm sure most of us have done the obligatory macaroni necklaces or glued macaroni to a piece of construction paper to make a design.

What does this have to do with anything?

Well, it drives me a little batty. On the one hand, I'm all for encouraging the creativity of children and looking at items from a different perspective. After all, the ability to see something for what it could be rather than what it was intended to be is at the heart of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" motto. However, it drives me crazy to think of all the food wasted in these activities. When you're trying to grow your own food and/or live a frugal life, wasting a pound of white sugar so that your kids will be quiet while you try to whip up a batch of soap or hang the clothes on the line just doesn't seem quite right. Many of the food items used are staples as well: dried beans, rice, pasta, sugar and salt. These are items that most of us cannot grow on our own because of space or climate limitations as well, which means we're wasting things which have used lots of dollars and gallons of oil to reach us. Frustrating! Some of the things might be reuseable after our kiddies are done with them, like the dried beans or rice in a toilet paper roll morocca, but many of them are not salvageable. Who wants to eat macaroni with bits of glue stuck to it? And you can bet that sugar from the sugar drawing is filled with snot, slobber, and plenty of unappetizing bacteria.

Therefore, today I offer up just a few alternatives to these ideas in the hopes that one of our most precious resources, our food, will stay on our plates and in our pantries rather than making its way uneaten to the garbage can.

First, we'll tackle the issue of the homemade shakers/moroccas. Rather than using rice or dried beans or another food item, consider loaning your children use of your stash of buttons. (Doesn't every homesteading mom have a jar filled with buttons, you know, just in case?) After the kids are done gettin' their groove on, you can simply reclaim your buttons by pouring them back into the jar. Some other alternatives are beads, washers or nuts of the home repair variety (though I suppose unshelled nuts would be okay because you could still eat them afterwards), bottle caps, shells, or any myriad of small toys. I'm particularly fond of using all those wonderful little plastic Barbie shoes that no child ever seems to keep on their doll's feet.

Up next is the macaroni necklace. Really these aren't all that bad. Because you're really just sticking them on a string, the pasta is reuseable. If, however, you're dying the pasta with food coloring or your kids are like most kids and stick everything in their mouths, all those macaroni elbows will most certainly go to waste. Again, you could replace the macaroni with buttons, beads, washers or nuts (which usually have nice, big holes to make it easy on young children). OR you could use your favorite rolled oats cereal and let your kids snack on it throughout the day. I've done this with my kids before, and they could barely get the cereal strung before they started eating because it was just so cool to them. If your child doesn't eat all of the cereal, you can hang the necklace up on a tree branch and let the birds and squirrels have a go at it as well.

As far as the macaroni paste pictures go, I recommend replacing the macaroni with something non-edible and non-recyclable, like styrofoam peanuts or those little tabs that come on bread products bought from the supermarket. If you're smart enough not to have any of that laying around your house, you can probably find some on your local Freecycle.

The sugar drawing is easy to remedy if you have access to play sand. Pick a bag of it up at your local hardware store and store it in a bucket with a lid. You can scoop out some sand for playing with on your cookie sheet whenever the mood strikes, and it's reuseable for that purpose. Just pour it back in your bucket, and you're good to go. In fact, if you don't do this activity very often (and if you have even a little bit of neat freak in you, you won't) you can use that bucket full of sand to store store carrots over winter. You can't wash sugar, but you can wash sand for this purpose just to be extra sure you're not getting any nasty kid germs in there with your veggies. Just put your sand in a pillowcase and rinse it.

While certainly not an exhaustive list of childrens crafts that include edible components, hopefully this will give my fellow homesteading and frugal parents a few alternatives to these wasteful projects.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What's Blooming in My Garden-- July 28, 2008

Today is my 6th wedding anniversary, so though I had a long, informative post planned, I'm saving it for tomorrow. Nyah nyah! Instead you get...

The sweet blossoms of Rouge Vif D'Etampes squash. What girl can garden without THE Cinderella pumpkin?

A lone Johnny Jump-Up (Viola cornuta) that managed to survive one of my urban homesteader idiotic moments.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca spp.) flowers. When the inky berries form, I'll use them for dye.

Ohhhhhh! *rubs her hands greedily* The (directly seeded, late planted) Brandywine tomatoes (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) are finally setting blossoms. I can't wait to taste those first tomatoes, warmed by the sun...

My poor butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), which was planted last year and transplanted this year. I have a terrible track record when it comes to transplanting bushes, so I'm uber glad this one managed to stick around.

My Achilles heel, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), finally abloom. Sweet, sweet success.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Independence Days Challenge--Week 8

1. Planted: Nothing.

2. Harvest something: Raspberries, blueberries (just about done now), raspberry leaves, borage.

3. Preserve something: Dried raspberry leaves for later use.

4. Prep something: Dried the raspberry leaves to use during my pregnancy.

5. Cook something: Technically, I didn't cook it, but I finally was brave enough to add some borage to a salad for the first time. They really were VERY cucumbery.

6. Manage your reserves: Using up veggies in storage that were beginning to be past their prime.

7. Work on local food systems: Nope.

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

9. Learn a new skill: Nothing.