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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

One of our many goals for building a life together is to buy as much of our food as we can from local suppliers, and eventually, grow some of our own.

The growing our own part isn’t off the ground yet — I need to learn a good bit before getting started — but the buying local is going very well. We’ve found three nearby farmer’s markets and have gone to two of them each Saturday to stock up on vegetables and meats. We’re getting good quality, delicious food that hasn’t traveled more than a hundred miles (usually less) and the prices aren’t much different from supermarkets.

We’ve signed up for deliveries by a creamery, so we’ll be getting fresh milk and eggs from free-range chickens every week, with the option to add other items as needed week to week. And there’ll be more to come.

We’re seeing this both as a move toward better health and environmental responsibility, and also a spiritual practice. As Drudiry emphasizes, it puts us in closer connection to the rhythms of nature, as the items available to us vary with the growing seasons. We’ll learn how to store them — rather than resorting to supermarkets — so we can enjoy them out of season, but we’ll become more aware of when things grow in our region.

Developing the skills to grow our own will only add to that awareness.

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I am more optimistic than I had been about the prospects of putting in a garden. There actually is a patch of yard on the east side of the lot that gets decent sun in the morning, thanks to a storm three years ago that knocked down two big trees. There are a few other small trees that I should be able to take down myself — with help for the two largest — that could open up much of that end of the yard to the morning sun. And the lush green ivy carpet that had run along the fence has mostly died, and once I pull the dead vines that piece should be usable too.

I learned a technique called “girdling” for removing ivy from trees. (I did not plant the ivy, it was here when I bought the house, but it has spread and has run up the trunks of a good number of my trees.) To girdle the tree, you sever the ivy vines around the base of the trunk and then again 4-5 feet up, and pull them off from there down. Pull out as many roots as you can. The vines above the cuts will (so I’m assured) wither and die over the next few weeks, while I will remain vigilant for signs of new growth at the bottom and pull it when it starts.

Eventually, with diligence, it should be possible to eliminate all of the vines around the tree.

Other moving preparation isn’t going as well. I need to box my books and move them into the room that will eventually become our library, and I need to continue decluttering. I have to pick some shirts for sale or Goodwill to clear closet space, and continue throwing away unneeded things. I keep intending to do these in big chunks on the weekends and then find my weekends taken up. So I’ll have to start doing it a bit at a time in the evenings.

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The path to a simpler life doesn’t run smooth. We’d dreamed of growing our own vegetables, but the reality is that without about $8,000 to $10,000 in tree-removal costs, it’s not going to be possible on any big scale. Once the spring growth is done and the leaves are back, I will take stock and see if I have any sunny patches at all, but I already know it won’t be much.

So I’ll look into whether any food plants will grow in partial shade (I doubt there will be much to choose from there), and we will take advanatge of CSAs, farmers’ markets and other sources of good quality food. That will help us make the dietary changes we want, but not so much with the energy conservation and self-sufficiency.

When I bought my house 10 years ago, before I had any inkling of the kind of lifestyle I’d want in the future, the shade was a nice feature. It still will be in the summer heat, but it’s an obstacle for the backyard farming life.

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Nothing Rotten in My Back Yard

How long should it take for garbage to start to turn into compost?

I ordered an inexpensive composter about a month ago. It’s nothing elaborate, essentially a large rectangle of perforated plastic that the owner bends into a circle of the desired size. Some plastic nuts and bolts secure it in the desired form, and metal stakes hold it in place in the ground. (This one.)

The point of composting is twofold: First, it turns waste into a resource (the opposite of the usual sequence). Secondly, it makes an organic fertilzer that’s brimming over with plant nutrients.

The only downside, at least for someone just starting, is that it takes awhile. If I do plant anything this spring, I won’t have compost ready for it. Based on my reading, it looks like I should plan on harvesting some compost in the fall to mix into the soil and await next spring to use.

But I’m starting to wonder if even that’s going to happen. Going by the rate that the composter is filling up, I seem to have greatly overestimated the amount of kitchen waste I generate. Not counting coffee grounds, that is — they’re compostable, but I’m not sure that compost made of 90 percent coffee grounds would be good.

And what is in there doesn’t look like much decomposition is going on. Granted, it’s only been a month, but you’d think there would be something.

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This is just to add a little bit to Michael’s update to catch up on where I am with all this and why.

Back when we first started this blog, Michael and I were searching… we’d gone through a period of a-religion, to reaching out tentacles of interest and curiosity, sometimes together, other times in apparently opposite directions and not at all sure how or if our spiritual ideals would mesh well together or be something to work around.

Then we discovered Davies, and the UU faith in general, and wow… the exploration is actually a part of religious expression, and here was a place and a method of religious expression that lets us each seek as we will without any requirement or even expectation that we must be united in the details.  We’re united by the exploration.

Michael’s signed the book and is UU.  I haven’t yet, but will once I am there as a resident and not just a visitor… and I am UU.  And declaring a religious affiliation like that is a big, big deal for me.  My spiritual views are and always will be pagan, but the religious community that supports me in that is UU.  There!

The 4th Principle of Unitarian Universalism states that we affirm and promote “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.. .and I think that’s a large part of where Michael and I are now in terms of how to appropriately express the spiritual views we are coming to take to heart.

It’s a practical matter, I think, to try to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) before necessity drives the cost out of our reach, or scarcity makes it impossible to continue consuming as we are now.  But it is also a spiritual exercise… if the Earth matters – and she does… if our purpose is more than that of consumer to corporate raping and pillaging of our natural resources – and we are… then something has got to change.  And living aware of what our actions cost is mindfulness.  It is a meditation.  It is a prayer.  It is an affirmation that there is a future to preserve.

But let’s go back to practicality – these last few years have financially been extremely limited for me, and while things will be better from my perspective once Michael and I blend households, I think he’s going to find it tighter than he’s used to, because the financial footprint of feeding, clothing, and sheltering two people is more than it is for one.   So adjustments are coming!

From a more general perspective – our nation continues to have low job prospects, average pay is going down, the housing market continues to be awful no matter what weak little happy-camper reports come out now and then, and I just read this morning that the ‘job growth’ we’re being told to be so optimistic about is somewhat less than it was during the heart of the Great Depression.

Things are not going to bounce back to the artificially affluent culture we were all taking for granted a few years ago.  We never did have any built in right to have it all, and we can either whine and moan about that now – or we can find a saner way to live our lives without being consumer gluttons.

At this point, I think Michael and I are in full agreement that we need to make some major changes in our notions of what normal consumer levels ought to be…and equal still rank beginners at figuring out how to go about making those changes,and not at all sure how much we’re going to be able to do to live more self-sufficiently, either by talent or by physical capability (we’re no spring chickens, y’know).

But we have desire and a growing sense that we can start practicing now, or be one of the many people a few years from now desperately playing catchup to the new reality.

For my part, food preparation seems to be where I most want to start.  I’ve learned to stretch my grocery budget to the squeaking point, eliminated a lot of expensive and overly packaged convenience foods from my regular pantry list, and have made at least experimental forays into making things from scratch many of us have forgotten can be.

I want to learn and develop a habit of canning – hopefully, eventually, preserving the harvest of our own garden.  I want to successfully have a thriving herb garden.  I want to reduce the amount of meat we consume – and switch to locally raised meat, milk and eggs rather than corporate-tortured animal products.  I want to get into the habit of baking our week’s bread myself.   Iwant to make the Farmer’s Market and possible a CSA subscription a part of regular lifestyle.  I want ‘convenience foods’ to be meals I’ve pre-prepped and have waiting in the freezer or pantry for days when we haven’t the time or inclination to cook intensively.

And I say all of this knowing that it’s going to take a great deal of perseverance, in a world that’s run by companies that want to make it really, really easy to purchase a product that includes a massive energy footprint (corporate farms for meat and veggies and grains, chemists labs for all the unpronounceable preservatives and filler, transportation costs for all of that to the factory where it’s put together and then outward to stores, not to mention all the production and transportation costs of the metal, paper and plastic packaging to wrap and seal it.

I still buy plenty of that stuff – and I’m probably going to be for a good while yet.  But I’m learning not to, and plan to take this a step at a time.  As Michael noted – the bottom isn’t going to fall out overnight.  We’ve got room to learn how to do this.

And this weblog is going to be our record of how we do that – what works, and what doesn’t, and a few reminders of why we’re trying.

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With the recent change of seasons comes a change of mind and a change of life.

Michael and Lynda, the two of us who write this blog (when it gets written at all) have been having some interesting discussions lately. You see, we’re a couple and while we’ve been living some distance apart for the past few years, we’ll be blending households this summer. And as we enter this new phase of our shared life, our vision of that future is crystallizing.

The short version is that we’re going to be trying to live more energy-efficiently and to rely less on other people and transportation infrastructure to meet our basic needs.

Some of this has been in the air for a while. Lynda creates art with cross-stitch and is a good cook with a good eye (and palate) for fresh ingredients. Michael likes eating the results of the cooking and is interested in learning how to grow vegetables. These are ambitions we’ve had for a while, though we’ve been holding off on starting the gardening project until the move was closer at hand, simply because the time needed hasn’t been available. When we’re together, one person can handle household needs and we won’t need lengthy periods of time with one person visiting the other, both of which will free up some time for digging and planting and pruning and picking.

But lately another factor has come to our attention. We’ve been reading and talking about the availability and cost of energy now and into future years. I’ve just read The Long Descent by John Michael Greer, and have his The EcoTechnic Future on audio. (His blog, The Archdruid Report, is already linked in our blogroll.)

His thesis, in summary, is that the two extreme views of energy — continued abundance or imminent apocalypse — are both wrong. Instead, we’re facing a gradual decline in energy availability and rise in energy costs, which will change just about everything about the way we live. The changes have already started — remember the new word “staycation” that came into vogue in 2008 when gas was over $4 a gallon? — and will unfold over the next several decades.

Greer is hardly the only person to make this argument, although he is one of the most accessible and engaging. There are many others, though, and we’re sold on the case. The question is what to do about it. Last year, I added insulation to the attic in an effort to cut my heating oil use. I’ve also started composting in preparation for trying to grow vegetables. And we have some other plans to put into place over the next couple of years. The overall goal: Use less energy and depend less on energy for basic needs.

So while we’ll still write about other topics in this blog — hopefully with more frequency than we have been — a new major focus is going to be on our efforts to make the life changes that we hope will prepare use to thrive as the world changes around us.

We don’t see this as changing the spiritual roots of the blog, by the way; how we live on the Earth is a profoundly spiritual concern.

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