Saturday, February 28, 2009

I have a bone to pick

I check into a few news and financial sites each day and read the articles that look interesting to me. With this whole economic crisis business, I have seen the term HENRY a few times (quite possibly being used by one author, I haven't paid that much attention). HENRY stands for High Earner Not Rich Yet. It applies to people (married couples with kids, from the context of the article) who just can't save any money on their income of $250,000/yr or more. The argument goes that the poor pitiful HENRYs are unfairly taxed by the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and NEED to put all their money towards lessons and private schools for the kids, college savings, house payments, etc.... The most recent article suggested changing the name to HENRI (high earner not rich indefinitely) because new tax policies will take even more from them. I'm going to briefly put the tax issue aside because I just don't care to discuss it here and start a battle (if you know me in real life and would like to discuss in person, I'm always up for that). For the sake of argument, lets assume these people bring home $125,000/yr after taxes (they're really in the 35% bracket, I think, so I'm erring on the side of caution). With over $10,000 to spend every month, they can't save anything?!? Really?? I have a HUGE problem with this argument. The problem is not that they CAN'T save, it's that they CHOSE not to. They are choosing to live a $250,000 lifestyle. Here's a radical idea....when a major windfall or raise comes your way, keep living the exact same way you are and SAVE the leftover. If these families led $50,000/yr lives (and plenty of families feel very very blessed to make $50,000/year---BEFORE taxes), they would have at least $75,000 per year to put towards savings. They might quickly pay off a reasonable house (no McMansions) with that money. If they put it all in a measly low-interest savings account (1.75% interest), they'd have over $800,000 saved in 10 years. I'm really finding it outside my abilities to have sympathy for the poor pitiful HENRYs---how big is their house? How big is their TV? Their cable package? Do they drive new cars? What kind of family vacations? How often are they eating out and where? How often is everyone getting new clothes? We all make our choices and regardless or fair or not tax policies, someone who makes $250,000/yr and has no savings, has made the CHOICE not to have savings (barring major unexpected medical expenses, natural disasters....). I will continue to think of this grouping as HENRY-BTSIAs: High Earners Not Rich Yet....BECAUSE THEY SPENT IT ALL!!!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

And a video...

We had buy one get one coupons for Baskin Robbins, so we decided to take the girls out for a treat. Now, I should explain that Sedona has been trying to use a spoon, but has largely been unsuccessful. Apparently, when ice cream is involved, she can manage just fine! (*note* the video was just taken with our regular camera, so there is no sound, and I don't know how to edit the video to shorten it, but the cutest part is in the first 10 seconds when she's so excited ;-)





A Day in Pictures

It's a beautiful spring day here in Texas. What's that you say? It's only February? Oh pish posh! It's currently 85 degrees here. Never mind the fact that we are expecting a high of only 60 tomorrow (with a low of 33 at night)...the forecast predicts a sling shot back to 80 by Tuesday. Why yes, the weather is crazy. Why no, my brussels sprouts do not appreciate it. Anyways, on with the pictures!


A peach tree blooming like crazy:

New life springing forth from what could've passed for a dead stick two weeks ago:

Pear blossoms enjoying the warm weather:

Fig leaves just opening up:

Garlic sprouting:

One of our biggest strawberry plants (at least, it started as one plant, it's put off "babies" this year):

One (of three) onion/carrot bed:

Nasturtium sprouting:

A mossy turtle:

A lunchtime picnic with daddy:

Checking out the ducks and turtles:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Olla Update

We have embarked on our olla adventure!

To go backwards a bit: A little while ago, we sat down with our "consumption history" (provided by our utility company) and looked at how much water we were using. This usage was lowest in the spring, when we had lots of rain, and spiked in the summer, when we had very little rain. We considered the low point our baseline--we probably watered the garden very little that month. For all the other months we subtracted that baseline and assumed that the extra water was used to water the garden. This is by no means an exact science, but certainly a reasonable approximation. We have planted year-round and there is rarely a time we don't water the garden (obviously needing to water less when temps are cooler and rain fall is higher). The grand total? Somewhere around $50-$60 for the year. Kind of shocking. What's worse, every time we use the city water, we're basically robbing ourselves of yield. The plants are very visibly happier with rain water. Armed with this information, we decided to spend about $100 this year upgrading our water collection/storage. This probably won't eliminate the need to sometimes water from the faucet, but will hopefully greatly reduce it.

Enter the olla. Since the olla continuously releases small amounts of water, and the roots of the plants grow to and around the olla, you aren't wasting water on all the soil in between the plants and you aren't watering the weeds too much. Since we'll need less water, we can make do with less rain water storage and use (and pay for) less city water. Unfortunately, the ollas I was able to find ranged from $18-$22, which just wasn't affordable for us. Instead, I decided to make our own ollas with some instructions I found online. We purchased 6 inch clay pots. They needed to be glued together top to top, then one hole plugged up. Silicone is the "glue" of choice in this instance. I've seen very little about if this might be a toxicity problem, but we were skeptical. Every tube of silicone we picked up at the home improvement store said, "not for aquarium use". Hmmmmmm. Why? So, I contacted an old friend that runs an aquarium club and learned that a lot of the silicone you buy is treated to prevent mold and mildew growth. This additive is toxic to fish (I've since found some sources saying it's actually arsenic that they use). Well, since the roots will surround the olla, I figure "toxic to the fishes, toxic to us". I opted to spend very slightly more to get aquarium silicone at the local pet shop. This does not have the additives and is apparently not a problem once it's fully cured.

Pictures:
I bought enough pots to make 8 "ollas". We will be trying this in one bed with tomato plants. If it goes well, we'll add more later. The pots were $1.25 a piece. The silicone cost about $6, but I didn't look around for the best price on that, it may have been available cheaper somewhere else.


To plug the bottom hole, I used random things that were around the house---outlet covers we weren't using, breastmilk storage container tops, and the tops of the plastic "gumballs" (that buddy buck points come in if you shop at HEB around here ;-). I ran a bead of silicone around the hole on the pot, push on the cover, then used my finger to be sure the silicone was spread all around the edge.


Next, two pots were joined (making sure there was one open and one closed hole!) by running a bead of silicone around the top of one pot, settling another pot on top, then adding silicone where needed and using my finger to be sure the silicone touched both pots all the way around.


After letting them sit so the silicone could cure, we filled one with water just to test it out. It held water just fine! The plan when we are ready to start using them is to soak them in water (to sort of "prime" the clay), then bury them so the top is just very slightly above the soil. The whole bed will be watered (again, to "prime" the soil) and the ollas will be filled. We'll need to cover the top with something to limit evaporation loss and prevent mosquito breeding, not sure what we'll use for that yet.

Updates on how the ollas worked! planting with ollas and how much water the ollas used, pros and cons of using them

As far as the rest of the garden...
Potatoes: we were getting worried, but they have started to sprout. 15 are up now
Fruit Trees: the peach tree has 71 blooms on it now. One of the pear trees has started putting out leaves and blooms and we are seeing fig leaves now too.
Strawberries: are still putting out lots of blooms and we are leaving them now. We have several plants with 8-10 blooms/berries on them already
Seedlings: Most of the tomatoes have their first set of true leaves. Everything else is looking exactly like it should except for the bell peppers (which never sprouted and need to be re-planted). I suspect the bell pepper is simply a casualty of cheap, old seed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ollas

I learned something new today. I happened upon a link, which went to a link, and another link and finally ended up at a neat blog I visit regularly. There, I saw my first pictures of ollas being put in the garden. I had never heard of an olla before. The premise is to bury a clay jar, plant around it, fill it with water and have a natural irrigation system in place. Apparently the roots of the plants grow towards the olla and basically hang out there to take what water they need. This would use a lot less water because you aren't wasting water on soil where there are no roots, and there's very little (or no, I suppose, if it's covered) evaporation loss. Unfortunately, Ollas are pretty expensive. For the same price, I can buy a 55 gallon water collection barrel from the local co-op. The olla is less work though. Decisions, decisions. I've read online about using clay pots instead, but obviously that has some problems since the top is so open. I'm mulling ideas around in my head. The one I like most right now is to use clay pots with the drain holes sealed up, bury the pot up to it's top edge, fill with water and cover with one of the clay dishes that usually set under the pot. In the dish, perhaps I could plant a shallow root herb (oregano?). Like I said, all a very new idea to me that I didn't know anything about prior to today. I'm researching and seeing how feasible/economical it would be for us. I'm thinking we could collect rainwater (which the plants do SOO much better with) and use it to fill the ollas. With less water necessary, we wouldn't need so much storage on hand, so we'd save money on storage containers and a water pump, and have less hassle when it comes time to water. ideas, ideas....

I just found this article out of Austin that talks about improvising an olla by using silicone to glue two pots together top to top. That just leaves a small hole above ground (better evaporation control). I'm definitely gonna have to do some price shopping.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Insert Witty Title Here

So, the week has gotten better. The baby that wouldn't sleep, has slept. He has gone down for every other nap this week without nary a complaint in 6 minutes or less (yes, I timed it). So that's good.

I have been blissfully unproductive in the evenings. Also good.

I watched Bowling for Columbine for the first time. Eh. Not quite what I expected, but interesting. Of course, Michael Moore is incredibly biased (totally his right, it's his movie), so you gotta take that into account, but I still learned a few tidbits worth researching further. I must say I had never before seen Marilyn Manson longer than it took me to make a disgusted face and change the channel and I can't stand his music. However, I have to admit he was very well-spoken and had several things to say that are worth thinking about.

I came to the realization that just like there are real friends and "fair weather friends", there are also real acquaintances and "fair weather acquaintances". I had never seen a difference there before, but it's most definitely there. Of course, by the time you get down to fair weather acquaintance, you're awfully close to "I just pretend to be nice even though I don't like you" anyway.

I've pondered the ability to think in black and white and come to the conclusion that I can't do it. Nor do I understand it. The far left, the far right....you're both equally nuts. The scary thing to me is how neither side sees their flaws nor their similarity to their opponent. I think it's sad when people are so "confident" in their political views/world view/beliefs/faith/morals that they cannot abide even listening to someone with a different understanding than theirs. Be open minded. Be skeptic. Listen. Take what you like and leave the rest. Personally, I LOVE people who can say, "hey, here's what I think, your mileage may vary". I don't have a lot of time for the others (because how do you communicate with someone who won't listen and have an honest conversation?)

I spent a morning at The Bounce with Sedona while Sierra was at school. True to Hill family tradition, she quickly decided that the biggest slide (something like 20 feet) was her favorite and asked (by pointing and then signing "please") to go down it repeatedly.

I ate cheesecake. And chocolate. And cupcakes.

My pepper and cantaloupe seedlings sprouted. My tomato seedlings got thinned out (no more than 2 per pot, will thin to 1 per later on). My peas continued to grow wonderfully. My peach tree put out even more blooms. My new blueberry plants put out new leaves.

Our high temp went from 81 yesterday to 68 today. The low is forecast to be 51 tomorrow night and 34 Saturday.

My throat has a tiny tickle and between 4 kids, I think we've traded 8 different minor illnesses over the last few weeks. I'm still counting my lucky stars that none of these has included a GI bug.

AND NOW. I really just want to sleep. Preferably cuddled up with my amazing, gorgeous, lovable husband. In a hotel room with comfy sheets. WITHOUT my children around. WITH room service for breakfast, lots of pizza, lots of Mexican food and decadent desserts. And pina coladas. For a week. (It's been 2 years since we got away for a night...we've saved up some vacation time, right?)

Monday, February 16, 2009

My day

A short run down on my day:

Taking on an "extra" mildly sick kiddo (the 4 year old I normally watch Thursdays)--not great, but not terrible

A quick trip to Target with three kids 4 and under in tow--surprisingly calm and fun

An hour with a baby that WOULD NOT go to sleep for anything--way, way not fun

A lunch that spanned an hour because I had 4 children that just kept eating more and more food--mom feeding 4 ravenous kids=mom not eating lunch. not good

3 kids down for nap, 1 running the house trying to sneak into rooms and wake everyone else up--funny, I thought I was going to get to eat lunch, not run a marathon

1 kid waking up just at the last one was about to go to sleep--great, no "free" time today (you know, to do dishes)

2 babysitting charges go home, plans to meet the hubby for dinner--yay! the day might be saved after all!

Locked me and both kids out of the house on the way to meet hubby---crap

$3 margarita at the restaurant--my feet feel funny, but hey, the day's looking up

Sitting through a professional interrogation from the 4 year old about why I get an "icee" and she doesn't---the questions never end, do they?

Back home to grab my things and go to book club--5 more minutes and I'm home free

Sedona pulls the cheesecake I was taking to book club off the table, it lands upside down (in the cake carrier, but still)---did I already say crap?


I firmly believe what goes down must come up, and by that logic, tomorrow's bound to be a rockin' good day!!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Weekend Mishmash

A quick wrap-up of the week:

Sierra had work night at her school. This is where the parents come to see how the kids do different activities and make sure we're getting our money's worth ;-) Also a great opportunity to get homeschooling ideas (her school only goes through Kindergarten and right now it's looking like we'll homeschool after that). Here she is doing a page in her workbook:


On Saturday, Josh took her to the Lowe's Build and Grow Workshop. These are nifty little projects for the kids. They do one about twice a month and it's free to go. They provide all the materials and directions. You help your child build the project and they get an apron, safety goggles and a patch to go along with it. It's pretty neat. Being Valentine's and all, the project was a jewelry box and I thought it'd be two pieces to stick together or something, but it really was all disassembled and required lots of hammering to put together (which Josh says Sierra actually handled mostly on her own with the kid-sized hammer):




Today we went outside to find one of the peach trees (which doesn't have any leaves yet) is blooming. huh? I'm new to fruit tree gardening (just planted these fall of 2007), but this isn't normal, right? I'm assuming these will just die off and not make fruit since there are no leaves to collect and process sunlight. Still pretty though. I haven't done much research on it, but if you happen to know if I'm supposed to pick these blooms off, let me know!



Throughout the week, we've seen lots of seedlings sprout up. Very exciting and making me anxious for spring planting and summer harvests!
Pea:

Prescott Fond Blanc Melon and Spacemaster Cucumber:


Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!


And lastly, we made it through week two of my new part-time job. I've started watching a friend's kiddos so she could return to the workforce. I have the 8 month old baby three days a week and both the baby and the 4 year old once a week. I was a bit nervous about this, but it's gone amazingly well. I haven't even found myself counting down the minutes to "pick up time". It helps that I've been around both these kiddos since before they were born...I know what "makes them tick" and what sort of reinforcements get good behavior out of them. They're also both good, laid back kids and they mesh well with my kids. I would post pictures of everyone playing, but while getting a good picture of 2 kids is difficult, getting a good picture of 4 is downright impossible.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Weekend Gardening

In 6 years of spending Valentine's together, I'm pretty sure I've never gotten Josh a gift. While we don't really do the whole hallmark holiday thing, he has gotten me a few small things throughout the years and I figured for our seventh Valentine's, I'd actually get him a gift. The poor guy's been asking for a wheelbarrow for about 4 years. That's right, all of this gardening and we've never had a wheelbarrow. Instead, he's been shoveling dirt onto a tarp and dragging it where he needs it to go. This is cheap, but also very labor intensive. So, I decided to surprise him with a wheelbarrow. When I got to the store though, I saw this contraption that seemed like it might be easier to use:


There is a latch at the front of it that you pull that enables you dump the cart as well (and the back wheels pull forward as you dump, which makes it a little easier). So today, he built another 3'x12' bed and filled it with soil, manure and compost.

I hand weeded the strawberry beds while he was doing that. It might seem tedious or a waste of time to do it that way (especially when we have a stirrup hoe for this purpose), but it's really a sort of calming activity. You have to pay attention to what's in front of you when you're weeding. You need to learn what the seedlings of your plants look like so you only pull the weeds and not your new plants. This sort of garden awareness is best learned by experience and can be quite handy to have. For instance, knowing some differences between new grass blades and new onion leaves helped us find out there were wild onions growing in our backyard when we moved here. My oldest still needs supervision, but weeding is a great activity for her--she wants to help and getting close to the ground with her gives us the opportunity to teach her about identifying plants. We also get to see lots of critters moving about and inevitably end up discussing why different bugs are where they are and what they do. It's a great teachable moment as well as a way to help her very active brain and body calm down and focus on one small place.

Our seedlings are doing very well. Out of 141 pots, 137 ended up with healthy looking tomato seedlings. Josh's tomato seed he saved turned out to have a fantastic germination rate---better than anything we bought. Good to know this is a skill our household has available...we'll be saving lots more seed this year. All of our zucchini, squash, cucumbers and prescott fond blanc melons have sprouted. Peppers are still waiting, but I don't expect them up until next week. Cantaloupe should have come up and hasn't, so I did a little investigating and out of 4 seeds I dug up, only 1 had the starts of a root growing. I left the rest and we'll see what happens.

We planted blueberries this year. It's a bit of an experiment because our soil is too alkaline and requires some acidification for blueberries to thrive. We must have done the initial transplanting well because each twig has buds of new growth on it! Some of our fruit trees are also preparing for spring growth. This will be the second year for the other trees--it'll be great if we get a couple of fruits!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More gardening

Nearly all of our seedlings (the peppers are taking their own sweet time...as usual) have sprouted now. Out in the garden, the peas are starting to come up as well!

TennZen made an excellent post today about why you should have your own garden. She also posted the link to a great, free e-book about how to start your own vegetable garden. It's a great resource for beginners!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Success!

It's been a busy few days around here! In the middle of the night Sunday, Sedona woke up crying and we found she had a 102 fever. Yay. Nothing in this world makes you feel more helpless than a sick baby. While many, many things outrank a 102 fever in the middle of the night, a baby miserably moaning is still completely pitiful. Thankfully it was short lived and as of yesterday afternoon, she's mostly fine now.

Monday night, Sierra and I left on a trip to Houston. The topic at school for January was dinosaurs and she wanted to see the dinosaurs, so we planned a trip down there. We arrived late Monday and spend Tuesday morning at the zoo, then got lunch and spent the afternoon at the museum. I think the highlight of my day was when my 4 year old pointed at one of the smaller dinosaurs skeletons (or maybe this one was a cast, I can't remember) and said, "Look Momma! That one ate plants". She was right, so as I picked my jaw up off the floor, I asked her how she knew that (thinking maybe she was making it up) and she explained that it has short, flat teeth and that means it ate plants. Then we went back to look at the T-Rex and she explained it had sharp, pointy teeth, so it ate meat. Then we found one with both kinds of teeth and she related it to human's teeth and understood that it could eat both. I couldn't believe she remembered all that and pieced it together with what she was seeing. Of course, there are pictures. They aren't the best in the world because when you take a kid who's just dying to learn everything she possibly can to a museum, it's nearly impossible to get her to sit still long enough for the camera to capture a shot.

Seeing how much energy she can literally "crank out" in 15 seconds:

Sierra and Triceratops:

Sierra explaining how big the T-Rex is:
Sierra and Duck Billed Dinosaur:
Sierra and T-Rex:



While we were gone, I kept getting phone calls from Josh about seedling sprouting! By the time I got home, we had quite the collection of little plants:
17 Roma Tomatoes
11 Better Boy Tomatoes
65 Roma Rio Grand Tomatoes
1 Sunmaster Tomato
14 Spacemaster Cucumbers
(counting all sprouts, they will need to be thinned to one sprout per pot)

Most of the other seeds of these varieties have sprouted today. I would like to point out the FABULOUS number on the Roma Rio Grand Tomatoes. This is important because it's seed that my dear hubby saved last year. Saving tomato seed takes a little bit of skill because you have to ferment the seeds. Last year was his first year to try and it appears he did a WONDERFUL job!! So, yesterday, the grow light got turned on and we will now start with at least once daily, but probably twice daily waterings. Due to our set-up, we will also start rotating the plants under the light (so they all get their turn in the "sun" and don't consistently lean in one direction).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

More spring planning

More gardening chores accomplished:
Started seed indoors for yellow crookneck squash, zucchini and cantaloupe. Spread seed for sweet basil and marigolds out in the garden and planted some nasturtiums in the garden. Also planted potatoes in the garden today. We bought 12 pounds of seed potatoes--7# red lasota and 5# yukon gold--which gave us 80 separate pieces (plants). If all goes as well as last year (and hopefully better now that we have learned some things), we'll probably get 1-2 pounds of potatoes per plant. The best part about having potatoes in the garden is that it's so easy to go dig some up whenever we want them for dinner, but leave the rest safely growing in the soil.

We also have a new garden space we were preparing today (probably should've been done earlier, but we have two small children and time is limited...). It's about a 13'x13' square we want to use for planting directly in the ground. Last year, we put down a bunch of cover crop--hairy vetch, rye grass and field peas. This morning we put a covering of compost and aged horse manure over top of that and tilled it all in. I'm still a little worried it might just turn into a brick when it rains, but for now it looks really nice. I'm thinking it's just gonna take some TLC for the next few growing seasons. This is our first time to really attempt building a productive in-ground bed, so we're experimenting at this point.

We also got to harvest some winter vegetables. On Friday I picked the rest of the broccoli out of the garden and made stir fry for dinner. This morning we picked cabbage and I'm thinking we'll do cabbage fried with bacon for lunch or dinner today. The onions and carrots we planted last fall are doing really well. Our strawberries are also very happy. At the moment, we're still picking off any blooms they put out so they will continue to put their energy to foliage instead of fruit (bigger plant=more srawberries, plus if there is fruit out and we get a freeze, we'll lose it anyway). I literally picked about 10 blooms off ONE plant this morning. It's never a good idea to "count your chickens before they hatch", but the potential strawberry harvest is still exciting. We'll give them about two more weeks to work on building foliage, then we'll stop picking blooms and let them make fruit.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Water, water....

Not many gardening tasks today....planted some garlic, pulled weeds in one bed, watered, filled a few more trays with dirt for seedlings.

One part of planning a garden is planning water usage. Watering purely from the faucet can get surprisingly expensive as the weather heats up, plus the city water (especially in our area) is not especially good for the plants. Your plants will grow MUCH better on rainwater. Unfortunately, it doesn't rain enough to keep the garden going. I don't know much about reading drought maps, but I'm thinking this one isn't so good for us.

This forecast map doesn't seem so good either:


So, what's a gardener to do? One step is to collect what rain water you can and save it up for times when there isn't adequate rain fall. There is a lot of information out there on rainwater collection. Like just about everything else, we were looking for the cheapest, easiest way that would still get the job done. We set up a system to collect water only for the garden (it isn't suitable for drinking as is). First of all, you want to plan how many and what size barrels you need/want. A good rule of thumb is that you will catch 600 gallons of water for each 1,000 square feet of catchment area (how big your roof is) for each inch of rain there is. It adds up quickly. We purchased 37 gallon livestock feed storage drums (they were cheap and in town....Producer's will be selling 50 gallon drums for rainwater collection soon if you're local). The big guideline here is you need something that hasn't been storing yucky chemicals that will leach into your water and you want something that is not open to the outside or has a good lid (to avoid breeding mosquitoes). Then you need a way to connect the barrels (so that you only need water flowing into one to fill all of them). There are fancier ways to do this, but we just used garden hose repair kits. A hole was drilled into the side of the barrel near the bottom and the male end was siliconed into the barrel (in hindsight, probably should have used epoxy), then the female end was attached to a short piece of old garden hose (we cut up an old one that had holes in it). Continue in this matter to link up all the barrels. Then a spigot was attached near the bottom of one barrel. We built a stand out of 4x4's to hold the barrels up and allow us to take use of gravity for watering. Still, watering can be slow going and there's not enough force to push the water through drip line. Other people have put in small pumps and we're looking into this when we expand our system. To get the water into the barrels, we put up a short piece of gutter along one section of roof with a downspout that goes to one of the barrels. It is possible to cut a hole in that barrel, but you will need to cover the hole with screening small enough to keep mosquitoes out. We just run out and remove the lid when it rains. Definitely not the most sophisticated system out there, but it gets the job done on the cheap.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pink Eye

Pink Eye has struck the Hill household!! Interestingly, it has afflicted the youngest child, who stays home and is usually in-arms. The pre-schooler that trades germs with numerous other germ factories each day seems fine. Up until this point in motherhood, I have always treated pink eye with breastmilk. Yes, it works! I promise you it does. There are even a few adults (who shall remain un-named) who will attest that breastmilk cleared up pink eye for them in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, my youngest is weaned, so we are forced to deal with pink eye without nature's original "medicine chest" (get it? chest? ha! ha! ha!). I am well aware that plenty of pink eye is caused by a viral, not bacterial infection, but the poor kid was clearly miserable and her was swelling up and I had to do something. I'm pretty sure the person who blithely decreed that pink eye should be treated with the administration of erythromycin ointment 3 times a day did not have kids. First treatment, not a real big deal. But, I'm pretty sure treatments 2 through 15 will progressively escalate until it requires two adults and LOTS of screaming to hold down a 23 pound ball of fury, hold her head still and maybe pry her eye open just a tad. On the good side, since we chose to have a home birth, we already had erythromycin eye ointment at home and saved a few bucks on filling the prescription. Now, if I had only known ahead of time that was the treatment, I could've also saved a $25 co-pay.

While daddy managed the toddler at urgent care (it was easier than office hours at the regular clinic during the day), I stayed home and created yummy, delicious, wonderful cream cheese pound cake. Just a few small changes--I baked in two loaf pans instead of a tube pan and it took longer than 80 minutes to cook.

Food, food, food

Today's gardening tasks:
Planted Wando Peas directly in the garden (about 100) near the strawberry plants and some also near the onions (not a great idea, but we had leftover and no other great place to put them)
Started seed indoors:
6 Jubilee Tomato (found an old seed pack I wanted to use up)
9 Relleno Chile
5 Ring o' fire Chile
4 Hidalgo Chile
9 Espanola Chile
9 Spacemaster Cucumber
9 Prescott Fond Blanc Melons
9 Cal Wonder bell pepper

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Companion Planting

When planning your garden space, one thing to research and take into consideration is companion planting. When you look around at nature, you're unlikely to find large standings of the same variety of plant. More commonly, lots of different species will be interspersed. Following a similar rule in gardening is generally beneficial. Some plants make good companions, and others should be separated. Pairing up certain plants can help limit pests and disease as well as increase yield. You may also find "more" space in your garden. We have 600 sq ft of raised bed space, plus another 170 sq ft of in ground space, but we can plant a bit more densely when we intersperse certain things.

Check out the links above for more detailed charts of what things go together. A few general guidelines:
*plant shallow root and deep root plants together so they can draw nutrients from different areas of the soil--this works for companions like carrots and onions
*put together plants that are typically eaten together. I haven't read this anywhere, but it makes sense to me that perhaps our culinary traditions arise in part because certain things were easy to grow together and harvest at similar times---tomatoes and basil; spinach and strawberry
*listen to what your grandmother taught you. If you're fortunate enough to have contact or family history stories from those who lived through and immediately after the depression (especially if they were in the same area of the country you're currently in), they probably have a wealth of information to share. It's amazing how adept you become at gardening when it really is a matter of producing food or going hungry---Marigolds can deter aphids, tomato hornworms and cucumber beetles; onions and garlic repel several pests; nasturtiums repel squash bugs
*experiment, but within reason. Some plants are known to do poorly together, either by competing for nutrients or attracting pests/disease that feed on both plants. Do a quick online search and see if what you want to try is already known to be a poor match. If you can't find much information, give it a try and record your results so you know whether to repeat the pairing next year.

Tomatoes...and sewing

The first of the seeds got planted yesterday. I started with tomatoes.

There are lots of options for seedling containers. We save those plastic 6 and 9 pack containers whenever we buy seedlings or flowers at the store, plus make some of our own from newspaper. The newspaper ones work quite well and are convenient because you can pop the whole thing in the ground. The only trouble is if you handle them a lot or keep them indoors too long (and the paper starts to disintegrate). Both problems are easily solved by planning well and keeping your newspaper pots on some sort of tray so they are easy to move. For soil, we buy one bag of "vegetable planting mix" each year that we use to fill the pots. We don't buy the most expensive thing, but we don't skimp either. For us, this has cut down on some issues we had when I tried to use soil from outside (bugs, etc... that stressed young plants beyond their limits).

We keep our seeds in a back room of our house that doesn't have heat or a/c. I suspect this is what contributed to a really easy process of hardening off the plants last year. We will keep the soil moist until the plants germinate (1-2 weeks for tomatoes), then turn on the grow light above them to give them about a 12 hour "day". The light tends to dry out the soil, so it's important to water once or twice a day.

Once the seedlings develop their second set of true leaves (the first set right when they germinate don't count), they are ready to transplant and need to be hardened off for about a week. This means moving them outside during the day, and bringing them back in at night. You want to baby them a little during this phase---shady and protected from wind the first day, progressing to full sun and out in the open (I set them on the bed they'll be transplanted in) by the end of the hardening off period.

Here's a picture of what I've done so far (the light is adjustable--you don't want the light too far away at the beginning, or you get "leggy" plants):


We are aiming for about 100 tomato plants in the ground and producing, so we are planting a few more seedlings than that to accommodate for any trouble we might have. Each container (6 or 9 pack) is labeled with type of seed, where it's from (our own saved seed, or purchased), date planted, seeds per pot. This is important information---you want to know what varieties are where so you can keep track of what does well for you and what doesn't. You need to know the date you planted so if the seeds don't germinate in the time they should, you can re-plant. Knowing how many seeds are in each pot also help you determine if there is a germination problem. With these containers, I just write on the side with a sharpie. With the newspaper pots, I keep them grouped together, then cut up old yogurt containers (especially lids), write on them with sharpie and stick them in one pot per grouping. This works well indoors, but the sharpie fades if you put them out in the garden, so a good diagram in your gardening journal is still a good idea.

Yesterday I planted 141 pots, each with 2-3 seeds per pot (as they grow, I will cut off the weaker looking plants, keeping only the healthiest one in each pot). We have chosen to get all of our seed locally this year, which means we aren't growing a few things that have done well for us in the past. We have also made the choice to focus on varieties that we know will serve us well for canning. For tomatoes, we're doing: Better Boy, Sunmaster, Roma Rio Grande, and Regular Romas. Only 30 pots are the better boy and sunmasters, the rest are romas. The Roma Rio Grande is something that grew really well for us last year and we are using the seed we saved from some of those.


Other homesteading tasks.....Sierra is absolutely dying to know how to sew. Unfortunately, she's 4 and there's no way I'm letting her sit down and feed her finger through a sewing machine. We've developed a nice compromise where she does everything but hold the fabric (which I do for her). I make her tell me each step before she does it and she's gotten really good about learning the parts of the sewing machine and picking up what needs to be done next and why. Last night, she made herself her first article of clothing--a skirt. It's not the most well made thing there ever was, but it's a really good starting point and involved hemming, sewing a seam, and putting in elastic. Then, of course, we had to have a photo-shoot, where she danced and did her typical crazy Sierra moves.



Monday, February 2, 2009

Planting Time!

TennZen and I seem to be on the same page yet again! It is time to start seeds indoors for spring planting! For most things, you want to start seeds about 8 weeks before you want to transplant. For our area, the last frost date is March 5 and I'm with TennZen about milder winters, shorter springs and hotter summers---I'm going with early planting this year. Technically, some of our seeds are starting "late", but that's because the plants got "leggy" last year as we waited for a freak March snow storm to blow through and we want to avoid that this time. Our beds are ready to go, our gro-light and pots are set up and full of soil, and on my chore list for this week is to put seeds in all those little pots. I'll update with pictures this week as we work our way through.

Also have a baby-wearing update. I had mentioned how much Sedona loves the wrap--I caught pictures. She pulled the wrap out, brought it to me and held it up like, "here, put this on". When I grabbed the camera, instead of the wrap, she pulled it around herself like she was trying to get herself wrapped up.

When I did put her in, she tucked her arms in (as usual), snuggled up and sighed the contented baby sigh. All was right in her world, and that's all I can ask for mine :-)

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