Category Archives: Organic Gardening

Gardens, homeschooling, running, Paleo failure, mothering failure (?)

  1.  After eating mostly Paleo for about eight years, it stopped working.  I don’t know what the deal is, but I’ve talked with other Paleo people who have had to switch up their eating habits, as they have started to gain weight, even while eating grain-free, sugar-free, refined-foods-free…  It doesn’t seem fair, but I had to decide to do something different.  After gaining about ten pounds since Jean was born, which put me at 160 lbs — the most I’ve ever weighed, non-pregnant, I started hiking at the end of November.  I went two or three times a week, early in the morning, 3-4 miles at a time.  In that time, I didn’t really change my eating habits.  So, what did that effort net me?  I gained eight pounds.  Ugh.  And, no, it wasn’t muscle.  Well, maybe one pound was muscle.  So, in the last month or so, I started tracking calories — something I’ve NEVER done before — on My Fitness Pal.  I also started running more often, in addition to hiking.  I’m now running or hiking, four or five times a week.  And what has all that tedious tracking and MORE exercise netted me?  A loss of five pounds for the month.  It seems like very little in return for such effort, and I’m still way over the weight at which I feel comfortable.  But, it’s five pounds.  And I ran my first 10K.  That’s 6.2 miles.  I came in last for my age group…  But I finished!  I ran the first four miles (slowly) without stopping, then walked for a minute or two, ran the rest of the fifth mile, and then walked/ran the sixth mile.  One hour, 23 minutes.  I’m running to improve that time, and also hoping to complete the Phoenix Summit Challenge, which is in November.

    So, this photo has a copyright on it.  I'm aware of that.  I *DID* purchase a photo from the photographer, but it won't be delivered for 2-3 weeks, at which time I'll update this with the "real" photo with no watermark.

    So, this photo has a copyright on it. I’m aware of that. I *DID* purchase a photo from the photographer, but it won’t be delivered for 2-3 weeks, at which time I’ll update this with the “real” photo with no watermark.

  2.   Today is the last day of 4th grade and 2nd grade for Audrey and Fiala, respectively.  I’m kind of relieved, and I have a VERY long list of summertime projects from the mundane to the complicated.  Grant, who is in 11th grade, is still doing work, mostly because he didn’t do enough during the school year.  Sigh.  Thanks to the homeschool group that I (very loosely) lead, we have a fabulous end-of-year party tomorrow.  I really stink at planning parties, so I’m pleased that, while I had the idea for the party, other people who are much more skilled than I am are planning it.  Speaking of the homeschool group, we have 210 families who now are members.  THAT IS A LOT OF FAMILIES.  I kind of envisioned 15-20 families, but the group meets a greater need than I knew existed.  We have attended weekly park days, near-weekly field trips, and I lead a (typically small) mom’s night of grading and chatting every week.  And the girls are in piano lessons.  It has been a good year of homeschooling for them, which was my goal.  Tomorrow is my son Wesley’s last day of 9th grade at a local charter school.  It was mostly very successful:  He loves it, but his grades aren’t the best I think they could be.  As long as he finishes the year with a 3.0 or higher (which he almost certainly will), he will most likely be returning in the fall.  “Baby” Jean is no longer a baby:  she will be three years old next month!!  She is bright, full of fun, and VERY active.
    Grant promoted to the rank of Chief in Civil Air Patrol Cadets on Monday.

    Grant promoted to the rank of Chief in Civil Air Patrol Cadets on Monday.

     

  3. My oldest son, Ethan, who attended Arizona State University on a near-full scholarship this last year, very likely won’t be returning to school in the fall.  From my perspective, this really isn’t a good situation, and I cried for two hours when it all came down.  But, my son is almost an adult, and he’s making more adult-y decisions, and that’s hard when your children don’t choose for themselves what you, as the parent, see as wisest.  But, God is faithful, and Ethan’s times are in His hands, and this is an opportunity for faith on my part, bathed in prayer.  Still, it feels like a failure on my part.  I don’t know if it is, but it FEELS like a failure.
  4. My garden is thriving.  It’s nearing the searing heat of summer, and I’m hopeful for its continued success.  I have two beds:  one is 8′ x 12′, and the other is 12′ x 12′.  I am tracking, by poundage, how much I harvest.  These past winter months, things DO grow here, but more slowly.  I’d typically harvest 4-6 lbs of produce.  Now that it is warmer, I’m harvesting 8-12 lbs each week.  A couple of weeks ago, when I harvested the last of my beets, it was 16 lbs, 6 oz for the week.  I am currently reaping:  I’itois onions (bunching onions);  Greek and Italian basil; Cardinal Chard; Top Bunch Collards;  Tyfon Holland Greens;  Harris Model Parsnips;  four kinds of tomatoes; Greyzini (a summer squash like Cousa or Mexican Grey Squash);  Sweet Banana Peppers; and just yesterday, the first of the Homemade Pickles Cucumbers.  Soon, I’ll have Sweet White Spanish Onions (the largest have tops that are over 4′ tall!  I hope they’re as giant as their tops suggest);  Asparagus Yardlong Beans;  Garlic; and Honeydew Melon.  I’ve also been collecting seed from radishes, lettuces, and cilantro.  And, I have at least nine kinds of flowers blooming, including 8′ tall Lemon Queen Sunflowers.  And in another 3-4 weeks, I’ll have okra and Armenian Cucumbers.

    Beets are beautiful.

    Beets are beautiful.

That’s about it from our home.  Well, actually, that’s not nearly it.  There is always more that is happening than I can write about.  And, I don’t know if this update is all that interesting, actually.  But, I felt like I was overdue for posting one.

In which I unintentionally become an unschooler. Sort of.

Today, I wrote to a “secret” group of homeschool (and former homeschool) moms, asking for perspective.  I had a feeling they’d tell me that I’m doing just fine.  So far, in fact, they have.  But in this, and in other homeschool-related endeavors, I just can’t seem to find the right balance, where I’m pleased with what we’re doing.

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My oldest three children are boys, and my youngest three are girls. I think I was/am pretty rigorous with my older boys. That approach has worked well on my oldest (now a university freshman on nearly a full-tuition scholarship), and for my 11th grader who is still homeschooling, but nearly independently. My rigorous requirements didn’t work fab on my 9th grader, who is thriving in his first year in a small, public charter school where they seem to value his… free spirit a little more than I do.

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So, I’m really only schooling my 4th and 2nd grade girls. I also have a 2-year-old who makes things challenging and helps us to laugh and gives lots of hugs and kisses. Last summer, I told myself that I was going to make school FUN for my girls, after several years of really just focusing on my boys. I started a homeschool support/play group that has unintentionally ballooned — I now lead this group that has 179 families in it. It is a very relaxed group, a social network, really. Me “leading” is really a misnomer. I organize most events and communicate with everyone in person and online. With that group, we have weekly three-hour park days. We have one or even two field trips or activities with the group nearly every week. (This week, we’re going to the library for a decorate-your-own-journal art hour, and going to a local organic farm on Friday.) The girls are in weekly piano lessons and loving it. They play together more beautifully than I ever hoped. We spend lots of time outdoors every day. I have a veggie garden and they all putter with me. Our science yesterday was inspecting cilantro blooms and seeds in various stages of development, talking about how plants bolt, bloom, become pollinated, and develop seed that we can save. They also do seat work nearly every day (journal — writing and drawing; math; handwriting; and phonics/grammar). We have done lots of reading for fun — we’re working our way through the Little House series and are currently just beginning The Long Winter. The girls read on their own, fiction and nonfiction, a ton. My almost-10-year-old is the Arts and Crafts Queen and is working on some project all the time… She also is taking every-other-week drawing lessons from two ladies from church.

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In other words, this school year is virtually everything I had hoped. HOWEVER… I’m not really an unschooler at heart. I feel much better with structure. I feel such guilt that we are on week 5 (FIVE!) of (old) Sonlight Core 2. Week five. We’ve barely gotten through anything, really.

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When I read out everything I’ve written above, it seems like I should be pleased. But, honestly, I feel a little out of sorts, like I’m doing them a disservice for not being more regimented and rigorous. We are ENJOYING the school year. Yet, I have thoughts like, “I required so much more of my sons. Am I being unconsciously sexist by doing so little real schoolwork with them??” Seriously.

I don’t know what I need to be satisfied. This school year is one of the best, experientially, we’ve ever had — and this is my 14th year!! But, I just feel so uncomfortable not checking those boxes in the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide. I feel guilty.

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At the other moms’ suggestions, I’m going to add more science and have them read aloud to each other and me.

But, mostly, I think I just need to adjust my own attitude and enjoy what is left of the year.

Notes from the Desert Winter Garden

I need to start keeping track of how many pounds and bunches of produce I harvest, because it kind of FEELS like my summer garden wasn’t very successful.  But, when I confessed that to my husband, he looked at me like I was out of touch with reality, which IS definitely a possibility…  But, so many of the things I planted didn’t work out well.

I was especially disappointed with my lone summer squash variety:  Tatuma Calabacita.  Its vines spread forever, yet it was very unproductive.  I think I harvested three squash total in the two hills I planted.  The beginning of September, I sowed seeds of Greyzini from Pinetree Garden Seeds in two hills, with three more hills a couple of weeks later.  I was attracted by the Pinetree’s claims that Greyzini produces early and prolifically, and that I’d soon be drowning in summer squash.  (Note:  The “summer squash” planting season in Maricopa County extends well into the winter.)  I figured if this was actually true, I could freeze, barter, sell, gift, etc., the excess.  The first baby squash is now about 4″ long and harvestable, though I will wait a few more days:

IMG_20151030_082226 My only problem right now is that I likely didn’t give the Greyzini enough room to grow, so the plants are already crowding the carrot area.  But, my carrots — Atomic Red from Pinetree — are having a hard time germinating and taking off, so I figure if they’re dominated by the Greyzini, so be it.

In my “old” 8′ x 12′ I have also sown:

  1.  White Sweet Spanish onion — These are slow to take off, as well… but onions always are.
  2. Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach — This is the first time I’ve planted spinach.  It is having a hard time germinating, and the small sprouts that have popped up seem to be a favorite of bugs.
  3. A Giant Mix zinnia — these have germinated and are growing well.  I’m thinking that a “giant” zinnia was probably not the best choice; as the garden veggies start struggling to soak in as many of the pale sun’s rays, I don’t want flowers shading them.  If worse comes to worst, I could yank them, I suppose.
  4. Super Sugar snap pea — These look lovely and are a good 6-8″ tall.  I’m pretty sure I had 100% germination, and they start germinating in 7-8 days, and grow quickly.  It’s very satisfying to see a plant grow healthy and strong after only a week or so.  I have an 8′ row in my 8′ x 12′ bed and have sown another 12′ in my new garden bed, the first of which just started sprouting a few days ago.
  5. My Clemson Spineless okra is still producing!!  Those bushes are 5-6′ tall!!  It’s pretty amazing.  Now that it’s a tad cooler, they don’t grow nearly as quickly.  But, they’re still alive!  I’ve heard from local gardening groups and a bit of research that one can overwinter okra plants, but they are very cold-sensitive.  I’m not positive, but I think I’m going to try.

My new, 12′ x 12′ bed is not fully sown.  So far, I have planted:

  1. The aforementioned 12′ of Super Sugar snap peas.
  2.  Lettuces — So far, both a Pinetree Lettuce Mix as well as a mix of Simpson Black-Seeded and Romaine lettuces, the seeds of which I saved from previous lettuce plantings that I let flower and go to seed.  In my experience, Simpson Black-Seeded is the most successful lettuce to grow in Maricopa County.  But, I’m looking forward to a greater variety of lettuces.
  3. Alaska Mix nasturtium — which I chose for its variegated leaves.
  4. Red Cloud beet.  I ❤ beets.
  5. Harris Model parsnips — I probably wouldn’t have attempted parsnips, as I know they taste better after a frost, which we’re not likely to have.  However, the CSA I hosted for nearly three years, with organic produce from Crooked Sky Farms, grew parsnips very successfully.  So, I’m trying it.
  6. Cardinal Chard —  Red chard of any kind just might be my single most favorite vegetable.  🙂
  7. I also transplanted a bunch of I’Itois (EE-ee-toy) onions — 18 bunches, to be exact — from my containers.  These green/spring onion-type heirloom, bunching onions are AMAZING.  They’re holdovers from the CSA.  Plant one bulb, and a year later, you have 50.  They just don’t die.  They go dormant in September, but start sprouting back in October.  Literally, it’s year ’round “free” green onions.  I haven’t purchased green onions in at least two years, maybe longer.  I figure I can go without, the one month they die down.

In the space remaining in the big garden bed, I plan on sowing more lettuce, bok choy, collards, some more flowers (probably gaillardia), and more onions — if I have the space.

I have also been cleaning out my containers — I’ve done eight so far.  This is a HUGE PAIN IN THE @SS, as — of course — bermudagrass, that evil and invasive species — has found its way into each and every pot.  So, I’m digging out all the bermudagrass stolons, roots, and “leaves”, plus doing other cleanout and refreshing of the soil that’s there with compost and some native clay dirt/soil as needed for better water retention.  I have more I’Itois, a bit of parsley, a few flowers, and lots of basil already growing.  I’ve sown lavender, more nasturtiums, cilantro (I actually meant to sow flat-leaf parsley seed and grabbed the wrong packet), and Crimson Giant radishes.  I have another 6-8 pots to clean out and replant, and I’m planning on growing more radishes, herbs, and flowers.  It’s funny, because previously, I had felt kind of grumpy about my containers, calling them my “fake garden”.  But, now that I have my real garden — in the dirt — going, I view the containers as… “free” space.  And, they’re especially easy to take care of in the winter.  (In the summer, my containers need water at least once — often twice — daily, to keep them alive in the blistering heat.)

One more note about gardening in the winter.  OK, two.  Maybe three.

  1. Winter gardening is kind of a crapshoot.  Last year, we had ZERO freeze days.  The year before, we had five — with three of those being back-to-back, which is kind of unprecedented cold for the Phoenix area.  The only bad news about having such a large garden is that I probably don’t have enough sheets, et al, to cover everything, if it does freeze.  So, I’ll probably be praying for no freezes.
  2. The “days to maturity” on each packet of seed don’t count for much.  Yes, things will grow beautifully here in the winter (unless it freezes), but as the sun’s rays are not nearly so strong or long as in the summertime, things take longer to grow.  Still, it’s so worthwhile growing in the winter, as a greater variety of veggies do well here in the cool months:  all cole/cruciferous crops, all root crops, anything leafy, plus other extreme-heat-sensitive veggies like peas.
  3. My permaculture ideas — going through the tremendous strain of digging out SUNKEN beds when raised beds are all the trend right now, has proven to be a good idea.  Other than keeping the seeds moist for germination by light sprinkling, I’ve watered my garden NONE in the last almost-two months.  The garden beds are placed at the lowest slope in our yard, so the rainwater soaks and percolates down to that area.  In 110°+ heat, there’s NOTHING that can be done to gardens to preserve water;  you just have to water, and usually daily.  But, now that it has cooled down and we’ve had a few fall rains, the sunken bed idea is paying off.

I was going to…. (and then, I did)

…actually write a blog post today.  But, I’ve decided to use my rare time on the actual desktop computer to look for plans for a chicken tractor, instead.  (OK, I wrote a blog post.)

I will briefly update to say:

This is blurry. I need more pictures of Ethan. This is on his first day of pre-university freshman camp, where he was hesitant to go, but where he forged some really close friendships. Ethan is dear.

This is blurry. I need more pictures of Ethan. This is with my husband on Ethan’s first day of pre-university freshman camp, where he was hesitant to go, but where he forged some really close friendships. Ethan is dear.

1. My oldest son, Ethan, is doing great at Arizona State.  He is getting all As, and one of his professors loves his writing so much that he is keeping all of Ethan’s writing assignments to use as examples in current and future classes.  While this is a particular win for Ethan (and for me, because — yay!  I didn’t really suck as a teacher!), it’s a win for homeschooling, in general.  Because what does this professor want?  Analysis.  Synthesis.  Excellent grammar.  Thoughtful, insightful writing.  An understanding of the topic at hand.  As a homeschooling mom, this is what I want, too!  I’m not just looking for my children to regurgitate information;  I want them to understand and to think.  Apparently, professors enjoy having students who can do this.

Grant at his last CAP promotion with his almost-girlfriend and another CAP friend.

Grant at his last CAP promotion with his almost-girlfriend and another CAP friend.

2.  My 16 year-old, Grant, is still mostly homeschooling in the traditional way.  He is, however, taking two classes at a local two-day-a-week co-op.  Honestly, he isn’t killin’ it like I thought he would;  it’s a struggle for him.  But, that’s a good thing to figure out NOW, as a junior, rather than in his freshman year of college.  He still has the Air Force Academy as his goal, and is killin’ it in Civil Air Patrol Cadets, where he is a Staff Sergeant.

Wesley on his 14th birthday, nearly a month ago.

Wesley on his 14th birthday, nearly a month ago.

3.  My son, Wesley, is a freshman at a small, conservative, tuition-free charter school.  I have been extremely pleased with the school itself, and shocked, frankly, with how well Wesley has integrated into “the system”.  There is one class in which he isn’t doing well — French II — and it’s mostly because of conflict with the teacher, who is pretty hard-nosed.  But, I’m fine with that.  I’ve told Wesley that, a) it’s an elective, and he’s still actually learning to speak French quite beautifully.  And, b) for his whole life, he will encounter people who don’t “get” him, or are otherwise challenging, and learning to adapt and have healthy relationship is at least as important as learning particular subjects.  So, overall:  he’s doing very well.

My girls at a friend's house, doing crafts. Fiala has the blue headband, and Audrey is in the background, top left.

My girls at a friend’s house, doing crafts. Fiala has the blue headband, and Audrey is in the background, top left.

4.  Audrey is in 4th grade and Fiala is in 2nd.  They are both doing excellently in school.  Audrey is doing 6th grade math.  Fiala can spell as well as a 4th grader.  It was my aim for them to have FUN this year;  to have a rich, full educational experience.  That is happening.  Because I couldn’t find a group in my area which was relaxed and social with no fees and no “statement of faith” to sign, I started a homeschool support group.  We’re up to 95 families, which is crazy.  Not everyone participates in every event, of course, but I organize a weekly park day, a weekly mom’s night grade-and-chat at a local coffee shop, and usually 1-3 additional events weekly.  So, we’re busy, but it’s fun-busy.  We’ve been to museums and on day trips and to art classes and more.  This is exactly the sort of school year I envisioned for them, even if it means that we’re making really slow progress through the structured curriculum we’re doing (old Sonlight Core 2).

Jeanie at the park (after a visit to the splash pad). Funny and happy -- not disturbed. :)

Jeanie at the park (after a visit to the splash pad). Funny and happy — not disturbed. 🙂

5.  Jeanie is two years old and absolutely crazy.  She is fun, chubby, happy, very active, doesn’t nap well, and has a thing for playing with her poop, which drives me absolutely batty.  Yesterday, when I thought she was napping, she actually sculpted a faux hawk for herself with her poop.  Yes, it was as gross as it sounds.  “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!??” I admit I yelled.  Holy crap.  Literally.  It’s one of those things where my previous judgements have come back, in God’s humorous way, to bite me in the butt.  Truthfully, when I had previously heard about other toddlers playing with their poop — since none of my kids had ever done that — that there must be something deeply wrong with the family, or with the child, emotionally.  Or something.  Playing with poop is clearly wrong and disturbed.  Well, Jeanie is about the furthest a child could be from “disturbed”.  But, she still plays with her poop.

6.  Jeanie has been going to the home of a dear friend of mine for two hours, four days a week, and in exchange, I tutor my friend’s great-granddaughter for Kindergarten.  She also goes to weekly park day with us, and on field trips.  This is the first time I’ve taught a child other than my own.  In the past, I’ve declined such requests, because they’re mostly along the lines of, “Hey, since you’re already home and teaching your own children, and public schools stink and private schools are too expensive, why don’t I bring my child over and you can teach her/him for free!”  Which I decline.  However, this particular plan is going quite well!  I’m paid AND my friend keeps Jean, which really makes the whole thing possible.  I had intended for Audrey and Fiala to be doing their seatwork (math, grammar/phonics, handwriting, and journal) while I work with our Kindergarten-friend.  However, we’re doing Five in a Row (plus Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Handwriting Without Tears).  And, apparently, even though my older daughters are nine and seven years old, they still enjoy FIAR books and activities, which, frankly, I didn’t do enough of, with either of them.  So, they are reliving kindergarten, and having a blast.  (Reminder:  Audrey is doing sixth grade math and can spell as well as a 7th grader, and is on-track with her other subjects;  doing K won’t damage her education, thankyouverymuch.)

My new (unplanted) garden bed with most of the summer stuff in the far garden bed pulled -- except for the giant okra bushes.

My new (unplanted) garden bed with most of the summer stuff in the far garden bed pulled — except for the giant okra bushes.

7.  My garden is doing fab.  The past summer, in my first — 8′ x 12′ — bed, the most successful things I grew were:  Clemson Spineless okra — which is actually still growing, here in late October.  My okra bushes — five of them — are nearly six feet tall, and still producing, though more slowly, as it has cooled a bit.  I also grew Lemon Queen sunflowers, which were amazing — a good 7-8 feet tall.  Armenian cucumbers grew wonderfully and were extremely productive.  The next-most successful plant was Fonzy Melons, which I grew from saved seed from an organic melon I had purchased early this year.  And flowers — Sulphur Cosmos.  They made lovely cut flowers all summer and are self-seeding in actually a rather invasive way.  It’s a nice problem to have, actually.  Oh!  And a volunteer spaghetti squash was quite productive.  Less successful were banana squash, Tatuma Calabacita summer squash, and a musk melon.  I had a number of tomato plants come up volunteer — which I’m still growing — as well as a tomatillo plant which grew humungous and was covered in flowers, but never fruited.  Dumb waste of space.  I yanked it.  In the places where I have pulled out and re-prepped the soil in this bed, I have planted Atomic Red carrots, Greyzini summer squash (which will grow here in the winter!), Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach, Super Sugar snap peas, white sweet Spanish onions, and zinnias, all from Pinetree Garden Seeds (which, yes, I know their test gardens are in Maine.  But, I’m a sucker for small, family-owned seed companies).  I have had a heck of a time getting the carrots and spinach to germinate, but the Greyzini has its first tiny fruit already growing!  I have prepared a larger, 12′ x 12′ bed “next door” to my first bed.  That sucker took ALL SUMMER AND FALL for me to prepare, as a) bermudagrass is so, so, so, so horridly invasive;  b) our clay soil is hard and heavy;  c) I worked on it in my “spare” time.  The bed is now waiting for me to till in all the amendments.  I haven’t done that because a) it has rained so much in the last week that the ground is too wet! and, b) I bought a rototiller and a friend from high school fixed it for me, but our schedules haven’t allowed us to meet up for him to return it!  And, I don’t want to till 12′ x 12′ of heavy clay soil by shovel.  In the new bed, I’ll be sowing more sugar snaps, Harris parsnips, Ching Chang bok choy, more carrots, Top Bunch collards, a leaf lettuce mix, Cardinal chard, Homemade Pickles cucumbers, more onions, Red Cloud beets, Gaillardia, and nasturtiums.  Although I haven’t actually planned out the space exactly to see if I can fit all that into the bed…  I might have to pull the okra, which I was considering trying to overwinter.

8.  We’re still plugging away at our home remodel.  I’m kind of weary of it, so I won’t say much about it, except to admit that it’s still in process.

9.  We are still at Vineyard Phoenix and absolutely are in love with our local representation of the Body of Christ.  (If you click the link, that is my hubby in the video on the front page.)  God is good and moving mightily by His Spirit.  People are getting saved and healed.  It’s really an amazing church, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.  I’m leading worship again at a small home group, which I greatly enjoy.  I also am teaching the 4s and 5s Sunday morning preschool class once a month and singing on the worship team usually about twice a month.  Our head pastor — whom I’ve known since I was 15 (I’m 42) — stepped down to a semi-decreased, semi-retired role in July, which gives him greater liberty to immerse himself in missions and apostolic ministry.  As I type this, he’s in Zambia.  My hubby’s best friend, Doug Scott, is now our head pastor.  I adore Doug.  I’m biased, but…. seriously….  I feel like God has given me absolutely GOLD with the church in which I get to participate.

10.  As I mentioned at the beginning….  I’ve been given the go-ahead to start my chicken flock!!  I’m super-excited.  I just need to go now and get that figured out.  🙂

11.  My husband is awesome, and I’m very grateful for him.  NOTE:  Awesome doesn’t mean perfect, nor does it mean that we don’t work, work, work, work on our relationship.  We do.  We have ups and downs.  But, this November, we’ll celebrate 21 years of marriage that has been profoundly blessed and is the result of two people loving Jesus and not giving up on each other.  HALF OF MY LIFE will be with that man, and it has been an honor.

My love and blessings to each of you who have read through this.

This is me in my new glasses. I'm aiming for a haircut, if I can get to the salon sometime in the near future. Someone who recently met me for the first time -- but who had seen this picture -- said to me,

This is me in my new glasses. I’m aiming for a haircut, if I can get to the salon sometime in the near future. Someone who recently met me for the first time — but who had seen this picture — said to me, “You don’t look like your Facebook profile pic,” and not in a good way. LOL! I do like this picture, perhaps because it doesn’t actually look like me.

The desert organic garden journal — July 6, 2015.

11703152_940032102686262_7402766941140771172_nI won’t lie:  I’m really happy with my garden.  I go out to visit it several times daily.  In the evenings, when the right-hand wall (which is on the western edge of our property) is in shade, I often sit on the walk path.  The shade makes it tolerable, and the water content in the air around the garden acts as evaporative cooling.  The screen — which is actually concrete “remesh” from Home Depot — makes a fabulous bird blind, even though the beans have not traveled very far up it yet.  Hummingbirds and verdins flit and zoom right by my face…  It’s perfect.

il_570xN.570441898_n96zThe water-pollination dilemma:  I’m happy that this coming week, the highs top out at 105°.  I’m hoping that it’s cool enough for more flowers to be pollinated before they die.  This is the big dilemma in summer desert gardens:  female flowers bloom, but they die before they become pollinated.  And, similarly with water:  we need enough water — usually daily — for the plants to grow and not die… and the most effective way to water is with an old vintage sprinkler which I found in the shed of this house when we moved in.  We had one identical to it when I was a kid.  Newer sprinklers are more efficient and don’t deliver enough water to provide a good soaking.  This one is pretty leaky and the drops it distributes are big.  I have carved channels in the garden bed in which the “excess” water travels, making sure every corner of the garden gets soaked.  However, here’s the rub:  watering with a sprinkler soaks the blooms, and makes it difficult for the bees to pollinate them.  So, I just water everything enough to keep it alive, and the greens are lush, but the actual fruit of the garden is not gigantic.

I’ve harvested only Armenian cucumbers so far.  Three of them, and another will be ready tomorrow or so.  And one okra.

Growing is:

  • More okra (I’ll probably have enough for a meal within a week).
  • More Armenian cukes.
  • One getting-quite-large banana squash and several smaller ones.
  • Two spaghetti squash.  I didn’t plant it;  it came up volunteer in the compost.
  • One melon (I think it’s honeydew — again, it came up volunteer in the compost).
  • One mystery volunteer squash/melon that might be watermelon — actually, there are three on the plant.
  • Another melon plant that has a good 5-6 melons on it, which I am cheering on — it might be a Fonzy melon I planted from saved seeds.  It’s hard to tell what’s what in the tangle of vines.
  • Many tomato plants — those came up volunteer, as well.  Same pollination problem:  it gets too hot too fast, and they bloom and die before they’re pollinated.  Historically, if I can keep tomato plants alive through the heat of summer, they’ll start fruiting in September or so.
  • Lots of flowers — mostly cosmos so far, but my marigolds are about to bloom, and my first sunflower bloomed yesterday.
  • My asparagus yardlong beans are flowering and there is ONE baby bean.
  • My native Yoeme Purple beans aren’t doing so well, but they’re alive….
  • The summer squash I was excited about — Tatuma Calabacita — is growing and climbing, but the blooms and baby squashes keep dying before they’re pollinated.
  • There’s a butternut squash vine — two of them, actually — growing nicely, with darling little butternuts on it.  I didn’t plant that one, either.

I also planted an apple tree, developed in Israel — an Ein Shemer — and it’s not looking great, but I’m not surprised about that.  I have more hope for it, for next spring.

The only thing that has flat-out died is all the nasturtiums I planted (from seed).  It’s just too hot for them.

The tiny, long-legged fly, my dear friend.

For bugs:  I have had very few problems with harmful bugs this year.  Shortly after it germinated, the okra plants were beset by aphids, which kept the growth stunted and killed off one plant.  I sprayed the leaves off thoroughly — especially the undersides — about once a week.  There is a little aphid activity in the garden currently, but it’s really minimal.  There are LOTS of hoverflies  — actually, lots of what I’ve been calling “hoverflies”, but upon research, I’ve discovered that they’re actually long-legged flies.  In any case, they’re very beneficial to the organic gardener, as they eat aphids, thrips, and spider mites, all the small, soft-bodied insects which like to eat garden plants.

For feeding the garden:  I’ve soaked the plants with compost tea about once every 7-10 days.  There are lots of pricey compost tea systems you can purchase, but mine is a cheap hack:  When I water and turn my three bins of compost, I dunk the head of the hose into an empty plastic garbage barrel.  While I work on the compost, the barrel fills.  I have a zip-top burlap bag from a 25-lb package of basmati rice — I’m not sure if I got it from Costco or the Asian market…  I have several of them.  Anyway, I just fill the burlap bag with almost-completed compost and lower it into the barrel of water.  I cover it and let it stew for 1-2 days, and voila!  Compost tea.  I fill two garden watering cans and it takes 3-4 trips of refills to soak the garden — leaves and all — in the “tea”.  It’s kind of gross, so I inevitably have to spray down my legs with the garden hose, post-feeding.  Compost in general is not for the faint of heart, but that’s a post for another day.  (Hint:  compost needs decomposers.)  This is actually the first year I’ve done compost tea.  I’ve favored fish emulsion in years past, but I will never go back to that.  Not only does fish emulsion smell like puke, it doesn’t wash off well, and it’s pretty expensive.  Comparatively so, compost tea is less-gross, washes off completely, and is free.  Win-win-win.

In the above garden pic, I’m working on prepping the bed on the right-hand side for a mid-August planting.  According to the very reliable University of Arizona planting calendar for Maricopa County, that’s the next big planting “season” for a fall garden.

And that’s it, for now!!

A crazy-busy season has passed, and a regular-busy season is here!

I truly still love writing.  I’ve just been insanely busy.  My load right now is somewhat lighter, which allows me the luxury of reflecting, here in my neglected blog.  (Note:  I have no idea why the sizes of fonts change throughout this post.  Rather than taking the time to figure it out, I’m leaving it.  Sorry-not-sorry.)  Edited to add a few more things about Fiala, and to note that you may click on each picture to enlarge it, if you care to.

  • obscuredMy oldest son, Ethan, did receive the scholarship he was hoping for, to attend Arizona State University.  I am part of a couple different groups where homeschooling parents support each other, especially where prep-for-college is concerned.  I’m struck again and again how, as a homeschooling mom of a senior, it seems like the college admissions process is WAY more about how prepared and organized **I** have been as my child’s mother/teacher, and much less about how well-educated my son is.  I’m happy to report that, even though I have discovered, in retrospect, that there are a hundred things I could have done better or differently, what Ethan and I did, together, was exactly right for what he needed.  I’m feeling the mercy of God on that one, because truly, I’m not kidding about those “hundred things”.  Ethan turns 18 this month.  He isn’t altogether eager to transition to adulthood;  it’s challenging for all of us, to be frank.  I have told him, “We’ve never parented an adult before, please bear with us.”  We’re all learning.  It’s funny, because I have often urged him to DO HIS OWN RESEARCH AND MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS, because, even though I’m complimented by the fact that he still likes the things I choose for him — it makes me feel like I really know him — it’s healthier for him to be at least a little more independent than where he’s comfortable.  So, in light of this, I turned over to him the plans for his birthday party.  And, whaddya know?  He has planned it for a day when I’m going to be out of town.  Not purposefully;  that’s just the date that works best with his friends, who are hosting.  However, it’s kind of good news/bad news, “You took charge?  GREAT!  But you left me out of it completely??  Sad face.”  LOL!
  • Grant is the second face from the right.

    Grant is the second face from the right.

    Grant is my son who will be 16 later this summer.  I don’t think I’ve blogged about this, but what I’m going to write about here, about Grant, is kind of a big deal to me.  Grant is the opposite of Ethan;  he has known for YEARS where he’d like his future to be, what he’d like to do, where he’d like to go to university…  He really can’t wait to get on with his adult life.  A big part of that includes his plans to attend the United States Air Force Academy.  To be completely honest, up until nine months ago or so, I kind of blew that off.  It’s hard to get into the USAFA.  Really hard.  It’s even harder for homeschoolers.  And, they don’t just look at academics; they look at the whole person.  I had decided, in my own mind, that the chances of Grant getting into the AFA were incredibly slim.  However, early last fall, I started to feel convicted.  I remember having dreams while in high school, and feeling like no one wanted to help me achieve them.  I remember what it felt like to be blown off.  So, I started checking things out, what I could do to help Grant gain ground on his goals.  I decided that I didn’t want to be an impediment to his hopes;  I wanted to assist him in every way possible.  So, I signed him up for the Future Falcons at the USAFA website — which is kind of a Big Deal, as it is super-official;  you need the child’s Social Security number, even!  I downloaded the 21-page “Instructions to Precandidates” pdf and we mapped out his sophomore to senior years of high school accordingly.  And, I looked into getting Grant involved in an Air Force-related program.  I first thought of Junior ROTC…  But, then, I heard about Civil Air Patrol Cadets from some other homeschooling moms.  Long story short, Grant has only been in CAP Cadets for a little over six months, but he is excelling.  He’s actually at a week-long semi-boot-camp experience called “Encampment” at Fort Huachuca as I type this.  Grant still has a long way to go, and many smaller goals to achieve before we can even apply to the Academy.  But, all of us feel pretty good about his chances, which is 180° from where we were, about a year ago.  In this coming school year, Grant’s junior year, he will be taking two classes at KEYS — a two-day homeschool co-op — and the rest at home.  Grant will be taking Honors Chemistry and College Lit and Composition.  Frankly, these are two teaching-intensive classes, and I was looking to outsource the most mom-dependent classes for Grant.  Additionally, we’re looking at having Grant take all of his classes for his senior year at a local community college, and we wanted to ease his transition.  Other than American History, Grant won’t need much from me in the coming school year;  his other subjects — French, Economics, Algebra II, and a couple of others, won’t need a lot of input from me.  I’m totally OK with that.

  • Wes and Jeanie

    Wes and Jeanie

    My son Wesley will be in 9th grade in the fall, which hardly seems possible.  He’s the youngest of our three sons, and it is a challenge for me to not think of him as “little”.  He has had a massive growth spurt this past year, and his voice has dramatically deepened.  Whether I’m ready or not, Wesley is no longer little.  He is an excellent big brother to our toddler, Jeanie.  He’s in the teen youth group at church.  It just feels odd to me, still.  Through much thought and research and prayer, we have decided to try Wesley at an “brick and mortar” school for this coming fall.  None of our kids have ever gone to a “real” school before.  But…  I have long felt that I just don’t quite speak Wesley’s educational language.  He hasn’t suffered under my instruction, and testing shows he is on course or ahead for his grade level.  However, I don’t feel like I’m best-suited to maximize his potential, since his potential is in areas where I’m not strong.  There is a charter school (publicly funded, privately run) less than a mile from us;  I have checked them out before, and I like their literature-based, liberal arts approach.  It’s a small school:  this coming year, they’ll very likely have less than 150 students, only 9th – 11th graders.  Most kids bring their own lunches (which seems trivial, but with Wesley’s celiac disease, dairy allergy, and peanut allergy, I didn’t want him to feel like he’s the odd man out, bringing his own lunch every day).  And then, a good friend of ours took a job as the English teacher there.  This man is everything you’d hope for in a teacher:  brilliant, kind, patient, thoughtful, a good leader….  I do believe he’d be an excellent teacher for Wesley for English, which has long been Wes’ poorest subject.  The daughter of that teacher, as well as another friend of Wesley’s, will also be attending the school.  My husband Martin and I have discussed, toured the school together, talked on the phone with the principal, e-mailed back and forth with staff, read every click on the school’s website, and PRAYED.  However, neither of us have felt any strong inclination or direction from God.  We both feel like He’s saying, “All right.  It’s up to you.  You can give it a shot.”  I’d feel a thousand times better if I had heard something more specific than that.  But…  It’ll do, for now.  This next week, I’ll be enrolling Wes.

  • Artsy, funky, fun, LOUD Audrey

    Artsy, funky, fun, LOUD Audrey

    This past year was our busiest ever, for school.  With Ethan as a senior, Grant as a sophomore, and Wes in 8th grade, there were far too many days when Audrey (who just finished 3rd grade) and Fiala (who just finished 1st) would just do seat work — phonics, math, journal, and a couple of other subjects where they can work largely independently, with little help from me.  In other words:  the bare minimum.  I have no doubt that the girls’ educational skills are up to par, or perhaps beyond their typical peers.  However, I want a richer, more robust school experience for them.  With Ethan at college, Grant working mostly-independently, and Wesley enrolled in a charter school, I’m VERY MUCH looking forward to a hands-on school year for the two “big” girls:  art projects, science experiments, field trips, actually READING THE READ-ALOUDS in our curriculum!  It should be a wonderful year.  As stated in the caption of the pic at left, Audrey — who turned nine years old a couple of months ago — is artsy, funky, fun, and LOUD.  All the boys did Rosetta Stone French this year, and Audrey joined in, as well.  I am tickled to hear her lovely little French accent.  It’s charming.  Fiala, who is six years old, is loving, thoughtful, intense, unique, and can be petulant and impulsive.  She loves swimming, loves playing dress up and changing her clothes in general — her clean, folded laundry stack is ALWAYS taller than anyone else’s.  She loves waking up earlier than any of the other children and coming into my bed to “snug” with me.  It doesn’t usually happen like that, but it’s a good day for Fi when it does.  All in all, she is a delight of a child, my little green-eyes-freckle-nose, as I often call her.  If Fiala was in a public school, she would have been in Kindergarten this last year, as she has a late-fall birthday.  That seems crazy to me, as she was well-ready for first grade work.

  • Fiala, me, Jean

    Fiala, me, Jean

    Jean will be two years old next week, which also seems crazy.  I tell her that if it wasn’t for her screeching in restaurants and playing with her poop, she’d be a perfect child.  Seriously:  up until now, my sixth child, I have had NO children interested in their poop.  Jean, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to understand what “gross” means.  So, when she takes a nap, I have to put this ONE outfit on her, every time — it’s a BabyGap long-legged, button-up, one-piece, short-sleeved cotton romper.  It’s the only thing that doesn’t allow access to her diaper area.  Actually, “Pull-Up area”, as she is nearly completely potty-trained.  We went from cloth diapers to early potty training in December, and I rejoiced, but it has taken her A Very Long Time to be serious about it.  She just isn’t serious.  She is a joyous little bundle of… everything.  She’s still chubby and overall large for her age.  She has a passion for Bubble Guppies, swimming, and dancing.  She is bossy.  Charmingly bossy.  “Hum!” she will demand, which is Jeanie-speak for, “Come!”  She will pull on your hand and do everything she can to make you comply.  Or, “Hi!  Hi!” she will insist, patting the seat next to her.  For unknown reasons, “Hi!  Hi!” means, “You sit HERE, NOW!”  Or, “Tiss!!” meaing, “Kiss!”  Then, “O’er side!!”  Meaning, “I want a kiss on the other cheek, as well!”  We all adore Jean.

  •   This past spring just about did me in.  I always felt like families who couldn’t eat dinner together were doing something wrong.  Well, guess what?  We became that family in 2015.  Sunday nights, Martin often has events at church to attend.  Monday nights, I take Grant to CAP Cadets and usually sit in a nearby coffee shop, grading papers for the 2.5 hrs of CAP.  Tuesday nights, Martin led worship at a weekly small group.  I was leading worship just on Wednesday nights, until a group got too big and needed to multiply, but didn’t have a worship leader.  I agreed — just for the spring — to lead worship in that group, as well.  So, from the end of February to the beginning of June, I was gone both Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Additionally, I started hosting a CSA/farm share again for a local organic farmer, every Wednesday.  I had kind of taken an six-month hiatus, but started up again in April.  And, Ethan works three nights a week at Sprouts.  Martin has a fairly long commute, and often isn’t home until 6:00 or so…  It became like passing the baton, and the 30 minutes we’d have together before one of us needed to head back out the door was usually not at the dinner table.  When you have a family of eight, dinner is loud and usually fun, but it really isn’t the place for Martin and I to connect.  I’d have dinner made, but we usually didn’t sit down together.  Homeschooling, church, CAP Cadets, three weekly small groups, the CSA, Martin’s commute, Ethan’s work…  Lordy, I was stretched.  But, small groups take a break for the summer and school is DONE, so my load is infinitely lighter.  I feel much freer!!
  • My other big things for the spring are:  my garden — which is a scaled-down version of my original vision.  I have one 8′ x 12′ bed in, and it’s growing wonderfully.  I’m working daily (or nearly so) to put in a walk around the bed, and hope to have a second bed ready for mid-August planting.  It is so hot here (yesterday hit 115°!!!!) that there is little that will grow in the heat of mid-summer.  The bed that is growing, I planted in late April.  I can’t really sow anything else until there is hope for cooler temperatures.  I have sunflowers, two kinds of melon, Armenian cucumbers, okra, two kinds of heat-tolerant green beans, summer squash, and a winter squash growing, plus a variety of flowers.  I also have way too many volunteer tomato plants, whose seed came from my compost, I suppose.  I have transplanted as many as possible, replanting and giving away about 20 tomato plants.  There are still far too many tomato plants growing in the garden — growing too closely with the other plants.  It’s not really the right time to grow tomatoes here — ideally, I would have had them in by January or February.  But, I can’t bear to yank them.  We’ll see what happens.  My garden gives me joy, exercise, and a sense of fulfillment.  It keeps me sane.  To me, gardening really is a kind of therapy.0618151352Of course, all of this is barely scratching the surface.  There is much more happening in our home…  An upcoming camping trip, me traveling to the Portland area for a girlfriends’ weekend, sewing projects, lots of canning, Bible studies, small and large challenges and triumphs, a continuing home remodel, birthdays — including my own, baseball, me going low-carb again to lose weight, books to read, and more.  But, I will call it a day and go swimming with my kids.Blessings to you and yours.

Go ahead: Bite off more than you can chew.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I'm using as bun here.  I'm enormously pleased with this burger-hack.  Most people with whom I share the idea?  Not so much.  But, seriously, you should try it!!  Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I’m using as bun here. I’m enormously pleased with this burger-hack. Most people with whom I share the idea? Not so much. But, seriously, you should try it!! Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

I am still — STILL!! — working on converting an area approximately 21′ x 45′ from invasive, hard-to-kill Bermuda grass lawn into a vegetable garden.  It has occurred to me, time and again, why raised beds are so popular.  They’re a heckuva lot easier!  However, I’m looking for long-term sustainability as well as decreasing water use, and to those ends, a sunken bed is the way to go in the desert.  I already know that water drains off our property toward the to-be-garden corner.  It takes less water to hydrate sunken beds, water doesn’t evaporate as quickly, and the soil temp stays cooler when the top of the garden bed is at or below ground-level.

But, Lordy! is it ever hard work.

A couple of weeks ago, on my blog Facebook page, I posted:

Crap. I have just discovered that a giant section of our yard (about 15′ x 40′) is actually a stinkin’ CONCRETE SLAB, which was covered by about 4″ layer of dirt mixed with -1/4″ (“quarter minus”) granite gravel, which was topped with another 4″ or so of sod. A section of this takes up about a THIRD of my planned garden, right in the middle. This is going to take a jack hammer or a backhoe to remedy. Can you feel my disappointment? Ugh. Such a setback.

My friend Erin commented:

I love that you say “jackhammer or backhoe” instead of “smaller garden.” That’s the Karen I know and love!

This gave me much pause for thought.

She is totally right:  Downsizing due to difficulty was not an option.  This is mostly because, if I’m going to do this, it’s probably my ONE chance!  At least, it’s my one chance right now.  And, I want to do it right, if I’m going to do it at all — a maxim that was repeated ad nauseum during my childhood.  Secondly, if there is a giant chunk of concrete just below the surface of our yard, it probably shouldn’t just stay there;  it would only cause further difficulty down the line, and eventually need to be removed, anyway.  So, why not remove it now?

Note:  The bad news is, it’s still not removed.  The good news is that it is only a footer — about 18″ wide, a good, solid two feet deep, and about eight feet long.  More good news:  My husband has taken on removal of the concrete footer as his own personal mission.  More bad news:  this mission is subject to myriad other missions, currently being tackled by my husband.

But, back to my “pause for thought”:

It occurs to me that I typically bite off more than I can chew.  As a matter of course, I take on projects that are too big for myself.  I dream and plan into existence opportunities that end up being WAY more complex and time-consuming than I had envisioned.

At first, I started to chastise myself for this.

But, upon further reflection, I’ve decided that I like this God-given part of my personality, and here’s why:

I get loads more accomplished by biting off more than I can chew, than I would if I took life in reasonable mouthfuls.

I find that, as I’m in the throes of panic, feeling overwhelmed at all that’s on my plate, any number of things happen:

  1. I am compelled to study, research, and learn, to fill in the gaps of my knowledge.
  2. I am compelled to the feet of Jesus for His comfort, wisdom, and guidance.
  3. I am compelled to lean on my husband (and in increasing measure, my sons who are young men).
  4. I am compelled to ask the Body of Christ —  my local church — for help.

I don’t think that anyone would see a problem with the first item on my list.  For items #2-4, I must note that this is a good thing for me, as I tend to too much independence.  I believe that God created us to function interdependently, within our families, our communities, our churches…  We need each other.  I contribute my strength and abilities, you contribute yours, and we both end up further down the road, than had we been alone.

I could add a number of other benefits to the list above:

  • Hard work is good for you — body and soul.
  • Being productive is good for everyone around you.
  • Being able to genuinely and completely rest after a job well-done is a glorious feeling.

I’m sure there are more.  Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments, if you’d like!!

So, go ahead:  Bite off more than you can chew.  Sure, you’ll have moments of feeling overwhelmed, moments of panic.  But you’ll do more, go further, and just plain ol’ bear more fruit than if you live a more reasonable life.

Gardeny things! — “Wilson”, barrel potatoes, and a native desert flower garden

1.  I am happy to have a neighbor with whom I can chat about gardeny things.  Our interests and our knowledge overlap enough to give us things about which to talk, but we have enough difference that we can learn from each other.  Me from him, mostly.  I get flashbacks to Home Improvement, with Tim ever talking with his neighbor, over the fence.  We chatted this afternoon about starts vs. seeds, squash bugs, beet tops vs. rhubarb chard, and asparagus.  It made me happy.

2.

You can buy Red La Soda potatoes from the link; I got mine from Crooked Sky Farms as part of the CSA I host.

It rained on Saturday, the first time since mid-December.  To the southwest of my home, an official weather station recorded about 1 1/3″.  To my northeast, one recorded 1.81″.  So, we likely received somewhere in there.  Between outbursts, I was turning my (sadly neglected) compost.  Just as I returned my pitchfork to the shed, an all-out downpour let loose.  In a metal-roofed shed, that storm was LOUD!!!!!  I had my ears covered, and looked up to see my husband, standing under the eaves, holding baby Jean, who had awoken while I was outside.  I couldn’t believe he was there, holding her!  He was about 15 feet away, yet I couldn’t year a word he was shouting.  He disappeared and then reappeared, sans baby, holding a mostly-broken Hello Kitty umbrella, which he tossed to me.  You know you’re a desert-dweller if the best umbrella in the house (actually, the ONLY umbrella!) is a nominally functional undersized one, owned by your seven-year-old daughter.  After most of the storms had passed, I followed a simple tutorial to plant my first barrel of potatoes.  It seems that folks have varying success with growing potatoes in a barrel, but I figured I had little to lose.  I had purchased a $17.99 half-barrel planter from Costco and used an organic potato (Red La Soda) that had already sprouted eyes — which, I learned this weekend, is referred to as having been “chitted“.  I used homemade compost.  The whole project took me about 15 minutes, and that includes wheeling the compost over to the barrel.  All I have to do is keep adding compost as the plant grows.  Next time, though, I think I’ll add vermiculite to the compost, to make it lighter…

3.  I’m trying to purge my inner Perfectionist Gardener, and just PLANT THINGS.  Of course, planting in the right month, with the right seeds for one’s climate, purchased from the right place, with the right soil and amendments, at the right orientation to receive optimal sunlight — all are good.  However, I am finding that the more I learn about gardening, the LESS bold I am, the less risky.  I rediscovered some old seed packs that I had purchased locally from an organization called Wild Seed which, charmingly and frustratingly, doesn’t have a website.  (You can call them for a catalog, though — (602) 276-3536.)  The packets are years old — four or five, at least.  However, I figured that even if only a few germinate, it would be worth the effort of actually putting them in the ground, rather than have them languish for another couple of years in a drawer.  So, with the ground soft — soggy, even — from Saturday’s rain, I hoed and weeded a bed created by a former owner of this house.  The bed is NOT in the optimal location;  it’s against a south fence, facing north.  It hardly gets any sun, except in the middle of summer.  But, it’s a bed, a garden bed, already created, yet not in use.  I scattered the seeds in a rough drift pattern and raked them in.  We’ll see what happens!  I saved a couple of packets for bare places, given the haphazard planting and the age of the seeds…  One thing I do have going for me:  they’re all native desert flowers — some native to California, but most native to the Sonoran Desert.  By nature — literally — many seeds are dormant for YEARS until there is enough rain at the right time.  I’m hoping to a) put to use seeds I’ve been saving for who-knows-what;  b) beautify an ugly wall;  c) attract butterflies, birds, and honeybees.  Here’s hopin’!!  I planted:

Desert Chia – Salvia columbariae

Summer Poppy – Kallstroemia grandiflora

 

Purple Owl’s Clover — Castilleja exserta

 

Cream Cups — Platystemon californicus (I’m most excited about this one. I’ve seen it only a few times in real life and it is so very lovely.)

 

Desert Verbena — Abronia villosa

 

Purple Desert Sand Verbena — Abronia angustifolia Greene

 

Scarlet Sage — Salvia coccinea Gorgeous flower… I’m not certain it will grow in the Phoenix area, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I hardly ever eat broccoli any more (or, “A Paean to Seasonal Eating”)

Romanesco is the broccoli for math heads. “Romanesco broccoli resembles a cauliflower, but is of a light green colour and the inflorescence (the bud) has an approximate self-similar character, with the branched meristems making a logarithmic spiral. In this sense the broccoli’s shape approximates a natural fractal; each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in yet another logarithmic spiral.”

I used to eat broccoli a lot.  It was THE go-to veggie for my family.  I’d purchase, at a minimum, enough for two dinners’ worth, and prepared it in innumerable ways, but most often, just steamed.  We hardly ever eat broccoli any more.  I like broccoli.  I just usually can’t bring myself to buy it.

Here’s why:

“…the United States is a net importer of broccoli overall. In 2010, the United States imported 524.5 million pounds of frozen broccoli valued at $243 million. The majority of the frozen broccoli came from Mexico (72%), followed by Guatemala (15%) and Ecuador (8%) (Vegetable and Melon Data, ERS 2011).”

To be clear, if you are eating FROZEN broccoli, it is almost certainly from another country;  producing broccoli florets is labor-intensive, and since labor costs are higher here than in other countries.  If you eat fresh broccoli, there is a better chance that it came from the United States, most likely California.  If you eat organic, fresh broccoli, chances are even GREATER that the broccoli came from the U.S.  But, still…

I live in the desert, here in the Phoenix area.  I know that broccoli is harvested here for a very limited time of the year, usually in March.

And how do I know that?  Because a majority of my family’s veggies are from a local farm, Crooked Sky Farms, in a year ’round CSA.  Before 2013, our veggies came — for 20 weeks out of the year — from a different CSA.  The window for local, fresh, organic broccoli is very small.

So, when I’m shopping in the heat of summer, and that broccoli is looking mighty fine for a stir-fry, I ponder and think, “It’s August.  It’s stinkin’ 120° out there.  I know, Grocery Store Broccoli, that you did not come from any place even remotely close to here.”  And I usually pass on by…  I might cave if it’s from an organic producer in California;  that’s not too very far.  But usually, I just pass, and choose a summer veggie.  Or, I just live off of what the CSA provides.

I purchase very few veggies any more.  Year ’round, I do purchase mushrooms, lettuces (when not from the CSA), celery, and red bell peppers (when the CSA doesn’t provide other bell peppers).

Islander Bell Peppers — we received these purple bell peppers last week.

Sand Piper ivory-colored bell peppers, which were also in last week’s CSA share.

And… I think that’s about it.  Oh!  Potatoes I purchase year ’round, though they are available from the CSA for a good portion of the year.  I also purchase frozen organic sweet corn and frozen organic green beans, both from Costco.  Again, both green beans and corn are available for a time from the CSA.  And, I froze as much corn as I could this year, but we’ve already eaten it all.  🙂

That sounds like a lot of purchased veggies.  But, really, it’s not, compared to how many veggies our family eats.

And when I finally have my garden up and going, it will be even fewer, but that’s another story.

I sent this to my CSA members this morning:

Hello, everyone!

 

I just wanted to send out a note of encouragement to each of you. I’ve heard from several who are growing really weary of eating the same things from week to week. Well, it hasn’t been exactly the same thing, but there have been several items — especially okra and cucumbers — that folks seem to be tiring of. I do understand! I intended to turn a batch of lemon cukes into pickles this past week, and with two different sets of houseguests, I didn’t get that done. I also decided to give away a bunch of okra, rather than freeze it. So, I do understand the weariness.

I do, however, want to remind each of you that eating seasonally is much healthier for YOU and for the planet. Studies have shown that produce that is grown seasonally (instead of imported, or grown locally in forced, non-natural environments) to be much higher in nutrient content.

Eating seasonally is a true return to ancestral ways of eating. Our ancestors ate what they could grow in their own environment, according to the season. They would eat a glut of what was fresh, and preserve what wouldn’t keep. We’re simply not accustomed to that. We live in America, which is, in many ways, a tremendously blessed country. Each of us very likely lives less than a mile or two from a supermarket. In that supermarket, we can buy broccoli year ’round. However, broccoli bought in the deserts of Phoenix in October likely grew in Mexico or South America, and traveled thousands of miles to get here. (The U.S. does grow broccoli in California, but we import more than we export. Most of the broccoli eaten in the U.S. comes from Mexico, Guatemala, or Ecuador.)

I’m not trying to guilt-trip you out of buying broccoli on your next trip to the grocery store, I promise! And in some ways, I do realize that I’m preaching to the choir; most of us don’t have to be convinced of the benefits of eating locally, seasonally, and organically.

For another perspective:

“Better nutritional content and overall health – Most grocery stores and food chains jazz up their fruits and vegetables to keep them looking attractive and inviting when they’re out of season. This naturally compromises the nutrition level of the food. Non-seasonal foods require bending of nature’s rules in order for them to survive the improper season in which they are brought into the world. Therefore, these foods are often full of pesticides, waxes, preservatives and other chemicals that are used in order to make them look fresher than they are.

By eating freshly harvested produce, you will be rotating your foods, thereby keeping your body from developing intolerances to certain foods and reaping the health benefits of a diet that is diverse and naturally detoxifying. Seasonal foods also have a much higher antioxidant content than non-seasonal foods.

Sustainable and environmental benefits – By eating seasonally, you will also be supporting the local farmers and local markets, which, in turn, works well for the sustainability of the entire economy. Seasonal eating helps the environment by reducing the number of food miles your food has to make before it reaches your table. The more local you eat, the less chances exist that you are consuming food that has been flown in from half way across the world, in effect consuming that much more fuel.”

(From: http://www.naturalnews.com/035575_seasonal_food_diet_health.html#)

And here’s another article: http://life.gaiam.com/article/benefits-eating-what-s-season

And another: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=28

ALSO, when farmers (and gardeners) plant the things that grow best in our rather extreme environment, and they don’t try to FORCE things to grow here that shouldn’t be growing in the desert, that helps to eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides, etc.

So… if you can find the time, DO pickle those cucumbers — refrigerator pickles are easy and don’t require pressure canning. Okra is easily freezable:  Cut off the stem end and pop them whole into a freezer bag. Similarly, you can freeze summer squash without doing anything special: wash, trim the ends, and dice them. Then, just put them into freezer bags. Store your onions and potatoes in the fridge, and they will last for MONTHS.

I’m still enjoying greens that I froze this past spring, and summer squash from my freezer as well.

Preserving helps you maximize the value of the CSA, as well. I know I feel GREAT when I pull out some dried basil from the cabinet or diced rutabaga from my freezer, long after the season has ended. I feel like I’m being an excellent steward of what has been provided to me!

That said… cooler weather crops will very soon be available! I don’t have an exact timeline, but I did receive this message from the farm:

“Good day Glendale CSA. Thank you so much for participating in supporting your local farmer. Eating seasonal takes that ancestor heart that brings us back to eating the way nature intended. This is the best way to ensure your family is putting chemical free produce in their bodies. Farmer Frank always says “we fight GMO’s with our actions, not just our words.” While your taste buds are craving autumn, sweeten your palate with winter squash like butternut squash, spaghetti squash, baking pumpkins and more. Also look forward to soooo many greens, such as swiss chard, spinach, kale. Lets not forget our root crops. This year we plan to wow you with colored carrots, watermelon radishes and more! Jazz up your plates with Romanesco, graffiti cauliflower (purple), lettuces and rare onions. We are just beginning to scratch the surface. Thank you for your patience and commitment. We delight in serving you with many treasures.”

“Naturally Grown, Naturally Yours”, the Crooked Sky family

Again, NONE of this is said to guilt anyone into doing anything. I also understand about being on a budget, and the continual pull between eating more healthily, and being wise with my family’s resources. That’s actually the main reason I started hosting!! I primarily get paid in veggies. 😉 It’s a huge benefit to my large family to be “given” about $40 worth of organic veggies every week. But, before I hosted, I participated in CSAs for several years, in addition to growing my own garden…

I do understand that you have to do what works for your family… I truly do.

And I THANK YOU, all of you, for participating, whether you’ve been with me from the beginning and are absolutely committed, *OR* if this whole CSA thing is new to you — or eating healthy is new to you — and you’re just trying it out. Everyone is on a different point in their journey to health and wellness, and I’m so very, very pleased to assist any of you at any point in your journey.

 

~sigh~

The short version of this very long post is that it is an EFFORT to eat well.  It requires something of you.  Time, money, effort, convenience…  All of those, or a combination.But the result is worth it, I do believe.

 

 

Dogs vs Tomatoes. The tomatoes aren’t winning.

I have created a monster:  Buddy, the Tomato-Loving Puppy.

It started like this:  On Wednesday, as part of the Crooked Sky Farms CSA, I ordered two extra boxes of organic, heirloom tomatoes, 30 pounds total (for $30!!)*.  On Friday, I processed half of them to make salsa, the first step being peeling and coring them.  After scalding the tomatoes and peeling them over the sink, I pulled my cushy office chair up to the island — that’s how I’ve been doing my meal prep:  sitting — and started cutting out the tough area where the stem attaches with a paring knife.

Our “old” dog, Tally, sat down next to me, very attentive, with a polite request in her eyes.  I kept declining, “Tally.  Really.  You don’t want a tomato core.  Dogs don’t like tomatoes.”  But, she patiently and gently disagreed.  Finally, I tossed her a core.  She snapped it out of the air and wanted another.  I tossed her another.  And another.  She ate them like candy!  In short order, Buddy, who is 5 months old, figured out that Tally was getting something he wasn’t and came to investigate.  Buddy is quite pushy and bossy — which bothers me — but I ended up using it as a training reinforcement for him to sit and stay.  Soon, he was on one side of me, Tally on the other, and as soon as I cored a tomato, I would toss it to alternating dogs.

Eventually, I ran out.  Tally was all right with that, and sauntered off to lounge in the living room.

Buddy was NOT all right with me running out.

He’s not a very vocal dog.  He whines a bit, but rarely barks, and is just generally a quiet dog.  But, after he figured out that nudging my leg with his nose was not producing any more tomato cores, he put up a fuss.  I wish I would have recorded it.  He vocalized with such incessant pleading, loudly begging for more tomato cores, deep in his throat with a variety of pitches, howls, and vocalizations.  He was also trying his best to sit and stay, maximizing the possibility of obtaining more tomato scraps.  But, he worked himself just about frantic in his quest for more tomatoes.  At first I was highly amused.  NEVER have I heard him talk like that!  But after a good ten minutes, I started to feel very sorry for him.  Not sorry enough to chop up a good tomato and give it to him, but I did commiserate with him and try to comfort his comfortless self.

Buddy, in a quieter moment

Buddy, in a quieter moment

The next day, Saturday, I processed nearly 15 more pounds of tomatoes for Tomato Confit Sauce, and the same scene was repeated, much to the dogs’ delight.

However, Sunday… Buddy decided to take matters into his own paws.

I have six tomato plants growing in my mini-garden.  Three of them are very large.  They haven’t been the most fruitful of tomato plants, probably because I haven’t as highly-prioritized my garden this spring/summer as I have in years past!  I’ve fed the plants infrequently, have not hand-pollinated, and other than putting tomato cages around them, mulching them with homemade compost, and watering them faithfully, I haven’t really done much with the plants or to them.  However, each plant has a number of tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness, with the very first tomatoes of they year JUST ready to pick.

And they were picked.  By Buddy.

My husband Martin woke me up on Sunday morning, “Babe… I’m sorry to tell you, but Buddy ate all your tomatoes.”

I was up in a flash.  “WHAT???”

“All the ripe ones.  They’re gone.  I was on the back patio and I could see him over by the garden, but I couldn’t really tell what he was doing until it was too late.”

I practically ran — with my 38 week pregnant belly — down the stairs and out the door to inspect the damage.  Sure enough.  Only bright green tomatoes remained.

I about cried.

And this is AFTER this past week where I have mourned him plucking four of the six muskmelons off the vine.  That, while I was heartbroken, I sort of understood:  They looked like oversized tennis balls.  I could imagine his confusion.

But all my tomatoes???  Oh, that saddened me.

And then, he one-upped himself:  He branched, later Sunday evening, into sampling the GREEN tomatoes.  He ate at least 2-3, and I found three more, on the plants, with teeth punctures in them.

Oh, Buddy!  How could you??  Rascal dog!!

The only good news about this is that, a short time later, he puked up the green tomatoes.  I’m hoping that the experience is enough for him to stop nabbing my tomatoes.  And in the meantime, my husband is going to rifle around in our shed and see what he can find for some temporary fencing.

~sigh~

—————–

*They have a Groupon going!!  $24 for 15 lbs of Crooked Sky organic, heirloom tomatoes.

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