Thursday, March 27, 2014

April Chores

Yay! My first chore post published before the month actually starts! This means that you have no excuse for failing to complete ALL THE TASKS in a timely fashion! Or, you could just read and enjoy the hard work that other people put into their crops and appreciate your local farmer all the more.

General Chores
Do not forget to harden off your sprouts before planting them outside. Most nurseries take that into consideration and only sell sprouts that are already acclimated to the outdoors but it never hurts to ask.

Begin fertilizing indoor plants. Transplant root bound house plants to a larger pot. Harden them off slowly if you intend them to live outdoors for the summer.

Vegetable Garden
According to zone 8 our last frost date was around March 15th so now is when things really get hectic in a vegetable garden. Keep in mind that though our temperatures are, on average, above freezing, areas in the Pacific Northwest are actually more dictated by moisture than temperature. Can you imagine what would happen to juvenile tomatoes, peppers, and squash if they were put outside right now? They would simply rot with all our average rainfall and humidity. Besides, the rains bring out the slugs and I'm not one to put poison out in the open what with toddlers and multiple animals traipsing around. If you don't have ducks around to keep down the slug population we've found beer sunk down in the soil in tuna dishes or some other similar-sized dish works wonders over night. Just be sure to dump the beer and bodies in the morning. Otherwise creatures like my sister's dog might take advantage.

With that in mind now is the time start transplanting hardy sprouts like broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens. You can also direct sow those and moderately hardy seeds like beets, dill, carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, parsley, radish, turnip, and rutabaga.

Pick asparagus regularly to encourage it to continue producing. As production dies down allow some of the small shoots to mature into seed heads so the plant is encouraged to keep spreading.

Garlic that has overwintered should have some healthy leaves by now. Usually this is the time for the second feeding of a general bulb fertilizer. I usually rely on home made compost but I've only been growing garlic for a few years so maybe the combinations of guano, blood meal, bone meal, and phosphorus are worthwhile but I haven't tried them yet.

The first week of April is really the last call to plant warm weather plants indoors such as basil, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, squash, and seed potatoes. Otherwise you will run into the cool, wet weather in fall with an immature plant and no produce to speak of. Also, avoid planting bareroot plants like fruit trees and berry bushes now. They need to come from a pot to have a chance to produce this year or to set a healthy root system before winter.

Mid to late month you can start transplanting and sowing pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers. I have yet to have success direct sowing either pumpkins or winter squash because either the spring weather rots the plants and brings out too many pests or they go in the ground too late and never mature. Being able to grow winter squash and pumpkins from seed is one of the things that is most exciting to me about the greenhouse. Now I don't have to buy those sprouts and I get to be involved in the whole process!

Late in the month we can safely begin planting beans and corn. Theoretically, you can start them indoors or in a greenhouse and transplant at that time but beware that beans and corn generally dislike transplanting so you must expect to loose some of them to shock.

Flowers and Herbs
The first week of April is last call for planting summer flowering bulbs. I remember the timing (usually) because ideal planting time is around my mom's birthday. How convenient that she also likes bulbs! If you like to feed your bulbs, now is the time.

Perennials and flowering shrubs can go in now.

Most herbs can be transplanted or sown outdoors around mid month except for the especially fragile ones like basil and marjoram.


This month by month compilation was started simply for my own reference. But I was putting so much effort into it that I thought it only fair to share. The above and previous lists are from a combination of my experience and these reference materials:

Horticulture Guy

Weekend Gardener

A Way To Garden

Nichols Garden Nursery

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Permaculture Principles

Thanks to our introduction to permaculture with the Back to Eden gardening method I have continued to learn about working with God's nature rather than fighting against it. The majority of my information recently has come from a lovely book called "Gaia's Garden: A guide to home scale permaculture. 2nd Edition." as well as tips and tricks from two lovely ladies at Sustainable Renton certified in Permaculture Design. In fact, a tips and tricks lecture was offered last Sunday at the main office but, sadly, I could not make it. However, there is another permaculture-focused class coming up on April 6th at 4pm at the Community Farm. One hour of instruction then everyone working together to implement those plans for the SR P-patch. Should be fun! I hope I can attend the first hour, but no promises! Also, I do plan to attend the Seed and Seedling Swap at the main office on April 12th at 12:30pm. You can find these activities and more at the Events page of the website or on the Sustainable Renton Facebook page.

Ahem! Back to my garden.

My little pest controllers are so cute! 

Since I'm learning so much and it is all so exciting I thought I would share with all of you! So I've summarized the Permaculture Principles from "Gaia's Garden," pages 6-7: 
1. Observe your site over multiple seasons and plan accordingly.
2. Connect the various elements of the design to work as an entire ecosystem.
3. Go with the flow. Work with the cycles of the seasons, slopes, microclimates, etc for maximum yield with minimum input.
4. Design elements to perform multiple functions.
5. Design multiple ways to perform the same important function in case one system fails.
6. Learn the "leverage points" of your system so if something needs tweaking you can achieve your goals with little input.
7. Use small-scale, intensive systems. Work out a small design and expand as you learn. (In the medical field we would say start low, go slow.)
8. Optimize the edge; the joining of two environments is the most diverse part of a system.
9. Work toward a mature ecosystem rather than every year slashing the natural progression back to newborn stage.
10. Use biological and renewable resources.

What I would like to do for future posts is devote an entire post to one principle. That would motivate me to learn even more and would drive a bite sized format for interested readers to digest. I feel comfortable with principles 1-4 but after that i can only claim overview knowledge and I'm still not sure what is meant by the "edge" of different designs working together. But I'm looking forward to learning it!

We are actively implementing Principle number 10 at Healthy Horizons: rain barrels bought off Craigslist, spigot from Lowe's, installed by dad and Tim. Total cost: $29 per barrel! They're not even set up yet because the house is only partially outfitted with gutters right now but we have collected enough rainwater so far in strategically placed buckets and wheelbarrows around the property that I have not needed to use the faucet at all yet! I'm hopeful that rain harvesting combined with covering the soil with wood chips will significantly cut our water usage and the related bill.

Hardening off my first transplants from the greenhouse: white and red onions, snow peas from Caitlin, the Urban Food Warrior herself, kohlrabi, and celeriac.

The greenhouse is fully functional! What a treat! This week dad installed a temperature regulator to the ventilation fan so it would regulate itself. I feel so spoiled!

The girls are so happy to participate! Making a treat with daddy.

Shoshana helping plant the "purple" onions around some of the fruit trees (I'm working on developing more of a forest design in the orchard for attracting additional beneficials, discouraging some of the vole and gopher activity, and complimenting soil chemistry needs.

For example, this apple tree is now surrounded by climbing sweet peas, oregano, thyme, and white onions. Abi loves to help with laying down newspaper and spreading wood chips but I haven't gotten a picture yet.

We have all been working diligently to get as much stuff done and prepped before Judah arrives including laying down more chips, planting seeds, transplanting from the greenhouse to the garden, continuing to work on the greenhouse, and even doubling the size of the chicken coop! 

Some of our upcoming chores include 

  • Setting up the fencing to keep the ducks contained for a month or so until my little plants can develop good root systems otherwise the ducks will uproot everything in search of grubs. So far I have enough netting and row covers to protect what little is already planted but later this week I will run out. 
  • Buy the gutters needed or rain collection and set up rain barrels.
  • Continue planting flowers, veggies, and herbs around the base of fruit trees.
  • Transplant pumpkins to larger pots as they outgrow the baby trays.
  • Build a raised bed along the west side in the greenhouse for future tomatoes, peppers, and herbs.

Despite my growing belly and related lack of mobility Spring and the return to gardening has made me so happy! Happy gardening!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Deifying Food

[Cross post from Shoshana: Leukemia blog.]

Our journey with food continues to evolve along with Shoshana's recovery. When cancer cells were running rampant throughout her bone marrow and blood stream we did everything in our non-medical power to help her body heal itself, avoiding foods and toxins that would only make recovery more difficult. I even refused to allow her to be fed Pedialyte during recovery from a bout of diarrhea because I didn't trust the brand. Instead, we fed her a dilute orange juice concoction thanks to the dietitian on her case. For the year that she had a feeding tube we made her a homemade "formula" with whole, organic foods rather than using the whey protein and sugar (2nd ingredient!) formula provided by the hospital which caused her heart rate to slowly but steadily increase to the point which the physical therapist did not feel comfortable playing games with her and also cause severe, caustic diarrhea.

Throughout these last 18 months we have done the best we could with the resources we had. Now that things are a little calmer we have more time to contemplate our long-term lifestyle plan. One of the things that has been tumbling through my mind is "why us?" and "why her?" Many of my family members have already had experience with some form of cancer. I, myself, also dealt with a case of "pre-cancerous cells" in my thyroid which threw my body chemistry off so badly I nearly had to drop out of nursing school. For that reason, we had already implemented many of the major "anti-cancer" lifestyle changes such as removing all toxic cleaners and self care products from our home, eating a wide variety of organic vegetables, and growing as much of our own produce as possible. To have our first family case of childhood cancer is frustrating on so many levels, especially since we already have a relatively "clean" lifestyle.

Which gets me thinking: how much more can and should we do from here on out? It would be lovely to have an easy answer of "if only this then that" but life is not that straightforward. Apparently, leukemia is one of the few cancers that has virtually no links with diet. Other than pockets of incidence around nuclear disasters and heavy metals in the soil, it touches every continent, every people group, every culture, every neighborhood virtually equally. Even the Amish people have nearly the exact same amount of risk as the general U.S. population. (CITATION)

Recently I came across an article called "Food Is Not Your God" which summed up my thoughts on the whole foods movement very well. "I’ve sensed something very disturbing in the Whole Foods World…it’s something that has bothered me to my very core and I’m speaking out against it. FOOD IS NOT OUR SAVIOR."

How easy it would be to say that if we only consume these things in this proportion, we will live long, healthy lives. But the world doesn't work that way. According to the Bible, "Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay (Rom. 8:20-21, NLT)." Working so diligently to learn about the links between diet and cancer began to focus my thoughts away from God to me. "If it were true that eating whole foods would keep you healthy and free from tragedy, then a drug addict would never carry a baby to full term…and a one-Coke-per day elderly man wouldn’t live until the ripe old age of 95. Food cannot save you – Jesus can save you (Food Is Not Your God)." 

The conflicting information in the whole food movement is what first started to get my attention. Grains are bad, grains are good, butter is bad, butter is okay as long as you know the cows it came from, all red meat is bad, take two tablespoons asparagus puree morning and night, etc. etc. ad nauseum. We even came across a website that preached raw goats milk as both a preventative a cancer cure. Never mind that Shoshana grew up on goats milk from our backyard!

Clearly, when we eat well with whole foods, lots of vegetables, responsibly grown meats, we feel better. We are generally healthier. But we are not always entirely healthy. Food is not the answer to all our troubles. Jesus is.

Much like the author of the blog I linked earlier, I will continue to learn how to live and eat responsibly for the glory of God but I need to refocus so to give Him all the credit for our good lives, not the food we eat. There are a few principles that we will continue to live by such as avoiding known toxins, eating organically when possible, making the majority of our food at home, and balancing meat and vegetable protein sources. 

Thank you for continuing to walk through this journey with us. It is not over but we are finally getting to the point where we sometimes forget her appointments!

Just for fun, I'd like to share a delicious recipe I found earlier. I made plenty for leftovers as well as the freezer. In general it's hard for me to find yummy freezer meals that aren't full of meat and I want to be prepared for this baby coming up. If my previous pregnancies are any kind of a predictor, we only have about six more weeks until we get to meet little Judah!

Leek Asparagus and Herb SoupI like my soup with a little more texture so I did not puree the potatoes along with everything else so it was a rich and creamy stock with small potato chunks. I also spiced it a little more with some cumin and turmeric. Even the girls loved it!

Irish Cream and Chocolate Silk PieAnd for something on the other end of the health spectrum and in recognition of the recent St. Patrick's day, this recipe is from Wanna Be A Country Cleaver created by a friend from high school. I haven't made it yet but I sure plan to!

P.S. edited above post to reflect completed draft.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March Chores

The Renton area is blessed with a rather warm microclimate in the middle of the maritime Pacific Northwest. If you live in Renton or nearby your garden area will likely be rated as either 8a or 8b by the USDA zoning guide. Keep in mind that these chores are for that zone and some of them are specific to a maritime climate. Always keep your garden soil in mind before tramping all around. If you have an especially boggy garden area maybe you should wait a few extra weeks before compacting everything with your activities.

Keep the phrase WHENEVER THE SOIL CAN BE WORKED  in mind. Given that simple activities don't muddify your garden, a serious concern considering how much rain we've already gotten this month, now is the time to prep your beds for planting. If you are not using a heavy mulch that contributes nutrients to your soil make sure to AMEND YOUR BEDS with a good compost. If the soil is too sandy consider also adding vermiculite for water retention. If your bed is sticky and dense consider peat for loft and oxygen penetration. Yet another plug for heavy mulching: with heavy mulching you should have minimal to no weeding to do from over winter. You also will not need to amend your soil. My favorite benefit is that eliminates the need to till and mix up the naturally occurring layers in the soil!

Again, if not using heavy mulch, use CARDBOARD or NEWSPAPER to protect the prepped beds from weeds until they actually have seeds/plants in them.

Hopefully you have already REMOVED THE EXTRA MULCHING from around your garlic sprouts. If the bulbs are too deep because you protected them from freezing temps with mulch then they will be very susceptible to rot. In another month or two, don't forget to keep an eye out for the flower scapes that form from the center stalk. Trim them out as close to the leaves as possible without damaging the leaves once it starts to bend or curl. I haven't made anything special from my scapes yet other than sauteeing them up with other veggies but there are tons of interesting recipes online that I'm excited to try this year.

Mid month begin planting COLD HARDY SEEDS outside. These include most leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, beets, onion sets, parsnips, peas, kohlrabi, radishes, and spinach. The last week of the month will be time for transplanting similar sprouts from indoors or your favorite nursery.

TRANSPLANTING: Don't forget to HARDEN OFF your sprouts from indoors before planting them in the ground. Otherwise they will be shocked with the sudden change in conditions and will either be stunted or die. :(

FEED SPRING BULBS with an appropriate organic fertilizer once the greens pop through. Typically this falls under Early March but we also had some early warm weather that set the bulbs into motion in February. If you haven't already fed your bulbs it's not too late.

BLUEBERRIES love a dose of acidic compost/coffee grounds/ground bark/fertilizer this time of the year.

RASPBERRIES should be trimmed to remove canes that produced fruit the previous year as well as canes that are smaller than a pencil to allow the healthiest plants plenty of room.

I know this chore list is late. Hopefully it will be better timed next month! Happy gardening!

Note: author should be 'kronk', not 'burndive'

Spring in the Garden

Despite a rather late week of sub-freezing temps it is starting look like Spring around here! Bulbs are sprouting, fruit trees are budding, and flocks of birds are making their way North again. The sun is even predicted to shine for a few days in a row!

I'm quite excited for my new garlic sampler and saffron crocus bulbs which are poking through the soil. I'm also pleasantly surprised at how the wood chips eventually turn into the most perfect potting soil you can ever want! Now a significant yearly expense is eliminated! Once the wood chips are three years old they decompose into light, moist, black soil which seems be ideal for seedlings. Just sweep aside the top layer of dry chips and second layer moist, in progress chips and dig out however much potting soil you want, given you should leave enough material for the mature crops you plan to grow there later. Since the first layer of chips I laid down started around eight inches thick I have than enough medium for my sprouts and mature plants.

The greenhouse is well on its way to completion! As of this weekend the external and internal structure is built, ventilation is set up, electrical is in progress.

Besides my family's needs I'm anticipating giving extra sprouts to fellow gardeners at the first Sustainable Renton Sprout/Seedling Exchange as well as supplementing a special event dinner at the Red House in May to highlight sustainable projects in Renton.

Thanks to a single grow light set up in the garage I've started a few trays of sprouts to get a jump on cool weather crops. I already have many different species sprouting like tomatoes, celery, peppers, leafy greens, peas, three kinds of broccoli, two kinds of cabbage, and two kinds of onions. Recently I planted more chard, lettuce, and got a start on beets. Then, on a different day herbs, additional peppers, cucumbers and carrots.The following week I got some help from a friend to transplant the tomato sprouts into medium pots.

Playing in the dirt!

Amish Paste, Cherry, and Geranium Kiss tomatoes.

Some of the herb planters. In the back is the tray with a variety of peppers, the sprouted one is red and white onions, near tray is the second round of red and green cabbages.


Winter Summary

I haven't posted in a while since taking the much welcome winter break from the garden activities. I saved only a few types of seeds since some of those I was trying to "dry" outside got moldy from the ambient humidity.

Since then we have had a lot of adventures and a few more hard situations. In October we spent our first vacation more than an hour away from the hospital all the way in LA. We got some quality time with family and a few friends. Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and the beach in LA with Tim's parents and a friend I met in the Northwest. Shoshana still talks about the "Berry Farm" and how she's going go those rides again. Then we spent a few days in San Diego with one of Tim's groomsmen and his very pregnant wife. The girls adored Sea World!

Late in the trip we made a public announcement:

And in December found out it was a boy! Hello, dear Judah!

Also in December we went to a Christmas Lights event at Warm Beach and played some late games with family and friends. Then for New Year's Eve we went a little farther north to celebrate with those same friends at their house. And they had a big swing. Shoshana loved it, of course.

This pregnancy has been pretty rough already so my activities with the garden may be a little scaled back this spring. But don't worry, it's all for a good cause! Also, we are looking to sell our house/property to a developer. We are looking for a place that is either dirt cheap so we can build our own place or affordable but permanent residence sort of a thing. Three bedrooms, nice kitchen, play room, and property enough for my animals and garden are a must.