Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Well, since you asked...

Yeah, so I also have an herb garden:

[Garden plan done on my www.growveg.com account--man, I love that software!]

There she is (well, once you click on the image so you can see it). As you can see, I've got all manner of things going on in there. The strawberry bed is coming into its third year, and doing well so far. I know that the plants should be dying off soon, but I allow the runners to replant themselves almost entirely unchecked, so I'm hoping it will self-perpetuate (advice here would be welcome). We get enough strawberries for a few desserts & breakfasts during the early summer, but not really enough to put up. I typically buy strawberries from a local farmer for that. Similarly for our blackberry bush, which is now in its second year--I expect to get much greater production out of it this year. Well, I would, anyway, if my crazy next door neighbor would stop whacking off canes of it the second one crosses over onto his side of the yard. You'd think he would want the free berries? Or at least, tell me and I'll corral it (I must stay vigilant this year, lest another amputation occur!).

As for the herbs, here's what's going on:

Perennials (those marked with an * are new this year):
  • Sage (x2)
  • Tarragon
  • Rue
  • Lavendar (* will be adding more this year)
  • Rosemary
  • Feverfew
  • Soapwort
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lovage (huh, that one's not labeled. Silly. It's the unnamed herb to the right of the sage.)
  • Winter Savory
  • Hyssop
  • Lady's Mantle*
  • Thymes (x2)
  • Horehound*
  • Thistle*
  • Yarrow*
  • Sweet Woodruff
And the annuals--all, obviously, new this year:
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Summer Savory
  • Chervil (whoops! That one didn't make it onto the plan! Will fix that soon--probably put it between the hyssop and the lemon balm)
  • [Basil] This is actually in the main garden, but I thought I'd at least note it here, lest any of you think that I'm a nutcase who doesn't plant basil.
And then there's the big stupid gumball tree. Oh, how I'd love to get rid of that thing. But in the meanwhile, a serious "whacking back" of it will ensue this year. If only I could convince the power company that the tree is a danger to the power lines (which, really, it is) and they would take it down....

Oh, and a word about my rosemary. I've named it "Harry Potter" because it's the rosemary that didn't die. Rosemary's are not hardy in my zone. By rights, that thing should be dead. I did nothing--possibly even less than nothing--to protect it over last winter. In the spring, I went out resigned to having to pull it up and replace it with something else, but when I went to test the branches... they bent! They didn't snap! And when I snipped one off? It was green on the inside! Wow. So I've got fingers crossed that it made it this winter, too (and this time I even cut it back and heavily mulched it, so there's some hope). We shall see.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Okay, kids, here it is!

"A garden is never as good
as it will be next year."
--Thomas Cooper

(I am just positive that you'll need to click on the picture to get a larger version so that you can possibly tell what's going on in there--well, if you want to anyway.)

So here we have it--the Spring Garden Plan 2009(tm). The first thing to notice about it is that it's probably time for me to lay off the caffeine. ;-) I should give credit for the software I use, too, which can be found at www.growveg.com. I really love this service--it's got lots of great utilities, and it's just plain old fun to use. For US$25/year, maybe it's a bit frivolous, but I suck at keeping paper records, so this will do.

Okay, seriously now, this is my fourth year gardening. I've had mixed luck with it, but I think I'm finally starting to get my brain wrapped around the project (or, at least, other people seem to think I am, because they keep asking me questions about gardening as if I know what I'm talking about). The garden this year is about the same size as the gardens I've done for the past three years, with a couple of additions (the potato and garlic squares), but there are several notable changes I'm making:
  1. I will be adopting the "square foot gardening" method for several parts of my garden
  2. There will be a "kid's pizza garden"
  3. My husband wants his own square
  4. Some hardcore new fertilization
Let's look at each of these in turn, shall we?

Square Foot Gardening

As you can probably see, in the SE corner of the main garden I have a number of 4'x4' square plots, rather than the more traditional long beds or rows (and the remainder of my garden is regular, 12'x3' raised beds, and has been for the past few years). I am trying this method to see what I think of it. Certainly I've heard rave reviews, and it does make a lot of intuitive sense to me as well, so what the heck? I will be trying two basic styles. First, the four squares at the bottom-most corner you will see are labeled "Kitchen Garden". These are the squares from which we can harvest for daily eating throughout the growing season. It's where I will (and I will, damnit) build coldframes and such for season extension. I am hoping that this will create a useful divide between what to eat and what to store. I often found myself not harvesting things to eat last year, because I was worried that it would put too much of a dent in our food storage. Well, let's just put them in separate sections, then! The other two square beds (which contain onions, carrots, and beets) are meant for storage--I'm testing the SFG methodology with respect to mass crops for putting up. I am actually rather optimistic about all this. The remainder of my garden will be regular raised beds.

Incidentally, the garden-planning utility isn't great for actually plotting out what I'll put in the SFG section--so that stuff's not really set in stone. It's more just reminders of what in general I want in there, and in what rough proportions, as well as planning out where the frames will go for vertical crops.

The Pizza Garden

I want my kids to garden, but I don't want to overwhelm them. So I've planned in a 4' diameter "pizza garden" (got the idea from Sharon Astyk), and I let the kids decide what to put in. They picked tomatoes, beans (bush or pole? probably pole), some leaf lettuce, carrots, and two kinds of flowers--blue nasturtiums and marigolds. Cute, eh?

My Husband's Patch

Those who know my husband are probably still busy picking themselves up off of the floor after having read that he wants a section of the garden for himself, so I'll assume that you don't know the backstory here. My husband and green things do not traditionally get along. Gardening has pretty much been my domain for, well, the entirety of our relationship. But I think this has been making him feel guilty, as he is very much on board with everything I'm trying to do, and he wants to help. So this year he's asked to have a plot of his own. Switching some of the garden to a SFG method, I think, made the project of helping out in the garden become more manageable to him, rather than attempting to wade out into my sprawling, wilderness-like layout. Also, he could choose what he wanted to plant, which will hopefully make the project more interesting to him (I suspect he would have to restrain himself from actively sabotaging my tomatoes otherwise--he hates tomatoes [and yes, I still married him voluntarily]). He has chosen to do a bed of potatoes, which I think will be a great choice for him and a good starting place. He really likes potatoes, so he'll have a vested interest in trying to take care of the plants. Potatoes are also pretty forgiving, as far as I know. They do require a different sort of care than other plants, but not so much that it's really more difficult, just different.

The New Fertilizer

Yes, the new fertilizer. I'm taking a leaf out of an old Mother Earth News article found here (http://tinyurl.com/2rgxmy), and mixing a homemade fertilizer to add in, along with the copious amounts of compost I put in. The fertilizer is a ratio'ed mixture of lime, gypsum, bone meal, alfalfa meal, and kelp meal. All of it (except the kelp meal, which I need to order online) rang in at just over $20 (and that's for almost 150# of agricultural products), so it's a pretty durned good deal, if it works. I'll be sure to report on its success or failure later. But, of course, this will be used in conjunction with compost--always always always have compost! Love my compost! Don't take good care of my compost, but that doesn't mean I don't love it!

And so... there you have it! That's the plan. For future reference, our lawn is actually twice the size, width-wise (i.e., east to west) as what we're using now, which is probably even better land since it gets better sun. I will be steadily encroaching on it as I get better. I am planning on putting in a short grape arbor and/or blueberry bushes along the North side of our lawn, between mine and my neighbor's yard (who won't mind one little bit having grapes or blueberries coming onto her side, and might just help me pay for them). Who knows what else? We'll see.... =D

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Epic Battle for my Refrigerator

It's good to just REMEMBER the silliness of trying to cool down a box inside your house down to 40 degrees in the winter, while another appliance tries to warm your house up to 65. And it's good to realize this during an ice storm - when I heard reporters wailing that the worst part of losing power was that "all the food will spoil!"
--Z, comment from Crunchy Chicken's Blog
Well, those of you who frequent blogs like... er... well... this one, have probably noticed a certain amount of kerfluffle lately--much ado, if you will--over refrigerators and whether or not they are a necessity to have, or an unnecessary drain on our resources. The kickoff seems to have been Crunchy Chicken's post (with an extensive and worthwhile comment section), and additional notable posts have occurred on Greenpa's blog. The situation seems to have grown beyond itself, landing articles in the hallowed halls of the NYT, Treehugger, and Consumer Reports (the links to these are on Greenpa's post; I'd link them myself, but that's, like, work). Anyway, I thought I'd throw my $.017 into the ring (hey, the dollar just keeps devaluing, ya know), partially because I think I have a couple of novel things to say, but mostly because I'm a hopeless follower.

So the first thing I should discuss here is my own psychology. And my own psychology dictates that statements on environmental lifestyle changes like those found in Crunchy's comment section--the ones that look like "OMG, that's like, barbaric! No one can live like that!"--are almost pure crack cocaine to my brain, driving me to do exactly what they say would be an insanely depraved lifestyle. So I'm working with a handicap here, people.

Anyway, The Crunchy One gave several reasons why giving up on one's fridge will actually cause greater energy waste than keeping it (let me be clear here--she was not the one giving the ZOMG IT'S IMPOSSIBLE! arguments; hers actually involved thought). To me, to be honest, they look verse and line like the Standard Rationalization for Not Changing Your Lifestyle #2. I'm not trying to be cruel to Crunchy, but arguments that look like hers make me instantly skeptical. And the comment section contains several useful rebuttals to her claims (none of which, I must point out, got picked up by the NYT, or even Treehugger [now that was disappointing]). My basic response to her claims, which follows Sharon Astyk's & Greenpa's comments, is that yes, she's right. If you unplug your fridge, and do nothing else to change your lifestyle accordingly, then yes, you'll end up using more energy. Hm. But more on that later.

Some technical issues. The NYT reports in its coverage of this ongoing controversy that the typical American household spends only approximately 8% of it's energy usage on refrigeration. The intention here, I suppose, is that this is such a small amount when compared with, say, heating and cooling (which ring in at 43%), that it's not worth the time & inconvenience of changing. And here's where the lecture I did in my Critical Thinking class on Wednesday comes in, the one where we discuss the human mind's apparent complete inability to grasp proportions appropriately. Okay, let's look at this a different way: what do you suppose the effects would be if everyone in the U.S. cut their energy consumption by nearly 10%? Um, stonking huge? Yeah. Eight percent really isn't trivial. Another way of looking at this situation: we here in the U.S. use way way way way way too much energy already. Saying that our refrigeration costs are so low when compared to our energy usage for heating and cooling is a red herring, because we need to spend way less on those things too. And yet another way of looking at the situation: um, the energy usage figures came from where? In the NYT article, they came from Frigidaire. Frigidaire. Yeah, Frigidaire. But I'm sure they are a reliable source. The Consumer Reports article, on the other hand, used numbers from Energy Star, which really should be more reliable, and probably is. But if only I knew what the Energy Star methodology was! How do they calculate energy use for refrigerators? Do they just plug one in for a year and see what the kill-o-watt reader says at the end? Is it "optimally filled"? Is it ever opened? Is it in a household with at least three people who are content to sit in front of the open fridge and read a short novella while thinking about what they want to eat? I can't help but be somewhat skeptical of the numbers given. And even if I buy them in toto, I'll just go back to my first two issues with this analysis.

So there's that.

But the real issue I think is the one about whether or not unplugging your fridge would result in a net increase of energy use--this is the Crunchy's claim. Mainly, this would be due to increased costs associated with having to go to the market more often (no cold storage to keep food fresh), no leftover storage so cooking smaller meals, so more wasted food, and similar issues. But, as is pointed out in her comment section, these problems are predicated on not changing your lifestyle at all, beyond reaching behind the fridge and pulling the plug.

In fact, it might seem bass-ackwards to some, but I think having a refrigerator actually increases our energy use, even beyond just the electricity required to run the thing. Why? Because a refrigerator is part of the "just in time" lifestyle--the one where we believe that we can--nay, we should!--be able to have fresh fruits, dairy, vegetables, meats, and anything else our heart desires at the drop of a hat. We can go to the store any time we want for these things, and then we can put them into the refrigerator to make sure they stay completely fresh until our heart desires them! What is the obvious result of this lifestyle? A complete lack of planning and foresight. If you are counting on your refrigerator to keep everything fresh, you don't really need to do much planning. You can buy what strikes your fancy (within budget, perhaps), and just shove it in the fridge. Where it will probably rot, because there was never any plan for using it. Or if you discover that you need at least three other ingredients (probably also fresh) that you didn't realize you'd need because you had no plan. So, what do you do? Back to the store! So you buy in excess of what you really need, and then still need to make additional trips to the store to get more. Huh.

But really, it is more about the lifestyle than anything. Going without a fridge is another way of removing oneself from the convenience lifestyle to which we've become accustomed. Or, to put it another way, the convenience lifestyle to which we've become accustomed cannot exist without the refrigerator. If you don't have a refrigerator, you don't expect to have fresh food whenever you want--and why should we have such an expectation? That is a pure, and unnecessary, and energy-costly, luxury. It's an expectation novel to our current lifestyle (and, maybe, to some of the monarchic courts of old, and even they didn't expect fresh tomatoes in December). It's part of the source of overproduction and waste of our lifestyle. Even if getting rid of your refrigerator created no net reduction of energy use, it is still worth doing just to get our brains back out of the "anything we want, any time we want it!" mentality. Breaking ourselves of this attitude goes far beyond just our food systems (although it will be crucial there, too); it means learning to make do with what we have, and not expecting to be able to find whatever we want at any hour, or even at any time of the year.

Okay, so is my household fridgeless? No, it's not. We actually have a huge, Energy Star Behemoth in our kitchen that we bought when we got our house. But it's becoming increasingly insulting to me that we have it, love it though I do (it's just sooooooo pretty--black, french doors, *sigh*). But especially in the winter, and especially when I've got a cold pass-through right on the other side of our pantry that I can easily maintain at 45*F or lower, it is very hard to justify. I mean, seriously, I was talking about a convenience lifestyle earlier. Am I actually so wedded to my convenience that I'm not willing to walk an extra 12 steps (I counted) from the main cooking area to the pantry exit, rather than the 4 steps to the fridge? Is that really worth the cost of keeping my brain full of the just-in-time lifestyle? So I will be looking seriously into modifications here. My most basic goal will be to not use the fridge at all next winter (because, really, damn); I may experiment with a return to the "ice box" method of days gone by, since we do have a deep freeze downstairs that I'm not planning on getting rid of.

One stupid problem--our fridge is big, and it's a very tight fit into its place in the kitchen. Moving the fridge to unplug is a PITA like you'd not believe, and it also tends to rip the linolium under it. I'm hoping that we have a "just for the fridge" circuit downstairs that I can just throw, because unplugging the machine from the wall is, well, difficult. But I shall persevere!