Thursday, April 30, 2009

My reaction to Swine Flu

Well, everyone else gets to have a reaction to the current situation, so I want one, too! Here it is:

I think that there are some vast overreactions on both sides--in typical American form, we seem to only have two response options. On the one hand, there are people holing up already, stocking Tamiflu and face masks, and having nearly no contact with the outside world. At this stage, I think this is an overreaction (although I'll admit I'm not sure what my own criteria are for when this switches to a reasonable reaction).

On the other hand, I'm seeing lots of folks complaining that "it's all overblown!" and "we have the flu every year--shut up already!". They either don't understand, or don't believe, the various features of this flu being importantly different from other types of flu, and that they need to be tracked. By the time you know you have a pandemic on your hands, it's already too late. I've recently seen websites pointing out that one's own family is extremely unlikely to contract swine flu. Where this data is coming from I can't imagine, since currently no one knows how likely or unlikely anyone is to contract it. The last time a particularly virulent strain of this virus jumped species, it affected an estimated 20% of the world population. It's true that only .5-1% of the population actually died from this flu, but that hardly means that we can all rest easy that we're unlikely to be hurt by it. A flu with that level of virulence places a moral demand on everyone to do what they can to minimize it's spreading. We don't know if this new virus will be similarly virulent, but it is incumbent on everyone to pay attention and take appropriate precautions. "It is highly unlikely to affect me" just doesn't fly with infectious diseases, and I think it is a morally suspect position.

As far as I can see, this is a form of flu that has jumped species once before, but in a different form (where the previous jump was utterly disastrous). This makes two things very likely: first, because it's the flu, it's probably highly infectious (which it has now been shown to be). Second, because it has jumped species, it is unlikely that humans have evolved resistances to it. We may have some increased resistance left from the previous jump, which would be good, but it wouldn't take much of a mutation to render that fairly useless--note how it's already quite infectious despite any latent resistance, while currently having a fairly low fatality rate, possibly due to latent resistance.

To me, nationally/internationally, the only sane thing to do is to make people as aware as possible of the disease and what reasonable precautions one can take, while also carefully tracking its progress and any mutations; developing vaccines & better medications (which, one can only hope, will be made available to the poor who are likely to be hit disproportionately) seems sane, too. This is not overreaction--it is the sane and best method our medical community has for coping with a potential pandemic. At state/community levels, watch for signs of it in your own area, and change behavior as necessary. It is not only reasonable to quarantine oneself in the face of a potential pandemic occurring in your community, it may well be a moral requirement for the protection of yourself and others. The more people that contract the virus, the more chances it has to infect others, and the more opportunities it has to mutate into something truly nasty (if it hasn't already). If it's not in your community yet, taking standard flu precautions (i.e., good hygiene, staying out of crowded areas, minimizing handshaking, etc.) seems sane to me. For family level, not freaking out is probably good, but so is paying attention to what's happening and not pretending that it just won't affect you so you don't have to worry about it. Try to make sure that you've got food in the pantry in the event that you can't/shouldn't go to the store for awhile. Ramp up the handwashing/hygiene stuff. In my family, we've ramped up our echinacea & elderberry intake, and I'm trying to make sure that our kids get enough sleep. We're not really restricting other activities yet, but we might in the near future. OTOH, we rarely do things that would trip concerns--although B is planning on going to a party tonight.

We have a new strain of a potentially dangerous flu on our hands--one that was devastating in the past. We have a global/highly-mobile community that has essentially already spread it from one side of the globe to the other in short order. We also have incredibly effective communications & tracking abilities, and vastly superior immunological methods today. If we pay honest attention to the problem, I think we have a good chance of averting disaster. Of course, every disaster we avert makes the population that much more complacent, so maybe getting kicked in the pants (at least a little bit) would be a good thing.

Them's my $.02.

Robyn M. in Indiana--with one confirmed case of Swine Flu, but over 200 miles away

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hey all you Urban Gardeners!

Get yer butts over to The Urban Garden Project and JOIN UP! Stand up and be counted! The only requirements are that you are gardening (and yes, containers on your balcony count) within the city limits, so get to it!

And, in other Adapting news, my neighbor and I are getting dangerously close to getting chickens. "Close" meaning that we've been emailing each other design plans for various coops.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What, you don't stick your seeds to toilet paper, too?

Allow me to introduce you to a most delightful invention, the seed tape:

Okay, in all honesty, this is more of a seed "sheet" than seed tape, but the principle is the same. There is a real seed tape near the top of the photo, which is simply seeds in one row, rather than in lots of rows. Depends on how you want to plant, I s'pose.

Anyway, here's the idea: you take some kind of paperish product--something that will degrade very quickly--and you stick seeds to it. Then you put that in your garden, cover it with soil to an appropriate depth, water, and be done with it. As you see above, I've chosen to use toilet paper (unbleached recycled stuff), which will obviously degrade very quickly indeed. You probably can use regular paper, but I'd worry about if it's been bleached (which in all likelihood it has). Newspaper would probably work a treat, too. I stuck the seeds down using a thick mixture of flour & water. I've heard tell that cornstarch works well, too, and I even saw recommendations for Elmer's glue. Now, I doubt there'd be any problems with using actual glue, but something about putting that stuff in my garden put me off. So I went with flour.

Anyway, I stole one of my kid's watercolor paintbrushes and dabbed the flour-water mixture at appropriate intervals for the seeds I was planting. In this case, 1" intervals, as I was seeding carrots. I then dropped 1-2 seeds per splotch, continued till the whole sheet was covered, and set it aside to dry. If you want tapes instead of sheets, just cut them apart once dry. Anyway, when completely dry (and I do me completely--just imagine what would happen if the sheets stuck to each other! Disaster!), I rolled them up and set them aside until ready to plant.

Okay, so why did I do this? Well, partially because I have a perverse desire to have the only perfectly spaced carrots in the city. But mostly because, well, if you've ever seeded carrots yourself, you'll probably understand the appeal of the tape method. No hunching over a garden bed, achingly spacing eensy-teensy seeds 1" apart from each other for row after row after row after row after.... No one really makes it that far, either. Most folks get, like, maybe two rows into this hellish process before they just say F*CK IT and start sprinkling seeds down the rows. This leads to the obvious problems of overseeding in some patches, underseeding in others, lots and lots of thinning, stunted carrots, wasted space, broken back, dogs & cats living together... anarchy. Nope, anarchy must be averted--order will be imposed. I sat at my kitchen table, listening to a movie playing in the other room, no hunched back, and worked for a few hours on and off finishing my sheets. Planting them took like two minutes. Tops.

I don't think this process is worthwhile if you have larger seeds--like beet or bean seeds--or if you're planting small squares, a la Square Foot Gardening. But if you're planting lots and lots of fiddling teeny seeds in 1" spacing over 16 square feet? Well, f*ck that. I'll make a tape, thanks.

EDIT: Oh yeah, do notice that 1" spacing really is too close for fully-grown carrots. That's why you wait for them to start growing well, and then you thin out all the baby carrots, which are a yummy, yummy delight! So, no major veggicide (read: thinning; although if you seed two seeds per splotch you will have to do a little bit of veggicide), you get baby carrots, and the baby carrots you pull help loosen up the soil to let the remaining carrots penetrate more easily, preventing stunted carrots. Man, there is just no downside here...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Multi-media SOTG Report

Yay! I'm finally at home, at the computer with the relevant pictures, and possessing at least a little bit of spare time. Or, to put it another way, there are lots of other things happening in my house right now, but they can be getting on without my help for the time being. Mostly anyway. So, on to the garden!

Here are the babies in their nursery. Fresh, new florescent lights go a long way towards having healthy, stocky little seedlings (rather than the spindly, pathetic-looking, falling-over hopeless seedlings I've grown in the past). The top pic are my spring broccolis; the second are all of my brassicas--broccoli, cabbage, kale and, um, celery. (Okay, celery isn't a brassica. Fine.)

Here's the beginning--my 4'x4' square garden boxes. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm trying this out for the first time this year, so I went el-cheapo on materials. I didn't want to sink $100 on a project I didn't end up liking very much, ya know? So these are all untreated 1"x8" pine boards which I banged together with some drywall nails I had laying around. Now that they are in fact being used, and have begun to warp slightly with the damp, I see that using a couple of screws would've been beneficial for a more secure joining, but I don't think it'll be a big deal this year.

Step two! The boxes are in, and the remaining beds have been made. The circular garden you see is my children's "pizza garden". They decided they wanted to plant carrots, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and some flowers. Now, the weird paper & dirt things. That's my pathway lining. I put down layers of newspaper, and covered it with mulch. What you see in the above picture are just handfulls of mulch to hold the paper down while I was laying everything out (it was verra verra windy that day).

And here we see the garden in it's mostly finished state. Of course, not nearly all my plants are in yet--we've got another two weeks till the frost free date here. But there's a good number. The white sheets are floating row cover, or frost blankets depending on whom you ask. I have them covering my brassicas to protect them from The Evil Cabbage Worm. Broc & cabbage don't require fertilization, and the cover lets in nearly all the sunlight and rain, so I can pretty much leave the plants covered until it's time to harvest (except for weeding & mulching, of course). Oh, that big mass of branches? My neighbor next door had a tree cut down, and she is struggling to gain the upper hand on the remnants. =)

Here we see the latest additions to our garden: the patch at the bottom of the photo is Brian's potato patch, which is a 4'x8' spot with 8 potato plants in. Behind that are, for as much as you can see in the photo, 5 mounds of mulch. Growing out of those mounds are various bushes & vines: the three in the middle are grapes, and they are flanked by the blueberry bush at the far end, and the "mystery bush" on the near side.

And here we have the nursery again, this time populated by summer veggies & herbs like tomatoes (middle, right), basil, chamomile, borage, echinacea, blessed thistle, horehound, chervil, cillantro, and ... er... who really knows what else? I know there's some lavender and chives in there somewhere. I expect I'll be able to figure out which plant is which once they're bigger, right? And smiling down beneficently over all is the AeroGarden, currently housing lettuce.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The State of the Garden Report

Okay, so I don't have pictures yet (they're on my home computer, and I'm currently at work), but they're coming soon. However, I thought before the Easter Break takes us into its grip that I would report on the current state of our garden.

I am pleased to report that our garden has enjoyed a steady growth rate in the first planting quarter, with the garden-share of our lawn increasing by approximately 5% over last year's end. This figure was carefully calculated by eyeballing the size of the garden, and then adding in the new additions, and then going "Yeah, that looks like maybe another 5% or so." But in more strict terms, we have reclaimed at least another 50 square feet from our lawn for the purposes of food and beauty.

Joining me in my gardening endeavors this year will be my husband Brian, who has finally let guilt drive him away from Civ IV and out into the fresh air and sunshine, which we have now conclusively established does not either set him on fire nor cause him to melt. Brian is not a natural gardener, but he is giving it a go this year by putting in a lovely potato bed. The bed itself is 8' x 4', and was dug out and planted by him yesterday. He'll be trying two different methods of potato propagation to see which one works better, since neither of us really know what we're doing with potatoes. Four of the potato plants are planted in standard 6" deep trenches, and will be hilled maybe halfway through the summer. Another four potato plants were also planted about 6" down, but after sprouting will be caged in chicken wire columns about 3' high and 1.5' in diameter, and then continuously filled throughout the growing season. This does mean that somewhere we're gonna hafta find a lot more dirt. Hmm....

Also, yesterday I put in two elderberry bushes, three grape vines, one blueberry bush, and one "mystery berry bush". I got the elderberry bushes from a friend's farm who was getting ready to pull them all anyway, and he said I could take whatever I wanted except the currents (curses!). I asked "What are those?" and he said "We don't know." "And those?" "Nope, don't know what those are, either." "These?" "I think these had something like a raspberry, except they didn't taste like raspberries." Okay, so I just chose one at random and dug it out. They're all edible, whatever they are. I'll try to post pics of the leaves for identification purposes later.

Otherwise, almost everything that can go into the garden now has gone into the garden:
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • beets
  • rutabegas
  • parsnips
  • spinach
  • onions
  • lettuces
  • chard
Other plants have been started, such as tomatoes, and lots & lots of herbs. Some of the herbs I bought, like evening primrose and echinacea, are direct seeded once the frost date has passed, but otherwise they're getting going in my house right now.

Also, if you look back at the old post that has my herb garden laid out, you will see a large tree on the right side labeled "Big Stupid Gumball Tree". Well, joy of joys!, that thing is coming down. Apparently tree service costs vary wildly from one to the next, but I found one who will take the whole tree down for $250 (including cutting it into pieces, but not hauling it away). That price is so low that I wouldn't trust it normally, except that this person just did extensive work for my neighbor and was perfectly good at what he did. So OKAY! Tree GONE! This will really open up my herb garden for planting, as well as help my main garden get far more late-afternoon sun. This is good.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My Current To-Do List

Okay, first, I swear that posts on both "bug out bags/buckets" and a State-of-the-Garden post are coming. No, really! But I've gotta get a certain bizarrely expanding list of things done around home soon, and I thought, gee, wouldn't y'all like to know what's on that list? Sure you do. Besides, maybe if I tell y'all, you'll hold me to it:
  1. Finish making seed tapes: I suspect there's another post in here on this one--I even took pictures. This is the only civilized way to plant carrots, IMO.
  2. Re-pot herb seedlings & nasturtiums.
  3. Start remaining herb seedlings, and cast around for more herbs to get just in case (my feverfew didn't make it through the winter. Hmph.)
  4. Make list of herbal thingumies I want to make, so that I don't keep forgetting what I'm on about. My first order of business is completing my herbal "home remedies" kit.
  5. Finish planting peas.
  6. Oh... start planting peas.
  7. Get one more rainbarrel, and some tin-snips so that I can cut into my drainpipe and attach it to the barrel.
  8. Get at least 8 more 5-gallon water jugs at Big Lots (if they still have them).
  9. Get Brian's seed potatoes.
  10. Get 2-3 grape canes.
  11. Get blueberry bush.
  12. Build a rocket stove--yeeeeaaaargh!
Today I finally got my garden squared away. All garden beds (in the main garden) that need to be built have been built. All compost has been distributed where it needs to go. All beds have been fertilized with my homebrew mix of stuff (that I've been sneezing out of my nose now for three hours). The only structural things left to do are to finish demarcating the "square feet" in each of my 4'x4' garden beds, as per the method in Square Foot Gardening, and to order in some bulk mulch so that I can line the paths between the beds (and finish mulching the asparagus bed). I'll also review the whole Square Foot thing once I've gotten more experience with it, but so far, so good.

Okay, I'm off to drink my lovely evening digestive tea (ginger, Angostura bitters, honey, plus some echinacea cause I think I'm getting sick, and some chamomile cause I like to sleep), and make some more carrot tapes! Wheeee!

UPDATE: Crap! I ran out of carrot seeds!