Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our edible landscape

Well, now that the whole "teaching thing" is done and over, I can get back to my life as a blogger--er, I mean, gardener and urban adaptionist (I just coined that term--it works, doesn't it?). I've noticed of late that my outdoor life is sliding steadily toward the "edible landscape" end of the spectrum. My basic criteria for planting something has always been that it must either (1) be edible; (2) be advantageous to those things which are edible; or (3) be in a place essentially impossible to plant anything edible in (e.g., the 3" deep built-in flower boxes on the north side of our house). But now this has taken something of a turn; I've begun to actively remove things that are already in place which do not meet these requirements, replacing them with things that do.

For example, let's look at the new blueberry bushes I just got (along with some landscape fabric, custom organic fertilizer and detailed planting instructions, all for $10 each bush--did I mention that I was completely taken for a ride on my first $30 blueberry bush purchase?!). These will be replacing the five boxwood shrubs currently sitting happily in front of our house. The boxwoods look nice, they are nearly no maintenance, and they fill the space and block the view of our concrete foundation. And I'm replacing them with a plant that is about as finicky as they come, with stringent pH requirements and watering & drainage needs, pruning requirements, and which will probably never block the view of the foundation. And I'm paying for it. And yet, this all seems perfectly logical, because at the end of the day, I will have blueberries. Well, at least, I will probably have blueberries, if I can keep up with the pH, water, drainage, and pruning requirements. Hmmm.

Blueberry bushes are nice looking, don't get me wrong. Or at least, they probably will be in a couple of years. Probably. The only reason I'm reasonably sure my neighbors won't hate me for destroying their property values are (1) at least half of them are currently racing me for getting chickens first; and (2) forces other than me have already done far more damage to property values than my wee little bushes could ever dream of doing.

I've also now planted three grape vines, and am struggling to learn The Art of the Grape Pruning. Why does every plant on the planet that needs to be pruned need to be pruned in an entirely different manner, with different tools, aiming at different goals? Is this some kind of subtle perverse joke on the part of the divine that we just haven't seen yet? Cut back only new growth; cut back only old growth; only allow two canes at a time; never cut back to fewer than five canes; cut mid-branch for shape; cut at the node for healing; prune in fall before dormancy; prune in spring before leafing out; prune in spring but not before leafing out. WTF, people? And don't even get me started on the apricot tree on our property. Whoever owned the house before us had the poor thing topped. It's now a hopeless mass of scraggly branches that cannot possibly support the amount of fruit it sets. Pruning of the most aggressive order might be able to bring it back into useful production, but I'm still over here struggling with my one-year-old grapes & blueberries, okay?

We are also approaching the Season of the Assessments. (And, judging by this post, we've also entered the Season of the Over-Used Capitalized Made-Up Proper Names.) Pretty soon things like berries and early greens will become available in mass quantities, which means canning, freezing and dehydrating, oh my! And that means figuring out how much to can, freeze and/or dehydrate. And that means figuring out how much I canned or froze last year (I hardly dehydrated anything), and if it was enough, not enough, or too much. Why buy a bushel of peaches when I still have half a bushel of peaches from last year's bushel purchase in the freezer? That's a clue that a bushel is too much, ya know.

I will also take this opportunity to look at our eating habits, and how they can be adjusted to eat more completely out of our stores, rather than out of the store. I might have some fairly impressive food storage going on here, but I still go to the store weekly. Why is that? What can I adjust to pare that down? So in my food storage assessment will be thinking about why I didn't use a full bushel of peaches. Could I have? Should I have? Did I make various desserts or jams out of things I bought from the store, when there were perfectly usable peaches right downstairs?

And, of course, I will be assessing the quality of my food storage. For example, the potatoes went beautifully. They're only now starting to give up the ghost. The apples, OTOH, were an unmitigated disaster. What happened? I need to figure that out. And where were my other root crops? Or winter squash? Gotta look into these things. Where were my gaps? What could I have done better? What methods of storage worked particularly well--or particularly poorly--with which veg or fruit? Yes, all this in more will be in store in upcoming posts.

I am becoming increasingly paranoid about the state of our economy. The behavior of the stock market seems to have taken leave of any reference to on-the-street economic conditions, or indeed with reality itself. As discussed in The Automatic Earth, there was an interview with a major stock analyst who said that he sees a recovery for our economy in late 2009-early 2010. Then, in the same paragraph, he said that he didn't have any particular ideas for what the engine of recovery would be. So what, exactly, is this belief in recovery based on? Pure faith? Tarot cards? What? I love me some tarot cards, but I try not to gauge the movement of world economies with them, ya know. And the useful economic data (i.e., not the stock market) is bleaker than hell. We're now well embedded in the deflationary cycle, which is the sort of thing that wakes up most economists in the middle of the night in cold sweats. So while I would love to have more time to prepare my family and my methods, I'm genuinely concerned that we're about out, and this is our last go. So let's hop to it, shall we?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New List Item--Blueberries!

I just got in contact with a local farmer (who I know tangentally, and with whom I had once traded some extra strawberry crowns for some thornless blackberry canes). He has lots of blueberry bushes left, and at a killer price! I bought one bush at a local nursery for $30 (eesh, I cannot believe I paid that much for a plant). Aaron will sell me one bush for $12, or two for $20. Woot! So now, all five bushes in front of my house are going to be yanked, and replaced with lovely, nice-looking, food-giving bushes. Furthermore, by getting five bushes, I'm getting one of each of his varieties--early, early-mid season, mid, mid-late, and late. So probably 10, maybe even 12, weeks of blueberries. YEAH! So I guess I'll be putting those bushes in, what, after the cookies but before the new hot water system?

I'm really getting into this whole edible-landscaping thing. Can you tell? In other news, I've erected several... er... trellises? Trelliseas? Trellisae? Can I get a plural on that? ;-) Okay, back to grading!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The List

Well, for those of you who know me, you know that I am currently adjuncting at one of our local Universities. I've got two classes worth of finals sitting on my couch right now, which is probably why I'm sitting here typing. I've noticed, over the past few days of grading, that I have an ever-growing list of "things that I'm gonna do once I'm done with my grading." It's worth mentioning that this list starts almost immediately after grades are due at noon on Tuesday. So far, it looks something like this:
  • Tues, 2:30: pick up Alex from school, make chocolate-oatmeal cookies (at the request of Alex & Ian--I'll just have to figure out what "chocolate oatmeal cookies" actually are)
  • Mulch in the entire side-garden for more medicinal herbs
  • Mulch the current herbs
  • Plant my new herbs from the local herb fair in pots (the ones that go in the ground are already there--I had to de-stress from grading, after all)
  • Sweep up the ghastly mess of little branches & rotting leaves that are all that remain of The Evil Gumball Tree. Put leaves in leaf mold pile (which I built a couple of days ago). Sticks will go... um... well, we'll figure that out later, now won't we?
  • Clean the ever-lovin' bejezus out of my house. It has been Far. Too. Long.
  • Finish up the rain barrels, which I've got mostly installed now.
  • Probably take some pictures of all of this for the blog.
  • Get some vegetable glycerin to make kid-friendly herbal tinctures. It's not that the kids would ingest so much alcohol if I just used vodka-based tinctures (probably no more than half a teaspoon for an entire formula dose). But something about sending my 7-year-old to school smelling of Smirnoff seems like a bad idea.
  • Bar-b-que. Yeah.
  • Look into making a really awesome solar water heater predicated on long loops of black hose slung up on my roof.
  • Finally write that "bug-out bag/bucket" post I've been swearing I'll write for so long now.
So that should get me through till Friday, right? *smirk*