Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Went to the woods to simplify....

I'm sitting here, looking out at my almost finished new deck, and thinking about how it will be used. When you are "Rioting for Austerity" it seems frivolous to go about adding space. But we live in 257 sq ft of space and the deck space will simplify our lives and certainly make them easier.

1) It will be used as hobby space, a place to paint, read, doze, put together puzzles, etc.

2) It will be used a social space, where we can sit and have a cup of tea and visit with guests on warm days.

3) It will be used as work space. The storage unit is built to kitchen counter height, so i can do food prep, fill the food drier, even cook on hot summer days

4) It will be used as a garden/potting area. Next spring we will enclose the top of the storage unit temporarily, add shelves, grow lights and a heater and voila! A greenhouse!

5) It will be room for the cat to climb, sun, watch birds and play in safety. In the summer the park is full of campers, many of whom bring their pony-sized cat-eating dogs. We had several close calls last summer, when large dogs got away from small people and children, or were not leashed at all. Poor Sal is now terrified of any and all dogs, even the two-pound Chihuahua down the road. He's literally ten times her size, and he thinks she's a wolf.

6) It will be used for storage. The storage unit Ian built is large enough to accommodate two tiers of large totes. Lots of stuff can come out of the truck, where it is very difficult to access, and be stored where we can actually get to it when we need it. This should also improve our gas mileage, as we are hauling a lot of stuff around in the back of that truck! We also can bring our storage cupboard inside, where it's easy to access. This is handy for storing items which are hard to find room for inside, like small appliances and cooking utensils.

7) It will improve the comfort of the trailer, by enabling us to keep the doors open in the summer, without worrying that the cat will escape, and in the winter we will cover it with clear plastic, which will serve as a windbreak and will capture warmth from any sunshine which might happen to appear.

All in all a good investment!

Garden Day Approacheth!

And I am a bit panicked, as I usually am when a planned event is just a few days away and I am not ready!

I printed off the notices to be handed out to all the tenants tonight and tomorrow as they pay their rent, and I put up a notice at the recycling centre. I also printed up instruction sheets for the projects we won't be doing work bees for on garden day, but will (hopefully) have examples of.

I painted the plant tiers the same bright blue I painted the deck floor. They look good, if a bit messy here, with stacks of empty pots and potting mix stacked between.

The tomato plants look good, if a bit thin and weedy. It's been cold and overcast all month, and down to a degree or two above freezing almost every night so far, so the tomatoes are sulking and haven't grown much that I can tell this week.

There are Earthboxes to make, the vertical plant stand to finish and plants to be transplanted, as well as a frame for the tomato ring to build. I haven't been able to find the right wire so have decided that a wooden cage with deer fence attached will have to do. Where I am going to put this contraption is yet unknown.

I painted the shell for the vertical plant stand yesterday, in a light blue, and it's now waiting for the addition of shelves. I also talked to Kent, the neighbour directly opposite us, that is the back end of his RV faces into our garden. He does no gardening at all, so I asked if I could build a 3 x 5 raised bed at the end of his site, next to the tiered planters. He said sure, build away, as long as the propane guy could still get to the tank. No problem. This is excellent as it will give me room for veggies I didn't have room for otherwise. And we have leftover plywood to frame up the raised bed to a full 12" deep. And Kent will share our garden bounty.

At the moment the deck is a jumble of lumber, wire, hardware, tools and ladders. You'd never know it looking at the state of my house right now, but having stuff strung all over makes me edgy and uncomfortable. I went out and picked up as much as I could but there is no way to clean it up yet. Not until we have completed the projects we have on the go. Might as well chill out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

All Day Kung-Foo Channel

Today was a rest day, as in I was too darn sore to do much in the garden. I did go grocery shopping and to the lumber yard to get the materials needed for the vertical plant stand Zak is building.

But the real highlight of the day was watching the constant stream of birds visiting the garden. No new species we haven't talked about before, but their antics at this time of the year are better than any Hollywood production.

Right now there's a flock of white-crowned sparrows picking up seed I tossed out a few minutes ago. The males are torn between gobbling down all the seed they can hold, showing off to the girl birds, and trying to beat the tar out of any other male white-crowned sparrow who comes within striking range.

To "impress the girls" a male white crowned sparrow fans his tail, sticks his behind in the air and lays his chest on the ground, head back. What this does to incite the passions of the girls is somewhat of a mystery, but presumably it eventually works, though not yet. The girls are still busy eating themselves silly.

It's the battle scenes which prove most amusing. There's the chase, the aerial combat, beak to beak combat and flying Ninja. Flying Ninja involves a lot of kicking. Apparently stealth counts since one male will sneak up behind another who is preoccupied with feeding, nonchalantly turn his back.... then quickly hop into the air and kick backwards with both feet, knocking his unsuspecting opponent tumbling across the garden. There's also the kick-boxing competition, with kicks and wing smacking. Can't fault them on enthusiasm. I have no idea how they find any time to eat. As Zak just said, "It's like an all day Kung Foo channel!"

The Brewer's blackbirds dance to impress the girls. If you were a blackbird you'd hold your wings out, at shoulder height, extend them halfway, stick your chest out, and shake shake shake your booty. There's some fancy footwork involved in this display of blackbird masculinity, I'm betting that's where male flamenco dancers got idea. For some reason the blackbirds also do this little dance when there are absolutely no other blackbirds around. Maybe they are practicing!

The finches are already paired up, so there's no more fireworks there, unless a male finch tries to get too close to another feller's wife-for-the-season. Then feathers and tempers fly.

The chickadees nip in for a seed one by one, if they even think about girls you can't tell. They don't court at the feeder. Same with the warblers. They come in flocks, and don't bring their courting to the feeder.

The one little quail cock who has popped around for a meal off and on over the winter is now bringing his lady love to our restaurant. Darn their hides, they ate the tomato plant I put in the bed under the willow tree. I hope they don't do that with all my tomato plants or I'll have to screen the entire bunch. I know quail love pea shoots as they ate all the peas from our friends Pat and Claude's garden last spring.

Tomorrow I hope to be back to building, painting, and organizing for Garden Day, which is fast approaching, but today was bird-day.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Building Round Two

Zak arrived back several days ago, and has been a busy bee. In addition to finishing meshing in the deck, he has been working on building a set of tiered plant stands for the back, sunny, end of the trailer.

These are a little under three feet in width, each has three shelves, each shelf is 16" deep. This means I don't have to bend as much to tend my plants, and they don't shade each other. We will add a trellis to the back row. Climbing/tall plants will go in the top row, medium height things in the middle row and lower growing things in the bottom row. I can also add a row of pots on the ground if I need to.

This really increases my growing area and I am tickled. I will be painting them the same blue as the deck's floor in a few days, so they look tidy. This also allowed us to use up a lot of the bits and pieces of lumber left over from the deck, and to clear up the disorganized mess that has grown up at the back of the trailer during construction. The half-height garden shed has been moved to the spot at the end of the deck (outside). We thought we might have to get rid of it due to a lack of anyplace to put it, but it works perfectly in that spot.

Other projects yet to do are a plant stand for the front, a bit different in design than the ones in back, and a vertical planter stand we have already christened The Hanging Gardens of Sumer-Land. (Yes, I know it's a bad pun.) And the fence. The redesign of the shade garden becomes more clear in my mind every day.

The transplants are doing well, considering the cool weather we've been having. It was warmer today (hooray!) and sunny most of the day, so I sat the flats out in the sun on the grass. The greens I planted into the pots are jumping up. They appear to be happy in more spacious surroundings and they don't mind the cool nights. You can see here how they have grown in the two days since they were transplanted.

No More Plastics Part III

My neighbour looked at my cloth shopping bags and said, "Why bother? The bags at [insert grocery store name here] are corn-based and bio-degradable."

But the trouble is, that like a lot of quick environmental fixes which simply enable us to continue to consume, corn-based plastics are not a quick fix.

NatureWorks LLC, a subsidiary of Cargill Dow, operates a factory in Nebraska which generates more than 300 million pounds of corn-based polymer plastic per year — using 40,000 bushels of Cargill corn every day in the process. This corn-derived polymer is sold to manufacturers of soft-drink cups, bag makers, salad and fruit containers, as well as a lot of other products. But is corn-based polymer really an environmentally friendly alternative?

Corn-based plastics are 100 percent biodegradable — in a controlled environment. They require at least a consistent temperature of 60 C (140 degree F) at 90% humidity for 40 to 60 days to decompose. Given those conditions, they degrade into carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. However, in your average city landfill or compost pile corn-based polymer does not degrade more quickly than other plastics.

And as for getting away from oil, the genetically engineered corn used to manufacture corn-based polymer is the most petroleum intensive crop grown, after cotton. GE corn threatens non GE food crops through pollen drift and cross pollination and it is engineered to kill the larvae of many pollinators, including the Monarch butterfly and other beneficial insects. It fails to kill the African Cotton Worm, but kills the green Lacewing that eats Cotton Worms.

And there seems to be something perverse, to me anyway, of growing huge amounts of corn for fuel and polymer in a time when families are struggling to buy food, the cost of which is artificially raised by diverting land used for food crops into producing plastics and fuel. Why not promote conservation and sustainability instead? But then I am becoming an old crank I suppose. Can't see why we have to have disposable everything. Soon we will be the disposables if we don't stop this madness.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

No More Plastic Bags II

We've decided to try and eliminate as many plastic bags from our life as is possible.

The first step toward doing this was to reduce the amount of waste we throw out. Why? Because what goes into the dumpster has to be in a plastic bag. So, we're recycling cans, bottles, medication bottles, yogurt and other food containers, glass, paper and cardboard. We compost food wastes. We are using pine stove pellets for cat litter, which, after the removal of the "nuggets" (which we do immediately in any case) can be composted.

The next logical step is reduce the amount of plastic we bring home. Toward this end I extended my "reduce plastic" campaign beyond just carrying cloth shopping bags. I traded my dinky "lady's purse" for a sturdy messenger-style bag. It holds tons of stuff, like the gift I bought for a friend which went into the bag without the plastic store bag.

At the grocers I used cotton mesh bags with drawstring tops to hold my produce. The clerk was a bit confused initially, but immediately said, "What a good idea!" when she realized what they were. I came out of the grocers with very little plastic compared to what I usually have. Some foods you can't get unwrapped but if you are careful you can minimize the amount of plastic you carry away.

I already buy as much of our food as possible at the local bulk store, but for the first time this week I took my own containers. (I didn't know it before but they give a 5% discount if you bring your own container. Bonus!) The rice and oatmeal I bought at the grocer's last time came packaged in heavy plastic "zipper-style" bags. I washed these good bags and took them to the bulk store to be refilled. I took containers for the dried vegetable flakes, onions and dried cranberries. The small plastic bucket I bought prunes in a while ago was refilled with the much nicer bulk food store prunes. Chocolates went in a zip-lock bag I'd brought, which was washed and will be reused. Pecans the same. I bought $35.00 worth of food (two large cloth bags full) and came out with only one new plastic bag, because their nutritional yeast comes pre-bagged.

Soon it will be fruit stand time, and my net bags and cloth bags will go along with me to the fruit stand. No reeling off a dozen plastic bags for my produce this season.

And it made a visible difference. I was surprised that, even with Zak here it was three days before I had one small bag of garbage of non-recyclables to take to the dumpster. We often have had a bag a day to take down. My goal is one small bag per week.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gardening Diary Continued....

This was a transplant day. By rights it should have happened a week ago, but it didn't. At least it did finally happen.

I finished transplanting all the tomatoes which have secondary leaves into 3" peat pots. Most of these will be Garden Day gifts for neighbours. I transplanted the Thai basil into 3" peat pots, and all the "greens", the bok choi, broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts, Chinese kale and perpetual spinach, and the onions, were transplanted into their final homes for the season.

As planned, the Brussels sprouts, a single row of onions and one "Sweet Million" tomato plant were transplanted into the bed under the willow tree. We'll see how they do. I put a cloche over the tomato plant for the night. It's only supposed to get down to 4 C (39 F) but it won't hurt to have a little protection. I've added soil, organic matter and organic fertilizer to that bed in the last few weeks, weeded it and watered it. Surprisingly it's full of bulbs, the narcissus is beginning to bloom. Last year a few bulbs came up but none of them bloomed.

I filled three 16" round pots with the rest of the green vegetables. They may be spaced a bit close but the soil is very rich, and the pots are 18" deep, so there should be room for good growth. They look healthy. They haven't grown as large as they probably should have, but it's been pretty cold, and we've had lots of heavily overcast days in the month since I planted the first of these seeds. I was amazed at the root systems on the tiny onions. The leaves were the diameter of angel hair pasta, from two to three inches long, but the roots were six inches long! They were the dickens to transplant, because of those roots. Next time I'll just wait and plant them directly in the garden.

I guess you could say we ate our first fruits of the garden too, as when I thinned the basil I ate the thinnings, and brought some inside for the guys. Thai basil has a slightly licorice-like flavour. Yummy!

Having this many plants out I was able to stand the greenhouse back up, making it easier to load and unload. I put everything out on the lawn for sun today, and will continue to do that until time to plant.

I put bird seed out and now the birds are having their late day snack. Delightful, and at least last year the presence of so many birds in the garden meant that I had no pest problem to speak of. And they provide great entertainment for the cat.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Just Open the Door!

If you could only see the Red Chief's face, as he sits blissfully on his deck, you'd know what happiness looks like. As soon as Zak had the last of the mesh up we let the cat out to roam and explore the new space. He wasn't sure what to think, but a few minutes later, when he'd been in and out and in and out a half dozen times I asked him, "Do you like your new room?" He looked up at me, wrapped his tail around my leg and smiled his most engaging smile. He does not want to come inside. He is one happy boy.

And I'm happy too. Now we can just open the door and let him in and out. We don't have to wrestle him, carry him or herd him toward his little room. He can stay out all day if he likes, as his cat box will go out tomorrow. No more litter on the floor. I'm still not sure what to do about his need to use the box in the night. I may have to compromise and bring in the small pan for 3:00 am wee-wee emergencies.

It was another cold day, though it was sunny. The wind was absolutely glacial. Our high, briefly, was 11 C (51 F) at about 5:00 pm. I sat the tomatoes out in the sun despite the cool temperatures, as they need more light than they re getting through the plastic walls of the greenhouse. We've been told there's a risk of frost tonight, so the greenhouse is wrapped up tight and there's a light burning inside to keep Jack Frost at bay.

In late afternoon I examined one of my 16" round planters, and after deciding there was no way I could make a large SIP of it, transplanted my bok choi seedlings into it. Hopefully I can get the broccoli raab and the Chinese kale transplanted tomorrow. They desperately need larger quarters and can stand the cool nights. I have four or five Brussels sprouts plants, and I think I will put them in the bed under the willow tree next door. They are a very architectural plant and quite attractive. I am also going to plant some tall okra there, as it has an attractive hibiscus-like blossom (okra is in the hibiscus family).

And joy of joys! My hosta poked up one green coil of leaf today! It is not dead and gone after all! Of course a neighbour came over this morning to ask for help with his slide and he tromped right down the middle of my garden. I asked him please not to walk on my plants and he sort of looked down and said, "Oh, sorry." Then he stomped right back again, stepping square in the middle of my deadnettles in the back. Next project is a fence!

The Cavalry Has Arrived!

Bless him Zak arrived last night to help finish the deck and help with my garden prep. He can work remotely, and is doing so, busy at his computer working with and for clients. But after he finishes with the work he will work for me. sigh of relief. I did not know what I was going to do. Garden Day approaches and I can't lift or bend, or stand very long, without intense pain, and Tony is still in bed with his virus.

Unfortunately I have a huge amount of work to do to get ready for Garden Day and for my gardening in general. This is where I really need Zak's help. And I still need to start squash and melon seeds, but it's been too cold, and the most uncooperative weather man is predicting frost this week. As I write it's almost noon and the temperature is 7 C (44 F). Not very enthusiastic weather for late April.

I transplanted tomatoes yesterday. At least the ones which are ready to transplant. I'm not quite sure what to make of two or three of the varieties I planted. The seed was newly bought. The patio and yellow tomatoes came up and have pretty much just sat there doing nothing while the rest of the tomatoes put out numerous leaves and grew three inches.

The green peppers have done the same. They finally came up, after a month, but have never done anything further. No second leaf, no growth. Weird. If they were in different soil, different pots, different light, heat, or anything different I could maybe blame it on that, but they are all planted in the same medium, in the same pots, and are in the same wee greenhouse.

Guess I'll end up buying yellow tomato starts, assuming I can find some, and green peppers. The basil is doing well. I have to transplant it as soon as I am able to do so. I am creeping around as if I were 100 years old, but I'm still able to keep up with the basics, cleaning, cooking, and tending my plants.

And I can't post without mentioning the birds which have returned in force. We are once again surrounded by the delightful Townsend and Yellow-rumped warblers, white-crowned sparrows, rosy and purple finches, juncos, chickadees, flickers, Brewer's blackbirds, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles, robins and others which do not come to mind immediately.

The Brewer's blackbirds are fun to have around. They have a metallic-sounding call, are very cheeky, and will approach within a few feet to check you out. They also will land in a branch above you to look you over and probably talk about your clothes, hairstyle, weight problems, or whatever it is birds talk about with each other. They have learned that people = food. Blackbird photo by Will Elder, NPS

Last summer a family with a very large dog tented across from us. They left a 50 lb bag of dog kibble open inside their "kitchen" tent. They'd go off in the morning and not be back until almost dark, and all day long there was a steady procession of blackbirds in and out of that tent, carrying away dog kibble. The tenters finally got smart and put the kibble in a container.

Okay, off to do some works!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It Was That Kind of Day

Yesterday while I was out covering or uncovering or watering or something to do with the plants in the greenhouse a bird flew over me and dropped a big bomb of bird crap on my freshly washed hair.

It was that kind of day.

Earlier I had gone out to cover, uncover, zip or unzip the greenhouse, water or encourage or whatever my plants. I turned, caught my toe on something and went down like a felled tree. No time to even put my hands up. I felt (and heard) a snap in the split second before my forehead hit the ground.

Okay, that grating sound when I breathe, and that little pop of bones moving against each other and the pain. I've broken ribs before, and know what they feel like. My headache almost matches the pain in my side, but not quite. I came inside and put a package of frozen vegetables on my head and fired off a litany of spicy and unladylike phrases.

In other ways it was a good day. I took extra supplies back to the builder's supply in Penticton. Since they wouldn't give me my money back I was forced to head straight for the gardening department and buy a cartload of herbs and flowers. Oh the torture! (Hopefully the pansies I bought will be as beautiful as the ones I had last year!)

I also stapled on the bottom tier of mesh on the long side of the deck and on the bottom half of the short wall next to the door. I put the awning the guys took off on Freecycle and had a taker within five minutes. He was thrilled to get it and I was thrilled to get rid of it. Someone else is picking up the sheet of plywood we didn't use, which is in the way and un-moveable by us. Bonus!

Let me give you some advice. Do not sneeze or get the hiccups when you have a freshly broken rib. It is very painful!

After my busy day of buying, building and bone-breaking I was really tired, so I went to bed shortly after 9:00 pm. Tony is convinced Sal knew I was hurt. He fussed over me, nuzzled me, licked my chin and face very gently and finally lay down next to me, wrapped his furry arms around my neck, laid his head on my cheek and purred me to sleep. It was that kind of day too.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Saga of the Deck

Go get a coffee, and maybe a snack.... this is a week's post in one!

Building Day One

Tuesday and day one of the deck build. Ian and Zak are able workmen who can be counted on to do an excellent job, and this project gives them a bit of brotherly bonding time, which they haven't had in a while. While the day began heavily overcast and even a bit showery, the clouds have thinned and we now have a sort of anemic (but much appreciated) sunshine pouring down through the willow branches.

The building plan is for a 24' x 6' foot space, of which 22' will be be enclosed (with mesh) and covered with a clear fibreglass roof. It will include a storage and work counter at the back, which I will be able to use as a seed-starting area next spring. This makes me very happy.

After clearing the area of garden shed, the cat's "room", and the various bits and pieces of gardening stuff I had stacked there, Ian climbed up on the roof and the two of them removed the trailer's retractable awning. At some point in its life it must have been left up in a windstorm because the support beams are torqued to the point that it takes four people to stow the awning after it has been extended. And after 15 years the fabric was beginning to rot along the roofline anyway. Later edit: When we got it off Ian checked it over and the arms weren't torqued, nothing was bent. Our problem getting it to roll back up must have been because we are not level, front to back or side to side. The fabric is in excellent shape except for the four inch strip where it has been exposed to the sun. It can be trimmed and reattached. So off to Freecycle, rather than to the dump! Yay!

Then the cutting and assembly began. They work pretty fast and in a couple of hours they had assembled two of the three sections of the floor support. A break for lunch and soon they will be back at it.

I moved the greenhouse out to the lawn this morning, laid it on its back and loaded it up. It was only 4 C (39 F) when I put the plants out, but with the light on it was soon 10 C ( 50 F). After an hour we were able to unplug the light and the temperature stayed about 20 C (68 f) most of the day.

The advantage of the greenhouse being where it is now is that it gets unobstructed sun all day long. The disadvantage is that it's a lot farther to carry all the flats and containers. It takes a half dozen trips to ferry all of them back and forth and as seedlings are transplanted into individual pots this is only going to get worse, not better. If it would only warm up I could just cover the whole thing at night, leaving the light on, and it would be warm enough. As is everything would freeze.

The seedlings I transplanted yesterday are perky as a 1950's car hop, so being moved from one pot to another didn't seem to affect them at all. I'd like to transplant more seedlings but it will have to wait for another day. Some of the tomatoes are growing like there's no tomorrow and some are sitting, apparently thinking about reducing diets, or becoming sticks, or something other than growing secondary leaves.

I fear my shade garden is going to suffer some unavoidable trampling during this construction process. The edge of the deck comes right up to the edge of the garden, in fact over by two inches at one spot. I may have to replant a few things, and move some things. I will have to put stepping stones in to ensure I have access to work in the plants and to water, without stomping on the plants. But as a tradeoff I will get a few feet of usable sunny space in front, which I have plans for.

Building Day Two

Mostly a shopping day, since we had planned to buy materials ahead of time but both got sick and were unable to get a darned thing, well, we did buy one roll of mesh covering, some comfort that is. I had a doctor's appt today in Penticton so we managed to kill two birds with one stone. Ian shopped for materials while I sat in the doctor's office. But despite distractions the fellas finished the floor, built the posts, (2 x 4s laminated and screwed together) and put up the posts and girder for the roof support at the trailer.

Building Day Three

The trees are throwing bud covers down and the birds "christened" the deck between yesterday and this morning, so we had to do a thorough sweeping, then Zak painted the first coat of the bright blue I chose for the floor, and when it was dry I painted half of the second coat and he finished it off. All right, I know that blue is an eye-popper but when you go for seven weeks without any sun you want something that looks like a blue sky. I may get funky and paint clouds on it. Would that be cool or what? Zak says it would confuse the birds, and they might poop up instead of down. That would be helpful.

Now we wait for Ian to return from shopping (again). They didn't have the fibreglass roof panels or screen door we needed in Summerland, so a trip to Penticton was called for. He was climbing today at Skaha anyway, so again it's two birds, one stone.

I am hoping they can get the roof supports built and up tonight, as it is supposed to rain tomorrow. This is taking longer than any of us expected, with all the running around to buy materials. I can't do much to help and it's killing me. I love building things, and it's hard to sit and watch someone else have all the fun! I look out the window at our big strong sons and am thankful we have them to help us.

I just brought in my flats of seedlings and note with dismay that some of the tomato seedlings have a purple cast to the stems and leaves. This is a sign of a cold and shivering tomato. Our high was supposed to be 20 C (68 F) today, but I don't think it ever got above 14 C (57 F) here by the lake. The wind was so cold it sucked the warmth right out of the sun. I'll have to pull the greenhouse closer tomorrow morning, so I can plug in the lights because tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and cool.

And since this is just turning into a massive post anyway I might as well report that I raked the shade garden again today, trying to clean away leaves I dared not touch when the plants were newly exposed to sun and air after being buried in leaves all winter.

I find that five of my six succulents are up and doing very well, the toad lily is emerging, the bearberry is as good as it was when it was planted last spring, the same size even! The deadnettle plants are good, the coral bells is ragged but apparently alive. So far no new leaves. The astilbes and mums haven't done much more than they'd done two weeks ago, but the mums have teeny flower buds on them.

No hosta yet, and the Japanese painted ferns seem to have escaped and gone back to Japan. Some of the thymes survived, but only about 1/4 of them. The tri-coloured sage plants seem to have all croaked, and the alyssum, which usually survives the winter here, has flown away to teeny flower heaven. The heathers are goners, the lavender has one or two living shoots per plant. All in all a very poor record, since many of these plants are supposed to survive a full two to three zones colder than our 5a.

Zak brought a lovely book on Japanese gardens with him, and since I very much like the look of a dry garden with raked gravel I am tempted to not pour more time and money shoehorning perennials between the tree roots, and bring in a load of gravel instead. I might move some of the plants so that they are grouped together in "islands" and surround them with fine gravel. I know a raked garden would be a nightmare to keep in that space. Tons of flowers and leaves cascade from the trees above and around us, almost year round, but fiddle, at least gravel won't die in a cold snap.

Building Day Four

Four am. Salvador says it is time to go for walkies. I tell Salvador to go to sleep before I throttle him.

Seven am. It is raining. Need I say more? (You know I will.) My beautiful blue floor is covered in muddy footprints and debris from the Mayday trees. The wind is biting and blowing hard. Did I mention that it is raining?

Eight am. The roof joists begin to go up. This is good. This is progress. Uh-oh. The wiggle strips which stabilize the fibreglass covering do not match the corrugations of the fibreglass roof sheets. We also still need a screen door. We need more netting, stair risers, screws, vinyl strips, lumber. Ian climbs into his truck and off he goes, Zak continues to hang roof joists. Uh-oh, Zak has run out of lumber for roof joists. Math is apparently not my strong point but I used to be able to count to 12.

My neigbour Ruth calls me over to show me their new compost bin, and says I can put our compostables in it as well. That's very nice of her.

Noon, and Ian is back with a screen door, appropriate-size and type of wiggle board for the roof panels, another roll of mesh, another box of deck screws. The local builder's supply had only one kind of wiggle board. How were we to know it wouldn't match our panels? I am reminded of the Tinpalace and cabinet hardware that we couldn't find appropriate sized bolts for. Aiiiiii....

This is not the ideal day to put a roof on. It's even too cold for me to stay outside and stupidvise, for which I'm sure Ian and Zak are grateful. Several neighbours have come by to have a look and chat with the boys. Everyone walks up the middle of the garden and stomps the bejabbers out of my plants. I don't know whether to go berserk and run screaming out the door with a butter knife or become resigned to having everything crushed into the ground. I don't think I could run right now, so I better do the resigned thing.

Hey! A ray of sunshine hits my keyboard. Oh, gone already. That was quick. Sigh... I hope this is not going to be one of those years without a summer. Ask me in July, when it's usually (40 C) 104 F. If it's still cold then I'm really gonna be aggravated.

I hear the wood chipper going and Zak just trimmed a bunch of tree limbs which were hanging down so far they would touch the deck roof, so I think I will go carry limbs to the chipper. Better than sitting here twitching like I have my tongue in a light socket. And there's another feeble stab of sunlight. It would be nice if the clouds would clear off and we could have a little warmth. .

Time to break for lunch, and to go buy more materials. I don't think planning ahead is one of my strengths anyway, but as is usual the bits and bobs we bought don't match, fit together or go as far as we thought they would. But the guys have been working hard in the cold wind and need a chance to stop and get warm, fed and to rest a few minutes. Oh, and to shop. sigh...

But I am pleased that I can see the trees through the roof panels. I really enjoy being able to watch the trees, and I figured I wouldn't be able to see them once the roof went up, but it's clear!

Afternoon and rain, off and on. A storm was predicted, with high winds and lightening, and we saw it sweep across the lake just as Ian was putting the last roof panel on. We had one or two big gusts of wind, but nothing major. Most of it went right over the top of us.

So the roof panels are on, and Zak framed and hung the door, installed the railings and hung one tier of the mesh we'll use to contain the cat. Oh, and he built a nice new set of stairs, larger and more stable than the fold-out trailer stairs. Lots of work accomplished, but still some work to be done. The rest of the mesh has to go up, the door needs a layer of mesh, and the storage box at the back needs to be built. And numerous things need painting. But these are tasks I can mostly do myself, except for the storage box, which Ian says he will do on Sunday morning.

It's going to be very nice when it's all finished. There's a spot for the beautiful cobalt blue planter I bought, and I think I'll plant flowering beans at the corner, where there is sun for a good portion of the day.

Building Day Five

It's a cold, grey morning, the temperature is just above freezing and it is windy. Zak left for home at 7:30 am, and now at 9:00 Ian is off for a day of climbing. He's going to need a holiday to recover from his holiday! At least Tony is up and out of bed, for the first time in a week. He's been pretty sick with this virus.

Later in the day, once I am physically conscious, I will go out and measure the space for the storage until, and hopefully mark off some lumber for Ian to cut once he returns from climbing. It's too cold to put the seedlings out yet, I didn't plan on February weather in mid-April. Hopefully it will warm up in a bit.

By 11:00 the two trouble lights had warmed the greenhouse to 12 C (53 F) so Tony and I put the plants out. It's 11 C (51 F) outside now (at almost 3:00 pm, and the temp in the greenhouse is 25 C (77 F). That's more agreeable to young plants. But I am just pooped. We did the unusual, turned on the TV/DVD during the day and watched an hour of old Red Dwarf episodes. We both needed something to distract us from our panic about how much there is left to do before we can actually use the deck, and how much this virus has taken us both down. I still have to go out, measure and mark lumber, but I'm working up to it slowly. Argghhhh....

By day's end we'd managed to pick up the assorted construction debris, loose hardware, screws and tools, clear up some of the mess in the back and sweep the deck free of sawdust and the stuff that's falling off the Mayday trees. My neighbour Ruth calls them the "Trees from Hell" as they shed something from early April to December, first catkins, then they bloom and the flowers shed in huge drifts, next the purple (inedible) berries drop, then they shed tons and tons of leaves. Ahhhh... trees, gotta love 'em. The real problem with these is that the water table is too high for them and they are not very healthy. They are dying one by one and are being replaced with corkscrew willows, which are very handsome and love the high water table.

Building Day Six

Ian was up early, fixed all of us a nice brekkie, and by 8:00 am was on the deck working. He cut the pieces we'd measured the day before, plus some we hadn't, and built a terrific storage unit/work bench at the back end of the deck. Then it was time to pick up tools and leftover lumber, tidy up, pack up and at noon he headed out for home. He has to work tomorrow. Poor him. We sort of collapsed in a heap. This is the time company usually shows up, when the floors are unswept, stuff is thrown/stacked all over, there's a sack of garbage sitting in the middle of the floor and we just want to crawl into bed and stay there for 24 hours with the covers pulled over our heads.

We still need to 1) paint 2) hang mesh 3) put a latch on the outside of the door and find some way to dispose of all the spare cuts of plywood and lumber, but after that's done it's a wrap! It still looks a bit of a mess but will be really nice once everything is painted and finished off. We are certainly looking forward to using it! And bonus, just as we were wondering what to do with Sal's old enclosure some neighbours down the row asked about it. They are getting a new cat and could use it. Hooray! They will come and haul it off, so we don't have to tear it apart and get rid of the pieces.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Recycling Juice and Pop Bottles as SIPs

This will be mostly pictures, if I can get it to work that way! Sometimes Blogger has other ideas, so this may end up being three or four posts! Or I may just add words to get the pictures to line up. You'll see what I mean.

Anyway, my tomatoes are getting to the point where they need larger homes. And I wanted to see if transplanting them into a sub-irrigation planter (SIP) would get better results than a standard peat pot, or newspaper pot. I made eight or ten large SIPs (from two litre pop and juice bottles) and a couple of small ones (500 ml pop bottles).

To begin with you remove the label and mark the bottle with a sharpie-type felt pen at about two-thirds of the way up. Draw all the way around. If you don't have a steady hand support the marker with a can. I used a No-Salt shaker for the larger bottles and a bean can for the smaller ones.

Using a knife, make a cut large enough to slip a pair of scissors into. I used a horribly dull knife with a lurid red-orange plastic handle which came with a small cutting board I bought at the dollar store, but you don't need to buy one like mine. Any crummy old knife will do. It may help with the pop bottles to pinch the plastic up into a crease. Try to avoid losing any fingers during this delicate part of the operation.

One you cut a slit in the side you can use scissors to cut the bottle apart. This colour must be cheap like borscht in China, look, my knife and scissor handles almost match!

While this matching of utensils isn't an essential part of the process, design is so terribly important to Martha (Stewart) and I, and probably to you, dear reader. I wouldn't have even considered exposing you to the shock of ill-matched utensils and tools. I think too much of you - really!

Here you see the two halves. Aren't they lovely? Such pretty plastic! So innocently indestructible, so unlikely to be recycled according to all the experts. And here we are keeping it out of the landfill, which is where plastic is landing now that the price of recyclables has tanked.

So here we are, green as grass, reducing, reusing, recycling. I have plans for these planters and expect them to last me until I am compost myself. I'll leave them to you in my will if you beg hard enough. Application line begins to the right. I could be bribed, preferably with laying hens. Any exotic type, though I'm inordinately fond of the plain old Rhode Island Red and wouldn't turn one or two down.

Using a hot soldering iron poke six to eight holes in the top section of the bottle. These will allow air to reach the roots. Also poke a hole in the bottom half about two-thirds of the way up to serve as a watering port and drain hole. Avoid poking holes in yourself, the cat (who will be nosing around) and the waterbed. And lock the children outside while you are doing this. If they complain tell them you are building their legacy. Did you notice that my soldering iron matches both my knife and scissors? I planned this over a number of years, I really did. You wouldn't believe how long it took me to find a pumpkin-coloured soldering iron. Pumpkin is the chic colour for soldering irons this season, as it was for scissor handles when I bought those scissors five years ago and the knife a couple of years back.

Invert the top half of the bottle into the bottom half. The juice bottles are cool for this, since they have ridges which sort of match up, lock together and keep the whole shebang from coming apart. Pop bottles not so much, but this has its advantages. The pop bottle "planter" section is also deeper, and so probably better for anything with deeper roots. And it's easier to water, as you can simply pick the top section out and add water to the bottom part. Much harder to do that with the juice bottles because they snug together.

Cut a piece of polyester quilt batting an inch wide and about 10 inches long. This will serve as the wick to draw water up into the soil. Fold the batting in thirds, so it's long and skinny and three thickness thick. I have a picture of the batting folded into thirds lengthwise, but there's no room for it. I presume my readers can both count to three and fold, and any who can't can try to figure out how to e-mail me for an instructive photograph. By the way, don't substitute cotton or any organic fibre for the polyester, as it will rot and support yucky bacterial growth. And besides this is strictly a plastics project. Don't confuse the issue.

Fold the wick in half and slide the doubled-over middle section into the neck of the bottle, leaving the ends projecting up into the bottle. Fill the bottom part of the bottle with water, making sure to soak the batting. This will be the only time you should ever water from the top. From here on out you add water through the port you burned with the (not-necessarily pumpkin-coloured) soldering iron, or you pick the top (planted) half up, pour water into the bottom half and replace the top into the bottom.

Now fill the top section with very damp potting mix and transplant your seedling into it. You're really only supposed to put one seedling in, but I have lots of seedlings and not many bottles, so I cheated and put two in. They look happy. I will make some newspaper pots for the seedlings I am planning to give away on garden day. I don't have enough bottles to make these for every seedling.

The brassicas need transplanting out badly but it has been cold, windy and rainy the last two days. Last night we had torrential rain and high winds. So I have been postponing planting these little guys out in the garden until this cold spell breaks. Hopefully soon. I have to make a planter for them from two of my garden pots and just haven't had the ambition to work in the weather, nor did I have all the supplies I needed until day before yesterday.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Backyard Revolution

Friday, April 3, 2009
Australia's Version of 60 Minutes featured this story recently.

Backyard Revolution

I found it interesting that they said, "If your great-grandmother wouldn't have recognized it as food, don't eat it." I suppose we could widen that to say the great-grandmothers of the world, since food choices were exceptionally (and unhealthily) limited in the days of my great-grandmothers.

We grow a much wider variety of food locally than even my grandmother would have recognized. My mother, born in 1904, said her mother wouldn't allow them to eat tomatoes, as they were widely believed to be poisonous in the early 1900's. Mother was 20 years old before she finally had a tomato after seeing other people eat them and come to no harm.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Growing Challenge

If you are unfamiliar with the "Green" blogs you may not have noticed that there are constant challenges; Give up TP; Go shampoo-free; Switch the baby to cloth diapers, and such.

Okay, we've given up the TP; my hair is an environmentally friendly 1/2 inch long, and I use organic lavender body wash to clean all of me, hair included; and I am so old that when my children were babies all diapers were cloth and had to be pinned on.

The first disposable diaper was being trialed in Chicago when our eldest (now 42) was a baby. Frankly I wasn't too impressed. In those days they were much like today's mattress protectors, except just not so absorbent. A thin, flat rectangle you had to pin. It tore, it leaked, it fell off. I bought one box and never bought another.

Anyway, as you may have noted, when you are older to tend to wander aimlessly over any conversational ground you stumble over, and writing is no different. In higher forms of literature it's called "stream of consciousness". It usually leads me to saying, "Now where was I?"

We were talking about challenges. Melinda over at One Green Generation has a "Growing Challenge" going. The basic rules are:

1) Grow one (or more) type of fruit or vegetable than you did last year, from seed. The goal is to push ourselves to grow a little more food than we have before.
2) Post about gardening once each week. Oh boy! A reason to post about gardening! I can't resist!
3) Keep up with the others who have taken the challenge by checking in weekly at One Green Generation.

I am taking the challenge and will attempt to grow, from seed, three things I have never grown before. Kale, okra and watermelons. I love kale, but Tony is less convinced. One reason is that the kale in the store has been left to get too mature. It's tough and strong-tasting. Let's see what he thinks of it sweet and small.

Okra? Well, certainly it wouldn't grow in Calgary, and even here it will have to go into my sunniest hottest spot. And watermelon? Bowling ball sized ones. Melons grow well here, but Canadians apparently think watermelon is supposed to taste like cucumber. They pull the melons before they are ripe. Ugh. $7.00 for a bowling ball sized cucumber. I will leave mine on the vine until they slip easily. I have high hopes.

I am rising to the challenge!

An Eggs-citing Day!

About noon there was a knock on the door. It was Gene from down the row with a gift, a dozen Araucana eggs. Now, if you are unfamiliar with the finer points of chickenry you may not know that the Araucana lays Easter Eggs! Eggs may be blue, green, red, pink, or any shade of brown.

The dozen Gene brought has one egg which is a perfect robin's egg blue, and the rest are pinky tan to mocha in colour. I put a few in one of my favorite blue glass bowls and took a picture. I'm not sure I will be able to bring myself to crack that lovely blue one.

I've become quite good friends with Gene's wife Nita. She is a bouncy, apple-cheeked German and a lot of fun. Unhappily they are moving at the end of the month. Happily they are moving into a house which is just down the street. In fact it is the first house down the street. So we will still be neighbours.

She and I were talking this morning, and she said, "Oh, this place has a chicken coop and a fenced run, so I am going to get some chickens!"

We've talked before about how much we both love chickens, and how much we both would like to have four or six hens. So she said, "There's lots of room, if you want to get some chickens they can live with mine! You can just come down and see them and feed them and pet them whenever you like!" But she added, "But I could never kill one, I just want them as pets and for eggs."

I agreed, once any hen of mine is too old to lay eggs I feel she's entitled to a peaceful retirement, pecking and scratching until the end of her days. No pet hen of mine will end up as soup!"

Am I a bit eggs-cited over this prospect? You bet!

Ian and I went to town and bought lumber to start the deck project. I bought paint for the deck floor (blue) and the supplies I need to begin making pots from pop bottles. Some of my seedlings need larger homes, so I need to get to work on making SIPs for them.

And speaking of seedlings, time to bring them inside, as the sun has gone for the day.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Any Old Alibi

As is usual I posted furiously, or at least frequently, for several days and then disappeared. Numerous reasons.

1) Ian is here! (Yay!) He's off climbing and hiking during the day but we have our usual wonderful, far-ranging conversations in the evenings. He brought a couple of lovely books which we've been reading, and he brought Tony a wee little I-pod which he is playing with as I write.

2) We're spending a fair amount of time plant-tending. Everything is growing like stink, which is great, but I need to get some pots made where I can start transplanting seedlings into bigger homes. To do that I need to go to town and buy a couple of things; a soldering iron and some polyester quilt batting to serve as the "wick" in my sub-irrigated pots. I was trying to think of something I could recycle, but they warn against using any type of organic fabric like cotton, as it molds and produces problems.

I just went out and took pictures of my babies. Aren't they pretty? And finally, ONE green pepper seedling has come up. ONE. If no more come up I'll go buy some new seed and try again. And, in a few more days I will start squash, melon and okra seeds.

This morning, for the first time, I looked out the window and saw green leaves on the willows. Things are backwards this year. I thought the willows leafed out after the Mayday trees bloomed last year, yet here they are, with distinct green leaves and there are no Mayday blossoms to be seen. The lawns had a watering yesterday and turned from brown to emerald green in the space of a couple of hours. Now I'm waiting for the water to be turned on at the hose connection in the back so I can water my garden. It needs water desperately, and the three or four bucketfuls I can carry a day just isn't enough.

3) Both Tony and I have nasty nasty colds. Feels like someone went over my throat with a wood rasp, I'm stuffed up, achy and alternately shivering and fanning myself. I have very rosy cheeks, which ought to mean I am in robust health, but it's just the fever.

Tony feels about the same as I do, but he got sick two days earlier so he's a little farther long the road to recovery than I am. It's better today than yesterday when we both felt truly dreadful, but it's aggravating, since we really wanted to feel well while Ian was here.

So there you have it, my list of excuses for not posting. As the man said, Any old alibi will do. A minute ago a pair of purple finches were sitting on the Lord Buddha's head in the garden, while he fed her a seed he'd plucked from Buddha's lap. Very cute.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

No More Plastic Bags!

Here I am, trying to entertain and inform you. So watch the movie already!

What Household Routine?

It is one of those days. When I was at the doctor's a couple of weeks back and complained of the wicked muscle spasms in my back and right hip she told me I could up the dose of my muscle relaxant from 1/2 pill to one pill.

Well, I haven't tried that but this morning at 3:00 am when I was almost in tears from pain and couldn't get comfortable enough in any position to sleep, I went in and took 3/4 of a pill. That did the trick. In about 45 minutes my knotted muscles loosened and I zonked right out.

Only problem, my muscles are still so relaxed that I can hardly stand. Oh man! Until that pill wears off I am the epitome of relaxation. And furthermore there is absolutely no way I can stress about it. So, let's review. What has been accomplished to this point (11:00 am) today? I ask because yesterday I read a lovely post by one of my favorite bloggers about establishing a household routine.

Apparently routine has a lot to do with deciding what to do in what time period; i.e. by 6:00 am I will have bread baked, the floors bathed, the children mopped and polished, the garden mowed, the lawn weeded, one quilt plucked, two chickens quilted, and so on until the chores are done and a wonderful sense of accomplishment wells up and spills over in domestic bliss.

Well, what exactly have I done so far? I got dressed, which was a challenge as I had a hard time keeping a grip on my clothes. The object of pants is to get them high enough to cover one's ample behind. This requires a certain amount of forceful grabbing and pulling. It's not supposed to be a work-out, but I can turn anything into exercise.

I put the wretched, squealing cat in his room. This is a lot more complicated than it might sound. You have to put his leash on (bend over and straighten up), open the door, hang onto the leash, turn sideways so you can grip both grab bars (inside and out) at the same time. Ease a foot onto the top step, second foot on top step, ease foot down to second step, second foot to second step. Let go of inside grab bar. Step down, second foot down, let go of outside grab bar. Hold onto edge of cat room roof, tug on cat's leash, as he's decided to go walkies. Convince him to go into his room, close the door. Crawl back up the stairs. I challenge anyone not to be exhausted after that much work!

I then had to turn on the lights in the greenhouse, get the seed flats out of the bathtub and get the plants outside and into the greenhouse. I hope those plants aren't cooking out there. So far I haven't been able to get in and out to check. Tony usually helps by handing the flats out the door, so I don't have to run up and down the stairs. Tony is in bed with the flu. He can't get up without throwing up. I poured him a cup of (day-old) tea. I made it last night and poured it into the carafe. Good thing, he'd have been drinking water otherwise. Poor guy. He reminded me how little trouble he is when he's sick. He hasn't gotten out of his pjs in two days, eaten anything, messed any dishes besides a tea cup.

My household "routine" consists of deciding what is possible and what isn't on any given day. On good days I whip around and get my household chores done in an hour. On days like today... not so much. Today my itinerary is; breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out ... repeat as necessary. That's my list and my routine. Feel free to join in if you are feeling ambitious!

Now, all this typing has worn me out. Time to go into a coma and wait for that pill to wear off. Won't be taking 3/4 of one of those again.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Now Up! More Tomatoes, Wind and Waves

Up during the night:

  • The rest of the yellow pear tomatoes
  • 18 cells of Patio tomatoes

Still no show from any of the green peppers, the rosemary or the chives. I thought the chives were coming up, turned out to be another group of onions.

Everything is outside in the sunshine. It is only 6 C (42 F) but the sun is strong and there's no wind, so the brassicas are sitting inside the "dealie", with the top thrown back. Even though there's no top on them the plastic sides concentrate the heat. In the greenhouse it's 25 C (77 F) without lights, and with the side unzipped.

I weeded the oval flower bed I spoke of in an earlier post, added some organic matter and some granulated organic fertilizer. The soil is quite sandy - that's the soil here - sand - and even though it rained a bit the last couple of days that bed was dry. I'd like to be able to water, but can't haul buckets that far.

I walked down to the Lake path to gather balsam buds and mullein seeds to make balsam and mullein seed salve with, and I did gather a few buds, but while six degrees is warm enough for a shirt here where it's protected, it is certainly not warm enough in a 20 km wind coming off 100 miles of water.

The whitecaps were slapping up on the beach and the wind chewed at my bare ears like a rusty saw. I gathered only about 1/4 of the buds I need before turning tail and coming home. I'll go back when it's a bit warmer, and I'll be smart enough to wear a jacket and hat.

Balsam and mullein seed salve is an old remedy for sprains, aching or inflamed muscles. You must gather your balsam buds in early spring, while the buds are still tightly closed. You can pop these off the limbs, but take only one or two from each limb.

You need about 1/2 cup of balsam buds and 1/4 cup of mullein seeds. The mullein seeds can be gathered in the fall or in the spring, as the seed spikes still contain many seeds even in spring. Simply bend the seed spike over, put it inside a plastic bag and shake or hit it to make the small black seeds rattle out.

The seeds and buds go into a cup of olive oil and are simmered (covered) in a double boiler for an hour. Allow to cool, strain and return the oil to the double boiler. Heat again and stir in an ounce and a half of grated beeswax, a little at a time, stirring until the wax melts into the oil. Once the wax is melted into the oil carefully pour the hot mixture into clean jars with sealer lids. The little six ounce size jelly jars are ideal. With a pretty label and a ribbon this salve makes a wonderful gift. Store it in a cool dark place to preserve its medicinal quality for about two years.

Mullein seeds simmered in olive oil are a wonderful earache remedy, 1/4 cup of seeds to 1/2 cup of olive oil, strained, cooled and stored in small glass jars.

Time to get up and get on with housekeeping. It's so lovely out it's tempting to throw all responsibility aside and just go out and play in the dirt, but we all know that if I do that tomorrow I'll need my shovel to clear a path. One thing about living in a small space is that it teaches you the discipline of a place for everything and everything in it's place. It doesn't always work out that way of course, but it's a good goal. :)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Time to Hit the Bottle!

Outside it is 6 C (43 F) and the sun is playing peek-a-boo with heavy clouds. Fifteen minutes of brilliant sun and 15 of clouds. This means I am running in and out constantly, as when the sun shines the temperature in the greenhouse, even with door completely unzipped, quickly rises to 35 C (95 F). Then the sun goes behind a cloud and the temperature heads for 12 C (56 F).

Poor baby plants! If it were warmer I'd just let them sit outside, but it is too cool for that. So I keep clomping up and down the stairs zip, unzip, turn lights on, turn lights off. Next year the Jerusalem of an enclosed, heated space with supplementary lights. This is for the birds!

But as my wee plantings start to develop secondary leaves it is time to start thinking about moving them from their tiny 1" cells to individual pots. And I've found just the thing I have been looking for!

I found a great site with instructions on making "self-watering" planters from plastic soda bottles. The first thing I learned from this site is not to call them "self-watering" containers. The correct nomenclature is "sub-irrigated", so we now will switch from referring to this kind of growing technique as SWC and call it SIP (sub-irrigated planter). At any rate the idea is that water is available in a reservoir and the plant pulls what it needs from the reservoir by capillary action.

The instructions on making SIPs from plastic soda pop bottles is here, complete with step by step photos. You simply pick up the top part, fill the reservoir and pop (no pun intended) the upper half of the planter back on top of the reservoir.

I am trying desperately to remember where I have squirreled away my little glue gun. It would be the perfect tool for boring the aeration holes. It certainly is no good for gluing anything. But that hot tip would melt a hole in a plastic soda bottle in a second!

But before I do that I have to clean and cut the bottles anyway, so I could get started without digging around for the glue gun. I do not feel like doing that one bit! I can see that plants like lettuces, kale, baby bok choi, and other greens, which do not need intense sun all day, could be grown in planters made of bottles which are set into a vertical rack, so that the SIPs sit at about a 15 degree angle. Voila! A way to make use of the six by six space at the front of the trailer which gets morning sun, filtered sun midday and is shaded from the late afternoon sun.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mushrooms Can Save the World!

I've always been fascinated by wild mushrooms, though I have never tried to eat any. Since it's hard to distinguish between edible and downright deadly I've always just enjoyed them where they grow. Last Christmas I asked for, and received, a book on identifying mushrooms, so at least I can tell what I'm looking at. This was in no way an attempt to figure out which are edible. I just like knowing the names of things.

But I also have learned that mushrooms (or more properly fungi) are probably the foundation species for life on earth as we know it. In fact fungi expert Paul Stamets now believes that we could solve six of the ecology's most pressing problems using fungi. He explains how here in a TED talk. Watch this 17 minute video and come away with an amazing respect for the "humble" mushroom. Or read about it here, in less scientific terms.

While the "fruiting body" (that bit we call the mushroom) lasts only for a short time, its underground structure (called the mycelium) can be huge and live for many centuries. A ten kilometer square mycelium in Eastern Oregon is probably the world's largest living organism. It's estimated to be over 2000 years old. Stamets talks about mushroom mycelium as a web which weaves the natural world together and believes it to be not only sentient, but intelligent.

This "mushroom" which grew in my garden last summer, must be in the "Ear Fungus" family, but it is somewhat different from either of the ear fungus mushrooms listed in my book. The shape is right but the flesh of this one is semi-transparent, gelatinous, and extremely delicate. [Edit: This fungi is in the cup fungus family, and is a Peziza vesiculosa.] Beautiful!

Over the year I took a number of pictures of shrooms growing in the park, and I thought you might like to see some of them. They ranged in colour from white to silver to orange, in texture from corky, shaggy to gelatinous. There were many I didn't get pictures of, mostly because they are such brief visitors. Several times I noted an interesting and lovely specimen, only to return with the camera the next morning to find a collapsed and blackened husk.

This year I have my book, so will try to identify these by their "official" names, but I will do so with a heightened appreciation for these amazing organisms.