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Back Again

Back Again

So — here we are again — back on the blog.

I miss blogging. I know no one reads blogs anymore, but whatever — when I started blogging in 2003, no one even knew what a blog was. I miss the form, the small writing, the engagement with the everyday, and having some ownership over my own content.

Social media didn’t fill the same niche for me as blogging. I think I was here blogging away before Facebook was even really a thing, and now that I’ve killed off my FB account, here I am again. I like Instagram, and will probably do a lot of cross posting to that platform, but I HATE writing on the phone. And the Twitter — as much as I’d love to be a like @blairbraverman, who can write a genius story in a tweet thread, I am not that person. I also did TinyLetter for a while, but I don’t know — does anyone on earth actually WANT more email? I know there are a bunch of TinyLetter subscriptions piling up unread in my inbox …

And so I thought, why not return to the blog? I have it. I pay for web hosting. It’s that perfect sweet spot between private scribbling in notebooks and public writing of the sort that eventually becomes real essays.

The new tagline, for now, is from Gary Snyder. I worked with Snyder at UC Davis, and his bioregional outlook is one that has infused the entire 17 year project that has been LivingSmall. Gary’s advice to us in grad school wasn’t about poetry. Find a place, he told us, where you can afford to buy and pay off a piece of property. Then you won’t have to go live and teach in places that aren’t home. Settle in. Get to know the neighbors. Get to know the plants and animals and seasons. Know your watersheds.

And so that’s what I’ve been doing all this time. Fixing up and settling into and paying off my house — not primarily as an investment, although that does provide some solace when I get the 3AM financial panics — but as a home. As my home.

I had an unstable and peripatetic childhood. Home was a fraught concept, and building a home with one another as practice for moving back out into the world was the main project my brother Patrick and I shared during the four years we lived together after I finished my Phd. When he was killed our first year here in Livingston, I didn’t know how I was going to survive. It’s the core of this book I’m writing — how settling into this house, how building the garden and raising dogs and keeping chickens and learning to make things all saved me. How the community here, from the friends who showed up that first night when word got out about Patrick’s wreck, and who stayed, to the kids I’ve been lucky enough to help raise as the universal auntie — how all that saved me. And how Himself, with whom I’ve shared a life for 10 years this month, has also been my stalwart (although I don’t write about him much as he doesn’t like to be On teh Intertubes).

There are questions I want to keep poking at. What does it mean to live a good life? How do we live a good life in a world that is growing increasingly hotter? In a world where we’re beset by consumerist messaging urging us to buy more, scaring us that if we don’t have a specific “lifestyle” then we’re falling short, we’re going to fall through the cracks, that we’re “losers” — what does it mean to deliberately consume less?

And so welcome back long-lost readers. I sort of doubt there’s anyone out there, but that’s okay … I’m kind of happy to noodle around in this semi-public backwater for a while. And if you’re one of my older readers who still get notifications, welcome back. I’m still here, and still trying to figure out the same issues I always have been.

Cold Frames, Tomatoes, Peppers

Cold Frames, Tomatoes, Peppers

It’s all about season extension up here in Montana, and these cold frames are one of my primary means of making the most of what I’ve got. I build them a little more than five years ago (Nina was pregnant with the twins, who are five now) and they work really well for a couple of reasons.

One is that they’re just outside the back door. This early in the season, I put flats out during the day, but bring them in at night. It’s just too cold, and I don’t want to risk losing the seedlings and having to start over. As it gets warmer, I’ll leave things out overnight, and I’ve been known to light a Virgin of Guadalupe candle out there to keep the temps above freezing. The other key to these cold frames is the double-wall plastic. I can’t remember where I bought it, just google greenhouse plastic, but because it breaks up the UV rays, it keeps the seedlings from burning up.

I need to get to work and start some other seedlings — flowers, broccoli, tomatillos, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe this week. Outside, I have tons of Chinese cabbages and veggies under one hoop house, and broccoli rabe, arugula, spinach, and komatsuna, my new favorite vegetable, under the other. Those are all doing stupendously and I’ve been joyfully eating my own greens for two weeks now. In the exposed garden I’ve planted peas, and onions — I need to get some turnips and beets and chard and carrots in, but the weather was wonky this weekend. Intermittently cold.

It’s funny, the first couple of years I was really driven by my veggie garden, and now I”m a lot more relaxed. I like it. I LOVE eating my own vegetables (I’m convinced part of the reason I was so sick this winter was that I wasn’t eating my own veggies). But I’m a lot less driven? uptight? insane? about the whole thing these days. Things will get planted. Things will get eaten. Another year, another revolution around the sun.

Hoop House!

Hoop House!

This is what I found when I opened the hoop house to water this morning — real greens! Greens I can eat! I am beyond thrilled with how well these have worked out this year. The binder clips have kept the plastic from blowing off, even in the worst winds Livingston has to offer (winds that cause them to close the interstate and run all the semi-trailers through town). The plastic has kept it warm in there through a couple of weeks of freezing nights. And I’m sure the fact that we’ve had three or four 70-degree days hasn’t hurt.

But after a couple of months of fighting off low-grade colds and then strep, I’m beyond thrilled to be eating my own greens again. I can’t think of anything that will restore your health faster than your own dark green veggies, some sunshine, backyard eggs, and nice long walks through town in the early evening with the dog.

I can’t wait to see how the hoop houses work for the peppers. They don’t like cool nights, which is what we almost always have. I wish they were prettier, but I’ll settle for effective.

Spring Greens

Spring Greens

I came back from my week in Seattle and found that the hoop houses have been a huge success. The photo above is my first batch of spring greens — arugula, broccoli rabe, komatsuna, and a few dandelions from the yard. I was just thrilled. There were enough thinnings that I’ve been eating my own greens, fresh from the yard, for the first time since last summer.

I have to say, I think part of the reason I came down with strep is that after growing my own veggies, the ones in the store, especially in the winter in Montana, look so sad and tired that I just can’t get excited about cooking or eating them. My greens, on the other hand, are vibrant and fabulous and bright green and were growing and alive just yesterday. This morning, I made my favorite breakfast, greens and eggs rolled up in a tortilla, and it just felt like everything is going to be okay again. I’ve got greens coming up. Spring is back.

It’s Spring and I Can’t Come Inside…

It’s Spring and I Can’t Come Inside…

Spring has sprung here in Montana. My computer is telling me it’s 57 degrees outside, and the sun is shining, and it’s making it very difficult to come indoors. Especially since I’m going to be returning to the Big Corporation part time, probably next week. So, I’m taking advantage of the weather, and the sunshine, and my last few days where I don’t have to be tethered to the computer indoors for specified hours.

Which means blogging might be a little slow this week.

On the other hand, I’ve been gardening up a storm. I added a second hoop house this weekend. This second hoop house looked much better than the first one. I think I mistakenly bought more expensive, bendier PVC than I needed the first time around. This second one I built using the cheapest 1/2 inch PVC that the hardware store had — 1.97 for a 10 foot section. It’s great. Very sturdy. So I went back and bought replacement PVC and rebuilt the first hoop house (I’m going to use the bendy PVC in the narrow beds along the back of the garden — my plan is to cut the 10 foot lengths in half, since those beds are only two feet wide).


There are even sprouts coming up in my hoop house. You have to look really hard to see them. God, I love arugula. It’ll grow anywhere. That photo was taken Saturday. By this morning the Komatsuna was also sprouted. The spinach and endives are a little behind, there were only one or two sprouts in those rows, and the mache, well, either there are a few mache seedlings, or those are weeds. I used fairly raw chicken straw manure compost, so I have a hunch it’s going to be a weedy year.

I’m waiting for my Asian vegetable seeds to arrive from Evergreen Seeds for the second hoop house. Right now it’s just heating up the soil in there. A couple of days of that aren’t going to hurt anything. I’m also about to go down in the basement and start the peppers and tomatoes.

Spring. It’s so beautiful. Like being let out of jail.

Hybrids vs. Open-Pollinated Seeds, Read the Labels

Hybrids vs. Open-Pollinated Seeds, Read the Labels

It’s that time of year, when we’re all buying seeds, and I just want to put a plug in for reading the labels. Seed saving is something I only came to a few years into keeping a garden, and I pretty much just save tomato seeds at this point, but with Monsanto being investigated for monopolizing seed stocks, it seems that seed saving is one place that backyard gardeners can really have an impact.

But the thing is, you can’t save seeds from hybrid varieties. So when you’re perusing the seed racks at your local garden stores, if it’s something relatively easy to save yourself, like tomato or squash or herbs, you’d do well to check the package. Seed Savers Exchange is a great source of heirloom varieties that individual gardeners have saved themselves, and they’ve got some good info on how to save your own seeds as well. Personally, I find that half the fun of having a backyard garden is growing things I can’t buy in the store. For the last few years it’s been interesting Italian greens and veggies from Seeds of Italy, and this year I’m experimenting with Asian greens I got from Evergreen Seeds. I mean, why grow the same old commercial hybrids that you can buy at the grocery store, when you can grow red bunching onions, or Rapa da Foglia senza Testa(one of my very favorite discoveries).?

Look, even Stephen Colbert is on to the awesome power of the non-hybrid seed stocks:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Survival Seed Bank
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations
Belgian Town Gives Chickens To Residents

Belgian Town Gives Chickens To Residents


According to the BBC, the town of Mouscron, in Belgium, has 50 pairs of chickens it plans to give to residents as a way to decrease the waste stream.

I have to say, my chickens have both significantly lowered my household and garden waste, and here in the arid west, they’ve exponentially sped up the composting process. Composting is a real problem here, because it’s so dry. Because there was an 8×10 concrete pad in the back part of the yard, that’s where I built the chicken coop. And because the compost heaps were already in that part of the yard (my very fancy setup built from recycled pallets) we decided it would probably be easier just to enclose the compost in with the chickens. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but it worked out beautifully. The chickens scratch around in the compost piles all day, digging holes, excavating for bugs, and aerating the compost in the process. And cleaning out the coop and yard is really easy — I rake out the shavings from inside the coop, then hurl the shavings and straw (that’s what I use to cover the concrete) into the compost heaps. Then the chickens pull it all down, and I toss it back up. I’m getting compost in months that used to take years. Plus, I think it gives the chickens something to do all day.

I’ve been bartering eggs for all sorts of things, and I’ve gotten big compliments on how delicious my eggs are. If I know the person well I tell them the secret is compost. Compost the chickens, compost the garden, it’s all good.

The School Garden flap …

The School Garden flap …

While in some ways I hate to give Caitlin Flanagan any more web traffic for her flameball of an article about school gardens, the response has been very heartening. Here’s a link roundup:

As someone who comes from a long line of experiential educators, as well as someone who watched a number of very very smart family members struggle with dyslexia (and thrive when given something concrete to do), I think anything that gets kids connecting what they’re learning in the classroom to applications in the real world is a great thing …

Food Poisoning!

Food Poisoning!

Ugh. So Saturday afternoon I thawed out some of last year’s antelope, marinated it, and made some skewers with a few onions out of the garden (for Chuck) and with onions and tomatoes and zucchini for me. Three in the morning and my sweetheart is not well. I’m a little rumbly in the tummy, but he is Not A Well Man. It was very very sad. And a long night.

Morning strikes and he is still Sick Like Dog. He sits in the living room watching football and ignoring a cup of black tea while I go out back and feverishly enclose the vegetable garden in bird netting. Sometime during the Long Night, I decided that it must have been the onions. The chickens have been in that bed a lot, and because I was afraid of overcooking the very lean antelope, the onions weren’t as cooked as I’d have liked. They were crunchy. All night I had visions of germy chicken feet, and contaminated onions and so, despite Chuck’s conviction that it was the antelope, I went out and banished the chickens from the garden.

In the spring, when the ground is soft, I’ll have to continue the copper-pipe trellis I have around the perimeter of the other beds, but for now I have a very loving-hands-at-home bamboo fence covered  in bird netting. And a “gate” made from a couple of old pieces of green epoxy-coated wire fence. It’s not pretty, but it works. Two days and no chickens in the garden. And I kind of like the enclosure — it’s sweet in there. Like the Secret Garden. I did find a sparrow caught in the bird netting this afternoon, but I got him out and tucked away the stray piece in which he’d caught himself.

And by this morning, the tide of unpleasantness seems to have subsided. But I feel terrible. Here I am, so-called food blogger, and I poisoned my beloved! My grandmother gave me food poisoning so many times as a kid that I think I’ve got pretty good antibodies, but really, I’ve never actually given anyone food poisoning before. I feel terrible. I don’t know if it was those germy chickens, but it can’t hurt to fence them out of the food crops. Sheesh. Tonight I think it’s going to be something plain, like pork chops and rice (and ripe tomato salad for me, the one who eats vegetables).