Category: green living

december gardening in the dome

gardening, green living, lifestyle December 14, 2014

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It has been a long time since I have posted about the greenhouse. It is mid- December with plenty of snow on the ground and things are growing beautifully inside. Our banana tree got hit by one of the cold nights, but I think it will make it and the lemon tree looks pretty good. My perennial herbs are happy as can be. We have some gargantuan Borage, my son likes to eat the sweet flowers. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, parsley, beats and chard are all as happy as can be. The grape vine has lost its leaves for the winter. And our strawberries are on their second round of production. I have onions scattered amongst the greens and herbs as an experiment. We are looking forward to some good winter harvests.

All the perennial seedlings that I started in the spring and summer have been up potted to 1 gallon pots, and will save us a ton of money on landscaping for our home come spring. There are also a bunch of orphans in there that my husband picked up from various landscaping jobs over the summer. We will have several wild roses to plant in the spring!

We have however, been battling various pests. I am sure that equilibrium will come in time, but we did build an oasis in the middle of a desert. It was bound to attract all sorts of hungry critters. We had a cricket infestation during the summer, but the cold has taken care of them. We have been releasing lady bugs into the greenhouse the last couple of days, and they are making short work of the aphids on our greens. My son loves watching them crawl around. As do I, actually. The only problem left is to figure out how to keep mice out. I plan on planting mint in great quantities in the spring and replacing the pecan shell floor with pea gravel. For the time being we are just setting mouse traps. We have hantavirus here in New Mexico, I do not mess around with mice.

All in all, the dome is living up to its promise of providing a growing space all year long and the whole family has enjoyed it. We haven’t quite gotten it to produce enough to feed us more than a bit here and there, but I am learning a ton and we are getting closer all the time. Next year we need a bigger fan and a misting system as the height of the summer was just too hot. We will also need to install a timed drip system off of the tank in order to be able to go camping without hiring a gardener to watch our house!

Minimalist bed: shikibuton and tatami mats

green living, lifestyle, minimalism, parenting November 22, 2014

Found this post from when I was pregnant:

We are expecting another baby. As with my first, I have already begun the process of trying to purify the world my baby will be born into. This time around, my sights have settled on our huge, expensive, and chemical laden tempurpedic mattresses. With my first, I scoured the internet for a truly non- toxic crib mattress and I found one with a hefty price tag. He sleeps on this, but with another coming, there will be some shifting and another bed will become necessary. Also, being pregnant and sleeping on my fire retardant mattress raises concern. So I decided to take the next logical step: sit my husband down and have him watch the documentary ‘Toxic Hot Seat’ in order to persuade him to get on board with selling the tempurpedics and buying something made of natural materials. 94 minutes later and he was purging the house of foam containing baby accoutrements and begrudgingly listening to my research on alternative bedding. Here is what I found:

There are any number of beautiful natural latex mattresses, but they are expensive! So, my next move was to futons. A little cheaper, but still very pricey. Additionally, we’d have to buy beds because futons need circulating air in order to be properly maintained. Finally, I found a truly minimalist option: the shikibuton mat placed on top of a tatami mat.

The shiki butons are nearly half the price of same quality organic futons. They are very thin, so easily fold up during the day when not in use and allowing air to circulate (eliminating the need for a bed frame). Because of the thinness, however, a tatami mat seems necessary. These are still a little pricey, but I love the idea of folding our beds up during the day and having the tatami as a floor space. (Think Murphy bed but way cheaper). This will also be great when two kids are sharing a room- it’ll keep it tidy and spacious for play.

Also, if we end up missing a little height to our beds, there are many beautiful platform beds out there that will easily hold the tatami/shikibuton combo. There are even beds made specifically for tatami mats. The mats are compact and can be used for travel! Multipurpose really gives you that extra bang for a minimalist buck. The aesthetic is also attractively clean and simple.

All in all, I think this the most financially feasible way to have truly chemical free bedding.

herbal companions

gardening, green living, Uncategorized April 27, 2014

Today I’m planning my vegetable beds with herbal companions in mind. Certain herbs can improve the taste or vigor of vegetables and repel harmful insects and attract beneficial ones. A few vegetables don’t like certain herbs, like dill and carrots; but valerian, thyme, and marjoram are generally beneficial throughout the garden. Mint and lavender repel mice, and hyssop improves the productivity of grapevines.

This is a wonderful reference for companion planting generally, including sections on herbs, vegetables, flowers, and trees:

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full time gardener, hobby lawyer

gardening, green living, lifestyle, Uncategorized April 3, 2014

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It’s been a long winter and I haven’t written a post in months.  I am 4 months pregnant (after suffering a miscarriage at 8 weeks) and had a rough go of it for a while with several illnesses.  However it is April now, and though it is snowing, spring is just around the corner.  We haven’t gotten the greenhouse up yet, the ground was too frozen and ski season too busy to get too much done.  I have started all sorts of seedlings on windowsills and in our sun room though.  The greenhouse construction will commence in the next couple of weeks.  I can’t wait.  The chicken coop is underway, I have managed to make some progress even with my toddler and pregnancy.  Also we have begun clearing ground for the small grassy lawn that will be seeded shortly.  I am currently trying to find a couple of dwarf nigerian goats to help me control some of the particularly difficult weeds.  It is a large, windy and dusty plot of land that we are going to transform and the going is slow.

In the meantime, my husband has quit his job and is striking out on his own as a landscaper.  It is frightening, especially with another child on the way, but also very exciting.  The dream of being self employed is so tantalizing. What’s more, we both get excited when talking about projects and he is happiest doing hard work outside.  He has an especially strange zeal for general maintenance, which is good.  There are many promising leads, and we get to break ground at my father’s house to get us started.  Starting this business is just one more crucial step we are taking to build the life that we want.  It is something we both love (we have long spent our weekends at plant nurseries and digging in our dusty dirt).  It won’t take too much work to keep us afloat financially, but it is a risk nonetheless.  I also happen to be an attorney and pretty good some of the things that will be needed from the business end of this endeavor.  Finally, it is something that we can do to make our living without sacrificing time with each other our boys (just found out about the one on his way). 

I have also finally found a perfect side job.  I work a few hours a week as an attorney, and it struck me today that the law is best practiced as a hobby!  I spend just enough time on it to feel useful and solve problems.  I’m able to get into the research and writing without it becoming drudgery.  My boss has all the responsibility and stress (that’s why he makes the big bucks).  I even dusted off my suit and made a court appearance.  It was nice.  I have shed some of the angst that came along with the monotony of being a full time housewife and found just enough out of home work to make me feel like a ‘real’ person.  Whatever that means.  All I can hope is that the small firm that employs me will be content with our unusual arrangement into perpetuity. 

Still, money is tight and every so often, I get an itch to take a job at the DA’s office or for J to go back to working for his old boss.  The steady pay check also has its draws.  I have to smack myself and remind myself what we are looking for in life, and that is time and not money.  We have already been given the time, but we squander it in service of acquisition of money.  We have family, but we sacrifice being with them for security.  We have things we enjoy doing, but forsake this enjoyment for work.  We are trying to make work enjoyable and let it involve our family.  Actually it can all be summed up by saying, we are trying to make it possible to spend our time doing what we want. 

Finally, if we can get J’s landscaping business going, the next project will be figuring out a way to be able have enough money through the winters to spend plenty of time on the mountain skiing.  This is no small feat, it is expensive and most of the seasonal jobs coming from the ski area are extremely time consuming.  J has been working 13 hour days this winter and I never made it onto the mountain even once.  

One scheme I have going is trying to grow hops on a couple of acres.  That way, we could harvest in fall and keep that money for the winter.  I have ordered a few rhizomes to test it out. There are a couple different people who are cultivating native strains to make them drinkable.  Microbreweries are growing fast in this part of the country, and still most of the hops come from the northwest.  Locally grown hops fit perfectly into this trend.  The plan is also to raise sheep and let them help keep the hops clean and in check, plus I have a friend with a weaving shop who buys local wool.  It’ll require a good deal of investment, but my sister is interested in doing so.  I just have to get the growing nuts and bolts figured out.  It’s an idea though.  Plenty of hard work to do and all enjoyable. 

So that is it.  We have been here a full year now and are gradually making headway on our plan.  Happy spring. 

“APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers…”
TS Elliot, The Wasteland

;

spring fever reading list

gardening, green living, lifestyle January 2, 2014

Here are the books I am paging through while I get organized for early spring plantings:

Gaia’s Garden
We have to conserve natural resources, and permaculture is a great inspiration in multi-purpose planting. This is a good introduction, is easy to read, and provides lots of information.

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Natural by Design
I haven’t received my copy yet, but I am a big fan of Judith Phillips and look forward to landscaping our dusty outdoors with this book as a guide.

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The Edible Front Yard
We live in a ‘grow food not lawns’ time! With the exception of planting our native grasses meadow, we plan on focusing on edible landscaping this season.

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Square Foot Gardening
This book got me started in earnest vegetable gardening. We got a hand-me-down from my husband’s former boss and will no doubt continue to use it for guidance. My family still makes our own ‘mel’s mix’.

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if you have a garden and a library: year round greenhouse gardening in the Rocky Mountains, a midwinter effort

gardening, green living, lifestyle January 2, 2014

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Cicero

I addressed the library in a previous post, and now we are taking care of the garden. Today we put in the order for our 22′ growing done greenhouse, and I am beyond excited. I have been a casual gardener for a while and my husband is a landscaper. We are going to attempt to support ourselves with a garden to the greatest extent that our skill and resources will allow. I am trying not to be overly ambitious and get my expectations up too high. I plan on writing about it, partly to keep myself organized, and partly because I hope to add whatever insights we may or may not come up with to the efforts of the greater gardening world. I am by no means a skilled gardener, so most of this will be based on intuition and educated guessing (we have a plethora of gardening books, and of course access to google.) So here we go. Year round Rocky Mountain greenhouse garden, step one.

We live in a very harsh environment, high desert at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It gets very cold, and the summers can be hot and very dry. However, many fruits and vegetables can flourish with proper attention and a little protection from the elements. Unfortunately the growing season is rather short up here so I began researching greenhouses to extend it. During my research, I came upon the growing dome which allows for year round gardening using a sun heated tank to provide warmth. After a lot of thought and discussion about the financial investment, we finally pulled the trigger. My husband is busy working on plans for the foundation and building beds, and I am getting right to work planning a January/February planting of a ‘catch crop’. A catch crop, I just learned, is a cold season crop that can be quickly harvested to make way for summer plantings.

Here are the crops I am considering:
snow peas,
lettuces,
bok choi,
broccoli rabe,
cilantro,
parsley,
arugula,
and spinach.

There are of course other options, but this is what my family eats. I am thinking I’ll start these indoors as we get the greenhouse built and ready to plant. That way I’ll have seedlings ready to go. I’ve had spring fever since November, so I am absolutely ready to get this party started.

Here is a picture of the beautiful spot where the greenhouse will sit, along with a couple of the garden’s future caretakers.

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We will be building beds around the perimeter of the greenhouse to provide further insulation as well as more planting space for the summers. Eventually, there will be a path from the house with shrubs and trees providing more edibles along the way.

In addition to the greenhouse, we are planning on re-planting the ‘field’ in which it sits. It used to be covered in sage, but was completely denuded after longer term tenancy by some sweet horses. It is now a full acre of some scraggly sage brush, mostly dirt/mud, and a great many tumbleweeds. We plan on using the dry land blend from Plants of the Southwest, mixed with their high plains mix. I am picturing a wild beautiful grassy meadow with wild flowers and encircled by piñon. This will be bee friendly of course, and with native species to flourish in the rough landscape.

These are my ambitions for the year/years to come, in place of resolutions. I believe that an improved diet, more exercise, and quality time with my family should be some bi-products of these efforts!

Happy new year to all!

crunchy

green living, lifestyle, parenting December 13, 2013

After a big batch of homemade sourdough pancakes and spending the weekend planning a greenhouse food garden while folding a load of cloth diapers and lamenting my 15 month old’s constant desire to nurse, this blog post was just what I needed.

Here’s what I would say about it all if I were funnier:

http://crappypictures.com/crappy-mohs-scale-crunchy-mamas/

We clearly fall somewhere in the ‘only eat local organic food blessed by vegan unicorns.’ Live and let live, toss your disposable diapers in the landfill and enjoy boxed Mac and cheese! (Both of which I also did this weekend). That is all the news that’s fit to print from me today. I also realize it is Friday, but my husband’s days off are Tuesday and Wednesday, everything is relative.

beauty is skin deep

green living December 4, 2013

In my quest to reduce both my dependance on the commercial world and my family’s exposure to the plethora of chemicals out there whose effects are still unknown, I have run into mostly dead end in the area of beauty products. Most just don’t seem to work as well without all those wonderful parabens and sulfates and what have you. There are books and blogs and articles a plenty who beg to differ, but they get my hopes up only to be crushed by empirical observation.

I have found two exceptions. Facial cleansers/moisterizers and deoderant. I can’t believe it either. These seemed like the least likely candidates to me for a simple cheap solution. I have been using anti wrinkle creams since I was in my early twenties- an ounce of prevention? Astringents, exfoliators, pore reducers, acne clearers etc. The amount of money that I have pent on hope in this area has to be gargantuan. Some time ago, I ran out of my preferred, expensive, Le Occitane facial cleanser as well as my favorite Aveda tourmaline lotion. I may be a stay at home mother in a small town, but I still want to maintain some sort of attention to my appearance. (The bar is low, trust). I had some sweet almond oil in my medicine cabinet, and out of desperation, decided to try out oil cleansing. Much to my surprise, it works. Well. My skin looks and feels better than it has in ages. I still use an exfoliator once a week, but guess what works well for that? Baking soda! Necessity is the mother of trying something new that you previously disregarded as hairy armpit hippy bull. I have since tried out other oils (castor and grapeseed) as recommended on various websites, but for my skin, sweet almond oil is the only one that seems to adequately replace the look and feel of my old favorites. All you do is wet your face with warm water, rub in the oil, let it sit for a while, then rinse it off. Bango, you are cleansed and moisterized. I use a little witch hazel now and then as a refreshing astringent, and as I said baking soda to exfoliate. Skin care regime complete.

Now for deoderant. What a disaster. I live in a town populated with not a few hippy types, my parents moved here as said types. It gives the town a careless, alternative vibe (and a vocabulary replete with words like ‘vibe’ and references to astrology as if discussing the weather). This is great and I love it, but I still don’t want to smell. Ever since I was pregnant with my son, I have been trying to find an aluminum free deoderant that works. He is over a year old and I was failing miserably until Thanksgiving, when I was desperate once again. We were going to my father’s house where the guests included some folks not from our hippy haven, and others who probably just wanted to smell the food cooking rather than me. In the midst of bundling up the toddler, and grabbing pumpkin pies, I also grabbed some baking soda and water and rubbed it under my arm. Bango. Smell gone. For hours. Amazing. I have an expensive deoderant waiting for me at the post office that I ordered after reading a review swearing that it was finally the answer. I’ll use it, but when I’m done I will be using one of the baking soda, coconut oil recipes that google coughs up in great numbers.

Now for shampoo and conditioner, the search continues.

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tightening the belt: living with less by cutting grocery costs

green living, lifestyle December 1, 2013

Part of this whole lifestyle overhaul involves a serious effort to make our lives more budget friendly. Only one income means earning less, a lot less. Further, if we are going to start our own business in the near-ish future, we are going to need to be able to get by on even less. Finally part of my whole plan involves figuring out a way to prevent numbers in accounts and pieces of paper from dictating how we spend our time. We are trying refute the mightiness of the all mighty dollar.

As discussed in my previous post, we are going to be building a greenhouse in order to grow our own food year round. It is December, so that is going to have to wait. We used to have chickens, our flock was decimated by coyotes when we moved. We plan on raising them again because once established, they are cheap and easy to maintain. Once again, it will have to wait until the spring. In the meantime, we are figuring out how to cut down on grocery costs without compromising the quality that we have become accustomed to and we feel necessary in raising a child. The food situation in the U.S. has become alarming. Short of growing your own food, it is very difficult and expensive to be sure that it is not actually dangerous to your health. I wish I had more trust in government regulations, but the bottom line seems to be driving most of large scale agriculture. Local and organic farmers are fighting an uphill battle, and we do our best to participate by spending our money at the local health food grocery store, but it is getting pricey.

1. No more dining out
Probably the biggest thing we are doing to cut down on food costs is to stop eating out. This has the dual effect of being cheaper and healthier. It can become a bit tiresome, so we are not above the occasional burrito or pizza. We are also allowing ourselves the occasional happy hour pint. By and large though, it has to stop.

2. Meat is an accessory, not the main event
This is hard. It is easy to rely on meat as the focal point of your meal. It is easy to rely on it as a filling protein source. It is also delicious. However, when you are living close to the poverty line in (in either direction), and refuse to eat anything but local hormone free grassfed beef, it is not a reality. Our plan is to only have meat a couple of dinners a week, and when we do, it should be used to enhance rather than as the center of the dish. This is also important because it forces us to get creative using vegetables to create variety and make satisfying meals. We already do pretty well, but relying primarily on vegetables is a g good way to get started on relying on the garden we are planning. Finally, it is better for our health. If you are thinking about cutting down on your meat consumption, a great way to inspire“sa yourself is checking out the documentary “Forks Over Knives.” When I say inspire, I may mean scare. On the other hand if you are going veggie for the sake of all god’s creatures, check out “Food Inc.” There are a plethora of food documentaries out there, and though obviously not unbiased, it is always important to keep a critical eye. See the trailer for “Forks Over Knives” below.

forks over knives trailer

3. Make what we can
We like good bread. Good bread costs $4.79 a loaf where we live. My husband eats two sandwiches a day for lunch. That adds up fast. So, we have started making our own bread. Where we used to spend almost $10 a week on bread alone, we are now just paying for the flower basically. We have a good french bread recipe so far, and use half whole wheat. We are working on the sourdough now. Luckily I inherited a bread machine, so it is nearly effortless. Making your own means just buying ingredients and cooking with whole foods. It is cheaper because you pay for the convenience of partially prepared foods. It is also better for you, less sodium, less preservatives, less ingredients whose names you can’t pronounce. A slow cooker helps. Planning helps. It is a little more effort in both preparation and planning, but cooking food is enjoyable if you allow it to be.

4. Grow/ produce what we can
This was mentioned above. We are only going so far as gardens and chickens. Someday perhaps more, though I don’t mind buying meat and dairy at all. Some conveniences are worth the cost.

We made a chicken coop last time of my husbands design, but are thinking of taking advantage of the efforts/knowledge of others this time. Here is a link to one set of plans I am thinking of using.

Garden Coop