Tag Archives: life

Digging In: Planting a small garden

Waging war against the menaces that have surrounded one of my jalapeno plants. The handy tool I'm using it call a hand hoe and has quickly become my favorite tool for the ground war against weeds.

After I cultivated the land and waited for what remained of the grass to die, the process of seeding began. The garden has been growing for nearly a month now so it’s probably a good time to describe the ways I started planting my future food.

There are two ways of trying to get food from a tiny seed that I use, direct sewing and transplanting.  It’s true that you can get food without ever having to get dirty via hydroponics but it’s not very cost effective and takes a lot of skill and know-how that I just don’t have.

A radish's eye view of the garden. I have never had luck transplanting any root vegetables. These are direct sown.

Direct sewing is by no means a technical term, it means putting the seed in the ground.  How deep you should plant the future food  depends on what your putting under. Depths usually range between 1/8 of an inch to an inch-and-a-half.

Transplanting takes a little more work but reaps greater benefits in the end. Instead of throwing your seeds into the ground, watering and hoping for the best, when you transplant you grow a small plant in controlled conditions before releasing them into the wild and murderous world that young plants struggle to survive in.

A plant that hasn’t yet been put into the garden is called a start-up.  To create a start-up you can either use the blister packs that they sell at places like home depot or dixie cups with holes cut into the bottom, to allow for drainage.  I’ve gone with both store bought and the cup method in my garden at home. After you have the container you need to fill it with potting soil, regular soil compacts and won’t let water drain properly.  After putting a few seeds in each container all the seeds need is regular watering and some time. Soon you’ll start having your own transplants ready without spending the $3 dollars they would cost at Lowe’s.

In order to keep the cost down, try buying seeds late in the season.  A lot of seed packets get discounted once summer starts and if you wait a little longer you can buy cheap start-ups too.  We bought a flat of jalapenos and bell peppers for a dollar because the owner of the local feed store was tired of taking care of them.

Another way to avoid seed costs is to split the price of seeds with someone else.  I almost never use all of the seeds in a packet, my operation is too small to plant everything.  This year a friend, Aaron and me started trading seeds with each other.  I ended up with a lot of new plants without spending any extra money.  Sometimes when someone has an abundance and I have nothing, I’ve just asked for seeds they won’t use and I’ve gotten them.  Why waste them when someone else could use them?  My personal feeling is that if you take, though, you should also give, as a result I like to share the harvest with whoever helped contribute.

For a garden map I planted stakes into the ground and then made a small map showing what is planted at which stake. Simple but effective.

Either way you choose to plant, a few things are good to remember, I learned them both by forgetting.  When I planted my first garden I forgot to leave space to walk between the rows. As a result I ended up killing more than a couple of plants by stomping around like a drunk ballerina, ironically I was trying to avoid stepping on anything.  My kale and tomato plants would testify to this if they were still here.

Another thing I like to do is keep records of what I have planted and where.  Record keeping will help avoid plucking up your good plants when you’re trying to weed out the bad.  I’ve found that keeping track of when I planted and when I harvested is also extremely helpful.  The expected harvest dates on the back of seed packages are only estimates and depending on your soil and location only experience seems to be able to tell how soon something is going to be be popping up.

Coming up: Weeding and the best tools for waging the ground war.

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Weekly step update #1

This is the first check-in about my progress on the trail to living a sustainable life.   These are the changes that I have pledged to make so far and this is how well I’ve been keeping with them.

My "green canteen" isn't the only stainless steel container in the house. My aunt and uncle purchased these because before all they were using was plastic bottles and eventually they decided to get away from leaching plastics.

No more plastic bottles:

I have been doing good on this front.  Soon after taking on the challenge I realized that I didn’t buy that many water bottles anyway, my family is a different story.  Ultimately I decided to swear off all plastic bottles in general.  Recently it’s come to my notice that instead of going with plastic when I stop into a 7-11 what my hands end up latching onto is usually a can or glass bottles.  I’m going to have to do a little research to find out if this is actually progress towards reducing my impact on the earth, or if I’d have to give up glass and aluminum to make a real difference.

Watch labels and avoid foods with the chemicals calcium chloride and calcium disodium EDTA.

When I came up with this step I was having severe stomach problems and starting to move towards an sustainably farmed food diet.  Both of these chemicals are known to be associated with stomach problems in high doses and they are both preservatives, like arsenic used to be.

I have started to read labels due to a gluten allergy I recently found out I have, but I have slipped more then a couple of times on eating calcium disodium EDTA and calcium chloride which sneaks into more foods then you’d suspect.  Tonight I ate Calcium disodium EDTA in Italian salad dressing.  I didn’t read the label until after eating.  The horseradish sauce from Arby’s also contains the chemical.

No Coffee from large chain stores:

Calypso Coffee

So far I have been able to accomplish this goal completely.  In the town I’m currently there are no coffee shops, just diners.  In downtown Knoxville I have discovered a few coffee shops that are locally owned and on the farm everything we drink is made from grounds bought at Ingles.  I’m stilling sipping down the coffee purchased from Calypso Coffee in Coeur d’Alene Idaho.  It still taste like sweet nectar in comparison to anything I’ve been able to drink since.  To ensure that coffee stays fresh you can put it in the freezer until grinding and when you brew it up, it will be almost as good as it was when you left the shop.

Planting a garden:

A radish eye's view of the garden.

I’m still in the process of starting my garden but proactive steps are being taken.  The garden I planted earlier this year is being managed by my mom back in Oregon until I get back.  Out here the lettuce and arugula aren’t making but radishes and spinach have survived the scorching sun and are living well.  Today we purchased a flat of peppers from the feed store in town for $1.  These are all healthy plants.  When we went in to buy feed, the owner said we could get em for half off.  Shortly after that he changed his mind, and said we could take the whole bunch for a buck, he wanted to get rid of them. This is another reason why I like to shop at locally owned businesses.  If someone made this type of deal for us at Lowe’s or Home Depot they would be fired, but locally owned shops give you a personal experience with the owners and often this deal works out in everyone’s favors.

New step towards sustainability for the week: Learn to can food.

I’m actually really excited about this step.  Canning my own food has been something I’ve wanted to do for some time now and I’m finally at a place where it’s possible.  After shopping around a bit I was able to find out where to get the cheapest canning supplies in town.  In my quest for finding the cheapest canning supplies I searched the nearby Farmers CO-OP, K-Mart, a local hardware store and Ingles.  Between all the shops prices ranged from $8.49 to 9.99 for pints and $8.99-10.99.  The ultimate winner in the battle of the prices was Ingles with Pints at $8.49 and quarts at $8.99.

My aunt started canning last year and this year I have already made a few attempts but none have been what I would call completely successful.  What I’ve learned is that canning is a safe business when precautions are taken.  If corners are cut too short though consequences can be deadly.

Our recent forray into the world of canning involved packing 14 quarts of pickles. Unfortunately all the lids didn't seal, so we're going to be eating a lot of pickles this week.

Canning becomes a sustainable concept because durring in many areas the options of local food drops off.  If buying food locally and seasonally, canning can extend the time your eating home grown green beans from a couple months to year-round.  Not only is canning a good choice to keep healthy, local food around but after you get past the start-up costs canning is as expensive as buy jar lids.

Storing food isn’t only for the individual looking to spend hours in the kitchen, however.

One simple way to keep cucumbers fresh for a long time is to wait until a jar of pickles runs out but keep this juice and container.  If you add a new batch of cucumbers to the brine and leave the mix in the fridge after about a week you’ll find another batch of crisp fresh pickles just waiting to be consumed.