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  • Archive for March, 2012

    Slowly we’re starting to think about purchasing our first house with some land to go with it. Not a lot of land, but bigger than your typical suburban lot. It’s funny, we’ll be married 10 years this June and for those 10 years we’ve rented our abodes, bummed with our parents for awhile, called a flame orange tent home, as well as a couple of motels/hotels. So, it is a little strange to think that we would be actually putting money towards something that in 15-30 years we could call our own (because really, it is still the bank’s until we pay it off).

    With that I’ve starting seriously thinking about what I want in my yard, how I want my house to look—well, not quite, I have ideas, but honestly I’m thinking on the outside realm more than anything. I’m thinking about the food I want to grow, the flowers I want filling the rest of the yard, the types of trees I want if the yard isn’t already full of other trees, and also the animals I want.

    Chris wants to keep bees and I want to keep chickens. Apparently Chris wants to grow his own wheat, too. I asked him about sugar cane but he said we could continue destroying the Everglades for that. All of these thoughts about what I could grow in the semi-near future had me doing some internet reading on homesteading, gardening and small-scale farming.

    What I was surprised to learn was that there was a backlash against the whole urban farmstead/do-it-yourself trend. Frankly, I was dismayed about the backlash. Now, I don’t expect everyone to want to grow their own food, cook organically, go to the farmers market, or go out back to get the eggs for the cake they are baking that night, but what I do expect people to understand is that we aren’t that far away generationally from when all of these things were mainstream in society. Perhaps 60+ years of so-called conventional farming and lifestyles have deluded our sense of heritage, but more than likely (I’m generalizing here, I realize people come from all walks of life and heritages) if you look back to your grandparents, maybe further to your great-grandparents, you are likely to find someone who grew most of their food or cultivated a large garden, someone who sewed clothes for the family or made quilts to keep them warm at night.

    The backlash wasn’t strictly related to food, it also seeped into the creative realm in regards to people picking up knitting and crocheting.

    A term I was only recently introduced to by Keely is the word femivore. She told me about it so I did some searching and it stemmed from this article with many negative rebuttals on the internet about the word. While the word does have some weirdness to it, I don’t get the hatred of the back-to-your-roots idea. Some of the rebuttals were in regards to a glorification of the past, farming and simplicity, others were about th efeeling of women needing to have it all, a career and doing it all themselves at home (which is so ironically funny because lots of men are doing both, too (and I loved this cached rebuttal, original link is not working for some reason)). Of course all of this was completely different 100 years ago when what grew or didn’t grow meant starving or going without for much of the year. It meant you couldn’t pay your bills or you had to barter to get things you needed. Sewing your own clothes or piecing together a quilt might not have been necessarily to give as a gift for a baby or wedding but instead it was because you only had five dresses and you couldn’t afford another so you had better mend this one until it was in rags. And then you made a quilt out of the rags.

    I get that. Our times now are not our ancestor’s times then. On the other hand, outside of the ‘trendy’ movement to do all of this, there’s everyone else who has been doing it anyway, despite mainstream living; the people with land in the country who keep a donkey, horse or cow, who might keep chickens in the yard all the while living a seemingly regular life. It’s not something new. Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the U.S. and whether you are growing food or a rose garden, you are still carrying on in some form, part of your heritage.

    I think the thing that bothers me most is when simplicity and doing things the old way is turned into somehow that you are being elitist. Small back-to-nature magazines have been around for a long time, heck Mother Earth News has been rocking it since 1970. None of this stuff is new. It’s only undergoing a revitalization and becoming more understood and less shunned—or somewhat less shunned. I remember in 2000 when I was in college, I joined the Sierra Sea Club. Their primary objective, other than general environmental issues, was to promote organic foods. This was the first time I’d heard the term and I remember it being rather strange and weird. Most people just equated it with PETA and crazy hippies. Here we are 12 years later and the term is widely known, though sometimes slightly green-washed. Being organic/living organically, in the sense of returning back to your roots and doing things a more natural way will easily get you labeled ‘crunchy’, ‘granola’, ‘hipster’, or ‘hippie’. If my great-grandmother who had chickens in her backyard in Azle, Texas would be called a hipster, then let me be one too! Organic is doing without all the extra crap—whether that is living an organic life with less stuff in your personal life or taking it the foodie way and purchasing your food without GMOs, pesticides and fertilizers.

    There will always be the naysayers and people who don’t agree. And they are right, growing things for yourself, learning how to build things or taking up an old craft, isn’t for everyone. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be denegrated.

    Me, I prefer to keep the crochet, remembering the jars of food stored on the tight shelves in my Nanny’s small hallway off her kitchen, thinking of the moments of sitting outside with my family as a kid—talking and playing around in the yard, going on campouts and learning about the natural world, cooking up old recipes from both of my grandmothers (reading their scrawl almost makes me think they are there), and trying to gather up all the bits of information I can on what is left in my natural heritage. I’m so glad I learned to make my Nanny’s chow-chow recipe because now when I taste it I am taken back to her kitchen in east Fort Worth, the blue morning light in the kitchen, the table a little sticky from her millions of things stacked on it—the margarine bowls and placemats, the smell of her freezer as my brother and I opened it to get the Blue Bell (or grocery store special) ice cream out. When I, someday, gather eggs from my coops I want to think about the chickens in my Granny’s yard, the scraps from lunch or dinner carried out in a round, tin plate. As I mow the lawn around my future house I want to think about my dad mowing his lawn, how the sound of the mower starting up signaled us to get outside and play, the fresh grass beckoning to be walked on.

    That’s what it is all about. Because it is all we have. If we can’t remember some of the basics, learn the things our predecessors knew, we’re just losing a culture. But maybe there’s hope?

    Howdy! Spring is in full swing and so this week, other than one post I have scheduled for Wednesday, I am taking time off. I need to get some work done on my book, finish a drawing and this coming weekend I’m spending time with my college friends. So, as much I have to write up and share here, I need to focus on some other things. Today I am over at Sprout Dispatch and you can subscribe and follow the garden antics of the three of us over there, but I’ll be back here next week.

    Time to get some work done!

    And because I’m obsessed with them right now, listen to some The Head and the Heart. If you like indie rock, folk, or singer-songwriter music, they are one to watch.

    iris2

    iris3

    iris1

    As I walked to the corner where I start my runs the other day I was admiring nature as I walked. A ditch is to the right as I pass by, and there wasn’t much blooming. At first I thought the dark color was a browning leaf, stuck on top of other vegetation. Nearly continuing on without stopping I changed my mind and backtracked. Peering into the ditch I saw it was an iris. I waited to go back to get a photo because it was beginning to sprinkle and I didn’t want to get my camera wet. The next day it poured and poured, and that evening the flowers looked worn. However, new buds were getting ready to open and so yesterday I padded out to the ditch in flip-flops, silly because I had to cross a dewberry laced slope first, to wade a bit in the water and get a few photos.

    My first thought was that it was a Louisiana Iris and after looking around I think the species is likely Iris fulva. Now, whether it was planted there, naturalized from a nearby garden (bird dropped a seed?) or if it was naturally there, I don’t know.

    But it sure is pretty!

    taproot

    A couple of weeks ago I was reading a blog when they mentioned Taproot Magazine, a new publication partly founded by Soule Mama. I used to read her blog often but haven’t much in the last few years so I went to the magazine’s website and to her website to read more about it. Instantly I was enamored and I had to have it. So I subscribed as a founding subscriber for a discounted rate and between doing that and reading more blogs with photos of the magazine, I’ve been wondering where mine was.

    Well, yesterday I opened the mailbox at lunch to see it sitting there. I was so happy but disappointed because I was returning to work and couldn’t take my time savoring it. I was finally able to read it last night, going to bed early to slowly read the articles.

    If you like gardening, farming, hand crafting, and the simple life, this magazine is for you. I know it seems pricey for a magazine published four times a year, but it is jam packed with great writing and photographs and the only advertising was a pull out pamphlet for Nova Naturals, but other than that not an inkling of advertising.

    I’ve already checked out their submission guidelines and I would like to try my hand at submitting something in the coming months.

    The peas are from our garden, harvested yesterday evening. They are doing great but our heavy rain on Tuesday bent a few of the sugar snaps so I had to tie them to the trellis. I’m holding off on cooking these until Chris gets here for a three day weekend, tomorrow.

    Happy, happy!

    The Ones We Bought

    earlygirl2
    In an effort to jump start the season of tomatoes we decided to buy a few plants already started at our local nursery. I’m not big on hybrids but Chris’ mom loves Early Girl and so we decided to give her a try.

    cherokeepurple2
    I’ve wanted to try Cherokee Purple for years but it has never made it into our garden. I have seeds, in storage. We’ll see how she performs for us.

    cherokeepurple1
    I ended up with two Cherokee Purple’s because when I went to grab this one, I broke the tomato. Guilty, I had to get a second one and pay for both. I decided to try sticking the broken end into the pot to see if it would root, but also to see if the original rooted part would re-leaf too. It didn’t, but the broken piece I stuck in did root! I didn’t do anything special, had no rooting hormone and didn’t actually particularly care for it for several days after because I went into the field for work. But here it is still living!

    yellowpear
    I think I am going to like the yellow pear. I love small, eat-off-the-vine types.

    The Ones We Started From Seed

    For most of our tomato planting existence we have started them by seed. It’s pretty awesome to see them through the whole cycle.

    amazonchocolate2
    Amazon chocolate is a tried and tested tomato in our garden. It has great flavor and grows rather large. It is one of Chris’ favorites.

    amazonchocolate

    Sungold
    Sun Gold’s are one of my favorites, a very prolific tomato. I’ve saved seeds from them in the past and grown them again and frankly, I felt they were pretty much the exact same thing. Being an F1 hybrid they aren’t supposed to come back true from seed if you save the seeds, but the ones I had were yellow, the same size and tasted great.

    Arkansastraveler
    Arkansas Traveler is my very favorite tomato. If my niece were here I’d have her say, as if she’s talking to our cat Samson, “You’re my best, old friend”. Because really, it is my best, old friend.

    sabreukrainian
    This is another one of Chris’ favorites, Sabre Ukrainian. It is a sauce tomato and is excellent for making into spaghetti sauce. We get our seeds (when we aren’t saving them) from Amishland Seeds. They are pretty rare/uncommon so you don’t get many seeds for your money. Use them wisely!

    That said, we have several other tomato seedlings that need to go in the ground still but we’re waiting for a few other beds to empty out before putting the tomatoes in. I wish I had about 10 beds dedicated to tomatoes.

    What are you favorite tomatoes to grow?

    A few months ago Keely from State of Wilderness commented on my blog and after a quick look at her blog I realized she as in the greater Houston area too. This was exciting for me because I am in need of a naturey friend here, someone willing to go on hikes and explore and talk science-geek stuff. When I replied to her via email, as soon as I had hit send I worried I had come off a little too excited, too needy. But, no worries, all was well and soon she invited me and Chris to the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. Unfortunately that weekend we had camping plans and so I had to decline attending. Well, she offered up the outing again this past weekend and since I had nothing planned I decided to go for it.

    We met in Lake Jackson for the bird banding at the observatory and then went on a short hike on the observatory grounds before heading across bayou to the Wilderness Park where we went after a geocache, my first in years. That will be a completely other post because today I bring you photos of the bird banding. My bird knowledge is minimal, I mostly know some raptors and wading birds with a few of the little brown-jobbers. It was fun to see the birds being banded and then to watch the kids take the birds from the main man banding them, and then release them.

    cardinal7
    The most entertaining bird was by far the female cardinal. She was noisy and bit what she could, including the bander’s hand!

    cardinal6

    cardinal5

    cardinal4

    cardinal3

    cardinal

    cardinal2
    Before he was done with the cardinal though, he hypnotized it somehow. It was completely still, lying on its back on the table while he tapped next to it. Then with a flush and flurry it was gone, to the tree right outside the pavilion. It was pretty incredible!

    housewren3
    The house wren was mostly tame and quiet with little fuss.

    housewren2

    housewren1

    carolinawren1
    This Carolina wren was a little more blustery. I only know most of these names because the bander was telling the group around the table.

    carolinachickadee2
    This was the most exotic bird that was banded while I was there, a Carolina chickadee. It’s beautiful!

    carolinachickadee1

    carolinawren  ????
    This bird was one of the first birds banded when I arrived and I am unsure what it is. If someone knows, please inform me!
    *Later Edit*: A few birding friends tell me this may be a Savannah Sparrow. Anyone else conclude the same?

    carolinawren ???

    carolinawren  ????
    Getting inspected for fat percentages and measuring wings.

    bluebird
    This eastern bluebird was not banded but made a nice appearance for long enough to get a few photos. I was standing under the pavilion and not close enough for a great shot.

    How they catch the birds are by a thin, black net strung out near some boardwalks and trails on the property. Someone from the preserve continuously monitors the nets, bringing birds back to band and then release. Banding the birds assists with monitoring migrations and these birds may be caught in other locations throughout their flyway. I’d love to attend another even in the future, apparently when the hummingbirds come through they catch quite a few…I’d like to release one of them!

    Happy Vernal Equinox!

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    lion2

    lion1

    Is this not the laziest lion you’ve ever seen? I went to the Houston Zoo yesterday with a friend and her two daughters and I have to say, the animals were the most entertaining I’ve ever seen. Aside from the lion lounging on his back, there were two ‘baby’ elephants playing around, pushing each other, swimming together, it was actually fun! I hadn’t been to the Houston Zoo since college and it was similar to how I remembered it.

    If there a: hadn’t been glass between me and the lion and b: I knew the lion wouldn’t rip me to pieces, I would have given him a belly rub and a big ol’ kiss.

    Today I’m over at Sprout Dispatch so hop over and check it out!

    garden11
    We had two, mostly straight, days of rain last weekend. During the breaks in the rain we spent a little time in the garden getting seeds in the ground and transplanting tomato seedlings. I took all of these last Sunday evening after the rain has finally stopped and the blue sky came out.

    The photo above shows the sugar snap pea trellis but on this side of it will be some long beans. We planted salvia out front to entice the butterflies and hummingbirds.

    garden10
    The sugar snap peas from below.

    garden9

    garden8
    The front half of this plot is spinach and flat leaf parsley. Chris was able to start sweet basil seeds on the other half.

    garden7
    I am looking forward to the flat leaf parsley being used, drying it and tossing it in my meals fresh.

    garden6
    Malabar spinach was known to me in Florida where several gardening ladies I knew through GardenWeb grew it in their gardens. I never had the chance to try it but when I saw it at our local nursery I decided to try some. I’m excited to be able to eat something leafy and green during the summer when the ‘regular’ greens will be finished.

    garden5
    The onions have started bulking up. This is perhaps one of the crops I am most looking forward to harvesting in May.

    garden4
    The bluebonnets are still prolifically blooming.

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    Just a week ago this bed had kale in it. Aphids had taken over so badly, beyond organic pest control methods, so I ripped it out and in its place is silver queen corn.

    garden2
    The cucumbers are getting their second leaves.

    garden1
    And the fig trees have started leafing out as well as putting on fruit!

    Things are changing by the day right now!

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    sunflowerseed4

    I popped into a Dollar General on the way home from visiting Chris at his field hotel two weekends ago to grab a few goodie package items to send to my niece and nephew. The seed display was promptly placed in the middle of the aisle near the cash register and I could not continue on, I had to stop. No, the seeds weren’t organic and who knows where they were from, but I was so enticed by the super cheap price, somewhere less than $0.50 each for most packets, that I grabbed up a few packages of sunflower seeds, ageratum, celosia and zinnia. I can’t wait for the celosia, my great-grandmother on my dad’s side had several varieties growing outside her back kitchen door and I spent a lot of time when we visited messing with the flowers and watching the seeds float off to the ground.

    The sunflower seeds were planted March 3rd and a week later on March 11th they were up, looking like this. Only a week!

    I didn’t use the super-awesome macro lens for this, I used my normal reverse macro technique. My brother was lamenting about the trout lily photos earlier this week and I told him it was an easy fix if he wanted to have similar photos. Buy a reverse lens mount and learn how to use it. It works great, you just have to work with the depth of field, holding your breathe so you don’t shake the camera, and figure out light conditions. Oh, and be sure to turn off the camera when switching the lens around so you don’t suck in all the dust and have it on your camera mirror. Then you just have to be sure not to scratch the other side of the lens as it is backwards now. But, really, its is a fun way to get macro shots if you can’t afford a macro lens. We have two mounts (actually there might be three), one for our 50mm and one for the 18-55. I use the 18-55 the most.

    The other seeds I planted have also sprouted but I have yet to get their portraits. Soon….soon.

    springdill

    Oh, the air is delightful and despite the lack of daylight in the mornings, I’m loving that the evenings are longer now. I’m loving the dill in the garden right now, tall and fluffy, the mature plants working on flowering. The tiny, airy seeds will be saved to sowing throughout the year. We’ve been drying dill in the oven on the lowest heat it can go, then crackling the leaves into baggies to save for later. I’m trying oregano, too.

    I’ve been starring items in my feed reader and bookmarking things over the last few weeks and I thought I’d share them with you.

    +Honey Harvest by Kinfolk Magazine
    +Creamy Cheese Dip withot Velveeta: Want to try this soon. My mom went on an information spree about additives in food after the pink slime news came out. I was looking up other things for her and found the Food Renegade website. While they had some informative items they weren’t quite vegetarian friendly. That’s ok, I still learned a lot of interesting things.
    +English Muffin Bread via Brown Betty Farm. I did make this one and it was delicious! I used almond milk in place of regular milk and it still tasted great.
    +The Power of Introverts via Susan Cain on a TED talk.
    +Free Bates t-shirt, with thanks to Elizabeth for the link.
    +Made by Hand: No. 3 The Beekeeper….another dreamy bee and honey video. I need to find a chicken video soon.
    +Creativity is a Precious Commodity via the Dirty Footprints Studio.
    +Profile of a Ghost Orchid via the Florida Native Plant Society’s blog. Chris’ ghost orchid website is listed as a source! I keep telling him he needs to finish updating it…
    +Salt Preserved Key Limes via Food in Jars….oh this looks delicious!
    +Strawberry Honey Galette via Fig and Fauna. Strawberries are in season right now at the stores, or at least here, I might have to make this soon.
    +Cedar Waxwings galore!
    +Alexis Grant’s Nicaragua and Costa Rica travel report had me itching to get some short-term, foreign traveling done. Probably not this year…but still dreaming!
    +The Goodwin Project traveling with kids via the Adventure Journal.
    +Chioggia Beet Root Soup: Wish I’d had this when I had a harvest of beets. Maybe the next go-round…
    +Lawn to Loaves Wheat Harvest via Heavy Petal. I was joking (only slightly, mostly being seriously) that I wanted to make my own mustard and then Chris retorted he wanted to make his own flour from wheat he grew. Well, someone has done it!

    Phew—that was a lot! I hope you enjoy some of the ones I have shared and send some of your favorites my way!

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