May 19, 2009

At Home With the Piggies.

They used to say pigs would fly before we elected a black president. Well, now we have a black president and swine flu. Connection? You be the judge.

I spent the last week and a half fighting a loosing battle against the flu. No, I don't know which variation it is, only that it sucks. It's mild, but persistent, consistently draining all of my energy. And it just keeps coming back. Recover, get sick. On and on and on.

According to www.FluPandemic.gov, the two states with the most confirmed cases of Swine Flu are Illinois (1) and Wisconsin (2) -- and by quite a large margin. Nice to know we're living at the US epicenter of this thing.

It's sunny and 76 degrees here today. After work, I plan on melting the last of this little booger of a bug out of my system on my knees in the garden. Beans and peas are working their way up the new 8' x 9' trellis I built. In fact, everything is growing well and looking healthy.

All but me, that is.

April 18, 2009

Mega-Farms

Our six-month old is fighting a cold and fever right now...and that translates into a total lack of peace for all of us. Finally, this afternoon, my wife suggested we take a drive. Duh! We used to do this all the time with the other kids when they were younger. Did we forget this little gem of advice because it's been so many years or just because we're idiots? I'm guessing both. But I'm thrilled she remembered when she did.

Sarah Grace calmed down within the first mile and my wife and I spent the next hour or so exploring some of the back country roads south of our little town. Here's what I learned along the way.

There are basically three types of farms in Illinois:
  1. The small homestead (1-20 acres)
  2. The family farm (100-1000 acres)
  3. The mega farms (1000+ acres)
It's this third category that bites my backside. There were times when all I could see (and I'm not exaggerating...for a change) in one particular direction was a single field growing a single crop. Horizon to horizon. And in central Illinois, that crop is either going to be soy beans or corn. And neither one of those crops is likely to see a dinner table anytime soon, at least until it's been processed through at least five different plants or factories and never in it's original vegetable form.

In these massive one-crop fields, you won't find trees. But you do find chemical-saturated topsoil...and its already some of the best topsoil on the planet without all the extra crap. You also find genetically modified crops. Nothing but 'em, really. We're in Monsanto's back yard, really.

All in all, our trip made coming home to my garden a pleasant reminder of why we're doing what we're doing.

All for now. Baby's crying...again. Maybe it's time for another drive.

April 14, 2009

Raised Beds and Coldframe

Alright. We finally have plants in the ground here at Casa GrowingSimple.

We were planning a Spring Break trip to Florida to see family, but the transmission in our van poo-pooed that idea for us. So my boys and I spent the weekend building two 4'x8' raised beds, mixing the soil (no doubt, the hardest part), filling the beds, installing the coldframe and planting a few plants -- all before the cruddy cold rains rolled in on Sunday evening.

Here's a video of the beds and a little of the work we did. WARNING: this video was all shot by my five-year old, Seth, so the footage is a bit jumpy. Think Cloverfield.


video

March 31, 2009

How Our Garden Grows: Update

Well, we're still a week or so away from our final frost date, so there's not much in the ground, yet. Actually, I had to clear two inches of global warming off of my windshield this morning, so frost is the least of my concerns.

The only plants I have outside, so far, are in containers. My hope is that I'll finish our raised beds this weekend and begin planting some of the frost-resistant stuff. We were planning on a vacation, but the transmission just went out in our minivan...so kiss that one goodbye. Garden, here I come!

I've expanded the growing system in the basement to include a total of eight 4' grow lights...and I'm using every bit of them and then some. In fact, I've maxed out the space and really need to get these plants outside. So my boys and I have almost completed a 4' x 4' cold frame. I hope to move it outside and begin moving plants out yet this week.

Here's a list of all I've planted to date. Unless otherwise listed, every plant listed below started in a peat pellet under grow lights.

Planted 4 Weeks Ago
  • Broccoli, Calabrese: 4 plants in mid-sized pots, 4-6" high
  • Lettuce, Sucrine: 6 plants in long containers outside, 3-4" leaves
  • Lettuce, Little Caesar: 6 plants in long containers outside, 3-4" leaves
Planted 3.5 Weeks Ago
  • Pepper, Chinese Giant (Sweet): 4 plants in 4" peat pots, 4" tall
  • Tomato, Tess' Land Rush Currant Red: 4 plants in mid-sized pots, 10+" tall and vining
  • Pepper, Ancho Poblano: 4 plants in 4" peat pots, 4+" tall
  • Tomato, Amana Orange: 4 plants in 4" peat pots, 4-5" tall
  • Chard, Rainbow Mix: 4 plants growing in outside containers, 4" leaves
  • Beetberry (Strawberry Spinach): 4 plants growing in an outside container, 4" tall...though they were bit limp because of the amount of cold rain we've received. I moved them back inside to control their watering for awhile. They seem to have now picked up quite a bit.
  • Yarrow: Required a lot of thinning to get down to 2 strong plants, 3" tall in 4" peat pots
  • Pepper, Chocolate (Sweet): 2 plants in 4" peat pots, 4" tall
  • Mint, Assorted: Required a lot of thinning to get down to 3 plants, 1-2.5" -- three are in 4" peat pots, one is in outside herb container with Oregano.
  • Lettuce, Butterking: 4 plants, three in outside containers (4" growth), one in 4" peat pot...will need transferred soon, though.
Planted 3 Weeks Ago
  • Oregano, Greek: Thinned to four 2" plants, three in an outside herb pot and one in a 4" peat pot. One of the outside plants has since gone the way of the dodo.
  • Rhubarb, Glaskin's Perpetual: 4 plants, three in 4" peat pots, one still in pellet but is now growing.
Planted 2.5 Weeks Ago
  • Strawberries, Quinault (Everbearing): 16 Plants in Strawburbia...a three-decker strawberry pot my sons and I built, aptly named by my 11 year old. We cut a 1/4" off the roots of the starters and soaked them in water before planting. These are just starting to produce new growth. One plant I rescued in a pot under the grow lights. It's flourishing, so it makes me worry a bit about my outside plants. I may have to replant those after the frost date based on the comparison of the two.
  • Strawberries, Allstar (June Bearing): 8 plants in Strawburbia. Again, not a lot of new growth yet.
Planted 1.5 Weeks Ago
  • Delphiniums: 6 pellets planted...but the pellets succomed to mold. Dang. I let it get to damp in there.
  • Sunflowers: Two seeds planted in 4" peat pots...one 2" sprout
  • Cornflowers: One 4" plant in mid-sized pot (the roots are loooong on these things), three 2" plants in 4" peat pots.
  • Alyssium: 6 pellets planted...all six have now been moved to pots.
  • Heartease (Wild Pansy): 6 pellets planted...all sprouted.
  • Nasturtium, Jewel-Mix: 6 pellets planted...five 4-5" plants in 4" peat pots.
  • Thyme: 6 pellets planted...this sprounted big time. They're all now 3-4" tall in pots.
  • Cumin: 2 pellets planted...no noticeable germination. Fell to mold and I composted them.
  • Andrographis: 2 pellets planted...both now in peat pots, 1" tall. Nice dark green leaves.
  • Chamomile, Roman: Two pellets planted, many 1" plants (needs thinned).
  • Rosemary: 3 pellets planted...nothing so far.
  • Cilantro: One 4" peat pot planted...nothing.
  • Summer Squash: Two 4" peat pots planted...nothing.
  • Basil, Sweet: 3 pellets planted...all now in pots.
  • Basil, Thai: One 4" peat pot planted...nothing.
  • Dill: One 4" peat pot planted...nothing.
  • Spinach, Medania: 6 pellets planted...three now in pots.
  • Eggplant, Black Beauty: Two 4" peat pots planted...nothing.
  • Blueberry, Blueray: Purchased 18" plant in container, transplanted to larger container and added acidic elements to soil for the correct pH.
  • Blueberry, Souther Highbush Mist: Purchased 14" plant in container, transplanted to larger container and added acidic elements to soil for the correct pH.
  • Blackberry: Purchased 10" plant in container, transplanted to larger container and added acidic elements to soil for the correct pH.
  • Sweet Peas: 6 pellets planted after soaking seeds overnight. These are exploding, some now more than 6" tall.
All in all, it seems my pellets work great, but seeds planted alone in peat pots don't do much at all. So far, only a sunflower has worked that way. I think I'll stick with the pellets.

March 20, 2009

Bad First Video

While transplanting some of our seedlings last night, my youngest son and I shot a little video of our grimy basement growing environment. It's not pretty -- and I wasn't speaking loudly enough -- but here it is.



On another note, I plan on building a strawberry growing system this weekend. My wife, daughter and I are all performing at a coffeehouse on Saturday night, though, so timing will be tough -- especially if I have any hopes at all of digging my other beds for Spring.

We'll see...

March 16, 2009

Busy Weekend

It was a good weekend at our fledgling suburban homestead.

My boys and I dug out our first raised bed -- and man was I ever pleasantly surprised. Our backyard soil is gorgeous. It's a loose, deep and dark, well-mixed soil. There were worms everywhere. I did an initial soil test and learned it has a 6-7 pH and is already ideally fertile. Wow. God is good. It seems soil preparations will now be much less extensive than I had originally planned.

I also planted some oregano and rhubarb and thinned out my other seedlings, which are growing and leafing beautifully under my makeshift grow lights. My goal now is to acquire additional lights and expand my little basement growing operations.

The best news of all, though, was discovering how much my 11 year-old son enjoys the work. He really dug his hands into the earth and worked his tail off on the new bed. It was a wonderful time together and I'm looking forward to spending more time like that this summer.

It struck me that this is how we were made to live...not sitting in front of a monitor or TV set. My son and I are both diagnosed with ADD. But when we're outside in the dirt, who would know? I'm coming to the conclusion that ADD is not a disorder of any kind. It's a temperament that simply doesn't coexist well with today's unnatural lifestyles. For my real job, I recently interviewed someone that represents employers in the State of Illinois regarding healthcare reform. He said this one line that impacted me greatly: "The American lifestyle produces disease." Amen and amen.

Now, let me get away from this machine and get my hands dirty (and healthy) again.

March 13, 2009

Pantry Update

The last couple of days have been about updating our pantry. Our can goods and toiletries are doing pretty well -- I'm guessing about two to three weeks worth -- though our canning this summer will certainly add to the mix. Our goal is six months of food stored in a rotating pantry. The big need right now is an upright freezer.

We're also continuing to purge. We have quite the pile ready for a Goodwill trip and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, a dumpster in the driveway that's piling up, as well. Simplify!

Seedlings are doing great. Still sprouting. I now have some peppers coming up, as well as some Butterking lettuce. I'm calling a guy tonight about a couple of 2' x 4' fluorescent fixtures that I can convert to additional grow lights. My goal is to create a year-round food production system in the basement.

Yesterday, I stopped by Starbucks and picked up a bag of coffee grounds for the compost pile. I have about a half a trash can of compost, now. I'm also thinking of starting a worm bin in the basement.

March 10, 2009

Surprise

Bit of a surprise tonight when I arrived home from work. I had shoots! After just two days in the ground, no less. Seemed to be mostly uniform between the broccoli and the lettuces.

So I spent some time this evening starting two varieties of tomatoes and two of peppers. I placed them all under the lights, turned on the timer and went back to my regular life. Godspeed little green guys.

Incidentally, I just discovered curlydock's blog and love some of his helpful hints and quality writing. Good stuff.

March 9, 2009

On Grains, Soils & Pantries

I'm currently planting seedlings for our new garden, primarily lettuces and broccoli. Once they've begun to germinate I'll place them under the new grow-lights I built and installed in the basement (I'll place pics later).

We did a bit of a seed swap yesterday at our get-together and I picked up almost 20 new organic heirloom varieties. I'm most excited by the Amaranth, which is a native grain that's been used for thousands of years for food production. Our friends said that the six plants they grew last year produced about five paper grocery sacks of grain. Not bad! I'm excited to see what kinds of breads my wife could concoct with those yields.

All of this is causing me to update my plans for the garden, which currently includes two 4' x 8' raised beds and a single 4' x' 4' raised bed for herbs. We'll also have a number of containers, including a large pot for strawberries (wahoo!).

We blessed that God has placed us in the middle of one of the richest growing areas (read: incredible soils) on the planet. These rich alluvial soils have made our area the heart of the heartland and the softest, sweetest roll in the middle of the breadbasket of the world. People I know around here do absolutely nothing to the soils in their suburban backyards and they're growing big, strong healthy plants, year in and out.

I now have seeds for 79 different vegetable and herb varieties. Naturally, planning for that many varieties (we'll never use all of them this year, I know) is a fair bit complicated, so I'm trying a Web-based software solution to help me plan it all out. I'll let you know how it works out later.

Building Up The Pantry

We're also working hard to expand and grow our pantry. Our goal right now is to have six months of food stored for our family of six. In in the event of an emergency, that will certainly carry our family through, as well as enable us to help our friends and neighbors. After all, it's all about family and community, right?

Networking & Predictions

Had a great time yesterday meeting with a like-minded couple who live on a collective farm in our region. When you're surrounded by those who don't see the long road, it grows wearisome not having someone with whom you can share the full extent of your thoughts. These brief opportunities are like a boost of adrenaline to your preparation planning.

But I received another boost, yesterday, as well. It's a prophetic word from a well-grounded ministry I respect immensely. David Wilkerson, pastor of the Times Square Church in NYC and author of the Cross and the Switchblade, had this to say:
AN EARTH-SHATTERING CALAMITY IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN. IT IS GOING TO BE SO FRIGHTENING, WE ARE ALL GOING TO TREMBLE - EVEN THE GODLIEST AMONG US.

For ten years I have been warning about a thousand fires coming to New York City. It will engulf the whole megaplex, including areas of New Jersey and Connecticut. Major cities all across America will experience riots and blazing fires—such as we saw in Watts, Los Angeles, years ago.

There will be riots and fires in cities worldwide. There will be looting—including Times Square, New York City. What we are experiencing now is not a recession, not even a depression. We are under God’s wrath.
And then:
First, I give you a practical word I received for my own direction. If possible lay in store a thirty-day supply of non-perishable food, toiletries and other essentials. In major cities, grocery stores are emptied in an hour at the sign of an impending disaster.
Pretty specific stuff, if you're inclined to believe. I've watched and listened to David for more than twenty years and I've yet to see him proved wrong. He's a Godly man living a simple lifestyle. You can read more here at his own blog.

As a complete aside, I read this quote today from Misty Edwards. It resonated with me and I thought I would pass it along:
I know I am going to die one day, and the only real definition of who I am will come from the lips of Him who searches my heart.

March 6, 2009

The Goal: Simplify

Life's nuts, isn't it? Feels like my family is on a treadmill set for the speed of sound and we can't get off. Run here, rush there, spend this, go into debt for that. Consume. Consume! CONSUME!!!

Well, I'm ready to step off the wheel and get off the track. To borrow from Timothy Leary, I want to Tune In to what's really going on in our culture and world...and then Drop Out of participating in the insanity of it. And unlike Leary, I won't be using LSD to make it happen.

Basically, it's just a matter of living the way our grandparents and their parents and grandparents would have advised us to live. I don't mean abandoning technology or comforts. But I do mean abandoning a destructive pattern of living and becoming productive, self-sustaining people once again.

It's not all planned out, yet, for our family. But several steps are set in stone:
  1. Grow food:
    We're gardening this year in a big way. We used to garden ten years ago, but my wife and I moved to another state and it wasn't practical for us in our new home. Now it is...and now it's time. I've plotted out two raised beds for vegetables and one for herbs. We also have a lot of containers we plan on using for greens and edible flowers. I'll post more on this later. I've also built my own grow light installation in our basement for our seedlings. We have over 60 varieties of seeds ready to go...

  2. Stop spending:
    We've mostly ended the frivolous spending in our home. No more debt...and compared to most families, we really don't have much anyway. It's mostly medical, really. I want us to be lean and mean and not dependent to anyone if we can be.

  3. Learn, learn, learn
    For the last six months, my personal goal has been to learn something new everyday about living a more sustainable lifestyle and to gain at least one new skill each week. That means a lot less TV and a lot more reading. It means going to bed tired every night, but waking up with purpose. So far, it's been a phenomenal process, sharpening my mind exponentially.

  4. Fix what's broken and use what we already have:
    This goes hand in hand with learning new skills. Repairing our own vehicles, when feasible (hey, I'm no miracle worker). Building a compost bin and working it. The grow lights. Etc.

  5. Grow closer together as a family:
    My job as a dad is to work myself out of a job. And that means I have to teach my kids how to become fully self-sustaining adults. We have to instill those values into our kids. And that also means spending a lot of time together, working and playing, gardening and building. We laugh a lot and we love a lot, too.
Alright...this was a ramble, but it sets the stage. I want to use this space to journal a bit about this process of transformation as it applies to our suburban family of six. More to come...