Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Do you know where your towel is?

(with apologies to the late Doug Adams)

I've been trying, with mixed success, to use more reusable shopping bags. The problems I've encountered are a) remembering to take them into the store with me; and b) getting the baggers to use them. My solution for this will be to get some string bags that I can put in my purse; these ought to fit more easily over the handles the baggers use for plastic bags, so ought to solve both problems with one stone.

I've had a lot more success with cutting down on the use of paper towels and napkins around the house and at the office. A few months ago I bought a bunch of cloth towels and, instead of napkins, colored waffle-weave dishcloths (more absorbent than plainweave fabric). We keep the dishtowels in a drawer in the sideboard with a couple hung on the oven door handle. The cloth napkins are in a basket on the sideboard, where we previously kept the paper napkins. There's a basket on the washing machine specifically for towels and napkins, and, since the washing machine is in a closet in the kitchen, it's easy to toss a dirty towel into that basket and grab another one. When we do a load of laundry, we can toss the napkins or towels in the wash with the other clothes, so they don't add significantly to the amount of laundry we're doing.

We still use paper towels for messes where cross-contamination is an issue, but we've gone from using several rolls of paper towels per week to one (at most), and have completely eliminated paper napkins.

I also take cloth towels and napkins to work with me (I usually bring my lunch, due to food allergies).

I'm not saying this to put myself out as "greener than thou". I haven't cut out paper use entirely. The secret for changing my habits, though, seems to be to make things easy and convenient.

Now if I could just remember to take those damned bags into the store with me!

On the to-do list: make some more fabric bags (I certainly have enough fabric in the fabric stash, and this would be a good way to get rid of some of it); and weave some more dishtowels (again, I have the yarn in my stash and should use it; never mind that the loom needs to be used more).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beet / Chard Salad

A few weeks ago I had dinner at a restaurant that featured a lot of locally grown foods, vegetables, and other neat stuff. One of the surprising dishes they served was a beet and watercress salad. I don't normally like beets much, aside from pickled with eggs, but this was pretty good.

I didn't use precise measurements, but my version of the salad has:
  • 3 beets, cooked (boiled about 45 min, then peeled -- the skins just rub off)
  • about a handful of watercress, chopped parsley and/or cilantro, depending on what I have on hand
  • about 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts or pine nuts
  • Feta cheese or blue cheese -- a couple of slices, crumbled
  • Large dash of vinegar, to taste
  • A couple of slices of beef (optional -- the original didn't have this, but if I want to make a dinner out of it and have some leftover beef on hand, I'll put it in)

I've also made this with sauteed chard, and it's pretty good, but a bit more beet-greeny. Pics of that soon.

Oh, Poop (or, what good manure will do for you)

I was out in the garden training the cucumbers up their trellis strings when I noticed a distinct difference between plants at one end of the bed and the other. I think, though I'm not 100% certain, that the area with the healthy, green cucumbers is where I dug in some manure this spring when I moved the old trash bin shed to its new location; the less healthy plants are further up in the bed where I didn't mix in manure, since I already had plants growing there and wasn't sure the manure was composted enough not to burn them. (Guess I should take better notes, but that's my best recollection.) Interesting, eh? I'm going to have to get some composted manure and treat the rest of the bed to see if I can get the smaller plants caught up to their larger companions. My other garden beds also could use some help. The ones where I had the peas did get some manure when I pulled out the peas and prepared them for beans and squash, but the others didn't get any, and seem to be suffering by comparison.

It's not that I don't enrich the soil -- I dug in compost from my compost bins last Fall. It's just that the compost is not nearly as good as manure, apparently.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New garden bed started

I'm putting a new garden bed in this year -- it's going to be 9' x 10', and I was initially going to make it 12" high (2 6" boards) but decided for three tiers of 6" boards instead, for a deeper bed that would be good for growing stuff like parsnips and carrots.

The second picture here shows the dirt I'm dealing with in my back yard. It's heavy clay (ignore the gravel for the moment, that was pea stone we added), with spud-sized rocks interspersed throughout. When it's hard you can barely get a pickaxe into it -- believe me, I know this from experience -- and when you do, you hit a rock, which jars your whole arm.

I've read that clay can actually be pretty rich in minerals, and if you put humus into it you can get great garden soil, but I really don't know where to start aside from just randomly adding peat moss, compost and sand. I happened to remember seeing a book among the ones we picked up from K's late dad's collection on the subject. Rummaged around a bit and found the book; it's called "The Gardener's Guide to Better Soil", and it's by one of my favorite garden writers, Gene Logsdon! I'm also reading "The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening" at the moment, which is pretty inspirational, even if I can't implement some of his ideas (like keeping chickens) in my little patch of suburbia. Hopefully I'll get a better grasp on what amendments the soil needs here, rather than just randomly throwing stuff into the dirt and hoping it works. It's clear that some of my veggie beds are doing better than others; going about this more systematically would be a good idea.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

New shed!

Here's the new shed! The installers came and put it up on Tuesday. Woo!

Today we put all the stuff from the old shed, which had been piled on the patio, away. It's nice not to have a pile of junk under a tarp every time we look out the living room window.

Also finished mulching the garden beds, measured the space for the new bed, and bought the wood for the new garden bed and pad for the water barrels. If I'm not too sore tomorrow from spreading mulch, I'm hoping I can get the new bed built. The bed will be approximately 9' x 10' x 12", made of two levels of 6" wide boards, giving me a nice deep garden bed for growing root vegetables.

The tomatoes in the four 4' x 8' veggie beds aren't doing very well this year. I don't know why; I have been trying to make sure they get enough water. The lettuce and chard did pretty well in those beds. Beans/peas and squash do fine there, too. I don't know if I got the tomatoes planted a bit late, or if our long, cool, wet spring just delayed them. I may want to add another 6" board to raise the level of those beds this fall.