Seedlings and Frosty Mornings

April 14th is our last average frost date for the year and May 1st our last extreme frost date. The weather has been wacky this year and has lead to several problems. I know that many people who farm tree-based commodities are running on panic mode right now. Our weather has been alternating between extremely warm spells (60’s and 70’s day and night) for two weeks and sudden, aggressive frosts, typically accompanied by several inches of snow. Sap season for maple syrup this year started and ended a month early, and we waved goodbye to most of the US peach crop as they bloomed with the heat and died in the frosts. Bees have been having trouble too. A lot of people are noticing the bees getting very active because of the heat, drawing out comb and eating winter stores to do so, and then when a frost hits they can’t reach their food (or don’t have enough left) and die. It’s a rough sort of spring.

snowflower.png

This was the view outside my bay windows last Thursday. The trees had so much snow on them, they were being pulled to the ground. Normally these flowers are well above the windows. Now it’s in the 70’s.

For me, the effects of the weather have also been substantial. My back lawn is essentially a swamp of sorts. The vast majority of northeast Ohio used to be swampland and wetlands before it was colonized by the English, and the effects of that heavy watershed still holds fast to this area. The alternating weather patterns have also been accompanied by alternating precipitation patterns, and when the water hits the ground in this area, it doesn’t leave until it evaporates into the air. There’s nowhere for it to go. This area is where the water is SUPPOSED to drain off to. As a suburb, we’re trying to get it to drain off even further. It’s not easy.

So preparing the expansion for my garden bed has, all around, been going poorly. Not only is there several inches of mud, but on top of that is inches of standing water. I was trenching (double digging) a new area of my lawn for the garden bed expansion, but I’m afraid that all I did was create a small lagoon in my back yard. I really need to rebuild those irrigation ditches this year to help drain water away.

The massive amount of water, sitting on top of the clay slab that I refer to as my lawn, is a large part of the reason why we garden the way we do. We have to amend the soil if we want to grow our staple diet needs. Clay soil floods, roots have trouble penetrating, and nothing seems to grow well in it at all. The water simply pools and sits on top, and we rely on evaporation not waterflow or absorption to lower our water table. So we build raised beds. Do note, the finished raised bed area from last year (lagoon to the fence) has no standing water. It’s still wet, but not flooded. It works.

(Broccoli and lettuce that should be planted outdoors, but it’s been too wet to
work the soil)

Good soil management plays into this a lot. We rely on fresh/arborists woodchips to play a big part in our gardening. The woodchips serve several purposes. First, they help with water management. They will absorb water when it’s wet, release the water when it’s dry, and also create pathways through the soil for water to travel, unlike the clay which simply stops it. Next, they slowly gather and hold in nitrogen, an essential nutrient for growing plants. At first, fresh wood chips are so busy absorbing nitrogen that they will leech it out of the soil, but in later years they shed the nitrogen in a form that is usable by plants in large quantities. To help mitigate the nitrogen loss, we use the wood chips in our chicken yard first, allowing it to mingle with the nigh-nitrogen content of chicken poop and start to break down. The wood chips also add biomass to the soil, not only through their own organic matter, making the soil looser and more fibrous, but also by feeding tons of microbes, insects, fungi and other things that live in the soil and help plants grow. Using the woodchips in the chicken yard also gives us an extra benefit; our chickens do not smell because their poop is neutralized by the carbon in the wood chips. It’s an extremely natural, effective, and usually inexpensive way of managing an integrated agriculture system.

But this year, the service I used to use to get wood chips delivered ($20 delivery plus $1 a yard) changed hands and is no longer offering that service. so I’ve been struggling with other groups instead. I have tried websites like Chipdrop (which was awful), I have been calling local arborist companies, etc. I have heard a lot of promises that I will get wood chips, but no deliveries yet. It’s been VERY difficult and frustrating.

As a result, it’s frankly too wet to work in my lawn to build the rest of the garden bed. Every step means sinking 2″ into the mud, every push on a wheelbarrow sees it creating ruts 6″ deep, and every shovel full of dirt comes with a flood of water. There have been no woodchips to mitigate the problem and make it manageable. So right now, I’m stuck.

I managed to plant nearly all the seedlings I was planning on for the year, and they’re ready to start hardening off. But I have nowhere to put them yet as I have compost to spread and dirt to dig before they can move into soil.

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My seed starting station in my basement, with tons of green plants, some of which can handle the light frosts outside until may, but not the flooding.

So I wait. And wait. And wait. And maybe someday my wood chips will show up. When they do, there will be a massive party at my house, both figuratively and literally as I invite lots of people over to help move some dozen of yards of wood chips and eat one of the meat chickens and some squash that I raised out last year.

But for now, there’s not much I can do. The wet and unstable weather has me unable to traverse my own lawn, and only time will tell if I get my plants in the ground in a reasonable time frame or not.

Meanwhile… Have some pictures of my chickens, being wonderful and enjoying not being penned in (since we have nothing growing).

Hey, Just a heads up, I may not be part of your bubble.

You’ll notice that this post has none of my normal tags. That’s because it’s mostly for some people who have been following this blog for sometime.

I’ve been going through some serious introspection about many things, including this blog, as of late. It’s been a pet project of mine, to help me chronicle my own life and ideas as I grow as a farmer and a person. I’ve learned a lot of things from this blog. I’ve seen how I’ve changed my perspectives over the years on everything from bees to politics. And it’s very interesting and useful to me to have this chronicle of my life. It’s a sort of public diary and also a platform for me to advocate for things I am passionate about. Mostly farming, homesteading, and a search for sustainability within those acts.

Recently I have been speaking about the immediate troubles that plague my life. Some of these problems are from my own mind, some from broader outside forces, some rather directly happen to me. But I have been writing about them. And I’ve had a few people who suddenly said they were strongly disagreeing with me, and wondered why I started writing about such gloomy, harsh, critical things, seemingly so suddenly. It seemed to them that the person who fit into their world wasn’t there anymore. Like I’d changed.

So I went back through my blog. And you know what I found? I have been using this blog like that the whole time, but I was writing about topics those people agreed with me on or otherwise did not care much about. I have written about things like why I oppose veganism, why I don’t support PETA-style animal rights, why I dislike children, why I feel frustration towards my aggressively suburban family, about social problems within the broader homesteading community, about farming myths, about “factory” style farming, about “chemicals” in our foods, about large agribusiness, about my Mom’s cancer battle and death, I have been writing about challenges, negative impacts on my life, and being critical of others for years… Just not very often my fellow farmers (especially small farmers and homesteaders) because frankly, their lives didn’t impact my life dramatically outside of my career. More recently, that’s changed, and I think it’s left some people concerned. The truth is, I might not be the farmer they thought I was.

Now one could be forgiven for thinking that I live within the sphere of a stereotypical viewpoint that people see as being a farmer. For starters, words have a lot of power and I identify myself as a “farmer”. When we think of a “farmer” there’s an image, portrayed to us be media akin to the Paul Harvey speech, “so God made a Farmer”. When asked to think “What is a farmer” we probably think of straw or cowboy hats, overalls, an older white man on a tractor or in a pickup truck. When we think of a community around that person, it focuses on a house wife, family, children playing near the small farmhouse, church on Sundays, horseback riding. When we think deeper about that person we may make certain assumptions about them, like how they are probably conservatives because they are religious or they support gun ownership (which can be essential in the countryside). Our cenus data supports this. Over 70% of farm owner/operators in the US are white Christian men.
(Citations; 123, 4)

You could also be forgiven because I support a large number of conservative policies. I’m passionate about the constitution, from free speech to freedom of/from religion, to gun rights and all the rest of the “no, you can’t house your armies in my homes nor can you enter without a warrant”, etc sort of stuff. I’m really big on states rights. I want to see a smaller, more effective government with more local jurisdiction and less red tape. I want to see businesses, and especially small farmers, supported in the USA. I want to see MUCH less foreign interference coming from the USA. Dear LORD do I want to see the FDA  and USDA dissolved and replaced with a better organization(s)! (They can even keep their old names, just make them work for the people again instead of companies, please!) And I want to see people pay more attention to the huge swaths of (primarily farm) land that are crumbling apart all across the midwest due to hairbrained policies that don’t support them very well. I support hunting and farming animals, and self-sustainability and fishing, hard (dirty) work, self-responsibility, and all those other great things. I love the land, the air, the peace and quiet, the beautiful moments of nature. In an ideal world, you’re right, I would probably vote conservative.

So yes, to some of you, I probably seem to fit inside of what’s being labeled as political bubbles these days. On the surface of this blog, I may strike you as tucked nicely into the typical farmer box (albeit somewhat on the liberal end). So when I blog about how repealing the ACA would ruin my life, how I think climate change is a big problem, or how I struggle with the broad conglomerate called “Christianity” it might seem to come out of nowhere. But I’m a complete person. I have a diverse set of experiences. This isn’t an ideal world, I can’t make the choices I’d like to because if I choose to support some policies I like, I must also choose to support programs that threaten my life. Life is messy. It makes us unique and imperfect and we are all part of that. So here’s some reasons why I probably don’t fit into that box and might make posts that you feel are critical of your own actions.

And hey, just as a heads up; Trigger warning! Liberal ideas from an otherwise conservative source ahead! 😛

  • Climate change, pollution, evolution and science in general are real.
    USDA hardiness zones are consistently moving north, early warming ruins fruit cropseffects bee behavioralternates droughts and floods, and the top 12 warmest years on record have been in the last 20 years. There’s no reasonable way to deny that the climate is changing (are the thermometers at your local weather station rigged or something?) and of COURSE that effects farming. Of course understanding genetics and evolution effects animal/plant breeding. And of COURSE oil spills, disrupted ecology and wildlife cycles, smog, water contamination, algae blooms, wild bee deaths, superweeds and other things that spawn from human intervention effect agriculture on ALL levels. Science matters, it’s desperately important for agriculture, and sticking our heads in the sand about it is SUCH a bad idea! These things punish poor farmers far more than rich city dwellers. Don’t shit where you eat. Farmers need to pay attention to it more than anyone else! Of COURSE it’s gonna get covered in this blog!
  • I’m one of the %14 woman farm owner/operators in the US.

    Unfortunately, being a lady isn’t always easy. Even if we move past the fact that I’ve experienced (sometimes violent) sexism on the streets semi regularly since I was 7, or all the other common lady-problems I face… There’s not very many women farmers, and they can be looked down upon. It’s very common for other people to dismiss my opinion on farming because I am female. In fact, I have had people commit complete 180’s on me, where they thought I was a great resource and a good farmer, right up until they found out I was female. Suddenly, everything I said was second guessed and overall tones went from enthusiastic to just generally rude. Some people have openly stated (only after discovering that I am female) that things I said would have to be confirmed by their male farming buddies before they could believe me. Some people have even told me that I shouldn’t be a farmer because I am a woman. Sexism effects me, it effects my farming and therefore belongs in this blog.

  • I’m polyamorous and bisexual
    Yeah, I have spoken about my partner, Greg, occasionally. He owns and runs a small business in a local neighborhood that he built himself. But I also have a second partner, Dan, who I have just recently started talking about. They’re friends, they know about eachother, and it’s all consensual. I’ve also dated girls before, would again, and have been consistently attracted to them. Not to mention my large number of LQBTQ+ friends. Why does this matter? Because the majority of farmers in the US are conservatives and would like to pass laws against my relationships, my friends, my family, or even me. Some refuse to do business with me. Some people have threatened violence against me. I’m never really comfortable sharing any details of my family life (which is supposed to be valued highly by farmers) with other farmers because of this stigma, and it’s hard to form good, trusting, relationships because of it. Not to even mention the violence and hate I sometimes face just for existing, nor national policies that effect me negatively like marriage equality, adoption rights, inheritance, etc. That’s not OK. It effects my life, it effects my farming, and therefore it belongs in this blog.
  • I’m Pagan
    I know. It shouldn’t be relevant. Neither should who I sleep with, or my gender. But, again, it DOES. There’s a HUGE swath of the population who think I’m so toxic because of it, that I shouldn’t exist. I don’t ask other people to be pagan, I do not try to get laws passed encouraging paganism, I don’t expect a teacher to tell kids that the reason they can write is because of Odin, I don’t expect special treatment on my holidays beyond what I make for myself, and I don’t expect people to like me for it. But the fact that people DO expect those things for THEIR religion (IE, Christianity in the US) is frustrating, and I can’t say I have ever faced it from a non-Christian. Now, we don’t take statistics on religion here in the US, but in Canada (who are generally considered less conservative/religious than us) only 17% of the farming population said they were non-religious, and of the ones that were religious, only 10% made up ALL non-christian religions including Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, ALL forms of Paganism, etc. I can’t imagine that number is any more diverse here in the US. The fact is, the majority of the people I interact with in this lifestyle are Christian. Which would be TOTALLY FINE, if they didn’t passionately believe some aspect of Exodus 22:18 (Thou shall not suffer a witch/sorceress to live, etc. etc.), or worse, try to get people to pass those personal beliefs into law. So when another farmer asks me why I’m not at church on Sunday, I have to weigh my answer carefully. This is a normal interaction in my job, it belongs on this blog.
  • Politics and policies effect me, republican ones usually negatively
    This should also be obvious, but my life is effected by national and local policy. When Lord Dampnut proposes a 20% tax on goods coming from Mexico, it effects farmers nation wide as Mexico is the biggest buyer of food from the USA. When climate change policies get cut and oil/coal/etc gets promoted, farmers suffer. When my healthcare gets cut, suffer. When policies are put into place that restrict marriage, my religion, my gender, my friends, my job, my existence… I suffer from it. So when you vote for those thing, you are literally voting against whether or not I should exist. You might as well be showing up at my door and threatening me with a weapon and telling me I should stay in my house and never come out, because that’s about the effect it’s going to have on me. How could I possibly be accepting of people who do that or treat it as if it doesn’t effect me?
    I could understand wanting that if I was doing something similarly threatening to conservatives, but I’m NOT. Nobody is. I would like to see Christian churches still exist, farmers have solid employment, straight people getting married, men on equal footing (not lesser). I want you to have all of the faith, family, farming, and heck, even guns that you want. I want you to wave the American flag and shoot bottle rockets into the air while screaming “FREEDOM” from the back of your pickup truck while bald eagles pass overhead, heck, NOBODY wants to stop that! (Except for maybe your deeply embarrassed children.) We just want that to not come at the expense of our own joy and freedom. And yes, that, too, effects every aspect of my life, including my job.
  • Racism and other bigotry Exists
    This may strike as a little bit tokenism, since it’s not about my farm much, but… I grew up in a neighborhood that’s 42% black, and those people matter to me. I think it’s important to emphasize that I’m not black, I’m Cis, I’m not a PoC, I can’t represent other minority struggles. But other people definitely have it even worse than me. I know what sort of struggles I go through every day and how infrequently my genuine suffering and needs are addressed by people who don’t experience them, so when I hear that there are even more problems for someone else, I can believe it with ease. For that matter, I’ve seen it often enough with my own eyes, especially now that I’m not a kid in that neighborhood anymore. I don’t think we can correct MY problems without fixing ALL the problems for EVERY group that experiences systemic disenfranchisement. So when I talk about fixing my problems, making life more just and equal for me, I also want to pay heed to other people around me who need those changes even more than I do. Their problems are real, and I’m going to support them in seeking changes.
    And lastly…
  • I have depression, and a body, so I might not post.
    What do farmers, war vets and LGBT people have in common? Abnormally high suicide rates! Average suicide rates in the US is 0.14%, but among vets it’s around 0.3%, 0.7% among LGB youth, 0.86% among farmers and a whopping 40% among transgender individuals. Lowering those numbers matters to me, because I know what it’s like to suffer from depression. Some people also asked why I post so infrequently sometimes, so here’s why; I’ve had depression and some health problems since I was a kid. This leads me to flake out on things that are not required for my well being when my well being is compromised. That includes this blog.

I think that about sums it up.
Are you one of the people who would like to see me post more often about happier subjects? Great! That’s a lot easier to do when my mental and physical health is secure. You can even fix it. Not just for me, but for millions of people across the country. There’s three simple things you can do.
The first is to push for a single-payer medicare-for-all health system that supports good mental health treatment. The same mental healthcare that will go towards lowering suicide rates among trans youths will lower suicide rates among vets and farmers. The healthcare system that will provide free birth control to poor families who can’t afford more children (including farmers) will provide birth control to people like me who take it for severe cycles and uterine fibroids. And the same system that paid for my mother’s cancer treatment may pay for your pastor’s daughter’s cancer treatment someday. Taking care of the sick and hungry is our moral obligation, double especially if you’re Christian. Support it. It helps everyone.
Second, embrace diversity. Make sure that a bisexual pagan girl like me can converse with you without being scared of your reaction to my mere existence. This has an added benefit; farm country is currently associated as hubs of bigotry and extremism. We can bridge the huge gap between city folks thinking that way about farmers if, well, they can interact with farmers that don’t act poorly toward people who are different than them. Until the idea that some people are seen as less human by the typical white Christian male farmer is gone, city people won’t care one whit about farmers needs. The divide deepens, and everyone is unhappy. Just let people be people without trashing them for it. They really don’t hate you for your faith, sexual orientation, gender, race, etc. So don’t make their lives worse for theirs.
Third, don’t just say it, do it. Call your congress critters and your representatives on both the state and national levels. Tell them you want them to support policies like national healthcare, laws that protect minorities, and our first amendment constitutional right to freedom of and FROM religion. Your calls matter. Your votes matter. Even if you vote for a republican because (like me) you support their fiscal/constitutional policies, you should put pressure on them to also support minority rights. They’re not mutually exclusive! We should get the option of having both sides win!

If my physical and mental being is secured, as well as my right to exist in this country I’m going to be able to be much more upbeat, much more capable of focusing on farming, much more productive, and much happier. And the best part? A lot of other people will be too, along with conservative farmers, war vets, and all sorts of minorities.

Be compassionate. Care about people. They’re a lot more likely to care about you.

And maybe you’ll get to see happier blog posts in your future.

And now for a snarky disclaimer.

I’ve rewritten this post several times now to be as unbiased as I can, but at a certain point I have to acknowledge to absurdity and unreasonable reality of my world. I’ve tried to make it non inflammatory thus far, but if I’ve failed and you’re upset, I’m sorry. (Genuinely.) This is my reality and it’s not pretty. But less genuinely; In the meantime, here’s some great advice I hear from conservatives a lot. I’m sure it’ll help you as much as it helps the rest of the people it’s told to;

“Calm down! Sorry, but I support free speech, not political correctness that panders your milk-white identity politics. But hey, I’m sorry that a blog post on the internet triggers you so much. So why don’t you run back to your safe space? Aw, does that upset you? It’s just a joke, snowflake. 😉 Yeesh.”

Victory gardens?

In the 1940s, during the Great depression and WWII, wages were similarly unequal to today’s current wage system. The war ended up reinvigorating our economy with military jobs being converted into infrastructure and manufacturing jobs. And while war is ALWAYS terrible, a scant few good programs come out of that war. The best one (to me) being the victory garden program. It helped stave off hunger and high food prices all across the nation, establishing a groundwork for self-sufficiency within cities and as a nation.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, right before the victory garden program was being pushed in cities and the nation suddenly found itself growing half of it’s food in cities, suburbs and people’s back yards, another problem had been brewing in the countryside for a decade. Farmers were going broke, unable to sell their crops for more than it cost to grow them. Overproduction was the new norm in much of America. Agriculture was crumbling. So bills were put into place to stop farmers from growing so much food and to regulate prices by taxing the food industry to provide money for the US to buy grain during over productive years and distribute it during lean times. The result helped to stifle the economic disaster occurring in the US, but was ultimately found unconstitutional and was replaced by a similar bill in 1938. The 1938 bill became today’s Farm Bill, and was designed to help farmers grow crops that we needed more of during the war. Farmers were suddenly being paid to grow crops that were in under production at the time (cotton, wheat, corn, peanuts, barley, etc.) so that the nation would not run short on these crops. But also came with stipulations that only so much could be grown and distributed, to avoid the over production problems of the 1930’s. When WWII ended, the nation’s agriculture stabilized and the economy improved.

Between 1970 and 2000, the farm bill slowly mutated. Regulations on how much could be grown and sold were cut massively while the people making the most money off of the farm bill (mostly corn growers) lobbied hard to keep their crops that have plenty of production in the US on the list of subsidized crops. The goal of encouraging farmers to grow under-grown crops to stabilize prices of certain good was lost to the æther. Now a days, despite huge gluts in the market driving corn prices ever lower and corn being the most grown crop in the US, nearly a THIRD of all farm subsidies go towards growing corn. Why? Because there’s where the money rolls into our government from.

So I have one tiny, selfish hope for this steaming tire fire of a presidency.

Among the nonsensical and unconstitutional policies Trump is proposing, in order to pay for his 25 billion dollar wall, is a 20% tax on goods from mexico that was originally endorsed as the probable plan to generate the funds. Now I will start by saying that this is actually a tax on the American public. Because what’s going to happen is producers of goods are just going to (very legally, mind you) pass that price down to consumers.
Because Joe who grows avocados must make $5 off of his avocados to break even and pay his bills, he sells his avocados to us for $5. If the US taxes Joe 20% to sell his avocados in the US, Joe will still need to make $5 off of his avocados BEFORE that tax to continue to pay his bills. So Joe will either A. Stop selling in the US, therefore generating no revenue for a wall. Or B. Will add the extra 20% onto his avocado prices and sell them for $6, because he can’t give 20% of his $5 to that tax, he needs it to pay his other bills. If he does the second, and you, a US citizen buy his more-expensive avocados, Joe still makes the $5 he needs to pay his bills. You, the avocado buyer, just paid the tax. Not Joe. Because Joe still has bills to pay, and needs his $5. It just LOOKS like it’s coming from Joe. This is a system of exploitation that’s been going on for a very long time and is inherent in our society.

Now that wouldn’t amount to much if it were, like, Tibet where our imports kind of don’t exist. But the US imports 10% of it’s food from Mexico, a large amount of which is fresh produce. Which means 10% of food imported to places without much fresh food (especially inner cities, suburbs and food deserts) is going to get 20% more expensive should this policy go through. Inner cities already struggle massively with problems relating to food scarcities, specifically good, local, fresh, healthy foods like lean meats, vegetables and fruits. It’s hard to spend $5 on a bag of apples that you may or may not get around to, when $5 will get you 5 sandwiches and feed your whole family something with enough calories to get them through the day. Since many people in our nation’s poor urban centers also don’t know how to cook and handle whole foods, since food prep is a skill that was cut from public schools because of budget cuts, and is only able to be taught at home by people who have generational wealth and knowledge, (something that contributes massively to classism and racism) there’s not many options available to them, and it’s not really a wonder that poor people end up fatter while still being hungry and starving. And it’s about to get 20% worse for those people, leading to even more stigma for being in that situation as options for low-priced high-nutrient value food dwindle away and most of America carries on as usual.

So somewhere buried in that big pile of poo is my desperate little hope. A hope that this will spark some agricultural reform, possibly in the amending of the Farm Bill to suddenly stop producing tons of excess corn (which is bad for the environment as corn is awful on soil to grow) that goes into animal feed and corn-based plastics, fuel, and any other market they can desperately dump our massive corn glut into… And instead, it will subsidize farmers to grow the vegetables we need to support inner cities and food deserts with our own American farms with a lower overall footprint. Or, it may spark the urban agriculture movement to work towards urban centers, Victory-Garden style, because with a little help and rising prices on behalf of tariffs on Mexican imports it makes both urban agriculture and victory gardens that much more feasible and financially viable.

And I would be very excited for one (or both) of those things to happen.

So hey, maybe if we don’t descend into a war because of this massivehorriblesoul-crushingunlawfulfear-mongering political bonfire… Maybe farmers in the US and the state of our nation’s food security will be a little bit better for it.

(Please feel free to generally fact check my post, don’t take anyone’s word for anything. I didn’t bother with citations for most of this, but you can always look it up in your own time. Don’t spread fake news.)

Everything I see is a seed cup

AKA, my top five DIY/upcycled seed starting options! (Scroll down for a list!)

Last time I reported how I was going to be starting about 300 seeds indoors. That’s a lot of seeds for me, and seed trays can be a bit pricey. So recently everything I’ve been looking at has started to look like a seed starting cup. That novelty glass jar? Maybe I can drill a hole in the bottom and… The tray that holds the custom-painted ornaments I gave Greg this year could just have some holes punched in it and… You know, the top to that board game box is nice, sturdy cardboard just the right depth, and if I planted the seeds in rows… It’s getting out of hand. Everything I look at, whether it’s important, in use, impractical, or not, I can’t stop thinking about cannibalizing it into a seed starting cup! Yikes!

Every year I buy a combination of peat and plastic seed trays in small quantities to add to my collection. I weigh a few things when I buy seed trays. Cost is the first. I don’t wanna be spending a crazy amount of money or I might as well be buying my own veggies, not growing them. Sustainability includes economic sustainability, and I aint in the 1% here! Second is environmental sustainability. Peat trays seem great on the surface… Biodegradable, made from renewable resources… But there’s an environmental cost to everything and a balance must be struck. Peat has to be grown, harvested, and processed into pots. And the equipment required to do that relies on fossil fuels. It’s like how even if you recycle a plastic bottle, it still takes fuel to recycle the bottle so it’s better to have not used it the first time. So peat pots have a footprint from being manufactured. Plastic pots and seedling trays have a higher footprint, but unlike peat pots are reusable. When the ecological impact is divided across several years and the plastic is ultimately recycled, plastic could easily be the better option. Even in a perfectly balanced world, there’s a level of plastic that is sustainable to have in production.

The other thing about peat trays is how they effect livability of plants. Since my soil is lacking in peat, every little bit counts and when I plant my pots I tear the bottoms off but leave the tops in tact. This creates a peat pot ring around the top of the plant stem that helps prevent bugs from attacking them. Plus it adds peat to my soil when I crumble the bottom half into the dirt, right where the plant needs it the most. On the other hand, plants whose roots hit the edge of a peat pot often become stressed and unable to grow further, desperately trying to push through the compressed peat. Don’t believe the lies that the roots will grow right through the pot nd you can plant the whole thing in the ground… They won’t! And it will strangle your plant’s growth. In a plastic pot, those roots simply turn and start growing around the pot in spirals, allowing the roots to uptake more nutrients and water to continue growing (but also creating a tangle of roots). It’s a bit of a trade-off. All around, it just kind of comes out as a wash to me. But I like to give it some serious consideration none the less.

One way or another, buying pots costs money and no matter what I do, a manufactured seedling pot comes with a footprint. So I’d much rather have things that were already made for another purpose and upcycle them into something I can use again! So here’s some great upcycling ideas for seed cups and pots! This is a list about from smallest to largest, because size is very relevant in seed starting pots. If you want to grow your plants for 10 weeks indoors, a larger pot might be better. If you are going to transplant them very quickly, use a smaller pot. I hope it helps give you some ideas!

Toilet paper rolls

seed1

TP and paper towel rolls make for nice, tiny, seed starters. The fact that they are cardboard is nice, you can use them much like peat pots, in that they will wick moisture up through them to keep the plants moist if the bottoms are set in water, without over-watering. I wrote a whole post about how to make and use TP rolls as seed starters way back when I first started homesteading.

Since then I’ve learned a few things about them that are worth noting. One, the ones made from half of a toilet paper roll are smaller than the ones made from 1/4 of a paper towel roll. They might even be too small. Two, they dry out VERY fast, and must be kept in trays with water at the bottom to stay moist. In some places they can develop slime or mold this way, but I haven’t had that happen much. Three; they are VERY small, and as a result, some plants need bigger seed cups or they need to be transplanted at least once before they go outside. So bear those facts in mind as you grow in cardboard tubes. However, once those facts are accounted for they can be quite effective, in abundance, super easy to make, and freeeeeeee!

Tomatoes

TP roll seed starters and peat pots, in a plastic tray so they can sit in water 24/7

Bonus!

Empty wrapping paper rolls! These are exactly like the toilet paper rolls, but bigger. They are cardboard, made the same way, wick water the same way and have all the same benefits and problems. But they’re bigger!

Yogurt Cups

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Yogurt cups (or similarly sized plastic cups) with holes punched in the bottom make good, reusable seed starters. Plastic doesn’t wick water upward like cardboard or peat does and so they need to be watered with more care. But they also don’t necessarily need to sit in a tray filled with water at the bottom either. If you use a good peat-heavy soil with enough holes in the bottom, you can actually bottom water with them too. If you’re worried about your soil mix falling out the bottom from drilling too many holes, just use a small square of paper towel to keep the dirt in but still allow a good transfer of moisture and air.

 

Butter Boxes

land-o-lakes-butter-coupon

A butter box is just the right size to start seeds in if you trim off the top, or cut it in half. They’re very similar in size to some commercially sold seedling trays. Because they are cardboard, they will wick water like other boxes, but they are covered in a laminate coating, so it will be less effective. This also prohibits mold growth, but can’t be planted into your garden like brown cardboard can. It takes too long to break down.

Similar to this would be pint, half pint and quart dairy (creamer/cream/milk) cartons.

Newspaper Pots

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In 2014 (my god, is that really 3 years ago already???) I tried out these DIY newspaper pots from mother earth news. I hated them. They fell apart constantly. I have since learned about these much more awesome DIY pots that are folded origami-style. Anyone who has ever folded a paper crane will find these to be incredibly simple, but admittedly, they are slightly more difficult than the simple rolled paper ones. However, they hold up SO much better! There are 15 steps in folding this, and it’s no harder than folding a paper airplane. Just give it a try!
DIY folded seed pots!
DIY origami newspaper pots

Make sure your newspaper uses non-toxic ink. Do not use glossed pages or ads, they are often printed by another company and contain different inks/coatings. I get my newspaper from my dad who lives here in Cleveland with me. He gets The Plain Dealer, which uses recycled paper and soy-based ink. Thanks CPD!

These function much like cardboard and peat pots in the way they wick water, but are MUCH more likely to break down rapidly in the soil, and so are much more reasonable to plant in the ground whole if you want a pot you can plant. (Although I still advocate taking the bottoms off.)

Disposable Cups

Red Cups

If you’ve held any big gatherings recently and have all those dirty, old, disposable cups lying around, just give them each a quick rinse in hot water and punch some holes in the bottom. These big cups provide a great place to plant seedlings that might need some extra root space, whether this is due to a long tap root (like corn) or growing a big plant (like mammoth dill), or even leaving extra room on the top for more dirt (like a tomato plant).

 

And that’s it! That’s my top list for DIY and upcycled seed starters! Seed starting can literally happen in any container with drainage at any time, these just happen to be my absolute favorites. Good luck gardening and may your germination rates be high!

300.

300 is how many seedlings I will need to start this year to plant my whole garden. That’s a HUGE number compared to my previous years and doesn’t even cover half the seeds that will be going into the ground, since many of them are direct-sow. For me and most of the people I know, this is some epic-levels of gardening going down.

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Ok, I know for some people it’s not that impressive. Most people who do homesteading, hobby farms, farming, etc are planting whole acres. They wield small tractors, horses, or at rolling devices to till and seed. I still do all that by hand. I don’t even have a whole acre to my name, let alone available to plant. But for me, this is a huge step. The kind of step that I am hoping will lead into even larger scale production.

I finally finished the gardening layout. For reals this time. I discussed it with the boys and we agreed that it would be best to just expand the garden beds even further and we came up with the final garden layout below;

Gardenplan3-2017.gif

 

 

 

We added a second path, widened the original path (which is currently only 1′ wide and tedious to walk on) and are planning on expanding it to half again it’s current size. (Everything from the second path on will be new.)

We added carrots to the list of vegetables grown, and swapped out some normal onions for green onions. There’s also been some major improvements to the locations of crops grown. The spinach and regular herbs now reside where the kale once did. This helps mix up the crops a little. Kale and spinach, while both similar leafy greens with similar nutritional needs, are in different plant families. (Spinach is an amaranth, kale is a brassica.) This helps deter pests. The kale has been moved far away into the edge of the sun in front of the peas, still surrounded by dill. The dill may get shuffled a bit more into the sun because dill and carrots are not supposed to grow next to each other and they’re a bit close right now. Surprisingly, in my garden, the locations that have mid-day shade are the ones we have the most competition for. Mid-day summer sun and many plants just don’t mix around here. The carrots are taking up residence where the kale usually lives, in rows along the shadiest spot of my garden bed.

We HAVE to use raised beds, or everything floods. Most people are concerned about their raised beds drying out quickly, but we need that additional 6+ inches to lift the plants out of standing water. (Cleveland gets near-rainforest levels of precipitation each year.) We’re going to have some issues anyhow because the path is right in the wettest spot on that half of my lawn, so I have some concern about soil erosion if we get a very wet spring. Because of how massive this garden bed addition is going to be, we’re seeking out more organic matter and dirt to put in that spot. On thursday we’re going out to get bags of composted horse manure, as much as we can fit in the wee little car that Dan drives… It’ll be bagged in black plastic, which from a sustainability standpoint is maybe not so good… But I can reuse those plastic bags on the garden bed this spring to help warm my soil, kill weeds and germinate the 128 pea seeds we plan on growing. Afterwards, standard black garbage bags are recyclable. So we’ll get more than one thing out of that carbon footprint.

We’ll also be placing an order for dirt (leaf humus, sand, topsoil and compost mix) and seeking out some fresh woodchips. The woodchips are a desperately needed long-term addition to help break up the clay. A combination of sand (which I bought a few bags of recently) and wood chips do wonders for our dense, mucky orange clay that’s just 6-8 inches down in most areas. Do note, wood chips do take real amounts of time to break down. Typically I am seeing them break down significantly after 2-3 years if they have plants growing on them, a healthy worm population, and some nitrogen mixed in. Some of the bigger chips still remain, but in general they add a large amount of biomass to the soil that is essential for absorbing water, holding it over time, and draining it during floods. A 4′ high pile of woodchips, removed from my chicken pen floor a few years ago, has broken down into a 1′ pile of dirt at this point that weeds can’t resist growing in. This year, I hope to take the wood chips from my chicken pen floor to trench into the garden beds, then replace them with fresh wood chips to help keep the chicken pen cleaner and healthier.

And maybe, if you have been with us for a very, very long time… You will remember this post, showing where I once tried to grow a root garden bed, very deeply embedded in the shade. It was WAY too much shade, and so the plants never grew. But that dirt is still there, contained, waiting to be tilled up, the bed taken out, and the dirt recycled into the newest parts of my garden bed!

So plans to expand the beds, grow enough vegetables to see our needs met from our own land regularly, and have enough to can, are moving forward! I am excited to make big progress on homesteading this year and improving our over-all sustainability.

Nature magazine study finds “Roundup-Ready” corn to be substantially different from regular corn

That title sounds so click-bait-y. Normally I don’t like to share other people’s articles… But I think this one is pretty important to read about. Nature magazine published a peer-reviewed study in their magazine that tested a variety of roundup ready corn and found it to contain more toxins than regular corn. They also showed that the proteins within the corn are significantly different, and that toxins in the corn could also trigger a stronger allergic reaction than normal. The corn processes energy differently than regular corn and the corn basically suffers from oxidization damage. Ultimately, rats fed GMO corn for two years compared to the control group fed the nearest-genetically-similar non-gmo corn.

Here’s a link to a study summary.

Here’s a link to the actual article.

Incidentally, according to gmoanswers.com, a generally pro-GMO site, the longest safety tests required for corn like this is 90 days.

Now here’s the run down on some things that I think are important to consider about this study;

  • This is a test done on a single variety of corn. This does not speak for all types of genetically modified crops, nor even all types of modified corn.
  • The toxins produced are naturally formed in nature. This does not make them safe, but they are “naturally occurring”. It’s not like Mad Cow is jumping to corn suddenly because an amino acid from cow genes was added or something like that.
  • This study does not state whether similar toxin levels could result from doing a more natural hybridization of plants or from standard development of vegetable varieties.
  • The reason the FDA would not notice this is simple. The FDA requirements are a 90-day safety trial and a glorified nutritional analysis (pro-GMO source). Basically they say if it looks like a corn, has the nutritional content of corn, and feeds for 90 days like corn, then it’s corn.
  • This study HAS been peer reviewed prior to publishing and (so far) has held up to scrutiny. (This could change, but the study seems legitimate as of writing this article.)
  • The person who preformed the study has been an anti-GMO and anti-pesticide advocate for some years, but holds the appropriate degrees and scientific background to comment on it.
  • One study, alone, does not debunk dozens of other studies that show GMOs to be generally safe. However, if the study is repeated and shows similarly higher levels of kidney/liver damage, then the study must be considered valid. A good scientific study is hallmarked by repeatability. If a study cannot be replicated by someone else and get the same results, it’s just a single study in a sea of studies. (This is a phase of research we often lack in the scientific community. Studies are rarely repeated.)
  • A pro-GMO source claims that findings like this which are “pleiotropic” (or, essentially, are complicated and cause multiple problems) would show some sort of significant plant damage elsewhere and therefore would be noticeable at a glance (ex; the plants would grow poorly, which is bad for business). The study published in Nature found plant damage on a cellular level from significant oxidization. Oxidized tissue looks normal at a glance, but the tissue later dies. Plants may not live long enough to die from oxidization.

(This is just very interesting to me because of it’s links to cancer and so it’s something I know a lot about. For example, oxidization is one of the causes of cancer. It’s also one of the cures of it. To help prevent cancer we’re encouraged to consume “antioxidants” to remove oxidization from our cells, because oxidization can damage them. Damaged cells can mutate into cancer cells. If you have cancer and are receiving chemotherapy or radiation you are NOT permitted to consume anti-oxidant rich foods, because you are trying to kill cells because cancer cells die faster than regular cells. So you just kill all the cells and hope the non-cancer cells survive longer than the cancer cells. This is also why you loose your hair and get sensitive skin and lack immune responses, because those sorts of cells also die very quickly. You kill them, in part, by making them super-oxidized. So consuming anti-oxidants makes chemo and radiation less effective. No citations here other than this wiki link about it, but you can look it up. This is just stuff I learned from the five years of caring for my mom while she had cancer. So the tl;dr is, these plants had invisible cellular damage that, if left long enough, may have killed the plant. But plants don’t live that long.)

So in conclusion, this study alone is inconclusive. But it does draw whether GMOs are safe into further and legitimate consideration. Studies like this address concerns that haven’t been well researched in previous GMO studies. For better or worse, it gives a solid piece of science, a real leg to stand on for anti-GMO groups, if it holds up to scrutiny and replication.

(In case you were wondering, I read through the “methods” and “results” part of the actual study myself to confirm that, in my own opinion, it seems legit and that I’m reporting as accurately as I can. But I’m no PHD in biochemistry.)

For me, it’s one of the concerns I have stated in the past that has led to me to support labeling laws and have been attempting to move away from GMO products myself. For example, a different protein structure as shown in this study may mean that a person can develop an allergy to GMO corn that they would not otherwise have developed (and because of the way allergies work, that reaction may spread to regular corn) and now someone can’t eat corn at all. A different set of toxins may cause an animal that normally feeds on corn or corn pollen to refuse to eat it or experience health problems from it. A different set of nutrients (like sugars, which are processed differently in GMO corn according to this study) may cause an animal that normally avoids corn to try to eat it more often, causing behavior changes in wildlife. Frankly, we don’t know all the multi-faceted and subtle (or “pleiotropic”) ways GMOs could effect our lives.
And perhaps most importantly, they have led to a multi-billion dollar industry that regulates itself, relies on illegal labor under nearly slave-like conditions and holds the keys to our nation’s food security. We are limited lifespan creatures and will die someday whether GMOs are helping us along or not. But the nation’s food security, sustainability, and our compassion for other humans, is a legacy that carries on long beyond our lifespan. I’d like to see the next generation own the keys to those things, not a self-regulated company.

So give the study a gander, take it with a grain of salt, and come to your own conclusions about it. It’s a very interesting read.

Garden Layout (Round 1)

This year I did some serious work planning my garden. Usually I just kinda stick things wherever I feel like they’ll do well, but this year I actually made a full-blown honest to goodness map.

I measured my garden bed yesterday and found out it’s much smaller than I thought. I was spot-on with how deep it is (8′) but I thought it spanned nearly 40′ long. In truth it only hit 28′ when including the emergency addition I put in last year, so I called it 26′. That addition worked out sub-par, producing no eggplants and a handful of robust squashes that it took me several months to discover were buttercup squash… Though through no fault of the garden plot, honestly. They just got crowded out.
(Incidentally, those squashes became my go-to vegetarian holiday dish for Yule this year. I stuff them with a stuffing made out of “wild” mushrooms (usually just a mix of shiitake, button, oyster and portabellas), chopped walnuts, onions and basmati rice, all cooked in vegetable stock, butter and wine, seasoned and topped with parmesan. Conveniently, I could sub out the butter and skip the cheese and make it vegan if I wanted… But I’ve never had a need or reason. Still, it’s nice to know that I could prepare something delicious that meets that criteria if I needed to. I like to be accommodating.)

While Yule tides me through the darkest part of the year, I am always thrilled when my seeds come in. And come in they have! They arrived just this morning, right after I finished making my growing chart!

I had some problems last year with my plants. The biggest problem (besides spacing and varieties grown) was the addition of some pests to my garden. I figured they’d crop up eventually but it still sucks. So now crop rotation, companion planting and integrated pest management come into play.

I referenced these pages on companion planting;

http://www.vegetablegardeninglife.com/companion-planting-charts.html
http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/companion-planting-guide-zmaz81mjzraw
http://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-chart-plant-list-10-top-vegetables
http://www.ufseeds.com/Vegetable-Companion-Planting-Chart.html

I try not to use one source only when I do research so I referenced all four.

And then I used these pages for pest prevention;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pest-repelling_plants
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/12-plants-that-repel-unwanted-insects
The wiki list is very good and I generally consider Wiki to be well managed.

And with the additional few feet we want to expand, ultimately, I came up with a yard layout that looks like this;

gardenplan2-2017

I made this in a free open-source art program, similar to photoshop, called GIMP. This shows all the features of the left wall of my lawn, including our trenches for run-off, and the mixed flower bed surrounded by rocks that we’re planning on putting the bees in.

The key is;
Green BB = Beans
pppp = Peas
Pale Green B = broccoli
green LL = lettuce
green SS = spinach
grey H = herbs (various)
yellow D = dill
red RRRR = radish
Yellow C = Corn
Purple P = Purple Beauty bell pepper
Red A = Anahiem
green J = Jalapeno
gold S = acorn squash
pink W = watermelon
red T = tomato (our new tomato variety has smaller plants than last years)
peach O = onion (we’ll be buying onion sets)
dk green/black Z = zucchini
The grid is square feet, and some plants are supposed to grow in the same spots as the corn. Radish is harvested before the corn grows and the squash uses the corn plants as a trellis. Herbs are spread out to help deter bugs on susceptible plants. Dill is separate from herbs because it’s mammoth dill and grows several feet. Clustered letters indicate how many plants we’ll be planting in a specific spot, whereas the big letters show the amount of space those plants are projected to take up. The letters that take up a single space on their own are just that, one plant per square foot.
I would also like to set up 2-4 potato bins for seed potatoes against the fence, between the garden bed and the chicken pen and grow radishes there as well a little later in the year.
Also marked is our shady spot (left) which is shaded by trees in the spring/summer, and unshaded in the winter/early spring, and our ultra-wet spot (bottom) that floods next to the garden bed with 1-3 inches of standing water. East is 1/4 of the way down on the right wall of the bed image.
There’s a few glaringly huge problems with this layout…
1. Crop rotation. It’s hard to do when you only have a few hundred square feet and the same areas of the lawn have the same conditions from year to year. For example, the leftmost garden squares that are shaded. The summer sun scorches us with 90*F+ for a week or two every summer, and that shade is critical to protecting leafy greens, peas and other plants that are easily scorched. Even in spring it can be overwhelming and the ground cracks. On the left, currently it’s marked with “herbs” but last year that’s where we grew kale. Similarly, the leftmost beans are where peas were last year (legumes on legumes). We can’t plant things like peppers or tomatoes in that space because they won’t get enough sun. So plants that have specific requirements for growth like the watermelons, kale, other leafy greens, beans and peas are all in unfortunately similar areas to where they were planted just last year. (And the year before that.) And there’s not much I can do about it.
2. The bottom of the bed is 7′ deep. Now, in theory I can reach in the 3.5′ from each side to weed and harvest… I have long arms and tools. But in reality I suspect that’s too wide for me to manage without stepping on the beds (which as we all know is bad juju). This could be a serious problem, or I could us boards to step on.
3. That’s my working location for the bees… Sunny in the winter, shaded in the summer, protected from rain and wind by trees and a fence line, easy to access but not somewhere I use… But it’s uncomfortably close to the garden beds, and I want to keep the dogs out of it… So I theorized putting a small stick fence around it. It could still be a big problem because bees don’t like things in their flight path. I’m working on that one.
4. Soil erosion at the bottom part of the bed where the standing water is. This has been a consistent problem, yearly, since we moved in. That land needs to be built up with organic materials that can absorb to water and a way for it to drain into the irrigation ditch needs to be considered. Something has to be drastically different soil-wise.
In reality, I might spend much of today retooling this layout. We also may be expanding beyond this point by bringing in manure from local horse farms for free and adding more onto it. But as it stands, this is how I’m growing plants. In addition to this, I have a 4’X4′ bed of everbearing strawberries that overwintered from last year and about a 3’x3′ bed of flowers out front I’ll be trying to plant up a little better this year.
One way or another, in total I will be gardening at least 300 square feet this year, some of which will be vertical (beans and peas on trellises, potatoes in boxes).Not too shabby, but a long way to go still. Hopefully, with a little luck, we’ll be able to expand further than that this year and do a much better job.