Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lessons Watching Irma from Afar

As you all know by now, I am in love with Key West, so I've spent a nail-biting four days watching Hurricane Irma approach and pass over the island. Right now, it looks like Key West was mostly spared, although islands in the middle keys were not as lucky.

I've watched everyone pass wisdom around the internet, some of it useless and some of it downright destructive, and it reminds me that we all need a well-thought-out disaster plan well in advance of anything that may hit us. To that end, I thought I'd share a few tips that I have recently read that I thought were particularly helpful. If you have others or can contribute your own experience, please comment!

Additions to Your Disaster Plan

  • Plan your "bug out outfit" or "disaster outfit" in advance. Try to come up with something that will handle various temperatures and situations. You may want a pair of quick-dry pants (nylon fishing pants work well in lots of climates) with cargo pockets; for cold weather, you can always add a silk base layer. Consider layering a tank top and an active-wear sweater if you are in a cooler area. Don't forget socks and hiking boots or something that will protect your toes from injury or infection. Break your shoe in ahead of time. Don't forget a hat for both temperature and sun protection.
  • Sleep in your evacuation clothes. For disasters that come upon us suddenly, like rising water, you won't have time to get dressed, and no one wants to be on the news wearing undies and a t-shirt, to say nothing of sitting on their own roof that way waiting to be rescued. 
  • Likewise, pack a bag ahead of time. Make sure you have all of your medications, a knife, a whistle, and some ID in there, in addition to a full water bottle and some portable food, like granola bars. Take a couple of extra pairs of socks and some quick-drying undies, if you have them. Don't forget a flashlight, because you will be saving your phone for communication.
  • Along the same lines, keep all of your electronics (like phone, tablet, etc.) fully charged for as long as you maintain power, and have a few external chargers as a backup.
  • Even if you don't like social media, get a Facebook account. You don't have to do anything with it, but if you are in a disaster like Irma, you can post your whereabouts and tag family outside the disaster zone to let them know your status and potentially how to send help. Don't forget to set your posts to "public" so they are more easily visible. For all of its security-related downfalls, Facebook seems to have consistently been the one social medium that updates regularly and that is used by all ages, making it a good communication tool in emergency when appropriate.
  • Freeze large freezer-type bags of water to stock your chest and fridge freezers. They will help keep the contents cold, and you will have drinkable water as they melt.
  • Fill every receptacle with water while you can. Your bathtub and washing machine will hold water for washing and flushing your toilet.  Every large pot and jar should hold drinkable water. Remember, you don't have to buy water to have a good supply of it as long as you plan ahead.


What is your favorite disaster tip? Did you learn anything from Irma?
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Monday, August 28, 2017

The End is Near

Well, the garden is starting to give up. I hate to say that. I, after all, am the person who started my seeds in an incubator in the dining room on Groundhog Day, and I would just as soon live in a climate in which I could garden year round. But even I have to admit that things are looking pretty rough out there.

The problem, of course, is that garden plants rarely die all at once, unless there is a hard freeze. So, I have plants that look like they've been put through the wringer, but they have a few viable green tomatoes or some cucumber blossoms or the possibility of a zucchini. I pulled a few this weekend, but I'm not going to pull anything that looks like it might still produce.

One of the amazing plants this year has been the Principe Borghese tomato, which you see in the bowls in the photo taken earlier this summer.  Billed as a drying tomato, it indeed has given me many tomatoes to dry, plus many to eat raw. I've also dumped bowl after bowl of them into sauces and juices, because they are so flavorful. They were the first to be harvested at the end of June, and it looks like they may be my last whenever the vines finally give up.

The amazing thing about these tomatoes is that I understand that they were supposed to be determinate, meaning that they were supposed to set and ripen fruit within a small window to facilitate easier processing.  Instead, they've been steadily producing for two months, and I expect them to go even longer. I can't wait to add up the August garden tallies and see how many pounds I've harvested.

I'm not complaining. As long as these sweet little things are willing to ripen for me, I'll continue to eat them. Every little bit counts.
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Monday, August 21, 2017

Sustainability or Not?

So, yesterday I had an interesting experience. I visited an organic farm (which I will not name here, but which was really, really cool), and the owner talked about how much he disliked the term sustainability.

In a way, I was sympathetic to his point. His idea was that simply being able to live and maintain the land at the same standard (a base level definition of "sustaining") wasn't good enough; that he sought improvement to his land and his production.

But, as you know, part of the subtitle of this blog references sustainability, and I still like the message.

Sustainability asks you if you could keep your lifestyle up - sustain it - through years and generations. Could you continue to eat through good harvest years and bad? Do you have enough money socked away to get your family through a job loss or a downturn in health? Do you have the skills to make do if there's a power outage or a decline in resources (or an increase in price)? Can you keep your soil as healthy and productive as it needs to be to maintain your garden?

To me, sustainability is a huge task.  Improvements are often eaten up by bad years and bad spells and bad luck. Keeping an even keel is a tough job. But it is important to resist practices -whether that be using unhealthy herbicides, overspending, or damaging your health - that tips the balance so you cannot sustain a healthy, vibrant way of living.

I still like "sustainable."  I think I'll keep it.
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Monday, August 7, 2017

How Much Does a Garden Grow: July 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2017 garden is officially profitable!

I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself, if I might say. The return to mechanical rototilling plus an early start with the seeds and some favorable weather has really worked to our advantage.

First up, let's talk tomatoes. We have harvested over 72 pounds of tomatoes in July alone, over $263 worth at current prices. My reviews thus far of the tomatoes:
  • Principe Borghese has turned out to be a wonderful and prolific grape-sized tomato for drying. I've gotten so many, I've started throwing handfuls of them into sauces and stir frys.
  • Siletz was a great early tomato, but it is incredibly fragile. Therefore, it is easy for one to look fantastic in the windowsill in the morning and be developing a bad spot that afternoon. That's frustrating, and I probably won't grow them again.
  • Black Krim, of course, are my big fussy babies with the green shoulders and the tendency to be eaten by critters. But they are so worth it for the taste!
  • Cuore di Bue is a wonderful sauce tomato, big and solid and beefy. 
  • San Marzano, likewise, is the quintessential sauce tomato.  Both of these make great sauce and wonderful, thick juice.
  • Martian is a storage tomato, and it has turned out to be a wonderful slicer with few seeds and a long life.  Definitely worth the wait.
  • Volunteers, of course, are always a surprise. I have some sort of prolific grape tomato that is not a Principe Borghese or a Red or Yellow Pear, and I have a round slicer of some sort. I also have those infernal yellow tomatoes. Why, oh why, did I ever grow them years ago? I don't even like yellow tomatoes (not acidy enough for my taste), and so I keep throwing them into the sauce, and then the seeds go into the compost, and then I grow them accidentally the next year, ad infinitum.
Also this month were bountiful harvests of zucchini and cucumbers (although never enough of either to satisfy) and some potatoes and greens, plus herbs aplenty.

I'm hoping this is just the start of a prolific season. We could certainly use the tomatoes to can and put away for winter, plus feeding us both 6-8 slicers a day.

Cumulative Totals:

Total Ounces Harvested: 1638.0
Total Pounds Harvested: 102.375
Total Value of Harvest: $374.87

Expenses: (-$287.67)

Total Profit: $87.20
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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Annual Canning Melt-Down

To say that I'm under a bit of stress recently would be an understatement.

Somehow, between July and October, I need to develop and deliver three conference presentations (one down, two to go), design a new course, and do the rest of my regularly scheduled work, including a side biz.  I also need to keep up with the garden, since heaven knows I've been fussing and praying about this thing since February, depending on the savings in food expenditures giving us a little cushion through the summer and into the fall.

What this means, however, is that I am canning late at night, and my bravado at how good I am at doing that came to a crashing halt Saturday night with the first disaster and melt-down of the year.

It started when Mr. FC&G and I were taking turns in the kitchen.  The dishwasher was running, dishes were piling up, and I'm trying to rinse vegetables and fill a canner.

Of course, the canner, which I had balanced on the side of the sink, tipped over, hitting the colander of veggies and dumping them into the sink.  I rescued them, rinsed them off, got the canner going, cooked the veggies (extra, just in case of any bacteria from the sink), and filled the jar.

And then the jar wouldn't stand up in the canner.  And then I couldn't pick it up with the jar lifter. And then I started to scream bloody murder. Mr. FC&G, who has been known to observe and participate in a few meltdowns in the factories he works in, calmly asked, "do you need help?"

If I didn't know that he doesn't relish witnessing me have a full scale, blood vessel popping meltdown, I'd still be cleaning pickles off the far wall.  As it was, we got the rack out of the canner, reseated the jar, and processed those $#%& pickles.

They'd better taste like manna from heaven, that's all I have to say.
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Monday, July 17, 2017

How Much Does a Garden Grow: June 2017

Have I mentioned lately how much I love June in the garden?

Yes, I know its July already. I'm finally doing the June tallies, and that just reminds me how full of hope June always is. Just look at those lovely Principe Borghese tomatoes in the photo, days from starting to ripen. Just lovely.

June brought with it three notable garden harvest events:

  • The blueberry harvest was almost finished by the end of the month, with ounces of blueberries total. Even with some critter damage, that's over half a gallon just from my three little bushes (plus a small one that isn't producing yet). Grand total of blueberry value through the end of June was $25.46.
  • I discovered/developed a radish relish recipe I've already shared with you, allowing me to harvest and use more of my crop than ever before. Through the end of June, I had harvested over 20 ounces of radishes, for a retail value of $3.90.
  • The first tomatoes came in!  Even though they were only a couple of ounces of Principe Borghese and a single Siletz, both intended as early tomatoes, this is the first time I can remember harvesting tomatoes in June. Let's hear it for starting tomato seeds on Groundhog Day!
July is shaping up to be a whopper.  Fingers crossed; I may even get the garden to profitability, although that's always a dicey hope for July.  Stay tuned!

Cumulative Totals

Total Ounces of Harvest: 107.5
Total Pounds of Harvest :6.71875
Total Value of Harvest: $35.06

Total Expenditures: (-$287.67)

Total Profit (Loss): (-$252.61)
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Monday, July 10, 2017

Is Gardening a Subversive Act?

(Note: The illustration is from a product available on my RedBubble store.  Find it here.)

Well, it's summer once again, and the news is full of human interest stories about people being penalized for growing food on their own property. There's the standard array of home owners' associations mandating that people remove front yard gardens and neighborhoods adopting policies that gardens, along with clothes lines, depress the property values. My favorite this year, which I unfortunately did not save the link to, involved a municipality that declared that the right to grow food was something to be bestowed by the government, and, since the government had not explicitly conferred this right, the area homeowners could not garden.

Gardening, in some places, has become a subversive act. And this is the kind of subversion I can get behind.

Think of it this way. Every time you plant something you can eat, you remove a little of your dependence on corporations that produce and distribute foodstuffs. Every tomato you pick from your garden is a little less reliance on a corporate entity to provide your dinner. It also is a little step toward independence in the form of better health. That tomato, grown your way (organically, if you so desire), brings you the kind of nutrition that might help ward off diseases and disorders, freeing you from reliance on healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

This is not to say that gardening is a fix for "everything that ails ya." Most of us would notice if the food trucks didn't come to our local grocer, and most of us will need to take advantage of medical care, even if we eat nothing but homegrown organic produce and do yoga every day.

But, every bit of your own food you grow is one step toward greater independence and less reliance on the impersonal structures that seem to govern our lives. That's the kind of subversive behavior I encourage.


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