Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stupid Cats

I came out this morning to look at the Jiffy Seed Starter, and found that I no longer have 70 seedlings - we're down by at least 10. Despite the fact that I put the seed starter on sheets of foil when I took the cover off and put it in the sunniest window in the house, the cats - and I do suspect both of them - ate all the pea vines.

I thought foil was something cats won't step on. But since I can see evidence of their footprints in the foil, I'm pretty sure that one wouldn't pass the Mythbusters test. Stupid Cats.

Guess that means the irrigation project for this weekend becomes more urgent - because I need to plant peas directly into the raised beds. And St. Patrick's day was a month ago, so I'm late.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

And more garden prep...

The gardening work is hitting pretty hard now, but we're making good progress, I think. Over the weekend, we got the second raised bed box assembled (a little experience goes a long way - the first one took us almost an hour, and the second one, about 15 minutes, I think), set in place, and finished filling both boxes with (I hope!) weed-seed free dirt/compost/peat moss. They look quite beautiful at the moment - pristine, crumbly, easy to plant out.

I took Monday off, which turned out to be a stroke of minor genius on my part. The weather was in the 80s by days end, at last, so I was able to be outside working at 9 am, not freezing for a change. Both boxes now have tidy 1' grids laid out on them in royal blue nylon cord, which we happened to have around the house after a rather disastrous attempt on my part to create roman shades out of polar fleece (royal blue) as a way to insulate the kitchen windows. It's a bit gaudy, but I figure the plants will cover it up eventually.

Last week I bought the official Square Foot Gardening book, which has some very useful information in it about plant layout and how to set up vertical supports (I think those are in our very near future). After a few calculations, it seems to me that I didn't plant out enough in my 70-cell Jiffy seed starter (even though it's full). Because my 70 seeds (and I don't think they're all going to germinate - some of them appear to have molded, and that can't be good) will only take up 37 of my 64 available square feet - and that assumes I really want 6 pumpkin vines and 6 canteloupes, both of which need 2 feet per plant.

Next on the list: irrigation. We need to set up stuff for drip, because I guarantee that we won't be in a position to stop by our beds daily this summer to hand water all however-many plants. I start out with good intentions that way, but they peter out pretty quickly. That's why the weeds got out of hand every year without fail. Anyway, I know what I want to do (thanks to the Square Foot Gardening book), and it should go pretty quickly, which is a good thing, because the peas in the Jiffy seed starter are starting to tangle up with each other, and I think it's time to get them set outside. And I'd like to get some lettuce and spinach planted while I'm at it.

Of course, it's supposed to snow again tonight. Can we be done already?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Me and Cortisol

I'm not fat, just so that's clear. According to our scale, which sends electric currents through my feet each morning to determine how much of me is fat, bone, water, and muscle, my fat percentage is absolutely normal. But it's started, in the last couple of years, to show an alarming tendency to gather around my waist, forcing me into pants with a size label that I really don't like reading.

At the same time, my job is routinely stressful, and between the upcoming elections and the economic trends, I'm not sleeping all that well. So I thought that maybe I could tackle all of it at once, and bought one of the "diet" products that is supposed to help with stress, reducing the cortisol-related fat that collects around the waist.

Started last night, so it's obviously a bit early to tell if it will do anything about weight loss, but I slept better last night - and woke up feeling refreshed, which is a first for quite a while. And you know, if that's all I ever get from it, it'll still probably be worth the money.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Garden Butt

So, about a week ago, I was in a half-doze after the alarm went off, and I thought I heard someone on the radio say that the price of flour had tripled in the last 3 months. (FWIW, that turned out not to be a dream or hallucination - it actually has). Now realize, the price of flour 3 months ago was apparently 69 cents for a 5 lb bag, and now it's slightly over $2.00, so this is not going to be an immediate crisis in my family.

But I read a lot, and not too long ago, was reading something about the effects of the Great Depression on the events leading up to WWII, and they showed a picture of 2 children with a wheelbarrow full of money, supposedly the amount needed to buy a loaf of bread in Germany during that period. Combine that mental picture with the habits born of about 10 years living in hurricane country, and, well, the result is, we're going to have a big vegetable garden this summer. That, and I rushed out and bought 2 5-lb bags of flour and shoved them in the freezer - if things get bad, maybe I can trade them for a couple of wheelbarrows full of money.

The garden will not be big in terms of acreage. We have a handy spot near the place where our gravel driveway becomes a minor parking lot. It's been the vegetable garden since our first full summer in that house, since it's the only spot in our yard where there is dirt available and the trees don't shade everything. It's 10' by 24', so our ability to go wild is constrained to something fairly manageable.

A few minor drawbacks to this spot: first, it slopes downward toward our neighbor's yard, and second, it has an apparently endless supply of weed seeds. The first problem isn't all that big a deal - the slope is pretty gentle; no need to do anything special. The weeds, on the other hand, are a major pain. Every spring, I got out the handy home tiller, fluffed up the dirt, raked out the previous year's weed stems and leaves, made tidy rows and hills, and arranged the drip irrigation, and every summer, found (conveniently) that weeds make a handy mulch - very good at keeping the mud off one's shoes while harvesting.

But I'm really sick of the weeds, and fairly sick of hauling the tiller down the drive all the time (the noise of the blades on the gravel is definitely akin to fingernails on a chalkboard). So this year, I thought we'd try another way. One which my husband insists he's been suggesting every spring for the last 8 years. I don't actually remember his insisting, but if proclaiming that he was right all along gets me a little help setting up, this was his idea a long time ago and I was just too stubborn to admit it before. We're doing raised beds this year. Two of them, each 4' by 8' by 1'(ish). Sunset magazine (,20633,1152183,00.html) has a great article with simple instructions on how to build them and useful lists of materials - and ours look very much like the picture. I'm going them one better, though - I'm going to mark them off with string in a foot-square grid and plant in each 1' square - supposedly you can cram in a lot more that way.

Add that all up, and the theme of this past weekend was "Garden Prep". Saturday morning started with Pilates (good exercise but oh, so insidious), and moved from there to weed stem removal, lumber shopping, cutting things to length, and applying stain. At that point, I had to stop so we could go to a party and drink scotch.

Usually, Pilates alone puts me in a state requiring a long nap in the afternoon, so I was a little surprised to be vertical at dinnertime. I was even more surprised to be flexible and limber and pain-free as we left the party that night. I felt good right up until I tried to roll over in bed at about 3 am on Sunday. I'm thinking I hadn't had enough scotch, personally.

But we couldn't quit - we had raised beds to build. And I have 70ish seeds sprouting in a seed-starter greenhouse thingy sitting on the wine fridge in the kitchen and they're all going to need homes. So Sunday morning found me in my painting shorts and t-shirt in the garage applying more stain (it was 41 degrees outside according to the radio). Sunday afternoon involved construction of box number 1, hauling it down the driveway to the bed, throwing weedkiller all over the original garden dirt, covering it with weird silver landscape fabric, and a spot of post-hole digging (my husband's job - I suck at post-hole digging).

My family has a term for a common ailment that strikes us as we try to clean up lawns and gardens every spring: Garden Butt. You get it by overusing your glutes while digging stuff up on hands and knees, or by repeatedly bending from a standing position while digging dandelions or something. I have Garden Butt, I'm pretty sure, but I also have garden shoulder, garden shin, garden elbow, and garden fingers, so it's a little lost in all the noise.

And we still have our second box to assemble and post-hole dig into place. We'll eat good this summer - or die trying.