Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crippled Tomatoes and Summery Flowers

So apparently this is what happens when you transplant tomatoes outside in the middle of April without hardening them off:


In spite of their forced acclimation to the outdoors, this one has decided to bloom! Poor confused thing:

I stopped by the garden after work yesterday to check on everything. I think the tomatoes will survive, they just went through a little bit of climate shock, but weren't actually frosted. I took the reemay off the broccolis and cabbages and now the tomato cages are wrapped up in it (should have done that when I transplanted them), so hopefully that will help them adjust a little more. Warmer weather on the way though- it's supposed to be 88 degrees on Sunday! 

All the early crops are thriving, and I'm so excited to shift more away from buying produce and towards eating my own homegrown veggies. 


Snow peas!



Just as exciting (maybe more?) as all the veggies are the flowers! I love having various types of flowers interspersed throughout my plot, and with the recent warm weather, they've all burst out into blossom and are making me feel like it's summer already. Calendula, chamomile and comfrey- how's that for some alliteration?

Not only are they lovely to look at, but they are excellent for bringing in pollinators. The bees love the comfrey in particular. I love having fresh flowers on my table, but now I have to figure out if I can transport cut flowers two miles in my bike bag without damaging them...nothing to do but try it!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring Runnings-Around

It's that time of year when suddenly everything is bursting into busy-ness and also the contents of my garden are growing like crazy! It makes for a busy life trying to keep up with work, school, impending graduation and exams, and also launching my garden into the summer! I've been feeling a bit scattered, wishing I was able to blog in a bit more comprehensible and frequent fashion, but you'll just have to deal with my tangential meanderings for a little while longer. Thanks for sticking with me :)

Here are some things that have been happening lately:

I had to get rid of my worm bin, and release the poor worms into nature. They were having a hard time for quite awhile, and I tried and tried to change the environment in their bin, without success. Last week it was getting to the point where six or eight of them would escape every day, and I felt bad for them and also got tired of cleaning dried-up worms off my kitchen floor--ewwww. So I am now making peace with having to put all of my food scraps in the trash, with no other means to compost where I currently live. I just have to remember that I am being conscientious about it, and I won't always live here. 

I finally took down the lights under my kitchen table, so foot room has been restored. On Sunday I took my tall teenage tomatoes to the garden and got them in the ground- the first ones in the entire community garden! I always jump the gun on tomatoes, but I'm doing better than last year, when I was planting them out in mid-March. As it is, we're past the last frost date and this whole week is forecast to be sunny and 75 degrees, so I think they'll acclimate just fine. 

I finally did some of my community service time (all garden members have to do a certain number of hours of work on communal spaces like paths) and weeded and re-mulched the path on the north side of my plot, which was a veritable quack grass patch. It all looks so much nicer now. 

 The remaining starts from under the lights have moved into my east-facing window. These are all basil- two kinds, standard sweet basil and Siam Queen Thai basil.

My peppers did not germinate well- I planted six but only two actually came up, and the jalapeno (on the left) is pretty stunted. The other is an Aci Sivri, the gorgeous red chilis that I loved so much last year. I'll just have to buy starts for the rest. I'm guessing the seed has gotten too old at this point, and I'll have to get new seeds next year. 

I now have four pots of flowers and herbs outside my front door. I planted chives, sage, parsley, dill and mint, plus some pansies from the garden center and zinnias and nasturtiums from seed. I can't just pop out to the garden for fresh herbs, so this is my solution. There's just no substitute for fresh herbs when cooking, and if these can manage to grow on the north side of a building then I'll be content. 

Elsewhere, I've been trying out my new camera, which seems so small compared to the lovely big Pentax I've been using for the last three years but which is not actually mine. Simplify, simplify. One of my goals for the summer is to take a real photography class, but in the meantime, it's fun to experiment with my new toy:

 Massive artichokes a couple plots over from mine.

 Spring garden so full of potential.

 I love living so close to the river now. Another version of the greens and blues of spring.

Spring sky! 

I am now less than 5 weeks from completing my Masters. It is all closing in on me at an alarming rate, but it is also very exciting. I think this means I have to be a grown-up now or something. Somewhere in the busyness of everything else, I need to find time to start looking for the first job of my public health career. My two years of graduate school have absolutely flown by, and I can hardly believe it's almost over. This year is full of new beginnings for me, and this transition will just be another one, and it will be good.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Brain on Budgets

I seem to always fall into this pattern with budgeting, where I am really good about sticking to my budget for a couple of months, and then start to feel really restricted by it and begin to deviate. This has happened before, and is exactly what happened this time: I did great with my budget for February and March, but then started to get stir-crazy and and want a little more freedom with my spending. I got a big injection of financial aid at the end of March, plus I'm getting a sizeable tax refund this year (yay!) so I don't feel too bad about spending a little extra lately, but mentally it's something I struggle with. I never spend beyond my means, and I always have a reserve for emergencies or what-have-you, but it bothers me that it is such a struggle mentally for me to stick to a preordained budget for more than a couple months. Does anyone else have this problem?

Even with going out a little more, I haven't strayed from my regular bread-baking habits.

I'm aware that the budget I put myself on starting in February was very small, but needed to be at that time. But now I'm wondering if I need to just make peace with the fact that I have a hard time abiding by a strict budget for long periods of time, and maybe I need to regularly revisit my spending every couple of months and modify it to whatever my current situation is, and operate on that basis rather than some preset level of spending. Sometimes it works really well for me to live off of the bare minimum, but sometimes it makes me feel a little crazy. Lately, with a little extra income, I've been able to treat myself to a couple more expensive things that I've been waiting on for awhile, like a new camera! Until now I've been using the one Matt's dad loaned to me three years ago, and I need to give it back. I am not concerned that I have been spending irresponsibly; I am hyper-aware of my finances in general, have been making payments on my student loans even though I don't have to yet, have been making contributions to my IRA whenever possible, and keeping my utility costs very low. My student loans are the only debt I have--my credit card gets paid off every month.

Maybe part of it is that my life is in, or is approaching, a state of transition, where I'll be making the move into an actual career and ideally a full-time job with a solid income which will make things considerably easier, and I'm a little impatient to get there. This last year has been one of a part-time income, moving and moving expenses, financial aid disbursements every three months, and thus a lack of regularity to both income and spending. I'm just in a weird place where I feel a little guilty about spending extra and going out more, but am also feeling gratified by the results of that spending and I'm not totally sure how to reconcile those things.

 I'm not sure there's a moral to this post. I just wonder if this is something that all people trying to live frugally struggle with, or if this just has something to do with my general tendency to get stir-crazy and need to change things up (this would explain why I've moved so many different times and had so many different jobs). Anyone have any insights?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dig, Plant, Grow

I'm still adjusting to the fact that gardening is no longer a habitual and daily part of my life, but a more occasional one. Rather than opening my back door and meandering through the garden every morning and simply seeing what needs to be done each day, life with a community garden plot makes gardening a far more intentional activity. Because I no longer live just a few blocks from the garden, I have to plan out each trip to my plot, make sure I take along everything I will need while I am there, and time my visits for when planting and watering is needed, etc. I don't mind it, but it's a very different way of gardening from what I'm used to.

Yesterday I had a car for the day, and took advantage by hauling a bunch of starts out to the garden, and spending a solid few hours cleaning up my plot and getting some new things into the ground. Over the last few weeks of warm weather, my plot had blossomed into a veritable chickweed plantation. It looked very scruffy and unkempt, and with a community garden there's a little bit of social pressure to keep things tidy!

I pulled up all the weeds-- about 15 gallons of them--and cut down my patch of vetch and tilled it into the beds where the tomatoes and peppers will go. I'm fairly new to this idea of green manure, but I like it. Essentially, cover crops (mainly nitrogen fixing plants like legumes) are grown in rotation with food crops, and then are cut and tilled into the ground to decompose and create additional organic matter in the soil. Wikipedia has a good description of green manure here.

 Before. I think you can be more effective with green manure if you till the crops in at a certain stage in their growth, and I probably let them grow a little too long for optimum nutrient content. But certainly it will still be very beneficial to the soil.

 After. It will take a few good tillings to get it all worked in. This is where the beans were planted last summer. This year it will rotate to tomatoes. 

I've written about it before, but I definitely preach the Gospel of Good Dirt. Without healthy soil, a garden is nothing. Paying attention to soil is one of my favorite things to do in the garden. Tilling, adding compost, cover cropping, letting the soil rest, and in the case of this particular plot, pulling out many many rocks.

In the process of weeding, I found that a few veggies I had planted many moons ago and given up on ever sprouting were in fact growing, but had been hidden by the taller weeds. I won't try planting so late in the fall again, but it's nice to find little surprises like these!

A few beets hidden between some of the self-seeded purple poppies that were so magnificent last year. 

And a little patch of New Zealand spinach. 

Once the weeds were taken care of, I tilled up the rest of the beds as well, and planted my broccoli and cabbage starts and set up little reemay tents for them. I don't have anywhere to harden off my starts now, but hopefully they'll be alright outside, even with the chillier weather this week.

From under the lights...

 To out in the garden...

I get a type of fulfillment from garden-y tasks that is a different kind of satisfaction than what I get from other achievements. Whether transplanting my teenage tomatoes starts into bigger pots or setting up a (admittedly slightly wonky) bean teepee, there's a goodness about the work of turning seeds into nourishment --and being outdoors-- that is very unique. 

Working with what I have: bamboo poles appropriated from the garden free pile.

With the chard finally taking off like crazy and the parsnips shooting up, I can really start eating from my garden more, and saving money that way. I can't ever seem to get enough of the chard- steamed, added to stir-frys, chopped fresh--it's always so good.

It was rather nice to be the only one in the garden. The weather has been stormy and blustery, but miraculously it didn't rain on me until just as I was packing up to head home. By myself in the middle of a huge area devoted just to growing things, digging and planting and enjoying the physical work of gardening. That's pretty much my ideal Sunday afternoon. At the end of the afternoon, things were shipshape and I was feeling rather proud of my little garden. 

Call it a romantic notion, but sometimes when I'm kneeling next to a garden bed with my hands in the dirt or my back is aching from half an hour spent with the turning fork, I feel like I am connecting with all gardeners throughout the centuries who have taken pleasure in working the earth after a long winter and weathered the sweat and bugs and gophers and hailstorms and experienced the immense satisfaction of the harvest. Gardening is in my blood and it's not going anywhere anytime soon.   

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Liz & Laurel do the North Coast

Laurel came down for Easter weekend, and once again we had an epic adventure. It was the most beautiful of days- bright sunshine, blue skies, temperatures that made it feel like deep summer rather than early spring. We left early, tidepooled at Cannon Beach, then drove south, stopping at several places along the way to explore, lie in the sun, take photos, and marvel at the beauty of the day and the Pacific Ocean. With hopes of seeing whales (it's the middle of the gray whale migration right now) we ended up halfway down the coast at Otter Rock, one of my very favorite places on the Oregon Coast. The sun was bright and there was a glare on the ocean, but we saw a couple spouts anyway. Laurel decided we should stay to see the sunset- something I had no argument with. We sat on a picnic table on a cliff above Gleneden Beach and watched the ocean turn purple and orange and gold. I so love these adventures with this most awesome of girlfriends- chatting and singing along with our selected soundtrack for the day (our various selections included The Wailin' Jennys, The Chieftains, Fun, and Glee covers of Madonna...we're all over the board like that), stopping for mango smoothies, enjoying the people-watching (everybody and their dog was at the coast that day) and laughing at the random things seen along the way.

 Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach

 One of many sea stars at the tidepools at Cannon Beach

The Big Blue.

There's simply nothing like sunshine sparkling on the ocean.

Rockaway Beach.

Silly experiments with the timer on my camera. This was at Pacific City.

Looking for whales at Otter Rock. You can see the tiny speck of the Yaquina Head Light off in the distance behind me.

Devil's Punchbowl and the blue blue ocean.

 Photo by Laurel. The ocean really was that color.

We got back to Portland at 10 PM, bone tired and with our pockets full of sand. The next day included wine tasting and exploring out in the Willamette Valley on another beautiful day, but that Saturday at the coast is one I'm going to remember for a long time.