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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Garden Experiments

Winter is always difficult for me because I don't have my garden.  This year, however, I've been much more deliberate about moving plants into the sunroom and other places to keep things growing.

See that slightly blurry picture to the right?  That's a green bean!  OK, right now I only have two green beans on this plant, but I'm pretty chuffed about it because I wasn't sure if the plant could bear fruit at all in these temps and inside away from the bees. I'd love to present Mr. FC&G with a plate full of tender green beans for him to snack on raw, like he enjoys doing.

Also still living in the sunroom are three pepper plants, each of which has at least one reddening pepper on it.  Mostly, I'm hoping to keep these plants dormant but alive to get a jump on next season. However, I'll take any extra food I can grow.

We also have a tomato plant in the sunroom that has some lovely, if small, green tomatoes on it. It did have a lovely reddening tomato on it, but I think a critter found its way into the sunroom and nibbled it.  In any case, I found a red tomato in the pot, pulled from the vine and with teeth marks in it.  I'm not happy.

Finally, with the first hard freezes of the year on us, I brought two containers of potatoes into the garage to live in the weak light under a window. I don't really expect them to grow much over the winter, but, again, I'm hopeful I can induce dormancy and have a head start on potatoes in the spring.

What are you still growing? Let me know in the comments!
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Monday, November 16, 2015

Why You Need to (Occasionally) Go Factory Free

At my Etsy store, Carrot Creations, I have been starting to use the tag "factory free."  I think it's an important one, and I think those of us in the sustainable living movement need to know a little more about it so we can look for it.

"Factory free" means that an item was made by individual or cottage labor, often by hand, instead of being mass produced in a factory setting.

Now, let me say on the front end that, especially as a historian, I'm a big fan of factories.  The Industrial Revolution brought with it a tremendous change in lifestyle and the way we produce goods that has meant largely positive changes.  Suddenly, many goods that were out of reach to the common consumer were made available, and the power of human production was better harnessed.  These are positives that should not be dismissed.

But relying on factories for everything is not good, either, and the positives of the Industrial Revolution must be balanced by a place for individual and small group effort.  This is where "factory free" comes in.  If you buy a product that lists itself as "factory free" (including food), you may see some of these benefits:

  • The business that produces the item (including farms) is far more likely to be small and local to you.
  • The business is less likely to be beholden to large corporate production policies.  Often, this means that a small business will hold itself to higher standards or take time to explain their production methods to you.
  • The quality control processes are often more thorough.  A sock produced on a machine may never be inspected by human eyes; my yoga socks, on the other hand, spend 6-8 hours per pair in my hands and in view of my eyes, making it more likely I would catch a quality problem.
  • You are more likely to get the product you want, even if you want specialty attributes.  If you want an organic, free range egg, you probably want one that is not produced on a factory farm but is, in fact, factory free.
  • You are more likely to be supporting a small business, and small businesses are essential to maintaining the flexibility of our country's economy.
  • You can target your dollars to exactly the type of business and the location you feel most passionate about.  If I want to support my hopefully-future hometown of Key West, I will look for something factory free and produced locally on the island.
Factory free items will never completely replace mass produced ones, nor should they.  But for many purchases, you might consider looking for a factory free tag to learn more about exactly what your money supports.

Have you purchased anything factory free?  What do you look for?
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Planting Fall Potatoes

I always dislike the fall because it means taking the garden down. This year, however, has been rather fun.

First, we brought so many plants that are still producing into the sunroom that it touched off a full reorganization of the dining room and living room, which are the two rooms with the south-facing windows that need to hold plants. So, I got a whole new living room arrangement out of the deal!

Second, it has been unseasonably warm. Having temps in the lower 70s in November is nothing to sneeze at, and that means we've gotten most of our outdoor work done in shirt sleeves rather than in parkas.

Because it's been so warm, I've given my fall potatoes a bit of a break in the sunshine.  My initial plan was to plant the fall potatoes in their containers and then put them in the garage, where the cool temps and week light would probably make them stay dormant until they finally sprouted in the spring.

It's been so warm, however, that I planted them and left them next to a cozy wall on the back patio. They are protected from any cold nights by a couple of old sliding glass doors, and I can put up some black side pieces we have for just such an application once the weather turns a bit cooler.  I won't have to bring them inside until we start getting legitimate freezes at night that seep into this makeshift greenhouse.

I've got to admit, I have a love/hate relationship with those sliding glass doors. When we replaced that ugly door to the house and put in a pretty French door, I rolled my eyes pretty hard when my husband wanted to keep the glass. And, about 10 months out of the year, I wonder why we still have them. But every year, I have some plants I want to keep outside but keep protected, and Mr. FC&G triumphantly tells me, "let's go get the glass doors!"  And, at that point, I become extremely happy that he had the foresight to recognize a DIY cold frame when he saw one.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How Much Does a Garden Grow: September 2015

Wow, believe me when I say that October has been a real disaster around the microfarm.  So much so that I'm only now getting to tally my September results. Suffice it to say, enough craziness has been going on to make us say, like many Cubs fans, "Wait 'til next year."

But this year hasn't been all bad.  Overall, our September tallies show us harvesting 24 pounds of produce, with a net savings of around $47 for the month.

Most of that was due to our beans. Our bean crop, which we nursed through some horrible Japanese beetle infestations (including about a month of daily trips to the garden with a container of soapy water to remove beetles by hand and drown them), finally started to pay off.

For the entire year, we harvested 8.25 pounds of beans for a total value of $25.08.  Many of those beans made their way into jars for winter consumption.

The remainder of the total comes from peppers and tomatoes, which both finished their years in September.  Interestingly, the Cuor di Bue tomatoes continued to produce well, with a total production of the year of $84.50.  I'll be doing a post dedicated to tomatoes very soon.

Cumulative Totals

Harvest, Ounces: 2,302.0
Harvest, Pounds: 143.875
Harvest Value: $474.16

Expenditures: $141.40

Total Saved: $332.76
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Thursday, October 22, 2015

On Not Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water

OK, so this is a little self-serving of me, but I figure I'm allowed once in a while.  And I do really have a point to make here.

Academics are currently all in a flutter (well, as much as academics ever deign to "flutter") over an opinion piece in the New York Times called "Lecture Me. Really." In it, the author talks about the value of the traditional college lecture.

We currently live in a climate in which the lecture has fallen into disfavor. The "sage on the stage" has been replaced by the "guide on the side," and professors are urged to use more participatory and student-led forms of instruction, particularly those involving technology.

There's nothing wrong with that.  The more good teaching techniques we have around, the more students we can reach, and the more learning that goes on. That's the name of the academic game.

But part of the problem is that those who lecture are considered dinosaurs, and the lecture is considered passe. That's a shame, because part of sustainable living is not throwing out things that might still work, even if they are old. (See, this really does relate to my blog!)

Lectures have worked for centuries because people love stories. Beowulf was meant to be chanted around a campfire, not read from a book. Many of the first universities have their start with experienced "professors" taking on students to whom they would lecture. Even American universities by and large have relied on the lecture as their primary educational method, and some of our best thinkers have emerged from that system.

But many people don't know how to lecture effectively.  It's more than just putting some bullet points on a Powerpoint deck and reading them allowed.  A truly effective lecture should leave the lecturer a little breathless, because she should be walking the aisles, reading student faces, adapting to student reactions, and constantly tailoring her comments to the needs of the students she has in front of her.

My first book, a very quick read, tells you how to give the "dynamic lecture" effectively.  If you want autographed copies, there's a link to my Etsy store at the right where you can order.  Otherwise, you can get really great deals as below:

Amazon Kindle
Barnes and Noble

And don't hesitate to contact me for bulk discounts or for (dynamic!) speaking engagements.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled gardening posts.
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Monday, October 12, 2015

Strawberry Bread

First off, my apologies for the delay in posting recently. Last week was...not conducive to blogging. Let's leave that there.

Anyway, I've wanted to share this recipe for strawberry bread with you,but the last time I made it, it disappeared before I could photograph it. I don't mean that I waited a couple of days; I mean that I baked, went to take a shower and do some chores, and came back downstairs to find an empty cake plate with a few crumbs on it.  Guess it was a hit!

Anyway, the next batch has survived long enough for me to photograph. This is a great way to use some of your strawberries frozen from this summer; it's quick and easy to make and, obviously, pretty tasty!

Strawberry Bread

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 t. salt
2 t. baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flower
1 cup strawberries (frozen, thawed, and drained)

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix ingredients in order listed, blending wet ingredients first and then adding dry.  Toss in strawberries and fold in lightly.

Place in greased bread pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Cool and remove from pan.

The Analysis

Fast:  I mixed a batch of this while I was on the phone last night, then baked while I was crocheting.

Cheap:  Right now, inexpensive is the name here at Casa FC&G.  We have these ingredients on hand, and most are organic or from sustainable sources.

Good:  It appears that Mr. FC&G really likes it.  The piece that I had was pretty good too.  :-)
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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seven Sustainable Things

Welcome to another edition of Seven Sustainable Things, seven things I've done to advance my sustainable living in the past seven days.

Fall is always sort of iffy in that regard here on the "microfarm."  Gardening is slowing to a trickle, but it isn't yet cold enough (thank heavens) for any of the real wintery tips.  But we've done quite a bit this week:
  1. Beans!  Thank heavens Mr. FC&G is so insistent about how much he likes beans, because we've had a truckload! I've been pretty insistent about him eating beans with every meal.
  2. But the beans are finally giving up, which means I can harvest the shellies that hold the seeds.  This year, our entire bean crop came from saved seed from last year, and I think next year will be the same.  This will make our bean crop self-sustaining.
  3. I've kept up with my pledge to make a batch of cookies each week. More baking means more savings and fewer additives.
  4. I've been making socks like crazy.  Most of these are going into the Carrot Creations Fleece Shop and into the Carrot Creations yoga sock stock so that you can have sustainable goods to purchase this winter, but some of the socks will go to replace worn out ones from last winter for Mr. FC&G and I.  The warmer our feet, the less likely we are to turn up the heat.
  5. I've been making homemade frappuccinos for Mr. FC&G from leftover cold coffee and some nice flavorings.  He says he likes these as well or better than pop, and they are much less expensive.
  6. We've had a nice bout of warm weather here, so Mr. FC&G and I are biking for our local errands.  Every mile and every calorie burned adds up!
  7. Finally, Mr. FC&G has been able to shift to working from home for a bit while he works on lining up his next major project, so we are happy to see some savings in gas expenditures.
What sustainable activities are you doing this week?
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