Archive: May 2011

Getting close

Since I planted most of my garden this year from seed only a few weeks ago (5/8, 5/12, 5/14, and 5/15), the plants are rather small. In most of my beds, things just started showing up yesterday, so instead of doing photos of mostly bare beds, I decided to break out my macro filters and get close.

I was particularly inspired by hook of my beans dawning. While cooling down from our run last night, D told me this hook has a name, apical hook, and a purpose. Rather than potentially damage the two seed leaves (cotyledons), the plant pushes up in a hook with the the hypocotyl (stem at the hook) pushing against the abrasive soil.

This is the charming small talk I get being married to a scientist. Though my favorite, how was your day response remains, “Well someone stopped by the lab today and asked if I could help dissect a walrus testicle.”


The state of the garden as of 5/23
(no walrus testicles, but an ant, a mantis, an anole, a feathered-footed chicken, and lots of plants in between)

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one meal at a time

Having our own eggs challenges us to come up with new egg based recipes like pasta!

While this may come as a shock to some, I was not always the fresh, whole wheat, fiber loving, gardener, chickener, and runner I am today.

I used to turn my nose at greens, mac and cheese was my favorite vegetable, and I’d push rice around on my plate until my mother gave in and let me eat ice cream and cookies for dinner. At one time I was scared of sushi beyond California rolls. I’m pretty sure I said my first experience with Pad Thai tasted like a wet dog smells.  I would happily eat a McAnything, and my favorite food came in a box.

I would love to say this all ended at age 9, but my appreciation of food has been a slow and dedicated process. After working at McHell in high school, I became a huge fan of anything served out of a window. Yet as my greasy bag meals increased, I began suffering indigestion. Cue the pepto commercial: nausea, indigestion, upset stomach…

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Fooling around

D picking blackberries.

While I was in the middle of tying up fence last weekend, Sheena stopped by to bring me some blackberries she found in her neighborhood while walking her dog.

Blackberries, as I’ve previously noted, with their rich purple tongue staining goodness make me weak in the knees. I haven’t had a good harvest since childhood before all the pesticide spraying cut back on patches that used to grow wild near fences and railroads.

Living in a recently developed neighborhood surrounded by partially developed but mostly now abandoned woods, Sheena suggested we go berry gathering around her place, so last night D and I brought over a half gallon ice cream bucket, and the three of us went into the woods.

The trees were thinned enough to allow light. The grass varied from calf to armpit high on me. It was a berry lovers paradise.

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How to garden with chickens

Chickens love dirt baths. Unfortunately, mine love my garden beds for their baths.

Having 9 free range backyard hens presents rewards such as learning how to go through 4 dozen eggs in a week, successfully reducing the tick population down to nil, and enjoying their lovely clucking songs as they graze on the lawn.

It also presents less favorable challenges: having an Easter hunt every day as they refuse to use the laying boxes you supply, avoiding poop strategically placed to make you slip down the deck stairs, and planting a garden they don’t destroy in seconds.

As I’ve battled with my chickens to get to stop laying where I don’t want and to keep them out of my garden, at times I have felt like Wile E. Coyote using faulty ACME products to catch the roadrunner.

If nothing else, chickens are determined, and when they are free range like mine, they have all of daylight to undermine my efforts. Despite that, I was just not ready to give up my garden for this year, and after some trial and error, I’m hopeful that I have found the solution to gardening with backyard chickens.

Rule One: Accept that the chickens consider it their yard, While you’re gone at work all day, they don’t have any other jobs but to explore their yard and hunt for good eats. They will spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to get in where you don’t want them, so if you suspect there are any flaws in your plan, one of their not so little bird brains will find it and exploit it.

Rule Two: Put up fencing. Make sure it is smaller than their heads. If it is not, they will stick their heads through it and eat what they can reach. They will immediately be interested in anything you plant especially if it has the white vermiculite balls. They love those things. They might ignore the marigolds themselves, but the flowers will be destroyed as they scratch to reach the vermiculite.  A photo tutorial of the fencing I put up is further down. Continue Reading »


I garden, therefore, I am

The summer 2011 garden season has begun!

I told myself this year, think small.

Small because of the 9 small dinosaurs chickens roam my backyard and scratch and peck everything to the ground.

Small because despite my hard work and big plans the last few years, I never reap large harvests. It’s always too wet or too dry or too hot or too many evil wild rabbits, leaving me without enough tomatoes to can or cukes to pickle.

And small because I thought I’d have a small human growing inside me by this point and I didn’t know what my activity level would be, so just in case I was thinking small.

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Defining Madness

I got this idea from my favorite gardening radio show The Gestalt Gardener.

I call my gardening adventures “The Madness” because each year when I’m hopping up and down and punching myself in the painfully in the chest with a shovel handle, I ask, “Why am I tormenting myself with this madness?”

The truth is I love it.  I love the smell of dirt and manure mixing with the perfume of ripening tomatoes.  I love the music of the crickets as I inspect leaves and stems for damage. I love watching seedlings sprout their true leaves and spying new fruit that seemingly grew overnight.

Though it might sound strange, after sitting in the frigid a/c in front of the glow of my monitor at work all day, the last thing I want to do is spend my free time inside in front of the tv or watch youtube videos.  I have to get outside. I have to breathe honeysuckle air. I have to feel my shoulders getting darker.

From lifting bags of soil to walking purposefully slow for the daily bed inspections, gardening keeps me active and healthy while also supplying with me with fresh produce that’s raised in a manner that doesn’t give me ethical qualms. In my garden, things aren’t harvested until they’re ready.  My tomatoes aren’t refrigerated, gassed, and turned to grocery-store mush.  If you see me picking a green tomato, that’s because I’m planning to fry that night.

The produce I harvest is not monoculture boated, flown or shipped from halfway around the world. It’s not loaded down with pesticides. It’s not picked by child laborers or illegal, underpaid workers. It’s never a part of any recalls.

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The clickification of college

As part of my Chemistry 2 course, I was introduced to OWL. Not the cute bird, but a horrid online homework platform.

Two weeks ago, using my employee benefits for free classes, I completed Chemistry 2.

My friend Tony gave me his copy the $100+ book as well as an access code to the $70 online homework. So I was ready with my borrowed book, sharpened pencils, and notepad.

I, a good decade older than my classmates, fought first day jitters until the young professor arrived, tablet in hand, ready to begin his first click-happy lecture.

While it’s only been seven years since I earned my B.A. in English, college education has notably changed. Hold on while I reach for my cane…

Back in my day, the norm was not to teach college classes via PowerPoint. I distinctly remember my first PowerPoint ruined class. It was Abnormal Psychology, an infinitely interesting subject made infinitely boring by the professor’s dependence upon reading PowerPoint slides to us for a solid 50 minutes. There was no discussion. No deviation. No energy. No creativity save pixilated clipart. One of my friends stopped taking notes and started bringing his digital camera to class to take photos of the projected slides which he later studied. After weeks of trying to write down entirely too much material from a single slide, I thought, “Wow, what a lazy, terrible professor.”

When the slideshow began on that first night of Chem 2, I wondered how could you teach science, especially this science that’s tons of math, via PowerPoint. After completing the course, my resounding answer is you can’t, well maybe you can, but this professor could not. PowerPoint was a crutch that hobbled instead of supported the class.

An actual slide from class. I particularly hated the tables. They didn't project well and rarely was anything more than "this is a table" said.

Why PowerPoint failed:

  • Each chapter had about 70 text filled slides. We usually spent only 2-4 days on each chapter, which resulted in many slides being skipped.
  • These slides were clearly provided by the textbook company and were little more than copying and pasting the chapter from the book.
  • Since the lecture/slides were the same as the book, if you didn’t understand it from one place, you never received a new perspective.

What (tall) son-in-laws are for

My sweet mother behind some of the trees D and I cut down for my parents.

I think we were duped by my parents a few weekends ago. When we went to visit, we knew they wanted help with a few things: reassembling a room and some furniture after they had new carpet put in and something about some tree branches. Little did I know that we were about to own and operate a tree cutting service.

We made fast work of the furniture moving, despite my stopping to hug and flip through my old favorite books. I think D was motivated by reassembling the queen-sized bed, so he could sleep with all of his body on the bed at the same time #tallpeopleproblems.

When we reappeared ready for our next task, my dad grabbed D and led him to a ladder. The antenna had been damaged in a storm and needed to come down before it tore a hole in the house, so fulfilling his son-in-law duty, D went up on the roof.

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