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This is the Year to Save Seed! Here’s How

This is the Year to Save Seed! Here’s How

If ever there was a year to learn to save seed, I think this is it. So many people planted coronavirus gardens this spring that many seed sources ran out. Some seed-selling establishments considered seed “nonessential,” and restricted sales even when there was ample stock, simply to discourage people from unnecessary shopping.

In my book, seed is one of the most essential supplies. Saving them is just part of my ordinary round of gardening tasks, and doesn’t need to be intimidating. Of course there are some I don’t save yet, such as carrots. And there are some I can’t, such as new varieties I’m planning to try in the never-ending quest for a paste tomato that doesn’t get blossom end rot. But many of the beautiful things I grow in my garden are grown from seed I saved.

Field pea pods and seed on the left, asparagus (or yardlong) beans and pods on the right, and cantaloupe, watermelon and tomato in the middle.

If this is your first garden ever, pick something easy to save and give it a go! If you usually save a few varieties, I challenge you to save something new this year. And if you’re a semi-experienced seed saver like me, I suggest you save a larger quantity than usual. I’m planning on giving lots away come spring, whatever the state of the world. Even if seed is plentiful, free seed makes gardening cheaper and more accessible for my friends and neighbors.

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How to Have a Garden When You “Can’t” Have a Garden

How to Have a Garden When You “Can’t” Have a Garden

Are you itching to grow something for the table in these times of bare shelves, but don’t have space? Well, you’re definitely not alone. Gardening is suddenly very popular, both for the calories and the many other benefits.

Are you renting and your landlord isn’t interested in plowing up the lawn? Or, maybe you’ve only got a small yard that has to double as pandemic playground for the kids. Perhaps the covenants in your neighborhood restrict the area you can put into beds. Or you’re limited to just a balcony. Whatever restrictions you’re dealing with, I assure you that something yummy can be grown!

Let me show you how. Or rather, let my mom show you.

My parents retired from the frigid North to the baking South only recently, and though they own their house, they are prudently moving quite cautiously in altering the outside space. My father Randy is still figuring out what their ultimate needs and abilities are going to be. It would be a real shame to go to the effort of putting in beds and improving soil, only to have to scrape it away because the best garden spot is also the only workable garage site.

But my mother Rose is indomitable. Salad must be eaten, and so it will be grown, whether or not there is a space in the ground for it this year.

First, she made full use of her existing ornamental beds around the east, south, and west of the house. There was crepe myrtle, iris, azalea, and daylily already in those beds. She filled in the gaps with high bush blueberry as well as tomatoes, beautiful red okra, herbs, lettuce, onions, peppers, and even a pumpkin.

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Ten Ways I Use My Solar Oven

Ten Ways I Use My Solar Oven

Several years ago when I moved into my little house heated only by a wood stove, I knew I needed a summer baking option, pronto. Enter the All-American Sun Oven.

solar oven
solar oven

Beets and onions in my All-American Sun Oven

Even if you don’t have a wood stove, summer cooking in sweltering North Carolina really heats up the house, and then it takes extra energy to cool it back off to a tolerable temperature. That’s energy I neither want to fork over money for, nor want to pay the ecological consequences of using. When we built the house, we planned from the beginning to move cooking outside for the hot months (April-October). This is an historical adaptation. Many houses in the South had outside summer kitchens before the advent of air conditioning.

Also, we felt the resilience factor of heating and cooking with home-grown wood was important. But the budget was too tight to make the house big enough to accommodate both a wood cook stove and a regular stove/oven, and we couldn’t really afford duplicate appliances anyway. So we have no regular electric or gas stove.

For summer stir fries and breakfast eggs, I currently cook on the patio on a dual-fuel Coleman that has been with me since I lived in my truck, long before I was married and saddled with these beautiful kids. It burns about 5 gallons of gasoline per year. I have my eyes on some very compelling rocket stove options to utilize small-diameter wood (which our land produces in near infinite quantity), but I haven’t yet done extensive testing.

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Cheap, Simple DIY Water Catchment and Irrigation

Cheap, Simple DIY Water Catchment and Irrigation

Last year in foothills North Carolina, we had a hundred-year flood in June. Then we went three months without any rain at all. Some things produced well in spite of drought, but tomatoes really suffered and I hardly got any pumpkins. I was not able to keep things adequately watered by hand even before my catchment tank ran dry.

I know that the carbon footprint of tap water is pretty small compared to, say, tropical vacations. But I still have a philosophical problem with paying to have water cleaned so thoroughly that it’s drinkable, and then pumped for miles and miles, only to pour it on the ground. I like the idea of living within the rain budget of my area, which isn’t too hard because we usually get too much. I like the idea of having irrigation water even if I lost access to my local water utility for some reason (power outage, income outage, anything).

Most of all, I like the idea of my garden looking all big and lush like my mom’s. She waters constantly.

So, this spring I added a second catchment tank to our little house, and one to the new pole barn up by the orchard. Big irrigation tanks cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, but I can get a used IBC tank for about $45. I’ve now set up five of these tanks, and I feel it’s a relatively easy and cost-effective option for small-scale irrigation.

This is my Dad’s very nice setup, which I helped him install as a fun Mother’s Day project. Don’t worry, this photo was taken before completion, and the final installation does not include painter’s tape.

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4 Things I Learned by NOT Going to the Grocery Store for a Month

4 Things I Learned by NOT Going to the Grocery Store for a Month

I just walked into my grocery store for the first time in a month, and it was surreal. First, because I was there without my two kids (ages 5 and 7), so I kept feeling like I was forgetting the most important thing. What is it? Oh yes, the most important thing is shouting:

“Do NOT climb in the freezer bin!” at exactly the right moment.

Not too soon, or they forget that you said it and climb in. Not too late, or you’re explaining muddy footprints on the frozen turkeys to disgruntled grocery employees.

Just kidding, my kids have never climbed in the freezer bin. They’ve gotten a leg up, but I always shout at the right moment. By the time we get to produce, though, I’m frazzled from the rapid oscillation of my eyeballs from list to shelf to list, and I’m not quite as on-the-ball. They have climbed in that giant box of pumpkins.

In addition to the lack of shouting, at my grocery store this week there was a cordon so people could line up to get in. There was a new “maximum occupancy 537 persons” sign on the door. There were empty spaces on some shelves, and a lot less friendliness. Other than that, it was the same old fluorescent-lit cavern I despise.

Before I get to what not going to the store taught me, I should explain why I haven’t been to the store since before my state’s stay-at-home order was issued.

1. I hate shopping, so if there’s any little excuse for not going (such as contagion or it’s a Sunday), I am so not there.

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Fertilizing a Garden Entirely for Free

Fertilizing a Garden Entirely for Free

At our house we have a goal to produce 80% of our fruit, veggies, meat and dairy within five years of moving onto our land. We only eat a little meat and dairy, but we eat tons of veggies, so we grow a great big garden. Gardening is full of setbacks such as this summer’s drought, and successes such as this fall’s greens, but it’s always interesting. And it’s a powerful tool in the face of global environmental problems and personal health issues.

A vegetable from your garden measures its travel in feet, not miles. According to How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee, a local apple in season emits only 10 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent, while an apple that is “shipped, stored and inefficiently produced” emits fifteen times that (if you can’t find that book at your local library, that’s an affiliate link. My commission doesn’t raise the price of your item, and it supports this site first and then The Cool Effect). Asparagus packaged and air-freighted emits 28 times as much pollution as a local bunch. Plant foods are kinder to the planet than animal foods, and whole foods are kinder than processed foods, but garden foods are best of all.

Eggplant growing in sheet mulch
Eggplant growing in sheet mulch

Eggplant did well in my garden this summer, growing in sheet mulch and fertilized entirely with household waste.

A vegetable from your garden is grown safely and nutritiously with no E. coli contamination and no chemicals you don’t know about. A vegetable from your garden is fresh, giving you the biggest possible dose of vitamins and the most interesting variety through the seasons. Even people with tiny yards or just a balcony can grow something, thereby gaining knowledge and skills that will be valuable as we continue trying to live on this damaged planet.

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What is Low-Carbon Living?

WHAT IS LOW-CARBON LIVING?

It’s re-imagining our lives to be more resilient, more abundant and more luxurious, while also being gentler on the Earth. Sound impossible? It’s not! My little family of four utilizes appropriate technology to lower our homestead’s carbon footprint, and it makes us happier, healthier and better connected to our community. Check out what we’re doing to learn how.

husking roselle.jpg

The Truth About: Carbon Footprint Calculators

A carbon footprint is a best guess about how much greenhouse gas my actions (and those taken on my behalf) cause to be put into the atmosphere. It’s an attempt to measure the harm I do, understand it and then reduce it by making different choices. If you’re wondering whether it matters, I recommend reading The Uninhabitable Earth. (If you can’t find it through your local library, that’s an affiliate link. My commission doesn’t raise your price and supports The Cool Effect.)

All carbon footprint calculations are incomplete because the economy is complex. A gallon of gas burned in your car directly emits CO2 and other greenhouse gasses (usually measured in CO2 equivalent). The equipment that mines petroleum also gives off pollution, as does the equipment that refines and transports it, and the equipment that makes that equipment. Add this in and the total emissions from a gallon of gas rise by a third to 27.6 lbs.

What about the emissions that occur when the road between the oilfield and the refinery is repaved? Are they divided between the footprints of all humans who drive that road, or all humans who consume the products that travel on it?

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Retire early… to save the planet?

Retire early… to save the planet?

If it’s not this, it must be the opposite.

How often do you witness this sort of thinking? When I pay attention I find it’s everywhere, framing nearly every argument. Author Daniel Quinn calls it two-handedness: imagining there are only two options, usually framed as opposites. Democrat or Republican. City or country. When it comes to addressing our environmental challenges, the dichotomy is between individual consumer choices or collective action.

Dog and cat warm up together by the wood stove

Are you a cat or a dog person? That question is SO two-handed. I prefer the pile-o-pet that forms in front of my wood stove. They slept there peacefully for a long time until the cat did that claw-kneading thing to the dog. Then the peace was broken.

Before you misunderstand me, let me state clearly that I am not against collective action. I’m all for it. The assumption that it must be one or the other is a major flaw in two-handed thinking. Good answers to our problems should contain both, or rather, neither.

Recent opinion (George Monbiot gives an example) champions collective action, and rejects individual consumer choices, not without good reason. “Buying green” is fantastic marketing, but an ecological wash. Although it arguably makes your laundry smell better, choosing Seventh Generation over Tide does not help the earth much. Even choosing a Tesla over a Corolla may not make a big difference.

But I think Monbiot and the rest of us are also wrong about individual consumption. There is a consumer choice that can change your personal impact for the better. That choice is not to consume.

Not consume? But a person has to eat! Okay, that’s true. I’m not suggesting you go on an air diet. Stick with me for a minute.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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