Monday, June 21, 2010


After getting really cranky with some annoying marketing awhile ago I thought I'd share a very exciting purchase I've made recently. I'm happy to say that the consumer experience this time was lovely, probably because I knew what I wanted but also because the bike shop is pretty laid back. I was running a lot of errands on my bike, and I was wearing a small backpack to carry water and miscellaneous things I needed for the errands. It put a constraint on what I could accomplish with my bike. It was also kind of hot (warm, I mean. Ha.) I've been thinking about what I needed for several months (I tend to think for a long time before purchasing anything beyond groceries). One night, I stopped by the bike shop to get a bike rack for the back of the bike and to see what they had for packs or panniers. Panniers are bags that attach to a bike (or a motorcycle, or a donkey, etc.) and get filled up with stuff you need to carry but can't because you need to hold onto the handlebars (or reins). The word "pannier", which took me a little while to realize, comes from the french for "bread basket."
I probably could have settled for the bike rack and just found some way to strap stuff onto the back. However, this little beauty of a bag was exactly what I wanted. Above is a picture of my bike before I took off for the library, post-office, and grocery store. The main compartment is made of "cooler" type material, so it keeps things cold. The pockets on the side...
...expand downward and become panniers! This is my bike as I returned from the errands with eggs (all of them intact!), ingredients for cheesecake, and a package of toilet paper. 

The farmer's market is just 4 or 5 miles away, as is the grocery store. I've recently discovered an alternate route that keeps me off of the main road into town. It's 2.3 miles longer, but it's worth it for the easy cruising I get to do instead of bracing to be hit every time a car passes at 60 mph. Next problem to solve: bugs in my hair.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Diatomaceous Earth In Action

This seedling kind of reminds me of a sick little E.T. all ghost-white and pitiful. But what you see there is diatomaceous earth. It's not a chemical; it's actually the crushed cell walls of unicellular algae. Diatoms live in water and when they die they sink to the bottom and form a crust of diatomaceous earth. 

The powder is actually made up of lots of jagged edges from the perspective of a tiny little insect. The powder has a dessicating effect on insects that spend too much time in it. It's not pleasant, I know. But I put it on potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant to keep flea beetles from killing the seedlings. I use it for a short period of time in the spring before my plants are flowering. Once it rains, it's useless, so it's pretty labor intensive in that you must reapply it after each rain. 

Over the years I've continued to use it because it keeps the flea beetles from killing or devastating seedlings. I haven't heard too many people talk about using it. I know it's pretty horrible to breathe on a regular basis. It's fairly cheap. I feel better using it than just about any other pest control (besides structural things and crop rotation). 

I put my eggplant seedlings in the ground one afternoon and by the next day all of the leaves looked like they'd been shot with a shot gun. The flea beetles were hitting them pretty hard, so I've been dusting them regularly. They've managed to put out two or three healthy leaves each. When they've got a good healthy start, I'll back off and hope the plants can weather a little munching.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It seems like this has been my mantra for several months. Not that this is a new idea to me. It's that lately the sentiment comes with an exclamation point.

I'm sure this is in large part due to my move to the suburbs. Uhgh. I understand that busy, important people need to get where they're going fast. I just wish they'd consider the beating heart and smooshy, tender brains inside the person on the bike they just nearly ran over with their SUV. I understand that people have no idea what else they're supposed to do besides run all manner of internal combustion engines over their quarter acre lawn and spray gallons of poisons to keep the drug dependent carpets glowing green. I understand that people need to buy and sell and make a living. But I just don't drink the kool-aid that makes me think all this noise and waste and poison is awesome. 

This really started building this spring when I applied for a job at a local running store. I call it a running store because they market mostly to runners. I run. I love running. I also hike and bike and swim. I've been doing these things for many years, so I figured I could be useful there and enjoy the interactions with people. (Okay, and I'm a teacher looking for work in the wrong place at the wrong time.) I sat down and talked to the management. I rode my bike to the interview, and I'm pretty sure that that threw off the stuffy old lady (without a strand of hair askew) that interviewed me first. She had a pinched little squirmy look on her face that made me want to jump from the fancy store balcony, run past her shiny Lexus, and pedal away on my bike. I couldn't help but get the impression that she was offended that I'd come to a job interview on a bike. She was really proud of the indoor rainforest that filled half of the store, though! Afterward, I started looking around at people running. Everywhere there seemed to be a perfectly matched little running outfit bouncing up and down along the sidewalk. I started seeing ads for running gear and stickers and water bottles and it's all fun and games until you forget that it's JUST RUNNING! All you need are some socks and shoes to do it. You don't even need special breathable undies and a technical fabric t-shirt and an iPod holder and Gatorade and barefeet-shaped plastic shoes. Not that you can't use some of that stuff. The running store is full of overpriced nonsense. The management barely does any running or hiking themselves. Yet, we're all buying what they're pushing. (Okay, perhaps I would have made a terrible salesperson.)

Yesterday I went into a greenhouse looking for bell peppers because I'd somehow forgotten to pick up pepper plants. After shuffling through a local greenhouse full of extra-fancy garden gloves and metallic orbs and sun hats and garden videos and rocks with words on them and other shiny objects, I had that feeling again... the feeling I had in the running store that is also a rainforest. As I added up the cost of the plants I'd picked out I thought, "These people aren't selling me what I want. They're selling me dreams. Dreams I don't need." So, I walked out. I went down the road to a different, humbler greenhouse I'd never visited before. Turns out they were having a sale: $.49 for all plants. Each plant a buck fifty cheaper than the other greenhouse, so I got enough to fill the rest of my garden beds! And none of that "You're not cool enough until you buy one of these, and some of these, and lots of these" hypnotizing I'm sick of.

I followed my gut when it said, "ENOUGH!"  I just couldn't take anymore of the ostentatious show in place of authenticity. I'm weary of being sold the idea of something, instead of simply finding quality goods and services and knowledgeable, engaged people. Listen people, I do these things (running and gardening) so that I can create my own experience. I don't need to be sold your idea of the experience. I just need some plants, some seeds, some running shoes. I won't be shopping at those places that feel they need to sell me their dreams. I'm perfectly capable of creating those myself, thank you very much.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things You Won't Find in a Grocery Store: Radish Greens and Seed Pods

Aside from the handful of crisp, perfectly purple gumball-sized radishes I harvested on May 4, my radish harvest was a bust this year (due to root maggots, ew), until...
I discovered that the spicy roots aren't the only parts of a radish plant you can eat. First, I tried sautéing the greens. You might be thinking, "Wait a minute! Don't radish greens have tiny little scratchy hairs on them? Ew."  That's what my first thought was. I will also add that my radish greens had tiny little holes in them from flea beetles. It wasn't looking promising. Still, I brought piles of greens inside, washed them, cut them up, and cooked them with butter, garlic, and dried cayenne peppers. I ended up adding lots of black pepper after they were done too. We were also eating pasta and tomato sauce for dinner, so we ended up adding the cooked greens on top of the pasta and then topping that with cheese. (It's possible we could have cooked and eaten an old sneaker in this manner and enjoyed it just the same.) They were very good. It always feels good to add green stuff to dinner. I will certainly never compost my radish greens again!

I let my radish plants go to seed, so this means I have radish seed pods. I actually prefer these seed pods to the radishes! They taste just like radishes, only juicier. 

I had almost given up on radishes completely until these discoveries. Maybe someday I'll discover the secrets to a root-maggot-free radish. I would grow radishes for their greens and pods again next year, especially because they are an early, fast-growing vegetable.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Healthier, Happier, and Smarter... With DIRT!

Long ago, I used to feel a teensy bit of shame when I was out in the garden and I'd pull up a carrot, wipe it on my pants, and then eat it even though there were remaining clumps of soil in the little grooves of the root. I felt a bit uncivilized. I've long since abandoned that shame for the not-to-be-duplicated experience of grazing straight from the garden. Turns out there may be some very good reasons not to be afraid of a little dirt.
I recently heard a brief story on "The Environment Report" about recent studies that suggest that certain bacteria found in soil not only improve immune system function, but may also be reducing anxiety and making people smarter! (Minus typos, like the one in the article's title.) There's also a Discover magazine article that gives a brief explanation of the findings.

Apparently, you don't need to munch handfuls of soil or lick the sand off your spinach, just breathing in the bacteria as you work outside is enough to reap the benefits.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

No More Baby Lettuce

The lettuce harvest is in full swing. The weather has been wet and mild and perfect for it. I've harvested 7 bags. Now it's not mesclun, and they're not full heads of lettuce, the product is somewhere in between. So far the harvest has still been from thinning out the plants, so the lettuce comes in small, sweet, juicy tall clusters. (Thinking about it made me crave some, so I just got up to grab a pile from the fridge and I'm eating it like potato chips.)

It's misleading to put a price on this stuff, as is the case with so much homegrown produce. I've never bought anything that compares. Not even the CSAs I've been a member of provided me with lettuce like this. Not that the mesclun mixes and heads of lettuce were inadequate. No way! This is just one of those things that people don't sell: half-grown lettuce.

Well, like I was saying, I'm putting a price on my harvest. Organic lettuce, clumps that add up to the size of a head of "green-leaf" lettuce at the grocery store: $1.50 per bag x 7 = $10.50

I've got cracoviensis, black seeded simpson, and buttercrunch varieties that I'm harvesting right now (in that order below).