Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Tree

Looking back, I think the first time I experienced that sense of lightness and freedom instilled by decluttering (at least in this present residence) was when I decided to do away with the full-blown tree for Yule.  At the point of dispensing with the floor-to-ceiling tree, I also consolidated several boxes of ornaments into one and tossed out the trashy ones that held no significance to us.

In the past, that stupid, traditional tree would sometimes stay up until March.  NO ONE wanted to deal with it once the holiday was over.  I began to hate that miserable, pyramidal collection of dusty gewgaws.  I so much like our current system better.  I purchased a wrought-iron ornament stand to set on the piano, and we thoughtfully select only our favorite ornaments to display.   The process and custom of hanging the ornaments has become, once again, an enjoyable ritual that Al and I do together, now with music on our vintage stereo and glasses of wine.  We don't fuss with assembling the bulky tree (or watering it in the case of a live one, heaven forbid), and I don't have to haul out all those boxes of lights and balls, sort them, and haul them back out of the way temporarily only to carry them all back up the stairs and down/out again at the end.  What a pain that was, and I haven't even mentioned the fact that no one enjoyed stringing the lights so we each rather waited on the other, hoping it would get done so we could plow through to the fun (easier) part, hanging the ornaments.  Somehow, through seeming whims with no deep thought on my part, I've managed to preserve the sentimental ritual with its accompanying journeys down memory lane through holidays bygone, the aspect we like, and eliminate the work we don't like.

Admittedly, I haven't completed this purge.  The tree is packed away in its box in the barn, and it is accompanied by some boxes that haven't been sorted, but they don't come into the house.  My greatest stumbling block to the purge proved to be when I started to throw out the tree in its box.  It's not a very old item, and it's in perfect condition.  Besides my regret at its value as an object, I experienced pangs of fear that I might want to use it in the future.  What if there comes a time I have a change of heart and want to invest in the laborious enactment of a vintage celebration?  That's the decision I have to make before I remove the tree, and I think, after writing this has prompted me to think it through, that I've made that decision.

If I ever want to do that, go all-out, there will be a classier, more meaningful, way to do it than with an artificial tree, and I won't need all those boxes in the corner, the ones filled with...not sure what's in there, but certainly not very much of value or I would be missing it.  Someone else can benefit from my tree.  I still can't throw it in the dumpster, but I can drive it to Goodwill with the next load and, when I get a chance, I'll go through the boxes, too.

Phew!  So glad that's settled!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Stab at Reducing Plastic Use

I read somewhere that most of our plastic use is for food.  It seems true at our house, especially in the old days before I finally trained myself to remember the cloth, shopping bags when I went to the store.  One would think the plastic, grocery bags bulging from every crevice of the house would have put me in the mind to remember, but change is hard!  On that point, I score, because I don't bring home plastic grocery bags at all anymore.  If I'm out and think about swinging by the store on my way home, I won't do it unless I have a bag to take in with me.  Al will still stop sometimes, but he has learned, at least, to ask for paper.  It's not ideal, but he knows better than to drag in those horrendous, plastic ones!

I made a declutter drop-off to Goodwill this morning, bundling it with a trip to Greenacres for that must-have item, almond milk.  Another chance to practice plastic reduction!  I remembered my cloth bags, of course.  *pat on the back*  Overall, I did a little better than usual so I'm glowing.  I bought several items in bulk, reusing bags for that.  I don't know how acceptable that is, so I do it rather quietly, though it's not hard to justify myself considering how outrageous it is that Greenacres only has plastic bags for this purpose!  I simply refuse to place my lemons in a new bag every single time.

Besides the lemons, which were $1 each (!), I got a piece of ginger root, bananas, walnuts, raisins, coconut flakes, quick oats, and chia seeds.  I also finally found the bulk teas!  I only found them because I had to go back for something and saw them at the end of the bulk aisle that I don't usually enter.  They even had gunpowder green, my favorite.  Free trade and organic!  So far no new plastics.  Then I had to get the almond milk, and it has a small, plastic screw cap on a paper carton.  I also got my ancient grain wraps, which come in a plastic package.  I need to investigate an alternative for my wraps.  Perhaps making them myself?

Ohhh, I looked a long time at all the yummy dairy products in the cooler section, the yogurt and cottage cheese, but I didn't get any of it.  Just too many tubs.

My other major plastic purchase was a tub of coconut oil.  Sadly, this tub is the only packaging I've seen at Greenacres.  They have a liquid coconut oil in a glass bottle, but this product is fractionated, meaning they actually remove the particular lauric acid I want the oil for in the first place!

The last item I purchased, my elderberry concentrate, comes in a glass bottle with a metal screw cap, leaving my final plastic total at 1 plastic bag, 1 plastic screw cap, and 1 plastic tub.  The bill was around $108, so I feel pretty good that the greater percentage of our money went toward food and not into plastic packaging that would eventually go in the trash.  No reason to be throwing cash in the garbage when, with some thought and a little restraint, I can invest in better nutrition instead.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Knowing that we were getting a freeze, I did a fairly thorough forage of the greenhouse and garden.  It's the time of year, while they are young and most tender, to eat weeds, so those weren't forgotten, and I managed a very nice harvest of greens and roots to pair with my Farmer's Market tomatoes for salads over the next couple of days.  After washing, they turned out so pretty that I just had to share a picture.

The roots included onion, garlic, radishes and carrots.  The carrots are actually supposed to be that small.  I chose that variety for the greenhouse because I don't have infinite soil depth in there.  They have an interesting taste and texture, not as sweet as the last carrots I grew, Scarlet Nantes (I think), but have a delicate substance that is truly enjoyable.  The radishes were so sweet, typical of radishes grown under cold conditions.  I nearly ate them both before saving a few, thin slivers to sprinkle over the salad.  The onions are bunching onions, a delicate treat after eating the more robust Egyptian Walking Onions all winter.  The garlic is what I might call spring garlic.  Without exaggeration, I have hundreds of these.  It's not as strong as a clove, and I chop it like an onion, green top and all. 

The storage container is mixed greens, pictured close-up further below.  In the 6 o-clock position of this first pic is a plate of lamb's quarters.  If pushed to describe them, I would say they are neutral in flavor and texture in a salad.  I want to try steaming them with onion and garlic, which is why I gathered them separately.
 The close-up below is of the mixed greens.  It includes baby beet top, pea shoots, sorrel (the lawn weed), cilantro, a tiny bit of parsley, and Buttercrunch lettuce.  I didn't bother picking spinach because it's so cold-hardy.  The peas are from a single row in the greenhouse that I use just for tender shoots.  The crop of snow peas is outside on a fence.

The little guy in the picture below (sorry for the fuzziness) decided to tag along with a lettuce leaf.  He found my dirty tea cup while I was washing greens.  Eventually, I tossed him into the pile of carrot tops to be taken out to the compost pile.  He'll be fine out there unless the cold got him last night!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Decluttering "the Box"

After determining that the project to locate all the hammers I own was a low priority, I whipped myself toward tackling my nightstand, a constant area of activity and many failed attempts at customization.  I knew I couldn't do it all at once, so I decided to tackle a small portion and see how it went.  Although small, I focused on a hot box of constantly shifting miscellany.  Literally, a box, the box that holds "smalls" that I sometimes think I will die without upon waking at 2 am or that I want as I prepare for bed.

It was a homemade box, crafted with quite a bit of thought for the contents, with compartments I sized to fit the items I wanted beside me in the evening.  As anyone might have predicted, in less than a year, it had become a junk-all, and I was pretty sure there wouldn't be much left if I decluttered it.   Although I anticipated a big payoff, it would require a lot of decisions.  I wanted to do it, but I didn't want to.

I dumped this ugly box on the counter and what I got is pictured below.
At that point, I pulled out the items I thought I would keep, and I came up with the small collection below.
One hour and eleven (11) minutes later, I had finally dealt with all the remaining items, one by agonizing one.  Happily, I actually found a house key I didn't know I had!  Sadly, very little of it went into the trash, only the paper notes (sans one), the 2 pencils (with hard erasers), and the cut up credit card.  I did manage to donate a worn belt I discovered whilst putting away the two laces, and some costume jewelry went in the trash while looking for a little box for the ear plugs.

Then I needed something to hold the remaining, loose items, so I went in search of a small container.  Because these items happened to be of such varying shapes, I couldn't find the perfect box, bowl or basket, not until I went back to the pile and made another cull.  I compromised by putting the file inside the nightstand rather than on top and decided I could get up off my ass to find one if I really needed a pen.  After that, the search went better, and I found a wooden, lidless, square box that served my need.  The final assemblage is in the pic below.
I'm now exhausted, so decluttering the interior of the nightstand will have to wait for another day.  I don't think I could go through all that again so soon!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Farmer's Market Meal

The earliest Farmer's Market to open was this first Saturday in April at the Sedgwick County Extension office at 21st and N. Ridge Rd.  It was cold and windy, but we went anyway, looking for anything that I am not growing for myself in the greenhouse.  Al was drawn to the garden gewgaws, and I had to talk him out of buying a metal sculpture of a sunflower that was eight feet high and weighed about 500 pounds!  While he studied garden gnomes, I took a spin around the stalls, assessing the goods, warding off taste samples.  Al ate everything they offered!  It was like taking a five-year-old to the fair!  I bought him a bag of coffee almond toffee, then let him pick out some meat from the lamb vendor.  For myself, I bought a package of Swiss Chard and one tomato. 

These tomatoes were perfect, absolutely blemish free, gorgeous red, plump and not too big, not too small.  I was immediately suspicious of how they would taste!  Afraid it would be mealy and like cardboard, I bought only the one.  Boy, was I sorry!

Combining our goods from the market with greens from the garden, and an extra egg for Al, I cooked us a late lunch.  The chops were TDF, so tender and flavorful.  So glad I bought four packages.  Al was only going to get one!  I said you have to buy organic meat when you can find it.

Wow, just look at that salad below.  The cuke and cheese (I baked a frico) are from the grocery store.  The lettuce, spinach, onion, and carrot are from the greenhouse, and that chopped tomato is from the Farmer's Market.  It was SO GOOD!

Then there is the beautiful Swiss Chard that we had with brown rice, onions, and the lamb chops.  Gorgeous!

Gamble Tomatoes

About a week ago, I started planting tomatoes.  I had previously sorted, repaired, tested for pressure, and roughly laid out the soaker hose in this year's configuration, and I had a start on mapping out those areas I wanted to mulch alongside the growing rows.  Those are things I could do while it was still cold.

I chose two tomato varieties this year.  Three, if you count the cherry tomatoes, but those are mostly for snacking while I'm in the garden.  For the main crop, I chose the nutritious Black Krim.  For my early tomatoes, I chose Glacier, which I have grown before.  I bought all my seeds from Baker Creek, started my tomatoes on the dining table (March 3) and put them under indoor lights when they germinated (March 6/7).  They are pretty spindly, but I know from experience that if I can get them outside and protect them from the cutworms, they will grow out of it quickly.  I always plant more than I need to replace those the cutworms harvest.

Fully aware of the gamble, I planted two Glacier on March 21, well before our last average frost date of April 12.  If frost gets them, I have more seedlings to replace them, and if they live, I will have a head start on the game!

But I haven't simply left them to the frost wolves.  I have given them every chance to succeed, same as the tomatoes that I will continue to plant in stages until they are all in.  First, of course, is the soaker hose.  That's a must that I have been laying out for years and years. (Soaker hose isn't the same as it was 20 years ago, more's the pity, but that's another story.) 

Down each side of the tomato row and between each tomato plant on four foot centers, there will be foot access on mulched ground.  The mulch begins with a layer of cardboard (I use boxes when I have them and brown, landscape fabric when I don't) or newspaper (for the small, detail spaces) covered with a natural mulch of whatever I happen to have that year.  Leaves are fine, but they break down.  Wheat straw is better and desirable, if it doesn't cost me an arm and a leg.  This year, I have the remains of a wood chip pile, so I'll toss that around over the cardboard when the tomato plants are all set.  (Use caution with wood because it's a taker, as well as, a giver as it breaks down.)  If there's a weed outbreak through these layers, I'll toss on another box or newspaper and throw more mulch over that.

This method, a variation of "lasagna gardening" has all kinds of advantages. The tomatoes have as much room as they need to spread above and below the ground.  It gives me access from as many sides as I need for picking my ruby treasure.  It means I don't have to till the ground, which means I don't need a rototiller, which means no gas, oil, maintenance, labor, or noise.  Below is a pic of buckets "planted" in the ground.  As I dug those holes, I gloated over the structure of my soil, a product of many years of care and love for that precious medium, the dirt.  Partly that structure is due (among other factors) to the fact that I haven't tilled it.

Those are all things I always do, but I'm adding a little twist this year, the buckets.  These are actually plastic plant pots, the ones with drainage holes at the bottom.  I've planted them to the rims and left them empty and uncovered, except for a handful of crushed oyster shell I tossed in the bottom of each.  As it rains (or when/if I water from overhead), the buckets will collect water and release it about 12 inches lower in the soil, down where thirsty roots can access it, along with any dissolved calcium from the oyster.  A bonus was that I dug pretty deep holes, further breaking up the soil for tomato roots that LOVE to ramble.  Although I didn't think of it before, I see now that the black plastic is serving as a heat collector for my early seedlings, warming the soil to a considerable depth.  It hasn't even rained yet, and I already have a win-win!  Later, the tomato leaves will shade the buckets, protecting from overheating in the fierce Kansas solar.

The next step is to actually plant a tomato seedling.  This is done by burying the stem right up to the true leaves (pinch off the first leaves), then wrap a bit of newspaper around the stem right at the soil level.  This little collar requires the skill of a surgeon, and it's not foolproof.  The collar wants to unwind and disappear.  I tried tape one time, but moisture in the soil and surroundings released it as well.  Despite the difficulty of this niggling step, I still try, because those stems that are covered are protected from cutworms.  Where a collar is lost, there is often an extremely disappointing discovery in the morning, a little seedling lying on its side, looking exactly like a tiny lumberjack came through in the night and felled it with an axe.  It's my major cause of loss and why I always germinate more tomatoes than I think I'll need.

After planting, tomatoes get a little tray that sits around them like a collar.  In the pictures, that is the black plastic form hiding the plants.  They come in red these days, too.  Mine are old, used many times, so they're the old black, a good color for early planting because it harvests heat.  Later, the collars are good mulch.

After the collars, a wire cage goes around each.  Not these little 3 foot high cages sold in stores!  Even some semi-determinate tomatoes will grow to 6 feet or more in each direction, and I am fond of indeterminate varieties some years, too, which have no check (except for cold) on the height/length they will grow.  My cages were given me by my mom, who constructed them out of galvanized wire fencing on 6 inch centers.  They are about 20 years old, and the pins at the bottom are mostly rusted, but they're still better than anything I could buy.  When they finally rust away, I'll make new ones from new wire fencing.  Each cage gets an iron stake, and I often have to add stakes when plants get so large they threaten to topple the entire structure over, especially in a wind storm!

Over the first two Glacier seedlings are the glass cloches I cut from 2 gallon wine jugs.  They worked very nicely, although it's probably warm enough now (April 6) to dispense with them.  It was sunny all day yesterday, and the cloches would have steamed the little seedlings into a vegetable side dish if I had left them on.  I have 3 more jugs to be cut, but I was waiting to see if it was worth it.  It is.

While all this elaborate structure is being put together, I use bricks to hold it down.  As the pins and mulch and stakes get layered on, the bricks get piled to the side to be used elsewhere and then again and then finally making a pile that I'll use in the fall for even more tasks like tacking down fabric row covers against early frosts.

As of this writing, I have four tomatoes in the ground, two Glacier and two Black Krim, and I have all the buckets "planted."  I would plant all the tomatoes if it was not for that fickle fiend, frost!  Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, here's some green to soothe the eyes and soul, carrots, lettuce, spinach, onions, a random cilantro, and some pansies I started from seed waaaaaay back in the fall.