Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Free" Fertilizer

I've posted about vermicomposting before; composting with worms, which is my favorite way to get rid of kitchen scraps. Now I have another new fave: tadpole water! I've got a couple of bullfrog tadpoles (Skipper and Gilligan, his little buddy). They live in a 20 gallon tank on my kitchen counter, where they swim around and hang out, waiting to grow their little froglet legs.

In the meantime they do an excellent job of chowing down on the "overripe" lettuce and greens that we seem to find fairly often. Right now they're feasting on some watercress I bought thinking it was cilantro. No one ate it, and it began to, uh, change. Thriftily, I froze it. Now I break off parts and toss it to the guys, who think it's a delicacy. It must be good for them: they're growing and pooping. A LOT.

And there's my free fertilizer. Every time I clean out the tank (about twice a week), I capture the water in a jug and water my vegetables out back. They are SHOOTING out of the ground! All that nitrogen in the water is a good thing. The water not only contains tadpole offerings but the residue of whatever they've been eating, so there's lots of rich vegetable matter going into the ground.

I'm delighted. So are my plants. The tadpoles? They prefer the water green and slimy, so I think they're a little irritated that I went in with the sink sprayer and cleaned everything out. They're doing a great job of getting it back to their idea of normal, which will help continue the cycle until they're grown.

By the way, the tadpole pictured isn't mine. The guy in the picture is a little more developed, but I couldn't resist the photo! The photographer, "skassam" captured a great shot. See more of his work at:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fresh Peas!

We were able to harvest our peas today -- they are AMAZING! They're so fresh that we can eat the pod, too. The "fresh" peas you get in the grocery store are all dried out. They're easier to open, but the pod is good for little more than composting.

Tonight I prepared a London Broil with roasted onions and served fresh raw peas and pods on the side. My husband likes to eat the pods whole, like snap peas. I like to eat the fresh peas on their own, but I did eat a few pods as well. So juicy and fresh.

It makes any effort expended on gardening well worth it. And any money I've spent has come back ten-fold just in the freshness and beauty of the harvest. I've said it before and I'll say it again; I wish we had more land! Years ago we participated in a co-op garden with some other families, but it was in a city where we don't live. When the renter of the space moved, the rest of us were out of luck.

I think that will be my new goal -- to find some available land and grow what I can.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, y'all! In the paper today were inspiring stories of people who are planting trees, putting out recycling bins, exchanging their light bulbs for the "curly" kind, and a variety of other planet-saving ideas. I applaud them. I think all those ideas are great and that everyone can do each one of those things at the very minimum.

Then I read an article by an "earth" group whose spokesman came out negatively about Earth Day. (I WISH I could remember the name of the group! Unfortunately, I already recycled the newspaper that article was in. That's called "irony".) Anyway, he said every day should be Earth Day. The things we do specially for this day should be the things we're doing anyway. Earth Day, if it's to exist at all, should feature some larger, better activity that we wouldn't normally do.

I understand that thinking. I even applaud it. However, I don't want to negate the smaller things and discourage people who've never given a thought to keeping our planet healthy. For a child to put a seed in a pot, water it, watch it, and ultimately glean the results... well, that's an awesome first step. That child will hopefully grow and do more and more, maybe someday planting a kitchen garden.

For Earth Day today my children and I are going to go to the beach. We're going to meet some friends and play, but we'll also bring a few trash bags and see if we can scoop up some debris and leave our area a bit cleaner than we found it. When I was a child my mother routinely asked us to pick up three extra pieces of trash when we picnic'd or went to the beach -- she said it's always better to do a little than to do nothing.

And then we'll come home and maybe we'll put a few more seeds into our ground. We're currently growing peas, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, rosemary, mint, strawberries, blueberries, lemons and peaches. Hubby has asked for a tangerine tree! It would be fun to surprise him with one today.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Using What You Have 2

I don't usually post more than once in a day, but I really liked this snippet of info posted by my friend, Shavawn, on another site:

I'm going to go make potato soup for dinner because my potatoes are starting to grow and my milk is about to expire! Nothing will go to waste now! Would that be considered as going green?

Yes! It's absolutely going green. Once those potatoes sprout, there's green everywhere :o) Actually, using what you have and figuring out how to make it work WELL is the best part of this post. My dad told me his mother encouraged him to scrape out every can and use every drop of liquid -- she said it wasn't being "cheap" it was being a "good cook". I think it's both! And both are good. Why throw perfectly good food away? Good job, Shavawn!

More Food-Gathering in Urban Areas

I've just discovered a magazine called Good, which in their words is "a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward." The articles focus on ways to keep moving forward, one step at a time, in making our world a better place to live.

A few weeks ago I linked to an article about a man in Sacramento who leads garden walks around urban areas -- he and his group pick the fruit that's ripe (with the home-owner's permission) and donate the harvest to local food banks. Good is running a similar article about people in a variety of areas all doing the same thing. The good idea is catching on!

Check out the original article on-line:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Getting Organized

Continuing with my "spring cleaning" theme, I've been taking a careful look at my cupboards. Some are in great shape and others need a lot of help. The joy of a cupboard is that it has a door that closes and shuts away all the clutter and debris. I like that.

My cupboards aren't bad, there are just some things in there that could be pitched. Over time, cupboards seem to take on a life of their own with excess objects finding themselves wedged in place. This is especially true with the refrigerator, but that's another column for another day.

One thing I love is shelf extenders. You can stick an extender in a cupboard and instantly have another shelf for storage. As you can see in the photo, I use them in the kitchen so that I don't have plates and bowls stacked on top of one another -- everything is easily accessible.

On the top shelf, in the boxes, are sets of Ikea stemware. This is a great way to store glassware, yet have it readily available for parties. Everyone gets glassware -- no plastic wine glasses!

The tropical plates on the bottom shelf are from Target -- $1.49 each! Yes, they're melamine and will last forever, but what value! The red salad plates are also from Target. They were marked down after Christmas to 75 cents each.

All the mismatched plates and bowls somehow seem more coordinated when well placed in a cupboard. Right now this is the best-looking cupboard in my kitchen; I'm still working on the rest!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter Fun!

The part-time pioneer has had full-time bronchitis this week, but we still needed to get some Easter decorations made. With two boys who are teen and pre-teen, cute little bunnies are OUT. More complicated crafts and projects are IN, so we decided to make blown eggs. This entails blowing the "guts" out of an egg and then painting the shell with acrylic paints. Messy and fun!

We had a pack of 18 eggs in the fridge (using what we have) and a bunch of paints out in the garage left over from all kinds of other projects. We found that the paints that worked best were left over from Boy Scout Pinewood Derby projects; shiny and easy to apply. The boys blew the eggs -- my bronchial tubes made blowing difficult, but I managed a couple.

I did capture all the leftover yolk and carefully strained it to avoid shells. Then I baked a frittata for dinner! We had baked some homemade bread as well, so dinner was easy tonight.

Painting the eggs was soothing and creative. It was the perfect activity to do with bigger kids who want to be creative. Our plan tomorrow or the next day will be to thread them, then hang them from the large picnic umbrella in the backyard. Since we're slated for rain tomorrow, we may make this an activity for later in the week.

Clean-up was a breeze -- all water-based paints! That's actually one of our regular salad plates there that we're using as a palate. A salad palate? LOL!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Just Drive, She Said

Growing up, driving my mother’s car was humiliating. She always had good, solid cars that were not even close to being cool. I remember trying to “cruise” in her Volare station wagon; embarrassing. It had a “Go, Dodger Blue” bumper sticker and a Jack-in-the-Box bobblehead on the radio antennae.

Years passed and I found myself in sudden need of a car after mine was totaled in an accident. By then my mother had passed away and my father still had her old car in the driveway: a white Buick Century. Needing transportation quickly, I bought it.

At first, tooling around town in the Buick was a little disconcerting; everyone else driving one was over the age of 65. But I found that it fit two car seats well, and the trunk was so big that we could buy our Christmas trees and lay them down sideways in it without having to tie them to the car. It was a great trunk for hauling boogie boards and bikes to the beach.

When the gauge approached 100,000 miles, my husband began making comments about looking around for a new car. I was sadly reluctant to let this last piece of my mom go. Driving around with my children listening to their kiddie tapes, not worrying about the sand and Cheetohs all over the seats was relaxing. And remembering my mother, who used to do the same thing with us as children, makes me feel that I am continuing the legacy of being a cool parent. In an uncool car.

As it turned out, an illegal driver who blew through a red light made the decision about whether or not to trade in the car a moot point.

A friend came to pick us up at the scene of the accident and said, “Don’t forget to get everything out of your car before they tow it.” Her eyes widened as the pile of sporting equipment, car seat and other miscellaneous items piled up on the sidewalk next to her car. We barely fit it all in to her sedan.

Now I drive a Trooper. It’s marginally cooler than a Buick, but of course my son, who is approaching driving age, is dying at the thought of having to drive it. He has his eye on sportier models. No matter. I blithely spread my Boy Scout sticker on the back window and, as a crowning touch, a Jack-in-the-Box bobblehead on the antennae. Perfect.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Cleaning for Spring

Lately I've been nesting. Or maybe it's spring cleaning. At any rate, I've been getting organized and clearing out unnecessary items that can better benefit someone else -- in another house or garage.

I'm pretty good at clutter control, but even the best of us have room for improvement. Today I tackled the back yard which was only recently photographed for inclusion in a local magazine; you'd think it would look pretty good. Still, things grow and need to be clipped back, especially the English ivy which encroaches from my neighbor's yard. I love the ivy, but it gets pretty bushy and needs thinning.

I felt kind of bad when I yanked on one strand and about two feet more came from my neighbor's side of the fence. Oops. I did that two or three more times before I caught on that I should use my clippers. I don't want to leave their side of the fence denuded of greenery.

The kids helped, too. We found some great "boy" jobs: climbing on a tall ladder; hauling a heavy plant in a pot; digging a hole. We rearranged a few plants, cut a few things back, poked holes in the dirt of all the potted plants and just generally spruced things up a bit.

In the process we enjoyed the little white blossoms of our pea plants beginning to bloom. The first cucumber seed pushing a pale green shoot out to greet the sun. And the tiny strawberries and peaches that are so small, yet so precise.

The only bummer of the day was what to do with all the ivy. My worms dislike it; I have put bushels of ivy in the compost pile only to have it rejected by all the chompers who busily churn out fertilizer for me. Since we live in a townhome we don't get the "green" trash can from our local service, so I had to just throw it all away. For some reason this bugged me, then I realized that if that's the biggest problem I had today, I was doing pretty darn well!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pioneer Ingenuity!

Gadgetry is a marvelous thing. I do love my gadgets (as I mentioned in a previous post), but they can irritate me mightily at the same time.

Here's a good "for instance"... we have a shower head that we bought new when we moved into our home. Over the years it has become clogged with various hard water deposits and who-knows-what. I've soaked it, bleached it, gotten into the little holes with a toothpick... and have finally given up. Off to Target I went and returned home with a new shower head.

My older son installed it today. It took a little doing since the instructions helpfully came in three different languages, but none of them referenced the way the hose part was supposed to attach. Jack's a bright boy -- he figured it out. Then he noticed that instead of six options for spray we now only have four. He thinks this is going to make a big difference in our lives and isn't sure he can wash his hair on the "massage" setting.

I'm thinking of the pioneers of yore who were lucky to wash their hair once a week (in COLD water). I started revving up for my "you don't know how lucky you kids have it" speech when I realized that I might not like it either. Hmmmm. If Mama is discomposed, then obviously the fault is with the product, not the spoiled inhabitants of the house.

In the meantime, Steve was at work with our hand-held can opener which apparently was having problems. He got out the screwdriver and fooled around with the blade for awhile, but ultimately figured out his own solution (see picture). Now that's pioneer ingenuity!

I'm reminded of a babysitter we had years ago, a young teen of about 14 named Justin. We came home after a night out and found a claw hammer in the sink covered in a suspicious red substance. I brought Justin into the kitchen, pointed at the sink, and said, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Oh yeah," came the answer. "I couldn't find your can opener, so I opened the Spaghetti-O's with the claw part of the hammer."

That is such a "boy" answer that I was left speechless. I was impressed by his originality in finding a solution to his problem, particularly since the can opener was in the drawer RIGHT BEHIND HIM. The hammer was at the far end of the kitchen in the "junk" drawer, entailing a much more detailed search.

I think Steve had the right idea with the church key. The can lid isn't sheared off cleanly, but it does have a lovely starburst pattern. It's not like I keep the cans and lids forever; the recycling bin doesn't mind the condition of the products when they're tossed in. The point is, he figured out a solution to his problem, as did Jack and Justin.

And that's the pioneering spirit!