Category Archives: Gardening

Project 365 – The Simple Act of Planting a Seed

Some people might think I’m talking about a metaphysical seed – the kind that germinates into a new life, a new business, a new charity, a new product.

Actually, I am talking about real seeds – lettuce seeds, tomato seeds, pepper – eggplant – pumpkin – vegetable seeds of all sizes and shapes.  An organic gardener for close to 30 years, I spend the cold, dark months of winter planning what will grow in my garden, when I will plant it, and how much I will need for my family.

Organic vegetables

My organic garden in June of 2011.

But then, I add a row or two extra of everything I plant; I grow food for the hungry.  So do millions of other gardeners across the country and around the world.

Don’t believe me?  Google “plant a row.”  You’ll get more than 27 million results.  A lot of the results are for programs that ask gardeners to Plant A Row (PAR), literally.  The PAR program began in Alaska almost 20 years ago to help feed the hungry but it has participants (couldn’t resist) all over the country.  (More on PAR in a later post.)

So there are a lot of people growing food to feed the hungry.  And there are a lot of organic gardeners like me who take the program just one step further.  We don’t buy just any vegetable seed; we buy seed that is locally grown, not genetically modified, and helps support other charitable programs.  I buy from a small but growing farm network — Hudson Valley Seed Library.

The farms that make up this group  raise seed you can trust, that’s a given.  But the partners who started this business, Ken Greene and Doug Muller, also use artists to create seed pack covers and donate free seeds to a school garden, community garden, or garden organization  in need.

One other program that really shows the power that a single gardener who has some seeds, some dirt and some determination has, is Ample Harvest.

Started in 2007 by a New Jersey gardener who grew more than he and his wife could eat, today you can find the gardeners who support this organization in all 50 states.  The first donation went to a shelter for battered women just 4 years ago.  Since then, Gary Oppenheimer’s “home grown” operation has drawn national attention including getting its founder named a CNN hero.

Ample Harvest has also gotten the support of some pretty heavy hitters including the US Department of Agriculture, Google, the National Council of Churches and the National Gardening Association in its quest to “…diminish hunger, improve nutrition and help the environment.”

Growing a garden this summer and want to help?  Ample Harvest offers an easy, zip code-based search tool that will help you turn up food pantries in your back yard that could use your extra veggies.

Got a food pantry that could use some fresh produce? You can also register at Ample Harvest so people in your neighborhood can find you.

Just one  small act, planting a seed, can make a huge difference in your neighborhood, your city, your state and  country….and yes, the world.

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Filed under Gardening, Inspiring People, Life & Death, Project 365, Religion, World Changing Ideas

My Backyard Chickens & The Last Chicken Standing

I am grateful for many things, as I wrote in this post 6 months ago.  But what I am most thankful for was somewhat of a surprise for some people.  It was a chicken.

My chicken.  Lucia or Lucy  as she is known affectionately.

It’s Lucy of the flashing red feathers and bright golden eyes who brings a smile to my face this holiday season. She has brought great joy to our lives for almost 4 years. She is a New Hampshire Red chicken. And she is or was the last chicken standing.

Lucia died in the wee hours of Sunday morning, July 8th, 2012, age and heat catching up with her.  But she is still here, in my heart.

She and her sisters arrived in May of 2008, just one day old.  The packing box they where shipped in weighed more than the 4 of them, combined.  Tiny, soft, fluffy and so vulnerable, they quickly grew into big, beautiful birds, each with her own personality.

My chickens moved out into the real world at just a week old.

Lucia was the smallest, the quietest and always the last one to get to the food.  Even as a chick, her nature was gentle. Today, she sweeps out of her Eglu Go – Green – Chicken House each morning to feast on a mixture of barley, wild rice and brown rice with a nice topping of shredded cheddar cheese.

Then she patrols her pen, always on the lookout for some wayward bug or hapless spider who entered her house while she was sleeping.

Born with a set number of eggs to lay in her life time, Lucy delivered the last of her 230 or so about 6 months ago.  She is now fully retired.  And she is alone.  Her sisters, Heathcliff, Gertrude and Squeaky Ethel left her behind.

Squeaky Ethel, the most intense of all of them and the one who tried to escape every time the door opened, died first, simply laying down one afternoon and not getting up.  Tall, elegant Heathcliff was the next to go.  She laid the biggest eggs, popped out of the Eglu like she was being shot out of a cannon and generally enjoyed just being a chicken.  She, too, just went to sleep one night.

Gertrude had a stroke.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  I found her lying in front of the Eglu one spring afternoon.  Thinking she was dead, I bent down and picked her up gently and she looked at me.  Her body was rigid; she couldn’t move but she was warm and she was alive.

I took her to the patio, sat on the glider and held her in my lap under the afternoon sun, stroking her and telling her how beautiful she was.  An hour later, she died in my arms.

All three lie in small graves in my garden, giving back to my soil and to me.  Lucy will lie there one day but I hope not too soon.

Yes, I know Lucy’s days are numbered.  And I want to make them the best that I can.  So I put fresh straw in the Eglu, feed her blueberries and yogurt for an afternoon snack and give her all the love this small, beautiful red-headed chicken deserves until she draws her last breath.

She will be buried with great dignity in the garden she loved to scratch in and I will know my girls are out there gardening with me.

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Five Favorite, Frugal Gardening Gifts

If you have a gardener in your life (or you are the gardener in your life), there are 5 great gifts that you can give them this holiday season and not break the bank doing it.  The least expensive one is under $10.00 and the most expensive one is just over $50.00.  All of these gifts will bring years of gardening pleasure, too.

Fiskars 7079 Big Grip Garden Knife
Under $10 and without a doubt the handiest tool I have in my shed.  The grip is comfortable – that means the knife takes a beating, not your hands.  I use it for digging, planting, weeding, and transplanting. The serrated edge cuts through the ground like butter.  The middle of the blade has a slight indention for transplanting.  And the knife has a notched tip that helps cut through tap roots of dandelions and burdock.  The metal blade is also coated with a rust-resistant material, and the handle features a large hang hole for easy storage.  I bought one of these for all of my brothers and sisters.

Fiskars 3 Piece Soft Touch Garden Tool Set
Fiskars wins again with this tool set.   Easy on the hands and the wallet (under $15.00), the three tools that come in this set make handwork in the garden so much better.   The tools are lightweight and balanced.  Made of rust-resistant polished aluminum, each one has an over-sized, soft grip that is ergonomically designed to keep wrists in a neutral position.  The set includes a trowel, transplanter, and cultivator and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Flexrake 1000A Hula Hoe
if you have to weed, this is the tool you want in your arsenal.  An old standby that has been upgraded, this stirrup hoe has an aluminum handle making it easier on your hands and the blade of the hoe makes it easier on your back.  The self-sharpening Hula-Ho blade works beneath the surface of the soil.  Back and forth “hula” motion cuts weeds at the roots and leaves them to mulch in the garden.  This one is a bargain at just over $23.00.

Mintcraft Folding Garden Stool
For all you gardeners of “a certain age” there is no question that this stool qualifies as a tool!    Bending over is fine if you are under forty.  It’s pretty uncomfortable if you’re older or have a hinky back.  So I love this gardening tool.  And I love being able to pack all my other tools into the canvas pockets and take them with me, wherever I go in the garden.  Buy the gardening stool for just $27.99.  Or take advantage of the great deal Amazon put together.  Buy this stool with the Fiskars Soft Touch Garden Tool Set and get them both for only $37.00.

Felco Classic Manual Pruners
I got a pair of these for my anniversary and I was so excited.  I had been hacking my fruit trees, blackberry and blueberry bushes and ornamentals with loppers.  No finesse there and a lot of hacked up bushes.  The Felco pruners make it so easy to reach into a shrub, bush or fruit tree and only remove dead wood or crossed branches.  I don’t have a lot of upper arm strength so I love the fact that this pruner literally cuts through smaller branches like a warm knife through butter.  This is the most expensive garden gift – $59.00 – but well worth the cost.

Anyone of these tools will make gardeners’ eyes light up, bring a smile to their faces and make them want to run right out and start turning soil.

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The Gift of Life

It’s the holiday season so I know you get them too.  Appeals for money from every possible type of charity there is.  Who do you share your post tax income with?  How do you choose?

Before being laid off, we gave to many of these charities every year, often without reading about them, without knowing where the money was going.  We still give to charities but, since 2009, our criteria for giving have changed.  We’ve had to be more careful about what we give and which charities get the nod.

Here are the 4 groups we support and why:

  1. Heifer International– Heifer’s gifts aren’t fruit baskets or silky scarfs or fine wine.  They are grounded, living gifts that help indigenous people become self-supporting, able to feed themselves, their families and sometimes, their whole village.  This year we donated enough money to buy three flocks of chicken and two honeybee hives for people in other countries.  These gifts will keep on giving for years after they arrive in their new homes.

    Give a gift of life through Heifer International.

    A gift of chickens can feed a family or a village or both

  2. Sunday Breakfast Mission–  The Sunday Breakfast Mission started small – feeding holiday dinners to homeless and jobless men in Wilmington, Delaware.  Last year, this charity served more than 200,000 meals to hungry men, women and children and provided shelter for close to 300 people . Sitting in my warm home, with my full refrigerator and my full life, I know that this is one charity I have to support, no matter what.

The first two charities support people.  The next two support the planet.

  1. The Audubon SocietyAnsel Adams once said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”   I’m not ashamed to admit that I support this organization precisely because it does fight our government; it does insist that our elected officials and the 1% of this nation that continues to get wealthy off the entire country’s resources be held accountable for the damage they are doing to our planet. If we don’t stand up for this world, the ecosystems, wildlife habitats and the birds and animals who live in them, with us, who will?
  2. Nature Conservancy – this organization fights to protect ecologically important land and water in every state in this country and in 30 other countries around the globe.  Donate to Nature Conservancy and help buy endangered land and waterways, help to build coalitions between governments and between and with the residents who live in the area.  Their work is rooted in science, their conservation projects are practical and their outcomes are there for every one to see and enjoy.

There are other charities we support in smaller ways, like the Ocean Conservancy and the Sierra Club.  We still drop money in the Salvation Army buckets and give gently used clothing to the Goodwill but we like the 4 charities listed above because their work will live long after our money is gone and our lives are over.

If you have a little extra cash burning a hole in your pocket this holiday season, you might want to think about sharing it with charitable organizations like these and with people who need food, shelter, and livelihood a whole lot more than they need a new car, a new phone or a new toy.  You might think about giving the gift of life.

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My Sustainable Life

Who knew that when I started learning to live on my 2 1/2 acres almost 20 years ago that my lifestyle would become…dare I say it…popular?

As an executive at a multinational corporation, I was literally laughed at whenever one of my peers found out about my hobbies. I was odd man out, you see.

I hated golf.  I really couldn’t stand the pretensions of the “oenophiles” I was forced to travel with.  And I really loathed back stabbing, expense account dinners where the targets of the next round of lay offs were discussed as we plowed through enough wine and food to keep at least one of the “peasants” gainfully employed for 3 months.

I loved (and still love) raising my own fruits and vegetables.  I own chickens and if my husband ever loosens up a bit, will have a goat or two in the back yard, as well.

My life in the dirt began when I tripped over one small book one Saturday morning.   The Victory Garden by Jim Crockett.  Almost 50 years old, Crockett’s book is still hailed as one of the best books for beginning gardeners and it still has pride of place on my gardening book shelf.

Over the last 30 years, with the help of books like Nancy Bubel‘s Seed Starters Handbook, I now raise all my own seeds.  This past summer every plant in my garden — 5 varieties of tomato, 2 types of pepper, 2 of cucumbers and 2 of eggplant and zucchini – were all started in my basement along with butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, basil and parsley.

Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and Patricia Lanza’s book on Lasagna Gardening, helped me expand my knowledge and increase the size of my garden 5 fold.  I use cold frames in the spring and fall and a combination of raised beds and row cropping to increase my yield.  And I learned a whole lot about what I can raise and what I can’t.

I’m aces with tomatoes — all heirloom or organic seed — from Grow Italian or Territorial Seeds.  My blueberries yield over 60 quarts every year and my Montmorency cherries are a close second with 50 plus quarts.  Pear trees are just starting to bear fruit and the pluots are eagerly anticipated every summer.

But my fig trees are good one year and not so good the next.  And the peach and apple trees bear really bad fruit – spotty and buggy.  Cantelope grow beautifully in my soil but taste like dirt.  Broccoli Rabe comes up fast and easy but flowers before I can harvest it.

Early days for tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, and onions.

The garden when you could still see the ground.

Potatoes love the soil but always fall prey to Colorado Potato Beetles and wire worms.

Knowing what I can’t grow upset me when I was a younger gardener but this old girl understands that knowing what she can’t grow is even more important than knowing what she can.  Why?

I no longer waste time or space on those veggies and fruits that just are not going to produce.  I spend that time honing my skills at growing and harvesting the myriad of foods that like my soil, my weather, my temperatures, wind and rain.

So as winter approaches, I spend time gazing at the pill boxes full of seeds that are resting in my refrigerator.  I plot and plan what I will grow and draw a garden diagram I know I will never follow.  And I spend quiet hours re-reading the books by my old friends that have helped me create this sustainable life of mine.

And every day, I give thanks for being able to live as I do, in harmony with the natural world.

 

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