Nature Around Us

“We can grow closer to a place and the life that inhabits it, by deciding to do so.  To paraphrase an old song: If you can’t be with the land you love, love the land you’re with.”

Richard Louv, The Nature Principle

It’s a cold sunny morning and I’m home because my office has closed due to slick and hazardous driving conditions.  Yee – haa! A three day weekend – I’ll take it, thank you very much.

I’ve been reading Richard Louv’s The Nature Prinicple, and while I’ve skimmed past a lot of the scientific studies – the first seven chapters – it has finally struck a cord.  He encourages those of us in urban settings to learn to observe nature around us. So many people think – and I’ll confess I’ve long been one of them- that natural beauty can only be found at the end of a long drive to the wilderness or a nature preserve.  For us, that would be anywhere from 10 to 16 hours in the car to our beloved New Mexico or Colorado mountains.  But, Louv says, there is wildlife all around us in our URBAN dwelling places, that by merely being more observant of what bird, plant and animal species dwell in close proximity, we might be surprised at what we find.

This is what greeted me when I opened my kitchen curtain this morning.  Lovely little bird tracks in the snow.

adjusted tracks

And this is what greeted the birds.

adjusted feeder

You can see where one little sparrow tried to find the bird feed under the 2″ of snow in the feeder.  Must be good stewards of the nature around us, so I cleaned out the snow while our cat kept vigil at the back door.  She SO wanted out to play with the birds.

IMG_1017

I’m so glad we bought the mesh-bottomed feeders. Most of the snow just fell through the holes as I stirred it.  Only the largest pieces are left, but the sun will melt those soon enough.  And this is the sound that greeted my ears when I went out.

I even heard a woodpecker hard at work in a nearby tree.  This is my reward.  Birds lining up on the fence to take a run at the feeder, a bright red cardinal on one feeder and a bluejay on the other.

       Blue JayIMG_0231

The good life doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Starting Fresh From a Different Angle

After a three year hiatus, Simple Stewardship is back in the blogosphere.

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For three years I posted diligently about my struggles with vegetable gardening in a back yard with a western exposure during three of the hottest summers in recent history.  I gave up the gardening and I gave up the blog. We took out the raised beds and cultivated a crop of bermuda grass and weeds.

Life has had its ups and downs.  My husband underwent cancer surgery and is now cancer free. Thank you, Lord.  He also had an unexplained heart attack.  Unexplained in the sense that ALL tests came back squeaky clean.  Our son graduated college and is now one of the millions of graduates looking for a job.  A year later, he is renewing his studies to hopefully open some new doors.  I’m three years older, still working at the same job, but generally enjoying life.  My husband and I went through a period of several months of refurbishing our home in the hopes of selling it and moving into something a little newer and in an area with a little more of nature around us.  But, quite honestly, we didn’t find anything for which we were willing to start another 30 year mortgage or add 45 minutes to our daily commute.

So, here we are.  In our old house, hunkered down for the long haul.  As I gaze upon the blank slate that is my back yard, all I see is the faded fence and the chimney of my neighbor’s house.  No life, no color, no natural beauty.

yard feb. 2014

BUT THAT’S ABOUT TO CHANGE!  I found a wonderful landscaper who has produced a long range plan for planting a mix of native grasses, flowering shrubs, a fruit tree and vegetables to bring our back yard to life.

best yard plan

I don’t know about you, but I cannot live happily, contentedly and simply, without some natural color and beauty around me.  I NEED it.  If I can just look at something beautiful in nature, it helps me keep my financial priorities straight and I don’t spend as much money on frivolous things – helps me keep life simple.  Does that sound weird?  If I’m discontented, I spend money.  Natural beauty calms me and keeps me a little more content with my life.  In The Nature Principle author Richard Louv says “…the human organism needs direct experience with nature.”  We all NEED it.  So if we can’t move to nature, I’m bringing it here. I’m tired of being unhappy with my environment, the lack of natural beauty around me.  I’m tired of wishing we lived somewhere else and I’m going to do something about it!  I asked the landscaper specifically for a plan with plants that can go straight into our clay soil with no major amendment, plants that are heat and drought tolerant, but will give me some color and life.  Ms. Susan Mayberry came through with flying colors!!! If any of you in the OKC area need some help with what to plant where, shoot me an email and I will share her contact information.

So while I’ve been working on changing my environment for the better, I’ve also made a few changes to the blog.  I’ve changed the theme, deleted a couple of pages and added some new ones.  I still have a list of my favorite books, but have added a page where I will be sharing favorite recipes, some from family, some from friends and some I’ve just run across and have enjoyed.  I’ll be sharing my quilting hobby here and probably shutting down my other blog, www.dragonflyquilting.wordpress.com.

So stay tuned!  And keep life simple…

De-Plasticize Your Home: Know The Codes

More reading on my part regarding the abundance of chemicals in our lives.  This time the culprit is plastics.  When it was considered the newest miracle product of  the 1950s, our grandmothers still largely bought and cooked fresh food: fresh produce, meat from the butcher, and stored left overs in those cute little glass refrigerator dishes that go for a premium at antique stores these days.  Today, most of our food comes pre-packaged in plastic.  And what we don’t consume at one meal, we store in plastic in our plastic refrigerators.

Plastic has changed.  Different plastics serve different purposes and are made from different chemical resins.  Some are stable, some are not and leach into our food.  It’s also in our shampoo bottles, our flooring and our kids’ toys.  Plastic is pervasive, but you can educate yourself and learn which ones to avoid.

We’re all familiar with the recycling code on plastic containers.  That cute little green triangle with a number in the middle.  That number indicates the kind of resin used to create the plastic. 

PET OR PETE (POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE), ALSO KNOWN AS POLYESTER

Typical uses: water and soft drink bottles, prepared salad and spinach containers

Health and environmental impact: intended for single use; plastic can break down and host bacteria; potential to interfere with reproductive hormones

HDPE (HIGH DENSITY POLYETHYLENE)

Typical uses: opaque milk jugs; cereal box liners; liquid detergent bottles; most shampoo bottles

Health & Environmental Impacts: low risk of leaching

PVC (POLYVINYL CHLORIDE)

Typical uses: plastic wrap, cooking oil bottles, toys, plumbing pipes, window and door frames, insulation

Health & Environmental Impact: known as the “toxic plastic”; can cause endocrine disruption, reduced sperm count, testicular atrophy and liver cancer

(Run Forrest, run!!!)

LDPE (LOW DENSITY POLYETHYLENE)

Typical uses: plastic wrap, grocery, garbage and sandwich bags.

Health & Environmental Impacts: not known to leach chemicals

PP (POLYPROPYLENE)

Typical uses: yogurt and margarine tubs, microwavable meal trays,  fiber for carpets, wall coverings, vehicle upholstery

Health & Environmental Impacts: hazardous during manufacture but not known to leach chemicals

PS (POLYSTYRENE)

Typical uses: styrofoam cups, clamshell containers, foam meat trays, plastic cutlery, electronics packaging and insulation

Health & Environmental Impacts: eye, nose and throat irritation; stored in body fat (ooohhhh), can cause cancer to production workers, harmful to marine life (this type of plastic makes up the majority of the huge garbage islands floating in global oceans)

PC (POLYCARBONATE), PLA (POLYACTIDE) AND OTHER PLASTIC NOT INCLUDED IN THE CATEGORIES ABOVE

Typical uses: baby bottles, some reusable water bottles, stain resistant food storage containers

Health & Environmental Impacts: BPA-containing polycarbonate causes endocrine and reproduction system disruption; impaired neurological functions; cancer; cardiovascular system damage; early puberty (OMG), obesity (crap!); chemotherapy resistance

Well, Forrest, I’m about to catch up with you.  Good grief.  In my disgust, I am looking for ways to relieve my household of the abundance of plastic.  I quit drinking out of plastic cups a long time ago, but still have them around and my husband uses them all the time.  Just about all the food I buy, even the organic potatoes and apples I bought today, came in plastic bags.  The trays our treat-ourselves-once-a-week rib eye steaks come packaged in are absorbing plastics that are then stored in our body fat.  And I’m really going to start checking for #7.  Scary stuff. 

So, in the spirit of less plastic, I splurged and ordered some reuseable produce bags to use at the grocery store instead of wrapping my fresh produce in plastic and then bringing it home.  Here they are, from Amazon.

I bought 2 sets of 5 at $11 each.  Perhaps a little pricey, but washable and should last a very long time.  They were transparent enough so that the checker had no problem identifying the contents.   Now I just need to find some alternative storage solutions for leftovers.

Comments anyone? 

Keep it simple, ya’ll.

The Dirty Dozen – Top Foods to Buy Organic

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about all the chemicals in our lives.  In our food, in our environment.  While there may not be a lot we can do about the air we breathe, we can make food choices that will put less stress on our livers and lymph systems as they work to detox our bodies.  Buying fruits and vegetables  that have not been sprayed with pesticides will not only keep those chemicals from harming us, but those foods have been tested and proved to be more nutritious, according to Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman, the detox diet expert.

There are 12 foods that are most easily contaminated with pesticides and 12 that she lists as okay to not worry about buying organic.  Here are the ones you should buy organic whenever possible. They are listed in the order of their toxicity.

1. Peaches

2. Apples

3. Sweet bell peppers

4. Celery

5. Nectarines

6.  Strawberries

7. Cherries

8. Pears

9. Grapes, imported

10. Spinach

11. Lettuce

12. Potatos

Wow!  I buy ALL this stuff. 

Here are the foods not to worry about:

1.  Onions  (just bought a bag of organic ones today.  Oh, well..)

2. Avocados

3. Sweet corn

4.  Pineapples (ooh, I love pineapple, good idea…)

5. Mangoes (yuck)

6. Asparagus (double yuck)

7. Sweet peas

8. Kiwi (good!)

9. Bananas

10. Cabbage (something else I just bought organic)

11. Broccoli (second verse same as the first)

12. Papaya (triple yuck)

The good Dr. Gittleman also shares a recipe for a Clorox wash that is supposed to “help remove pesticides, bacteria, parasites and other contaminants.”  She credits Dr. Hazel Parcells for proving that a very dilute mixture of 1 teaspoon of Clorox bleach to 1 gallon of water will not only clean your fruits and vegetables, but make them last longer. 

Thin skinned fruit such as apricots, berries, plums, peaches should be left in the bath for 15 minutes, same for leafy vegetables; poultry, fish, meat, eggs for 20 minutes; thick skinned fruit such as apples, bananas and citrus for 30 minute as well as thin skinned root or fibrous vegetables like carrots and radishes.  After the alloted time in the bath, place in clear water for 10 minutes.  Then remove, rinse and dry thoroughly. 

So, her point is, if organic is too expensive or not available, the above bath is a good alternative.  Think I might give it a try with the strawberries I bought today. 

So, let me know what you think.  Is this sort of information helpful?  Has anyone tried the Clorox bath?  Comments, comments, comments!

Keep it simple, ya’ll.

Clay Pot Irrigation – Part 2

Well, the pots are in the ground and I have planted onions, spinach and lettuce (yes, I know its a little late for these crops but I never read instructions or I would have planted the spinach weeks ago – darn it)

I have a 4’x8′ bed and five pots.  Using the diagram posted in Clay Pot Irrigation Part 1, I figured 16″ between pots so I would need 5 pots.  For once I did the math correctly. 

The holes needed to be pretty deep.  I ran into some old tree roots I had forgotten about.  Hope they don’t suck up all the water and starve my onions.

Here’s what they look like all sunk into the beds.  Next time – IF I do this again, I will paint a little further down on the tops than I did this time.  I have a feeling I am going to be rearranging the dirt a lot to keep the clay covered.

I busted an old clay saucer and used the pieces to cover the holes – to keep mosquitoes from breeding and other bugs out. 

The green sprigs are the onion tops.  I planted in a circle around the pots and along the edges of the bed because the water radius is supposed to be 16″ and I felt like I was wasting space in the bed by not planting something.  I filled the pots with water once they were in the ground and then watered the newly planted plants and seeds to get them started.  Justin at Little Homestead in the City very kindly replied to my email question on this topic.  He said they surface water until the plants get big enough to reach the pots, then they let the pots take over.

That was all done yesterday afternoon.  This morning I went out to check water levels in the pots.  Remember from Part 1 that I said I checked for leaks only on one of the pots?  BIG MISTAKE!!!  If you decide to make DIY ollas, check ALL of them for leaks!!!  Two of my pots had water levels low enough that I could not feel it with my finger; three of them were pretty much still full.  DANGNABIT!  You know what I really want to say.  Just use your imagination.   So, I have 2 pots that are pretty much going to be useless.  I’ll still have to surface water in those spots.  One was my lettuce and one of my onion areas.  There is no way I’m digging those babies up at this point.  They can just sit there all summer.  When I dig them up in the fall, I’ll reseal them for next year. 

So, at this point, the one bed is all I’m going to invest time and money in for the clay pots.  If  the whole system works well, I’ll do more next year and WILL TEST EACH AND EVERY ONE FOR LEAKS.  AAHHHGGG………

So, in spite of the frustration, I also got my potato bed planted – never grown potatoes before.  I found tomato plants at the nursery yesterday when I went back for more soil. Its a little early but they were going like hotcakes and not to be left out of the frenzy, I bought three.  They’re in the ground and looking a little shocky, but hopefully will perk up.  The bell pepper plants are in as is the cilantro.  I LOVE cilantro.  Grew some last year and really enjoyed it. 

About May 1 the okra and cantalope will go in and that’s it.  Something else I made sure to do this year was mark on the calendar when each veggie should be ready to pick.  Being so new at this its hard to tell how big to let something get before picking it.  So having it on the calendar will give me an idea of when its time. 

Hope you’re all having fun getting your own gardens going.  You know, it would be great to get some comments.  I have readers, but very few ever respond or comment on anything.  Is anybody out there?????

Keep it simple, ya’ll.

Clay Pot Irrigation – Part 1

I was recently perusing one of my favorite websites, Little Homestead in the City, and came across a blog post about ollas, or clay pot irrigation.  The whole concept, which has evidently been around for a few thousand years (leave it to me to just be finding out about this), is fascinating. 

The idea is that a porous clay pot is planted in the ground or raised bed and filled with water. Plants are planted around the pot and the roots grow to the source of water.  The water wicks out of the pot through the pores and waters the plants directly to the root system.   A rock (or something like a scrap piece of broken pot) is placed over the hole to keep mosquitoes out.  The pot is refilled as needed depending on temperatures, rainfall, etc. 

According to the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, there are a lot of good things about the method including 50-70% water savings, guards against water stress, does not over irrigate, less frequent watering is required, less weeding since weeds do not prosper as the soil surface remains dry throughout the growing season (interesting!), saves on fertilizer if it is applied as part of the water used to fill the pots (can you put liquid worm fertilizer in there?  must research this!), the soil of the seedbed does not get sealed due to water impact but remains loose and well aerated, and last but not least, clay pots can be installed on undulating ground where surface water runoff might be a problem. 

The Aussies also site some disadvantages such as potential for winter breakage if left in the ground in areas with a winter freeze – definitely a possibility here in Oklahoma and prolonged use is likely to decrease porosity of the clay pot if used in heavy soil. 

Here are a couple of very helpful charts that were on the Australian site.

Sounds to me like the pros outweigh the cons.  As much as I would LOVE to buy the cute ollas found at Peddler’s Wagon, they are a bit out of my price range.  I have three raised bed and will need 4-5 for each.  So after a search for DIY ollas, I made a trip to my local Home Depot for pots.  Let’s just say, I’ll be buying my next round at a local garden shop where I found them the next day for about 1/2 the price!  Here is what I bought for about $45.

Standard UNGLAZED clay pots, saucers, silicone and white paint.   The paint is to seal the part of the pot that sticks up out of the ground to keep water from wicking out the top.  That was a tip I got from someone’s blog that said they learned the hard way.  Sounds like me. 

They were not cheap.  Each pot was $4, saucers were $3.  But I figure if I can get 5 years use out of each pot and with money (and heat stroke) saved from reduced watering, the upfront investment will be worth it.  I also discovered a couple of used pots in the garage that I can clean and use.  One thing to watch out for when buying the pots: I found that a lot of the saucers had what appeared to be hairline cracks and some of the pots did, too.  Don’t know how that would affect the process or the strength of the pot, but just kept looking until I found five pots with no cracks.  Anyway, if I’m paying four bucks apiece, they need to be intact, thank you very much. 

The first step is to seal the saucer and pot together to make one unit.  It takes one bead of silicone on the lip of the pot, squish down, and then a bead around the seam on the outside.  Let dry according to the directions on the silicone.  Mine said 12 hours which was overnight and then some.

It’s not pretty but this part will be underground.  Next came a leakage test.  I didn’t do the test on each pot.  I figured if one sealed, they all did.  Hope I’m right.

No leaks!

Next I painted about 2″ down from the top on each pot as well as the top (which of course is really the bottom of the pot).  The pots will be planted with the saucer down and water filled through the hole.

You can see the water wicking through the sides of my test pot. Pretty cool.

So, this is as far as I’ve gotten.  The weather has been cold and cloudy and the weatherman says we may have one more overnight freeze this week.  I should have already had my onions and lettuce and spinach out, but I’m always slow getting started in the spring.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to get the pots in the ground Thursday this week and can show you Part 2. 

Until then, keep it simple, ya’ll.

Another Form of Living Local

I hadn’t thought of this until just now.  Tonight my husband and I experienced a different form of living locally. 

Usually for entertainment, we hop onto Netflix for an instant play movie or go to the theater to see the same movies everyone else in the country is paying way too much for.  But tonight we did something a little different. 

There is a local musical  duo, EricaJames, a father (guitar) and daughter (violin) who are totally awesome.  Their music is very relaxing with a touch of Celtic.  I’ve always loved the guitar violin combination but these guys have that connection that, if they were singers, would blend in perfect harmonies.   

They have one CD out and from the sound of things tonight, have a lot of new material that hopefully will be out soon. 

What made it even more enjoyable is that Erica’s husband and two small kids were there along with siblings and Mom.  It was definitely a family affair.  Take a look at their website and download their music.  They have improved a lot since their original CD was put out a few years ago, but its still good melody.

http://www.ericajameslive.com . 

A local coffee shop, real community, real local living.  Must do it more often.