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.

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.

Doody Calls

Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.  Doody – or chicken manure is now in the raised beds.  The instructions said to just spread it on top of the soil and water well.  Yea!  No backbreaking work in that. 

I also got the watering system set up, but its not perfect.  Three sprinklers are hooked up with connecting hoses to one faucet.  The first one gets lots of pressure – too much water for the #1 bed when its just right for the other two further down the line.   Will try putting a splitter on the faucet and operating them separately.  Will still have to water other areas by hand, but this system will lighten the load during the extreme heat of the summer.  I wanted to get it set up before I planted so as not to injure young plants.  Trial and error time again.  The story of my life. 

Next step is to buy my onion and potato sets and get them planted along with lettuce seeds.  Its still a little cold but I’m going for it.  Okra will wait until the middle of April.   

Just an update for anyone interested in the process.  Urban agriculture!!!!

Keep it simple, ya’ll.

Almost There

This is what met my eyes when I walked out the door this morning.  Cue birdsong and woodpecker tapping.  The buds are ALMOST open.  In a few days this very lopsided Bradford Pear tree will be in full bloom.  While all the other trees still appear to be dormant, local pear trees – and believe me there are LOTS of them around here – are trying very hard to get Spring underway.  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any tulips this year.  Must have missed them because they always precede everything else.  Next will be the redbuds – absolutely gorgeous and the state tree of Oklahoma; again, very prolific.  And then the irises.  I love irises.  I have yellow and purple in my yard.  The blooms don’t last long but they are truly beautiful while they last. 

My sedum is beginning to put on some serious growth.  It never really goes dormant here.  I cut it back every winter but there are always some low lying green buds just on the surface.  It made it through the extreme temperatures this winter. 

I think I’ll go to the local nursery today at lunch and buy a few bags of manure to work into the veggie beds tomorrow.  Next comes planting for onions and lettuce. 

I also need to get serious about pricing DIY guttering.  I’ve had two very nice rain barrels for a couple of years now, but haven’t gotten them hooked up for lack of guttering.  It might be a little pricey to get the whole thing up and running, but free water for the garden will be the tradeoff.

 The garden is going to be great this year – I can just feel it!

Keep it simple, ya’ll.