Thursday, April 30, 2009

Independence Days

I've decided to participate in Sharon's Independence Days Challenge this year. It was interesting reading all the participants' regular updates last year, but more than that, it'll hopefully keep me honest, inspired, and motivated. I know a lot of people found it really helpful last year.

The goal of the challenge is to do at least one thing every week in the following categories:

1. Plant something - This one will be easy for a while. This week I planted potatoes (Butte, Caribe, and Yukon Gold), and onions - generic yellow onion sets from the garden center. I've got some Jaune Paille Des Vertus I started from seed that I'll be transplanting as soon as they're hardened off, but I've had bad luck with onions from seed in the past. Thus the hedging with boughten onion sets. I also transplanted some comfrey, and Lori planted a bunch of stuff in her part of the garden.

2. Harvest something - We harvested a bit of asparagus. After the agonizing three year wait from planting until the first harvest, I'm dying to finally try some. And eggs. Always eggs.

3. Preserve something - Ummm.... I've got nothin'.

4. Reduce waste - This is a bit of a cheat, but we got a SodaStream Fountain Jet, for making soft drinks at home. No longer will our soft drinks consist of pulling ground water from somewhere else (drought-troubled Atlanta?) and energy-intensive high-fructose corn syrup (with its possible links to diabetes) and shipped across the country. Reusable bottles, our own water, no HFCS. I'm hoping to experiment with some home-made flavor recipes.

5. Preparation and Storage - Lots of good stuff here. Got a copy of Small Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon, and The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. Haven't had a chance to read them yet. But Lori and I have both been working our way through Coleman's The New Organic Grower (me for a second time) with thoughts about another garden expansion next year. Also, found a local guy to help me with small engine repair. He seems to know a lot about a lot of useful subjects. Got one step closer to true rotational grazing with some reworking of our fences. There's more in the works here, but I'll save it for next week.

(And just for the record, I'm taking full credit for the new edition of Small Scale Grain Raising. I described here in this very blog my plea to the author two years ago for a re-release of this hard-to-find classic....)

6. Build Community Food Systems - Bought a couple frozen chickens from a neighbor. Sold surplus eggs at the office. Mailed seeds to a fellow gardener. (Anyone else need some?) Bought a few heirloom seedlings from the Adena Mansion Plant Heirloom Plant Sale. Talked gardening and offered encouragement to a neighbor.

7. Eat the Food - Ate some home-grown eggs. Ate some home-made banana bread (does that count?), and getting ready to eat some home-made pumpkin bread from home-canned pumpkins (that's a little closer....). Looking forward to that asparagus...

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Watch me play expert....


Okay, probably not something to joke about. But the media has quickly whipped itself into a frenzy over the new influenza strain wreaking havoc in Mexico City. Why? Because it's a pretty rough one, and it's apparently spreading human-to-human. The story only broke within the last 48 hours or so, so there's still plenty of time to bring back all the avian flu / SARS hysteria, which looks like the media's game plan. Only this time it's closer to home and certainly more virulent. And now every pair of kids with a cough and a headache are going to be suspected of having the now dreaded H1N1 SIV strain.

Now watch me play pseudo-scientist / pseudo-journalist and make a prediction: This flu strain will hit tropcial areas much harder than temperate ones.

Recent research has shown that typical influenza strains do not spread well in warmer temperatures, and are not even viable at very warm temperatures. Quoting from this article:
"...results showed that the virus spread more easily at 5°C (41°F) than at 20°C (68°F), with no transmission at 30°C (86°F)."
That's why we sometimes get summer colds but not summer flu's. That's also why influenza is pretty rare in warmer climates.

This strain is apparently different in that regard, as its epicenter is Mexico City - and in April no less, which is its warmest month, with an average daytime high of 79°F (26°F).

A warm weather flu. What a horrible thought.

But because of that, people living in these areas have much less exposure to influenza strains in general, and so presumably, much less immunity to them. This could explain why the handful of cases on US soil have been fairly mild, while Mexico City is practically in lockdown, with schools and businesses closing, and people wearing surgical masks all over the city. There have been an estimated 1000 cases in Mexico City and perhaps dozens of fatalities attributed to it already.

And as you read this, keep in mind my awesome credentials. I'm basing this on, well, uneducated guesswork. What I know about influenza, epidemiology, and human immune response comes mostly from playing Oregon Trail.

I'll make another prediction: This will not be a Spanish flu-like pandemic. But on that one, I'm just playing the odds. There are a thousand flu strains floating around out there, and they pretty much all suck. But real pandemics are extremely rare. And the media certainly has incentives to stir the pot whenever they get a chance.

Here's hoping this flu strain has something in common with avian flu and SARS: A high hype-to-substance ratio.


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Monday, April 20, 2009

A question for gardening experts...

You're not supposed to use wood chips as mulch on your plants unless it's been aged. The explanation given is that as the wood rots, it will (initially at least) leach nitrogen from your soil that your plants would otherwise be able to use.

You're also not supposed to use manure on your garden unless it's been aged, because it is too high in nitrogen and can burn your plants.

So what if (hypothetically) I have wood chips and chicken manure mixed together that haven't been aged. Say, like bedding in a chicken pen. What if I cleaned out our chicken pen and used the bedding directly as mulch? Could the two pieces of conventional wisdom above cancel each other out?

Two points, before you answer:

1. This is non-edible landscaping. Shrubs and such.
2. I already did it.

What can I say? I like to live dangerously.

And on a side note - the old riding mower I bought last week is already dead. The curse lives.


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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Doggy Bloggy Update

MEA asked about Amelia's service dog. We're slated for the December training class. But if anybody in the September class can't make it, we'll be the first to get bumped to that one. We won't find out anything about the dog until a week before training. At that point, Amelia will get a letter from her dog, with a photo. Then it's off to sunny Xenia, Ohio for 10 days. We'll be sure to post more info when we get closer.

In the meantime, we just wait....



Friday, April 17, 2009

Green grass, blue skies, brown eggs, and purple flowers...

I'm excited that I can finally, I think, get some planting done this weekend. We've got sunny skies and nice temperatures forecast for the weekend, and a couple days without rain leading in, to dry things up a little. It's always hard to go to work on a beautiful spring day, but somehow working from home makes it even harder. I can see the garden, the sunshine, the things that need to get done. They're right under my nose! Not that I'm complaining. I wouldn't trade it. But at this point it has surpassed the kids running around making noise as the #1 distraction.

I'm also excited that we're getting about 4 dozen eggs a week already. Probably more, in fact, but the chickens do love their secret nesting spots. I think (though I may be wrong) that this is higher egg production for this time of year than we usually get.

I'm excited that the redbuds are starting to bloom. My favorite tree blooming always coincides with my favorite time of the year.

I'm excited to hear news this morning about possible high speed rail service in Ohio. But rail service of any kind in Central Ohio would be a nice option. Columbus is the second largest US city (after Phoenix AZ) with no passenger rail service of any kind. The nearest non-industrial rail lines are about 70 miles away. Personally, I'd be willing to lose the "high speed" prefix. It sounds like we'd need to lay all new rails and build & pay for expensive trains. I'm probably naive, but I'd love to see them try to use existing rails and technologies. I'll hold most of my excitement until I see anything actually happen, but talking about it is a good start.

And finally (and I never thought I'd say this), I'm excited about mowing. It won't last, but for now, it sure is nice to be able to cut down the waist high dried up weed stalks filling our pastures. I'm scattering weed seeds everywhere in the process, but what can you do? At least the grass has a head start. It's amazing how much greener the fields look after cutting (or at least knocking down) the dead stuff. I've got some plans to make some minor fencing adjustments to make rotational grazing easier, so hopefully I can find a couple hours to do that this weekend as well. (Have I mentioned how much I love cattle panels? It makes fencing changes so much easier.)

Yet another positive post. Must be spring...


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Trust me...

It's rare for me to tell people what to do, but you've got to see this. Take seven minutes out of your life and watch this video.

Go on. I'll wait....

(Thanks to Greenpa for pointing this one out.)



Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Things that are awesome

There are a lot of things that suck out there right now, and sometimes I get fixated on them. But today I want to fixate on the things in my life that Don't Suck. So here are ten (count 'em, ten!) awesome things from our world.

1. Owen is taking his first steps. He also managed to touch a chicken for the first time. They were gathering around him in the back yard in hopes that he had something edible to share. He swatted at one and brushed its wing. Then he cracked up. It was funny the second time, and the third, and so on until the chickens figured out to keep their distance. Owen also had a long conversation with Meadow, which also made him giggle.

2. Lori helping with the gardening this year. She's helped in the past, but this year she's really digging in. She's taking a shot at Square Foot Gardening for out seasonal, herbal, and kitchen needs. This has left me free to focus on a shorter list of high volume pantry crops. Fun for all concerned. She was out there shoveling topsoil into the newest raised bed with a baby on her back! If that's not dedication, I don't know what is.

3. Lori's chicken-resistant garden beds. (You probably can't see it, but there's bird netting draped over that frame. It could also be draped with clear plastic for a mini-greenhouse, or shade cloth to keep greens from bolting too soon. Or canvas for that Oregon Trail look. )

4. Off-duty hours. Lori and I revived an old tradition from when the twins were little. Each of us has designated hours during the week, where we can go off and do what we want - read a book, work on projects, do something frivolous, etc. - guilt free. The other person's job during that time is to wrangle three crazy kids while retaining as much of their own sanity as possible. Raising a special needs kid, a high maintenance kid, and a baby while trying to learn about small scale farming from scratch, while also holding down a day job in the midst of an economic crisis, can get to be a bit much sometimes. This is a great safety valve to get time for what you really want every now and then.

5. Craigslist. Picked up a dirt cheap riding mower. Well, one and a half actually. The guy had a spare parts mower of the same model, with working engine, larger mowing deck, etc. that he begged me to take away. The back end of it is missing. I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but hopefully I can swap out for the larger mowing deck. In my spare time. I do hate the thought of having yet another old engine to maintain, but it does increase my odds of having at least one functioning at any given time. It cost less than a new push mower. I still can't understand how people can spend $5,000 - $8,000 on a zero turn mower - especially when all we have around here are giant, flat, treeless empty lawns. But I digress.

6. Lack of illness. It's been at least two weeks since anybody in our house was sick. It's about to change, based on e5's cough, but still.... After a long winter of colds and infections and viruses (and hospital bills!) it's nice to have a breather.

7. The YMCA. It's fun to stay at the YMCA... for swimming lessons for the kids, beginning karate lessons for me, for the fundraising they did for Amelia, and so on.

8. The Anti-Coloring Book. It's got a bunch of creative coloring ideas for kids, with very limited designs and lots of blank space. "You've just discovered a new planet. Design a flag for your new world." (E5 drew a modified American flag. One star (since it's a new planet and doesn't have states yet), with vertical red/white stripes. "You just discovered a new bird in the jungle. Draw a skecth of the bird to send back to the museum." (E5 drew a remote-controlled robot bird.) It kept him busy during Amelia's recent visit to the genetics specialist. On the blank dinner plate, he drew a brown blob, with a yellow rectangle next to it. He whispered to me that it was poop, with pee to drink. Ahh, five-year-olds. But later when the doctor asked him what he was drawing, he looked sheepish, and then told her it was meatloaf, with a glass of lemonade.

9. Spring peepers. Here's a little audio clip recorded on my front porch one night. Sorry that the audio quality is not great...

10. Amelia taking the term "garden bed" a little too literally.

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