Simpler Living

September 05, 2011

Gardening / Season in Review

This was a bad year for the garden.  The heat killed most of my plants, and also prevented me from going outside and weeding.

Here are the results:


  • Tomato (may get a few in the fall - we'll see)
  • Squash
  • Cucumber
  • Rosemary (one potted Rosemary is left, and it doesn't look like it is growing)
  • Worms - I had a nice worm bin going, but the heat killed them, too!

Almost Failures:

  • Canteloupe (had 3 good ones, ants took the rest)
  • Carrots (never got long)
  • Oregano - have some growing in pots and should do something with it


  • Peas (early in the season)
  • Green Beans (early in the season)
  • Sweet Potatoes (I think - haven't dug any up yet)
  • Lettuce (3 varieties - Romaine, Webb's Wonderful, and Simpson Elite) - had several cuts from each, and now saving the seeds!
  • Leeks (saved seeds)
  • Garlic
  • Mustard Greens
  • Radishes (though seed-saving was a failure)

Now it's time for fall planting.  Planning to plant:

  • Replanting lettuce from gathered seeds
  • Kale (Red Winter and Siberian)
  • Swiss Chard (white and red)
  • Broccoli (Early Fall Rapini)

I noticed that Amazon sells seeds really cheap ($8/lb for most seeds!)  It amazes me that anyone can make money at that price!  Seed production simply takes a *lot* of garden time.  I wish I had a bigger plot of land to do this on!

I'm also trying growing wheatgrasss without special equipment *or* soil.  We'll see how that works.

By the way - my favorite lettuce so far is the first cutting of Simpson Elite.  The lettuce seems to get more bitter with each cutting.

Interesting web articles about fall planting:

May 18, 2011

General / Random (2011-05-18)

Here's some random stuff open on my browser today:

May 14, 2011

Gardening / Notes from the Garden - 2011/05/14


I learned several things this year.  First, the "days to harvest" on a seed packet seems to be *after* sprouting, but it never explicitly says that.  Second, at least in my garden, I need to give the plants another week or two or three after that.  Apparently seed packet writers are optimists.

Very little of the tomatoes that I intentionally planted have done anything, except the Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes.  A few of them are doing well.  We went ahead and bought some tomatoes from The Tomato Man's Daughter.  We also have lots of volunteer tomatoes, though I have no idea what variety they are.

The Mizuna lettuce has *already* bolted and gone to flower.  It did not get nearly as thick as the package indicated.  The package made it look like it might somewhat make a head, but before any major leaf growth we got flowers.

We also got bok choi flowers already.  I think that's because the bok choi is supposed to be in a cooler zone.  I harvested the non-flowering ones and left the flowering ones for seeds, and planted our purchased tomato plants around them.

The turnips that we planted in the late fall and kept covered with milk jugs through winter are flowering.  This might be an easy way to get turnip seeds, and I'm not sure I even need the coverings.  This is my first year harvesting turnip seeds (and it was an accident at that), so I'm not quite sure how long I should wait until I harvest the seed pods.

The peas are doing well.  They did well unstaked, except that in a high-wind situation, they fell over.  I might just add a single stake or two next year so they can grab onto that instead of getting blown over.  It doesn't seem to be hindering production, but who knows.

The beans are doing very little.

The leeks from the winter garden look good.  I can probably harvest them anytime as I have need for them.  I also tasted one of the leaves - yummy! 

I pulled up one of our last four garlics from the winter planting.  I think they are ready.

The lettuce has been going gangbuster this year.  We are eating very well from a variety of lettuces.  I have Simpson Elite, which is doing well, a green Romaine lettuce that is doing well, and a mixed Romaine that is doing well.  It seems to only take a few days from when you cut the lettuce to when it grows back!

The lettuce I ate over winter has bolted and is about to flower.  Yay!  Not the best-tasting lettuce, but if you can harvest lettuce three times over the winter, I'd say that the lettuce is worth keeping, no matter what it takes.

I have several sweet potatoes in the ground, and they seem to be doing well, and several more that I need to get in the ground.

I want to do some guerilla-gardening this year, but need to figure out what to plant.  Maybe my sweet potatoes would be a good way to guerilla garden.

I've been trying my hand at propagation techniques.  I tried to propagate a whole bunch of bush/tree type plants using a rooting hormone.  The only ones that successfully rooted were the Rosemary bushes. 

My carrots seem to be doing okay, though they are growing very slowly.

When I harvested my radishes, they were kind of small - I think I need to give them a few more weeks.  I left three out for seeds, and they got *huge*.  We'll see what next year's stuff looks like.

My beets were beautiful in the backyard, so I transplanted them to the front yard.  Now they are ugly.  Go figure.

My cabbage has started to actually do some growing.  It was basically dormant for a while.

I need to get some pepper seeds and see if germinating them late will give me a decent crop at the proper time.

It's looking like I'll need to plant a bunch of stuff in three weeks - I should have my peas and beans in, my lettuce will probably have run its course, and my turnip seeds should be harvested.  That will open up more than half the garden for new planting.  And, I might have gotten my Leeks harvested, too.

May 02, 2011

Gardening / What your weeds are trying to tell you


I found this link and thought it interesting.  The idea is that you can tell what your soil is like based one the weeds growing in it:

What Your Garden's Weeds are Trying to Tell You

February 27, 2011

Gardening / Winter Gardening Review


Okay, since spring is arriving, I will do my winter gardening review and my plans for next year.  Check here for my winter garden setup.

I planted several things for winter: lettuce, spinach, garlic, leeks, swiss chard, bok choy, turnips, and beets.

What Worked

The lettuce worked great.  I planted Webb's Wonderful Lettuce.  My wife doesn't like the taste (it is bitter), but as a plant, it worked perfectly.  I had at least three harvests from it over the winter.  I certainly will grow it next year, but probably try out other lettuce varieties and see how they work.

The garlic appears to be doing well.  It has a long growing season, and letting it grow over winter seems to be helpful.  However, I haven't grown it at any other time to compare.

What Failed

The turnips and beets were total failures.  The turnip plants grew, but did not produce any bulbs at all.  The beets didn't grow at all.  I may have had more success if I seeded them earlier, but I doubt it.  I think that, if you want, you can leave beets and turnips in the ground over winter to store, but you shouldn't expect them to grow.

What Didn't Worked As Well As I Hoped

Everything else produced *something* but nothing quite what I wanted.

The spinach is only just now getting ready to eat.  So, that means there was no real benefit of winter gardening - it was just sitting there dormant waiting until the weather got warmer to continue its growing.

I planted the bok choy and swiss chard when it was about to freeze, so I shouldn't be surprised that I haven't gotten much from it.  The few bok choy plants that sprouted are almost ready to harvest, but the swiss chard is still in its infant state.  Hopefully we'll get a growth spurt soon.

I don't know what I should expect from leeks.  They are taking a long time, but doing okay otherwise.  I think they have a long growth season anyway, so we may have saved time.  I'll leave them in the ground and see how long it takes to get a full leek.

What I'm Trying Next Year

I think next year I will try:

  • Celery - I've actually heard that December is the optimum planting time for celery
  • More lettuces - I'll keep Webb's lettuce, and add in a few others
  • Garlic - if the garlic matures soon, I'll certainly add mroe in next year
  • I might try growing a "January King" cabbage
  • Kale and Collards
  • Just read about Mache which looks interesting
  • I might try producing a few crops of radishes
Anyway, it's been a fun experiment.  Right now I'm waiting for my lettuce to bolt so I can collect some seeds.  Hopefully it still has enough umph in it to produce some seeds for me :)

February 10, 2011

Nature Hacking / Growing Potatoes Vertically


This is something I want to try this year.  Apparently, you can grow up to 100 pounds of potatoes in just 4 square feet of land!  How?  By growing them vertically in a box.

Basically, you build a box with removable panels.  As the potato grows, you add panels, and then fill it in with dirt.  If you buy a late-season potato, it should produce potatoes all through the box as it grows.

Details are here (also here).  And someone had an extended blog entry about their own experiences here.

In short,

  1. You have to keep on top of getting the dirt on the plant, or it won't grow more potatoes
  2. Practical experience says most will only get 25-60 pounds of potatoes in a realistic garden, but that's much better than the 10 pounds you would probably get from a more traditional setup.
  3. Some recommended varieties of potatoes are Butte, Yellow Fin, and Bintje

February 05, 2011

Nature Hacking / Snow Ice Cream - Easy Recipe in Under 2 Minutes!

This is a new blog category - Nature Hacking.  Nature hacking is going to be a collection of techniques to leverage nature in interesting ways.  The first one is using snow to make ice cream.  This takes 2 minutes!


  • 1 gallon of snow
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder
  1. Put all ingredients into a large bowl
  2. Mix thoroughly
  3. Serve!
Seriously, that's it, and it tastes great!

January 23, 2011

General / Returning to Localism

Surviving the Coming Economic Disaster


Some people are skeptical of the coming economic disaster.  I am not.  I don't know when it will happen, but all signs are pointing to some time soon.  Before I sketch out my solution to the problem, I'd like to briefly say why I think we the economy is headed to disaster.

We are Rapidly Devaluing Our Currency

The US government has been recklessly spending for decades.  Most people don't realize what a disaster this is for our economy.  When the government borrows money, that devalues every ounce of savings for everyone.  In addition, the added debt load makes it harder and harder to repay the debts.

We haven't seen the effects of this because we just borrow more money to pay back the money.  Or print more money to pay back the money.  But this doesn't last forever.  It has lasted longer than usual because of one fact - the US dollar is the world's reserve currency.  It is the standard used in international transactions, especially in oil.  Which leads us to our next point.

The World is No Longer Standardizing on the Dollar

We thought that our position as the standard currency was unbreakable, so we made dumb fiscal decisions.  But those fiscal decisions have caused several changes that will soon be felt:

If more nations follow in this trend, this spells trouble.  What happens when everyone dumps the US dollar?  Imagine if, overnight, everyone's salary was cut in half, or even quartered?  That's the impact of having the dollar dumped - it raises prices so that the buying power of your salary goes down to half or a quarter of what it was, almost instantly.

Not only that, the fed recently issued new rules that means that it can never run out of money.  

So, in short, I think that a currency crisis is coming soon.  But there's more: the US could easily also lose its AAA rating in the bond market. Rating services have said that if our interest payments rise to 18-20% of our federal spending, we will lose our AAA status, and that will probably happen somewhere between 2013 and 2020.  Then, why would anyone use us as a reserve currency?  This will lead to a massive dollar dump, plus the government will get higher interest rates for its loans, meaning that it will need to print more money to pay them back.  Thus, a vicious cycle in which the dollar goes more worthless every day.

How To Stop the Cycle

I have no hope that our government has the capacity to solve this crisis.  So the best wisdom I can come up with is to unplug from the system, so that when disaster strikes, you are not very impacted.  How does this work?  By going extremely local and small-scale.

  1. Enable small-scale commerce.  This is the only one that requires the government.  We need to remove all government regulations from microcommerce.  If a mom bakes an extra cake, she should be allowed to sell it to her neighbors (this is currently illegal without permits, a commercial kitchen, and thousands of dollars of investment). We need to wake up to the reality that the large-scale commerce of the US may come to a grinding halt, and, unless we have enabled small-scale commerce, we will be fully sunk.  The fact is, regulations are largely irrelevant for small-scale commerce.  Regulations are to help keep people who don't know each other from exploiting each other.  Such regulations are usually not needed when transactions are between individuals in the same community.
  2. Engage in small-scale commerce.  We all need to find little ways in which we can, as individuals, benefit each other.  This may wind up being the only employment we have for a while.
  3. Value Capital Assets over Money, Trinkets, or Consumables.  The money we have will probably be worthless.  However, capital assets - land, housing, and things which produce things, will be helpful.  I have a dehydrator, a grain mill, and a backyard which I have been improving to grow crops.  I wish I had an acre or two of land.  The next years, we need to stop spending money on stupid things, and focus our spending on capital assets.
  4. Store Food. We need to start being prepared so that if the food in the economy runs out, we can still get by.  
  5. Create Public Gardens.  We need to have in place plans at the local level for converting all the grasslands within our cities into public, community farmland.
  6. Imagine Yourself Unplugged.  Imagine that tomorrow, all public utilities are turned off.  Are you ready?  Do you have what you need?  I doubt they will be turned off, but they may be too expensive to use.  Do you have enough blankets for winter?  Do you have candles for light?  Do you have seeds to grow food?  Chickens for eggs?  How well can you manage when all the lights go out?

I hope that when it all hits the fan, that conditions will not be so dire.  In any case, if they are better than I fear, the preparations will still be of benefit, no matter what the outcome.  Being unplugged, local, and prepared is helpful in any situation, and helps hedge against economic problems.  But, if things get bad, you will wish that you had prepared yourself.

I am not fully prepared, but have been working towards it.

November 25, 2010

Gardening / Cheap Year-Round Gardening


This year, I'm trying to garden year-round.  It's a first attempt, and it may not turn out well, but I thought I'd share my experience so-far.  I am, first and foremost, extremely cheap.  So the idea of spending a lot of money so that I could garden in the winter just didn't appeal to me.

But it turns out it doesn't cost as much as you might suppose.

Here is my current setup:


As you can see, I've just got two half-inch, 10-foot PVC pipes stretched over each other.  I tied them in the middle with some twine.  They aren't really anchored to anything, just pushed down into the dirt next to the raised bed frame.  It's then covered with 4mil plastic sheeting cut to 10x12 sheets, and then anchored down with bricks and logs and whatever I could find.

Anyway, hopefully this will allow enough protection to keep growing well into the winter.  Anyway, it was worth the cost.

Here's the total breakdown of costs of each raised bed and the winter protection:

  • Raised bed (6'x3' using 5/4"x6" boards) frame - $15
  • First load of dirt - $15
  • 2 PVC Pipes - $3
  • Plastic sheeting - $8
So, the beds themselves were $30, and the winter covering was $11.  

September 07, 2010

Simplifying / Don't Buy Green! Buy Crunchy Instead


One of the things that irks me more than just about anything is the current "green" label that is being slapped onto everything.  Everything is saying "buy green!" "buy green!"  You might be surprised that as someone who likes gardening and simple living, I have no love whatsoever for the "go green" movement.

The green movement, to me, seems to be about buying consumer goods to save the planet.  I don't like either of those - buying consumer goods or saving the planet.  Our current spending spree is precisely our problem, and I'm sure that God made the planet good enough so that it will survive whatever we are doing to it.  I'm not pro-trashing-the-planet, but I don't go crazy about "saving" it, either.  We can save our community.  The planet is in God's hands.

My philosophy, instead, is to be "crunchy".  Crunchiness is about living simply.  It's about resurrecting many of the traditions of the farm home, modernizing them, and inventing new ones in the same vein.  Green is about buying green stuff.  Crunchy is about being wise and loving in your whole life.  It's about making investments rather than purchases, and about caring rather than carefree.

Let's take an example - diapers.  I have seen the "green" diapers.  I'm sure I've even used some on my children.  But, ultimately, "green" diapers are a disposable consumer good.  You buy them, you use them, you throw them away.  Sure, they did a good job making them a little more pleasant to the landfills and the groundwater, but nonetheless it is the same mentality that gave us pampers to begin with.  It's spend, spend, spend our way into living.

Crunchy families, instead, often go the cloth diaper route.  Cloth diapers are wonderful because they don't go in the landfill, ever.  Cloth diapers actually cost us more upfront, but they last forever.  We used many of the same diapers on all 5 of our children, and then handed them over to other friends and family!  In fact, not only that, my wife and her mom made some of the diapers we used on our children.  So, not only were they wearing diapers that would last longer than their shirts, they were wearing their mother's love, poured into making them wonderful diapers.

"Green" is about replacing still-good-items with new versions.  Think about the "Cash for clunkers" program.  That was a totally "green" phenomena.  They encourage people to spend-spend-spend their way into harmony with the world and each other.  I can't imagine a dumber approach.  A crunchy approach would be to learn to do without.  To learn to have fewer cars, use the bus more often, ride your bike more often, carpool with friends, and telecommute.  Buying new cars and trashing old ones just makes more junk.  A better (and crunchier!) approach is to keep what you have, learn to take care of it, and learn to use it less.  We probably don't have the car with the best mileage, but our wise use of our cars mean that we consume less fuel.  (I have to admit - on the car front, I'm not doing very good personally, but it's on my list of things to correct)

"Crunchy" isn't anti-purchasing.  It is about prudent purchasing.  It is about purchasing investments which produce more rather than purchasing consumable products which just get trashed after a single usage.

To give you an idea of what this looks like, let me tell you about a few of the crunchy purchases we've made in the last year:

  • an industrial-strength mixer, to make large batches of bread dough
  • a grain mill
  • a food dehydrator
  • a used sewing machine

All of these things add value to things that we purchase.  When I buy grain I can make flour.  When I buy or grow fruits and vegetables, I can dehydrate them and store them.  My wife can take cloth and turn it into clothing.  

What's interesting is that any of these could be a business if we wanted them to be.  We are adding real value to the world with the things we purchase.  Buying lots of items at Whole Foods (aka "Whole Paycheck") doesn't make your home one that adds value to the world.  Buying processing equipment, so that you can make your own snacks from raw materials, does.  In addition, we are doing so with the care that comes from being part of a family.  Even if we sell things as a business, we make them as a family, and that's a huge difference.

As far as consumables go, you can't sell used pampers or used packaging, but you can sell used cloth diapers and used mason jars.  

Buying "crunchy" isn't about the price, or the "green"-ness, or any other single-dimension analysis.  It is about wise purchases that transform your home from an endpoint of consumption to a building-point of provision, which stamps the character of your family on everything it creates.