Monday, April 7, 2014

Designing a living space that meets your needs

      Moving into the new apartment, where we'll be living together alone for the first time in our adult lives, gives us an opportunity to create a living space that meets our own shared desires, without having to compromise with renters and roommates. This is a really exciting prospect for me. We get to design our environment in a way that suits us, and reflects ourselves, rather than one that meets the generalized expectations of what is normal in order to not scare away potential renters.

     As I consider what we will move into the new place, and what we will sell, I find myself considering what purposes each room will serve. Our bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen still serve the usual purposes, but our living room is where my mind keeps drifting towards when I lose focus on studying.

     For us, the living room will probably be used mostly for acroyoga and game nights, where we usually end up on the floor. What would be the purpose of a couch in this room? We have a couch currently, but honestly, I more often lean against it than actually sit on it. So we're probably going to sell the couch, and use the money to buy cushions, which make sitting on the floor much more accessible for many people, and are easy to put out of the way when it's time to do acroyoga.

     We already don't have a tv, so our living room in my minds eye looks like a mostly empty room, with some house plants near the window, a crash mat, yoga mats, and some brightly colored cushions. Certainly, far from what people expect in a living room, but is serves the needs and functions of the room.

     I can't wait to move!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The prefect day for transplanting

      Is a day exactly like today: overcast, with high humidity and a slight mist. The high humidity and cool temperatures allow plants to start working on rebuilding their root structures, without suffering much water loss through their leaves.

     I took advantage of the weather by moving over the rest of the walking onions, and transplanting green onions, lettuce seedlings, and one artichoke. So now the first 3/2rds of the garden bed look like this:

I'm thinking about getting a second garden bed just to grow kale, swiss chard, basil, cilantro, and more lettuce. I think once I have the rosemary, thyme, and sage in this garden bed it'll be pretty full. On the other hand, I might pot up the rosemary, sage, and thyme and keep them on the patio. I'm not sure yet, and it would be another $25.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Is gardening frugal?

Some would claim that it is not, citing the cost of your time, fertilizer, tools, etc. I believe that gardening can be frugal, if:

  • You identify the plants you eat a lot of and are expensive and grow those. Eat a lot of russet potatoes? Probably not a good idea to grow them, because they're so dang cheap. Like chives? Well, they are really easy to grow, and cut herbs are expensive in the store, so go ahead. Raspberries are also super easy, and pretty expensive. My general rule is: grow leafy vegetables, herbs, and berries. Buy root vegetables and squashes, plus anything that doesn't get enough heat here. This is a of course a very generalized rule; there are superior and exceptional tasting varieties of every crop, and if you really love eating them, than it might be worthwhile.
  • Find out what crops grow well and easily for you, in your climate. For me, beans and squash are tasty, yes, but we just don't get a big enough crop to make it worthwhile. However, I grow a lot of kale, swiss chard, and chives, because they just do fantastically here.
  • Develop your soil's fertility cheaply or for free. Use composted kitchen scraps and lawn clippings, check out coffee stands and see if they'll give you coffee grounds, collect deciduous tree leaves during fall. All of these are free or nearly free sources of fertility that will make your garden really produce. Coffee grounds are particularly useful because if you layer it thickly enough it acts as a wonderful weed block.
  • Don't get carried away and buy a pile of tools. Really, unless you have a big garden, all you need is a shovel, a trowel, and maybe a rake and garden fork. You do not need to buy rototillers or other fancy and expensive doodads.
  • Realize that gardening is a skill, and may take some time to develop. Some people are fantastic their first year, but many have entire crops fail before they figure out what they need to do.
The short version: Find out what crops you eat a lot of, aren't cheap, and basically grow themselves for you. Get free and cheap sources of soil fertility. Only grow what you will actually eat. Figure out how to minimize effort and time investment while maximizing yield.

If you're looking at per sq ft yields because you've got a small garden like me, this table is a good stating place. This site is also very informational, and tracks a garden's costs and profits through the year.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A garden, small, efficent, and cost effective

     Along with moving into an apartment, we're getting a new garden plot in a very near by community garden. In the past, I've had much more room to work with, more like a quarter acre than the 50 square feet I'll be working with this year. As I have so little room and expect to have very little time to devote to the garden, I'm developing this garden with an eye towards ease of maintenance and maximized value.

    As I paid $25 for the year, if I don't spend any more money on it and don't count my time spent gardening, then I only have to make $.50 per square foot to break even. Since I find gardening both relaxing and enjoyable, I think it's fair to not count the time I spend in the garden as an expense. Additionally, I intend to work the garden care into my daily walk, so I'll likely only spend 5 or less minutes on the garden each day on average. I do however, expect to buy some seeds, namely basil, cilantro, lettuce, kale, and swiss chard. I don't expect to pay more than $2/per packet, although I might end up buying starts. Thus, I expect additional expenses to total between $10 and $20, meaning that each square foot has to produce $.90 to break even. This should be relatively easy, given the plants that I have selected to grow.

     Now, as to the plants I selected, there are three primary considerations, as far as I'm concerned: How much we like to eat it, how easy it is to grow in our region, and how expensive it is to purchase in the store. We like to eat a lot of leafy green vegetables and I love fresh herbs. Fortunately for me, these crops are very easy to grow in my area. They are also often the most expensive crops in the store. Why so expensive if they're so easy to grow? High demand is one reason, but the other reason is that, unlike crops like pumpkins, onions, and potatoes, leafy greens and fresh herbs are both more difficult to ship, and have a much shorter shelf life. Most root crops, for example, can be stored for months without a noticeable decline in quality. Leafy greens and herbs however suffer a noticeable decline within a week. But since I'll be harvesting minutes before dinner, I don't have that problem!

      This is what the garden looks like right now:
Or rather, one end of it, and my feet. I promise the sides are actually square, the camera angle just makes it look funny.

      What you see here is what I've been able to transplant so far, namely: chives, garlic chives, walking onions, and elephant garlic/perennial leeks (elephant garlic is actually much more closely related to leeks, can be harvested in the 'leek' phase, and is perennial if you replant the bulbs), which I'm still experimenting with. As you might be able to tell, I like alliums. A lot. 

     Over the next few days I also intend to transplant over mint, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, thyme, an artichoke, and oregano. All of these come from my current garden, so I'm not including their costs (I'm pretty sure they count as sunk costs, but in a good way). I will start basil and cilantro seeds indoors soon, along with lettuce, kale, and swiss chard.

     Over the course of the year, I intend to record how much I spend on the garden, and how much I'm able to harvest from the garden. That, and any experiments I happen to do along the way.

Total spent so far: $25
Total pounds harvested so far: 0
Total harvest value so far (approximate, based on cost per pound in store): $0

Monday, March 31, 2014

Using Facebook positively

Facebook is often seen in a negative light. It's a time sink that gives nothing back, it provides the highlights of everyone else's lives, political arguments abound, advertising is everywhere, and it is overwhelmed at times with baby/cat pictures. Sometimes, people even pay real money to play facebook games. Beyond that, at times people become jealous because they see others doing that which they wish they were doing.

People often deal with the onslaught by deleting their facebook account, or taking a month long digital hiatus. Others seem unaffected.

I think facebook can be used positively; either as a means to boost your own mood and affirm ourselves, or as a means of building true friends networks, the emerge from the internet and become physical reality. I'm going to focus on the first right now, because the second seems fairly obvious; simply type "I'm bored, who wants to hang out" and see what happens, or create and plan a party/potluck/get-together online.

So how can we boost our moods and our self concept? My partner has done a lot of reading into research on happiness, and one of the interesting concepts he found was that if you see pictures of yourself happy often, they will improve your mood.

I personally want to tie this to the fact that I don't go out and do all those things I love to do as much as I wish I would.  And that I get a teeny bit jealous when I see people's pictures of those same things that I enjoy doing.

So, to use facebook to positively boost my mood, I'm going to go out and do those fun things I keep forgetting to do, and then post pictures on facebook. People's comments tend to be positive, so that will serve as an instant mood boost, and as reinforcement of the desired behaviour.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How to relax after a stressful day

It might surprise you, but sitting down in front of the computer or tv is probably not actually the best way to relax after a long, stressful day. Or at least, that's true for me, maybe not so for you. But it's easy enough to check. For me, after noting several times my initial emotional state/level of energy before and after using the internet, I found out that I often end up even more tired, and more emotionally drained after using the internet.

This might have to do with getting into arguments/discussions a lot.

There are some ways of using the internet that aren't tiresome, such as looking at cute pictures of animals, blogging, or posting pictures of cool fungi. However, I almost inevitably end up in the non-relaxing parts of the internet.

So how to actually relax after a long day?

1. Take a walk (even if it's raining). Walks allow me to process what happened during the day, and it's also physical movement which our bodies need.

2. Journal/blog/draw/photograph. Another way to process the day while doing something innately enjoyable.

3. Drink a cup of tea.  Don't do anything else while drinking the tea. Just sit, and think, and be in the moment.

4. Meditate. 

5. Pet your pet. Petting cats and dogs has been proven to lower your blood pressure.

6. Do yoga, go on a run, or work out. Yoga has been shown to cause relaxation, while a good run or work out causes your body to release feel-good hormones.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Wood and Mushroom Walk

Viola sempervirens

Trillium ovatum

Possibly Microporellus obovatus

Good question

Fomitopsis pinicola

Leucojum aestivum

Guepiniopsis alpinus