Growing pains

Abandoned toy


UPDATE: This site can now be viewed directly at

Sometime in about a week, I will be switching web hosts.  This will enable me to let my blog better reflect the business behind it, which would otherwise be against policy.

All of the content (save this post) has been exported to the new (but offline) site already, including your comments.  There will be no more ads.  There will also be no more “likes”.  But the blog will look much the same, with all the parts in the same place it has been, and you’ll have more options for sharing posts that you like.

Important highlights for regular readers:

  • The web site address will still be, but at the switch or shortly thereafter, the site will direct to a static home page and there will be a menu option for the blog.  Those of you with bookmarks will probably want to edit your bookmarks to go direct to the blog.
  • Those of you who keep up with the latest posts by following on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ will still get updates that way.
  • Those of you who keep up with the latest posts on RSS:  It might work, or you might need to reset your feed.  I am about 80% sure you will need to change nothing.
  • Email subscribers: Your subscriptions will be moved for you to the new site.
  • subscribers: Your subscriptions will be moved for you to the new site, but you will no longer get email notifications from  If you want email notifications, once the site is moved you will have the option to subscribe there.
  • readers who aren’t subscribed but see us in Reader: The site will no longer appear in Reader unless you manually add it or follow us using one of the methods above.

I am very excited about the move, as it opens up a lot of options for me.  When the site is officially moved, I’ll post a quick note on both the new and the WordPress link  If you don’t see that within 10 days, please check in manually.

I hope you will join me at the new site, and bring your friends and questions!


So it Begins

asparagus, sprout

Always, it seems, with peas, then radishes and just when you think something must be wrong, the asparagus pops up and you find yourself eating the tender, juicy spears while standing in the garden.  Fat ones like this at the store, you have to peel off the tough outside.  Not so when fresh.

Amish Snap, pea, sprout

Just about the time you have to give you asparagus a rest, the peas and radishes will be coming in — and transplants will be going out. The very transplants that I painfully forced myself to cull yesterday. I want them all to live. But good gardeners are sometimes ruthless gardeners, and that means the strongest, toughest seedlings will be the last ones standing.

Even when it does mean pinching off your little photosynthetic children at the soil line.

Spring Fever(s)

cedar, flower, pollen, yellow

I have been saying for a while now that spring is here.  The plants and the sun don’t lie, even if the temperature does.  Over the past few days, the temperature has caught up, and like a starting gun has gone off, the woods and pastures and roadsides are exploding.

Unfortunately, last week found me with a cold and fever, then allergies kicked in, and so about the time I got myself back on track, I was running behind.  Trying to ramp up two sideline income streams to full fledged small businesses is, frankly, much harder work than working for someone else, and my time allocation right now is hampered by random appointment times, out of town trips and government forms.  I’m not complaining: this is a lot more fun than programming software all day.   But it has reduced the time I’ve been able to spend on the blog lately.

Today, though, I finally got back outside for some work in the garden in what has been a glorious spring day.  (Due apologies to readers farther north still struggling with snow.)  The peas are looking lovely, the radishes are coming up and the transplants got a taste of the outdoors today.  I cut back the shrubs that did not survive the winter to see if any come back from the roots, weeded the garden and finally marked all my bulbs — 4 years late — so I can dig and separate them later this year.

Tomorrow is almost promising to be hot, but no free time in the garden for me: it’s back to work.  But I hope everyone is in your garden (or at least outdoors) at some point taking advantage of the the mild temperatures that much of the country is enjoying.

Great Recession shows families with improved diets

This month’s edition of the USDA Amber Waves reports that:

The fact that a decline in FAFH [Food Away From Home] consumption was only observed among working-age adults, and not among older adults, suggests that the recession was a large factor influencing where working-age adults obtained their food. However, the fact that accounting for household income did not affect the estimated change in FAFH consumption over the period suggests that the recession effect was not mainly through income, but through other channels such as increased time available for shopping and preparing food at home.

Researchers also found that most of the improvements in diet quality were not a result of the decline in FAFH consumption. The quality of at-home and away-from-home foods improved, perhaps from consumers focusing more on nutrition when selecting foods. Whether or not these changes are a result of the recession or are due to other factors cannot be determined with the data. However, the fact that improved diet quality was observed among older adults and that they also reported greater attention to nutrition information suggests that this nutrition focus is not simply the result of higher unemployment. Food manufacturers may also be responding in part to consumer demand for nutrition by improving the nutritional content of foods that they produce.

Cutting back and eating more food at home correlates with improved nutrition and family time.  That’s good — but not surprising — news.  Although there is no direct link between the two, priorities have shifted.  Read the full article here.

That’s not all.  The United States added 5 million home food gardeners from 2008 to 2009, an increase of 14%.  41 million people who garden for food at home might be impacting those improved nutrition numbers a bit.

Unfortunately, the need for gardening for food for economic reasons is likely here to stay.  The Congressional Budget Office report “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024” forecasts a solid pace in economic growth through 2017, although they don’t expect unemployment to drop below 6% until 2016 and then not by much.  But after 2017:

Beyond 2017, CBO expects that economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades. That projected slowdown mainly reflects long-term trends—particularly, slower growth in the labor force because of the aging of the population. Inflation, as measured by the change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures (PCE), will remain at or below 2.0 percent throughout the next decade, CBO anticipates… In CBO’s projections, the growth of potential GDP over the next 10 years is much slower than the average since 1950.

That’s a projection, not something written in stone.  As baby boomers continue to retire it will cause a demographic, cultural and economic shift in the United States, the likes of which haven’t been seen since they were born.  Many will be healthy, active and likely to spend decades in retirement.  It’s hard for anyone to say exactly what the full ramifications of that demographic transition will be, and any projections must be viewed as a possibility, not a probability.

If you are involved in home food production, you have a lot of company right now.

Starting seeds the lazy way

seed starting, seedlings

Practically every store has ramped up their gardening section by now with brightly colored plastic pots and gaudy yard art, cheap imported tools in adult and child sizes, racks of seeds and of course the ubiquitous flimsy plastic seed starting kits with peat pellets.

There are three main problems with these kits.  One, they aren’t a good value.  They are more expensive than other methods, and they rarely last past 2 or 3 seasons while you buy refill pellets, at which point you have to buy another kit.  Two, peat is not a sustainable resource: peat bogs develop much, much more slowly than we harvest them.

And three: they are a lot more work than people think.  Those peat pellets, ranging from small to painfully tiny are just not enough root space, so you will have to re-pot them rather rapidly.  That’s not only extra work, but each time fragile seedlings are handled, there is the potential to damage them.

So why not be lazy and start them in their final sized pots before transplanting in the garden?

If you go this route, you can’t use a seed starting mix, because it won’t contain the nutrition the plants need once they are past the seedling stage.  I use regular potting soil with the big chunks screened out.  Potting soil without fertilizer is preferred, but it’s also acceptable to use it with a mild timed release fertilizer — you risk burning your seedlings if the growing media contains fertilizer before they are ready for it.  Any old pot will do.  Re-purposed cottage cheese containers.  Mayonnaise jars with the lip cut off.  Old nursery pots.  Any vessel where the plant can come out safely and is big enough to hold a healthy root system until transplant time will work.  Since many of my old nursery pots were cracked beyond repair this year, I supplemented with old paper cups that I can compost later.

Otherwise, I follow regular protocol.  The pots go in a warm (75-80F), humid place.  For me that’s in an old aquarium in my boiler room.  An old fish tank light is turned on for the seeds that require light to germinate.  Once the seedlings have sprouted, they get moved to a cooler place (65-70F) under a bright light.  I use a cheap shop light with 6500k florescent tubes.  On those warmer days of spring, they spend the warmest part of the day outdoors in the shade with plenty of indirect light, bringing them indoors if nighttime temps will drop below 50F.  Finally, when the soil is warm enough and danger of frost is past, they get hardened off and then go out into the garden.

I have heard it said that seedlings do better if they are kept in small pots and slowly upgraded, but I cannot find any factual foundation for that claim.  In my personal experience, I have never encountered any difficulty NOT starting them in tiny containers, and the inevitable volunteer seedlings in my garden and compost pile don’t seem to feel the lack.

So I stick with my lazy way.

North Alabama Planting Calendar

Bean seedlings

I have shared my personal planting calendar with a few local groups, and they have been very enthusiastic, so I am throwing it out to the internet.  There are a couple of caveats:

  • This is North Alabama specific.
  • Don’t take it as the gospel.  Conditions from year to year may vary planting and harvest times considerably.  For example, I couldn’t plant hot weather crops last year until early May, and lost crops that usually overwinter to cold in December.

Without further ado, the link to download the calender is here: North Alabama Planting Calendar

At the Seed Swap

jars of seeds

Last night was the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association‘s 2nd Annual Seed Celebration, in partnership with the Greene Street Market at Nativity and benefiting the Sand Mountain Seed Bank.  The event was a resounding success again this year.  People enjoyed the buffet provided by local businesses with live music before the keynote speaker took the stage.  Jeannine Windham of New South Associates discussed the prehistoric and historic food ways of the southeastern United States.  Finally, the raffle prizes were drawn: a mounted canvas from local artist Ian McAlister and a large matted photograph from Finch Hollow Photography.

And all through the night the seed swap room was open.  In addition to the seeds brought by individual gardeners and this blog’s donation of Recession Gold tomato seeds, the Sand Mountain Seed Bank shared seeds and there were donations from Sow True Seed and Peaceful Valley via Deep Roots of Alabama.  I may have missed some seed donors since I was busy helping out, but named or not their donations were appreciated and all were taken home by gardeners and would-be gardeners.  (And if you know of any, please tell me so I can add them!)

Seed swaps are all about connecting with your fellow gardeners, making relationships and sharing our food heritage.  Please join us next year in late winter for the 3rd Annual Seed Celebration.

Final thanks: