First Harvest

Brought in my first harvest from my fledgling garden this weekend: spinach, broccoli, "baby" salad green and green onions. Can't ask for a better Mother's Day weekend than that! Made personal pizza for dinner to celebrate the garden's bounty. Had I been gardening last fall I would also have garlic, carrots and possibly ripe peas. Ah, next year!

These early offerings make wonderful additions to pasta, without needing to worry about formal "recipes". Peas, garlic, green onions and grated carrots can be added, to taste, to fettuccini or linquini: just cook the pasta, adding the peas in the last minutes if you like, drain, place in bowl. Crush garlic/chop onions and combine with olive oil, drizzle over pasta, add grated carrots, if desired, and parmisian cheese and toss.

Lasagna is also an easy way to use just about any combination of veggies: cook lasagna noodles, drain. Layer cooked noodles, roccata cheese, veggies (spinach, broccoli, grated carrots, chopped onions, crushed garlic, etc) in dip dish baking pan. Top with grated cheese.

Of course, there are dozens of things one could make with these ingredients, and these recommendation are not so different than those you will find in just about any cook book. The difference is the fresh, homegrown, organic veggies: the difference there is indescribable.

I have to admit that, in additions to the epicurean delight of the flavor that comes from garden fresh ingredients, I get a great deal of smug satisfaction knowing that this food comes to me with zero food miles, zero chemicals, zero abusive labor practices and zero animal cruelty.


Tips for Commuting by Bus with Kids

Today went a bit better (relatively) and I realized that it is not really the car I miss, it's my bike. A normal weekday has me riding three miles from where the carpool drops me. Riding alone, able to zip along whatever route I choose, able to complete errands between or after classes before picking my son up. Sometimes I go home on my own, arranging for him to be brought later in the afternoon. Buses do not offer that kind of flexibility, nor does full-on, non-stop single parenting. I didn't choose to be a single parent, and I certainly didn't choose to be suddenly and unexpectedly without any form of childcare. A car wouldn't really fix any of these issues. Although a car would have allowed me to go to therapy this week, and bitch at my therapist, rather than y'all.

So, in addition to getting a reality check about my need to expand my network of parenting support, I gained a new appreciation for the plight of bus commuters --especially those traveling with kids. Although I have a Trail-A-Bike for my son, it is not reasonable to expect him to be able to bounce out of bed and onto a bike, nor is he up to riding all day, all over town. And so I offer what little wisdom I gave gained so far . . .

Tips for Bus Commuting with Kids:
*Pack snacks -lots, more than you can ever imagine needing. Cheese and veggie sticks, mixed nuts, fruit, etc. If you add frozen berries to plain yogurt in a reusable (Tupperware-oid) container it will stay good all day. Bring juice in a reusable plastic container --you can freeze some of the juice in an ice tray and add the "juice ice" to your container of ice, allowing you and your kid to enjoy fresh, cold juice all day.

*Bring maps so the kid can "navigate" can sometimes help with boardom. Packing along the commic section of the morning paper also works

*Many light layers.

*Those mini folding umbrellas are lifesavers, as are “emergency” rain ponchos that come folded up smaller than a salteen cracker. Collect them and keep them on hand

*Reading material and art supplies can help keep the kids busy during stops and long waits. Let the kids carry their own cargo in a comfortably fitting back back.

*Rolling back packs, like those used by students, and folding "Granny Carts" can save your back and your sanity

*Really consider what errands need to be done, and if they need to be done today. I am finding that I need to really scale back what I think can be done in one day.

*Organize errands along the bus routes: today we went to the yarn store, The Boy's Tae Kwon Do lessons, and the video rental store, because they were all along one bus route. We delayed a trip The Boy wanted to make to get trading cards, so that we can do it as part of a cluster of errands on another bus rout on another day. One problem with Monday was we tried to do things in several different parts of town, requiring several bus transfers. kids, dont try it!

Several of these tips apply to traveling by bike with kids. More than anything I am learning the importance of having a LARGE network of folk to call on and lean on, otherwise one finds oneself considering putting one's child up on eBay. ;)


May is Bike Month, dude, deal with it

May is National Bike Month, this is an important thing to remember. I need to bare it mind. I need to remember this --appreciate this fact-- because my auto-assist/carpool buddy has left town. It is National Bike Month, making it the perfect time to go fully and completely car free. It's like fate. I wonder if it is also fate that the person my son hangs with while I am at school is not available this week. Well, it may not be fate, but it makes sense, because they are the same person. So, I found out Friday that I will not have access to child care or car share all this week. SUPRISE!

SO, today I dragged The Boy and I outta bed and to the bus stop (it became clear that we were not going to get out the door in time to go by bike). Absent any child care, I lugged the kid along with me to class (wonder if he can get collage credit while homeschooling?) Had to empty my change purse into his hands and send him out to find snacks so that he would not hear a reading in Lit class that I don't think I was old enough for (he got spared, anyway). Got to deal with him being board much of the day. Got caught in the rain without our coats after class and took shelter in the bookstore. While there we found all these books sure to enhance our homeschooling experience: bought way too many and had to lug them with us as we completed our errands for the day. All completed by bus. The one bright spot in an otherwise rather nightmarish day was an all too brief visit with a wonderful friend.

By the end of the night, as we staggered across our wee little threshold and collapsed in bed (actually had dinner in bed) I have to admit that, after juggling The Boy, my books, etc. while navagating my education, errands and social life, I missed having a car just a little. I miss having help with The Boy a whole lot. I am hoping that today was just a rough start to an unexpected lack of both carpool and child care. It is National Bike Month, after all, the perfect time to go car free.


The Peaceable Kingdom

After a weeks separation, and one failed attempt at reunification, a truce has been called among the chickens of our urban homestead, and they are all back together in their opulant hen yard. This experience has underscored for me how intelligent these critters are, how complex their social structure is, and how indefensible standard poultry industry practices are.

Because we live within the city limits, the chickens are not, technically, allowed to be 'free ranging', and my past experience with urban predators has illustrated the value of a fully enclosed yard around the hen house. The aviary provides our chickens with access to soil, sun shade and allows them enough room to fly. But I also know the value, to both the chickens and the harvest, of allowing them to patrol the garden, so every afternoon we let them out, under supervision, to chase bugs and drop the freshest organic fertilizer available on the garden beds while we plant, or weed, or just sit back and enjoy watching the natural cycles at work.

The garden, which is over 300 square feet now, is recovering from a series of late season frosts. Our last frost date in spring is supposed to be mid April, but there have been a couple of frosty mornings (the first arriving without warning) since then, and the tomatoes did not take it well. The first frost came without warning, after I had already transplanted the tomatoes starts out into the garden. About half succumbed to the cold that night. The subsequent frost was forcasted, so I was able to take measures to protect the tomatoes, as well as the newly transplanted sweet peppers. The peppers stayed snug and have faired well, but some of the sheets covering the tomatoes were dislodged by wind, and again some were lost to the cold. I have noted with interest that the heirloom tomatoes that I selected because they originated either in this area, or in similar climates, have held their ground far better than the Romas. Still, I waited till we had past the last date on record for freezing temps before replacing the lost starts.

I have been combining organic, permaculture, and biodynamic principles in the garden, which has been interesting. The organic part is easy enough, but the others require me to stretch my rather underdeveloped organizational and planning skills. For example, biodynamic principles follow the lunar cycles and seeks to coordinate planting, cultivation and harvest with natures rhythms. There is much I like about this system, not the least of which being the way it enhanses my sense of connection to natural cycles, but there are down sides. For example, if one looses half of ones tomatoes crop due to a late frost, one might find that, according to the lunar planting chart, tomatoes and other “fruits with seeds” arnt meant to be planted again for another 3 weeks; or one may find themselves with fingerling potatoe tubers that need to go in now, before they spoil.

I'm no expert, but my own answer to this has been that these are the times when wise women fall back on their own good sense. Waiting 3 weeks to plant more tomatoes could be a fatal mistake, and just the thought of what my great grandmother's expression at the very idea of waisting tubers, just because the moon isnt full yet (oh, it gives me chills!!). So, I follow the charts religiously, except when I don't; and avoid waist, except when I cant. So far, it's working


New Wheels

The garden I began so tentitively early in the year has been unfolding across the back yard, it just takes my breath away. I have been combining permaculture, biodynamic, and organic principles, in part because I am naturally obsessive, and in part because I want every advantage: I figure that each of these methods has some truth to it, and if I combine them I'm bound to get some harvest from the effort.

Even though I have gardened for much of my adult life, I have always done so with a more experienced gardener. As I stumble along I am finding great satisfaction in watching the garden's progress, and my own growing competence. I also have a growing recognition of the myriad interconnecting wheels of sustainability.

Although this blog takes it's name, in large measure, from the notion of the shift to bikes as a revolutionary --and nessisary-- move toward sustainability, the vision for the blog has always about the broad and often ephemeral elements of living a sustainable life. Appropriate transportation remains an essential piece, that becomes more important with every passing day, but it is not the only piece, and it will not, by itself, create the paradim shift we need.

Intimately intwined with the issues surrounding appropriate transpertation are the the issues related to the issues of "food miles", multi-national agri-bussiness, and localization.
These, intern, intwine with social justice issues, and envronmental justice. Like the gears and wheels of a bike they work together to create the complex systems that required for sustainability.

The current multi-national corperate conglomerate system of delivering "consumer goods" robs us of so much more than clean air or finite fuel. It deprives us of knowledge about where and how of food is grown and products made, it deprives us of relationships with the people who grow and create the things we buy, it removes us from the systems that make up and support our lives, and make us dependdent on an inhuman network of interconnected corperations that are not accountable to us or the greater good.

None of this is "new" news, but what has been lacking, I thing, is a way to adress it, a meaningful, do-able response to a system that feels all powerful and overwellming. How does one 'walk away from Omelas' when it feels that the Omelas has taken over the planet? One step at a time, but not with one step alone



May is National Bike Month! What a great opportunity to experiment with alternatives to fossil fuel dependent transportation!

In anticipation of this annual event, and in order to avoid shopping on May Day, I went on a massive grocery shopping trip at the end of April, purchasing all the non-perishable food items I will need for the month of May. You should have seen the expression on the checker's face as I rolled up with a shopping cart filled nearly to the point of overflowing with several dozen jars of pasta sauce, pounds of dry pasta, two giant bags of dog food, and so on. I did use a car for this trip, but heres my point: I wont have to drive to the store again all month. I can pick up parishables and treats by bike on my way home in the evenings. You don't have to go to these extremes in order to reduce your driving, planning and grouping the trips for which you really do need a vehicle can allow you to have whole days on end where you don't have to drive at all. One car-free day a week can have an enormous positive impact on the environment, your health, and your budget


Juggling Chickens

Chickens, I am discovering, are trouble.

About a month ago I got two white hens, Ruby and Ester, and for all their delightful qualities, including bug eradication and spreading organic fertilizer, I was only getting one egg a day from the two of them, which is not enough for the Boy and I. So, Saturday I (foolishly) acquired another chicken, a very sweet little black Bantam hen. To quote my son: oy vey. Ruby and Ester, resentful of this sudden interloper, insisted on ganging up on the little Banty hen with more savage persistence than I ever could have imagined.

I managed to get the little hen back into her plastic pet carrier, and hoped that having her in the chicken yard, protected by the carrier, would allow she and the other hens to work out their differences (I am such and idealistic pacifist!)

I had had great plans for Sunday, hoping to catch up on a long list of neglected chores and projects. Instead I spent the day intervening on the Chicken Civil War in my back yard.

In the morning, when I let her out of the carrier, there was a brief cease fire, after which the attacks resumed. I tried having both Ruby and Ester in the carrier (effective in preventing attacks, but rather inhumane), I tried having Ester, who appeared to be the “Ring Leader” in the carrier and letting Ruby and the Banty get to know each other one-on-one. This appeared effective at first, but after a short time Ruby took up the campaign against the Banty. I considered several recipes featuring chicken.

I had been considering setting up a "chicken tractor" click to see example to help in preparing some garden beds, and this seemed like a really good time to have a second chicken area. So I hastily put one together at the North edge of the garden, where I hope to add one more bed ("just one more", thats what I say each time). Once it was ready, I brought the carrier over and put Ester in, then went to get Ruby out of the chicken yard and away from the Banty.

When I went to put Ruby in, Ester got out.

For the uninitiated out there, catching a chicken is no small matter, even in an enclosed area. They move very fast, can fly, and have a tendency to hurl themselves at your head when you try to corner them. The Boy and I do alright herding then around the garden each afternoon during their daily constitutional, but in that case we arnt actually trying to catch them, we're just keeping them off the new starts while they hunt bugs, then herding them back into the chicken yard. Catching a hen in the fully enclosed chicken yard is one thing, catching one that is loose in the yard is quite another. It usually requires two or three people. My son was at his dad's house, so I was on my own.

I did finally managed it, hours later, using ingenuity that would have put McGiver to shame.

So, my Sunday was completely shot, and now, after all that trauma, none of the hens are laying, we are all grumpy, and I have a new found sympathy for Mrs. Tweety's character in Chicken Run. grr