When I was studying graphic design in college, a magazine called Critique was the most highbrow thing going… smart, critical, and as a design challenge they used Times New Roman as the main font just to see if they could make it look good. They had a cover for their Economy issue that completely blew my mind; it was maddeningly perfect:

It's probably too small to read; click to see a larger version.

All this to let you know that we’ve simplified just a little bit: our domain name has dropped the “the” at the beginning. You can still go to the old address and it will bring you here, but if you’re used to typing it in still (Mom), you can type one less word in an already long name. Onward, upward, and winterward!


Another good reason to plant a garden

I’ve found lettuce and greens to be one of the best crops for beginning gardeners.  It has a quick growing cycle, is not too fussy and its easy to know what to do with it once it comes in. We’ve been enjoying daily salads even though much of the rest of our garden is still getting established. Even our kids can recognize that fresh young lettuce from the garden tastes great.

This Sunday in the paper I was reminded of another reason why its great to grow your own greens – food poisoning.  The recent outbreak of e coli in Europe is just scary – people are dying because they ate a salad.  This article reminded me that every bite of raw food I eat is an act of confidence in the whole food system that brought it to my plate.  But I don’t trust the system.  I know that contamination happens.  Sprouts were mentioned in the article as particularly worrisome and I was happily reminded that my sprouts are safe from this kind of contamination as is my lettuce.  Certainly the food systems that create these kind of issues needs to be fixed (although don’t ask me how – I am just a humble urban gardener) it is nice to know there is a way to avoid this to some extent at least.  Its great to enjoy fresh produce from our garden for many, many reasons but this one was a new reason why I am happy to have a garden.

Written by alicia in: Book Review,Garden,home,Kids | | 2 Comments

Canning Continued

In addition to tomatoes we picked blueberries as a family in Yakima.  It was the end of the season and the field wasn’t really even open, but one of the workers let us pick after warning us there was not much left.  We were impressed by his sense of “not much” since we had no problem filling two large buckets in about 30 minutes.  That doesn’t even include the dozens eaten by our kids.  The best part was that he only charged us $1 a pound.  We picked 10 lbs and have been eating them steadily, however it was clear we were going to need to do some preserving.

We approach canning for a practical standpoint.  Whatever will attract the most fruit flies is attacked first, hence the tomatoes canned on Sunday.  Blueberries are the next priority.  Yesterday I made a blueberry pie (with lard crust) and today it was syrup.  We are so overloaded with jams and jellies I am having to try different ideas for fruits.  Pancakes are a regular breakfast food around here so I figured syrup would get used up fairly quickly (like before next summer).  It’s also pretty easy.  Just crush and boil blueberries, run them through a food mill and then boil again with sugar water.

I used 8 cups of blueberries and got 5 pints worth, which seems pretty good. I used the proportions in the Ball canning book which I recommend.  We got it from the library last season and I added it to my Christmas list soon after.  Its a great book for coming up with ideas and it has all the basic info you’ll ever need as well.   Tomorrow I may make blueberry juice or I might  just freeze the rest for winter cobblers.


Book Review: “Second Nature” by Michael Pollan

When I was in graduate school I spent an entire semester investigating the idea of urban gardening. At that point Alicia and I had planted a few gardens, but I was really just dabbling in planting seeds and seeing what would grow. It took me an entire semester’s of thinking and experimenting to arrive at the notion that our conception of “nature” as city people is a complicated bag of paradoxes. One of my main conclusions is that nature must be controlled to be pleasurable. Nature in an urban setting left to its own devices will not result in the grandeur of an unspoiled wilderness.

"Second Nature" by Michael Pollan

Second Nature by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan, in his first book from 1991, wrote the book that I should have read first while I was working on that project. It would have saved me a lot of trouble and thinking. His thoughts on the relationship between people and nature, people and plants, and people and land helped me see what it is that I am doing with this “project”.

When we first bought the house a couple years ago, we immediately did some terracing and reworking of the front yard so we could use the space more efficiently (i.e. make more garden beds). At one point I got tired of all the weeds I was removing and decided to leave a “natural garden” – just let whatever was growing, a mix of poppies and weeds, keep on growing. It only lasted a week or two, at which point the entire thing looked terrible, and I gave up on “nature”. Pollan talks about the exact same thing in his book, where he tried to let native plants grow into one of his flower beds, temporarily putting aside the idea that anything you haven’t planted is a weed. He lasted a little bit longer, but ended up realizing that the weeds had completely taken over and eliminated what little order he had set out to establish.

I still let sunflowers pop up wherever they will, and there are these stunning red poppies that show up everywhere in the late spring, but besides that I keep things pretty tame around here. The way Pollan writes about all the functions of our relationship to a garden, from the productivity of vegetables to the beauty of a composed set of plants, I began to realize that plants are one of the primary metaphors I’m looking at my life through these days. In many ways the entire project is out of my control, dependent on so many factors that have nothing do do with my efforts. On the other hand, the deep satisfaction that comes from seeing what happens when I put in a little bit of sweat and set the conditions right for something to grow… it always gives me hope that life isn’t necessarily a zero-sum equation. That in fact you might be able to reap far more from it than you deserve based on what you’ve contributed.

There is a story in the book about a scientist who planted a tree in 100 pounds of dirt, and only watered it for years. At a certain point, after the tree had grown to a significant size, the tree was removed and weighed and the dirt was also weighed. Only 4 oz had been lost from the dirt, and from that, a 120 lb. plant had grown. Water, sun, time. Somehow, these base elements produce far more than they should, year after year, and I in turn am fed and watered in watching it happen.


Well what do you know about that…

I got a comment last night from someone saying they saw the blog in the Chinook Book (the Entertainment Book for people who shop at swanky eco-conscious urban stores). That was weird. I told Alicia and she said it must be some kind of spam scam.

But lo and behold, when I swung by Madison Market today, we were indeed mentioned in the Gardening section of the Chinook Book. Right below freaking SEATTLE TILTH! I guess we must do alright if you Google “Seattle + urban + gardening” (actually, I just checked and we don’t. I have no idea how we were found.) Plus there are tons of way better blogs that post way more than we do. But hey, I’ll take it.

Written by dan in: Book Review | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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