Yesterday, I placed an order for four different varieties of flower seeds and my parcel is on its way to me today. Parcel vs. package or shipment... I think the term denotes a heightened element of anticipation as I await its arrival, which perfectly describes my present state. You see, these are not just any seeds. These seeds are organic, heirloom, homegrown, hand-harvested, and... they are housed in handmade envelopes! They have been lovingly tended by Etsy shop owner, Jenny aka Jen, of The Little Ragamuffin. My shopping experience gets even more special, but first see what I ordered! (These are photos from Jen's Etsy shop since obviously I haven't planted my seeds yet.)
Top: forget-me-not and plains coreopsis Bottom: black-eyed susan and lanceleaf coreopsis
Now here's where my little seed ordering adventure gets good. I recently wrote a post about The Little Ragamuffin because I was so smitten with the owner's way of life and the Etsy shop's name... instantaneous unbridled love. Upon placing my order, I received an email from Jenny. Here is a paragraph from that email: "It's funny, some time ago I somehow ran across your beautiful photograph of the plains coreopsis (on my blog's home page) growing along the stone path and fell in love with the flower. It was that photo that got me to growing that variety. I think we were both seeking one another out and it was bound to happen that we meet! all the best, Jenny" Life is precious because of the people who make it so and it is the little quirks that make it fun.
I scarcely had time to decide upon a location to plant my flower seeds from The Little Ragamuffin and in my mailbox... there they were!
The seed packages and shipping envelope are all handmade from recycled paper. Jenny's special attention to detail is evident in the vintage look of the shipping envelope's paper as well as how she folds the paper to create a visually appealing, artsy presentation.
A visual for you... happy, healthy, playful chicks in a sunny outdoor playground with roosting branches and space for running and flapping wings. This is the home that we have created for our chicks that are now 3 1/2 weeks old.
Is this the image in your head when you buy a carton of eggs at your local grocery store? Think again. The photos and description of what occurs in factory poultry farms will open your eyes to the atrocities... the extremely shocking, wicked, cruel, brutal, frightful, inhumane treatment of chickens. We must educate ourselves... we must not turn away and pretend this is not happening. The Humane Society steps in to rescue abused dogs and cats. Where is this animal protection organization when hens beaks are partially cut off to prevent them from pecking one another... an act that stems from living in crowded quarters. With partial beaks, the chickens are unable to eat, drink, and preen properly. For several years, we have ordered 17 week old hens from an Iowa hatchery. Last year, the hens arrived debeaked with 1/3 to 1/2 of the top beak cut off. We were horrified. One might think that it is akin to trimming our fingernails. Not so. The chicks experience severe pain. This practice should be prohibited by law... along with many other horrific acts occuring in the poultry industry! This year, we are raising our laying hens from baby chicks so that they may experience a loving environment from birth through adulthood. What can you do if raising your own flock is not feasible? Buy eggs at a farmers market, food co-op, or directly from a local farm. Visit with the farmer so that you aren't relying on confusing, deceiving carton labeling that sounds wholesome (cage free, free range, free roaming) but may not be what you think. Even the term "organic" is being abused. Check out the Mother Earth News Scrambled Eggs YouTube video that explains that "there is a corporate agribusiness factory farm takeover of the organic egg industry well underway. The large corporate egg operations control 80% of the market. They are playing lip service to the organic standards." (Source: Scrambled Eggs YouTube Video) Become an educated consumer. Visit a local poultry farm. Dick and I joined a group of about twenty others on a field trip to the farm that supplies our food co-op's eggs. The hens are rotated to new fenced pastureland weekly via a portable coop. "The gold standard in organic production is the pastured poultry producers" where chickens can roam willy nilly in the grass to forage for bugs, seeds, worms, etc. (Source: Scrambled Eggs YouTube Video) We are in need of a sweeping movement across this country to support small-scale farmers' efforts. It begins with each of us.
Today, I attended a Sustainable Living Conference at All World Acres near Tampa. An Eternal Student t-shirt, worn by a fellow conference attendee, perfectly expressed the importance of lifelong learning as the morning began with a search for wild edibles led by guide Andy Firk from Bamboo Grove Farm in Arcadia, Florida and his Ithaca Forest Farm summer homestead in Ithaca, NY.
While chatting with a wise woman at the conference, she shared with me her learning strategy. When there are so many new things to learn, and we want to acquire a firm grasp of it all, choose one or two things and learn them well before moving on to the next. Good advice. I decided that I would learn to identify miners lettuce (aka winter purslane) growing in the wild and make a conscious effort to include it into my diet.
The origin of its name dates back to the California Goldrush when miners harvested it to prevent scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. The identifiable characteristic of this tender, succulent, wild salad green is a stem growing in the center of the plant's round leaf. It is one of the first spring greens to emerge. Reminiscent of spinach, it can be used in sandwiches and salads... with pine nuts, cheese, dried cranberries, and a vinaigrette dressing maybe?
All workshops except the wild edibles hike were held under a roofed area open on all sides to provide a sense of being outdoors but protected from the heat of the sun. John Starnes, a presenter from Tampa, explained how to create a "water wise container" by drilling pencil-size drainage holes 3" from the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. To make an air wick so there is no standing water in the bottom of the bucket, place dried stalks like perennial sunflowers, cornstalks, or cassava (John's favorite) vertically in the bucket. Next, add growing medium by "lasagna-layering" two-inch layers of whatever brown and green material is available like dried leaves, grass clippings, well-rotted manure, fruit and veggie scraps, etc. in the bucket. The addition of red worms will speed decomposition. Top off with a two-inch layer of finished compost. Finally, plant the seeds or seedlings. Caution: paralyzing nitrogen deficiency can occur if brown stalks aren't balanced with green material. It works well if you pay attention to this. The premise behind this "water wise container" method is that each bucket is a mini composter housing its own rich ecosystem as the plants grow and mature. To provide additional nutrients, John recommends Alaska Fish Fertilizer which sells at Home Depot for $7.57/quart. A better deal can be had at Lowe's for $13.99/gallon. He mixes 3 tbsp in a gallon of water, which will cover a 3 to 4 foot row, and feeds every 4 to 6 weeks. In container gardening (using the 5 gallon bucket), water until the fish fertilizer solution or plain water comes out of the drilled holes.
I had a wee bit of time in between workshops, so I grabbed a black-eyed pea patty on pita bread and a fruity nut milk yogurt and wandered over to a nearby veggie/herb/flower garden. There, my eyes fell upon a mangled fence that created a little garden "room."
Then it was back to my next workshop... As explained by permaculture presenter, Jim Kovaleski from Freedom Farm in New Port Ritchey Florida, the lasagna layering method can be implemented in a garden setting, as well. This is done by layering green and brown directly in the garden, top with finished compost (or a nutrient-dense soil purchased from a garden center until you get your compost pile/bin/tumbler set up and doing its thing), then plant seeds and seedlings in the compost. The green and brown matter will decompose and feed the plants as they grow. You are providing a setting for a vast, beneficial ecosystem to develop. What perfect sense this does make!
My barred rock and red star chicks are two weeks old today. A major growth change since my last photo shoot at one week old is their wing development. We created an outdoor playground where Olga, Pearl, Flossie, Opal, Henny Penny, Cora, Phoebe, Edith, and Hilda frolic in the sunshine during the daytime hours.
Normally, on Saturday morning, I am at the downtown farmers market. Today I switched things up a bit and attended an organic gardening workshop taught by two market vendors, Jeff and Peggy Campbell, at their farm. To be standing on the ground where the food I put on my table comes from... immeasurably meaningful.
While the sunlight filtered through the fresh spring growth on the trees, Jeff began by explaining that we need to grow soil because the soil is going to grow the plants. To grow soil means to enrich it by natural means like adding compost and planting cover crops to supply nitrogen. He suggested a simple cover crop of black eyed peas to precede the planting of squash. I will share a detailed explanation of this process in a post later this spring. The goal is to create a fertile soil so that fertilizer (even organic ones) won't be necessary and to create an environment in which plants are less likely to become stressed, since that is when pest infestations generally become a problem. When necessary, Jeff uses a fish emulsion fertilizer and two nonchemical insectcide/fungicides, although he was quick to point out that a gardener's first line of defense is to hand pick pests off plants. To build fertile soil, composting is an important element. This is the composting unit from Home Depot that the Campbells use.
The drawer on the bottom, that is assessible from all four sides, is where the usable composted material is. To speed the decomposing, Jeff uses a large landscsaping shears to snip the dried brown leaves and green plants into small pieces. The time it takes is minimal, but it reaps huge dividends. As plants are ready to be harvested and sold at the farmers market, there are also pots with seedlings at varying stages of development. For additional information about the Campbells' small-scale farming venture, click here to read an informative newspaper article that includes a wonderful video depicting their day to day activities.
Peggy used an analogy to explain how our life is like a puzzle. We pick up a puzzle piece and sometimes we set it down again without doing anything with it. At other times, we choose a puzzle piece and find where it fits. Over time, the puzzle begins to take shape until it is complete. I am beginning to see my puzzle coming together. I am solidifying who I am... where my interests lie, what is important for me to glean from life, how I choose to spend my time. One thing I do know. I must learn. This Mahatma Gandhi quote is especially meaningful to me. "Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow." So, I learn. This morning, it was about organic gardening.
Opening the mailbox to discover the season's first seed catalog has been a ritual for decades... a mainstay to count on as much as the approach of the season itself. The wood carving on the left, titled The New Seed Catalog, and the farmer on the right, are two of several carvings by Harley Refsal that were featured in a February 1988 issue of Midwest Living Magazine. I tore the three-page article from the magazine 23 years ago upon falling in love with Harley's carving subjects... "rugged Norwegian farmers and their rural neighbors of the upper Midwest."
Harley, who grew up in a Norwegian community near Hoffman, Minnesota, is a professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He offers woodcarving seminars and his carvings are for sale.
621 North Street
Decorah, IA 52101
I still have a need to hold a seed catalog in my hands to flip through the pages of colorful flowers and vegetables, but times they are a-changin'. More often than not, online seed ordering has become the norm. Happily, I have uncovered online shops such as The Little Ragamuffin. Jen, this etsy shop's owner, captured my heart upon reading thus... "Handmade seed packets filled with organic, open-pollinated, heirloom seeds grown and collected by hand on our small-scale sustainable farm. Each seed packet you buy helps to support The Kirk Estate – the 19th century haunted farmhouse and surrounding property where I live that has been preserved for five generations. Our small scale sustainable farm is worked the old fashioned way; no chemicals, no petroleum intensive machines -only sustainable farming practices that help to improve the land, the environment, the wildlife, and the people. Thank you for your support of this time and effort intensive process. Your purchase is helping to make a difference."
"Many moons ago Eric met Jen in the elevator of a college dormitory." Besides harvesting and sharing garden seeds, they now make music together... no really. They do. Take a listen... http://b3nson.net/wearejeneric/
If we invest extra time and expense in raising a flock of hens or purchase eggs from a local farmer... or grocery store, it's prudent to take measures to lengthen the eggs' shelf-life. Because egg shells are porous, they are prone to moisture loss and odor absorption. Storing them in their original carton is better than in egg trays molded into a refrigerator door, but here's a better idea yet... airtight egg containers.
A simple downward snap of each of the four latches... two at a time... and the lid's sealing ring on this Lock & Lock egg storage container "securely locks in the goodness." The clear lid showcases multi-colored eggs, that are too pretty to be hidden away.
In my online search for such a container, some sites offer ones for 10 eggs. How practical is that? I say go for the 12-egg capacity.