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Now that I know I’ll have some dirt to play in this summer, seed catalogs have a very magnetic appeal to me. A friend loaned me her Johnny’s catalog, and on the third page is the best chart I have ever encountered. On it are all of the categories of garden vegetables, how many seeds you need per 100′ row/acre, and how many pounds you will get per 100′ row/acre at the end of the season. This will be very helpful in planning how much to plant. I plan on doing 50′ rows, so all I have to do is divide in half. Easy peasy.

I tried finding a copy of it online to post on here, but the best I can do is link to the catalog so you can see it for yourself. In the online version, the chart is on page 4. http://www.johnnyseeds.com/Catalog/OLCatalog08.html

Now, I realize that I probably won’t get the same exact yields as what is reported on this chart, but it does represent a good guestimate. Say, for corn. I would like to have around 500 ears of sweet corn, so using the chart I would divide the 200 seeds per row by 2, giving me 100 seeds per row. Since the chart says an average yield is 8 dozen ears of corn per 100′ row, I would expect 4 dozen. Using a bit of basic math, I find that I would need to plant at least 10 rows (50′ long) to get 500 ears. Figuring in insect and animal damage, I would probably add another 4 rows for a bit of wiggle room. (I’ve heard the deer are numerous around the farm.)

That chart is going to help me figure out about how much to plant, but I still need to figure out WHAT to plant. Although the chart in Johnny’s is helpful, I’m not a big fan of their products. Most of them are hybrid, which I want to avoid at all costs. I would like to be able to save seed from year to year, and you can’t do that successfully with hybrids.

I know the broad categories of things I will grow, but selecting varieties is going to take a bit of research. For instance, I know that I would like to grow cherry, paste, and slicing tomatoes. For a cherry variety, I would like to try Borgo Cellano. Amish Paste tomatoes are a definite. For slicing, maybe some Brandywine, Oxheart, and Mortgage Lifter. But of course, I will probably go wild and end up growing at least a dozen different varieties. I like having a variety, as you probably know from my earlier posts. A great site for heirloom tomatoes is http://www.heirloomtomatoes.bizland.com/varieties.htm

While I do have experience with a lot of fresh garden veggies, there are some that I have yet to grow or taste. Beets, for instance. I have had pickled beets, but that is the extent of my experience with them. I liked them pickled, but wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do with them in their natural state, nor which varieties would be the best tasting. Some other things that intrigue me include artichokes, brussels sprouts, celeriac, kale, fennel, pac choi, sorrel, mustard, collards, leeks, parsnips, rutabegas, shallots, salsify, swiss chard, turnips, soybeans, wheat, oats, rye, barley, grapes, blueberries, goosberries, and many different herbs. Most of these things I have eaten, but never grown. Salsify, pac choi, and brussels sprouts are new to me on every level, so I don’t know that I will try to experiment with those yet. Maybe next year.

Oh, the selection is so huge! And that’s not even the beginning, because once I get the seeds I still have to figure out which ones I can direct seed and which ones I will have to start early in the house. We also have to try to rig up some cold frames and perhaps a cheap little greenhouse. We’ll see. It’s all so exciting!

If anyone has suggestions for heirloom varieties of ANYTHING that will do well in zone 5, feel free to leave me a comment. Now I’m off to look at seeds!

We have been a very busy family lately. It turns out there are a lot of people in our area who are interested in back-to-the-land and intentional communities. Hooray! We have been meeting and emailing like crazy, and this has left me very little time to post anything. Add in celebrating Christmas early with the grandparents before they head south for the winter, communicating back and forth with the company that I want to work for in Lansing, and taking care of the boys… oy! I have so much that I want to write about, but I only have the short time that the boys are napping, so I guess I’ll have to condense.

The biggest news is that one of the couples with whom we are meeting and communicating has offered us a place in their farmhouse on 5 acres. They are a travelling duo who spend very little time at home, and would like someone to help them fix it up as a working homestead for their eventual retirement. (We met through www.ic.org. Thanks, IC!) The house is plenty big enough for all of us and in great condition. There are multiple outbuildings that serve many different purposes and have potential to change if necessary. There is a small site for a pond that needs to be cleared, and almost all of the 5 acres is arable. We are so excited!

As far as plans go for the fixing-up of the property, we are still in discussion with the owners, but we do know a few things that will happen. First of all, we will have about 3 acres of tilled soil with which to play with. One acre or so will probably go to a large vegetable/market garden. 1/2 acre will be devoted to berry crops. The other 1 1/2 acres will probably be grains and cover crops/green manure crops. We will also have a small flock of chickens to start. There is already a nice big coop, and it sounds like we’ll probably be getting the chicks this spring. The pond site that needs to be cleared will probably be a summer home for a couple of big hogs, who will be slaughtered in the fall for profit. Just south of the pond site the ground slopes up into a little hill with a pretty flat top that would be perfect for starting a small fruit orchard in. The owners have a great idea to put in an herb labyrinth near the road. I think that sounds really fun. I also like their idea of erecting a greenhouse and some hotbeds. They also have a couple bee hives that we can get up and running to help the crops along and provide some yummy golden sweetness for all of us.

It’s going to be a busy year, but so much fun! I can already taste the garden-fresh peas and tomatoes, smell the musky scent of fresh-tilled earth, and hear the buzzing of the insects as they pollinate all of the little flowers.

It looks like we will probably be moving in sometime after the new year. We have to figure out what’s going on with our apartment lease, and how much it will cost to break. We also have to do a little work on the rooms that we will occupy in the farmhouse. There are two HUGE bedrooms with a big walk-in closet connecting them. We’d like to turn the closet into a bathroom by installing a sawdust toilet, a sink, and a shower. In the next couple weeks we’ll start getting measurements of the rooms and sketching up some plans. We’ll probably also start clearing out our storage. If you live near us, keep an eye on Craig’s List. We’ll be getting rid of a lot of stuff, including furniture and appliances.

And to close this happy little note out, I’d like to address something that has really been bugging me lately. Every year it seems the fundies slip into Grinch clothes and take a page out of Ebenezer’s book. What is up with all of the “keep Christ in Christmas” talk? Why the big fuss over saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Happy Christmas”? Is fighting over something so insignificant really the way that these people want to spend the HOLIDAYS? You know, I wish people a Merry Christmas. I’m atheist. Just because I use the word Christmas does not mean that I worship some dude that may or may not have lived ~2000 years ago, nor does it mean that I attribute any deity as the reason for the season. Granted, it is traditionally called Christmas because Christians took over this time of year to celebrate the (actually unknown) date of the birth of their “savior.” For a Christian, Christmas is generally a time of heightened church attendance, plays about biblical stories, and spending time with congregation members. But some other things have been adopted for Christmas from pagan rituals and other religions. Before Christians coined the day as “Christmas” many cultures celebrated Winter Solstice and the coming of the New Year around this time. Rituals like family meals, decorating a tree, decorating a house, making special foods, special processions/parades down through the town, dressing up a certain way, giving gifts, lighting candles, giving thanks, telling tales of superstitious nature (think Santa), helping the needy, and community celebrations… those all come from outside of the Christian culture. People were doing these things long before the holiday season was given the specific name of Christmas.

Alas, the fundies think it is their job to educate the rest of the population about the “real meaning” of Christmas. They put up signs and speak arrogantly and rudely to their friends, neighbors, and strangers. Instead of letting this be a happy time of the year for giving and celebrating, they treat it as the best time of the year to harrass everyone else with their personal beliefs. I’m usually pretty laid back about religious issues. I’ve learned to really think about what fights I want to pick. This is one that I will pick gladly. It’s just ridiculous. The reason for the season is the impending winter, the shortness of the days, the death of most edible crops, and the needs of people to survive. The reason humans have come together to help each other, eat great food, be merry, dance, sing, decorate, and brighten their environment with candles and lights is not because some 2000 year old mythological figure decrees this time of year as holy, but because as humans we seek comfort. When it’s cold, dark, lonely, and instead of green fields filled with food crops all you can see is barren white plains… it’s just human nature to want to come together and push out the darkness, the cold, and the loneliness.

For me, the reason for the season is to celebrate life. My life. The lives of each of my family members. The life of the plants and animals that were raised and harvested to feed us. The lives of people in need. The reason for the season is compassion, love, altruism, and friendship. It’s about coming together with other people to create or renew bonds, to help or receive help.

It’s not about trying to push your personal beliefs on other people. It’s not about buying the best gifts. It’s not about having the best decorated house on the block. It’s not about forcing other people to think the way you do. Yes, I might wish you a Merry Christmas. I might also say Happy Holidays. But it’s all the same thing. It’s all people wanting to come together to get through a naturally rough time of the year. We shouldn’t forget that. We shouldn’t forget that it’s about being happy, and sharing your happiness with others.

Joyeux Noel!

Just this morning I had an interview for an awesome job. With the recession/depression that our economy is in, it’s very difficult to pass up such an opportunity. With the extra income, we would be able to save up even faster for our own piece of land and the materials to build our own house. I’m very hopeful for this, and should hear back within the next few days whether or not I will get the job.

I really, thoroughly enjoy being a stay at home mom. I’m going to miss being able to spend all day, every day with the kids. I’m am still of two minds as far as going back to work. On the one hand, I feel like I am somehow letting my children down. They will most likely have to spend 3 hours or so a day at daycare. I feel like I am being a bad mother by putting their care into the hands of a total stranger. But on the other hand, all that extra income will get us onto land faster, get a garden in faster, and get us out of debt faster. It’s a tough decision to make, but I think I am ready to try my hand at working again.

Wish me luck!

December 2009
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